Here’s who she is: A bass player and singer. She was in an all-girl rock band in the 70s called Fanny. She ended up moving to the UK and most of her records were released there. She got popular in Europe; not so much in the USA. She was clearly a sartorial influence on Joan Jett. This album, Your Mama Won’t Like Me, was not a hit for her, but moderate success came later. My friend Michele introduced me to Susi Quatro in Portland when I was having a girl group moment – listening only to The Runaways and The Shirelles for about a month straight. Michele just was like, hey, if you like that Joan Jett type of stuff you should check this girl out – bass player in the 70s, singer, rocker. And I did. And I danced to it. And I loved it.
I loved how it’s so seventies, complete with wakka-wakka guitar and horn section, but then the guitar gets plain old chunky-bar-chords-distorted-straight-up-punk every now and then, and Susi’s bass comes in and… yeah, it’s danceable, and it’s tough, sexy, and poppy. And a little bit funky. It’s also rather clean sounding – maybe that’s the Britishness poking through, as well as the surprisingly unsexy cover of “Fever” on the second side – for what it purports to be, a hard leather-wearin’ rock and roll record. This record is a classic pop packaging conundrum: all strung up to be one thing – hard-ish rock – but really offering listeners something much more complex by allowing the popular sonic influences and personaly of its era to seep through.
I get the impression that some folks like to like Suzi Quatro these days because she’s a bit undiscovered still to post-70s generations of American indie rockers, and because she’s sort of hip in her not-quite-awesomeness – “Everyone’s heard of Joan Jett, but have you heard of this lady rocker?” And what’s not to like—she is a rock lady in a man’s rock world, a girl bass player kickin’ out the jams successfully decades before Kim Deal stole our hearts, and you can still glimpse the real toughness in her even under all that industry packaging.
I was listening to Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book yesterday, because my friend Paula once said that album is summertime and because it was effing hot here this week and sunshine goes with Stevie. For other people it’s other albums, but for me Talking Book embodies the seventies, musically. (Keeping in mind that I was either not-alive or a baby in the seventies– for people who were actually out of diapers in that epic decade, there is certainly a richer associative thread to broad statements like that.) But Talking Book represents so many of the attitudes I associate with what I’ve learned about that era through my parents’ generation and their cultural artifacts: It’s hope, funk, politics and love in the same spot, new awakenings of selfhood and sunny afternoons and extended solos. Stevie.
And somehow Suzi is a perfect pairing for the Stevie sitting in my head, today. She’s a little tougher than he is; and granted, she’s not as political and not so simultaneously full of positivity and not one of the best singer-songwriters ever. But that guitar sound – that sorta rough melody to the choruses that seems to me a hallmark of good 70s popular rock of a certain type. With that sound pumping out my apartment windows on a hot afternoon, Stevie and Susi can be sister and brother here, in my living room, in the summertime, feeling the lightness of the lack of irony in the room.
So, don’t like Suzi Quatro because she’s a tough rock lady, or a bass player, or a coolly less-popular precursor to Joan Jett. Like Suzi Quatro because she’s got it, that seventies sound, and because she keeps it tight and says things over it like, “when you handed me the apple, I should have said no to you // I guess I bit off more than I could chew” but also just like her. It’s a bit more funk-rock than punk-rock, and accordingly it’s got a bit too much wah pedal and at times (“Paralyzed” and the final fake-folk track, “Michael”) veers almost disco in its leanings… and it’s irresistible.
So pump it out the back of the Nova in the hot parking lot and rock some cutoff denim on your ass. It’s summertime.
Also: I did not know until today that she played Leather Tuscadero, sister of Pinky, on Happy Days. Well okay, then.