Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Heartbreakers—
L.A.M.F.


Released 1977 on Track
The Seth Man, April 2001ce
Hey! Listen up, pal...

Johnny Thunders should be remembered for one thing and one thing alone: He was a murderous gunslinger of a rock’n’roll guitarist. Period.

For some, there’s life, music and love. But for others, that most will-sapping and destructive of drugs -- heroin -- administers a most fleeting relief/escape from these very things: or at least the pressures that spring directly forth from them. But there’s no excuse for expounding it as ‘cool’, because for all the recent disgusting natter about ‘heroin chic’, the unbridled glamour of such a condition can be seen for what it is on the cover shot that (dis)graces a recent Thunders CD entitled “Sticks And Stones” and you’ll SEE if you can bear to look for more than a horrified second. Oh, for crying out loud, Johnny looks like a bad joke gone too horribly real for words, barely resembling the (by comparison) comparatively fresh-faced junkie that graces “L.A.M.F.” You’ll probably even cry: that tragic-com face is a Halloween pumpkin grimace with a dangling cigarette poking out as one eye squints, the other remains opened as it looks over his cocktail as all is entombed in a ghoulish skin tone of every shade not found on a single living human...I never want to see it again.

It’s a painful admission of either advancing years or just plain careful listening, but as much as Johnny Thunders carried on musically from where Keith Richards left off (as Keith did to Chuck Berry before him), who could ever carry on from Johnny? What human guitarist not only grasped but held on with burning fingers that rock’n’roll torch of intensity, soul and snot-bucket aural sneer that raised a mere plank of wood lashed with steel strings attached to electronic amplification into such a razing weapon of all things square? Who else? (I mean, besides Fred “Sonic” Smith, Davie Allan, Link Wray, Mick Ronson, Johnny Ramone and precious few others of the highest riffing order.)

But the point is: who else not only carried on the tradition of rhythm & blues rock’n’roll guitar while turning it up five notches beyond what anybody else even conceived as possible (or some would say, reasonable) at the time, due to the inconclusive fact it was probably as much a fluke overspill of innate, incorrigible (and highly corrosive) misbehaviour channeled into something aural and all too real?

Enter Exhibit ‘A’: “L.A.M.F.” Thunders’ razor sharp saw tooth riffing and the backing band’s support whose previous two years was spent playing the material live over and over and over, honing it down to a finely sleazoid point of ragged exactness. And the territorial spray-paint pissings of its title (“Like A Mother Fucker”) a term used to demarcate turf against rival gangs, was a title not chosen lightly. Because “L.A.M.F.” DOES rocks like a mother fucker, taking no quarter with no holds-barred rock’n’roll of raw depth and utter recklessness. And in their English studio, the Noo Yawk quartet ripped through fourteen or so tracks, and twelve wriggled out to comprise “L.A.M.F.”, which due to malfunctioning disc cutting, wound up reducing its sonic terror to such an extant that drummer Jerry Nolan quit in the wake of its release in complete disgust because its sonic approximation was that of a vinyl plate left in the kitchen sink under several layers of greasy film that sonically flat-lined it to a low, midrange muffle. No one heard it at the time the way it shoulda/coulda, except for a few lucky souls who purchased the Track ‘musiccassette’ (which by some quirk of fate, featured a far better mix than the LP.)

Finally, 1994 saw Jungle Records released a remix/remaster of “L.A.M.F.” that presented a picture so clear, if it was the version released it would’ve not only kept Nolan on the skins for far longer but would’ve caused even more bands in England to form in its wake. From the blood dripping riff intro of “Born Too Loose,” The Heartbreakers set off on a comet-driven course throughout with a relentless, raw and rude rawk’n’roll of the simplest and dirtiest kind. Thunders comes on like he’s continuing “Human Being” off The New York Dolls’ swansong, “In Too Much, Too Soon.” However, here The Heartbreakers are stripped of high-heels and hair and just go for broke as Thunders’ vocals crawl and drawl over the carnage, inciting his boys with consistent calls for action (“I said hit it! I said: hit it!! I said -- HIT IT!!!”) over Nolan’s southpaw drumming, leaning and pummeling as it does just that into his crash cymbal at forty five degrees. “Baby Talk” then storms in, paved by Nolan’s furious snare rolls as churning/blurring lines from the twin guitars of Thunders and Walter Lure light a fuse underneath everybody’s ass. And when it finally goes off, stand back because a solo of the most INCREDIBLE velocity explodes without warning into a flurry of splintered shards of completely unreasonable noise right before Johnny bawls out the order to “Stick it!” Which they then do with mindlessly reckless jabs. “I Wanna Be Loved” also features another blistering guitar attack with lotsa slurred tautness but all jacked up by Nolan’s tom and snare jungle patterns. “It’s Not Enough” sees Thunders enter the quietest moment of the rekkid, all acoustic Dylan ’66 meets Keef ’72 on the street corner for a little open air serenade. The title gets drawled out ovuh and ovuh, since it’s the chorus as well. Perfect.

Then: the closer of side one, “Chinese Rocks,” The Heartbreakers self-styled anthem to junkiedom (-dum) co-written by Thunders, Nolan, Richard Hell and Dee Dee Ramone. From beginning to end it’s a holy terror tale and a half as Thunders’ guitar stutters and simultaneously steamrolling as it sets off a series of flares while throwing in some of trademark doubled-up, high pitched guitar strangle/scream against Walter Lure’s brick wall solid rhythm. It‘s glorious rock’n’roll, and even the deadpanned vocals of the too sad and sick chorus of “I’m livin’ on Chinese rawks/All my best things are in hock/I’m livin’ on Chinese rawks/Everything is in the pawnshop” can’t detract from it. Because although it IS a heartbreaker WHAT fucking roaringness, I tell ya.

Side two opens with “Get Off The Phone,” a track the early Clash pilfered for “Protex Blue” as percolating bass, buzzsawing guitar and Nolan’s quickly doubled-up snare attacks lead into a solo that rams through everything and leaves nothing decent standing. “Pirate Love” ensues, a mid-tempo strut with tightrope bass. Ah, Johnny’s really sliding up against that evening’s prospect until *POW!* The Heartbreakers rev up so mentally, they aren’t even able to simmer back down to mid-tempo for the return chorus, so they just dish it out at top speed, anyway. The Lure-Nolan composition “One Track Mind” starts up with a Ramones dance beat like “Let’s Dance” meets the NY Dolls’ own “Personality Crisis”, as they kick the already broken down musical door one more time, just in case if anybody was listening. Why anybody even bothered to repair the hinges, because they get broken down again and again. And even though “I Love You” follows (a classic pre-“Walk Before They Make Me Run” shuffle), “Goin’ Steady” and “Let Go” end the platter and tear off the door (in case you hadn’t noticed) for the nth time to the ellpee's raucous end.

“L.A.M.F.” -- a gutsy, reckless crash(ed) course in rock’n’roll dumbed up to street level with exhilaration to spare. And although the junk references riddle the album like the same perforations that sent Johnny spiraling ever downward, what he pulled forth from his guitar qualifies as some of the best rock’n’roll ever played, or ignored, during the seventies.