In 1980, "Punk" was
dead - as a British art-school style. But its shrapnel were
transforming the music America listened to; if you'd told someone in 1976
that, by 1980, the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, the Police, Dire
Straits, Springsteen and the Cars would dominate the pop charts - or that
Elvis Costello and Graham Parker would be selling Platinum - you'd have been
committed. By 1980, it was reality.
And the Houserockers kicked off the decade with one of its best efforts, ever:
Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive is not the Houserockers' best album - that came in 1981. But Have a Good Time... had the best moments.
The title cut opened with a fierce, slashing guitar riff that no punk band ever equalled, kicking off the album with a ferocity that never really abates.
Never fit quite right
"Don't put your
chains on me, I'm young I am free,
Have a good time, but
get out alive,
The album's best songs - the title cut, "Don't Let Them Push You Around", "Angela", "Blondie" are electric, dripping with frenetic, angry passion. "We're Not Dead Yet" and "Runnin' Scared" update the first album's bar-blues sound; what had sounded like rote, bar-level generic blues-rock in 1979 became tight and focused.
It wasn't all great, of course - "Hypnotized" was filler, and "Price of Love" makes you wonder if Grushecky would ever conquer the ballad (a question answered by Rock-Ola, a wonderful but not fully realized last-call slowdance, as tense with expectation as it is with fatigue).
But the album's greatest moment - along with the title cut - is the two-song medley, "Old Man Bar/Junior's Bar". "Old Man Bar", sung by keyboardist Gil Snyder (accompanying himself on the accordion, with the vocal delivery of a sextagenarian) is the song of...well, an old man, who is:
Going down to Dom's
Cafe, fifty cent a beer
Old Man Bar is where I
am, and where I'll be
The song, sounding like a disconnected italian folk song, winds down, until you can hear the drum counting off the cadence. The band launches into the a keening, wondrous guitar hook (courtesy of Eddie Britt, who'd replaced Scalese between albums), and we're into "Junior's Bar", a scorching song about...
...the same guy, twenty-five years earlier.
Going down to Junior's
Bar, just to have a drink
Junior's Bar, where the
band is playing just for me,
Every band sings about going out on a Friday and trying to hook up. I've never heard a band write about that same guy when the hookups have passed him by.
The band was the same as on Love's So Tough, with the exception of Britt. The production, though, was head and shoulders better. The first part of the job was done by an uncredited Steve Van Zandt (whose influence shows through on the title cut, Blondie, Don't Let Them Push You Around, and of course the Bar medley). Mick Ronson and Ian Hunter are credited with producing the record - this happened while they were busy recording Hunter's classic You're Never Alone with a Schizophrenic, including the classic "Cleveland Rocks", backed by most of the E Street Band, a song replete with the same spirit that drives Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive.
This is a stunning record. And while the next album, Blood On The Bricks, was even better, the band never surpassed the wondrous moments on this album.
Equalled, yes. Surpassed? No.
But then, I can count the moments in rock and roll that surpass the title cut and Junior's Bar on two hands, and have a finger or two in change.