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Generation X: Generation X / Valley of the Dolls

September 7, 2012

Roll: 3-4-12
Album: Generation X, Generation X / Valley of the Dolls

I don’t normally go in for these kinds of budget twofer repackagings of classic albums. Not unless I happen to own (such as in this case) the vinyl and just want the ease of CD for ripping onto my iPod or listening to on my computer at the office. I mean, just look at the abomination that is the cover. Not only have they reduced the two iconic album covers to thumbnails, they’ve used the horrific “Featuring Billy Idol” versions from previous budget reissues.

Ghastly.

But, all things considered, the Generation X design could be a lot worse.

In fact, I actually like the blue that’s been used. It’s reminiscent of their cassettes put out by Chrysalis Records in the 1980s, so it inspires an appropriately nostalgic feeling. And, in some ways, nostalgia is all Generation X have going for them. They were one of those bands that were my band. Almost no one else I knew really liked them. Not only did they have a the misfortune of a cheesy MTV star as a lead singer, they were just a bit crap.

“Crap” in a really awesome rock’n’roll way, in my opinion, but there’s a reason they weren’t as big as The Sex Pistols, Ramones and The Clash nor darlings of pop-music history like The Damned or Buzzcocks. They’ve almost always been treated like an embarrassing family secret. Too glam, too pretentious, too poppy, and too sloppy to pull any of that off.

But they’re still my favourites of the first generation English punks.

The first song of theirs I ever heard (apart from “Dancing With Myself”) was “Promises, Promises” which a friend of mine, Rhea, put on a mix tape for me.

We’d had a tenuous friendship previously. She was a year above me in my 6/7 split class and my first interaction with her had been mortifying.

Being of that age, I had one of those random erections that occur during puberty and I had my hand in my pocket trying to surreptitiously squish it into submission or tuck it into the elastic band of my shorts—anything to make it less noticeable in my corduroy pants.

Of course, I hadn’t been as surreptitious as I’d thought and Rhea and her friend Carrie thought I’d been masturbating or something. At the end of the class, she threw a note on my desk that said, “Is it itchy?”

Horror.

It wasn’t until the end of the year that we sort of became friends on a class camping trip. My tent mate Leon was insistent we break the rules and leave our tent. I refused. I think he had some kind of Meatballs/Porky’s fantasy of hooking up with some girls and went on a reconnaissance mission to see who else had snuck out.

I, being a goody two-shoes, refused to leave our tent. When he came back from his expedition, Leon convinced me to come hang out with some “cool chicks” he’d found. Rhea and Carrie’s tent had gotten flooded and they were sleeping out on the picnic tables. He was right, despite my lingering embarrassment, they were “cool chicks”. As a bonus, they were older than us and I figured there was no risk of them wanting to “hook up” with us. Plus, I still felt like a dirty little pervert in their eyes so, ironically, I found them easy to talk to.

Our friendship became more solidified when I was in grade 8, the final year of middle school, and she was going to the highschool next door. She’d walk past everyday at lunch and I’d loiter around the path, listen to my Walkman, and wait for her. It wasn’t a crush thing, but she was a punk and I’d decided I wanted to be a punk. I was a long-haired, denim-clad headbanger at this point because I’d hoped it would help me fit in (and, of course, I liked metal anyhow).

When I was younger, it did keep the older headbanger bullies off my back (I was part of their pack) but now that I was one of the older kids in the school, I felt like an outcast again. Even more so because I’d gone from being the second tallest kids in grade 7, to one of the shortest boys in grade 8. That had a profoundly negative affect on my self esteem.

Ergo, I had to become a punk. Such is adolescent logic.

So one day, no later than October, Rhea walked past and asked, as she always did, “What’cha listening to” but this time instead of the answer being Motley Crue or Bon Jovi, it was The Cramps. They were the only punk band I really knew about at the time as a girl my grade 7 class had  written an essay about how they were her sister’s favourite band but sounded so terrible they gave her stomach cramps—I ran out and bought the tape. Instead of continuing to walk past, as usual, this time Rhea insisted she hear for herself.

