Cherry Red Records [Release date 27.10.14]
It would be all too easy to dismiss the girl from Detroit City as a Mickie Most, Chinn/ Chapman puppet, but this beautifully packaged 4-CD, 82 track career retrospective attempts to but the record straight covering everything from her first step at the age of 14 in 1965 with ‘What A Way To Die’ by The Pleasure Seekers (an all-female band formed with her sister Patti), to an unreleased cover version of The Eagles’ ‘Desperado’ featuring Jeff Beck recorded in 2005.
It’s a lavish hard book style package with a 20,000 word, 54 page booklet including track by track analyses by Suzi and 70′s expert Phil Hendriks, and a This Is Your Life style career synopsis by Michael Heatley.
Those who would write Quatro off as a flash in the pan of 1970′s glam would do well to remember she was the first female bass player to become a rock star – inspiring the likes of Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde to follow in her footsteps – and has sold over 50 million singles and albums.
Her first solo single ‘Rolling Stone’ in 1972 featured Duncan Browne, Peter Frampton and Alan White and in the same year she opened for Thin Lizzy (who were themselves opening for Slade). But it was her second single ‘Can The Can’ (1973) and the following ’48 Crash’ (1973), ‘Daytona Demon’ (1973), and ‘Devil Gate Driv’e (1974) that was her golden era.
Glam did not, of course, translate across the pond and she met with little success back home despite an opening for the up-and-coming Kiss, and being the support act on Alice Cooper’s Welcome To My Nightmare trek across the US.
How weird it must have felt – a young stranger in a strange land and on top of the charts. And it was that brief spell in the spotlight underpinned by guest TV appearances in Happy Days, Minder, Dempsey and Makepeace, Absolutely Fabulous, Midsomer Murders and Countdown that cemented her place in the heart of British audiences.
For most their recollections of Suzi Quatro will end there, but she continued to tickle the lower reaches of the charts with a string of singles between 1974 and 1980 when the Chinn/ Chapman ‘dream team’ imploded and her contract with Most expired. A brief spell with Mike Chapman’s label ensued but that folded soon after and Suzi went ‘independent’.
The hits were, of course, great. But there’s no denying the Chinn/Chapman team were formulaic in the extreme and Chapman something of dictator in the studio. As a result much of their material has echoes of, or could equally have been recorded by The Sweet, Mud, or Smokie. In hindsight, one of the more enduring songs of the period was her duet ‘Stumblin’ In’ with Smokie’s Chris Norman – a massive hit on both sides of the pond in 1980.
This point in her career doesn’t even get us half way through this box set, which is where the more ‘interesting’ material begins as her own style begins to emerge – the excellent ‘Lonely Is The Hardest’, written when she first arrived in the UK, living alone, with no friends and no hits being a prime example.
The journey from thereon rambles along assorted and diverse tracks and dead ends, from the swing of the 1986 original cast soundtrack of Annie Get Your Gun, the late night piano/sax cover re-visiting of her 1978 hit ‘If You Can’t Give Me Love’, to her own ‘techno’ version of ‘Warm Leatherette’ – a cover which would become a hit for Grace Jones.
As the years progress, her performances become more self-assured, but somehow you’re left feeling Suzi Q has still to find her true self. Her talent, and place in rock history, can’t be denied. The truth is, she isn’t a gifted songwriter and has had to rely on others in that respect. Hence the inconsistency of direction. But for balls, guts and focus, there will only ever be one ‘girl from Detroit’.
For those looking for a ‘best of’ or greatest hits, this box set is not for you. But for those interested in exploring the good times, bad times, and little known times of one of the great names of the 1970′s, The Girl From Detroit is a fascinating trip. ****
Review by Pete Whalley
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