If Suzi Quatro hadn’t existed we’d be inhabiting a very different musical landscape. Until the diminutive leather-clad Detroit fireball emerged out of the exclusively male preserve of the 70s glam scene, the role of female rock and pop performers was largely limited to simpering subserviently in unattractive pinafore dresses.
Suzi Quatro changed all that. With an undeniable charisma, a refusal to accept recognised boundaries and a positively feral approach to the delivery of visceral rock’n’roll, Suzi Q inspired (both directly and indirectly) generations of aspiring female artists.
She ascended rapidly to household-name status following her debut Top Of The Pops performance with Can The Can in the summer of ’73. Grappling with a bass of almost equal height and fronting a band of surly brawlers, she was a fiery, fashionably androgynous apparition.
An untamed, hard-rocking tomboy, apparently oblivious to a sexual magnetism that was irresistible catnip to boys of a certain age (not to mention their otherwise TOTP-averse fathers and a not inconsiderable number of their sisters).
But behind her raw enthusiasm and flaming youth, Quatro was no neophyte. Born into a large blue-collar Detroit family in 1950, Suzi was seduced into a love of rock’n'roll at the age of six by the sight of Elvis Presley singing Don’t Be Cruel on The Ed Sullivan Show. She wanted to be him so much, she never even registered that he was of a different gender.
Almost immediately Suzi joined her semi-pro musician father in his Art Quatro Trio. When Suzi was 14, Art bought her the Fender Precision bass that she still plays today. A teenage go-go dancer for a local TV show, she joined her sister Patti (latterly of Fanny) in the Pleasure Seekers. A couple of local hits later, the garage band toughened rockwards and changed their name to Cradle.
Enter Mickie Most. Midas-alike record producer and Rak Records mogul Most moved Suzi to England, and signed and primed her for stardom, teaming her with guitarist Len Tuckey, drummer Dave Neal, keyboard player Alistair McKenzie and Sweet’s seemingly infallible songwriting team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman.
They wrote Can The Can for her. She performed it on Top Of The Pops in skin-tight leather, and the rest is Herstory.
Suzi Q’s self-titled debut boasts a cover you can’t ignore. Front and centre, hand on hip, provocative, leather-jacketed, androgynous, stands gang-leader Suzi; at her back, vested, brooding, inarguably masculine, Tuckey, Neal and McKenzie. It arrived into a commercially peaking, all-male glam scene like a hand grenade.
A statement of intent. Apart from Chinn and Chapman’s 48 Crash and Primitive Love (plus a trio of barnstorming covers), Suzi Quatro songwriting credits predominate. Its pounding, insistent groove is unmistakable (driving, urgent, seductive), but it’s Quatro’s extraordinary vocal that reshapes rock’n’roll’s future.
The seven-inch single was the glam-rock format; its pocket money-dependant constituency simply couldn’t afford albums. So while the likes of Daytona Demon and Devil Gate Drive continued to rack up stratospheric sales, Quatro entirely failed to chart. Which is a shame, because it’s a cracker.
Brimming with a million-selling pop star’s confidence, Quatro is on fire. The Wild One is yet more rhythm section-heavy Chinnichap gold, while her blazing reclamation of Little Richard’s Keep A-Knockin’ as an anthem of female empowerment is not only full-tilt boogie brilliance, but also about as #metoo as the mid-70s ever got.
Following an audience-broadening brush with commercial country-lite (Stumblin’ In and If You Can’t Give Me Love, a pair of out-of-character Chinnichap songs), Suzi moved from the US to the UK and returned to her rock heartland.
Producer Mick Chapman had just transformed Blondie into the biggest stars in the post-punk firmament with Parallel Lines, and he applied a similar sheen to SAOFLW. I’ve Never Been In Love, Mind Demons, She’s In Love With You are all emblematic of a new and supremely confident Quatro sound. An overlooked gem.
Mike Chapman pursued Quatro determined to make an album that would return her to her roots. To highlight her strengths and enduring influence. To make an intrinsically Suzi Q record for the 21st century (that didn’t try too hard to mirror mainstream tastes). In so doing he produced one of her most assuredly on-trend records in decades.
