My brother got me Please Kill Me for my 16th birthday back in the grand ol’ year of (Death Race) 2000 and, as a result, I got into the underworld of 70s punk rock. When all the other kids were listening to their Blink 182 and Sum 41 or what have you, I was rockin’ and rollin’ to the New York Dolls, Stooges, MC5, Dictators, Ramones, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers and, of course, this here pictured band of merry pranksters called the Dead Boys.
Delightfully trashy, sleazy and juvenile, the Dead Boys – singer Steven “Stiv” Bators, lead guitarist Eugene “Cheetah Chrome” O’Connor, rhythm guitarist William “Jimmy Zero” Wilden, bassist Jeff “Magnum” Halmagy and drummer Johnny “Blitz” Madansky – hail from Youngstown, Ohio where Cheetah Chrome, Johnny Blitz and Stiv Bators were in the short lived proto-punk/art rock band Rocket From The Tombs with future Pere Ubu members David Thomas and Peter Laughner.
The Dead Boys made two albums for punk’s major label industry leader Sire under the hope that they would knock Foreigner off the radio. It didn’t happen, the band was dropped and broke up, occasionally reuniting during the 80s, while Bators went onto a power pop solo career before joining Lords of the New Church. In 1990 he died while in Paris after getting hit by a car and not going to the hospital. As for the rest of the members, well, eh… Cheetah did release a solo single and jam with both Nico and a pre-poopy GG Allin and way later reformed Rocket along with a new band called the Batutsis with Sylvain Sylvain.
Also, Stiv Bators was really short and scrawny and liked to entertain the audience in a manner similar to Iggy with antics like hanging himself from the pipes above, rolling all over the stage, crawling between other members’ legs, jumping into the crowd and acting like his neck and head are a penis that spits loogies.
One last thing: a lot of record labels seem to think you can’t have too much of a good thing so they released a lot of posthumous Dead Boys live product. I don’t have all of the live albums so I apologize if the discography seems incomplete. As I purchase or download more, I’ll add and review them.
Eve of the Dead Boys EP (by Frankenstein) – Hell Yeah – 1996
Before the Dead Boys called themselves the Dead Boys, they called themselves Frankenstein. Interestingly the name didn’t come directly from the source but from David Carradine’s character in the hilariously violent, 1975 Roger Corman produced exploitation film Death Race 2000.
Before they were a punk band or rather, before there was a thing widely known as “punk rock”, the members of Frankenstein wore their hair super long, smeared makeup all over their faces and decked themselves out in creative of ways – for instance, Stiv Bators wrapped himself up in electrical tape – with obvious stylistic nods to Alice Cooper, the New York Dolls and Iggy (especially Cheetah Chrome’s dog collar).
The group only performed a handful of times. One of those includes their 1975 Halloween show where they had a guy roam the stage in a Frankenstein monster costume while the band played a mixture of originals and covers, among which included “Deuce” by Kiss, “Death May Be Your Santa Clause” by Mott the Hoople and “Don’t Mind Rockin’ Tonight” by Ducks Deluxe.
But, more importantly than a few covers is their originals. This here three track EP proves that with the punk tag or not, they had their sound intact. All three tracks on Eve of the Dead Boys would end up on the first Dead Boys album. Although a tad slower than the album version, “Sonic Reducer” sounds as it would on album, which makes it even more of a trip to picture them performing the four chord punk tune decked out in their outrageous, pre-punk stage attire. Stiv Bators doesn’t sound as biting as on the album but that might have to do with his voice being buried by lousy demo production. Chrome’s and Zero’s guitars are ferocious and slashing as they would be on the album.
The other two songs are the apocalyptic, coke paranoia ballad “High Tension Wire” and the high speed, “chuga-chuga” punker “Down in Flames.” “High Tension Wire” has a slightly different arrangement with the dark, sick bridge riff played twice but “Down in Flames” sounds just like the album version complete with Bators’ white trashy shouts of “DEAD BOY! DEAD BOY RUNNIN’ SCARED!”
Young, Loud and Snotty – Sire – 1977
Play loud and play often.
Any punk fan worth his/her/its salt is familiar with the upper, mid-tempo, four chord punk anthem “Sonic Reducer”, that kicks off the just under 30 minute long, debut Dead Boys LP Young, Loud and Snotty. But for those who are unfamiliar, I’ll give you a brief breakdown.
Song kicks in with two chords (“dah-dah”), followed by the four chord riff played on the root notes with a phasing effect, then the main riff is played as bar chords accented with “dee-dee-dee-dee” string bends, then the main riff is played with palm mutes (“chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga”) while a pissed off, white trashy, slurred but totally understandable, Midwest punk guy shouts these opening lines:
“I don’t need anyone
don’t need no mom and dad
don’t need no pretty face
don’t need no human race
I got some new for you
don’t even need you too”
and then things get confusing. For the whole of my life, I thought the next line was “I got my time machine/got my electronic dream” because, ya know that makes sense right? “Me against society”, punk attitude crossed with a weird, science fiction concept. What else could it be BUT a time machine? Alas, according to Cheetah Chrome’s autobiography, it’s “dull machine.” Oh well, life goes on.
