The Dictators

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special introductory paragraph

The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!

Manifest Destiny

Bloodbrothers

New York New York

…And You (as Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom)

D.F.F.D.

Viva Dictators

Every Day Is Saturday

If you’ve read Please Kill Me, then you should know that John Holmstrom, Legs McNeil and Gedd Dunn started Punk magazine in 1975 after being inspired by the first Dictators LP, Go Girl Crazy or The Dictators Go Girl Crazy, a raucous, fun, punky hard rock album whose sentiments about being an obnoxious teenage cretin that watches TV, sleeps all day, drinks and hangs out at White Castles predated similarly expressed views that appeared on the first Ramones album by an entire year.

Like most punk bands, they felt that rock ‘n’ roll was getting too serious and starting to stink thanks to arty prog bands or rednecky Southern rock bands, both of which have one thing in common; they’re BORING!  The Dictators’ entire mission was to make rock ‘n’ roll fun again while earning tons of money and getting tons of chicks.

The core of the group consisted of bassist/singer Andy Shernoff, who wrote all the original tunes, lead guitarist Ross “The Boss” Friedman, rhythm guitarist Scott “Top Ten” Kempner and “secret weapon” turned lead singer Richard “Handsome Dick Manitoba” Blum.  Future Twisted Sister bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza also briefly played in the group along with drummers Louie Lyons, Stu Boy King, Richie Teeter, Frank Funaro and J.P. “Thunderbolt” Patterson.

The band toughed it out from 1973 to 1978 before going on a lengthy hiatus with only the occasional reunion gig and one time album as Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom.  Since 1991, however, the band became more active and eventually released an album in 2001 as the Dictators.  It’s also noteworthy that Ross Friedman was a founding member of over-the-top metal barbarians Manowar and Scott Kempner started roots rockers the Del Lords.

These days the Dictators’ public profile as “that band that came before the Ramones” gives them quite a bit of cred on the underground scene.  But cred don’t pay bills, do it?  No, but a cool ass Manhattan punk rock bar certainly does, eh?

The Dictators Go Girl Crazy! – Epic – 1975

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First of all, who is that goofy, grinning guy that’s dressed like a wrestler?  Secondly, what kind of band poses for their photos inside a White Castle?  And what’s with these song titles?  “Back to Africa”?  “Master Race Rock”?  “Teengenerate”?  “Two Tub Man”?  Is that a cover of “I Got You Babe”?  What a way to make a first impression!

On Go Girl Crazy! The Dictators are one tight, mean, hooky, fun and funny rock ‘n’ roll band.  In spite of what Andy Shernoff said about how the group was just “learning to play”, Ross “The Boss” FUNicello (as he’s credited) and Top Ten (as he’s also credited) sound incredibly skilled on their instruments.  To be fair, it’s hard to tell if Top Ten is that good since he’s the rhythm guitarist but Ross The Boss plays awesomely flowing leads that seem more suited for a metal band – except, of course, on the surfy “Cars and Girls.”  Stu Boy King, while primarily playing straight 4/4 rock beats, is the most diverse of all of the Dictators’ drummers; playing in a variety of styles which fit each song’s approach (such as the Bo Diddly beats on “Back to Africa” or the pounding, martial drumming on “Master Race Rock”).  Without a doubt, he is my favorite Dictators drummer; no disrespect to Richie Teeter or J.P. “Thunderbolt” Patterson.  And, as far as I gather, Andy Shernoff’s bass playing is pretty solid as well.

Also, I should mention that Handsome Dick Manitoba wasn’t really the lead singer on Go Girl Crazy!  Andy Shernoff sings most of the lyrics in his high, snarky, wise-ass voice while Manitoba chimes in every now and then to emphasize certain lines.  The exception to this is “Two Tub Man”, a song perfectly crafted for Handsome Dick Manitoba’s loud, obnoxious John Belushi persona.

Go Girl Crazy! consists of nine songs, two of which are covers.  The very first thing you hear when putting on the record is Handsome Dick Manitoba’s opening rant.  In his low, New Yawk voice he says: “I don’t hafta be here, ya know?  I don’t hafta show up here!  With my vast financial holdings, I coulda been baskin’ in the sun in Flawrida!  This is just a hobby for me!  Nuthin’, ya hear?  A hobby!”  At this point, I had no idea what to make of this!

Then the first song started and it all began to make sense.  In spite of their reputation as a “proto-punk” band, Dictators play a variety of sub-genres with maybe, only three songs fitting into the same metal meets punk style they became known for.  But so you’re sure, here are the songs:

“The Next Big Thing” – begins with a melodic introduction followed by a riff that sounds like the Ramones song “I Just Wanna Have Something to Do” three years earlier but with guitar solos.

