Welcome To The Dive
In early 1974 my dad briefly got into the habit of taking me and my teenage sister to the local record shop on Saturday afternoons where, in the retailer’s window, was a list of the week’s Top 40 selling singles. If we were lucky, we’d be able to choose one and take it home with us. The artists and accompanying song titles often made as much sense to me as Sanskrit or a list of starters at Haydock Park racecourse. And like a foolish punter standing at the Tote, it was agony making that choice. I simply didn’t have the knowledge or experience to fall back on.
On the first occasion I eschewed offerings by David Essex, Alvin Stardust and The Simon Park Orchestra, which I had already heard on the Motorola in dad’s new Triumph 2000, for the Ringo Starr single Photograph. This decision was made largely on the basis that, being a Beatle, Ringo’s song would be reasonably good. It wasn’t.
The next time around, however, my selection turned out to be a real belter, an eventual Number One no less. When I got this item home, I immediately sampled the heady joy of removing its
sleeve and was dazzled by the vinyl which looked as black and shiny as an oil slick. Holding it up to the light, I could only stare at the tall clipper boat framed by a calm blue sky on the printed label in the centre. Three bold capital letters in dark blue around the mast informed me this was a RAK Records production.
RAK was the then recently formed label owned by producer Mickie Most aided by the song writing team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. Collectively dubbed ‘Chinnichap’, they went on to pen a sequence of number one hits for groups such as Mud, The Sweet, Racey and Hot Chocolate. Chapman even outlasted the glam years and is credited also with production duties on Blondie’s late 1970’s new wave disco anthem Heart of Glass.
“Hey, y’all wanna go down to Devil Gate Drive?” a coarse, shouty female voice implored just as the needle hit the record’s groove. “Yeah!” came the immediate reply from what sounded like a gathering of the sort of teenagers my mother would have disapproved of.
Pounding reverberating glam rock drums then took over, which had the effect of sending my pulse rate soaring, my head spinning wildly and I did rather wonder where this was taking me exactly.
“Welcome to the dive”, came another voice, this time male with the tone and timbre of a slightly menacing fairground worker calling out the last ride at the dodgems. What on earth was a dive, I wondered, and was this somewhere I really wanted to be? Too late. The shriller, more excitable female voice was now counting the song in: “Er one, er two, er one two three…”
The singer's name is Suzi Quatro, a 24-year-old bassist from Detroit, USA who had been brought over to England by hotshot producer Mickie Most, famous for producing 1960's hits for The Animals and Herman’s Hermits. On a business trip to the Motown offices in Detroit, the impresario spotted her performing with her all-girl band Cradle at a local gig and offered her a deal on the spot.
Midas Most, who on the popular TV talent show New Faces earned himself a reputation as a harsh critic of aspiring new acts*, was quick to transform Suzi’s image from happy-go-lucky hippie chick to out-and-out ballin’ rock queen. Dressed in zip-up leather jumpsuit and accessorised by various chains and chokers, she was later seen on Top of The Pops prowling the stage wielding an enormous white Fender Precision bass.
At least it looked enormous in the photo from my sister’s Jackie magazine; Quatro is only 5 foot 2 inches tall.
Anyhow, everything I had heard so far was manna from heaven to this pre-pubescent youth and as every glorious 3.57 minutes of this brand new 45rpm disc kept playing, I found myself delving deeper into Suzi Q's universe.
The first verse, for instance, sounded to me like a resounding call to arms for us pre-teens who were already beginning to exercise our hard-wired sense of nostalgia and realisation of innocence lost: “Well at the age of five they can do their jive….and at the age of six they’re gonna get their kicks….”
Suzi, who I quickly decided was my perfect pin up poster girl, reveals later in verse two she was “the jukebox queen” when only “sweet sixteen” accompanied by a very crude male wolf whistle; the kind heard on London building sites or in ITV’s On The Buses starring Reg Varney. In Suzi’s raucous rock and roll boogie-woogie party I detected a distinctly sexually charged atmosphere, which to my ten-year-old self was thrilling yet ever-so-slightly embarrassing in the context of our family home. Put it this way, I wasn’t going to bop up and down to this in front of my granny.
Yet despite all the carefully stage-managed vampish-ness, Suzi was doing her bit for female liberation and her image paved the way for later rock chicks like Joan Jett , Chrissie Hynde and The Go-Go's. Devil Gate Drive, it transpires, is a biographical account of young Quatro’s struggle against all the odds to become a star in the chauvinistic, male dominated rock scene of mid-West America. The Quatros were a solid working-class family descended from Italian and Hungarian immigrants. Music ran in the blood; dad Art worked at General Motors and performed in his own jazz trio, while her older sister Patti invited Suzi to join her all-female garage rock band The Pleasure Seekers who had to fit into short mini skits and alluring 1960’s wigs in order to attract booking agents and record company execs. “She goes down to the Drive, she’s the star of the show, let her move on up, let her come, let go, she can jive….”
As the record's grooves begin to run out, Suzi gets her all-male band of Brit-born session rockers together for one crazy, climactic finale. She is the real boss now, albeit a slightly kinky-looking one in her thigh length boots and leathers: “Come on boys, let’s do it one more time for Suzi…”
And by the time the record ended on one sustained guitar chord aided and abetted by her drummer’s flailing toms and cymbals, I could only reel back exhausted from this rush of adrenaline mixed with a sudden onset of testosterone. I felt sweaty and slightly used but quickly decided to return to needle to the start. So you fancy doing it all over again Suzi?
*The TV talent competition New Faces first aired in May 1973. Also on the panel of judges was Crossroads and Neighbours theme composer Tony Hatch, known as ‘the hatchet’ for his unsparing views on some of the acts. A precursor to The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, the programme made stars of Lenny Henry, Marti Caine and Joe Pasquale.