Rock N Roll’s Greatest Hidden Treasure..
At this point, many people will already be saying “Who is Alan Merrill?” Let’s start here…
I remember the very first time I saw this You Tube video, the familiar Granada TV logo coming on screen and then the title music for The Arrows show.
I recognized it at once as a show I had been glued to every week when I was a kid. Bright sunny pop band, great lookers, strong tunes, about a million times better than the average cheesy show-bands that were so prevalent at the time. They wrote some of their own songs which they showcased on the 28 week run of their eponymous show in 1976. Almost 40 years on, the lyrics came back to me instantly. How could I have even forgotten about this band? They were really going places, big time.
In 1982 Joan Jett took her cover of the Alan Merrill composition I LOVE ROCK N ROLL to #1 in the Billboard chart in the USA. She had seen the song on the Arrows show when she was in the UK on tour with the Runaways and knew it had hit potential.
The big problem for the Arrows was the times they were operating in. When the Punk explosion hit London, a great tide of bands working in other genres were just swept away overnight. Additionally, the Arrows, as a maturing band were seeking to break out of the RAK hit factory cookie cutter sameness that had spawned many long forgotten bands, but also such luminaries as Mud, Hot Chocolate and Suzi Quatro.
They wanted to do more of their own, more R&B and rock inspired material, they took on management to help them get a better deal and found themselves frozen out by hit maker Svengali, their producer Mickie Most. Despite snagging themselves a golden TV opportunity, in a fit of stubborn pique, Most failed to promote their music and they were in the unenviable position of being very famous on the TV but with no more records in the shops. Their faces were on the covers of every magazine, but without any new releases to build on that fame, at the end of their very successful run on TV they had simply run out of road and the band fragmented in acrimony.
Alan formed a band with Steve Gould of Rare Bird and produced the classic Runner album, it was intelligent, melodic adult-oriented music that found a keen audience in the US and Europe but the other band members were resistant to touring and again, opportunities were missed. Alan married around this time, and his wife, supermodel Cathee Dahmen wanted to relocate back to the USA.
Back in his hometown of New York, and with a young family to support, Alan took gigs as a sideman for Derringer and Meat Loaf through the 80s, and was a mainstay of the touring bands of both for a number of years. The 90s got a bit tougher and saw him returning to Japan to reanimate his early 70s successes there. .
Yes. Alan’s story is a unique one. I started in the middle, and need to return to the beginning.
The son of two jazz professionals, Aaron Sachs and Helen Merrill, Alan was raised with music in his blood. His aunt was married to Laura Nyro’s uncle, so Laura and Alan were neighbors, step-cousins and best friends. They lived in the same building and hung out together all the time. He was with her while she wrote all those iconic songs on her first album, acting as her first critical audience while she developed her unique talent.
Alan had a disrupted home life. His father had left when he was still a pre-schooler and his mother’s singing career took her all over the world. He had a spell in London, and another in a Swiss boarding school, and when that was over he was sent back to graduate from a high school in the Bronx. All this gave him a very unusual and creative outlook. He learned guitar and piano by ear, facilitated by being surrounded by music and musicians all the time. He was soon playing in bands with schoolfellows, graduating to paid gigs in the suburbs and in Greenwich Village at the height of the music scene there, playing the same clubs as Jimi Hendrix and the Lovin Spoonful; Bruce Springsteen was another young guy on the scene at that time. Alan very nearly joined the “Baroque N Roll” cult folk/mod/pop band The Left Banke, he passed the audition and learned all the songs, but at the last minute, a management decision decided against bringing in a new member of the band.
Alan, still a young teen, living alone and rather wild in his mother’s west side apartment was becoming a concern to his family. His mother was living in Japan and it was decided that he should go to join her there.
Within days of arriving he was dating a go-go dancer in a popular club who put him in touch with a band called The Lead that needed a replacement guitarist when their original member got deported.