“I Got You Babe – hard rock bubblegum cover with Andy Shernoff and Handsome Dick Manitoba crooning the lines to each other in sincere a manner as possible thus evoking laughter from the listener.

“Back to Africa” – begins a Bo Diddly beat, followed by”Apeman”-ish fake reggae verses and New York Dollsy punky glam riffing in the chorus complete with chants of “oogah chaka”

“Master Race Rock” – punk metal tune with a wickedly awesome riff, neat, tension-building stops with drum fills, militaristic drumming and group chants in the chorus.  The song ends with group chants of “let’s go!”  Is it a stretch to think that “Let’s go!” influenced the Ramones’ “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!”???

“Teengenerate” – cheery, mid-tempo glam rock complete with a pretty mid-song piano break

“California Sun” – punked up, early 60s surf classic.  The Ramones covered it two years later and sped up the tempo, simplified the rumbling tom intro and removed the guitar solo altogether probably because Johnny Ramone isn’t a very good musician.

“Two Tub Man” – another punk metal tune and the album’s most aggressive song, the entirety of which is sung by Handsome Dick Manitoba, who has an awesome, low, growly, drunken voice.  Apparently it’s also the first song which Andy Shernoff ever wrote for the band.

“Weekend” – gorgeous, melodic, power-pop with basic three chord riff and melodic verses; end quota goes, “weekend, la-la-la-la.”

“(I Live for) Cars and Girls” – spot on, early 60s surf/Beach Boys parody, with clean, non-distorted guitar, Chuck Berry-ish leads and Brian Wilson-esque, falsetto “oo-wee-oo” back-up vocals

On the lyrical tip, the band is in good comedic spirits; either satirizing a variety of topics – the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, surf culture – or singing the praise of the teenage wastoid.  Some might balk at the back-to-back placement of “Back to Africa” and “Master Race Rock” but fear not kids for the Dictators ain’t a no white supremacists bigots (most of them are Jewish after all)! In fact, “Back to Africa”, though not the most PC song in the world, is a humorous tale of jungle fever and “Master Race Rock” is about the master race of… TEENAGERS!!!

I could easily quote the entire album for examples of some of the most clever and funny lyrics on a single rock album but that would be pointless since they wouldn’t make that much sense out of context.

However, a few choice examples include:

“hippies are squares with long hair
but they don’t wear no underwear”

“he can make a dead dog laugh
and watch me kick my mother on her ass”

“I think Lou Reed is a creep!”

“soon he through up in the store
but if he does it anymore
I’ll make him eat it off the floor!”

“gasoline shortage won’t stop us now!”

“the fastest car and a movie star
are my only goals in life
it’s the hippest scene, it’s the American dream
and for that I’ll always fight!”

Go Girl Crazy! remains one of my favorite albums of all time since I first heard it about 15 years ago.  In the coming years, the Dictators would attempt to be taken “seriously.”  Now I ask you, 38 years later, how many people in the gazzilions of bands that have been influenced by Go Girl Crazy! really care about being taken seriously?

Manifest Destiny – Elektra – 1977

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Two years later, the Dictators return with a different lineup and new look more in common with Blue Oyster Cult than their earlier proto-punk selves.  I wasn’t there so I can’t say for sure but, given the sound on Manifest Destiny, it would seem to me that because of the commercial failure of Go Girl Crazy!, the Dictators were trying to make an at least semi-serious arena rock record.

With that all said, it’s STILL a Dictators album and a damn fine one at that!  Richie Teeter replaced Stu Boy King on drums, Andy Shernoff moved from bass to keyboard and Mark “The Animal” Mendoza is now the bassist.  Lead guitarist Ross The Boss and rhythm guitarist Scott Kempner continue to tear it up.  And, as evidenced by the cover, Handsome Dick Manitoba has a more pronounced role as lead singer.  However, he’s still not the only lead singer as Andy Shernoff and now Richie Teeter also take turns at the mic; primarily on the lighter and poppier songs, which I will discuss further in a moment.

