[10 April 2002]
Flash! To any and all who ever wished they had experienced the best of late ‘70s punk-rock-new wave, and especially if you have, you gotta get this Genya. Genya Ravan has just released For Fans Only, a collection of formerly unreleased songs, most dating from the late ‘70s. She’s released this record herself in response to the constant and sometimes anguished pleas from her fans for a CD from her. Ravan compiled 13 tracks representing some of the tastiest of her studio outtakes and live performance recordings. This one (and critics be damned!) is put out for the people who really count for something, for the fans. For Fans Only (and I say it because I really mean it) is a great record. It is hot, Ravan’s exotic voice is hotter yet, and the CD is hot off the presses.
This one is so new, it is available only at two sites online, and one is Ravan’s own black and fuschia website. Genya Ravan (which when anyone pronounces her name is more like Genya Ravan !!, has an unmistakable, earthy, adventurous, and absolutely unforgettable voice. This record, mixing as it does songs of ‘60s-style R&B together with hard driving rock and roll, followed by standards reinvigorated with new passion, placed next to neo-punk originals, pretty much captures the style and intense feel of a Ravan performance back in the day. As some of these songs are impromptus, first time through and without rehearsal, and recorded only late last year, For Fans Only also shows that Ravan has not just retained her chops but has improved on an already good thing with the passing years.
Who but Ravan could slide around “Fly Me to the Moon” in such a soulful manner. Who but Ravan can as easily shout out funky, flat out blues rockers like “Rattlesnake Shake” and have such a ball singing publicly about masturbation. Or dip as easily into sincere balladry for the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” or mellow out with Marvin Gaye’s “To Keep You Satisfied” before sliding into a James Brown tune. Ravan ladles out sinister sounding R&B on “Easy Evil”, covers vignettes of N.Y. cityscapes with her self-written ode to home on “202 Rivington Street”, and powers out an emotional “Carry Me Carrie”. Written by Shel Silverstein, the song’s lyrics take a quick passing glance at a down and out street drunk who is supported in life only by the memory of a woman he once loved, and Ravan gives this poignant story a heartfelt gospel-sounding punch. Ravan seems to have the most fun singing soul tunes “Anyway That You Want Me” and “Take Me For A Little While” in the old R&B girl group style. The whole album has an energetic, but polished, street feel.
Taken as a whole, For Fans Only brought back a rush of recollections, more like muscle memories, of her best and most memorable previously recorded work. The sound is similar to her two previous solo efforts, 1978’s Urban Desire and 1979’s ”. . . And I Mean It!, both exciting and gifted explorations which have yet to be reissued in CD format. The recordings share a similar timeframe and she is joined once again here by Bobby Chen, the drummer borrowed from Mick Ronson’s services for her two classic solos. Chen and his band visited again to crunch out the two songs recorded in 2001, “Reconsider” and “Take Me For A Little While”.
Ravan will take your breath away. Keep in mind, that all along the difficult and bumpy path of her own career, Ravan helped pave the way for other women musicians to be taken seriously playing real rock and roll. She was also one of the first women to creatively work in studios as a producer, and then others could break in. So, Genya Ravan, let’s go back now to the old pioneer days.
Genya Ravan took a long way round to the stage and the fluid London-N.Y. scene during those glory years of real rock and roll and prototypical new wave days. And she really didn’t have any of it too easy. She was born in Lodz, Poland, from where she and her parents had barely escaped the Nazi regime for the relative safety of the Russian relocation camps. By Ravan’s own remembrances, her parents were Holocaust survivors, struggling daily with enormous but unspoken survivor-guilt issues. Ravan and her parents were the only members of the Zelkowitz family to make it out of Poland alive. At the war’s conclusion, they immigrated by boat to America and settled into a new life on Long Island, New York.
Flash forward to an old-country pre-arranged marriage to a wealthy older man at the age of 16, as was old-world custom. Segue into Ravan’s immediate escape to California in the early ‘60s to preserve her freedom. To hear more about the cheesecake modeling era, the Lollipop Lounge, or how it was that Ravan started up Goldie and the Gingerbreads, the first rhythm and blues based all-girl band in the ‘60s (and the emphasis here is on band meaning these women played their own instruments not only well, but more than well enough to open tours for the Rolling Stones), you’ll have to wait for her autobiography. Face it, I can’t tell it as good as she does. There, when telling her life story, she might reveal something about the purloined hit song. Or how Ravan, cleverly disguised, got a number one hit in Jamaica in 1966, with a record she didn’t even hear herself until a few years ago (But you can check it out now courtesy of some music-loving geeks).
You’ll thrill as you turn those autobiographical pages and arrive at the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and Ravan’s new group, “Ten Wheel Drive”. They were a serious bunch of mother-truckers, wild with inventiveness and full of musical experiments that worked. Until the book comes out, grab The Best of Ten Wheel Drive from Polygram for a taste of that amazing group’s work.
Ravan was an essential component of the ‘70s new wave explosion, a form that blended punk rock with power pop. She worked in the studio with (among others) Lou Reed, Ian Hunter, Mick Ronson, and Blue Oyster Cult. Keeping her finger in the socket, she also produced the Dead Boys and their nasty punk single “Sonic Reducer”. She made her own music from her unique perspective and set it down on a pair of records, and no doubt her life story will touch on that. Learn about the frustrations and heartbreaks of dealing with major record companies, and wipe tears from your eyes as Ravan ponders, “Who do I fuck to get fired by this label?” Soon after the major company tanked, Ravan was rumored to have started up her own record company, Polish Records (pronounce it as you will, but you know where she was born).
Ravan also became the first woman producer hired by a major label. She produced Ronnie Spector’s first solo album. After singing on the soundtrack for the 1981 skinhead gang movie The Warriors, Ravan went on to be an older wiser friend to young punks she was producing at CBGB’s in the late ‘90s. In between, Ravan faced the usual uphill battles with her career, prolonged struggles with coke and booze, and a near fatal bout with lung cancer. After surgical intervention and chemotherapy, the irrepressible Genya Ravan is not just cancer free, but thanks to recovery, she is free to do as she pleases with her time and talents.
What she chose to do is offer one up For Fans Only. Which, because this is a great record that I like more than very much, I highly recommended to all listeners past, present, and future. Order directly from Genya Ravan’s website. Send in a check, and you’ll get the CD by mail in slightly more than the 24 hours promised by other companies. That’s so much better than credit card ordering online through a faceless corporate retailer and having an express delivery truck arrive in your driveway the next day, it really is. Genya, you’re doing it right, that’s the way to do it!