December 21, 2022

Teenage Depression… still makes you want to bunk off school and pass around some cigs outside the shops, until you remember that you’re middle aged and don’t even smoke. It’s bottled teenage rebellion, and it still hits the spot.

These days, the name of Eddie And The Hot Rods is chiefly remembered simply for the big hit single Do Anything You Wanna Do, which became one of the enduring anthems of the new wave era on its release in 1977, reaching the UK Top Ten in the Summer of that year. Despite the undoubted brilliance of that timeless song, it is a shame that it should be the overwhelming focal point of a band who were much more than some sort of ‘one hit wonder’. This set goes a long way towards explaining why that is, and what made the Hot Rods such an exciting proposition in their all too brief prime, from 1976 to 1978; included here are all of the A and B sides of the singles put out by the band during their initial run to 1981, plus one outlier from a 1985 reformed line-up, including EPs and 12-inch single releases, and while a decline in quality can be observed as the chronologically arranged material tails off, it’s nonetheless stuffed with excellence, and doesn’t shy away from being a ‘warts and all’ completist look at everything which made it onto a single release.

Right from the off, in early 1976, the Rods were a breath of fresh air, with the first two single releases delivering a pub-rock-born R&B blast of high energy which predated the punk movement and Anarchy In The UK by a good six months (in fact, the emerging Sex Pistols played their first gig supporting the Hot Rods). First release Writing On The Wall is a cracker, with the flip, Cruising In The Lincoln, almost as good. The follow-up was a decent cover of the garage rock staple Wooly Bully, but the star of that release was, and remains, its B-side Horseplay (Weary Of The Schmaltz), a powerful blast which was re-recorded in even better style as (Wearier Of The Schmaltz) for the band’s debut album Teenage Depression later that year. The real breakthrough, however – and the point where I personally came into the story as a fan – was the absolutely dynamite EP Live At The Marquee, recorded in June ’76 and released the following month. The lead track was a great version of another old garage rock staple 96 Tears (far, far better than the Stranglers’ feeble effort at it years later), but the real attention grabber was the second track on the first side, a charge through Bob Seger’s Get Out Of Denver, which took the already excellent original and ramped up the speed and energy through the roof. It’s one of the great definitive cover versions. The second side of the EP featured a medley of two songs, with an assault on the old Them hit Gloria morphing into an astonishing, fire-engine sprint through Satisfaction, with just one verse included before the chorus becomes faster and faster until the home listener, let alone the audience, is left exhausted. This was the release that let the world know what the Hot Rods were about, and it’s all here, as vital now as it was an astonishing 46 years ago.

Up next after that we get the title track of the debut album, the corking anthem Teenage Depression, which still makes you want to bunk off school and pass around some cigs outside the shops, until you remember that you’re middle aged and don’t even smoke. It’s bottled teenage rebellion, and it still hits the spot. Okay, the sub-two-minute B-side, Shake, is disposable, but we’ll forgive that. Things get even better after that, however, with perhaps the band’s finest single release to that point, I Might Be Lying, with some magnificent drum work from the shockingly underrated Steve Nicol driving the track throughout. It’s absolutely scandalous that the song wasn’t a big hit, as it marries the power and aggression of the Marquee tracks and the Teenage Depression album with a radio-friendly chorus and an irresistibly propulsive gallop. The flip, Ignore Them (Always Crashing In The Same Bar) is almost as good, and indeed would be re-recorded as Ignore Them (Still Life) for the band’s second album Life On The Line in late 1977. It was nearly time for Do Anything You Wanna Do to break the band right through the ceiling, but before that there was another live EP called At The Sound Of Speed, featuring a cover of the J Geils Band track Hard Drivin’ Man along with three more tracks which all came from the first album (including Horseplay again), and they are all given an energy makeover. The limited 12-inch version (500 copies) came with an extra track, a trawl through the oddly spacey first album closer On The Run, extended to nine minutes and almost taking the band into space rock territory! It’s a divisive track, but it undeniably shows the band wanting to stretch out from their punky R&B roots in an admirable way, and to these ears it still sounds great.

Following that it was the turn of that big hit – strangely the band’s only release credited to the truncated name The Rods (after which they discovered – like the J Geils Band’s unwise brief change to simply ‘Geils’ – that Eddie was much cooler, and they soon reverted). Everyone knows the track, but suffice it to say that it is a classic for a reason, with its marriage of lyrical rebellion, powerful playing with perfectly executed pauses and ringing guitar chords, and hook after hook coming in equally good verse, pre-chorus and chorus; it would have been a travesty had it not broken big. Essentially, it’s their own Don’t Fear The Reaper – a small part of what made the band great, but so outstanding that it was destined to become familiar to the mainstream. The B-side, Schoolgirl Love, can be overlooked – it isn’t exactly bad per se, but its distinctly average nature is wholly overwhelmed. The first disc concludes with two tracks recorded by the band in collaboration with MC5 singer Rob Tyner, replacing Rods frontman Barrie Masters for the one-off single release, consisting of Till The Night Is Gone (Let’s Rock) and Flip Side Rock (guess which was the B-side there). Kick Out The Jams they are not, in truth. The Flip Side flip-side is better, but neither were great, and Barrie would be thankfully back at the helm again straight afterward.