He found great success in Japan, becoming the first westerner to be considered a star of Japanese home grown pop music and the first act signed to Atlantic Records Japan division. A solo album in Japanese,
and another in English (the amazingly brilliant “Merrill 1”) followed
and the next step was the first Japanese Glam Rock band, Vodka Collins. It was a highly successful collaboration between Alan and cult drummer and scene face the late Hiroshi Oguchi, the drummer of the Japanese equivalent of the Rolling Stones,
The band, originally a duo, were augmented by the late Hiroshi “Monsieur” Kamayatsu on rhythm guitar, and Take Yokouchi on bass. Vodka Collins easily dominated the rock n roll world of Japan in the early 1970s, and their vinyl debut LP “Tokyo New York” on EMI / Toshiba Records is a milestone that is still in demand.
It is considered a ground breaking LP in the domestic Japan rock scene.
Alan was additionally an in-demand player in Japan, honing his musical chops on dozens of sessions for other artists, which paid well, but as his band became more successful there was less time for this lucrative activity, and he found he could no longer afford to pay the rent. There he was, at the top of the tree in the domestic J-rock scene, but management wasn’t even paying him enough to make the rent. The assumption was that he didn’t need the money, that his mother would bail him out, but that was not the case at all. By this time Helen Merrill was back in the USA and advised Alan to make a stand against the management for the pay he should have had. She advised him to leave. At the same time, Jake Hooker called to ask him to come to London, and offered the cost of the ticket. Alan had worked with Jake before in the USA, and Hooker knew that Alan was his sure-fire ticket to success.
Eventually the pair hooked up with drummer Paul Varley and the classic Arrows line-up was born. Signed to fashionable RAK records the Arrows were regarded by Mickie Most as just the latest disposable nine-days-wonder, he really did not realize that he had such a formidable and prodigious musical talent in Alan Merrill. He used the band as a vehicle for Chinn & Chapman, and similar songwriters who were having hit after hit with various different acts. Merrill’s own compositions were relegated to b-sides, and Alan, mindful of owing Hooker for the plane ticket, allowed Hooker to put down his name as a co-writer, figuring that it was a way to repay him without too much of a stretch…
This was a good plan until the slow Roger Ferris song “Broken Down Heart” was slated to be the Arrows fifth single, with Merrill’s own “I Love Rock n Roll” as the b-side. Mickie Most’s wife spoke up and said that the prospective b-side was the better song and should be the a-side. The decision to flip the song set in motion a series of events. The song was re-recorded at Abbey Road, and got the Arrows a place on a show called “45”, with David “Kid” Jensen where they met and impressed the TV producer Muriel Young who was sufficiently impressed to offer the Arrows a show of their own, even after the fall-out with RAK. The song was performed many times on the Arrows show and that is how Joan Jett found it..
Aside from Alan’s 1990s reboot of the Japanese band Vodka Collins , which produced several amazing albums, Alan has released almost one new album every year since the turn of the millennium, most of which can be obtained from CD-Baby
Alan Merrill toured in the UK in the second week of October 2016
On 15th September Alan released a new album and it is an instant classic.. “Demo Graphic” is a collection of previously unreleased tracks full of raw energy. review from Demo Graphic by Alan Merrill at CDBaby
Hidden treasure comes to light….
Alan Merrill wrote one of the most well known, most widely recognized songs in the history of rock music. As the writer and original artist of worldwide smash “I Love Rock n Roll” one could say this CD needs no other recommendation.
Alan is not just a wonderful soulful, bluesy singer and multi-instrumentalist, but that big hit was not a one-off. He has hundreds of catchy commercial songs under his belt and this collection is an example of the strength in depth of his skill.
Most of these songs have not been released before. It is a very strong selection that far outstrips one’s expectations of the subtitle “Home demos”. Any one of these songs would not sound out of place high in the music charts, on nationwide TV and radio. It makes you wonder what more hidden gems he still has tucked away.
Despite these being essentially raw home tape recordings, this is an impressive collection. You will soon find yourself singing along. It is music that invites us in and includes us right from the start. Masterful in all senses, this is a must have for anyone who loves the music of the 1970s-1980s. If you like Hall and Oates and Robert Palmer, you will certainly like this, but there is so much more to Merrill than that statement implies . Alan Merrill has been music’s best kept secret for far too long. He really deserves to be considered as one of the greatest of them all.
