The Second Disc

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Holiday Gift Guide Review: Suzi Quatro, “The Girl from Detroit City”

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SuziSusan Kay Quatro, a.k.a. Suzi Quatro, has sold 55 million singles and LPs, scored five U.K. Top 10s  and twelve Top 50s including two chart-toppers, followed in the footsteps of Ethel Merman onstage, appeared on television’s Happy Days, and influenced a “Who’s Who” including Joan Jett and The Go-Go’s.  Quatro is billed as The Girl from Detroit City on her first-ever retrospective box set which has been recently released by Cherry Red Records.  This 4-CD, 82-song book-style box is packed with unreleased material.  It tracks Quatro’s singular career as a rock-and-roller from her first release, at 14 years old, as a member of the all-girl band with the provocative name of The Pleasure Seekers, all the way through the present day.  The first three discs trace a chronological arc, while the fourth rounds up various rarities and never-before-heard recordings dating as far back as the beginning of her solo career.

For most, Suzi Quatro’s story begins when Mickie Most (The Animals, Lulu, Donovan) saw her in Detroit in 1971.  The producer’s discovery paved the way for the transatlantic crossing that made the singer-songwriter as much a product of England as her native America.  But The Girl from Detroit City starts earlier, with 1965’s “What a Way to Die” and the fourteen-year old Suzi, credibly rocking out in proto-punk garage style.  Her throaty drawl was already well in place as well as her talent on the bass.  But when the band (also including her sisters Arlene and Patti) was signed to Mercury Records, studio players were called in to augment their sound.  Two Mercury-era tracks show the versatility of The Pleasure Seekers, however.  George Fischoff and Carole Bayer (later to add Sager to her surname) supplied the brassy girl-pop of 1967’s regional hit “Light of Love.”  Two more veteran songwriters, Jerry Ross and Mort Shuman, penned the following year’s uptempo “Locked in Your Love,” which never made it past the test pressing stage but happily is included here.

This collection hits all of the high points of Quatro’s impressive career including her 1973 solo debut single, “Rolling Stone,” produced by Most and featuring Peter Frampton on guitar, and its follow-up, “Can the Can,” which just happened to be her first U.K. No. 1.  Written and produced by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, “Can” – as well as follow-ups like “48 Crash,” “Glycerine Queen,” and the No. 1 “Devil Gate Drive” – fit snugly into the glam rock ethos.  The Elvis-inspired, black leather-clad Suzi didn’t particularly identify with the glitzy likes of Alvin Stardust, Bowie and Bolan, but the crunchy guitars, stomping beat and high-pitched vocals of her most successful singles had the self-assured swagger of glam’s greatest.  A particular treat are the pre-“Rolling Stone” cuts produced by Most which premiere on Disc Four of the box, in which both artist and producer are searching for a sound.  When Most paired Quatro with Chapman and Chinn, they certainly found it!

Quatro developed her distinctive and identifiable style early on, but she wasn’t averse to sonic experimentation, either.  “Roman Fingers” (the B-side of the glammed-out rock of U.K. Top 20 hit “Daytona Demon”) has a “Stuck in the Middle with You”-esque, country-influenced vibe.  Quatro co-wrote “Roman Fingers” as part of the agreement that saw her writing her own flips when Chapman and Chinn were churning out A-sides.  Quatro had a clear grasp on her sound, as evidenced by “In the Morning,” another worthy B-side that could easily have been on the other side of the 45.

But even with such a well-defined sound, Quatro knew when it was time to expand her horizons.  As it progresses chronologically over its four discs, The Girl from Detroit City showcases the singer’s mastery of other styles.  The funky bassline of 1975’s “Your Mamma Won’t Like Me” augured for a new sound as did the smoking, insinuating horns of “I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew.”  From the Your Mamma Won’t Like Me album of the same year, the singer embraced a big string sound on “Michael.”

There’s more after the jump!

In 1976, Quatro recorded the song “American Lady,” confessing, “I need you, America…I miss America.”  And America – or at least Paramount Television and comedy great Garry Marshall – needed her, too!  The stage was set for Quatro’s U.S. breakthrough when she was cast on the fifth season (1977-1978) of Marshall’s 1950s-set sitcom Happy Days as bass-playing rock chick Leather Tuscadero.  With her profile raised, 1978’s If You Knew Suzi scored Quatro her first Top 40 U.S. LP.  That year, the country-rock foray “If You Can’t Give Me Love” nearly cracked the American Top 40 singles chart; it had reached the Top 5 in the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Belgium and South Africa!  (Country would continue to play a role in the artist’s sound as heard on tracks here including 1982’s “Heart of Stone” and the Chris Andrews-written and produced “Two Miles Out of Georgia,” with its weeping steel guitar part.)  Later in ’78, though, Suzi had that American breakthrough when her duet with the gravel-voiced Chris Norman of Smokie on “Stumblin’ In” hit the U.S. Top 5.  (It’s one of a few duets here; another great moment is her 1986 synth-pop makeover of “Wild Thing” with The Troggs’ Reg Presley.  A scorching 2005 take on the Eagles hit “Desperado” features Jeff Beck on guitar.)

