Sharps & flats

Garage days revisited: Two reissues re-introduce the trashy sounds and perverted pop of the Flamin' Groovies.

By Geoff Edgers
Published August 2, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Ignoring the meathead cock-rock that's grown so popular in post-Woodstock ('69) America, the Flamin' Groovies dug Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and Little Richard. Instead of neat, radio-ready ditties, singer and resident weirdo Roy A. Loney wrote the naughty shuffle, "Second Cousin," and his homage to hormones, "Teenage Head."

After hearing those songs -- out on two CD reissues for the first time -- you'll want to claim to have spent several adult years scouring used bins, searching for precious Groovie vinyl. But until now, I, like undoubtedly many Americans schooled in the ABC's of garage punk -- Nuggets, MC5, the Stooges -- knew of the Groovies only as a band with the catchy tune, "Shake Some Action," that leads off Rhino's "DIY American Power Pop I (1975-1978)" anthology.


It's not my fault; I wasn't even born when "Flamingo" came out. Blame our guide, rock critic Lester Bangs. When he was deifying Count Five and the Troggs, 'ole Les could have at least given a shout out to Loney. (Bangs did praise "Supersnazz" [1968] once in Rolling Stone, calling it "thumpingly reminiscent of the good old days.") If Troggs singer Reg Presley was, as Bangs wrote, "raspy and cocky and loose and lewd," Loney should be remembered as some sort of garage pop pervert prophet, sliding from country ballads to Elvis swagger and actually writing a song hooked around the line, "I'm gonna make my second cousin my first bride."

Loney, who split from the Groovies after "Teenage Head" (1971) laid a fat (commercial) egg, belongs in the same garage as the Count, Reg, Iggy and the rest of the proto-punks. On the title track of "Teenage Head," he snarls about the "teenage love machine" who "knows how to turn me on/And get me on/And get it on and on," and warns that he's "angry and I'll mess you up for fun." He slips into a semi-drawl on "City Lights," a country crooner that could have fit on a late-period Byrds record. And "Evil Hearted Ada" is glorious, Elvis rockabilly, Loney playing the 16-year-old kid who discovers the cool knob on the PA that turns the reverb up to 10.

In spirit, Loney has more in common with the mischievous, British mods than the hippie world from which the band came. But in sound, his territory is undeniably American. The high point on "Flamingo" (1970) has to be the back-to-back rockers, "Second Cousin," apparently inspired by Jerry Lee Lewis' love life, and a rave-up of Little Richard's "Keep on Knockin." Listen to these and try to deny that the Groovies have, as Iggy would put it, that certain "shake appeal." The six, fully produced bonus tracks add 18 minutes to "Flamingo"; seven additional songs double the original half-hour of "Teenage Head."


So where do the Groovies fit? With these albums in hand, your average, rock-revising, punk genealogist could make a pretty good argument that the boys served as a girder in the bridge between garage and punk, that historians should reserve a spot along the line that runs from Nuggets to the New York Dolls to CBGB's. I don't really care. All I wanna know is where I can find Roy A. Loney.

Geoff Edgers

Geoff Edgers is a writer at the Raleigh News & Observer and a frequent contributor to Salon.

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