Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!

The Dictators - Master Race Rock
The Dictators - Teengenerate

As I said earlier, I picked up The Dictators first LP, Go Girl Crazy! when I was back in Florida. The album came out in '75, and while they're not exactly punk, they are in some ways kindred spirits with bands like The Ramones. They're a sort of heavy metal joke band with a professional wrestler (Handsome Dick Manitoba) on lead vocals. But while punks (even the Ramones) were mostly self-identified weirdos, the Dictators seem like the most normal, all-American kids you could imagine, almost jocks ("We play sports so we don't get fat"). They're not pissed off at the world in any way. They're like the kids in Dazed and Confused, just enjoying teenage life and delinquency. A decade or so later, the License to Ill-era Beastie Boys ripped off their act completely (the back cover even includes a note that the Dictators hang out at White Castle).

When I heard this album back in high school, I mostly focused on the two stand-out songs, "Master Race Rock" and "Two Tub Man." Both are hilarious send-ups of the macho, self-mythologizing school of rock lyrics that goes back at least to Muddy Waters' "Hoochie Coochie Man," but filled with silly non sequitirs like "Take my vitamin C/Know what's good for me" or "Gasoline shortage won't stop me now." This was hugely influential on me, still a recovering metal head at the time. I can safely say that it had an adverse effect on my own lyric writing. It's just too easy to string together a bunch of silly boasts, and it gives you the ego stroke of casting yourself as a larger-than-life action stud without having to convince anyone that you're serious.

But listening to it now, there are a lot of great songs that I had never paid attention to. The rest of the album doesn't quite have that heavy metal sound, many of the songs seeming more like 70's AM radio music, but they're great tunes. A song like "Teengenerate" (with the brilliant opening line "Who's that kid with the sandwich in his hand?") really benefits from them putting the focus on the melody. It brings out the best in the band. I'm actually regretting that I uploaded that one, though, as my fascination has moved to "Weekend" over the last couple days. "Weekend" sounds exactly like an obscure cut off some Alice Cooper album, with even more poignant lyrics about being a teenager. Alice was more "punk" than these guys, his teen characters always angsty, pissed off and defiant. The characters in "Weekend" are just...matter of fact teenagers who get grounded, have to work at McDonalds, and live for the weekend. And "(I Live For) Cars and Girls" sounds like a song that would have been written if the Sweathogs from Welcome Back, Kotter had formed a rock band.

It's not exactly a solid album, and I've been skipping over the first few songs more often than not. Their cover of "I Got You Babe" is good for maybe one listen, and "Back to Africa," even if you put racial and cultural sensitivity concerns aside, is pretty dumb. In Please Kill Me, Adny Shernoff (the band's rhythm guitarist/songwriter/mastermind--and yes, he spells his name "Adny") admits that they didn't quite nail the tone they wanted: "It was supposed to be funny, but it wasn't supposed to be a joke." Their third album, Bloodbrothers, seems to hit that tone better (again, when you get past the classic "Faster and Louder"--one of the best metal songs ever recorded--you discover some great pop tunes like "Stay With Me" and "What It Is"), and now I regret that I got rid of their second album, Manifest Destiny (another victim of the great record collection purge of 1994), which was actually the first one I bought. I never liked it much, but maybe I need to hear it with these new ears. Still, for all its shortcomings, Go Girl Crazy! stands as a great summer album and a classic documentation of teenage life in 1970's America.


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