“I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for” - Tattooed Love Boy, the Pretenders
In many ways we live in a musical Utopia these days. Instead of like, half a dozen bands that really know what’s up, there’s literally hundreds. Not everybody is down with it, and I get that – at this point the path to enlightenment requires only a Google search, and in 1987 it was, you know, ten years of poetry readings or a lost summer strung out on heroin – but the end-product is exactly the same: searing, full-barrel, life-affirming rock’n’roll.
Young bands like the Zig Zags, Glitter Wizard, Spacin’, Ramma Lamma or The Gaggers embody all that’s good and righteous about used leather and hangin’ loose but they were born into a world where the blueprint had already been created. It’s a given now that if you wanna be in a hip rock’n’roll band, you gotta dig The Stooges, MC5 and New York Dolls, but that wasn’t so obvious in the 80s. Truly hip rock’n’roll bands were rare jewels indeed.
Hanoi Rocks were the first ones to spell it out for everybody, and it took almost a decade for the news to spread to the basements and garages of the world. By the late 80s you started to see the first wave of bands that got the message, impeccably with-it outfits like NY Loose, Gunfire Dance, Freaks, Throbs, Hollywood Killers, Junior Manson Slags, The Veins, Trash Brats, and Angels In Vain and these guys, the audaciously monikered Tattooed Love Boys.
Not every post-Hanoi band nailed it, of course, but at least they got their timing right and their act all tight. Some would argue that rock’n’roll shouldn’t have rules and that if everybody’s dipping into the same well of inspiration, we will end up with a generic blob of white noise. And to them I say tell that shit to Turbonegro, the Hellacopters, Gluecifer, Drunk Horse or Monster Magnet. Hip is hip. If you don’t dig Johnny Thunders and tight rocker pants, go move to the suburbs and never come back.
Tattooed Love Boys were formed by drummer Mick Ransome, formerly of NWOBHM almost-legends Praying Mantis. During their very brief salad days, CJ Jaghdar played guitar, before splitting for The Wildhearts, and Tigertailz-er Dee Zee played bass. Their first EP, Why Waltz When You Can Rock n’ Roll, was a solid debut filled with stomping mid-70’s glam and safety-pin snarl. No hits but not a fizzle, either and it whet the appetite for what would certainly be a skull-crushing, virgin-killing, shoot-the-hostages wallop of an album. We got it in 1988. It did not set the world on fire.
Bleeding Hearts and Needle Marks is a great name for an album. The cover photo was pretty great too – the band getting inked-up in a tattoo parlor, surrounded by old-school flash on the walls. They sorta looked like a too-masculine Hanoi Rocks, but they were definitely on the right path. Most of the riffs on the record were stolen from Johnny Thunders, which is always good. The song titles were delightfully dumb – Who Ya Bringing To The Party, Stale Lipstick, Stikky Stuff – and pretty much every song followed the same full-tilt-boogie formula.
In a lot of ways, you couldn’t really ask for anything more out of a flash metal record in 1988. And believe me, everybody was all for it. As I mentioned, there were so few bands that knew what was up at this point that with-it rockers were more than willing to give these dudes a chance. Unfortunately, everything else that everybody did in this band was better than Tattooed Love Boys. Praying Mantis’s proggy NWOBHM was much more accomplished, the Wildhearts had better songs, Tigertailz had a better singer, there was just greener pastures everywhere. And even if with all the right references, it just didn’t sound as cool as it should’ve. I mean, realistically, they should’ve sounded like Smack. Instead, they sounded like Kix. And so we shrugged, bought the new Circus of Power record, and forgot all about ‘em.
They weren’t through yet, though. They retooled, revamped and matured, and in 1991, they released a second album, No Time For Nursery Rhymes. And while I admire the dismissive title, it sounded even less Finnish and more AOR. And really, nobody needed any of that in 1991. And that was basically that. Like so many other bands with big hair and songs about parties, the 90s buried ‘em.
Still, there’s a few minor-gems on Bleeding Hearts, particularly the sleazy Read My Lips and the cowbell-banging Doin’ It For the Jazz, and it’s clear that they had the right idea, at least for the first couple years. And I’m convinced this record is gonna age into a cult classic someday. Today is not that day, but let’s give it another decade.