We’ve all heard the term “going down a rabbit hole,” usually applied to a Google or Wikipedia search that goes off the rails and turns into hours of reading following an improbable path. As a music lover, I like to think of this as more akin to stepping into a river that is the rich history of musical expression. The downside to my metaphor is that those digressions tend to go back upstream as often as downstream, but what I like is that the river is not static, both the river and I move and change and explore.
In this case, an ad for a Girlschool re-issue led me back 40 years to their collaboration with Motorhead on the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre EP. That in turn led back another two decades to Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, who I’d heard of, but never heard.
It makes some sense that I had missed Johnny Kidd. He and the Pirates were a British phenomenon and a short one at that. Besides, “Please Don’t Touch” was never my favorite Motorhead tune and I didn’t realize that “Shakin’ All Over” was done by Johnny Kidd long before Agent Orange covered it and even a few years before the Guess Who had their first moderate success with it. What I missed was an early classic of late 50’s/early 60’s rock n roll that, had it made waves on this side of the Atlantic, perhaps would have convinced us that the music had not, in fact, died.
All four songs on this 1960 EP have an urgency and edge that cut right through an age dominated by the clean cut rock n roll-ish pop of Ricky Nelson and Cliff Richard on their respective sides of the Atlantic. And the songs have a dark side that we wouldn’t see until the Stones, aside from the deliberately maudlin death disc craze.
Listening to Johnny Kidd and the Pirates do “Please Don’t Touch” makes it clear why the song probably appealed to Lemmy. Kidd and company waver on the edge of climax, showing restraint only to avoid romantic entanglements. “Shakin’ All Over” has an equally heightened sexual tension, teetering on the edge of fulfillment. If the first two tracks are all nerves, “Restless” is post-coital regret. “You Got What It Takes” ends the EP on a calmer, upbeat note, finding satisfaction in an imperfect partner. In four short songs, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates share the nervous energy and fears of the “first time” along with the calm acceptance finding a real partner, not bad for eight minutes of music!
Interestingly, two of the Pirates would record the Joe Meek classic “Telstar” as members of the Tornadoes in 1962. You can hear some of that sound on this EP, minus the space-age instrumentation that set Meek’s work apart. The EP sits in the transition between early rock n roll that largely immitated American music and the elaborate and decidedly more British work of Meek (and later George Martin and the Beatles). Maybe, it is lost due to its brevity, but it is a turn in the river of pop music history worth discovering and exploring.