Upon first listen, the most noticeable aspect of the album is its strange pacing.  The first three songs “Exposed”, “Heartache” and “Sleepin’ with the T.V. On” give the impression that the Dictators are now a mid-tempo, glammy, power-pop band with the third song bordering on being a ballad and having a denser arrangement with Shernoff showing off his melodic piano playing skills.  Furthermore, the humor is a bit more subtle.  For all its gorgeousness and lovelorn mood, “Sleepin’ with the T.V. On” appears to be a song in which the narrator pines for his ex-lover who apparently left him for falling asleep on their date while watching T.V.?!  And this is delivered in a sincere, theatrical manner bordering on melodrama!  I’m not kidding!  “Oh it’s a date/so, if I’m not awake/just let me rest peacefully” and “would you be insulted if I closed by eyes/and missed the part where Thin Man finds the killer we despise”!

Then, completely out of nowhere, track four is a Blue Oyster Cult style metal tune with eerie minor notes played on a gothic organ followed by killer, scary sounding riffs driven by a headbanging tempo for 6 1/2 straight minutes.  It’s the first on the album sung by Handsome Dick and it’s a V.D. joke with lines like “they ain’t gonna stick another needle in me!” and “I’m going blind!”  At least the song rocks…

Side one ends with the power ballad “Hey Boys”, which has a similar feel as, say, the Nazareth cover of “Love Hurts.”  It perfectly captures the “young guy crying in his beer over unrequited love” feel.  At first I thought the song was supposed to be funny since the opening lines “Mary Anne is in love again for the second time this week/and god knows how long I’ve wished she’d fall for me” appear to be satirical but then the narrator delivers the heart breaking epithet “love is cruel boys, so cruel boys/it’s made a fool of me/let’s stay out late boys, I need some company” before drunkenly and boldly declaring “I just won’t, just won’t, fall in love again.”  Richie Teeter sings that by the way so big ups to him!

Side two, on the other hand, consists entirely of awesome headbanging, epic, hard rock tunes.  I hate to use the Blue Oyster Cult comparison but I really can’t think of any other band that does middle-upper tempo tunes like these; it’s just really good hard rock with major chords, big chorus and wicked guitar solos.  “Steppin’ Out” is a bit poppy and seems a little melodramatic but  “Science Gone too Far” and “Young, Fast, Scientific” are total ass-tearing, late 70s rockers; the former is about hatching a monster in a laboratory and the latter makes a bunch of references to songs on the first album – “I was young, I took the pledge we called the Two Tub Man” and “have you heard, they said that I could be The Next Big Thing” – and has the amusing line “did she say that she had to be home by three/did she say that she never made it with a Hebrew boy.”

And now for the part where everyone yells at me and calls me a moron;  “Search and Destroy” is one of the greatest songs of all time but daaamn do the Dictators pummel it into the ground by speeding it up and having Handsome Dick strip away any of the original’s sex appeal charisma by just yelling everything!  I mean, the Dictators play the song well and are full of energy but Handsome Dick don’t sound like a “streetwalkin’ cheetah.”  He sounds like a big, fat, beer-guzzling gorilla!  It just sounds off to me, that’s all.

I guess I should also mention that the production on Manifest Destiny wasn’t the greatest; somehow it got a little muffled and the drums don’t sound as crisp and everything sounds like there’s a pillow over it but at least Mark “The Animal” Mendoza has big, poofy hair and is wearing a denim vest!

Bloodbrothers – Elektra – 1978

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Mark Mendoza quit the Dictators to become the  multi-millionaire bass player for Twisted Sister, Andy Shernoff went back to his original role as bassist and Handsome Dick Manitoba has now assumed the sole front man/lead singer role with no singing contributions from Andy Shernoff or Richie Teeter.

According to the Bloodbrothers CD reissue liner notes, the Dictators supported the Stranglers on a European tour and were so influenced by the “breaking down of the performer/audience barrier” of the British punk crowd, that they went back to a more raw, live in the studio, bash out the songs quickly aproach.  As evidenced by the cover, the group is apparently trying to appeal to a punkier, street-level audience (and call me crazy but didn’t the Ramones use a similar cover concept for Too Tough to Die six years later?).

In all honesty, Bloodbrothers is my least favorite of the original three Dictators albums.  Go Girl Crazy! and Manifest Destiny are idiosyncratic albums even by today’s standards but Bloodbrothers seems so normal in comparison.  I’m not saying that Bloodbrothers is a sell out album but the songs are way more streamlined and traditionally constructed while the lyrics follow simple rhyme schemes and deal with their topics in a completely non-humorous, straight-faced manner.

The production on Bloodbrothers is freakin’ killer!  It sounds exactly like the Ramones’ Road to Ruin album with a loud, crisp, clear live in the studio sound, hard edge guitars and popping snares, beautiful!

