Flamin' Groovies' Teenage Head Conveys Punky, Rebellious Soul

Every aspect of album, from cover photo to classic song titles, reveals a band that lives for rock 'n' roll.

(Editor's Note: The "Sunday Morning" essay does not reflect the views of SonicNet Inc. or its affiliated companies.)

Editorial Director Michael Goldberg writes:

The response was immediate. As the opening song on the Flamin' Groovies' classic album, Teenage Head, blasted from my office stereo, members of the SonicNet staff started poking their heads into my office.

"Is that an old, unreleased Stones song?" one of our ad sales team asked. "I've been listening to Exile on Main Street in my car."

"Who is that?" wondered SonicNet Senior Writer Gil Kaufman, who is too young to have heard the album the first time around.

Since it was first released, in 1971, music fans and rock critics have raved about Teenage Head. Critics said it one-upped the Stones' Sticky Fingers.

For me, Teenage Head is one of the greatest rock 'n' roll albums — ever. I'm biased. I've been listening to the Flamin' Groovies since I was a teenager. I wore out two vinyl copies of the album. I own every official album the now-defunct Groovies ever released, and a pile of bootlegs. Actually, I have multiple vinyl and CD copies of some of their albums.

At the end of the '80s, SonicNet associate editor Michael Snyder and I were executive producers of a Flamin' Groovies compilation, Groovies' Greatest Grooves. And in the early '90s, I actually started my own indie record label so I could release a new Flamin' Groovies album, 1992's Rock Juice.

But it's Teenage Head, just re-released (with additional tracks — natch — on BMG's Buddha Records label) that best sums up the awesomeness of the Groovies.

Everything about Teenage Head (RealAudio excerpt of title track) conveys the punky, rebellious soul of rock 'n' roll.

The cover photo depicts guitarist/songwriter Cyril Jordan at his cockiest in platform boots with silver stars, wraparound shades, Beatles haircut, playing a clear Dan Armstrong Ampeg guitar (the same style of guitar that Keith Richards used when the Stones played Altamont). And, yeah, I bought one of those guitars just 'cause they look so cool.

Also on that cover, Jordan's partner-in-crime, singer/songwriter Roy Loney, leans against a piece of musical equipment, cigarette dangling from his mouth. The rest of the gang is behind them. The cover photo conveys a juvenile-delinquent audacity. These guys are up to no good.

The music is breathtaking. The opening of "High Flyin' Baby" (RealAudio excerpt) is a rocking, garage-style slide-guitar riff that leads into pure late '60s–early '70s Rolling Stones, before Loney, in an exaggerated rockabilly voice, begins to brag about his girl. "I got a woman ...," he sings, but the rest is lost in his amphetamine-garbled delivery. "When it comes to love she's the queen of hearts, yeah/ What she don't know, she don't care ..." Then the chorus: "High flyin' baby, high flyin' baby, keep your head ..."

Every aspect of the album, from that cover photo to classic rock 'n' roll song titles — "Yesterday's Numbers," "Evil Hearted Ada," "Doctor Boogie," "Whiskey Woman" (RealAudio excerpt) to mention a few — conveys a band that loves everything about rock 'n' roll, that lives for rock 'n' roll.

The Groovies never made it. They were the real, undiluted rock 'n' roll animal. They shared stages with the Stooges and the MC5. Later, they recorded the ultimate drug song, "Slow Death," and what is arguably the greatest rock 'n' roll anthem, "Shake Some Action."

What went wrong? Why are the Groovies a footnote and not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? It's a tired story of bad management, bad record deals and, perhaps being at various times during the 20 or so years they were together either ahead of their time or behind the times.

Actually, I think Jordan, who turned out to be the true mastermind of the band, was simply too hardcore, too rock 'n' roll, too real. He made/makes Kurt Cobain seem like a lightweight. Jordan believed the Groovies were one of the greatest rock bands; he believed they would stand tall next to the bands he so loved: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Byrds ...

Over the years, I have seen the Groovies' influence in bands ranging from R.E.M. and the Smithereens to Yo La Tengo and Cracker — the latter of whom covered "Shake Some Action" for the film "Clueless." Black Flag's Greg Ginn used to play a Dan Armstrong guitar; Rock poster artist Coop is a fan.

The Groovies presaged the punk movement with Teenage Head. During their power-pop period, "Shake Some Action" should have earned them star status, or at least the cult status of Big Star. Why Tom Petty went on to stardom with his take on Byrds-style rock 'n' roll while the Groovies didn't, is a question that will never be answered.

What is undeniable is the genius of Teenage Head.