On 14th February 2017 Alan Merrill released Cupid Deranged Redux, also available on CD Baby and reviewed elswhere on this blog
Polished and radio friendly, this is grown up music with a broad appeal from the consummate composer, arranger, singer, musician, and performer Alan Merrill. He is probably best known for being the composer and original artist (with his band Arrows) of the all time classic rock track “I Love Rock n Roll” back in 1975.
On a Blue Avenue is an insanely listenable departure from Merrill’s customary bluesy guitar-based rock, and here he presents us with a rich mix of different musical flavors, from Rock n Roll, through cool and smooth R&B and country spice, to keyboard rich love ballads that will melt your heart. On this musical journey through every mood, Alan displays his abundant talents to great effect, always bringing something new and refreshing, and creating a cohesive, satisfying feast of contemporary American music.
Alan Merrill has a rare gift for creating unique and beautiful music which quickly becomes familiar, and the tunes will stay with you for a long time.
Every new release from Alan Merrill reinforces the feeling that he should be a household name at the very top table of rock music’s biggest stars and you are left with that “Where have you been all my life?” feeling as you are enfolded by that unique rich velvet voice. Dreamy and wonderful ♥
1. On A Blue Avenue
Jon Gordon- lead guitar (at the end of the song)
Laura Merrill- harmony vocals.
2. I’m Daydreaming
3. Breaking The Chains
Laura Merrill- backing vocals.
Laura Merrill- backing vocals
Jon Gordon- guitar solo
Jon Gordon- slide guitar
7. Lay With Me
8. Enter The Night
9. One More Heartache
Laura Merrill- backing vocals
10. Reaching Out To You
Laura Merrill- backing vocals
11. Your Love Song
Laura Merrill- backing vocals
Jon Gordon- acoustic guitar solo
12. Written on The Wind
13. You, Love & Me
Laura Merrill- harmony vocals
Alan Merrill and Jon Gordon- dual harmony lead guitar solo
14. Can’t Live Without Love
Jon Gordon- C&W guitar
15. Still There
Jon Gordon- guitar solo
Written and Produced by Alan Merrill for MECo Records, a division of the
Merrill Entertainment Company.
Recorded at Jon Gordon Studios in the Shelter Island complex
40 West 27th St. – Manhattan, NYC.
Engineered, mixed and mastered by Jon Gordon
Album lyrics: http://www.the-aleecat.com/blue-avenue.html
Great interview !!
Mitch Lafon interviews the prolific songwriter who wrote and first performed I Love Rock n Roll, Alan Merrill who headed the RAK Records group Arrows. Alan’s story is unique and compelling as well as incredibly entertaining.
Buy Cupid Deranged Redux by Alan Merrill at CDBaby.com
Music the way it was meant to be….
The first track is Merrill’s signature piece. Alan Merrill wrote “I Love Rock N Roll” in 1975 and performed it weekly with his band Arrows on their fondly remembered eponymous pop/rock showcase, screened by UK’s Granada Independent TV channel. It was here that Joan Jett first heard the song that she later covered as her breakthrough hit.
This relaunched album has a warm, mellow and organic feel with the new mix centered on Merrill’s rich vocal talent, which adapts so well to every style. Alan moves effortlessly from full tilt rock, blues rock, and rock n roll, to soulful rhythm n blues, pure pop and gentle ballads with dazzling ease and professional flair, but always with feeling. I think it is that feeling that comes across so powerfully in this charismatic, more personal re-imagining of Cupid Deranged. Every song is strong and the performances full of verve and character. This album is a “must-have” for the collection and I recommend it.
AMY MADDEN TAYLOR’S quiet confessional style, full of acutely realized images of life, freezes individual moments like photographs.
This book is the dissection of a compelling but uncomfortable relationship. We are invited to examine closely the characters of her protagonists, and I feel the urge to reach out and rescue the woman from her compulsive attraction to this charismatic, capricious and selfish man who will never be hers on the same terms that she is his. She is possessed by him in a way that she can never possess him and we have to watch, almost peering through our fingers as this sensitive young woman goes through all the torments of love, and doubt, and loss that will be familiar to many of us, but which are here expressed with a clear and breathless eloquence few of us can hope to equal.
