So do you know about the Flamin’ Groovies? It’s likely that you haven’t heard of them since they are still relatively obscure. The fact that there is a chance that you’ve heard of them is a major improvement compared to thirty or forty years ago, that is to say, when the Flamin’ Groovies were still a band. They made a few albums. They were signed to a major for a nanosecond.
Then they made their own recordings and released them on little labels. They went through personnel changes. They became hip among hipsters in France and still no one paid attention. They were ahead of the curve and they could write songs. Here is a video of them on French TV in 1972. The song, “Slow Death” is in the grand tradition of drug songs like “Waiting for my Man”, “Sister Morphine” etc.
The song even got them banned from airplay. This is often a step towards glory in the sun, success, stadium shows. In their case it never worked. The point of today’s blog is that there is a difference between being cool and being successful. The Groovies are cool. They wrote some great songs which have survived to be covered by other cool bands. They were never successful, at least not in the terms of becoming rock stars. They did all the things beyond coolness wrong. They signed with a label that promoted kid pop. Since they weren’t kid pop they were ignored by the label.
Don’t take this little tale in the wrong way. Cool is great. Cool is very important. The world needs bands like the Flamin’ Groovies, or Big Star, or Mission of Burma or The Velvet Underground. These bands show us the way to creating music that is new and exciting. My point is that more often than not these bands aren’t very successful. Instead they are influential. Their music echoes through other bands that go on to make it big.
Big Star is another case of too cool to be huge. They, once again, got signed to the wrong label. They were a Beatlesque band with soul roots signed to a large southern soul label. When I first heard them in 1979 they were completely unknown since they sold less than 3000 records total. They were a hidden treasure. People passed around tapes of their songs from hand to hand. They never made it. When I met Alex Chilton, one of the two writers in the band, he had given up playing for almost a decade and was living in a tent in the woods. Eventually the girl pop band the bangles would have a hit with alex’s song September Girls. Then, in a cruel twist of fate, another of their tracks became the hit theme song for That 70’s Show, performed by Cheap Trick. Once again cool wins through but not for the band that was cool.
The ultimate combo is an ultra cool band that explodes all the way to the top. If that is you send me your tracks so I can come along for the ride. If not, learn about cool and learn how to make it your own since it will open doors and pack in the fans as you struggle to succeed at rock………..
©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2011