Opening track “Faster and Louder” (later to be covered by the Meatmen!!!) is an awesomely energetic way to kick off an album that wants to grab its audience by the throat.  It’s a fast paced, punky metal tune that starts with a “1-2-3-4” count off and then tears for 2 1/2 minutes as Handsome Dick Manitoba, in his new, hammy, overly enunciated singing style, proudly proclaims about how he’s back and can do anything FASTER and LOUDER or rather “FASTER, LOUDER!”

Unfortunately, it’s the only fast song on the album.  Henceforth the rest of the songs are all mid-tempo rockers.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you.  It just kind of makes you go, “huh” after having such a huge rush of energy.  There’s also less diversity than on Go Girl Crazy! or Manifest Destiny.  I’m not saying the songs all sound the same but you could pretty much categorize the rest of the album as mid-tempo hard rock that ranges from basic heavy metal, Cheap Trick-esque power pop, Bruce Springstein-esque anthem rock and 70s boogie rock.

Second track “Baby, Let’s Twist” sounds like it could be a mid-tempo Ramones song and with lyrics about a punk girl:

“a safety pin in ear lobe
a tattoo on her thigh
well, it’s a funky situation
and a treat for the eye.”

And I totally feel the sentiment expressed in childhood lament “No Tomorrow.”

“I can’t forget the sting of rejection
life has turned a hopeless direction
the kids in school keep putting me down
they made their point, I won’t stay around”

But, do you see where I’m going with this ?  Though the album has some solid rock tuneage, it’s not particularly out there or unique like the first two albums and that’s my main beef with it.  Fourth track “The Minnesota Strip” is a heavy metal song about prostitutes on the Minnesota strip.  It’s definitely a solid song; so much so that Kiss, Danzig and Stone Temple Pilots all stole the main riff for “War Machine”, “Snakes of Christ” and “Big Sex Thing” respectively!

Elsewhere there’s the slow, boogie rock of “Borneo Jimmy”, which is apparently a tribute to Richard Meltzer (why not “Borneo Richie”?) while “What It Is”, although not a bad song, is just a macho, “all girls want me” rocker complete with cowbell.  Their cover of “Slow Death” by the Flamin’ Groovies is pretty cool though and it has the line “slow death, turn my guts to clay” so that’s a plus.

I gotta say though, I really don’t like the songs “Stay with Me” and “I Stand Tall.”  The formers is this corny “baby, I want you back” pop rocker with the annoying chorus “my my my my my my my heart is calling/won’t you stay with me” and the latter is this overly-sincere, patriotic rocker.  I have nothing against pro-America songs, mind you.  But look at these lines:

“I get a thrill when I click on my t.v.
faithfully every night
I’m so proud to say
I was born and raised
here, where the streets are paved
here, in the U.S.A.

You can circle the globe if you think you’ll find a better land
lots of movie stars
if you’re a movie star fan
lots of pizza, ice cold coke
Johnny Carson telling jokes
and lots and lots of American g-g-girls”

all of which are delivered in an anthemic tone and backed by a piano!  Look, I’m all for supportin’ the pizza, coke (the drink, tsk tsk) and “lots and lots of American g-g-girls” and, furthermore, not being all “Europe is so much better and more cultured than us U.S. bumpkins”, I just don’t need a fist-pumping, Bruce Springsteen-esque rocker to tell me that, ya know?  The intro sounds like “Psycho Killer”, by the way.

Well, there you have it; once again, the Dictators didn’t deliver their big, break through commercial success they’d hoped for.  Although the group would reform for gigs during the course of the following decade, at this point, they were through.

New York New York – Roir – 1998

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The above pictured album was originally released as a cassette called Fuck ’em If They Can’t Take a Joke in 1981 and then reissued as New York New York in 1998!  The reissue includes three extra bonus tracks consisting of a total of fifteen.  Get it?

The New York New York CD captures the Bloodbrothers line-up in one of their many non-reunion reunion gigs on Feb. 11 1981 and again some other time in the early 80s at the Ritz in New York.  They do four Go Girl Crazy!, three Manifest Destiny, four Bloodbrothers and four previously unreleased tunes – with “New York New York” eventually ending up on …And You and “Loyola” becoming the b-side to the “I Am Right!” single.  Covers of “Moon Up Stairs” by Mott The Hoople and “What Goes On” the Velvet Underground remain exclusive to this here CD!

The live sound is awesome, lots of bass in the mix allowing one to hear that Andy Shernoff IS a good bassist who doesn’t just parrot what the rhythm guitar is doing while both guitars are mixed beautifully and loudly.  This inevitably improves Manifest Destiny tunes like “Science Gone too Far” and “Young, Fast, Scientific” (listed as “Rock and Roll Made a Man Out of Me”), which sound more raw on in your face on this here recording!  Also, worth mentioning is that the production on the three bonus tracks is even louder and more punishing than the original album; “Master Race Rock” will especially make your face melt!

