In 1972 the Flamin’ Groovies got their ducks in a row, their egos and chakras balanced and produced their magnum opus. At a time when there were some fine exponents of raw rock and roll (the Stones released “Exile On Main Street” in this year) “Slow Death” stands comparison with anything recorded by the Stooges, MC 5, the Faces and Grand Funk Railroad (OK, skip that last one). We can be grateful that French TV were able to capture this magnificent performance because, at the time, there were not too many people prepared to interrupt the contemplation of their own navel to pay attention.
The Groovies were a San Franciscan band in thrall to the early energy of 50s rock and roll and to the British Invasion of the 60s. The prevailing inclination on the West Coast was for psychedelic experimentation and the band were never part of that scene. Their first record can be kindly described as “all over the place” as they tried out all the different styles they favoured. Next time around they did get nearer to fusing these influences into their own sound.
“Headin’ For The Texas Border” is a headlong charge at a variation on “I Don’t Need No Doctor”. In 1970 audiences tuned in, turned on and sat cross-legged. They preferred their guitar jams to be stretched over double and triple LPs not to be stinging riffs that grabbed you by the throat. 35 years on Jack White & his band the Raconteurs revived this song and it still sounded wild. Jack did no more than play it straight and fast because there is little missing from the energy and spirit of the original.
The Flamin’ Groovies were led by two singer- guitarists, Cyril Jordan & Ray Loney. After a third unsuccessful album Loney left the band and they re-located to Europe. The wonderful, druggy, sleaze of “Slow Death” was their only recorded work for 5 years. When they returned, in 1976, the pre-hippie rock still rolled but the sound was not as raw. This moody & melodic power pop classic slaps down any criticism of the changes.
“Shake Some Action” is a glorious attempt at a perfect pop single. The Beatles, the Stones and the Byrds in the same song. If it had been recorded in 1966 and not 76 then it would have surely cleaned up. It merely confirmed the cult status of the Groovies but made little impression. The song’s inclusion on compilations of American music that was vaguely “punk” extended it’s reach and er…that’s it. Still, a great record.
The Flamin’ Groovies lost some momentum after this. They continued to record but relied more upon cover versions which added little to the originals. These records are OK but no more. No matter, the band’s commitment to the original spirit of rock and roll and to the energy of the 60s beat means that this music is timeless. The vitality of their best work still shakes your speakers and stands against any of the “great” bands. I am unable to walk away from this appreciation without including the title track of the 3rd LP “Teenage Head”. Released in the same year as the Stones’ “Sticky Fingers”, Mick Jagger heard this and acknowledged that the Groovies had maybe done it better than even his own fine group.