Elementary Headcoats: The Singles 1990-1999 (2000) ****
Talk about a singularity of vision. Billy Childish has ploughed the same narrow strips of furrows in the field of garage rock for over thirty years, beginning with the Pop Rivets in 1979. And should I mention prolific? According to legend, Thee Headcoats (only one of Childish's several band projects) released seven albums in 1984, four on the same day(!!!!!?????). Thus, diving into the man's catalogue is beyond problematic, and I doubt that it would be physically possible for anyone but Billy himself to listen to all of his work, and only a certifiable madman would make the attempt. This compilation, however, is an ideal introduction, as well as a reasonable ending point for those of us in full possession of our senses and wallets: with fifty tracks spread out over two discs, I can comfortably state that I've heard nearly all the Billy Childish I need in one lifetime. The basic template is the early Kinks: gruffly pounding riffs and power chords set to thought-provoking lyrics and serviceable melodies designed for maximum sing-along-ability. The style is vintage, but the sound is not: Childish grew up during the punk era (awesome cover of the Lurker's "Shadow," that blows away the original; not so awesome cover of ATV's titular, "Action Time Vision," that does not), and so the amps are cranked up several levels beyond 1965 era Kinks. The band relentlessly pursues the same style throughout, though there are enough diversions from formula to keep this collection from becoming too monotonous: a bit of chugging rockabilly and greaseball surf, as well as some softened-down novelty tunes in which the rock takes a backseat to Childish's shaggy-dog lyrics ("My Dear Watson," a cover of the Downliner Sect's "Be a Sect Maniac").
Given the overload of material and the band's shambolic garage-trio approach, the results are often hit and miss, but did you expect any less from a fifty-track collection? It's all too overwhelming to take in at once due to the sheer bulk, but that's only because of the size: Childish's basic hard rock goes down fairly easy, and in the Nuggets tradition many of the individual songs are instantly memorable. As jillions of scrappily boring-exciting hard rock garage bands have proved over the decades, being loud and raucous don't mean jack if you ain't got the tunes, and Childish proves himself a talented songwriter, capable of penning memorable choruses as if an afterthought and intriguing verses when he's engaged. How can you not love a guy who can come up with a tune entitled, "I've Been Fucking Your Daughters and Pissing On Your Lawn," which lives up to said title? Obviously a song by song review is out of the question, so I'll just name drop a few favorites - "Girl From '62," "Now Your Hunger's Gonna Be A-Coming," the not one but three (!) run-throughs of "Louie, Louie," that might be my favorites of the one zillion versions blasted out since Richard Berry and John Belushi. The highlight, however, is the three-song saga that serves as the centerpiece of disc two: the anguished and angry triptych of "No One"/"The Gun in My Father's Hand"/"The Day I Beat My Father Up," that recounts the (obviously, assumedly) autobiographical tale of Billy's troubled childhood struggle with his womanizing, wife-beating, alcoholic father. Anyway, for kids who don't get the Kinks comparison: it sounds like the White Stripes, except better, and Billy Childish was doing the same thing twenty years before Jack and his zaftig ex-girlfriend. And he's still at it - the man makes Robert Pollard look like Peter Gabriel in terms of productivity.