Two Things At Once 003

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Some readers will remember that moment in the 1970s when disco was on its way out (around 1977) but still hadn't given up the ghost quite yet. Pop was in a transition period (again) where rock was reasserting its dominance (hard rock and punk rock were both on the way to mainstream exposure), but it still had to battle down the last remains of disco's glitz and glamor and so the foot soldiers sent in on the first wave were… shall we say… very unique creatures which sort of straddled generic lines and, like all good mules, were sterile and would sire no offspring but would help to usher in a new time. Arguably one of the most unique to those doing the ushering was Jerry Doucette; a Canadian guitarist brandishing a two-necked Gibson SG and some really good songwriting chops, he broke onto the charts briefly and, for two albums, made some pretty impressive waves which True North Records is now giving the reissue treatment.

Listening back to Doucette's music now is charming, in its own way. On Mama Let Him Play, Doucette arrived peddling a beat and rhythm-focused permutation of rock which, now, calls images of campy sitcoms like WKRP in Cincinnati (which, like Mama Let Him Play, also premiered in 1978) and bands like The Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive, but with the dance steps which would have fit in well with a disco playlist in the twilight of the genre's dominance. Songs like “Down The Road,” “Back Off,” “All I Wanna Do” (which, no, is not at all similar to Sheryl Crow's song of the same name) and “What's Your Excuse?” all play at a fairly danceable, good-time rock angle which, in 2013, sounds as anachronistic as it's possible to get but it's easy to understand how it may have seemed hot and cutting edge in its day (in the back of your mind, you can hear a younger version of your father shouting, “Here's a guy who has a true-toned voice, plays a two-neck SG and you can dance to it? Choice! Throw it on!” as you listen now). At the time, it almost caught on too; the title track from Mama Let Him Play went Platinum in Canada and charted on the Billboard Top 100. That's saying something given that a Canadian act trying to cross the U.S. border successfully was no easy feat back then.

Hungry to capitalize on the success of Mama Let Him Play, Mushroom Records (who originally held the singer's contract) got Doucette back in the studio as fast as possible, and the follow-up album, The Douce Is Loose, appeared in 1979 – but the window of opportunity has already closed for Doucette. The Douce Is Loose ended up selling exactly half as well as its predecessor because those who had gravitated toward Doucette initially had already bid farewell to bell bottoms and had already decided they didn't want to revisit them or any of the music that might be associated with them.

The funny thing about the sound of Douce Is Loose is that the guitarist was actually well ahead of the curve to which he was playing. While cuts like “Father Dear Father” and “Nobody” are bloated beyond salvation, other songs like “Run Buddy Run,” “Rita” and “Someday” all present a road-tested and honed rock edge which, combined as it was with prog-rock synths, actually beat Dire Straits to the epic sound of “Money For Nothing”-esque prog-pop by about six years. Not only that, there are some really good, hard riffs recessed deep into “Before I Die,” and a tone similar to that of DLR-era Van Halen on “All Over Me.” Hearing these songs now is a little revelatory; they illustrate that some of the biggest names in Eighties rock might not have simply erupted out of nowhere.

Revelatory or not, there was no hope for Doucette at the time. When The Douce Is Loose flopped, Mushroom Records flopped pretty hard with it and Doucette never really recovered; one more album would appear (Coming Up Roses – which isn't being reissued), but it arrived stillborn. The ending isn't a happy one, but the two reissues prove that not all has been forgotten; each reissue boasts one or two previously unreleased tracks which, while not gems, will be justification enough for fans to purchase them. As well, they'll have the defense of wanting to get the music on a new format on hand (because neither has ever been released on CD), as they always have.



The reissues of Mama Let Him Play and The Douce Is Loose will be released on September 24, 2013 by True North Records. Pre-order Mama Let Him Play here and The Douce Is Loose here on Amazon.

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