Apr 042007

When the desultory video performance of “Girls Talk” was running on this site last week, some people mentioned that they were unfamiliar with Dave Edmunds’ work and would appreciate a selection of Edmunds tracks. I offered my services, since I have all of the Rockpile-era Edmunds albums in versions transferred from my old LPs and Mr. Mod was busy with moderating.

Right before this era, Edmunds was focusing on letter-perfect recreations of earlier styles — Phil Spector, Sun Sessions, Chuck Berry, etc. – on the album Subtle As A Flying Mallet. But Edmunds had produced the last Brinsley Schwarz album, and he started working with Nick Lowe again on his next album Get It. The first 8 tracks on this selection are from that album.

The opening tack is the Bob Seger nugget “Get Out Of Denver”, and the album is a mix of old and new songs. Nick Lowe fans will recognize “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock ‘n Roll”, but the record also features two fine Lowe-Edmunds originals – “Here Comes the Weekend” and the lovely “Little Darlin’”. Edmunds was always more of a traditionalist than Lowe (Graham Parker’s “Back To Schooldays” gets a nice rockabilly treatment here), but “Little Darlin’” shows the “pure pop” side of the Edmunds-Lowe collaboration.

Also from Get It:
“Worn out Suits, Brand New Pockets”
“Ju Ju Man”
“Git It”

Cuts 9-15 come from Tracks on Wax 4, the first real Rockpile album. Some of the standout tracks are examples of the slamming blues-rock style that was Rockpile’s bread and butter live (“Trouble Boys” and “Readers’ Wives”), but these are balanced with lighter countryish material and more Lowely pop (“Deborah”).

Also from Tracks on Wax 4:
“Never Been in Love”
“What Looks Best on You”
“A1 on the Jukebox”

Repeat When Necessary (tracks 16-22) was recorded simultaneously with Labour of Lust, and it’s obvious that this was really Rockpile’s moment. I can’t tell you how many times I must have played Repeat’s first side (16-20), taking the title literally. Forget about that video; “Girls Talk” is as perfect an album opener as “Cruel To Be Kind”. I like the fact that two albums came out of this period, though both of them have some filler. The obvious thing to say is that they could have made one great album instead of two uneven ones. It certainly would have been better than the somewhat disappointing Rockpile album, Seconds of Pleasure.

Also from Repeat When Necessary:
“Crawling from the Wreckage”
“Creature from the Black Lagoon”
“Sweet Little Lisa”
“Queen of Hearts”
“Take Me for a Little While”

The band was apparently falling apart during the recording of the last album represented here, Twangin’ (tracks 23-25). John Hiatt’s “Something Happens” sounds like a Nick Lowe production, but overall the quality is really beginning to drop off. I think Edmunds was the first to cover the too-often covered John Fogerty song, “Almost Saturday Night”, and it was a minor hit.

Also from Twangin’:
“(I’m Gonna Start) Living Again If It Kills Me”

After this stretch of albums Edmunds went into decline. He let Jeff Lynne produce a couple of albums, and it got him a hit, but it also got him into using synthesizers, and he kind of went off the deep end. He lent the throbbing synth technique he learned from Lynne to the Fabulous T-Birds, and they had an even bigger hit with “Tuff Enuff”. They were never the same afterwards either. Edmunds’ moment was over as the ’80s set in.

As I mentioned before, these are vinyl transfers. I always add some bass when listening to the mp3s, so they sound more like they did on my old receiver with the Loudness switch turned on. Your EQ preference may vary.

[Mr. Moderator’s note: I can’t thank BigSteve enough for his contribution and excellent write up. These tracks will be up here for Townspeople’s enjoyment for the next week. After that, for obvious reasons, they will need to scoot away. Enjoy while the gettin’s good, and really, how about a standing ovation for a Townsman or two {the other being Matt, who’s provided us with the opportunity to deal with The Beach Boys Love You}.]


  22 Responses to “Prime Dave Edmunds, 1977-1981”

  1. Definitely! Really awesome write-ups and shares – thanks guys!!!

  2. sammymaudlin

    I’ve been looking for just this type of insight and direction for Dave Edmunds. (Not to mention the trax.) Thanks Big Steve!