From 1979 comes a risqué recording of The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette,” perhaps best known in Grace Jones’ interpretation.  The use of a certain four-letter word beginning with “F” precluded its release at the time, but it’s heard here in uncensored form.  If the Happy Days influence was wholly absent there, it was felt a bit more keenly in a 1980 track.  With its pounding piano and thunderous production, “I’ve Never Been in Love” has a bit of a fifties rock throwback feel, somewhat redolent of Jim Steinman and Todd Rundgren’s work on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.  The same year, Quatro recorded her first self-written A-side, “Mama’s Boy,” which is a highlight here.  She had been blossoming as a songwriter, often in collaboration with her then-husband, guitarist Len Tuckey.  Their “Hollywood,” a dark tale of drug use set to an ironically upbeat melody, is a favorite track of Andrew Lloyd Webber per the liner notes!

With a new decade came yet more new sounds, though, and Suzi Quatro was particularly well-suited to New Wave.  In fact, her longtime producer Mike Chapman had produced Blondie’s seminal Eat to the Beat, among other key records in the genre.  His productions of songs heard here like “Mind Demons” and “She’s in Love with You” will likely bring to mind the sound of Debbie Harry and company.

Though cover versions were always an integral part of Quatro’s albums, the concentration here is on her original material.  Still, there are a few choice cover cuts in the mix.  “Glad All Over” boasts an amped-up eighties sound, but otherwise the Dave Clark Five tune returned Quatro to her sixties garage rock roots.  An enjoyably freewheeling 2014 television performance of ABBA’s “Does Your Mother Know” premieres here, as does a mid-1980s collaboration with producer Ross Hemsworth on a cover of The Animals’ snarling “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”

In 1986, Suzi Quatro took on a new challenge: that of the West End stage.  She starred as the brassy Annie Oakley in a revival of Annie Get Your Gun, the 1946 musical with a score by perhaps the quintessential American composer: Irving Berlin.  Two songs from the original cast recording of Quatro’s production are reprised here – the boisterous showstopper “I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning” – on which she’s joined by the full company – and the earthy yet tender “Moonshine Lullaby.”  Though the latter is more suited to Quatro’s blues-inflected voice, both songs show, perhaps more than any others on this set, the versatility of her pipes.  Some late 1980s demos here show how she continued to incorporate varied influences into her music, as on the jazz-inflected rocker “Walk Through the Changes.”

By the mid-1990s, Quatro was looking back on her own career; a smoky piano-led version of “If You Can’t Give Me Love” essentially reinvents the song.  She sat out most of the 1990s and early 2000s, however, not following up What Goes Around (the album of re-recordings from which “If You Can’t Give Me Love” appeared) until 2006 and Back to the Drive, named for a song by (who else?) Mike Chapman.  Five tracks have been culled from that LP, including the swinging “I Don’t Do Gentle” with its horn section.  Though Quatro has the lion’s share of songwriting on Back to the Drive, she and Chapman reunited for a full LP, 2011’s In the Spotlight, which is her last solo record to date.  (Her loyalty is also clear; she and Mickie Most also reunited in the 21st century.)  Five tracks appear from Spotlight, including covers of Goldfrapp and Rihanna, and “Singing with Angels,” an Elvis Presley tribute featuring the unmistakable harmonies of The Jordanaires.  Though Quatro hasn’t released a studio LP since 2011, she hasn’t been inactive; among the previously unreleased tracks here are two 2013 songs, the urgent “The Cost of Living” and the Chapman-penned title track “The Girl from Detroit City,” inspired, of course, by Suzi’s own life.

The Girl from Detroit City features a 56-page booklet including a comprehensive essay by Michael Heatley and exceptional track-by-track liner notes by Phil Hendriks.  Sound quality is equally superb.  If one thing is clear from this all-inclusive anthology, it’s that Suzi Quatro has more than lived up to her promise to “Rock Hard.”

You can order The Girl from Detroit City at Amazon U.S. and Amazon U.K.!

Written by Joe Marchese

December 19, 2014 at 14:05

2 Responses

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  1. How is this woman NOT in the friggin’ R&R Hall of Fame?! I mean, now that Joan Jett, one of her most successful followers, is getting in, shouldn’t Suzi be inducted? It would be nice if Joan said something to that effect at the induction ceremony. Maybe that would kick the voting powers in the ass.Suzi definitely belongs, and has belonged for a long time.

    Chief Brody

    December 19, 2014 at 16:18

    • Someone needs to kick those RRHOF snobs in the ass.


      December 19, 2014 at 21:08

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