Ginger’s Secret History Of Rock’n’roll (Pt. III)
The Wildhearts man take us to the New York of the 70s for this underrated and hard-to-find classic. Check out Ginger’s past Secret Of Rock’n'roll entries.
THE GOOD RATS
Ratcity In Blue
Platinum Records, 1976
Throughout the 70s some of America’s greatest bands could be seen dragging their wares through the local bar circuit. Many of these bands gained deserved success, due to the resulting air-tight musicianship. And some, of course, did not.
Maybe it was the non-commerciality of the facial hair, or the inclusion of sub-jazz workouts in the middle of perfect pop, but Long Island’s The Good Rats never saw the shiny side of the business, and continued to trudge a thankless track in the mire of obscurity. Although a crowd favourite on the well-trodden boards of New York and New Jersey, word about this stunningly inventive and awesomely talented band never quite made a buzz outside of the West Coast. Which is a sad loss to the rest of the world when taking in the quality of The Good Rats recorded output in 70′s.
Gravel-piped Peppi Marchello, some ten years after first putting the band together, finally settled upon the classic line-up of Peppi, brother Mickey, John (the cat) Gatto, Joe Franco and Lenny Kotke which, between 1974 and 1979, put out four inspirational studio albums (‘Tasty’, ‘Ratcity In Blue’, From Rats To Riches’ and ‘Birth Comes To Us All’) that seamlessly blended hard rock, jazz, pop and vaudeville/classic songwriting with an edgy streak of menace unlike anything that came before or since. And amongst these four delicious chunks of sonic whimsy, ‘Ratcity In Blue’ stands out at the defining moment in this band’s criminally unappreciated career.
Owing as much to the grand musical approach of Queen as the pop/rock chops of Cheap Trick, The Good Rats cut an intimidating figure. As fully at home with the jazz swing, largely-instrumental-with-barbershop – interlude title track ‘Ratcity In Blue’ as they were with the Bacharach/Gershwin stylings of lost in New York lament ‘Advertisement In The Voice’.
The frantic frission of Joe Franco (drums) and Lenny Kotke (bass) melds the strength on which The Good Rats’ foundation is effortlessly built, with guitar mastermind John (the cat) Gatto’s incredibly in-depth solo work perfectly complimented by the capable second lead guitar work of Mickey Marchello.
The icing on this multi-layered cake is the vocal delivery. Intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics are given lush treatment in the form of breathtaking harmony work to rival that of Mercury & co. In fact ‘Yellow Flower’ and ‘Almost Anything Goes’ wouldn’t sound unwelcome on ‘Night At The Opera’. Elsewhere, however, the Rats get to flex a little more hard rock muscle on the likes of ‘Does It Make You Feel Good?’, ‘Tough Guys’ and ‘Hour Glass’. And yet it is the superlative ‘Board Walk Slasher’ that steals the show in this instance.
Built around on a story about a local serial killer, the song illustrates the sheer injustice of this band’s paltry achievements in an industry where the far, far less talented have garnered more reward.
‘Boardwalk Slasher’ is nothing short of amazing. Gorgeous duelling guitar work nestles alongside foreboding lyrics wrapped in timeless melody complimented with sublime harmony work. It really doesn’t get much better than this.
Ratcity In Blue is that rare breed of animal one should stand in silent awe of so as not to disrupt the magical, otherworldly scene it instills in our heart. We are in the presence of sheer class here, ladies and gentlemen.
Peppi would continue using the band name with various different players from 80s onward, as he had in the 60s, but no collection of players matched the quality of this line-up. Proof that chemistry involves much more than simply the sum of a few parts. While The Good Rats of the 70s made contemporary music revelatory, they also managed celebrate world class musicianship with tongue-in-grizzled-cheek and a sense of devil-may-care experimentalism, free of cliche and self importance.
The world will never again see bands of this ilk, but future generations can still return to revel in its mastery.
Common men making distinctly uncommon music? Fewer things could be more beautiful.
Come back next week for more selections from Ginger’s record collection.