She was delighted. Apparently this was proof that I was hipper than the other dumb kids. And I felt we actually were kindred spirits. There was someone else in the world I could actually relate to on some level.

She said, “If you like them, I’ll bring you a tape of some other good punk stuff.”

This is the tape that had “Promises, Promises” on it as well as “I’m So Bored With the USA” by The Clash. I don’t remember what else. I suspect it was only Generation X (her favourite band) and The Clash or maybe the Pistols. After that, my friends and I all became punks for a while. We started with the traditional toe-ins (The Clash and the Pistols) but by the end of the year were listening everything from Dead KennedysD.O.A. and SNFU.  Most lost interest by summer, but I was hooked for life.

Rhea and I continued to trade music over the next few years, not always agreeing. She hated Sigue Sigue Sputnik, I loved them. She introduced me to more obscure stuff like My Dog Popper and Terminal Sunglasses, we disagreed about what was the best Alien Sex Fiend record was (Who’s Been Sleeping In My Brain, of course!)

Oddly, we were never that close and rarely socialized outside of school. I think, perhaps, we never actually did. Maybe we were at the same all-ages show at the skate park once. Maybe not.

The end result of all this is that Generation X’s debut album, with it’s unpleasantly tinny mix (not helped here by the remastering) and seemingly contrived juvenile energy, brings back that unique sense of adolescent wonder at discovering a whole new world of music; and a new way of seeing the world in general.

Listening to it now, I can hear exactly why Generation X aren’t regarded in the same light as their contemporaries. The sound really isn’t all that far removed from Motely Crue‘s first album, Too Fast For Love. But then, that’s what a lot of early punk records sound like. The Crue and Generation X were both influenced by the glam scene (most obviously New York Dolls), they just took it in slightly different directions.

But despite its detractors, the album really is one of the purest tributes to “Youth, Youth, Youth” ever recorded. And included here are all the b-sides dub-mixes and extra songs from both the US and UK releases, which is nice.

The second disc, Valley of The Dolls, their famously disappointing sophomore album, starts of strong with “Running With The Boss Sound” and, my personal favourite, “Night of The Cadillacs” before plummeting into some bizarre The Who by way of Bruce Spingsteen pretensions. The album revives for a couple more tracks (including the fantastic “King Rocker”) and then sputters again with one of the worst things ever recorded by anyone: “The Prime of Kenny Silvers, pts 1 & 2”.

It seems like they were trying to be The Jam, but the Tony James/Billy Idol writing team simply weren’t Paul Weller (or Pete Townshend or Bruce Springsteen for that matter).

This is what always made the album so frustrating. Some of their best recorded material is buried under heaps of absolute rubbish. They didn’t even have the decency to put the fist-class rockers on one side. But then, that’s easily fixable in the digital age. This edition even includes a couple bonus rockers, their brilliant cover of “Gimme Some Truth”, and the possibly cringe-worthy (possibly fantastic) cover of “Shakin’ All Over”.

Frankly, the material from both albums is better serviced by the band’s live albums and their BBC sessions compilation. But, for me, they’re both essential and worth owning on multiple formats (even with crappy budget artwork).

In the end, I never really did become a punk in the truest sense. Like a lot of other west-coast outsiders of my generation, I found grunge. Or rather, grunge found us already doing it. I’d bought the combat boots, “anarchy” T-shirt and stuck safety pins in my jean jacket, but didn’t cut my long hair until the Stone Roses made me want a bowl-cut. I think the whole grunge thing really came out of us being too lazy to commit to being either punks or headbangers. It’s wasn’t any kind of conscious attempt to blend the two, just laziness.

Which is at least as punk as the band my generation got nicknamed after.

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3 comments

  1. […] CDs Selected For Review Using Roleplaying Dice « Run-DMC: Raising Hell (1986) Generation X: Generation X / Valley of the Dolls » Yellow Cans: The Ghastly Design of Budget Compilations September 7, […]


  2. i delivered one million papers to valley of the dolls purchased at grennan records



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