Anger burns inside of me
Give me a war to fight
I’m feelin’ cold, feelin’ restless
Out on the streets tonight
Like an animal being hunted
I got nothin’ more to lose
This life that I was given
Sure as hell ain’t the one I choose
Stick those words in the mouth of, say Nelson or Poison, and you’ve got a very laughable prospect, stick them down the gullet of today’s little bunch of boy scouts and you’ve got a force to be reckoned with. Rose Tattoo are probably (and very sadly) more famous for providing Guns N’ Roses with ‘Nice Boys’ to cover, than as a band in their own right. Which is a damn shame, because in their prime they were just a fearsome machine; hell they knew what they were singing about when they sang, ‘Nice boys don’t play rock and roll’.
Take a look at them on the cover of Assault and Battery, sprawled all over each other tattoos to the fore in a manner which I’d normally poke fun at for being a bit camp – not here I’m not! Look at, lead singer, Angry Anderson’s skinhead attire – he looks like a particularly vicious extra from Romper Stomper*, he’s got that aggressive short-man thing going on to the max. This is not a band trying to look like a mean gang, this is a gang who just happen to have made a record.
And what a record it is. Assault and Battery was recorded at Albert studios in 1981 and produced by Vanda and Young, the formula did not catapult them to fame the same way as their compatriots, AC/DC** – it was never on the cards, Rose Tattoo may have played as hard, but they lacked the Young brothers simple virtuosity and Bon’s humourous touch. When Bon Scott sings about sex, he comes over as a bit of a rueful tomcat – when Angry Anderson does, it’s still damn menacing. That’s not to say Rose Tattoo couldn’t play, on the contrary they had a brilliant rock slide guitarist in Pete Wells and Mick Cocks and Ian Rillen were very good rhythm guitarist and bassist respectively.
If you’re looking for sweeping variations of theme and instrumentation then look elsewhere, what Assault and Battery delivers, in spades, is diamond-hard chugging white blues-based rock. The song titles give you most of what you need to know here, ‘Out of This Place’, ‘Let it go’, ‘Assault and Battery’ and ‘Suicide City’. We run the gamut of emotions here from anger, through rage, hurt, aggression all the way to incensed.
My personal favourite is the title track, with its tale of a man being sent down for 3 years for stopping a gang assaulting a girl. It’s just brilliant, the way that the lines are delivered sends a shiver of righteous weapons-grade indignation up my spine,
The charge was assault & battery
The judge said there’d be no bail
The charge was assault & battery
And they dragged me off to jail
They turned on me mad, crazy and mean
I stole ’em the cake, they were gonna cream
They leapt on me like a pack of dogs
Pullin’ me down, they wanted me flogged
Punchin’ and fightin’ I got to my feet
Determined to leave their blood on the street
If I went down now they’d kick me to death
That sweet little girl would be left a wreck
Hey, I’m a card-carrying pinko vegetarian pacifist and this makes me wanna fight someone, anyone (for a good cause, obviously!). It’s just energizing stuff. Grr! See, I’m in touch with my inner man!
But this is no one-trick pony of an LP, it’s all pretty fine stuff – ‘Chinese Dunkirk’ a sinister satanic (Satanic?) tale of evil incest ‘Black cats and priests won’t cross my path / Where I spit, no grass will grow’ does it for me, as does the opening one-two of ‘Out of This Place’ and ‘All The lessons’, which is just an incendiary track, I know I’m a bit lyric heavy tonight, but hey –
Don’t turn the other cheek
Unless you want it beaten in
Fight violence with violence
It’s the only way to win
This was 1981, an awful lot of hardcore and second generation punk outfits were winning big critical plaudits for their proclamations of street-level anger and violence, I guess Rose Tattoo’s brand of rock just wasn’t trendy enough at the time to score the same points; in the anger stakes I’d put it up there with Discharge’s mighty, mighty Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing from the following year^.
If I was being critical I’d say that it is a bit one-paced and there are the odd bits of filler, ‘Magnum Maid’ and ‘Sidewalk Sally’, but I’ve listened to this LP so many times I barely notice them anymore and just concentrate on the good/great stuff elsewhere on the platter.
Rather confusingly the copy I bought in January 1991, had the inner sleeve of ZZ Top’s First Album inside it, I remember looking at it and puzzling how these long-haired, rustic-looking degenerates became the mean, lean rockers on the cover. What gave it a bit of credibility is the photo on the bottom left where the middle figure (Dusty Hill?) looks like a fuzzy-haired Angry Anderson. It’s the sort of thing I spent my free time puzzling over. I only found out my misconception when i got the ZZ Top LP a couple of years ago.
Sadly Rillen, Cocks and Wells have all passed away from various cancers, but I think all their LPs together and especially Assault and Battery stand as a pretty mean testament.
*I’ve met a number of perfectly pleasant anti-nazi, ska-fan, skinheads but the classic skinhead look frightens me like nothing else; possibly inherited memories of my hippy parents being chased through tube stations by them in late 1960’s London. I’m afraid my normal setting on meeting people who affect that look is ‘Auto-Despise’, not very open-minded I know.
**who were fans, reportedly recommending them to Atlantic.
^source of the Metallica cover, ‘Free Speech For the Dumb’ – which is only 1/9 as angry as the original.