Being able to link different eras through a quasi-genealogy track – father begat son, who begat grandson, who began grandson, and onward – is something that many artistic endeavors look to tie together. For country music, there is the desire to tie together the gospel, bluegrass and “Appalachian” sounds to its current product (and for some, that is a LONG stretch). For blues, it is that link to virtually every branch of rock music. So, what was it that brought rock to the “new wave” that came out in the late 1970s/early 1980s? While the punk rock that emanated from New York City in the late 1970s certainly helped, you need look no further than the very underappreciated band Rockpile and their only official album release, the cheekily titled Seconds of Pleasure, for a better piece of evidence.
The members of Rockpile separately are probably more recognizable to the general music fan than the band itself. Guitarist and singer Dave Edmunds is arguably the person who created the band, with a solo album called Rockpile in 1970 and a backing band that featured the same name. In teaming up with another English virtuoso, guitarist and singer Nick Lowe, he found a kindred spirit who followed along the same musical path that he did. That path – a devotion to 50s style rockabilly with touches of blues but an overtly poppy personality – was something that both did well in the prior work before the only official Rockpile album.
The reason I keep calling it “the only official album” is that the entirety of the band – Edmunds, Lowe, drummer Terry Williams and guitarist Billy Bremner – played on several albums together through the middle point and to the end of the 1970s. Two of Edmunds’ solo efforts, Tracks on Wax 4 and Repeat When Necessary and the album recognized as Lowe’s tour de force in Labour of Lust, were essentially Rockpile jamming on the albums with Williams and Bremner’s quality playing. If you go back and listen to the works, you can pick up on this fact rather easily.
Through the 70s, Lowe and Edmunds teased the audience with their solo work and, by using Rockpile as their “house band,” whetted the appetite of fans for an official Rockpile album. The combinations and musical stylings that the band put together have been given credit for breaking ground in “new wave” music, with Elvis Costello (Lowe wrote the song “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”), Graham Parker (Edmunds penned “Crawling from the Wreckage”) and many other artists…these were songs that were more than likely created from this quartet through the 1970s.
Even though there was a great desire to get something going officially on a Rockpile effort, the band was hamstrung by the fact that their leadership, Lowe and Edmunds, were both signed to different labels. Edmunds was a part of the Swan Song stable (the label formed by Led Zeppelin), while Lowe recorded for the now-defunct Radar Records. It wasn’t until 1980 that Edmunds put out an album called Twangin… to complete his Swan Song contract that Rockpile could actually come out from the shadows.
The original LP was priceless in its simplicity and its ability to deliver the best of Rockpile. The list of songs from the album, including “Teacher Teacher,” “A Knife and a Fork,” “When I Write the Book,” “You Ain’t Nothin’ But Fine” and “Wrong Again (Let’s Face It)” (written by Squeeze’s Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook), demonstrated the incredible musicianship of the band. It also demonstrated the skillful lyricists that Lowe and Edmunds had become, with their priceless ability to turn a phrase.
Unfortunately, just as they were about to receive the accolades for the work that they had done, it all came crashing down on Rockpile. Perhaps because there were two “alpha dogs” at the helm of the ship – both Lowe and Edmunds, replete with producing, writing and playing credits that rivaled each other, had a bit of a time taking directions from each other – Rockpile was reaching the end of their productivity just as they were getting recognition for their work. Lowe, who had married Carlene Carter (Johnny Cash’s stepdaughter) in 1979, was not only touring with Rockpile but the band was serving as her backing band for her tour also. Tensions continued to rise between the duo until, in 1981, they would break up Rockpile, with Lowe saying in the liner notes for the 2004 expanded release of Seconds of Pleasure (which features Rockpile’s version of “Crawling from the Wreckage”), “We got together for fun and when the fun had all been had we packed it in.”
How bad was the breakup of Rockpile? Although Williams and Bremner would hold onto ties with Lowe (each played on his recordings in the 1980s), it wasn’t until 1990 that Edmunds would return to work with his former bandmate on Lowe’s album Party of One. It was perhaps even more important the other hatchet that was buried between the two men; Edmunds served as the producer of that album which received critical acclaim (in 1988, Edmunds had produced one song on Lowe’s album Pinker and Prouder Than Previous, but the 1990 reunion was of greater importance).
It is arguable that Lowe and Edmunds – either through their solo work or through their days when Rockpile was the rage – are deserving of induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Their litany of songwriting and producing and the bridge that they formed from the sounds of the 1950s to what would become the “new wave” era of the 1980s can’t be overlooked. If there was going to be a band that you would induct for their only recorded effort (officially), Rockpile would be it and Seconds of Pleasure would be that very record…it can be played in any era and it would be at home, be it today or sixty years ago.
Previous entries in the 100 Essential Albums of All Time:
Rick Wakeman, Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Metallica, …And Justice for All