She’s on a rampage and it’s a killer. One of Detroit’s finest exports, singer/bassist/songwriter Suzi Quatro, has just reissued a scorching skillet of career -defining albums. Collectively the songs on these four albums reveal her versatile range and style, fascination with Elvis, growth as bassist and songwriter and variegated degrees of chemistry as she copes with lineup changes and experiments on each one.
‘Your Mama Won’t Like Me’ (1975)
Suzi’s third studio album, ‘Your Mama Won’t Like Me’, features Len Tuckey (guitars), Alastair McKenzie (keyboards) and Dave Neal (drums ) and was recorded amidst the frenzy of her glam-rock days. Known for its bold, funky overtones and lots of brass, (which came courtesy of label RAK’s finest team of players, the Gonzales Horns), it was helmed by Peter Coleman, before he produced Pat Benatar. Sister Patti, who was then performing with girl group Fanny, came aboard as a backing vocalist. The band even toured with Quatro’s Michigan mate, Alice Cooper on his ‘Welcome To My Nightmare’ extravaganza, to promote it.
On ‘I Bit Off More Than I Can Chew’ Suzi confides that she’s a lady who can’t be bought. Her voice is grizzly, raw and framed by a falsetto-flaunting male chorus. ‘Paralysed’ gets down to business. “I’m gonna spin my web all over this town/If I catch you with your trousers down.” And if you don’t get the warning, fellas, the first time around, she expounds, “You’ll be sterilized, paralysed.”
On ‘Prisoner of Your Imagination’, a creeping guitar enhances her sultry velvet voice. This song spans musical eras. Get ready for a mix of hard rock, psychedelia and a punk chorus. The title song is explicit: “My neckline’s too low/I get stared at wherever I go…” Her phrasing draws comparisons to Jerry Lee Lewis.
‘Can’t Trust Love’ comes alive with Alastair McKenzie’s searing keyboards and Suzi’s jazz love, which creeps out of the closet in this hybrid of smooth jazz and funk.
‘New Day Woman’ features the aforementioned Gonzales Horns – (three tenor, two baritone) and another fab solo by McKenzie. ‘Fever’ a cover of the famous Peggy Lee vehicle of 1958, is fleshed out with strings and guitar. It was a good take, but I was hoping to hear much more of Suzi’s incredible bass.
‘Michael’ is thrown into the swampland of rock and funk, but is heartfelt, folk-tinged and, though the song seems somewhat out of line with the style of the other tracks, Suzi wails like Joplin – that in itself is intriguing.
‘Peter Peter’ is so much fun that it will make you laugh out loud. Suzi drawls: “Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater/He’s such a bad boy…” There is so much creative mimicry on this album – if it is intentional or not, I don’t have a clue, but somehow Suzi manages to sound like the soul equivalent of Wilson Pickett and James Brown, and her style blends well with Tuckey’s wild guitar.
‘Red Hot Rosie’ will put you in rockabilly heaven. It’s a funkfastic jam with wonderful lyrics: “Neighbours noisy/Why you always running downtown?” Here is where Suzi sounds like she’s riding high on Elvis. McKenzie’s keyboards are unbeatable and Dave Neal’s outro oozes early Beatles.
The ballad ‘I May Be Too Young’ is engaging too. “Born to handle, easy to fool…” but songs like ‘Don’t Mess Around’ reflect the compelling attitude that Suzi’s career has built its foundation on. It’s also grand to hear this female rocker’s voice so tastefully surrounded by her bevy of male carolers. That said, Suzi and her entourage took some chances on this album and most of those choices were very intelligent.
Suzi Quatro’s fourth studio album was ‘Aggro-Phobia’, which was recorded over a two-week period in 1976. Mike Deacon replaced Alastair McKenzie. Again Suzi took some chances vocally and stylistically. The first track, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, was inspired by Suzi’s muse, but she poured her lot into a sparkling new shot glass. I would have liked more bass on this one, and it’s not as raw as the original, but the love shines through.
On ‘Don’t Break My Heart,’ we’re entranced by Suzi’s under-appreciated head voice. ‘Make Me Smile’ has thrashing drums. Suzi sings, “Blue eyes, how can you tell so many lies?”
‘What’s It Like to Be Loved’ features a great vocal outro. Chinn/Chapman’s ‘Tear Me Apart’ was also recorded by country star Tanya Tucker in 1979, which speaks to its versatility, and the piano work is infectious.
In ‘The Honky Tonk Downstairs’ the driving guitars and Suzi’s voice work together in a special way and the result is sensational. Her zeal is undeniable as she describes her proud position, “I’m the barmaid in the honky tonk…”
‘Half As Much As Me’, ‘Close the Door’ and ‘American Lady’ feature the songwriting partnership of Quatro and Tuckey. The last selection rivals Jimmy Buffet’s ‘Margaritaville’ in style and function.
‘Wake Up Little Susie’ is an amazing rendition of the Everly Brothers’ hit, in which Suzi does her absolute best to shake up and wake up her fans. ‘Roxy Roller’ is gratifying in a different way. Suzi’s performance is very satisfying; like sucking on a lemon drop on a scorching day.
