Rockpile – Live at Montreux 1980 (2011)

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Rockpile (maybe the first neoclassicist rockers?) opened the door for every throwback moment of the coming decade — not to mention new wave. Yet this late 1970s-era rockabillying power-pop supergroup came and went so quickly, they rarely get their due.

Dave Edmunds — who had already had a hit solo record with 1970’s “I Hear You Knocking,” found toward the end of this set — co-led the group with Nick Lowe, providing whatever name-dropping credence that Rockpile has anymore. But unsung second guitarist Billy Bremner and remorseless drummer Terry Williams made important contributions, if only through force of nerve and noise.

The problem, or one of them, was that they almost never recorded under the name Rockpile. When they finally did, it happened just the once — on Seconds of Pleasure, also issued in 1980. In fact, 12 of the 16 songs on this Aug. 23 release from Eagle Records first appeared on solo projects from either Edmunds or Lowe between 1975-79. (That’s Rockpile, for instance, behind Lowe’s 1979 hit “Cruel to Be Kind.”)

Their harumphing take on “Girls Talk,” the old Elvis Costello tune, was originally found on Edmunds’ Repeat When Necessary; “They Called It Rock” was first heard on Lowe’s Pure Pop for Now People; and both “Ju Ju Man” and the closing “Let’s Talk About Us” initially appeared on Edmunds’ Get it. In the end, Live at Montreux 1980 includes just one track — an elastic little power-pop reimagining of Gene Chandler’s “Teacher Teacher,” only a minor hit — from the band’s long-awaited debut/swansong.

There would be no more recordings from Rockpile, making this live document all the more important in framing the band’s historical place. For more on that, go directly to their pitiless romp through Graham Parker’s “Crawling from the Wreckage.” Later, having already turned Juice Newton’s future hit “Queen of Hearts” into a punky frolic, they do almost mortal damage on a rambling garage-band update of Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock.”

This sweep of crazy genre-jumping brilliance says it all. Rockpile, at its essence, was a fizzy blend of pre-mop top rock and the rowdy, window-rattling bashings of punk, with a dash of the looming MTV generation’s urbane pop sensibility. They sounded like a band that knew all about the past, but wasn’t confined by it. That gives Rockpile and Live from Montreux 1980, then as now, this delicious brashness. It’s timeless.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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