Also Handsome Dick Manitoba sings lead almost the entire time, even on the Go Girl Crazy! tunes on which he originally wasn’t the singer; adding in little asides during breaks among which include his elaborate interpretation of the “wanna die poor” segment in “The Next Big Thing” or when he says “we turned this into a folk classic” before the band plays a cute little cocktail intro to “Search and Destroy” or when he says, “this is my favorite part!” before the “weekend, la la la” part in “Weekend” or the extra “I guess I’m just a… I guess I’m just a…” in “Two Tub Man.”  Speaking of which, the group stops the song dead and Handsome Dick fakes out the audience with some false count-offs before the band kicks into the song.  He also fucks up a line but hey!

Indeed Handsome Dick talks a lot on stage; hamming it up between and during songs.  But, as mentioned earlier, he sings almost the entire time.  Andy Shernoff sings lead on “Loyola” and “What Goes On” possibly because Handsome Dick’s lower, brutish delivery wouldn’t work for these songs or to give him a break from shouting.

I do have to wonder though; when Handsome Dick comes back on vocals during “New York New York”, he sounds a bit tired and doesn’t talk as much so it stands to reason he really did overly-exert himself earlier in the performance.  Hey, these things happen.

Again, I wasn’t there but, by this point, it would seem the Dictators were a recent memory; neither a major label band with the potential to become the next big thing or local CBGBs punk rock favorites due to the scene being taken over by the next generation of underground musicians – read Cheetah Chrome’s book in which he complains that the scene was made up of either talentless hardcore punks or arty people making a bunch of racket on synthesizers – but the group are still a tight rock ‘n’ roll band.

Aside from just being a great live performance, it’s neat to hear the group play songs from their three albums side by side, showing off the diversity in the group’s performances; punk, metal, glam, hard rock???  Who gives a shit?

…And You? (by Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom) – MCA – 1990

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A Dictators reunion in everything but name and the inclusion of rhythm guitarist Scott Kempner, …And You by Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom finds Handsome Dick Manitoba, Ross the Boss, Andy Shernoff and new drummer J.P. “Thunderbolt” Patterson indulging in their metal vices by combining over the top group shouting sessions, big, simple-but-catchy AC/DC style riffs, some punkiness, some Billy Idol-esque cock rock and nearly an entire side of THRASH!!!

There isn’t a whole lot more to say about …And You but there are a few interesting tidbits to note.

1. the songs are just as streamlined as those on Bloodbrothers with basic arrangements and simple lyrics that Handsome Dick Sings in a loud, enunciated and hammy style making sure every single line is perfectly audible

2. the production is totally big and 80s with drum and guitar reverb

3. there is a bit more humor in the lyrics but I’m not sure how much of it is intentional

4. side one is mostly mid-tempo while side two is mostly thrash

Let me address this last point in a bit more detail.  When I listened to the album for the first time, it sounded a bit like Twisted Sister meets AC/DC meets “Fight for Your Right” style Beastie Boys but with a fast, punky song or a not so great Billy Idol style song (“I Want You Tonight”) thrown in.  Then you put on side two (or track six on your CD) and, all of a sudden you hear “chugga-chugga” thrash guitars and I’m like, “woa!  thrash!”  In fact, I gotsta dig the ripping, bulldozer guitar of album closer “Speedball.”  However, as pissed off as they try to sound, this is Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom, not Metallica or Slayer which is to say their thrash has all of the anger and intensity as when the Ramones attempted to play hardcore and metal a few years earlier (remember Joey Ramone’s blistering vocal performance on “Bop ’til You Drop”?).

The tone for the album is set with a pair of fun, if a bit goofy, metal anthems; “The Party Starts Now!” begins with the aforementioned group shouting and tells the listener to

“Stop your whining ’cause you had a bad day
if you lost some weight, you might get laid

Can’t taking living 9 to 5
Can’t find a reason to come alive
Come on, baby, let me show you how
Come on, baby, the part starts now!”

While “Haircut and Attitude” informs the listener that:

“It don’t take no melody
to make some music history
say you wanna rock
take it to the top
you gotta look good!  You gotta act tough!”