‘I’ll Grow On You’ is the orphan country tune, a bit of a surprise, but still enjoyable as it shows what Suzi can do in an entirely different setting. ‘Kids of Tragedy’ and ‘Close Enough To Rock ‘n’ Roll’ are both from Mike Chapman’s 1976 Montreux recording sessions.
‘Angel Flight’, at more than ten minutes long, was clearly an experiment and was originally intended for her 1974 second album, ‘Quatro’. It is mysterious and evocative and prospers from expressive keys and Phil Denny’s symphonic arrangement, though the new age seagulls sound a little out of place. But Suzi’s voice has a glorious, lived-in texture, a bit like Ronnie Spector in her heyday. Deep Duane Eddy guitar tones work well too.
The album ends with an “alternative version” of ‘Tear Me Apart’, which is a vibrant, happy jam. “I’m going to say goodbye to the lights of St. Antoine,” Suzi sings. We’re back home and she’s given us a spectacular ride.
Suzi’s zeal for these tunes is unquestionable, even on the few that could be fillers. But, overall, she’s cocky, sensual and self-directed; shifting constantly from style to style, yet never sounding convoluted.
‘Rock Hard’ (1980)
1980s quantum leap ‘Rock Hard’ zeroes in on this rocker’s confrontational half. On this, her seventh album, Mike Chapman, whose work on her 2011 album ‘In the Spotlight’ and 1970 smashes, produced it, and channeled some of Suzi’s greatest moments. He also contributed superb songwriting.
The title song of the same name is outspoken, direct and full of contagious backbeat. Following that is a cover of the Dave Clark Five’s ‘Glad All Over’, which matches the original in intensity, due to spectacular drumming, but Quatro’s feminine viewpoint makes it sound more contemporary.
The unusual ‘State of Mind’ overflows with passion, while ‘Woman Cry’, ‘Lipstick’ and ‘Hard Headed’ rely on Quatro’s vengeful, take no prisoners’ persona. Ironically, one of the most revealing tracks is ‘Lonely is the Hardest’. Quatro’s ability to throw her heart into the vortex of a ballad should not be ignored, despite her reliable rockrootedness.
This treasure shows off her spectacular vocal and emotional range.
It is back to some gum-snapping pop with ‘You’re So Fine’. This fun song floats on a whirr of electric synergy. To take us home, ‘Rock Hard’, ends with the inspiring ‘Wish Upon Me’, another rising barometer for Quatro’s underappreciated range. “Wish upon me and night after night after night/I’ll make your wish come true.”
‘Unreleased Emotion’ (1998)
Suzi Quatro’s ‘Unreleased Emotion’, was originally recorded in 1982, and given a limited release in 1998.
The tracks were largely co-written by Quatro and Len Tuckey, who was her then first husband. Mo Witham, the other guitarist, and Dave Neal completed the quartet.
The gutsy lead singer plays the throbbing bass, of course, and explores a myriad of styles. In the first track, ‘Pardon Me’, a quirky Caribbean feel permeates the background. This is a Suzi that we can limbo to; a woman we haven’t met before, but it is dynamic and imaginative.
On ‘There She Goes’ her gloriously concise lyrics stand out: “She’s the kind/Don’t waste no time” and “Keep your boyfriends/Off the street.” This outstanding pop gem reveals a refreshing Shirelles moment. More Duane Eddy growls add texture.
A slick male chorus enhances ‘Can I Be Your Girl?’ That infamous tear in Quatro’s voice illuminates her desperation. Of course, ‘I’m a Rocker’ is a shoe-in.
“Mama, don’t know what made me this way!” she complains. Mama did something right, though. You can hear why her disciple, Joan Jett, would model her career after hearing material like this. Suzi’s strikingly strong bass line can’t be beat.
‘Strange Encounter’ has another dynamic bass line - the kind you might hear in Primus.
“All in all, I’m just a restless child.” That bass euphoria meets up with an exciting guitar solo. The breathy backing vocals heighten the theme.
‘Comes The Night’ finds Suzi examining more true love. “The angel of love is by my side…” ‘Starry Night’ is an extraordinary timeless ballad that would stand out in any era.
When she sings, “Wrapped up in your arms, so soft and warm,” she’s got a mariner’s hold on our every emotion.
‘Good Girl’ (Looking For a Bad Time) features Tuckey’s swashbuckling lead and Suzi’s saucy, school-of-hard-knocks attitude. Another surprise, though, is ‘Secret Hideaway’.
Flooded with Spanish guitar, it brings us into a fantasy world: “Do you want to share the mysteries of my soul?” ‘Just Like Momma’ is a song Quatro and Elvis should have sung.
I’m not sure why this cover wasn’t made longer, but the one-off Dale Hawkins’ classic, ‘Suzi Q’. is rediscovered in a higher range. “I’m an alley cat, can’t you see?” is what Quatro yearns to have us believe in her punky bonus track, ‘I Go Wild.’
The album closes with the wonderful ballad, ‘Tonight I Could Fall in Love’. Too late, we just did.