  3. hrrundivbakshi

    I agree with all the well-deserved BigSteve ass-kissing that’s been going on around here. This colletion was invaluable — thanks!

  4. I know Dave became terribly unhip in the 80’s(Porky’s? What was he thinking?), but the Rockpile stuff really changed my world. They walked a fine balance–great musicians who never overplayed and looked like they were having a ball while they did it. It was a perfect gateway drug that would lead me to punk, and country. Watching the video begs the question: Is anyone cooler than Nick Lowe? I seem to remember seeing them backing Robert Plant doing “Little Sister”. Am I imagining things?

  5. mwall

    I greatly appreciate Steve making this material available, and his write-ups are helpful as well. I’ve also been enjoying listening to this survey of Edmunds, but the comment above about “gateway drug” does resonate with some questions I have. When I listen to the Edmunds songs, I’m also often hearing in my head the better songs his songs remind me of, whether it be country, or other pub rockers, etc. I’m not trying to be a jerk, but I do want insight here. Edmunds seems rather consistently derivative and lesser. Would somebody want to make a counterargument here?

    None of this, though, takes away from the fact that I do find the music to be good fun.

  6. BigSteve

    I seem to remember seeing them backing Robert Plant doing “Little Sister”. Am I imagining things?

    Yes, but you are imagining something that did happen at the Concert for the People of Kampuchea:


    The connection is that Edmunds recorded all 4 of the albums in my sampler for the Swan Song label.

  7. BigSteve

    I’m not trying to be a jerk, but I do want insight here. Edmunds seems rather consistently derivative and lesser. Would somebody want to make a counterargument here?

    I don’t know that I would. I guess it’s the curse of roots rockers that it’s very unlikely that they will ever seriously emulate (in the original sense of that word, i.e., rival) their sources. I actually left out the direct copies, like My Baby Left Me from Get It, as well as generic blooz like Bad Is Bad from Repeat When Necessary. I tried to focus on songs that I thought showed him bringing some kind of twist to the material. I should have included Get It’s very nice Spectorish version of Richard Rodgers’ Where Or When to show another side of what he can do. All of these albums are available on CD through Amazon, though mostly at full list price. I was trying to make a single CDR-sized collection, and there wasn’t room for everything I think is worth hearing.

    Two possible explanations for your nagging doubt. Edmunds’ voice, high, a bit thin, and always pretty much the same no matter what he’s singing, was his greatest liability. Also, it’s hard not to attribute his success during this period partly (largely?) to Nick Lowe, since Edmunds never approached these heights before or since.

    And btw anyone who wants a broader view of Dave’s career should check out the Rhino (of course) compilation called The Anthology, which dedicates nearly half of its tracks to the time periods before and after my sampler.

    I suspect many if not most artists who work in traditional styles would be happy to lead their listeners back to the sources of their inspiration. If I had not already chosen a name for my fantasy band, Gateway Drug would be a pretty cool choice.

  8. mwall

    Thanks for that detailed response, Steve. I just played the Edmunds again, and while my impression of its derivativeness hasn’t changed, what does seem remarkable is how much I can enjoy it nonetheless. I don’t usually feel that way with music that’s so obviously copying other sources. What’s the difference with Edmunds? Perhaps the infectious joy and irony that really is part of it? Plus that kick ass rhythmic drive? But, for sure, as a singer he’s mediocre.


    I suspect many if not most artists who work in traditional styles would be happy to lead their listeners back to the sources of their inspiration.

    Sure, but don’t they also want to add their mark to the music, even if it’s just a footnote? Your point raises for me some interesting problems re roots rock that I feel are worth further discussion.

  9. Mr. Moderator

    Mark, Edmunds has his limitations, espeically in the areas of vocal range/diversity and, maybe more importantly, emotional range, but I liken his best work to that of John Fogarty’s rock ‘n roll essence in CCR. The guy is committed and joyous, and I almost never find him corny, saccharine, or holey, as I find many roots rockers (eg, The Blasters).

