Kim Fowley

  • Kim Fowley
  • Sunset Boulevard (PVC) 1978 
  • Snake Document Masquerade (Antilles) 1979 

Kim Fowley is less important for what he’s done than what he gets away with. Once described as “the king of rock’n’roll pimps,” Fowley is a master manipulator of artists and creator — as writer/producer/entrepreneur — of hit records that are both crassly commercial and smugly subversive. Fowley first scored big in 1960 with the million-selling “Alley Oop,” by the Hollywood Argyles. His career in the ’70s involved orchestrating the careers of the Runaways, Quick, Orchids and Venus and the Razorblades; in more recent years he has successfully infiltrated the MOR world, working with Helen Reddy and Steel Breeze. In Fowley’s defense, he was the first person to record Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers.

Fowley periodically used to convince record companies to issue his own solo records. Over a dozen albums — ranging from psychedelic organ instrumentals to passable glitter pop — have been released since 1967, although he has refrained from making a new one for some time. Sunset Boulevard, like many of his records, is consumed with Hollywood pop decadence. Fowley’s minimal singing talent — more like dry sing-speak dripping with cynicism — doesn’t stop him from essaying a long Springsteenish piano ballad called “Black Camels of Lavender Hill” or copying the Music Explosion in his own song “Control.”

Snake Document Masquerade (does that sound like a Captain Beefheart title or what?) is his twisted idea of a new wave concept album, a vision of ’80s pop apocalypse that gets by on sheer audacity. Musically, it’s a limp mélange of disco, reggae, punk-funk and electronic meditations distinguished by the spacey rap “1985: Physical Lies” (modeled on his own 1966 acid-rap hit, “The Trip”) and robot sex fantasy “1988: Searchin’ for a Human in Tight Blue Jeans.”

There’s plenty more where that came from: the paisley gimmickry of his 1967 LP debut, Love Is Alive and Well, Outrageous (1967; cheap Steppenwolf imitations) and the punkier Animal God of the Streets (1979). His glam-era International Heroes (1973) features the near-hit single of the same title, a clever variation on “All the Young Dudes.”

[David Fricke]