Frankie's always hustlin' to make Sheila his steady girl.It was 1979. I remember popular music of the era pretty clearly - or, should I say, I remember very few artists of the era clearly (or at all), but I certainly remember the crushing ennui of pop music that year. Punk was two years in the past - but its descendants were still a year or two away from the Top 40. Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger and Tom Petty had all had respectable hits - but for the most part the charts were still dominated by the likes of Linda Ronstadt and Christopher Cross.
Into this world Love's So Tough was released.
The woman on the cover, by the way, was not a member of the band. Which, in a way, describes the album; a lot of promise, but it fell a tad short in the delivery.
The Houserockers - who'd just changed their name from the "Brick Alley Band" - were an obscure, hard-working bar band at the time. The music showed it - most of it was shot-'n-a-beer bar rock. "I'm Lucky" and "Heroes Are Hard To Find" sounded like Bad Company, "Turn It Up" was a big, boozy slow-blues sway, "Hideaway" showed lead singer Joe Grushecky's interest in early sixties R'nB, and "Stay With Me Tonight" is an almost unlistenable ballad.
But the album's two centerpieces hinted at great things to come.
"I Can't Take It", featuring Grushecky's clipped yawp and the band's taught, guitars 'n keys sound (heavily augmented with Marc Reisman's harmonica) foreshadowed the rest of the band's career - a tough, personal, working dude's lament delivered with an anger that the punk rockers could only pretend to, and that only Springsteen could do better (and only when he had to).
The band - Grushecky, lead guitarist Gary Scalese, bassist Art Nardini, drummer Ned Rankin, harmonica wiz Marc Reisman, and keyboardist Gil Snyder - tried to sound raw. The album, however, is hampered by the worst production I've ever heard on a serious regional release (tied in the cellar with Jim Walsh's ruinous work on the Gear Daddies' Let's Go Scare Al), the work of - unaccountably - Mick Ronson and Ian Hunter. The sound, cramped and narrow, could have been done on a cassette deck in the middle of the bar.
But greatness lay in the grooves; the material, even the more pedestrian bar-band songs, was delivered with the kind of passion that would do Joe Strummer proud.
With critical raves on its side, the band toured the Rust Belt, and got ready for their next effort.