Wednesday, December 4, 2013

appendix to The Ballad of Willie Phoenix part one: The Songs of Romantic Noise and The Buttons, 1978-1980

Today’s blog entry is definitely for Willie Phoenix completists only.  (editor’s note: Q. Ricki, IS there such a thing as a Willie Phoenix completist?  A. I guess there must be, the previous (rather incomplete & poorly-written) Willie Phoenix blog I posted back in May, 2012 had the fourth-largest number of hits in the history of Growing Old With Rock & Roll.  Somebody’s reading about Willie.)

I originally wrote this piece in April 1979 for The Buttons Times, a newsletter we handed out at Buttons gigs.  I was sorely tempted to update it, but decided to leave it in its original naive form.


Romantic Noise / early Buttons – Willie Phoenix, vocals & rhythm guitar / Greg Glasgow, vocals & bass / John Ballor, vocals & lead guitar / Dee Hunt, drums (replaced by Jerry Hanahan in the later line-up of The Buttons, around spring or summer 1979). 

A rock & roll band rises or falls on its songs.  You can solo all night, but you’ve got to have a song to hang that solo on.  You can have all the special effects in the world, but they have to connect to a song.  If you don’t have the material, if you don’t have the SONGS, sooner or later you’re gonna lose.  The Buttons have songs. Some of those songs are:

CELEBRATE THE GOOD TIMES – Not the band’s theme song, but maybe it should be, somehow it sums up their whole stance and/or attitude. Pinpoint harmony from Willie & Greg, and a bright, positive, clear-eyed, hummable, boppable melody. “Call all your friends, celebrate the good times, ahhhh.”

HOLLY – John’s only current lead vocal. Instant hit single and big crowd-pleaser. Petitions to reinstate John’s other great lead vocal in "I Feel New" will be circulated shortly. “Holly, I love you to pieces.”

DAMN GOOD LOOKIN’ BUT EASY, PAINTER, THE EARLY SIXTIES, I WANT TONIGHT, GET BACK TO YOUR LOVE, NO EXITS, LET’S BE FOREVER, SHELLEY, I FELL IN LOVE WITH A BABY, ARTWORK, CRUISIN’ WITH MIMI, STOP CRUSHING MY PERSONALITY – Some of the Romantic Noise Classics. Songs that may never be recorded because they’ll be old to the band when the band is new to a wider audience. Songs that whenever somebody who saw the band in its early days hears them will trigger off memories of places the band played, people you knew then that you don’t know now, things you were sure of that you're not any more, etc. Some of these songs may only stand in the hearts and minds and ears of a few people, but they ARE magic and they WILL stand. 

STRIKE UP THE BAND – Another Romantic Noise classic that will stand. This is great rock & roll. If you can’t feel the rock in this song you must be dead and should be lying down or else you like Styx. And hey, while we’re at it, in the middle section of this song, feel free, in fact feel compelled, to shout, “GO, GO, GO BAND GO!” along with or AT the band. Get into it, feel it. Come out and be pop, come out to rock. And let’s face it, people are gonna pay $8.50 someday to shout it at an arena concert, you only paid two bucks and you get to see the band up close.

ROCKAWAY, I WANT FUN – Two of the best examples of The Buttons blend of pop and rock & roll power; the latter detailing getting roughed up at a certain popular Ohio State Campus country-rock club, the former concerning  wanting to hold someone’s hand and rocking the days away. “Greg, are you paranoid?” “Naaah.”

THE WORST SAD – What I consider one of Willie’s most underrated songs. Instantly relatable. “I’m sad, she’s sad, this is the worst sad we’ve ever had.” Who could say it any better, or simpler? Why make it any more complicated? Could be THE “Please take me back.” song of the late 70’s.

GOODBYE GOODBYE, SAILBOATS – The Buttons two best slow dance songs. "Sailboats" is a beautiful melody/riff married to great lyrics and "Goodbye Goodbye" has one of those great ending choruses that can go on forever and ever, even if the relationship it’s about didn’t, and just like you always wanted it to. “We tried, we tried, goodbye, goodbye.”

GIVE IT UP, PRETTY JANE, RUNNIN’ FROM SOCIETY, RADIO MAN, POP BAND POP BAND, LOOKING FOR GIRLS, FLY ME, SPOIL IT, UNDERSTAND ME – A selection of the middle-period classics, late Romantic Noise, pre-Buttons hits.

SITTING WITH THE BOYS, HOLD ON, LIKE I DO, I CAN’T STAND IT, OH NO NOT AGAIN – Some of the more pronounced Beatles-influenced Buttons songs. The pop edge of The Buttons power and pop equation.

YOU MADE ME SPEND THE NIGHT, I’M LEAVING, HOLD ME, BUS DRIVER, I NEED THE ACTION, COLD LOVE AFFAIR, CAN’T STOP THE RAIN, MESSAGE, POP GOES THE MUSIC – Some of the genuine Buttons Classics, the power end of the power-pop equation. New songs that have been introduced since the name change of early ’79. Songs that may be too powerful for the close confines of Mr. Brown’s Descent, but you should’ve heard ‘em in the gym at Buckeye Lake’s Sheridan High School (with 250 kids dancin’ and feelin’ GOOD) or at the Ohio Union Ballroom (where they power-popped buzz-bombed fans of The Boyzz), or at The Agora opening for The Ramones. Songs made for big stages, concert halls and huge crowds of crazed rockers.