  10. mwall

    Thanks, Mr. Mod, but I’m going to have to disagree on both counts. Fogarty and CCR is entirely more original and distinctive on instrumentation, vocals, and lyrics, just for starters. Simply a much obviously greater band, and just NOT roots rock, period. I even think the Blasters are better than Edmunds on some counts; he beats them for rhythmic drive and irony for sure, but there’s real place and narrative depth in their music in a way that his lacks. You really are from the east, aren’t you? And I say that as someone from the east.

    But hey man, it’s Friday night, and I’m sure we’re both going to do our best thinking another time.

  11. hrrundivbakshi

    Oh, for… look, I’ve been silent too long. Where on Earth is the “irony” in Edmunds’ music? Are you sure you’re not just guilty of wishful hearing?

  12. mwall

    Well, let’s see. Take a Chuck Berry-style American rock n roll song and change the lyrics to “You look just like a commie, baby/Get out of Denver/Go!” You’re right. No irony there.

    It’s that kind of sly updating that he and Nick Lowe have in common.

    I look forward to your acknowledgment of my correctness on this point.

  13. BigSteve

    Get Out of Denver was written by my hero Bob Seger.

    I would say that the irony consists not of saying something other than what you mean (the usual definition) but pretending to be something you’re not — in this case a young person from the American South. The roots Edmunds is digging reveal no trace of his native music. I would also say that before his association with Lowe he was a more serious acolyte of American music, but there’s more of a sense of humor in this period. The playfulness in the lyrics (whoever wrote them) makes the music feel a bit lighter.

  14. mwall

    Steve, not having the credits on these songs, I’ve actually been assuming that many if not all of them were written by other people. How many of these lyrics does Edmunds actually write? A question out of curiosity, nothing else.

  15. hrrundivbakshi

    What you shall receive from me, mark, is a hearty raspberry for calling out *one couplet* from a song written by the acknowledged master of Subtle Rock Irony, Bob Seger.

    Edmunds is a neo-traditionalist who, in my estimation, would be appalled at the thought of injecting “irony” into his beloved American roots music. Please note that having a sense of humor and being willing to sing silly/clever/funny lyrics written by arch punsters like Nick Lowe doesn’t make your music ironic.

    If your point is that Edmunds was being ironic when he sang about things other than cars and chicks through his preferred stylistic prism (i.e., trad rock), then you must hear irony all over the dang place.

  16. mwall

    What one does with the singing of a song changes the nature of its lyrics, so the fact of who wrote it here is irrelevant: I’m simply thinking about what Edmunds does with the tune. I have been assuming that most of these songs were not written by him. That there’s irony in many of the songs is a function of the choices Edmunds made not only in terms of singing them, but of choosing them in the first place.

    In his response above, Big Steve has responded to your argument in advance of your making it (how ironic is that?). Like Lowe, there’s an odd mix of reverence and distance in Edmunds; he doesn’t always get the details right because he’s aping something. The result is sometimes awkward, sometimes a bit smirky.

    Now, if you’d said, “I don’t think he’s intentionally being ironic,” I still think I wouldn’t quite agree, but it’s an argument I could listen to.

  17. hrrundivbakshi

    You’re still losing me here, Mark. My point is this: I don’t think Dave Edmunds is trying to be ironic. At all. He sings and plays his heart out, out of *love* for the twangy, trad rock he loves so much. He’s not arch, he’s not playing this stuff from a distance, he’s not smirking as he plays, he’s not sending it up, he’s not secretly trying to make his listeners look foolish for being naive enough to believe in old rock “cliches,” he’s not “so old that he’s new,” he’s not trying to trick his listeners — hell, I don’t even think he’s trying to be clever. In any way!

    Edmunds does a star turn in a great SCTV parody of 1950s teen/horror movies called “I Was a Teenage Communist.” I wish you could see this skit, Mark. In it, Edmunds plays the rock and roll corruptor of Martin Short’s Typical American Teen, using rock and roll to turn him into a Were-Communist. To my eye, that one skit says more than anything I ever could about his adoration of all things old, American, and rockin’. In the middle of this hilarious satire of the entire era Edmunds idolizes, his character remains true, and you can tell Edmunds loves every minute of it.

    I suppose irony is at least partly in the ear of the listener. If that’s so, then you’re welcome to find it wherever you wish. I don’t hear it in Edmunds’ music at all.

