Echoes of the ‘50s but this music created a new wave with a Rockpile foundation.
Dave Edmunds is an obsessive fan of ‘50s rock’n’roll, early ‘60s black and white pop, early R&B and country music, and he has spent his career paying homage to, and at times perfectly recreating, the music of his own heroes. While this may seem a worthy objective, it certainly isn’t the most obvious strategy for a successful career in music. What this rather blunt summary of Edmunds’ career doesn’t mention is that he is also an excellent guitarist with various superstar fans, including Robert Plant and three Beatles, a producer who can capture the excitement of early rock’n’roll recordings with modern recording technology, and he has an almost unerring ability to select great songs to record. Finally, as co-leader of the band Rockpile with Nick Lowe, he spearheaded the rise of new wave music in the late ‘70s and had a significant influence on American musicians who would themselves become leading lights in the alt-country of the’80s and the rise of americana in the ‘90s. Though Rockpile where an influential and successful touring band, the fact that co-leaders Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds had existing recording contracts with different record labels meant that they only recorded one album under their own name, 1980’s ‘Seconds Of Pleasure’, when the band were coming to the end of their career. However, the band of Edmunds and Lowe on bass with drummer Terry Williams and second guitarist Billy Bremner recorded three Dave Edmunds solo albums, one Nick Lowe album, and assorted tracks by Lowe, Edmunds, Mickey Jupp and Carlene Carter. 1979 was the peak year for Rockpile, and they recorded Dave Edmunds’ ‘Repeat When Necessary’ and Nick Lowe’s ‘Labour Of Lust’ at joint sessions, and both albums were released together with Edmunds on Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label and Lowe on Radar Records, ensuring that the much talked about new wave was indeed here to stay.
‘Repeat When Necessary’ is Dave Edmunds’ fifth, and probably best album, and with Lowe’s ‘Labour Of Lust’, represents the best of Rockpile’s recordings. Edmunds and Lowe are very different artists with Edmunds being a studio perfectionist who prefers covers to self-written tunes, while Nick Lowe is one of Britain’s greatest songwriters nicknamed “Basher” because of his go for moment style of record production. This difference in production styles ultimately lead to the demise of Rockpile as a working band, but while the partnership was working it limited the retro perfectionist tendency of Edmunds which could reduce the rock’n’roll energy aspect of his music and allowed his music to take on the real power of early rock’n’roll but with a modern relevance. This relevance was enhanced by the quality of the songs on the album including covers of songs by Elvis Costello and Graham Parker who were just at the start of their own careers and represented the emerging new wave of artists.
The opening track is a classic of the new wave, Dave Edmund’s version of Elvis Costello’s ‘Girls Talk’. This was the first recording of the song after Costello gave Edmunds a rough demo at a recording section. Not only is it a great opening track, but it shows Edmund’s artistry as he makes the song his own with perfect support from his Rockpile chums and Roger Bechirian on piano. Edmunds managed to capture the energy of early rock’n’roll in a modern take on a contemporary song, the epitome of the new wave. It was Edmunds’ last UK hit single supported by a video shot with Rockpile in Manhattan. Next up we have Edmunds’ version of Graham Parkers ‘Crawling From The Wreckage’, which Parker himself revisited in 2004 for his take on country rock with his ‘Your Country’ album. Edmunds’ version again is all Edmunds and anyone hearing ‘Repeat When Necessary’ for the first time will now be thinking they could be onto something special. Billy Bremner’s second guitar was a key part of Rockpile’s sound, and as well as his guitar skills he was a nifty songwriter who could bring a sense of humour to his lyrics which is evident on his ‘Creature From The Black Lagoon’ which makes it a very strong 1-2-3 of opening tracks. Dave Edmund’s ability to find a great song is again evidenced by his version of country rock track ‘Sweet Little Lisa’, written by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell associates Hank Devito, Donnie Cowart and Walter Cowart. Not only is this the first recorded version of the song, but Albert Lee appears on the track showing the regard his peers have for Edmunds’ guitar ability. Next Edmunds looks back to the dawn of English rock’n’roll with his cover of Ian Samwell’s ‘Dynamite’, first recorded by Cliff Richard and The Shadows in 1959, to bring side one of the vinyl album to a close.
Side two of the album opens with the first recording of Hank Devito’s ‘Queen Of Hearts’. Edmunds’ version has a pop country arrangement with clear echoes of the Everly Brothers, and while reasonably successful when released as a single in the UK, the track did little in the rest of the world. However, Juice Newton took a trip to the bank when her version of Edmunds’ arrangement became a big international hit in 1981. Nick Lowe’s Brinsley Schwarz had recorded a country rock version of Ronnie Self’s rockabilly tune ‘Home In My Hand’ in 1972, but Dave Edmunds version upped the rock’n’roll content making it sound perfect for 1979. The rock’n’roll songwriting credentials of Billy Bremner are reinforced by ‘Goodbye Mr Good Guy’, a song that could have been written anytime from the dawn of rock’n’roll. Next, we have a taste of power pop with Edmunds’ version of Trade Martin’s ‘Take Me For A Little While’ which had been recorded by Dusty Springfield, Vanilla Fudge and Evie Sands. We have a bit of blues swagger with Billy Bremner’s third song on the album, ‘We Were Both Wrong’, which underlines want an asset he was to Rockpile. ‘Repeat When Necessary’ closes with Huey Lewis’s ‘Bad Is Bad’, with Lewis on harmonica. Lewis with his band Clover had backed Elvis Costello on his Nick Lowe produced 1977 debut, ‘My Aim Is True’, and Lewis included ‘Bad Is Bad’ on his 1983 album, ‘Sport’, which went on to sell over ten million copies, demonstrating Dave Edmunds unerring ability to spot a successful song and emerging songwriter.
‘Repeat When Necessary’ may be just a collection of covers that pay homage to the spirit of rock’n’roll but what makes it special are the arrangements that Dave Edmunds brought to the songs and the sheer power that Rockpile played with. It may be an album, but it reminded everyone of the power of the single and re-imaged rock’n’roll for the ‘80s and helped inspire artists like Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller to mix rock’n’roll and power pop with their country tendencies. When coupled with Nick Lowe’s ‘Labour Of Lust’ it is irrefutable evidence of what a truly great and influential band Rockpile were.
Bought this way back when. Fabulous album with some stand out tracks. Took me back to being a young man again
43 years old this year and still sounding fresh as a daisy to my ears, Steve. I must admit, nostalgia is also a welcome part of my own ongoing enjoyment.
A documentary about the recording sessions titled “Born Fighters” – was made by Granada TV and can be found on YouTube.
Thanks Paul, a great piece of musical archeology.
Terrific record and this article rightly gives credit to Billy Bremner’s role in the Lowe/Edmunds/Rock pile continuum. Albert Lee’s playing on Sweet Little Lisa is just breathtaking.
What’s that old saying Tim, ah yes, great minds think alike.