I have a record collection filled with albums that few other people love as much as I do. Most of them are pop records from undiscovered artists, or obscure Southern California bands that just missed grabbing the golden ring of stardom. One overarching theme to all of this wax that has lasted since I started hoarding vinyl albums is that they all fit a soundtrack in my head: a place where there is a hook that won’t quit, and a great line that burrows so deep it makes you want to sing it over and over again.
David + David’s Boomtown is a brilliant album. So is Everywhere at Once, by the Plimsouls. Clouds All Day by the Shambles is a brilliant record. The Replacements’ Let it Be is damn-near perfect. The original lineup of the Bangles put out an EP of music that makes me happy. Radio City from Big Star is something everyone needs to own. That is not hype. That is not opinion. That is a requirement in the modern world where music is condensed into digital files. There are hundreds more in my collection that I go back to time and again.
John Mellencamp once said, “A great song has to start at your feet and make you want to dance. It has to stop at your crotch and make you want to have sex. It has to pause at your heart and make you fall in love and end up in your head and make you think. If it goes those four places, does those four things, it’s a great song.” I heard that quote decades ago, and it is still accurate. If there is a record in my collection that does that every time I listen to it, every time, without fail, it is Nick Lowe’s Jesus of Cool.
Lowe’s 1978 solo debut album Jesus of Cool was released in the states under the less sarcastic title Pure Pop For Now People. It is the album I never get tired of listening to, even nearly 40 years later. For too long, it was out-of-print and the kind of guys who read Goldmine Magazine would rave to their friends if they found a copy. Speaking as one of those geeks, finding a copy in a record store was a bigger deal than hitting the lottery. Every song is great, the cover art is amusing and the title is blasphemous. Nothing short of a classic that has everything except large sales numbers.
For years, Lowe had been a member of Brinsley Schwarz, an underrated pub rock band that never hit it big stateside. He was one of the first artists signed by Stiff Records, who had the world’s greatest slogan: “If it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a fuck.” He spent years as a producer, bashing out records with The Damned, Graham Parker and the Rumour, Wreckless Eric and five albums in four years with Elvis Costello. Lowe’s single “So it Goes,” backed with “Heart of the City” was Stiff’s debut release. The hook-laden song was crammed with lyrics covering political intrigue, hideous 50,000 watt electrical tragedies, and snake-hipped Persians. It also had smashing drums and Lowe’s innate pop sensibilities. That seven-inch 45 was the harbinger of his debut solo album.
Hooks run through both songs from the 45, and the story of the ups and downs of stardom in “They Called it Rock” (the song was included on the Pure Pop… version and packaged as an extra single on Jesus of Cool.) With “Rollers Show,” there’s even a tribute to the ’70s-era bubblegum/glam band, The Bay City Rollers.
What may be the most disgusting and hysterically funny song about a silent film star’s life heading south, it is included here. “Mary Provost” tells the story of a real-life star who was found dead when her dog would not stop barking, alerting the neighbors. Lowe’s lyrics take it to the point of saying, “she was a winner, who became her doggie’s dinner,” leaving the listener to either recoil or chuckle. “Little Hitler” was co-written by Lowe with his longtime musical collaborator Dave Edmunds. Many fans suspect the song is about perfectionist Elvis Costello.
Lowe’s manager Jake Riviera was a mastermind of outrageous promotion and hi-jinks. The multiple poses of Lowe, sporting various outfits was Rivera’s idea. The hippie, the suave rocker, the dude wearing Frank Gorshin’s Riddler suit… each more ridiculous than the last and all iconic. Yep Roc’s expanded 30th anniversary edition is a worthy thing to own. It’s not as hard to find as the old records, but there are plenty of extras, and the release captures Lowe’s lo-fi “bash out the tracks and meet up round the pub” philosophy. Sometimes, music can take itself too seriously.
Nick Lowe’s solo offering is not one of those times.