  18. BigSteve

    The songwriting credits are embedded somehow in the mp3s — I think it’s called the ID tags.

    In any case of the songs in this compilation he’s listed as the sole writer only of Worn Out Suits. He’s co-writer of Here Comes the Weekend, Never Been in Love, What Looks Best on You, Deborah, A 1 on the Jukebox, and I’m Gonna Start Living Again If It Kills Me. In addition Lowe himself is sole composer of I Knew the Bride, Little Darlin’ and Television.

    I remember reading back in the day that Edmunds decsribed the writing partnership with Lowe as him taking Lowe’s partially finished songs and helping him get them into final form. I always assumed Lowe was the primary lyricist, but that’s conjecture.

    Wouldn’t you say that the commie line in Get Out of Denver counts as satire for Seger (first recorded on 1974’s Seven) but that it doesn’t mean the same thing when sung by Edmunds? AMG says it was also recorded by Eddie & the Hot Rods, so I gather it was a pub rock standard.

  19. Mr. Moderator

    Mark, while I appreciate your deep and sincere respect for American music, when I comes to what I said about Edmunds possessing a poor man’s dedication to the essence of American rock ‘n roll that’s on par with that of Fogarty in CCR – a dedication, I should add, that’s devoid of hokiness and all the juvenile crap that tends to bug me about practitioners of this form of retro music – I’m confident that I know what I’m talking about. I’m not saying Edmunds’ lyrics or originality are on par with that of Fogarty in his prime. I’m saying that he cuts to the heart of a certain brand of American rock ‘n roll without embarrassing me. It’s rare that he wore anything more “’50s” than a little grease in his hair and a baby blue Fonzie jacket (ie, the really cool version of The Fonz). None of that Stray Cats dress-up nonsense. This guy was all business. He could put a serious lid on musical influences past a certain point, but then with Rockpile – and Lowe, in particular – he could stretch out the vocabulary of “roots rock”. In these ways, I feel he’s most similar to CCR.

  20. mwall

    It seems clear to me that we’re talking past each other in this case, hhrundi. I don’t doubt that Edmunds love for the style of music he plays is sincere; he’s certainly not trying to send anything up.

    So I wasn’t saying that he was being ironic towards the songs; I was saying that there’s irony IN (many of) the particular songs that he chooses (unlike the Blasters). And, I think like Steve here, that there’s an irony in Edmunds singing them when the music isn’t really his tradition. I notice that most in the country-ish numbers; he’s playing a role, and it comes through sometimes in his inability really to occupy the lyric; he’s pretending to be country. He loves the music sincerely, but he’s not sincerely saying “I’m speaking the truth about my life.” As your skit story points out, he loves the game of it, but he doesn’t think he’s really living it. But I certainly don’t think he’s laughing AT the music, if that’s what you thought.

    Steve–there’s homage in the Denver song and much of the rest of the Edmunds, in a way that there would not be homage in the Seger song. But it’s still an ironic lyric, and he’s still singing it in a way that’s aware of its irony. I don’t think he’s missed that point.

    Mr. Mod, I hear your point too, and it makes more sense to me put that way. But while I do think of Edmunds as copying a style (and yes, perhaps extending it, though that I’m not sure of), CCR isn’t copying anybody, as far as I can tell, although there are influences of blues/folk/country/early rock and roll in their music, obviously. I also don’t see how Edmunds is devoid of hokiness; if anything, he seems to genuinely revel in the hokiness of some of the stances in the songs. But of course, reveling in hokiness in a knowing way isn’t genuine hokiness, so in that sense I would agree that he isn’t hokey.

  21. Mr. Moderator

    I’m glad that we see eye to eye, or thereabouts, Mark.

  22. A little context here. Living in our post hip, post modern world, it can be easy to forget that Edmunds and his fellow pub rockers(Costello, Lowe, Parker, etc), as well as American cousins like NRBQ, were a shot across the bow of the big ROCK ship of the mid seventies. Here were guys who could certainly play as well anyone, but never lost the fact that rock was supposed to be fun and concise. There was something “real” in the way they produced their music. Maybe irony isn’t the right word, and maybe I can’t say just what it was, but I know it when I hear it. Great discussion, nonetheless.

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