Do The Reggae With Me: The Real Kids

Although I've listened to The Real Kids self-titled record many times since I discovered them, it always seems refreshingly new to me. From the first notes of their arguably greatest song, "All Kindsa Girls," the Real Kids prove that they were doing something different than their peers. Just like punk bands, they were attempting to simplify rock music, trying to move away from the excesses of the '70s, and look forward to a more visceral, less cerebral, take on guitar music that owed as much to the early days of rock as anything the Ramones or the Sex Pistols were doing at the time.

The focus is on fun and excitement. The Real Kids is pure fun; rocking guitars, harmony vocals, songs about girls, the sound of a bar band on perpetual overload, all mixed together into a satisfying, lurching, sloppy rock 'n' roll ride. The later Flamin' Groovies cover similar territory, but are never as fun as the Kids' take on all things rock.

John Felice's songs lament the loss of excitement in music and life in general, yet remain optimistic. In "All Kindsa Girls," he stresses, "you know I'm happy just be alive," before ripping into a nice Chuck Berry guitar riff. "Solid Gold (Thru and Thru" rumbles like a bluesier New York Dolls track, with an even wilder guitar riff than what Johnny Thunders was doing. Choice covers pepper the album; a raucous take of Buddy Holly's "Rave On" and spot-on cover of Eddie Cochran's "My Way" would be standouts for other bands. But Felice's songs are so good, they overshadow them. "Better Be Good" is shambolic, ready to fall apart at any time, but Felice's vocals and Howie Ferguson's drums hold it together as a pure piece of pop. "Just Like Darts" is a quieter number, clocking in at over four minutes, reflecting the band's softer side, and sounding more like a Dolls outtake.

The true winners are when the band rocks out. "She's Alright" with its out of control vocal captures
the band's quest for rock; Felice's vocals strain and pulse behind a solid back beat. "My Baby's Book" is pure '60's -- a twisted Burt Bacharach song, catchy and memorable as all get out. "Do the Boob" is menacing and tough, starting with just percussion before the guitar plays a melodic, mesmerizing riff. Felice spells out his mission in visceral terms: "I was driving around Boston looking for some place just to shake my ass / Don't want to hear no disco, gotta hear something out of my past." He needs to find some place where he can rock out, and, preferably, do the boob. The song is near perfect, except for the homophobic slurs that can't be ignored; perhaps, they are there for punk level shock value. Even so, no other song claims that the girls in Boston look like Lou Reed, and, despite some clunky lyrics, is a great call-to-arms for the bands' cause.  

The Real Kids were purely products of Boston. Felice knew Jonathan Richman, and had even played in an early version of the Modern Lovers. Formed as the Kids in 1972, they never recorded until they put out The Real Kids on Red Star in 1978. While they released other albums, none really has the impact of the first. It has the best songs and captures the live feeling that made them a popular live act. Influential and controversial, the band had all the goods -- songwriting, a sense of humor, though sometimes skewed, and the ability to rock. 1978 was a great year for records, but The Real Kids still shines as one of the best, especially if you love rock 'n' roll. If you don't or want to play it safe, I'm sure Yes released something that year.

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