The rest of Young, Loud and Snotty contains three more songs in the vein of “Sonic Reducer” and its muscular, metalled up punk, one speedy song with a very glammy riff and a gross title, one melodic, “Anarchy in the U.K.” tempo punky number with equally sleazy lyrics (“all this and more, little girl/how about on the floor, little girl”), a New York Dolls-y, mid-tempo rocker that’s apparently about Lydia Lunch but has the lines “I don’t really wanna dance/girl, I just wanna get in your pants”, two ballads and a cover of a 60s pop song that the group manages to make sound sleazy without even changing the words.
The strength of Young, Loud and Snotty, if you haven’t guessed already comes from a combination of Cheetah Chrome’s and Jimmy Zero’s super tight playing and killer riffs combined with Stiv Bators’, slurred, pissed off, punky drawl which turns the worlds “girl” into “guuhl” and “pants” into “payants.” Regarding the playing Cheetah Chrome (and probably Jimmy Zero even though he’s a rhythm guitarist so it’s harder to tell) is not some “bar chords only”, punk rock novice like say, mmm, Johnny Ramone.
Furthermore, while most people basically compare the Dead Boys with the Stooges and the Dolls and, while Chrome’s playing has similarities with James Wiliamson’s and Johnny Thunders’, much of the tight, mean guitar interplay between Chrome and Zero along with their filthy, distorted but not heavy tones reminds me of Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce, lead and rhythm guitarists form the Alice Cooper group. This is especially so on the dark, minor chord, hard rock ballads “Not Anymore” and “High Tension Wire.” Hell, I’d compare “Caught with the Meat in Your Mouth” with “Under My Wheels” and “High Tension Wire” with some of the evil, sick riffing in songs like “Is It My Body” or “Halo of Flies.”
Lyrically though, the album is very Stooges inspired. “Sonic Reducer” has the same antisocial message as “Search and Destroy.” “Ain’t Nothin’ to Do” is thematically similar to “No Fun.” “All This and More”, “What Love Is” and “I Need Lunch” are fuck songs just like “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, “Loose” or “Penetration.” And “Down in Flames” doesn’t fit any of these categories since it’s about some nuclear bomb detonating crazy guy and the riff is similar to “Nights in Venice” by the Saints.
We Have Come for Your Children – Sire – 1978
If you’ve read Please Kill Me, then you know that the Dead Boys, especially Cheetah Chrome and Jeff Magnum, were not particularly happy with their second album. Chrome apparently called James Williamson on the phone begging and pleading him to save the album while Magnum yelled at producer Felix Papalardi for giving the band a weaker sound. The simple idea of making a loud, guitar based rock record shouldn’t have been lost on him considering he produced Cream records and played bass for Mountain.
We Have Come for Your Children doesn’t sound THAT bad but, if you’re expecting the same raw and dirty guitar tones or, hell, the same level of intensity, anger, power and oomph from the first album, you’d best just play Young, Loud and Snotty again. Indeed part of the less aggressive sound can be blamed on the production but the other part of the problem lies with band itself. The first of these problems is that Stiv Bators doesn’t sound nearly as pissed off as he did on the first album. Sure he has a punky slur but he sounds a little to comfortable and laid back. The second problem unfortunately lies in some of the songs.
But, let me stress that, in spite being less aggressive, We Have Come for Your Children is still a good album, chock fulla killer riffs and hooks that, for the most part, measure up to those on the first album. In fact “3rd Generation Nation”, “(I Don’t Wanna Be No) Catholic Boy”, “Flamethrower Love” and “Dead and Alive” could easily fit on Young, Loud and Snotty with their middle, upper tempo, punky hard rock. And I don’t care what Cheetah Chrome says about the Kim Fowley penned “Big City”; it’s a good, medium tempo, glammy, punk tune.
Also, just like the first album, We Have Come… has two ballads; the creepy as all hell, David Berkowitz epic “Son of Sam” (for which I still think Spike Lee dropped the ball for not including in his movie) and the bleak and depressing album closing tail of drug induced meltdown “Ain’t It Fun.” Interesting thing about the latter song: It was initially co-written by Peter Laughner back when he and Chrome were in Rocket From The Tombs together and, when I asked Cheetah Chrome at a book signing if the song was essentially an anti-drug song, he said it wasn’t. This surprised me because when a song says, “ain’t it fun when you’re always on the run/ain’t it fun when your friends despise what you’ve become/ain’t it fun when you get so high that you just can’t come”, the answer is, “no, it ain’t fun at all.” Yet, according to Chrome, there was nothing anti-drug about Peter Laughner.
