“I had a dream, but the dream died.” - Kiss It Goodbye
Remember punk rock? You know, the stuff that was gonna end modern life as we know it and turn your kids into “foul-mouthed yobs” with safety pins through their cheeks? It’s all pretty hazy now that the Class of ‘77 are mostly fat grandpas, but there was a time when rock n’ roll leapt like a feral fanged beast from the cozy confines of bloated 70’s AOR and tore a hole through the very fabric of society.
Punk detonated like a bomb over London and spread the nauseous news worldwide at 45 rpm. It was the first time since the 1950s that people were actually afraid of music, afraid of two-minute nihilistic rock n’ roll songs spat out by working class brats with drug habits and anger management issues. You could keep your peace and love, punk brought blood and fire. It was pretty fucking great, man. Of course, the Sex Pistols and the Clash get the lion’s share of the credit, and everybody knows the Ramones were at it since ‘74, and if you really wanna get crazy, you can go back to the Sonics and blame them. But punk had many lesser heroes, including painter/writer/yeller Ian “Knox” Carnochan.
Knox formed the Vibrators in 1976. They’re still around today. They’ve released twenty goddamn records, pretty much all of them completely under the radar. The last time they made a real splash was probably in 1978, when their single Automatic Lover hit the bottom half of the Top 40 in the UK. They did not invent punk, they did not destroy any fascist regimes, they did not turn your children against you, but they did write a bunch of fun, buzzy rock n’ roll songs that reeked of teenage lust and city-boy blues. There is no doubt that the Vibrators belong in any discussion about first wave British punk. They were punk as fuck.
Except they weren’t, really. I mean, just listen to any of their early singles. The Vibrators were basically glammy pub-rock, like Slade or Rose Tattoo on diet pills. So it wasn’t a huge leap when Knox took a detour in the mid 80s and went glam for a good three or four years. What was surprising is the band he got to back him up: Finnish glitter kids Hanoi Rocks, the reluctant architects of the entire flash metal movement.
Hanoi moved from Helsinki to London in the early 80s to, you know, make it. Mostly they starved, but they did record the seminal Back to Mystery City record and essentially restored rock’n’roll order in that town. LA soon caught wind of the Cosmic Ted and the Flashing Psychedelic Kid, and went full-tilt gonzo with it. Hanoi Rocks have emphatically stated, many times, that they do not want to be responsible for Faster Pussycat or Pretty Boy Floyd or Diamond Rexx or Trixter, but they did invent them all. No disputing that. But that’s a story for another day. Back to Knox.
So Knox wants to make a glam record, but his band are all scuzzy punk rockers. He happens to have the same manager as Hanoi Rocks, who suggests Knox record his new album with them. I’m not even sure how they had the time, seeing as they were touring Japan and writing/recording Two Steps From the Move at the same time, but what the hell, sure Knox, Hanoi Rocks will play on your record, why not? And so, couple months later, Fallen Angels.
Sure, Knox wrote the songs on the album, but they sound exactly like Hanoi Rock songs. In fact, Knox’s loose-lipped drawl basically sounds like Razzle, or maybe Razzle doing an Ace Frehley impression, at least. What’s remarkable is how fresh and vital it still sounds. Everybody was in their prime, and songs like Inner Planet Love, Amphetamine Blue, and the groovy Cuckoo Land practically throb with manic energy and gunslinger cool. There were a lot of Johnny Thunders rip-off albums in the 80’s – Hanoi made a couple themselves – but this is one of the all-time best. Every song’s a hit.
Of course, Hanoi Rocks were pretty busy in 1984, so Knox was on his own to find a pick-up band to play the songs live. So that’s what he did. Fallen Angels made a couple more records, too. There were less Hanoi members on each. Only Nasty Suicide was on the last one. They’re hard to come by. but are reportedly a lot poppier than the first one. Fallen Angels didn’t play out all that often and in hindsight, seems more like a studio project than anything else. Still, for hardcore Hanoi Rocks fans (are there any other kind?), the first album is a fascinating and rewarding side-trip into another universe, one where Mike Monroe sticks to the sax and lets some skinny punk rocker take the lead. It’s like if there was an episode of the Simpsons where Homer’s voice is replaced by Christopher Walken. It wouldn’t be your favorite, but you’d watch it every time it was on, right?
The Vibrators are still around. Sometimes Knox is in, sometimes he’s solo. Hanoi Rocks remain broken-up. But I believe everything’s gonna be alright anyway.
Next week: Hollywood’s darkest secret