Stiv Bators was more a musical chameleon than perhaps people realize. He’s best known for his late ‘70s work with the punk guttersnipe legends the Dead Boys, and some folks recall his more polished work through the Lords of the New Church, but he also experimented with pop-punk (with the Wanderers), and with the guidance of Bomp records founder Greg Shaw, he was also an unabashed purveyor of power pop. Despite the punk appearance, a reputation for pranksterism, and the wide range of genres he explored, Bators—who died in 1990 from injuries sustained in a car accident—was no musical dilettante; he was genuine in every incarnation. One might be surprised to learn that the man who wrote “I Need Lunch” was also a pure power popper, but as the tracks on the Bators Bomp collection L.A. Confidential prove, Bators was exactly that.
As the you-are-there liner note recollections, penned by the likes of Frank Secich (Bators’ frequent collaborator; the two of them co-produced under the name “The Gutter Twins”), drummer Dave Quinton, and Shaw (before his death last year), recount, Bators loved ‘60s pop and garage as much as he loved ‘70s punk. The liner notes are full of great stories (and pictures), but the proof of Bators’ music love is in the proverbial pudding on L.A. Confidential, starting with a handful of impeccably chosen cover tunes: the Choirs’ “It’s Cold Outside” is all jangly guitars and handclaps; a little punk snarl seeps into the oft-covered “Have Love Will Travel” (Bators was probably most familiar with the Sonics’ 1965 take on the tune); the Moody Blues’ “Story In Your Eyes”—the album’s oddest cover tune selection—shimmers, and for folks hoping for some punk, there’s a version of the Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat” recorded (unbeknownst to the band) at a rehearsal in December 1980 on a Sony cassette recorder. The liner notes claim this was Bators’ first attempt at singing the song—without having first learned the lyrics. Still, he acquits himself well. (Hey, it’s punk; one can get away with stunts like that.) A drunk reworking of “Louie, Louie” (here, “L.A., L.A.”) is a meeting of late ‘70s greats Bators, Kim Fowley, Jimmy Pursey (from Sham 69), Joan Jett and the Runaways, was probably more fun to record than it is to listen to, but there’s no denying the unbridled joy that leaks out of the speakers.
As fun and well-chosen as the covers are, it’s Bators’ originals that really shine on L.A. Confidential. “The Last Year” chronicles the Dead Boys’, uh, last year, with warm guitars offsetting bittersweet lyrics like “I plan on living just to die”. The sound won’t turn any Dead Boys fans on—heck, they’ll probably run the other way—but the power pop crowd will rave. Ditto for “Not That Way Anymore”, which sounds beamed straight outta 1965, not 1979—Bators channels Ray Davies. “Circumstantial Evidence” and “I’ll Be Alright” are more of the same, Bators jangling along with just the right amount of defiance and reassurance, respectively, on each song. And two tracks recorded at a different session—“Crack Boom Bam” and “Misery Loves Company”—flirt with Hanoi Rocks-style glam pop.
One track sequencing gripe: “The Last Year”, “It’s Cold Outside”, “Circumstantial Evidence”, and “I’ll Be Alright” appear twice on the disc, the second time as an “alternate mix”—which might be a nice way to end the disc… but there are two more tracks after them that actually close the compilation. And really, the alternate mixes are for hardcore completists only; none trump their “original” counterparts. And completists have a bunch of these tunes already: most of L.A. Confidential‘s songs appeared on Bators’ 1994 Bomp comp L.A., L.A. - and that disc contains a handful of “alternate mixes” too.
But if you don’t have L.A., L.A.—you probably don’t, and it may be out of print these days anyways, superseded by the new disc—L.A. Confidential is worth picking up if only to learn some new things about one of rock’s unlikeliest Renaissance Men.