But the real culprit of the album, the songs that are undoubtedly going for a more power pop approach are “I Won’t Look Back”, “Tell Me” and “Calling on You.” And sure, that’s just three songs out of 10 but the effect is very noticeable; nicely sung, happy pop choruses and, in the case of “Calling on You”, a happy lead guitar line. These aren’t bad songs but they definitely point to the approach on Stiv Bators’ post-Dead Boys power pop solo album, Disconnected. What’s really strange though is that “Tell Me” is a punked up cover of the sappy Stones ballad.
Even the lyrics are tame by comparison. Oh sure, “Ain’t It Fun” uses the word “cunt” and “Catholic Boy” has that line where he goes, “I wanna beat my meat right in the street” but that’s about as bad as it gets. The rest of the lyrics deal with being an outcast and the rough and tumble city lifestyle and “3rd Generation Nation” is about the closest they came to a political song (“the better world you tried to build exploded in your face”). But one song that really confuses me is “Calling on You.” I could easily just read it as a song about a guy hanging out somewhere, not digging the scene, missing a special person (Cheetah Chrome thinking of Gida Gash maybe?) but, am I crazy to see spiritual overtones in these lyrics? You tell me:
“You shining in the sky
Faster than the naked eye
I’m calling calling calling on you
Things here got outta hand
Take me back to the promised land
I’m calling calling calling on you”
Night of the Living Dead Boys – Bomp! – 1981
By 1979 the Dead Boys were dead in the water. Sire records didn’t want anything to do with them anymore since their records failed to capture the youth of America but, for some strange reason, they wanted them to record a live album. In a last ditch attempt to stick it to the man, Stiv Bators gave them the ol’ middle finger by performing the entire show off mic, rendering the recording unusable.
Two years later, after he released Disconnected and around the time he was going to join Lords of the New Church, Bators dubbed all of his vocals onto the live performance resulting in the first of several posthumously released Dead Boys live albums.
Night of the Living Dead Boys contains five songs from Young, Loud and Snotty, six from We Have Come for Your Children and a new song called “Detention Home”, which seems indicative that, if the Dead Boys did release a third album, it might very well have had a more melodic, 60s-ish, garagy sound.
The sound on the record is fantastic with the guitars are reverbed and loud but I wish Bators put a little more energy into his performance; I suppose that’s par for the course since his vocals were recorded in a studio over an already existing live track. Undeniably the We Have Come for Your Children songs like “I Won’t Look Back”, “Son of Sam” and “Tell Me” sound a bit tougher in the live setting even if it isn’t totally fitting for the group’s snotty image to sing, “come back to me baby, come back to my heart.” There are also few mistakes and flat notes every now and then, especially on a particularly sloppy performance of “Sonic Reducer.”
Other points of interest include Bators’ cute little one liners and asides such as the classy “you hungry?” before playing “Caught with the Meat in Your Mouth”, “every kid’s dream is to be a Dead Boy!” before “All This and More”, “this was written by a friend of ours, Peter Laughner. You know that we’re all gonna die young” before “Ain’t It Fun”, the tasteful “this is for Davey” at the beginning of “Son of Sam”, the not so nice announcement “we’re not doing this for you. We’re doing this because we’re getting paid” before starting “Sonic Reducer” and especially the trilled R, Johnny Rotten homage, “rrright now!” at the beginning of “I Won’t Look Back.”
Also Bators replaces the “hippie” in the “gonna beat up the next hippie” I see line from “Ain’t Nothin’ to Do” in both occurrences to “punk” and “skinhead” but what’s up with the “gettin’ real sick of Jews”? Did it just sounds like that because of his slurred singing or was that some sort of joke or, worse yet, an attack on Seimor Stein?
“The Nights Are So Long”/ “All the Way Down (Poison Lady)” 7″ – Relativity – 1987
If you see Cheetah Chrome walking down the street and you hand him your copy of this here 7″ single in hopes that he’ll sign it, prepare to have it handed back to you in two pieces.
Apparently, whoever released it, did so without the group’s full consent, using unfinished scratch tracks for the final product.
The “The Nights Are So Long” b/w “All the Way Down (Poison Lady)” single is the only record the Dead Boys released when they reunited in 1986. The band had done reunion gigs a number of times before but, in 1986, they made a full attempt at reforming in hopes of relaunching their career.
Well, it didn’t happen and the group would only perform together on a few other occasions before Stiv Bators would go to France in hopes of forming a punk super group called the Whores of Babylon with Johnny Thunders and Dee Dee Ramone but, instead, would end up dead from getting hit by a car and refusing to go to the emergency room.
Both the a and b sides are perfectly okay power pop tunes that resemble the lighter moments on We Have Come for Your Children with side two being a teensy bit faster. The drum sound is also a bit reverbed since it was recorded in the 80s and the guitars don’t sound very loud but, basically these are not the tough punk songs you would imagine coming from the band pictured on the sleeve. In fact, “All the Way Down (Poison Lady)” sounds more like a Dictators power pop song (maybe “16 Forever”) than a Dead Boys one.
I read that Jeff Magnum quit shortly after and the band performed a number of shows as a four piece sans bass guitar just like they did in their early CBGBs days.