The second disc opens with an unnecessary US edit of Do Anything… but gets into its stride immediately thereafter with the follow-up single, Quit This Town, another track from the second album, and it’s amazing that it didn’t hit the upper reaches of the chart in the wake of its hit predecessor, as it contains the same mix of energy to burn, teenage sass, and a good catchy hook. The big hit that never was – and not the last Hot Rods single to have that unfortunate distinction, but we will come to that. The B-side, the bizarre and surreally subtitled Distortion May Be Expected (laughbagindub) is another experiment which, against all the odds, works. There is a laughing bag providing the reason for the subtitle, but the main thrust of this instrumental jam is the guitar and bass interplay of Paul Gray and, on brilliant form again, Steve Nicol. It should be a car crash, but somehow it could go on for longer and still not outstay its welcome. Following this was the third single from the second album, the fine title track Life On The Line. It’s backed with a professional yet inessential live run through of Do Anything…, while the 12-inch contained two more live recordings, What’s Really Going On and Why Can’t It Be, which are both decent if unremarkable.

Another peak is on the way, however, with the advent of the band’s third album, Thriller (yes, they were the first to release an album with that title, pub quiz fans!), and the opening single Media Messiahs is sharp lyrically and musically, if a little toned down on the energy. The band reportedly wanted the superior Circles to be the first single from the album, but Island Records, in their lack of wisdom, overruled them, and failed to get a hit in the process. The B-side, however, is a virtually unknown Hot Rods classic – titled Horror Through Straightness, it’s a brilliantly atmospheric piece of prog-rock spaciness which could have fitted onto a horror film soundtrack alongside Goblin without seeming out of place. It’s one of the highlights here, and more proof that the Hot Rods had plenty of potential for growth in their glove compartment. Up next is what, for me, could actually be the very best single the band ever put out, the opening track from Thriller, Power And The Glory. This time the stops are all pulled out – there’s power and energy to burn, another great lyric, magnificently dramatic production and most importantly a genuinely great song underpinning it. The fact that this overlooked piece of top-shelf hard rock brilliance stalled outside the UK Top Forty is an absolute disgrace, and frankly incomprehensible. Happily, it’s here, so judge for yourself. Another great B-side as well, with the off-kilter yet excellent Highlands One, Hopefuls Two proving another strangely titled yet welcome addition.

Sadly, at this point, with the classic line-up beginning to fracture, the tail-off begins around the time of the largely unsuccessful fourth album Fish N’ Chips, with a run of largely uninspiring tracks. At Night is a decent enough single, with its B-side You Better Run an entertaining sort of funky take on Black Sabbath’s Fairies Wear Boots riff. Wide Eyed Kids, the next single would be a reasonable track were it not for the ghastly cheesiness of the organ sound provided by the legendary Al Kooper (who also produced the album), which holes it below the waterline. The B-side. Leave Us Alone, ensured that people did just that, while the laid-back blues run-through of Farther On Down The Road (You Will Accompany Me) should be condemned to have its lunch money stolen for eternity by Live At The Marquee. Fish N’ Chips Part 2 is as entertaining as its title, as it vamps around the riff from She’s No Angel by the Heavy Metal Kids for four minutes, and with that the band split in 1981, not with a bang but with a whimper. The last two tracks, from a 1985 reformation, actually improve things a little, with Fought For You showing some of the classic Hot Rods trademarks of anthemic melody, but while a decent enough version, covering the old Creedence Clearwater Revival track Hey Tonight as the flip really showed that the tank in the hot rod was getting rather low on decent octane fuel.

This set won’t give you the whole Hot Rods story – the second and third albums in particular are essential for such career highlights as Beginning Of The End, (And) Don’t Believe Your Eyes, Circles and Living Dangerously – but it does tell a pretty good story of the brief rise and fall, and oft-forgotten range, of one of the finest bands to emerge out of the mid-to-late ’70s pub rock and new wave scenes, along with the likes of Dr Feelgood. Eddie And The Hot Rods are still around, but since the death of sole remaining original member Masters in 2019 now comprise four latter-day members only – certainly excellent, as they had backed Masters brilliantly for two decades or so, but we are unlikely to see any surviving 1970s members in the ranks again. In their glory days, frustratingly brief though they were, they shone brighter than many of their more lauded and revered contemporaries, and this release goes a good way towards showing you why. Great stuff.