Amy Madden Taylor’s writing avoids all of the common pitfalls of poetry. There is no pretention and no artifice. The feel is organic, immediate and unflinching. For every Amy Madden Taylor there are dozens of other would-be poets trying to ride the tail of some perceived literary trend to success, but this writer maintains her unique voice with integrity throughout. This book will make you laugh, and cry, and gasp, and sigh along with the events and leave a lasting impression of a consuming passion, the “two-ness of one, the one-ness of two” played out against the uncompromising backdrop of life-on-the-edge in New York.
Whenever I read anything by Amy Madden Taylor I am drawn into a sense of stillness to fully appreciate all I am reading. I need to take a deep breath and focus my mind, as if for meditation. The words need to be savoured, the visions fully realized to appreciate the delicacy and light modern grace of this masterful poetic narrative.
and at the Strand Bookstore, New York , (Broadway at 12th Street), with availability for mail order at Strandbooks.com Strandbooks.com has just restocked. Get your copy now!
Vodka Collins- Pink Soup
Pink Soup was written and recorded in 1996, and in just three days straight by one of the most enigmatic names in the history of rock music, Alan Merrill, lead singer and guitarist with the Tokyo based Vodka Collins, here in their second great incarnation of the 1990s.
This much sought-after album was released only in Japan and it has taken 20 years to make it available worldwide for the first time.
There are no *good* reasons why Alan Merrill’s name might be unfamiliar to you. He wrote and was the original artist, with his UK band Arrows, of one of the best loved, most iconic and most frequently covered rock songs in history, “I Love Rock N Roll”, but that is just one of hundreds of catchy, commercial songs he has written over 50 years in the cut-throat world of the music business.
Merrill, a true creative, has been fighting uphill for most of his career against the tide of unscrupulous and greedy elements only too ready and willing to make a fast buck off someone else’s talent. By rights, his name should be as familiar as that of any Rock N Roll Hall-of-Famer, or of Rick Derringer or Meatloaf, both of whom Merrill has served as sideman, but people and circumstances have caused his name to be unfairly overlooked, so that his catalog of songs is still relatively undiscovered and would serve as a rich vein of material for many up and coming artists or established big name acts.
Pink Soup is a very personal, no holds barred document of an intense episode in Alan Merrill’s life, encompassing something of a mid-life crisis, an existential melt down, intense highs and lows and an emerging sense of the cynical and worldly humor he needs to survive life’s battles.
The scene is set in the demi-monde, an amalgam of the clubs and bars of three continents, and it develops like a modern Rake’s Progress, beginning and ending between the thighs of a porn star, via the driving punch of the title track and its ending reprise, repeat to fade where passion becomes mechanical, a loop to be broken out of.
“Theo” is a simple and straight blues, fun to sing. It celebrates Theo Van Gogh, the supportive and loving brother who held the artist Vincent together for as long as he could. “Every artist needs a brother…” seems like a wistful statement from Merrill, himself the only child of two successful musicians
“Les Animaux de Partay” is a kicking lively number observing the types of people that are around in the scene. It is not a flattering observation of the self-destructive hedonists and the cold opportunism that surrounds him, but it is a great song.
“It Hurts” is a beautiful slow song, one I am sure we can all relate to some period in our lives “It hurts to be in love with you” We can feel his pain. This is a sensitive man, a poet suffering great emotional injury, struggling to survive in an uncaring world.
“Motive Confusion” is an odd short jazzy breakdown that follows that developing theme of the sensitive man having to toughen himself up to deal with the onslaught of hard things happening to him.
“Is This Chuck Berry?” This is a perfect slice of pure traditional Rock N Roll. A happy and a welcome reminder of Merrill’s love and mastery of the genre.
“Church on Devil’s Ground” An angry, searing rock ballad with a kick-ass chorus on the subject of a heart betrayed and discarded. You get a real sense that this betrayal is the root of how this album came to be made and how the slightly sad and cynical theme developed.