I’m assuming that “Haircut and Attitude” isn’t meant to be taken seriously because if it is, oh boy… a girl I was dating a few years ago laughed uproariously when she heard the “…good…tough!” line.  But, thankfully, that’s where the goofiness ends.  The rest of the songs deal with topics in the same, straight-forward manner as Bloodbrothers.  “New York, New York” is a description of typical 80s “everyone’s a creep” New York life, “I Want You, Tonight” and “D.W.I.” are both sex songs, “Fired Up” is about being angry about something, “The Perfect High” is about how love is the perfect high, “Prototype” is one of thiose “everyone is a phony poser” type songs and both “Had It Coming” and “Speedball” are anti-drug songs.

Again, let me stress, that this 10 track, 26 minute LP is very solid – minus “I Want You, Tonight” and “D.W.I.”, two macho sex songs that I can’t stand – with strong playing, catchy riffs and an overall fun mood.  I’m just calling it what it is, which is a not particularly challenging or deep hard rock record.  And is that such a crime?

D.F.F.D. – Dictators Media – 2001

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If you’re a politically correct, crust punk or of the so called, “modern” punk persuasion, then chances are the music on D.F.F.D. won’t appeal to you and you probably wouldn’t even consider it punk.  In fact you might consider the brutal frankness of “Pussy and Money” or the anti-vegetarian screed of “Burn, Baby, Burn!!” to be more in line with the meat head attitudes of the very mainstream that punk is supposedly rebelling against.

However, if you don’t have your head up your ass and enjoy having fun, then the Dictators album D.F.F.D. will appeal to you.  Now, if only the Dictators could have taken cue from the New Bomb Turks or the Dwarves and sped up their sound accordingly, then we’d be in business.

But alas, the majority of D.F.F.D. is in medium tempo range.  That’s okay though!  It’s mostly a good album that sounds somewhat like Mondo Bizarro-era Ramones; that is, mid-tempo punky hard rock with an angry excursion into “Strength to Endure” territory via “Avenue A”, which I’ll get to momentarily.  The exceptions to this general description include the speedy, Motorheady rocker “I Am Right!” (why couldn’t they have an entire album of these???), neato surf instrumental “Channel Surfing” (which sounds a little like the Munsters theme) and the catchy as hell, slow jam called “Jim Gordon Blues.”

And, as much as it pains me to diss a band I love, I have to be honest and say that the songs “It’s Alright” and “What’s Up with That?” are unbearably bad. The former is another Billy Idol style rocker that sounds like an …And You outtake and the latter is overly sugary pop rock complete with annoying hand claps and the worst rhyming couplet Andy Shernoff has yet come up with; “you’re always yacking on the telephone/and your always honking on the saxophone.”  What’s up with that????

But that’s only 2 out of 12 songs so… Andy Shernoff shares lead vocal duties with Handsome Dick Manitoba again just like on the first two albums.  In fact, Shernoff’s voice is the first one you hear in opening track “Who Will Save Rock ‘n’ Roll?”  Manitoba sounds hammy as usual, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The overall tone of the album is fun and celebratory but with the bittersweet feeling that things ain’t what they used to be.

The message in opening track “Who Will Save Rock ‘n’ Roll?” is that rock ‘n’ roll is near extinction and that all of the socio-political baggage attached to it is a load of shit.  “Avenue A” bemoans the yupification of Manhattan’s lower East Side.  “Jim Gordon” blues attacks all the so-called experts who try to think for us rather than letting us make up our own minds or as Shernoff cleverly puts it: “alianation generation’s constipation/consequence of years of Oprahzation.” And “The Moronic Inferno” jabs a bunch of 90s cliches complete with the “uh-huh, oh yeah” chants from “Back in the U.S.A..”

So yeah, it’s an unapologetic, un-PC album for people who like to have fun and rock!  The album has 12 songs and I like nine, dislike two and think “In the Presence of a New God” is a little boring but hey!  That’s just my opinion!  The production is definitely more raw and suitable to this type of music than that 80s nonsense from …And You and the playing is typically tight.  That’s about all I gotta say about that.

Viva Dictators – Dictators Media – 2005

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Well there you have it, folks.  I just SAW the Dictators perform this past Friday in Detroit so when you read ahead to the Every Day Is Saturday review, remember that was written before this one.  Of course it wasn’t really the Dictators; it was the Dictators NYC, which features Handsome Dick Manitoba, Ross The Boss, J.P. “Thunderbolt” Patterson, some younger guy on bass and Daniel Rey on guitar and I confused Daniel Rey for Scott Kempner and BOY was that embarrassing!  Actually it wasn’t.  I don’t know where I’m going with this.  The show ruled.

