I don’t have a problem: punk does. That there remain writers and enthusiasts, catechism-ically (cataclysmically?) convinced that the sole bearing which determines a music’s quality lies within its influence on or relationship to that great bondage-trouser renaissance of ‘76/‘77, should surprise no one - P.T. Barnum gave us the logarithm, NME made it orthodoxy, Greil Marcus carved it in pseudo-intellectual stone (the majority is nearly always wrong about everything else anyway - why then should ‘hip’ music be exempt…but I digress).
What is certainly surprising and ultimately dismaying is the sheer volume of music that - much like the title of this blog - becomes lost; that this exclusionary interpretation passes over. To these ’77-told-the-truth’ cretins and their Q‘ed-in coterie, the whole of the 60’s can be pared down to approximately five groups (Stones, Stooges, Velvets, Silver Apples, MC-5) while the cupboard of the early-to-mid 70’s echoes back even barer (Eno, Bowie, Mod Lovers, New York Dolls).
...And the fate of a band like the Dirty Angels - non-Marxist, American, all male with one member sporting a mustache and no members playing the electric lathe? ‘Well…they just ain’t ideologically groovy enough, mate, sorry, have you heard Flux of Pink Indians yet?’ All groan.
Condemned to trample the outer court of paradise forever though they are - as well as surely destined to never grace the jacket-backside of any self-respecting Vice Squad fan or receive an invite from Thurston Moore to play at All Tomorrow’s Parties - Boston’s Dirty Angels were a truly marvelous Stonesy guitar band who played upbeat, driving pop to the obvious delight of very few. No one remembers these guys it seems, which is odd because to me the Boston ‘indie/punk’ scene was always one of the more forgettable - notable exceptions (Reddy Teddy, Real Kids, Nervous Eaters, DMZ) aside. For those that care though, the core of the Dirty Angels grew out of a funky, soul and blues group called White Chocolate (one LP, ’73 on RCA - don’t stop reading yet!) which had actually begun its life as Arthur Lee’s backing/touring band in the early 70’s (they don‘t sound anything like ‘Vindicator,’ I assure you). Adjusting the name of the band to something less distasteful, the DA’s became one of the first signings to Seymour Stein’s newly reorganized and nascent ’new wave’-friendly Sire label in late 1975. Nevertheless, the relationship between Sire and the Angels did not last long, the band remaining on the label just long enough to issue its debut single: a competent airing of Tim Moore's ‘Rock ‘N‘ Roll Love Letter’ (yes, the same one the Rollers did - how’s that for ideological commitment!) which, with no label support, unsurprisingly failed. Still, it appeared that at least someone had taken notice of the band; for as quickly as the band had been dropped, New York’s Private Stock label scooped them up, pairing them perfectly with early Blondie producer and ex-Strangelove, Richard Gottehrer.
Now, here’s the part where I am supposed to succumb to the predictable string of Bangs-ian hyperbole. About how not since Icarus has one band of believers soared so high amongst the vaulted heavens. About how the Dirty Angels struggled like Solzhenitsyn in a Stalinist gulag of merciless mediocrity and universal downer-despair. And how the LP produced by Gottehrer and the Angels cries out for reissue like that child in the burning rubble of Nanjing.
Well…uhhh, it’s pretty darn good actually. Amazing even, in light of the amount of cachet spewed over even the most middling of New York or Boston 'punk' acts, that has somehow - for whatever reason - managed to leave this stone undisturbed.
Sounding as if the poppiest tendencies of Richard Llloyd and Tom Verlaine mated with the classic girl-centric themes of very-proper-Bostonians Piper and the Sidewinders, the Dirty Angels first LP, ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,’ is every bit as seductive as the Cagney film from whence it takes its name. The production is patent ’Instant Record’ Gottehrer - sparkling and pristine - while the lead-off track and first single, ’Tell Me’ - with its ascending chorus and Telecaster riffing, seemingly tailor-made for a Greg Shaw end-of-year list - is every bit as good, if not better, than the Sidewinders’ ’Rendezvous’ or Piper’s ’Who’s Your Boyfriend.’ Though nothing else on the record quite equals it, the remaining eleven tracks on the album are all above-average pop - offerings stacked high with ample licks of spry, non-groin-grinding guitar.
Former New York Dolls champion Marty Thau is also thanked on the record’s reverse sleeve, leading me to believe that - contrary to the utter lack of information - the group were at least somewhat well-regarded amongst the New York/Boston cognoscenti. Be that as it may or may not, the Dirty Angels would no doubt have done better to engage the services of the mighty Thau on a more official, business basis; for despite a captivating LP’s worth of music of a consistently high quality and extreme hum-ability, ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ failed to make a commercial or lasting critical impact. Following the LP’s almost pre-ordained death, Private Stock and the DA’s soon parted ways and no one wept.
The most common pit-fall of groups playing pop in the mid-to-late 70’s could best be summarized in a borrowed lyric from Howard Devoto - ‘shot by both sides.’ Spurned by the heavies, ignored by the teens, bands like the Dirty Angels were left to wither on the vine. And though the group did manage another LP on A&M two years later, it’s nothing on the strength or promise of their debut. As earlier stated, there is a dearth of available information on the Dirty Angels; seemingly, their only legacy was to groom the future bassist for the Joe Perry Project (!!!) - a fate I would not wish upon my worst enemy. ’Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ is an amazing and important record and not simply because it predates much of Boston or New York punk. It’s a record that should have succeeded in making the band stars…but, for whatever reason, did not. Still, if you come across ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ in the mass graves of the cut-out bin or have ever wished for a more poppified Television in love with Tommy James instead of Rimbaud, the Dirty Angels are your band.