Willie "Loco" Alexander

Greatest Hits

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It may have been Genya Ravan who said, "What's the point of putting out a 'greatest-hits' album if you have no hits"; the thinking, of course, is to use the words "best of" instead. But to the French, Boston, New York, and L.A. underground, Willie "Loco" Alexander is a true hero, an artist who is both prolific and original, and to those fans, these are his "hits." Outside of the live double-LP Autre Chose on New Rose and the ultra-rare Sperm Bank Babies LP (only 500 were pressed of this circa-1977 WERS radio broadcast by Willie Alexander & the Boom Boom Band), there are three studio collections of Alexander's work on the market, Northeast's 1991 U.S. release Boom Boom Ga Ga, Fan Club's Fifteen Years of Rock & Roll with Willie Alexander on New Rose's subsidiary released in France in 1990, and 1985's Willie Loco Alexander's Greatest Hits, also released in France on the Fan Club imprint. Eight of the titles here show up again five years later on the 20-track CD but, surprisingly, six of the titles were replaced. Of the six that you can find on Willie Loco Alexander's Greatest Hits, two of them are absolutely vital -- the "You Looked so Pretty When" 45 and its flip "Hit Her Wid de Axe." The original producer, the late Stephan Lovelace, was going through a divorce and refused to mail the original masters to the artist, so engineer Karen Kane EQ'd the original 45s of the two aforementioned titles and Willie's solo debut 45 "Mass. Ave." and "Kerouac." "You Looked so Pretty When," in particular, is essential to the story of this artist. For an independent 45, the production is stunning: it's a rock & roll band emulating Phil Spector's Wall of Sound without a Wall of Sound, just with their instruments. It survives as one of the finest moments from the new wave of 1976. Decades later, it is still a powerful rock & roll statement, as is "Pup Tune," which both Fan Club releases shamelessly lift from the vintage Live at the Rat album. Both French releases incorrectly label the song as "Pop Tune," but that is so misleading. In actuality, it is a demented, sizzling rock masterpiece regarding Alexander's obsession with Ronnie Spector, a song about some omnisexual drunken stupor where a dog eats someone's panties and does unmentionable things with them. It is sheer brilliance, the maniacal performance of the band, with Loco screaming "baby I love you" over the ending. As Alexander writes in the brief liners, "This record is ten years of vinyl nuts and guts. Loco Boom Boom Gaga Rock & Roll."

Don't let his eccentricities throw you off the scent; this is a very clever man with lots of rock, jazz, folk, and punk sensibilities. His version of Doc Pomus' "Lonely Avenue" is authentic, while the Gene Vincent cover, "Be Bop a Lula," is one of the most unique versions of this tune you will ever hear. Recorded after the breakup of the Boom Boom Band for New Rose/RCA in 1980, it shows Alexander truly Solo Loco. His ability to create rhythms with the piano or the drums and his grasp of desperation are what rock & roll is all about. The downside here is that the mastering of "Be Bop a Lula" sounds horrible on this disc, not as pure as what is on Solo Loco or the New Rose 1980-2000 boxed set. "Be Bop a Lula" sounds great on those releases, coming through loud and clear. This 14-song album holds lots of keys to Loco the artist. "Bass Rocks" is about Gloucester, MA, but the key riff is Lou Reed's "White Light/White Heat" melody. As a former member of the Velvet Underground, that melody is the only remnant Alexander chooses to give to the world, subliminally, to acknowledge his past. This album covers only the period starting in 1975 with the release of the classic "Kerouac" single, so there is none of his work for the Lost on Capitol or Bagatelle on ABC Records. It's a freeze frame of the solo work this dedicated artist has released to the world, a good collection of important moments in Willie Alexander's career.

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