May 25, 2002

I just watched my first DVD from Netflix: MusikLaden: Ladies of Rock. Late-'70s/early-'80s performance clips from the German music show (the Krauts' answer to The Midnight Special, or more recent mini-concert programs like Reverb). It's a short disc with no features, and the only songs a rock layperson would know from the track selection are Heart's "Barracuda" and "Magic Man." Aside from that, we've got the Motels (who don't do "Only the Lonely"), Bonnie Tyler (who only does one song and guess what it isn't), and Suzi Quatro. Rockist pseudo-sociologists like yours truly will have fun, but not that much fun. Except for the Motels segment (they perform four songs) and the two nailed-into-your-eyeballs Heart classics, the DVD's pretty drab and unremarkable.

HOWEVER... the Motels were fantastic. I never knew their music outside of "Only the Lonely," didn't know anything about singer-guitarist Martha Davis, and always dismissed the Motels as one of those lame Scandal/Quarterflash prom-rock one-offs. I've gotta warn against Martha's later-'80s solo material, which tends towards the schmaltzy, but as a Motel she was quite a number: Lips like Elvis, theatrics like Ellen Foley, voice like Ronnie Spector, stage moves like Chrissie Hynde. And the other Motels were certainly not "ladies of rock," but they were a well-dressed group of guys! The requisite skinny ties and thin-lapel blazers of the era, the hairdos modeled after the less-feminine elements of Blondie. Sound: rootsy/new-wavey, like the Cars with a nice pair of headlights, some sax 'n' synth but nothing overindulgent. The Motels were (at least in this performance) a guitar band -- and as much as we take these things for granted now, it was still pretty unusual 20 years ago to see a woman playing electric guitar on TV. Never mind the stupendous amount of musically inclined females on the punk scene -- that wasn't the real world, where all anyone knew was the Go-Go's and Heart. I wonder why Martha's never mentioned in these VH1 "women in rock" specials -- probably the same reason they consider people like Gary Numan "one-hit wonders" based on nothing but their US Top 40 chart position, and barely scratch the surface of their legend or influence in the 30-second recap. Listen, kids: I've said it many times before, but DON'T LET VH1 TRY TO TELL YOU HOW TO BE HIP, BECAUSE RETRO KITSCH APPEAL OR NOT, THEY'RE STILL SLAVES TO THE BILLBOARD CHARTS.

(just downloaded: Motels, "Take the L," which has the goddamn-why-didn't-I-think-of-that refrain "Take the L out of 'lover' and it's over")