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Various Artists - All the Young Droogs Music Album Reviews

Subtitled “60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks, Rock’N’Glam (And a Flavour of Bubblegum) From the ’70s,” this collection makes a fine argument for glam as punk-before-punk and speaks to the herd mentality of rock‘s heyday.

The title of this glam rock box set is a cute twist on “All the Young Dudes,” the hit 1972 song Bowie gifted to Mott the Hoople. People, then and since, took it as an anthem for rock’s third generation—the kids who were babies when rock’n’roll first arrived, missed out on most of the ’60s, but craved a sound of their own in the ’70s. The Bowie/Mott/Roxy Music side of glam—literate and musically sophisticated—is not really what this collection is about, though. “Droog” is the true clue, a slang term for a teenage thug from A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick’s movie version of the Anthony Burgess novel. Scandalous upon its 1971 release, the film was blamed for a spate of copycat “ultraviolence” and chimed with existing UK anxieties about feral youth and rising crime: soccer hooliganism, skinhead “bovver boys” in steel-capped Doc Martens brutalizing hippies and immigrants, subcultural tribes warring on the streets.

All the Young Droogs: 60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks, Rock’N’Glam (And a Flavour of Bubblegum) From the ’70s largely celebrates the music that sublimated and safely vented the disorderly impulses of working-class kids in the not-so-Great Britain of the early ’70s. It’s packed with the coarse, rowdy rock whose shout-along choruses and stomp-along drums shook concert halls from foundations to rafters. Compiler Phil King’s focus, though, is not the huge-selling glitter bands like Slade or the Sweet, but the nearly-made-its and the never-stood-a-chancers: “Junkshop glam,” as collectors and dealers call this stuff, a term that exudes the musty aroma of digging through cardboard boxes of dirt-cheap singles.

Glam as punk-before-punk is an argument convincingly made on the first disc of Droogs, titled “Rock Off!” Ray Owen’s Moon’s “Hey Sweety” launches things with a stinging attack and pummeling power just a notch behind the Stooges, although the oddly phrased title-chorus diminishes the menace slightly. Most Droogs inclusions are fairly frivolous affairs lyrically—anthems of lust, celebrations of rocking out—but Third World War anticipate punk themes with the proletarian plaint and Strummer-like sandpaper vocals of “Working Class Man.” Hustler forge a link between the Faces and Cockney Rejects with “Get Outta My ’Ouse,” which is like Magic’s “Rude” recast as pub boogie: the hilarious lament of a longhair hassled by his girl’s disapproving Dad. In Supernaut’s “I Like It Both Ways,” the bisexual protagonist is confused by stereophonic propositions from a girl in the left speaker and a boy in the right. Other highlights include the chrome-glistening grind of James Hogg’s “Lovely Lady Rock” and the grating lurch of Ning’s “Machine,” akin to being run over by a bulldozer driven by a caveman.

Things stay stompy and simplistic on the second disc, titled “Tubthumpers & Hellraisers,” but with a slight shift towards pop. On Harpo’s “My Teenage Queen,” a lithe, corkscrewing melody contrasts with a relentless beat, which is interrupted by an unexpected outbreak of hand-percussion like a belly-dancer abruptly jumping onstage to join the band. Frenzy’s “Poser” sneers sweetly and Simon Turner’s “Sex Appeal” is a delicious bounce of bubblegum. Compared with the ferocious first disc, though, this radio-friendly fare often feels flimsier, stirring those doubts familiar with similar archival enterprises: Is this really lost treasure? Or is it deservedly obscure?

Shrewdly, on the final disc “Elegance & Decadence,” King switches gears and zooms in on what some call “high glam”: the Bowie-besotted, Bryan Ferry-infatuated side of the genre, which appealed to older teenagers and middle-class students with its thoughtful lyrics, witty cultural references, and the exquisite styling of the clothes and record packaging. The backings favored by performers like John Howard, Paul St John, and Alastair Riddell are svelte and lissome, shunning the beefy power-chords and leaden kick drums in favor of strummed acoustic guitar and swaying rhythms. The vocal presence on these songs is likewise willowy and androgynous: sometimes an unearthly soar above the mundane, other times highly-strung and histrionic.

The most fetching specimens here in this post-Hunky Dory mode are Steve Elgin’s “Don’t Leave Your Lover Lying Around (Dear),” with its saucy asides about how “trade is looking good,” and Brian Wells’ archly enunciated “Paper Party.” Themes of fame and fantasy abound, with many owing a sizable debt to Bowie. “Criminal World,” by the debonair Metro—who described their style as “English rock music, but influenced by a hundred years of European culture… Baudelaire and Kurt Weill”—would be later covered by Bowie himself on 1983’s Let’s Dance, a well-deserved compliment. Even more genteel-sounding is “New York City Pretty,” which could be an outtake from Rocky Horror Picture Show, so closely does Clive Kennedy mirror Tim Curry’s phrasing.

Like other retroactively invented genres such as freakbeat, part of the appeal of junkshop glam is its generic-ness: the closeness with which artists conform to the rules of rock at that precise moment. In many cases, these performers were opportunists: a year or two earlier, they’d been prog or bluesy-rock artists. Some would later adopt New Wave mannerisms, swapping escapism and decadence for lyrics about unemployment and urban deprivation. Droogs does contain an example of glam juvenilia from a future prime-mover of punk: “Showbiz Kid” by Sleaze, the early band of TV Smith of the Adverts.

Although this kind of aesthetic flexibility seems suspect and unprincipled, it reveals a couple of things about rock. First, it points to a sameness persisting underneath all the style changes. From today’s remote vantage point, the differences—once so significant and divisive—between ’60s beat groups, bluesy boogie, heavy metal, glam, pub rock, and punk start to fade and a continuum of hard rock emerges. The dominant sound on Droogs is situated somewhere between the Pretty Things, Ten Years After, the Groundhogs, on one side, and the Count Bishops, Sham 69, Motörhead, on the other. I’ve picked British names but you could just as easily throw Steppenwolf, Grand Funk Railroad, and Black Flag in there, or for that matter, AC/DC.

The other thing that Droogs shows is that originality is both uncommon and overrated. Herd mentality, which is to say the willingness of the horde of proficient but not necessarily creative performers to be influenced by the rare innovators in their midst, is what actually changes the sound of the radio. It’s the arrival of the copyists that definitively establishes a new set of musical characteristics, performance gestures, and lyrical fixtures, as the defining sound of an era. Send in the clones, then, because sometimes you can’t get enough of a good thing.


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