Reflecting, a decade after the fact, on his launch as a solo rock & roll superstar, Mick Ronson shrugged indifferently, as though he'd really had no say in the matter. David Bowie had just "retired" and, in the absence of the singing sensation with whom Ronson had already risen to unexpected heights, manager Tony DeFries was anxious to keep at least one of his many pots boiling. "Tony said to me, 'okay, we can make you a big star, get you a deal with RCA, all that.' So I said 'wonderful,' and went off to make my own record."
Was there ever a launch like the one which awaited Mick Ronson? For a few weeks through the early spring of 1974, you couldn't turn around without his blonde tresses and sad doe eyes staring out from the video still selected to represent his solo career: "Slaughter on 10th Avenue," a histrionic guitar rendition of the Richard Rodgers movie classic, was an inspired choice, and the accompanying video -- Ronson watching helplessly as his girl is gunned down on the street -- remains one of the unseen classics of the genre. No mere miming potboiler for this Kid -- Ronson got the full Hollywood treatment. The same can be said for the accompanying album. Slaughter on 10th Avenue remains a startling achievement, however it is viewed. Guitar gods, after all, were ten-a-penny through the '70s. But could Ritchie Blackmore sing? Jimmy Page? Robin Trower? Ronno's voice wasn't strong, but with sensitive material and lyrics he could get behind, he was unbeatable. A deliciously Pelvis-less "Love Me Tender" opens the album with warm depth and sparkling cadences; "Only After Dark," co-written with one-time SRC main man Scott Richardson, proved he hadn't left the hard riffing behind. The watchword throughout was variety -- from the proto-Springsteen-esque "Growing Up and I'm Fine" (the first and only Bowie/Ronson composition to be publicly acknowledged) to the chest-beating Euro-angst of "Music Is Lethal" -- all were a showcase for Ronson the performer, rather than the man who garroted Gibsons for fun, and initial reviews of the album made that point. Of course, the guitar didn't get off scot-free. The scorching ARP/guitar duel which concludes "Hey Ma, Get Papa" and, of course, the title track itself, were evidence of Ronson's love for his day job, but today, it is the absence of screeching, squealing, neck-twisting frenzy which has ensured that Slaughter on 10th Avenue remain so much more than just another guitar picker's solo record; that the album does, in fact, stand alongside any of Bowie's own, immediately post-Ronson albums as a snapshot of a special time, when the triple disciplines of glam, rock, and "Precious Art" slammed into one another without a care in the world. [Reissued with bonus live tracks.]