Suzi Quatro – The Rock Box 1973-79 (Chrysalis Records Limited)
Mention Suzi Quatro‘s name to men of a certain age and you’ll be met with a misty eyed gaze and memories of presumably not entirely pure schoolboy fantasies. At least, that’s the reaction I gaged from them when I mentioned I was covering this boxset to a couple of older blokes I know.
Me, personally, I was still in nappies when Suzi first burst on to the scene in 1973 with the UK chart topping smash ‘Can The Can‘, and perhaps because of this, and her other huge number one ‘Devil Gate Drive‘, I’ve always had her pinned down as synonymous with Glam Rock. But listening to this rather splendid 8 disc retrospective, it’s clear to see why the “G” word has been omitted from its title. Suzi was, and likely still is, a rock and roller at heart.
It’s easy to understand why the ‘glam’ label stuck though, when you listen to Suzi Quatro, her self titled debut from 1973. Big hit opener ‘48 Crash‘ and the ensuing ‘Glycerine Queen‘ are virtually the epitome of the genre, but there are interesting takes on the Lennon/McCartney number ‘I Wanna Be Your Man‘ that had been the first hit for The Rolling Stones, Elvis‘s ‘All Shook Up‘ and Johnny Kidd and The Pirates‘ ‘Shakin’ All Over‘ (yes I know they were written by others but those are easily the best known versions) and it seems that Quatro set her stall out early in terms of who she was influenced by.
Of course, given rock and roll’s history, there’s an abundance of barely concealed sexual references here, whether on the album highlight ‘Primitive Love‘ with its Burundi style drums and New Wave-ish melody placing it somewhere between two acts she predated by several years – The Pretenders and Adam and the Ants – or the catchy but laughably unsubtle ‘Daytona Demon‘ b-side that is ‘Roman Fingers‘ (“touch me with your Roman fingers“). Add to this the fact that, two years later, Quatro would release a track called ‘Strip Me‘, and now the looks on those two blokes’ faces I mentioned at the start make sense, although the latter track is deceptively clever and the opposite to what you might expect.
The singer from Detroit, Michigan, is candidly dismissive of her follow up album, Quatro, released in 1974, mostly because it was largely made up of rock and roll covers (Cliff Richard‘s ‘Move It‘, ‘Keep A-Knockin‘ etc), even though she was supposed, according to her contract, to be writing 80% of the songs. And it’s a reasonable gripe, to be fair, as these takes on the oldies are delivered capably enough, but are hardly essential as they are, for the most part, very true to the originals. It speaks volumes that the best tunes here are the ones penned by Quatro herself.
‘Cat Size‘ is arguably the strongest of those, and a diversion from the norm with its gently plucked guitar (similar to R.E.M.’s later ‘Everybody Hurts‘) and smoky jazz piano feel, though Quatro quite rightly regrets the non-inclusion of the stunning ‘Angel Flight‘, an epic number over ten minutes long that simply sears beautifully for the first half of its duration before its drum-led interlude leads you into a world of cinematic imagery before becoming something more in line with 10CC. It’s a quite remarkable piece and arguably the greatest song in Quatro’s career.
1975’s Your Mamma Won’t Like Me is my personal favourite in this set, its opening track ‘I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew‘ recalling Stevie Wonder‘s ‘Superstition‘ and the aforementioned ‘Strip Me‘ actually an intelligent break up song informed by funk. That genre is key to this long player actually, though Quatro shows her songwriting prowess with the blistering Creedence like rocker ‘Paralysed‘ and final track ‘Michael‘ has shades of both Don McLean and Spirit, if you can imagine such a thing. It’s a brilliant closer.
The sleeve of 1976’s Aggro-Phobia is ahead of its time and looks more like something Elastica may have released in their 1990s heyday. There are some decent tracks but again it suffers from too many covers. I’m not convinced we needed versions of ‘Heartbreak Hotel‘, ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)‘ or ‘Wake Up Little Susie‘, not that there’s anything wrong with these interpretations, but it does sometimes feel like a major talent was wasted when you consider how strong tracks such as the wonderfully quirky, almost punk ‘Half As Much As Me‘ were, a track that will definitely go on my next car compilation!
Live And Kickin‘ does exactly what you would expect it to, and having seen Suzi live myself back in the eighties, I can vouch for what a stunning performer she really is, and even though I generally consider live albums inherently disposable, I have to say that this set from Osaka, Japan is simply scintillating.
If You Knew Suzi from 1978 is the hidden gem in the pack, with tracks like ‘Non-Citizen‘ proving she could hold her own in a punk arena and the big hit ‘If You Can’t Give Me Love‘ like a cross between ABBA and Smokie. Lots of countrified stuff on here but it suits her beautifully.
The last disc here (bar the highly entertaining DVD of promo videos, Top Of The Pops appearances and live performances, again in Japan) is 1979’s Suzi…And Other Four Letter Words. Some absolute monsters on here such as the fantastic ‘Mind Demons‘ which is vibrant and exciting, and the dreamy, irresistible and insanely infectious ‘Hollywood‘, with deceptively dark lyrics given its cheery demeanour: “Missing Persons calling from the coast / your daughter’s dead from an overdose.” I mean, ‘Devil Gate Drive‘ it definitely isn’t.
This all comes in a gorgeously packaged box and an accompanying booklet with commentaries from Suzi herself on each album. It’s a wonderful item and despite the fact that some of the albums aren’t exactly perfect, I’d say this is about as close to a ‘must have’ for a box set that you can get.
The Rock Box 1973-1979 is released on 15th April through Chrysalis.
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