“Feet (All Around the World)” a wonderful song that works well with the band, and acoustically as Alan Merrill now performs it in his live set. Movement and the joy of travel and change is emphasized.
“Tumbleweed” A very short and simple story of freeing a tumbleweed develops huge significance within the rootless and adrift theme of the album.
“Boys in the Band” Rowdy riffs, the love of music and the carnality of raunchy rockers fill this with life and energy.
“W.O.W” “In a world of whores, Love is just a vice” A vision of hell for the idealist draws forth its own code of ethics and morality.
“Roppongi Roppongi” A love song for a place, the playground where every vice can be satisfied. So catchy!.
“Skying” A loose jazz inspired love song about a kiss, bringing back the humanity and innocence of a moment between two people that is not some cynical transaction, and here we know that the spirit is undimmed and although our hero has been through so much he is still essentially himself.
This album is a literal masterpiece of tone and feel and the music irresistible. The most unpretentious concept album you will ever hear. There is nothing contrived here; it is just three days of some crazy inspiration that came out as great, listenable rock music.
Easily in my top five albums of all time by anybody, this was well worth waiting the twenty years since it was released solely in Japan.
It is released here in the West with the original artwork as intended.
Scars Amy Madden Taylor 2015 Belpid Books
Scars – Amazon
“Described as ‘nostalgic, dark and enchanting’, Scars is a unique narrative-in-verse from an accomplished fiction and essay writer. It is the story of a year in the life of a fictional family in the 1960’s told through a series of poems ‘written’ by the 15-year-old poet-daughter, Hope. Madden’s themes of loss, betrayal, and family role reversals are ingrained in the text; we begin to recognize the voice of each of the family members, as the narrator relates the events of a dark year in their lives. The scars are literal, figurative and emotional. They form a sort of bond of intimacy which binds these characters beneath family tragedy and dysfunction. Deceptively simple in presentation, Scars is clever, unpretentious and moving.”
I’ve been a fan of Amy Madden Taylor’s writing for almost three years. The first time I read her blog I was blown away. It can be found at Writerless – My So Called Blog)
Her keen sense of observation and the economy of her vision slices through the layers of bullshit with which we pad-out our world. Her reality has sharp corners and hard knocks, but it also has a deep sense of patience, compassion and humanity.
I moved on from her blog and read her “Young Adult” novel “Losing My Accent” ( Losing My Accent -Amazon )
Amy Madden Taylor is seriously one of the best writers, living or dead, that I have read in my entire life. She writes how I would like to write, but I will never have that level of skill.
Turning to her new book “Scars”.
The reader gets a fascinating insight into what it was like to be growing up in a dysfunctional family in the 1960s.
Hope, the protagonist writes her narrative as a series of poems minutely invoking intense evocative sketches from childhood. As the adult world washes over the adolescent siblings, each has their own story. I can’t give away too much, but I must urge you strongly to read this book.
It is an extraordinary accomplishment, I’ve never before seen a story told in such a unique way and there is so much there; little triggers which will set you laughing and crying and remembering how it was when everything was still a wonder in the world.
Don’t be put off by the description “poetic narrative”
These days people seem rather frightened by contemporary verse, but this is very far from the “Emperor’s New Clothes”, self-indulgent vanities of the trust-fund urbanite seeking street cred validation. This book is pared to the essence. It hits hard and caresses just as earnestly. You can take what you want from it. It’s like a slide show, some are portraits and some are landscapes, but all are studded with memories; words and phrases you will remember long after you have finished the book.
Please buy this. It is available as a limited paperback edition or else as a Kindle Book from all the usual sources. I would be fascinated to see reviews from other people. I know my take will be different to how others view it.
Amy Madden is a professional musician, in the New York Blues Hall of Fame and is a regular on the Rock & Blues circuit in that city where she plays solo shows and as bass guitarist for a number of bands, notably with long time Johnny Winter collaborator Jon Paris; R&R Hall of Famer, ex- Blackheart Ricky Byrd, and backing the extraordinary and amazing Alan Merrill, formerly of Vodka Collins, Arrows, Runner, Meat Loaf and Derringer, famous for having been the writer and original artist of the monster hit song “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”