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Published: 2013/10/09
by Brian Robbins

Various Artists
CBGB – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Omnivore Recordings

Where do you fit into the mix? Were you one of those who was actually there at 315 Bowery in New York City in the 70s – caught up in the mix of glam and punk and sweat and spit and jizz and rock and crunch and twang and roll? Or were you one of us who were around then, but only knew the club CBGB from the pages of mags such as Creem and Rock Scene – or from cryptic mentions in liner notes tucked into records from the likes of the New York Dolls, the Talking Heads, or The Ramones? Or are you a more recent arrival on this planet – and only know the legend?

Well, here’s a one-size-fits-all, just-right offering for all of the above categories: the soundtrack album from the new film CBGB. The film itself (which hits the big screen this month) is a feature with actors playing the likes of Stiv Bators, Lou Reed and CBGB founder Hilly Kristal, but the story is a good one – and the music offered up here on the soundtrack is the real thing: a time capsule wrapped in tattered leather; a massive blast of bleary-eyed-and-grinning memories for those who remember and a crash course in rock ‘n’ roll history for those who don’t. (Whether they were there or not.)

The album is paced well: just about everyone in the free world has crossed paths with the opener – the Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” – along the way, making it an almost-easy-listening choice to welcome you in. From there, however, it only takes two seconds of the MC5’s “Kick Out The Jams” for the first F-bomb to land – and after that there’s no turning back. Television’s “Careful” combines an arrangement that could’ve come straight out of West Side Story with an edginess that could only have been birthed on a real-and-true street corner at midnight (and a lovely bit of Tom Verlaine guitar); Tuff Darts’ “All For The Love Of Rock ‘N’ Roll” coulda/shoulda been an arena anthem – except for the fact that they wouldn’t have been caught dead in one; and “Psychotic Reaction” is The Count Five’s genius morphing of mid-60s Yardbirds rave-up with mid-70s danger lust.

Dig the doo-wop thrash of Richard Hell & The Voidoids’ “Blank Generation” and the pogoing menace of The Laughing Dogs’ “Get Outa My Way”; psychedelic swirl gives way to power chord churn as the Dead Boys roar through “Sonic Reducer”; the Flamin’ Groovies’ “Slow Death” keeps an Exile On Main Street -style vibe in the hands of the common folk; and “Roxanne” reminds us that – before the superstardom took hold – The Police were a bunch of bleach-blonde punks.

Fittingly, the late Johnny Thunders makes two appearances here, leading the New York Dolls through the slash and snarl of “Chatterbox” and then returning with the stomp/twang of “All By Myself” with his Heartbreakers. It wouldn’t be a party without The Velvet Underground (“I Can’t Stand It”) or The Stooges (“I Wanna Be Your Dog”); the former is a jittery bit of surf-splashed darkness while the latter might be the song to choose if you had to leave something for future civilizations to understand the early American punk scene.

CBGB is a rare animal: a soundtrack album that would still be an essential addition to your collection even if the movie never existed.

*****

Brian Robbins still reads his old copies of Creem over at www.brian-robbins.com

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