It must be discouraging to get dropped by three different labels in under three years. In 1971, the Flamin' Groovies didn't yet know that it would only get worse, and that's a mercy. Instead of giving up, they went to New York and made Teenage Head, the best album they'd ever make. It was also the last album they made with Roy Loney singing. Loney's departure should have been a blessing, but even that couldn't save them.
They got to feel like rock stars during those sessions. A gaggle of scenesters and rock journalists showed up: Richard Meltzer, Lenny Kaye, Dave Marsh, Danny Fields, Kim Fowley (taking a break from wrecking what remained of the Byrds), and others. Jim Dickinson played piano on two songs, and three members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band played (uncredited) on another. The title is from a characteristically repulsive Kim Fowley remark: He was, well, looking for some...
This record sounds more like Beggar's Banquet than Beggar's Banquet does. They've got the same overdriven steel strings standing in for electrics (compare the Groovies' "Yesterday's Numbers" to "Street Fightin' Man" from BB) and the same lazy country/bluesy acoustic numbers (compare "City Lights" to BB's "No Expectations"). The same nihilistic swagger, the same bottleneck tone, a few copped licks, the same big flat drum sound, everything dry and up-front in a crowded mix... It's no accident; it couldn't be. Same sound, same feel. How does it differ? A much narrower range of quality: There's no songwriting as memorable as "Stray Cat Blues" or "No Expectations", and no songwriting as godawful as "Jigsaw Puzzle" or "Salt of the Earth".
Where Teenage Head doesn't sound like the Stones in 1969, it sounds a bit like the Count Five in 1966. You can call them derivative, but they sure knew the right records to rip off, didn't they?
The Groovies were always Stones fans, but this time out they sidelined all the novelty song foolishness and played rock and roll. They got it right musically, but wrong commercially: It sounded too much like 1969 to move any product in 1971. They also suffered from Roy Loney's limited range as a singer: From gimmicky to adequate and back again.
You do what you can with what you have. What the Groovies had was some chops and a few years' time spent touring. You can do a lot with that. By 1971 they were a tight, deadly, aggressive outfit. They shook and they roared. Teenage Head is not one of those "great lost masterpieces" that turn out to be legendary only due to rarity and oblivion. It's a serious record, well worth owning.
As of this writing (February, 2002), Teenage Head is in print on Buddha Records. You get the nine original tracks and seven more bonus tracks, mostly lengthy live-in-the-studio rave-ups on early rock'n'roll forerunners.
Standouts include "High Flyin' Baby" and "Have You Seen My Baby?". The latter is a primitive, raw, high-speed rock and roll workout. Power chords, add 6th on the upbeat. Serious driving music. On my commute to work, if I pop this record in the CD player when I start the engine, that one comes up just as I get out on the highway. It demands acceleration. Serious and sustained acceleration. I recommend it from 80 to 110 mph. After that, you may need something stronger. Warning: Four-lane minimum. Your local highways may not be wide and straight enough to support this form of entertainment. Please exercise caution.
Remember what I said about the Count Five? The title track breaks the Beggar's Banquet rule and goes for that Pacific northwest proto-punk thing, but with 1971 production values. Heavy raunch in the classic style. Oh, baby. Drag those knuckles, baby. Yeahhh. Just like that.
"Teenage Head" lyric:
I'm a monster
Got a revved-up teenage head.
California born and bred.
Half a boy and half a man
I'm half at sea and half on land, oh bye...
Got a woman,
She's my hopped-up high school queen.
She's my woman,
She's a teenage love machine.
She knows how to turn me on
And get me high and get it on and on.
Yeah, she does.
When ya see me
Better turn your tail and run
'Cause I'm angry
And I'll mess you up for fun.
I'm a child of atom bombs
and rotten air and Vietnams; I am you,
You are me.
Roy Loney (singing)
Cyril Jordan (lead guitar, singing)
Tim Lynch (rhythm guitar)
George Alexander (bass)
Danny Mihm (drums)
- High Flyin' Baby
- City Lights
- Have You Seen My Baby? (Randy Newman)
- Yesterday's Numbers
- Teenage Head
- 32-20 (Robert Johnson, addl. lyric Roy Loney)
- Evil Hearted Ada
- Doctor Boogie
- Whiskey Woman
- Shakin' All Over (Fred Heath, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates)
- That'll Be the Day (Allison/Holly/Petty)
- Louie Louie (Richard Berry)
- Walkin' the Dog (Rufus Thomas)
- Scratch My Back (Slim Harpo)
- Carol (Chuck Berry)
- Going Out Theme
All songs left unattributed are by the Groovies' own Roy Loney and Cyril Jordan except for "Evil Hearted Ada" by Roy Loney, and "Going Out Theme" by Loney/Jordan/Alexander/Lynch/Mihm.