LOVE IS MADE FOR THE KIDS – The Bee Gees meets The Raspberries. A disco-tinged pop-rocker that I haven’t heard lately, but it may return to the repertoire. Somebody (but not me) will someday call it The Buttons take on Blondie’s "Heart Of Glass."

BIG STAR, IT’S ONLY GOOD ROCK & ROLL, CHINA, DON’T EVER SAY BYE – The brace of new songs that will be introduced at this weekend’s stand of shows at Mr. Brown’s. Decide for yourself where they fit in. Decide for yourself and let’s ROCK.

Great Lost Romantic Noise/Buttons Songs

(These are songs sadly, or not so sadly, missed from the current band repertoire. Songs that we knew and loved, or hated, when Romantic Noise WAS a romantic noise and buttons were something that held your shirt or blouse closed.)

I FEEL NEW – An exquisite slow, yearning, Byrds-esque tune sung by John from the early and middle period Romantic Noise days. Last heard (by me) at Bogart’s in Cincinnati. Very sadly missed.

I NEED A REVIEW –  A song from the early days of Romantic Noise. Willie’s personal appeal to the Columbus rock print media, Focus and Teenage Rampage, for some coverage. The entire reason I went to see the band the first time in February of ’78, because I wanted to hear my name in a song. It worked.

STARS AFTER DEATH -  Another early song, concerning (I think) a girl who only falls in love with rock stars after they’re already dead, the Jimi Hendrix/Jim Morrison/Brian Jones Syndrome.

GENERATE MY GENERATION – An excellent high-energy rocker from the early days.

STOP CRUSHING MY PERSONALITY -  Another high-energy blast. Winner of the Rock Song Title Of The Year Award for 1978.

BOOGIE ALL NIGHT – Romantic Noise’s set-closer the first time I ever saw them. This song was awful. Really, really badly awful. I mean bad, really bad. How bad was it? This song was so bad that once when they were playing it I saw a dog chasing a cat and they were both walking.  (author’s note; I think the dog & cat quote was some kind of band in-joke that I can’t quite remember.) (blogger's note 2013, I remembered the joke! It was one of Dee’s: “Man, it was hot out today.”  “How hot was it?” “It was so hot I saw a dog chasing a cat and they were both walking.”)

DEAD FLOWERS – The b-side of the band’s first single, "I Fell In Love With A Baby." Another not-very-missed song that was partially redeemed and revived in it’s later performances when John & Willie would meet at the center mike to do their best “Mick Jagger & Keith Richards Meets The Bowery Boys” vocal routine on the closing “Dead flower-a’s.”

ROSE-COLORED GLASSES – Beatle-esque tune recorded in ‘78 for an e.p. that never came out, never performed live to my knowledge.

MEMORIES – A beautifully soft song of Greg’s dropped after only a few performances, another very sadly missed song. “But in my mind it’s still ’73.”

ARE YOU IN LOVE? – An extended, different moods/tempos/accents song of Willie’s that I’m not sure is dropped from the set, I think it might just be on vacation.

(Actually these are only the first ten songs that popped into my head when I sat down to write this; by the time The Buttons record their first LP, they’ll have dropped more good songs than other bands have thought about writing. These songs will be missed, but they will be remembered.) - Ricki C. April, 1979

By my count, there are 58 songs listed above, and that piece only covered the time period from February 1978 to mid-1979, a period of perhaps 18 months. By the time Jerry Hanahan replaced Dee Hunt in The Buttons Mark II, Willie scrapped the entire old repertoire and started over. Below is the set-list from the live tape I have of The Buttons at the Columbus Agora in early 1980.  It contains 18 original songs, none of which are represented above. (The encore - "Hippy Hippy Shake" - is a cover of British Invasion-era band The Swinging Blue Jeans, and is, incidentally, the first & only cover I ever saw Romantic Noise or The Buttons perform.)  That's 76 songs in a two-year period.  I find it hard to believe how prolific a songwriter Willie Phoenix was in those days and how generally high the quality of those songs was.  Very, very few of the songs detailed in this list were what I would deem throwaways and at least 20 of them were as good as any power-pop song I have ever heard.  Willie Phoenix has forgotten more great songs than most other songwriters will compose in their entire careers.

The Buttons / Live @ The Agora, 1980

1) I Wanna Have A Baby
2) (Take It) All The Way Out
3) Fan Club
4) Back To Germany
5) Girl, I Wanna Please You
6) Knockout Girl
7) Baby
8) Now I’m So Glad
9) Alice Jayne
10) Hey Little Girl
11) Rona, I Forget
12) Just A Holiday
13) It’s A Heartbeat
14) Kissing Games
15) Mimi’s Got A Runner
16) Here Comes The Night
17) I Saw Superman
18) Born To Dance
19) Hippy Hippy Shake

Willie Phoenix, vocals & guitar / Greg Glasgow, bass & vocals
John Ballor, lead guitar & vocals / Jerry Hanahan, drums

© 1979, 2013 Ricki C.

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