Recorded live during a few non-specified dates between 2002 and 2004 somewhere in New York , this here Dictators CD contains 16 performances, specifically of five Go Girl Crazy!, four Bloodbrothers, two …And You, five D.F.F.D. and ZERO Manifest Destiny songs!  That’s kind of a bummer because I’ll easily take “Science Gone too Far”, “Rock and Roll Made a Man Out of Me” or “Search and Destroy” over “Stay with Me” or “What’s Up with That?”.  I Just don’t like those songs very much, okay?  But still, the rest kills.  There isn’t that much to say except that, once again, it’s neat hearing the Dictators play songs from their various albums with their different styles back to back to back.

Listen to “Master Race Rock”, “Two Tub Man” or “Faster and Louder”, you’d think they’re a metallized punk band.  Listen to “Haircut and Attitude”, you’d think they’re a deliberately cheesy, mid-80s throwback.  Listen to “The Minnesota Strip”, you’d think they’re a basic but catchy heavy metal band.  Listen to “New York New York”, “Who Will Save Rock and Roll?” or “Pussy and Money”, you’d think they’re a fun, punky rock ‘n’ roll band.  Listen to “Baby, Let’s Twist”, you’d think they’re a hard edged, mid-tempo pop rock band.  Listen to “(I Live for) Cars and Girls”, you’d think they’re a Beach Boys-style, early 60s surf rock group.  And so on and so forth.

Handsome Dick sings every song, including the Go Girl Crazy! tunes on which he originally did not sing.  The only exception is “What’s Up with That?” and “(I Live for) Cars and Girls”, which are done by Andy, who, though may sound a little flatter in his later years, still can actually sing, which, to put it bluntly, Handsome Dick, can not really.  He sounds cool!  Just belting everything like a boorish, John Belushi type, mind you, but he mainly just shouts.

Also he doesn’t say as much as he did on Fuck ’em…/New York New York.  He uses his artistic license to embellish the “…die poor” segment in “The Next Big Thing” or improvise some lyrics on “Faster and Louder” but he keeps the stage banter to a minimum occasionally chiming in to introduce a member or so; example: “Ross The Boss, you have your orders!”  Also, for some reason, he says the “gasoline shortage won’t stop us now” line from “Master Race Rock” twice and, really, he shouldn’t say it at all since it doesn’t really have much relevance 2013.

I’m still kind of annoyed by the fade ins and fade outs since a live record is supposed to be like a live show but whatever.  Also, I wish they didn’t say that “Cars and Girls” was performed during the sound check in the credits.  I wonder if it was even performed during the actual set.  There’s also some changes with the drumming; they continuously play the 4/4 punk beat during “Master Race Rock” rather than doing that military pounding thing they did on the original album version for instance.

But, otherwise, it’s a cool live record with a funny cartoon cover if not a particularly necessary addition to your CD collection.

Every Day Is Saturday – Norton – 2007

dictators_everyday

First of all the liner notes on the sleeve for Every Day Is Saturday are awesome.  Scott Kempner provides a rich, detailed account of the Dictators’ origin right up to the group’s inking a deal with Epic and slightly beyond with lots of neat trivia tidbits; among which include Handsome Dick Manitoba’s on-stage “birth” one fateful evening wearing a bathrobe and singing “Wild Thing” or accounts of the group’s various earlier drummers or being wowed by “Rock ‘n’ Roll” Andy Shernoff’s awesome record collection for instance.

Secondly the photos are also pretty boss; the craziest one being Andy Shernoff’s mugshot after he and Ross Friedman were caught stealing a car!  The rest are neato photos of the group in various incarnations from years past and present.

But, for the people who don’t buy a double LP collection just for wickedly descriptive liner notes and cool photographs, there is also the music; two LPs worth of it.

Every Day Is Saturday is a double album compilation of demos, outtakes, rarities and radio spots that functions as a nice survey of the Dictators’ career or as the tagline on the back reads “The All-True Adventures of the THE DICTATORS, from Pre-Punk Shenanigans to the Sound of Young America to the Death of Rock and Roll!” I don’t necessarily agree with the “death of rock and roll” statement since I just saw Mudhoney on Friday followed by the White Mystery and the Thermals on Saturday and I’m going to see THE DICTATORS this upcoming Friday but, whatever…

I’m going to wager that the majority of the intrigue for getting Every Day Is Saturday comes from hearing the Dictators in their incubation stage and for that we have their 1973 demo tape.  Handsome Dick Manitoba was not yet a member of the group and the drummer was some guy named Louie Lyons.  The demo contains five tunes; early versions of “Weekend”, “California Sun” and “Master Race Rock” along with two unreleased tunes called “Backseat Boogie” and “Fireman’s Friend.”  In this early incarnation, the Dictators sound punkier than they’ve ever sounded on their albums.  Louie Lyons plays everything straight through, meaning there is no martial drum beat or stops in “Master Race Rock” like on the album version.  And whyyyyy did the two unreleased songs remain unreleased?  They’re fantastic; both sound like the New York Dolls but tighter and not bogged down by heroine.

