Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 22: The Heartbreakers, "L.A.M.F."

Artist: The Heartbreakers
Album: L.A.M.F.
Year: 1977
Label: Track

Easily one of the most frustrating occurrences in music is when a certain grouping of musicians records far too little. There are countless bands and singers who never should have been let near a microphone, yet have released many studio recordings. Conversely, throughout history, certain bands truly remain under-recorded. Among this latter group stands one of the most high energy and musically talented groups of their genre and era, the unrivaled Heartbreakers. Not to be mistaken for Tom Petty’s backing band, The Heartbreakers were the project put together by Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan after they left The New York Dolls. Strangely, the same week that the pair left The Dolls, Richard Hell parted ways with Television, and the trio brought Walter Lure on and The Heartbreaks were formed. Quickly making a name for themselves as one of the most powerful and original groups around, the band when through a handful of lineup changes before finally entering the studio in 1977 to record what would be their only “official” student release. The sessions from which the album came were, in fact meant to be “demo” sessions, yet the resulting product was so strong, that Track Records decided to release them as the unsurpassed 1977 album, L.A.M.F.

The title of L.A.M.F. is in fact an acronym for "Like A Mother Fucker," and it is a slang term from the streets of New York City that basically meant, "keep off our turf." This perfectly encapsulates the bands' general attitude, and it comes through in every song on the album. There are actually a number of different versions of the L.A.M.F. album, many of which have very noticeable differences in the music mixing as well as the tracks on the record. The original release in 1977 features twelve tracks, and it is widely noted for the extreme lack of production, almost to a point where it detracts from the album. In 1982, the original tapes were acquired by the U.K. label, Jungle Records, and the songs were remixed by Thunders and ex-Generation X bassist, Tony James and released as L.A.M.F. Revisited. This version was far superior in sound, yet the track order was altered, as well as the addition of two tracks that were not on the original release. Then, in 1994, Jungle Records revisited the original tapes yet again, hoping to make an even better mix with the newer technologies that were available. This final release, known as L.A.M.F. : The Lost '77 Mixes was released as a double CD, with the first being the fourteen songs found on Revisited with a better sounding mix, and then a second CD of outtakes and alternate takes of man songs. In the eyes (ears) of most, this final release is "the" definitive version of the classic record, and it is the version that is being referred to in this review.

Though the band had already gone through a number of changes in lineup by the time they entered the studio, the quartet that recorded the album stand today as one of the greatest lineups of any band in history. The potent musical punch carries with it represents everything that is great about punk, glam, and hard rock all in one. It is within the music that one can clearly hear echoes of Thunders and Nolan's days with The Dolls, especially on songs like "I Wanna Be Loved." The dueling guitars of Johnny Thunders and Walter Lure are fantastic in every song, as the pair switch lead and rhythm parts, and the shared power chords are pure rock and roll mastery. Bassist Billy Rath is equally as great on L.A.M.F. and he brings a much stronger punk element to the band, giving the music an edge and a bit of a menacing tone throughout. Rounding out the band is the drumming of Jerry Nolan, who throughout his entire career established himself as one of the finest players of his generation. While the music on L.A.M.F. is a brilliant fusion of a handful of different rock styles, the truth of the matter is that the albums' lack of commercial success is not that surprising. In 1977, the musical spectrum was very much polarized, as one end presented punk, and the other end was the more mellow beginnings of "soft rock." The fact that The Heartbreaks were in some middle ground all of their own makes it far more understandable that it took a few years after the band disbanded for the true genius of their work to be recognized.

The vocal work on L.A.M.F. is also unlike any other punk based band, as Thunders handles a majority of the vocals, but both Lure and Nolan also take prominent vocals as well. This almost shared vocal duty was very much a rarity in any form of music, yet it works brilliantly for The Heartbreakers. In his lead vocal work, Thunders sounds almost like a more restrained, slightly more melodic Iggy Pop, as the spirit and energy under his singing is powerful and full of angst. Every song on L.A.M.F. begs for group singing, and the truth of the matter is, there is not a dull moment anywhere on the entire album. One of the many high points is the one song that sounds slightly out of place, "Chinese Rocks." At first listen, it is clearly the most "punk" song on the album, which is nor surprising as it was penned by one of the finest punk writers ever, Douglas Colvin. Better known as Dee Dee Ramone, there have been many different groupings of people given credit for the song, yet Dee Dee is the only constantly and widely regarded as the many source for the song. The Ramones recorded their own version for End Of The Century, yet the version found here is equally, if not moreso fantastic. "Chinese Rocks" solidifies The Heartbreakers claim to be a punk style band, and it is by far one of the finest songs on the entire record.

When it comes to the pure power and spirit of rock and roll music, few bands presented it better then the quartet known as The Heartbreakers. With their unique blend of sleazy rock, punk, and glam, there has never been another group that sounded quite like them, and it is much of the reason why L.A.M.F. stands so high above other albums. Refusing to be categorized into any single genre, the group perfectly navigates a number of styles simultaneously, and the resulting songs are nothing short of fantastic. Clearly pulling from the spirit and sound of The New York Dolls, the group is far more structured and less glam then The Dolls, and guitarist and singer Johnny Thunders has rarely sounded better. With the superb rhythm section of Rath and Nolan, plus the second guitar of Walter Lure, The Heartbreakers represent one of the greatest rock and roll lineups in music history. The songs all burst with amazing energy, and they are still as enjoyable and fresh today as they were more than thirty years ago. Though there are a number of different versions of L.A.M.F. to be found, after experiencing them all, there is little doubt that The Lost '77 Mixes represent the definitive version of the album. Sadly, this would be their only "official" studio release with this lineup, yet it is by far one of the greatest rock records one can ever hope to hear. Unquestionably one of the most phenomenal groups in music history, The Heartbreakers solidify their place among the music elite with their 1977 masterpiece, the truly indispensable L.A.M.F.

Standout tracks: "Born To Lose," "Chinese Rocks," and "Can't Keep My Eyes On You."

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