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
I’ve been spending time watching a few of the documentaries on 911 on You Tube. Not the conspiracy type ones, I hasten to add.
I wasn’t in New York that day, thank goodness, but I, like everyone else it seems, was watching intently as the horror unfolded. I saw the raw footage as it went out live. I saw people standing with fire at their backs and a lethal fall ahead of them, images that never made it to the later bulletins, and I was left confused, wondering if I had imagined those images.
Having grown up in the UK where we were very accustomed to extremely graphic, uncensored images going out on the news and in newspapers throughout my childhood, from IRA atrocities, Black September, Baader-Meinhoff and from Vietnam etc, it puzzled me that the later news about 911, specifically the footage shown, seemed to be missing that human element. This wasn’t about buildings after all, surely? It was about people; thousands of people who had been murdered and yet the things I was seeing were all telling me to condemn an “attack on America, on the WTC, on the Pentagon” not on these innocent people who seemed to be portrayed as somehow just unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Real Estate, and an unreal situation.
Have we become so frightened of the truth that we prefer our news media to shovel sand over the blood so that we do not have to deal with it? What is the point of news if it doesn’t address the core of the event? I appreciate that victim’s families are a consideration, but is it really true to say that the contents of the later bulletin is going to significantly add to what they’re going through or is that the news media seeing themselves and how they are perceived as more important than what has actually happened?
People who say that a thing is too horrible to watch again are actually shrugging off the horror and putting their own discomfort ahead of the truth.
We need to see the truth, and we need to see and deal with it often. I ask myself if the Kennedy assassination were to occur now, would the Zapruder film have even made it into the public domain?
How about the Hindenburg disaster, or the horror of the German concentration camps? These things now seem to fall into the class of some sort of “horror fetish”, a created thing; the “pornification” of actual events, and not general knowledge, unpleasant but necessary, which we all should be dealing with and assimilating if we ever are going to learn to not make so many mistakes again.
This seems to be the way things are going at the moment. I resent being made to feel a little dirty in that I wish to review what actually happened on 911 or any of those other things, and at the same time I resent the newspapers being filled with detail on the private lives of celebrities and with minor local news where it gives an opportunity to take a lazy swipe at the poor, immigrants, the unemployed and so on. THAT is not what should be in our papers.
Too many people now are jaded by the news and switch off because it does not engage them. Issues are not dealt with. It horrifies me that my own daughter can say negative things about feminism and the feminist movement in a world where reproductive rights and equality are being taken away from women, where rape culture is so prevalent we barely even realize it is all around us, and tacitly condoned by the mass media in a way that would have caused outrage in 1979. Issues that affect human beings are not optional. We need to stop living in a bubble of only nice things. I fully appreciate that many people will turn around and say
“What’s the point of me watching that, or knowing the detail of that? I cannot do a thing about changing it and it makes me feel depressed. I can only concern myself with those things that directly affect me”
Yes, it is a great defence, and perfectly valid… until the day that events suddenly catch up with you and you find yourself floundering in the middle of it all, without the necessary information or understanding to make the best choices to help you survive or to process what is happening to you. We live our lives now like a flock of wildebeest on the plains, a prey animal just hoping not to fall behind the rest, but with no strategy to save ourselves
I read that the family of one man recently murdered chose to watch the video of their son’s death and I have to say that those people have my utmost support in their decision. It must have been an incredibly hard thing to do, and I am sure there will be many times in the future when they wish they had made a different decision, but I hope there are just as many moments when they feel their own strength and use it to go forward
Everyday, it seems, we become more and more apathetic about the quality of information we feed our heads with.
What we hear as “news” is governed by what the people financing the TV station or newspaper want us to hear. It is the choice of advertisers, billionaires, propagandists, consortia and extremists what we, the people, are programmed to consider to be of interest to us.
Perhaps if we got more offended by a news channel devoting time to the opinions of a lunatic fringe, interspersed with celebrity gossip, and demanded facts and truth about what is really going on in the world, we might not find ourselves feeling so hopeless and impotent in the face of world events in the first place and better able to cope with doing our small bit, in whatever way, to try to fix these immense fuck-up situations that we have allowed to get so far out of control
Oh, and by the way, everyone has nipples, get over it.