By John Ruberry
One pleasant advantage of music in the streaming era is that with little expense I can tap into my favorite artists from my youth.
If you are a recording artist, unfortunately, the big money isn’t there for you. For $9.99 a month I enjoy unlimited downloads from Apple Music. However, if I go to Amazon to purchase a compact disc, I’ll pay around the same price.
And it was on Apple Music where I rediscovered the Fabulous Poodles. The English new wave band’s name was certainly an attention getter, and yes, the moniker betrays their quirkiness.
Their best-known song is “Mirror Star,” which I heard first on Chicago radio in 1978. But what piqued my interest was that The Who’s John Entwistle produced some of the songs on the Mirror Star album, which was the first FabPoo collection released in the United States. That LP was compilation of the initial two albums released in Great Britain, their self-titled debut and Unsuitable.
So, one-two-three I downloaded all three albums onto my iPod.
The Poodles consisted of lead vocalist and guitarist Tony de Meur, who along with poet John Parsons, composed most of the band’s songs, along with Bryn Burrows on drums, Richie Robertson on bass and keyboards, and Bobby Valentino, whose violin and mandolin placed a unique sound stamp on the band.
While the Who connection opened up my thin teenage wallet to the Fabulous Poodles, I quickly noticed that the Fabulous Poodles’ sound owed more to another 1960s band, the Kinks. Perfect! I was and remain a huge Kinks fan.
Mirror Star included just four songs from Fabulous Poodles. So when I listened to the debut for the first time on a ten mile run a few weeks ago I discovered that the American compiler–or should I say editor–omitted some of the best songs, particularly those with a Rock and Roll Revival flavor, such as “Rosie Pink,” “Rum Baba Boogie,” and “Pinball Pin Up.” Valentino’s violin gives the former an Americana feel. Coincidentally, the last two of Entwistle’s four 1970s solo albums owed much to 1950s rock.
On another run I pushed “play” for Unsuitable. Unlike with most bands, the second effort was a step up and it includes the “Mirror Star” and another great track, “Chicago Boxcar (Boston Back).” Among the tunes I was exposed to for the first time were “Suicide Bridge,” “Topless GoGo,” and their version of the Amazing Rhythm Ace’s “Third Rate Romance.” If you only want to download or purchase one Poodles album, this is the one you should go with.
And then a few days later I reintroduced myself to the FabPoo’s final record, Think Pink. This one came out in the same form in the UK and the USA.
It’s another strong collection. It opens with an obscure–in America that is–Everly Brothers cover, “Man With Money” and moves on to the best track on the album, “Bionic Man.” It ends with “Pink City Twist,” whose only lyrics, save one “goddam,” is “think pink.” That tune morphs into “Vampire Rock.”
Then came a single, “Stompin’ on the Cat,” and then the break-up. That ending paralleled the Kinks’ career. Their leader, Ray Davies, encapsulated his band perfectly on the To The Bone live album as he introduced “I’m Not Like Anybody Else” when he said, “It kind of sums up everything we’re about about, the Kinks. Because everyone is expecting us to do wonderful things and we mess it all up usually.” By all accounts the Poodles concerts were theatrical delights. Bobby Valentino had movie star looks. De Meur later embarked on a stand up comedy career. The Fabulous Poodles were seemingly made for MTV, but that network, which as an exclusively music video cable channel, debuted in 1981, a year after FabPoos split the scene.
Yes, they messed it all up.
John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.