It may be difficult to hear (or believe) now, but Eddie and the Hot Rods played a crucial role in the birth of English new wave. If the Rods, sons of Southend-on-Sea in Essex, hadn’t been out there playing wild and fast rock’n’roll in the clubs at a time when superstar pomposity was the currency of pop music, bands like the Sex Pistols would never have had the opportunity to join, intensify and broaden that rebellious spirit into a national — and international — musical upheaval.
Teenage Depression is, by modern standards, fairly tame, a set of R&B-influenced rock tunes in the vein of early Flamin Groovies or Dave Edmunds, but in 1976 the album had a major impact on the UK music scene. The title track (a hit single there) is the record’s finest moment. (The American album replaced two soul covers with four tracks that had appeared on the prior live 7-inch.)
For Life on the Line, the Rods expanded to a five-piece with the addition of ex-Kursaal Flyer Graeme Douglas. It was a wise move, as Douglas gave the band a smart kick in the pop direction, best exemplified on the wonderful “Do Anything You Wanna Do,” which he co-wrote. Overall, a strong album (thanks to good songs and enthusiastic playing) that stands up much better than its predecessor.
By the time of Thriller, the Hot Rods weren’t much more than an artifact. Rendered redundant by the bands they had inspired, they hadn’t been able to keep pace with the changes. The album reeks with bitterness; although competent, it has neither the freshness of Life on the Line nor anything substantial to replace it. As a sign of the band’s “maturity,” Linda McCartney sang some backup parts.
With Al Kooper producing, a revised quartet (without Douglas or bassist Paul Gray) turned out an unnecessary fourth album that is best forgotten. Five years later, following a stint in the Inmates, two original Hot Rods — singer Barrie Masters and drummer Steve Nicol — put a new band together long enough to perform such classics as “Teenage Depression,” “Quit This Town” and “Do Anything You Wanna Do” on the surprisingly good six-song One Story Town, recorded live and peppy in France.
Rounding things off, The Curse of the Hot Rods is an entertaining (if not especially illuminating) collection of 1979 studio outtakes and demos: the original group’s last productive breath. A version of the Small Faces’ “I Got Mine” is neat, as are some of the originals, especially those penned by Douglas (pop) and Gray (rock’n’roll).