Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Desperate in New York City

The Boyfriends' impassioned "I Need Your Love" is a lost, now found, gem from '77

Too many bands and artists have been relegated to the bulging "What Happened?" file, bursting as it is with accounts of musicians that should've made it (whatever, precisely, "made it" means). You have yours, I have mine—and none of our protracted, well-meaning sighs help out those artists much. New York City's Boyfriends are yet another example. Their brief career has recently been neatly compiled in Wrapped Up In A Dream, a gathering of the band's two singles and many demos, released on Reminder Records. As Collin Makamson succinctly observes in his liners note:
Right place (CBGB’s, Max’s, NYC), right time (1977), right look (Heartbreakers with skinny ties), right sound (power pop plus Johnny Thunders’s guitar buzzsaw), right connections (Greg Shaw, Malcolm McLaren), right publicity (BOMP! Magazine, NY Rocker), right direction (interest from Sire and Stiff Records, opening slots for The Ramones, Joan Jett, The Romantics)—right everything!
He might've also added "right photographer," as legendary lensman David Godlis was in the band's corner, as well. So what, indeed, happened? The usual blend of bad luck, no luck, bad timing, dubious management, unfathomable (to the band) industry indifference, packed shows on both coasts in front of apostolic fans eager to pony up for the albums that never materialized. (Makamson wrote a full bio of the band in his liners; Reminder offers a thumbnail history of the band on their site.) When the dust settles, band members' lives resume, different paths are chosen, by pragmatic choice or rueful necessity, resentments may or may not stew over decades. And less talented bands, gifted with better luck and the planets' alignments, rocket to the top, if not necessarily for very long. The story's as old as dirt.

In the Boyfriends' case, they left behind more than just potential, they left behind the goods, particularly with their sublime "I Need Your Love." Like most in my generation, I first heard the song on the Ramones' Subterranean Jungle, released in 1983. How the tune ended up in the band's, or in their management's, hands, I have no idea. (Does anyone know who can hip me to the story?) All I do know is that the band's version is utterly fantastic—ardent, bold, the best kind of rock and roll in that it sounds fresh with each hearing, as though I'm catching up with each spin. The verses were built for Joey Ramone to sing, with their elementary, ascending/descending melody and their evocations of 60's boy-girl romance, where hand-holding is the acme of physical affection, where he calls on her with tender machismo and she's waiting and the evening begins. But it's the craving chorus where Joey, hyped with massive backing vocals, really delivers: a four-word, three-note declaration of pure need that's somehow both desperate and joyous. (Desperate and joyous; I'll add that to my growing list of "Rock and Roll, definitions of.")


The Boyfriends recorded "I Need Your Love" in 1977 as a demo, and it possesses a raw, rough-and-ready feel relative to the Ramones' polished version; thickly muscular, it really drives. Bobby Dee Waxman is steered by his excitable guitar riffs, bassist Jay Nap and drummer Lee Crystal indulge in a few more frills than Dee Dee and Marky would allow, and singer and guitarist Paddy Lorenzo howls his way through it all: a New Yawk punk-era classic. The demo sounds releasable, is nearly radio-ready to my ears, yet it was fated to vanish, and then eventually materialize, in various places and in varying quality, online, where I finally heard it. Now Reminder Records had done the proper thing. "With the talent, songwriting ability and pop craftsmanship here on display," Makamson writes, 
The Boyfriends hopefully will finally get the chance to write the long-promised happy ending to their story and, with that final chapter, assume their rightful place within the New York City punk and new wave pantheon.
Hopefully the band makes some coin off of this release; at least they have a snazzy, well-annotated and -produced album to admire, crow about, and pass down to their children. 

Here's what I want to do. I want to defocus the lens, as it were, so that the Boyfriends morph into a kind of featureless, universal blur, in effect becoming all of those bands, artists, and musicians who never "made it," and say: I love you. I've lost count over the years of the times when some nameless opening act on, say, a Wednesday night, in front of a dozen friends and dutiful strangers, lifted the top off of a venue and made ear-ringingly, movingly clear to me the eternal promises of rock and roll. Here and gone. These days, thanks to digital home recording and sites like Bandcamp, Patreon, and all the blessed rest, more artists than ever can upload their song(s) for potentially millions to hear (if not always purchase). Back when the Boyfriends toiled, sewn to the myth that signing with a major label was virtually the only way to mainstream success—success, period—far fewer bands could send their own work out into the light of day. Thus, a rock and roll gem like "I Need Your Love" is left in the dark—though not before setting alight many a stage in the Boyfriends' capable hands. Thanks to the Ramones' sharp ears, the song is familiar to many, yet most bands aren't so lucky. 

The Boyfriends' recording of "I Need Your Love" never stopped beating in the dark of that box in the closet or the bottom drawer where it was for so long relegated, humming its electric promises, waiting for the day where it can be heard and turned up, no less relevant a song than it was when it was written, back when it was already looking behind and recognizing the long, loud tradition it's proudly part of. Welcome to the light of day.

Image details from Wrapped Up In A Dream (Reminder Records, 2023)

1 comment:

Alvin Bishop said...

I saw them, once, opening for someone circa 1978, at CB's. They were, at best, okay. Typical new-wave band for that time and place. Professional, but no surprises. Listening to that track, yeah a C+ band. LOL.