By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
Whether or not listeners understand the Spanish lyrics that follow, the five-second guitar intro that kicks off "La Bamba," the signature tune of tragic Fifties rocker Ritchie Valens, seems to affect most people the same way. Valens's joyous reworking of the 400-year-old Mexican wedding song puts just about everyone within earshot in party mode, and that circular six-string riff is an open invitation to let it all hang out. It's been used to great effect at college bars and frat parties for decades, and for good reason: Valens's smash hit is soaking in high spirits and a we-can-be-serious-when-we're-dead-but-tonight-let's-rock attitude.
The same spirit pervades much of Come On, Let's Go!, a three-CD box set issued this month by Valens's original (and only) record label, Del-Fi. The 62-track package reminds those who may have forgotten, and informs those who never knew, that Valens, the first Hispanic rock star, was a formidable musician whose death robbed rock and roll of a great talent. While the collection's unavoidable ballads ("Donna," Valens's first Top 5 hit; "In a Turkish Town"; "Bluebirds Over the Mountain"; "We Belong Together," to name a few) are hopelessly dated and sappy, the up-tempo rockers are full of rambunctious energy.
Valens was as much a guitarist as a singer. His nimble fretwork (and that of session guitarist Rene Hall) places him in the company of early-rock guitar greats such as Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran. That's evident on the title track, as well as on "Bony Moronie," "Ooh! My Head" (later borrowed by Led Zeppelin for the album Physical Graffiti and renamed "Boogie with Stu"; songwriting credit was given to "Mrs. Valens" only after Del-Fi sued Zep on behalf of Valens's estate), and the bluesy instrumental "Big Baby Blues."
Valens died at seventeen, after a mere six months of fame, in the plane crash that also took the lives of Buddy Holly and "The Big Bopper," J.P. Richardson. Come On, Let's Go! can only hint at his potential. This repackaging of Valens's work comes complete with extensive liner notes in a photo-filled booklet and outtakes from sessions for some of the young musician's biggest hits. Also included is the live recording Ritchie Valens in Concert at Pacoima Jr. High, released posthumously. Roots-rock fans especially should not dare to miss this collection.
-- Adam St. James
The future of punk rock may very well be in the hands of one Jay Reatard, a Memphis teenager whose eponymous trio has tapped into the essence of the music's raging sound and clenched-fist fury without succumbing to hardcore's generic loud-fast din. The Reatards' debut longplayer -- Teenage Hate, one of the most aptly named albums in punk history -- is a scorching document of Jay's aches and fears, his romantic frustrations and the redemption of scalding power chords and spastic rhythms.
Not that this is simple kid stuff: Whether groaning, growling, screaming, or wailing, Jay makes his teen angst stick because of the precision of his words in the gloriously self-deprecating "I'm So Gone," the rabidly hormonal "Out of My Head, Into My Bed" and "Stacye," and especially "When I Get Mad," a short-fuse anthem built around a winding guitar riff and a teeth-grinding vocal that is both terrifying and cathartic. You'll hear some early Replacements in the Reatards' cover of Fear's "I Love Living in the City" and Buddy Holly's "Rock Around with Ollie Vee," and the scuzzball production owes a debt to lo-fi slopmasters Supercharger and the Mummies. But mostly this album bristles with the energy and vibrance of a disturbed, pissed-off, eighteen-year-old; as Jay puts it in the liner notes, "Rock and roll is my salvation. It'll set me free, whatever that means." Take one spin through Teenage Hate and you'll know exactly what he means. (Goner, P.O. Box 40566, Memphis, TN 38174-0566)
-- John Floyd
Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra
From the late Fifties right up until, well, now, groovier-than-thou German composer-arranger Peter Thomas has written and recorded the scores for hundreds of films in his homeland. Wiggy stuff, mostly: heavily orchestrated big band jazz-pop characterized by spritzy brass, hyperactive drumming, burbling keyboards, stinging spy guitar, and occasional trippy, wordless, "biff!-pow!" TV Batman-style vocals. This zesty hourlong compilation, curated by Michael "the Millionaire" Cudahy of nouveau loungemeisters Combustible Edison, concentrates on Thomas's peak era of productivity and creativity, the Sixties and Seventies, when he cranked out the soundtracks for everything from a series of movies based on the spooky-ooky suspense novels of Edgar Wallace (represented here by a handful of tracks, including the swelling, propulsive "The Sinister Monk" and the stylistically diverse six-part suite "The Spell of the Sinister One") to the film version of Erich Von Daniken's spacemen-visited-ancient-Earth manifesto Chariots of the Gods ("Gods from Strange Planets") to the German TV Star Trek-ian cosmic opera Space Patrol ("Bolero on the Moon Rocks," "Lancet Bossa Nova," and the zippy title theme).
No doubt the lava-lamp brigade will hear in Thomas's music echoes of Ennio Morricone, John Barry, Esquivel, Burt Bacharach, Ray Conniff, Henry Mancini, Robert Maxwell, and, somewhat oddly, on 1965's "The Sinister Monk," Frank Zappa (the latter's 1970 Hot Rats). But Thomas branded everything with a signature je ne sais quoi, working the compositional margins with kitschy dollops such as high-pitched, Furies-in-your-inner-ear "oooooooooo" vocals ("Space Patrol") and evil-nogoodnik cackling (the way-out-there "Der Hexer"), while holding down the core with sometimes fizzy, sometimes beboppy instrumentation, best heard on the jaunty, blaring "Traitors" and the piano-vampy "Caught at Midnight." And he understood how to toy with the dynamics of a main theme by taking the melody line and sending it through the genre mixmaster, something he executes here to fine effect on the eight-minute-plus five-part suite "The Hound of Blackwood Castle" (more Wallace), morphing it from full-throttle brass treatment through creepy-graveyard organ treatment through a highly inventive, over-the-top deconstructed orchestral treatment; he even sneaks in a two-minute bossa nova interlude. The man knew no boundaries: Yeah, that's a sitar rippling through part two of "The Spell of the Sinister One," from 1968.