by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
Though they technically only released one album under a band moniker, Rockpile was a much longer-lasting outfit than their discography suggests. The two leaders of the ‘50s-rock-and-roll-influenced British quartet, Nick Lowe (formerly of the legendary pub-rock band Brinsley Schwarz) and Dave Edmunds, were each solo stars in their own right, and the two men would employ Rockpile as their backing band on their respective solo albums for much of the late ‘70s. [The band was rounded out by guitarist Billy Bremner and drummer Terry Williams, who would spend much of the ‘80s as the drummer for Dire Straits.]
Prior to hooking up with Lowe, Edmunds had made a brief solo splash in the U.S. in the early ‘70s, reaching the Top Ten with his foot-stomping cover of the Smiley Lewis blues standard “I Hear You Knockin’.” He surprisingly wouldn’t have another Top 40 hit until hooking up in 1983 with ELO mastermind Jeff Lynne as producer for the hit single “Slipping Away,” but Edmunds had a healthy legion of admirers and he would be signed in the mid-‘70s by no less than Led Zeppelin to be on the roster of their vanity label Swan Song, for whom Edmunds would release four albums between 1977 and 1981, including the knockout 1979 outing Repeat When Necessary.
Unlike his Rockpile bandmate Lowe, Edmunds seldom wrote songs himself, instead preferring to be an interpreter, and Necessary consists almost entirely of covers of obscure songs, all very well-chosen. The album gets off to a rousing start with Edmunds’ remake of the wildly underrated Elvis Costello B-side “Girls Talk,” somehow managing to top Costello’s own version. [Edmunds’ cover would even scale the American singles charts, climbing as high as #65.]
Edmunds also shines on great covers of Graham Parker’s “Crawling from the Wreckage” and Cliff Richard’s “Dynamite” and the Bremner-penned original “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
The album also contains two early recordings of songs that would show up in many an American record collection in the ‘80s; the Hank DeVito-penned rockabilly of “Queen of Hearts” would stop just one spot shy of reaching Number One in 1981 in the form of a cover by country singer Juice Newton that bore an almost identical arrangement to Edmunds’ own version, while the album’s closing cut, the blues-oriented “Bad Is Bad” (featuring the song’s composer, a young American named Huey Lewis, on harmonica) would be re-recorded in 1983 by Lewis himself with his new band The News on their massive multi-platinum blockbuster Sports.
Unlike Edmunds, Lowe was virtually unknown to American audiences prior to hooking up with Edmunds. With the assistance of Rockpile, he had recorded one excellent full-length solo disc in 1978, Jesus of Cool (which had wisely been re-named Pure Pop for New People for American release). It got positive reviews but was mostly ignored by radio outlets in America, where Lowe remained better known as Elvis Costello’s producer. (Lowe, who also doubled as an in-demand producer for the likes of John Hiatt, Paul Carrack, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, would produce all of Costello’s albums from 1977’s My Aim Is True through 1981’s Trust, as well as Graham Parker’s Howlin’ Wind and Stick to Me, The Damned’s debut album, and the Pretenders’ debut single “Stop Your Sobbing.”) Lowe would fare much better with his second solo outing, 1979’s Labour of Lost, similarly recorded with Rockpile as his backing band. The album would provide Lowe with his first and only American Top 40 hit, the brilliantly catchy, chugging acoustic rock of the near-Top-Ten hit “Cruel to Be Kind,” co-penned with Lowe’s former Brinsley Schwarz bandmate Ian Gomm (who would also score an American Top 40 himself right around the same time with “Hold On”). [Check out the song’s fun music video, which features video footage from Lowe’s wedding to American country-music star Carlene Carter, and cameos from all of the Rockpile members. (It’s Edmunds who plays the limo driver.)]
While the disc may have failed to yield a follow-up hit in the States, it’s nonetheless full of great, memorable new-wave and power-pop tunes, from “Dose of You” and the wordplay-heavy, Mickey Jupp-written “Switchboard Susan” and the neurotic tunes “Cracking Up” and “Big Kick, Plain Scrap” to the lovely, stark ballad “You Make Me” and the pure country of “Without Love,” which would be covered the following year by Lowe’s then-father-in-law, the legendary Johnny Cash, with Lowe as producer.
The album also features cameos from Huey Lewis (who provides harmonica on the foot-stomping “Born Fighter”) and Elvis Costello and the Attractions (who back Lowe on “American Squirm.”)
The lone album actually released under the Rockpile name, 1980’s Seconds of Pleasure, remains one of the most deliriously fun pop albums of its time. The Lowe-sung “Teacher, Teacher,” penned by Eddie Phillips and Kenny Pickett from The Creation, nearly gave Rockpile an American Top 40 hit under its own name. (It would unfortunately stall at #51.) The irony is that it’s not anywhere close to being the best song on here, and you can’t help but wonder how much better the band might have fared with a different choice of lead-off single. The punchy acoustic rock of “When I Write the Book” is one of Lowe’s all-time greatest compositions, while his playful “Pet You and Hold You” is just as addictive and the Lowe-penned and Edmunds-sung “Fool Too Long” just as catchy.
Billy Bremner even gets in on the fun, singing lead on the charming, handclap-heavy, ‘50s-flavored “Heart” (which Lowe would later re-record in slower fashion on his solo album Nick the Knife) and “You Ain’t Nothing But Fine.” Half of the album consists of lovingly-played covers, the best being the band’s blistering Edmunds-sung renditions of “Wrong Again (Let’s Face It)” (originally done by Squeeze for a flexi-disc single for the magazine Smash Hits) and Joe Tex’s “If Sugar Was as Sweet as You.” [Why their rendition of “Wrong Again” wasn’t marketed to American radio is beyond me. It’s actually superior to Squeeze’s own rendition and remains one of Edmunds’ finest moments as an interpreter of other people’s songs.] As if this weren’t enough fun for one album, the original vinyl package also threw in a bonus 7-inch four-song EP of Edmunds and Lowe lovingly performing a set of their favorite Everly Brothers songs such as “When Will I Be Loved.”
It’s a shame that Rockpile didn’t last longer, either as a stand-alone outfit or as the backing band on Edmunds’ and Lowe’s solo records, because both men truly did their best work with each other – as well as Bremner and Williams – around, and the four men truly had fabulous chemistry together, as you’ll immediately see from listening to any of these albums.