Quatro sounds at home and relaxed, never more so than on an outstanding romp through a decidedly Can The Can-alike version of Goldfrapp’s Strict Machine. Elsewhere, A Girl Like Me swaggers, Rosie Rose reeks of teen spirit, and a decidedly sassy Breaking Dishes spits fire.
Made with her son Richard Tuckey on guitar and Mike Curtis at the controls, Quatro’s latest album boasts an engaging freshness that gives the distinct impression of a new beginning rather than a swansong.
A cohesive modern production makes sense of a characteristic mixture of styles, but when Suzi rocks (a hook-laden No Soul-No Control), applies her seductive attentions to a rolling blues (Don’t Do Me Wrong) or simply lets fly with a hot-buttered slice of ZZ boogie (Macho Man), she’s every inch the transcendent rock icon. Weirdly, rather than diminish with age, Suzi Quatro only seems to get better.
A match made in glam heaven, this startling combination of Quatro with Slade drummer Don Powell and Sweet guitarist Andy Scott matches raw power with emotional depth to excellent effect. Scott’s production accentuates the heft of Quatro’s routinely overlooked bass playing and her uncanny ability to utterly inhabit a song.
Outside of her career’s defining glam era, here’s the album that defines Quatro best. From If Only’s towering Brill Building tropes, through Slow Down’s explosive rock’n’roll romp, to immense power ballad Pain, QSP captures Suzi Q at the top of her game.
Co-produced by Mickie Most and Mike Chapman, AggroPhobia, recorded concurrent to punk and Runaways, managed to maintain relevance in the face of both.
With half an eye on mellowing toward the mainstream, it’s not without its moments of hokiness (The Honky Tonk Downstairs, a surplus take on Steve Harley’s Make Me Smile), but sole Chinnichap contribution Tear Me Apart sounds perfectly of its time, and the Quatro/Tuckeycredited Half As Much As Me kicks along convincingly.
Bookended by routine vintage r’n’r covers, there are serviceable ballads, and even a chunk of funk (Close The Door), but, perhaps ironically, not enough aggro.
Following a 16-year lay-off, Quatro’s long-awaited comeback record benefits from a gutsy co-production by Sweet’s Andy Scott (under the keen eye of Mike Chapman, who also provides a stunning, glory days-referencing title song). Scott also joins Len Tuckey on guitar.
But despite the glam muscle of the front line, Back To The Drive isn’t the straight-ahead, no-surprises rock album one might expect. Duality (co-written with ex-Runaway Vicki Blue) is based on an Indian raga, 15 Minutes Of Fame echoes Run Run Away-era Slade, and I Don’t Do Gentle features strident horns. Vocal effects, though, are surplus to requirements.
Although possibly not the most accurately titled album, Quatro’s sole full-length release for Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman’s Dreamland imprint has much to recommend it.
The title track is textbook Chinnichap, but times were changing. Suzi had prevailed through punk, but in the wake of NWOBHM and the arrival of Joan Jett into the mainstream marketplace, Rock Hard sounded relatively tame.
Regarded retrospectively, it’s revealed as the album where producer Chapman tempered Suzi’s usual, reliable glam swagger with slick Hollywood gloss in pursuit of AOR gold, and when it works (Hard Headed, the decidedly Gloria-alike Lipstick) it works perfectly.
...and one to avoid
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Of course, for those of the resolutely rock persuasion, ‘versatile’ can be a double-edged sword. For while it’s certainly impressive that Suzi Quatro the all-guns-blazing rock star can casually transform herself into Irving Berlin’s Annie Oakley and satisfy all-comers on the West End stage, Anything You Can Do is hardly 48 Crash.
That said, if you’re looking for a rootin’, tootin’ musical-theatre interpretation of a pioneering Wild West sharpshooter, then look no further. But if you’re not… Annie Get Your Gun is a difficult taste for the rock palate to acquire, an old-school musical you can never unhear.