Young cats strut their stuff on primitive debut
By the early ‘80s the New Wave movement had successfully usurped both glam and punk as the predominating force in popular music, where bands such as Japan, Duran Duran and Simple Minds were beginning their push towards world domination. The Stray Cats on the other hand, were the absolute antithesis to the equation, being a three piece who were raised on a diet of Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, and Gene Vincent (not to mention Sleepy LaBeef). Their sound was primitive for a start, just a guitar, double bass and drum, while the band itself looked as though they’d just crawled out of a ‘50s Op Shop with enough Pomade in their hair to hold up the Golden Gate Bridge. Though despite their retro look and feel, The Stray Cats were anything but; because thanks to them, rockabilly was about to get a serious reboot.
On intense opener “Runaway Boys” Brian Setzer offers a hint at what Cochran may have sounded like if he had of been making music in the early ‘80s. More like punkabilly, one can see why The Stray Cats’ unique style proved well suited to the London underground club scene. The Cochran references continue on “Fishnet Stockings” and “Jeannie, Jeannie, Jeannie,” both of which are fun upbeat rockers, along with a wild interpretation of “Ubangi Stomp,” a number Jerry Lee Lewis recorded on his debut album for Sam Phillips back in 1958.
The band get political with “Storm The Embassy,” a tough little ditty written about the American’s failed attempt to rescue hostages from the Iranian embassy, an event that would ultimately contribute to the downfall of Jimmy Carter. The energetic “Rock This Town” became an MTV favourite, thanks to a colourful video, despite being one of the most delightfully anachronistic tunes of its era. The boys hit hard on the belting “Rumble In Brighton Tonight,” playing their instruments like there is literally no tomorrow, before the ultra-cool “Stray Cat Strut,” a song that simply sweats with sophistication, thanks mainly to Setzer’s bluesy, jazzy guitar figures, and Lee Rocker and Slim Jim’s classy ‘too cool for school’ backing.
They rock like a 1950’s version of The Clash on “Crawl Up And Die,” tear up the dance floor with a rollicking “Double Talkin’ Baby,” get all romantic on “My One Desire,” before wrapping things up with the sexy and primeval “Wild Saxophone.”
The Stray Cats had finally found their niche amid the schlock – that much is true. With their singles riding higher in the charts than their pompadours the band had at last been vindicated, proving that there was more to music than synthesisers alone. As Setzer said at the time: “We’ve had skins, mods, teds all along, anyone who likes rockabilly. We want to play for everybody, not just the rockabilly kids.” And that they did.