Elsewhere we get a smattering of demos, compilation cuts and radio spots but one thing I don’t understand is why the only Manifest Destiny demo on the record is a piano-less version of “Sleepin’ with the T.V. On” while Bloodbrothers is represented by eight song (“Slow Death” if you must know)!  I already own the freakin’ album so why would I need to hear a less good sounding version of it?  The lack of piano on the early version of “Sleepin’ with the T.V. On” definitely makes the song rock a bit harder; not that it was all that hard to begin with but it’s still a great song.

As far as the eight Bloodbrothers demos go, they sound nearly identical to the album versions with slight variations on vocal inflections or a couple different notes in some guitar solos here and there.  Also there is no cowbell on this version of “Faster and Louder” which, strangely enough, is somewhat detrimental since I think it actually enhanced the finished version!  How crazy is that?

They understandably skip the Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom record but the only D.F.F.D. demo is “What’s Up with That?” and if you read above, you should probably already know how I feel about the song.  This acoustic demo makes the overly sugary pop rocker sound a bit better and actually kind of enjoyable!  I don’t know what it is but the lack of guitar distortion makes the song a little more, I don’t know… oh, I have no clue what I’m saying here… it sounds better acoustic!  The intro sounds like an Eddie Cochran tune but slower!

The four radio commercials are also pretty fun to listen to.  But, if you’re like me, you  buy these things for original and/or non-album material.  So here’s a list of those:

“Backseat Boogie” – from the 1973 demo.  As I mentioned earlier, it reminds of the Dolls but faster.  It’s an up-tempo, 12 bar rock ‘n’ roll tune with Chuck Berry style leads and some funny, dirty sex lyrics.

“Fireman’s Friend” – also from the 1973 demo and named after an episode of the Superman cartoon, the song starts with some bombastic guitar wailing and drum rolls before picking up into an energetic, Dollsy/Johnny Thuders-esque rocker with a big, happy, catchy chorus – in fact, I can’t put my finger on it but it reminds of some Johnny Thunders or Richard Hell song; maybe “One Track Mind”, “Born to Lose”, “Dead or Alive”, “Love Comes in Spurts”???  Not sure, but ya know, like one of those.  God this song is good!  Really freakin’ good!

“America the Beautiful” – a rocked up version of the patriotic anthem sung by Handsome Dick.

“16 Forever” – From a 2007, Norton released single of a Bloodbrothers outtake (the b-side is the demo version of “Stay with Me”).  Uncharacteristic of the 1978 era of the group, Andy Shernoff sings lead on the song.  It’s another classic Dictators anthem!  Damn, why was this one excluded from Bloodbrothers?  Just because Handsome Dick didn’t sing on it?  Because it didn’t fit the group’s new, “mature” approach?  Come now, those are silly reasons!  If you like the song, guess what!  You get to hear it twice albeit in slightly different mixes!

“Loyola” – Okay, it’s not really new since it appeared on the Fuck ’em If They Can’t Take a Joke cassette way back in 1981 but this is the first, official studio recording of the song.  It’s the b-side to the group’s 1996 single for “I Am Right!” and completely different from the a-side’s Motorhead/New Bomb Turks speed-punk approach.  It’s a really good Cheap Trick-esque pop rock with Andy singing again and Frank Funaro playing the drums!

“Laughing Out Loud” – it sounds like a D.F.F.D. outtake but was recorded in 1999.  It’s a okay, not my fave but hey, they can’t all be.  More mid-tempo punky rock.  That’s really all I have to say about this one.

“I Just Wanna Have Something to Do” – from the Ramones tribute album, The Song Ramones the Same and an obvious choice considering how similar the riff is to the one in “The Next Big Thing”, so much so that the group humorously insert it right in the middle of the song for a few bars.

So there you have it; a nice companion piece to the main Dictators catalog save for the overkill of Bloodbrothers demos.  I still suggest going back and listening to Go Girl Crazy! first since that’s my favorite.  This is more a “for the fans” but it’s still cool.  I only just learned the Dictators members are now fighting amongst themselves so this might very well be the final Dictators release.

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