35 Years Ago: The Stray Cats Struggle to Keep the Momentum on ‘Rant N’ Rave’
In August 1983, the Stray Cats strutted onto record-store shelves with Rant N’ Rave With the Stray Cats, the first album in the trio’s career that was released at the same time in the U.S. and the U.K.
Although the Stray Cats formed in Massapequa, N.Y., the band -- guitarist Brian Setzer, upright bassist Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom -- found initial success across the pond, releasing their self-titled debut there in February 1981 and following it up with Gonna Ball in October.
The overseas buzz on the band was strong enough that its record company cobbled together the best cuts from the first two records, titled it Built for Speed and released the album in the U.S. in June 1982. The singles "Rock This Town" and "Stray Cat Strut" soon helped the band find a foothold on American radio and MTV.
In a 1983 interview with Guitar Player, Setzer admitted that after enduring the makeshift nature of Built for Speed, he was particularly pleased with the consistency of Rant N’ Rave. “I wrote all 12 original songs before we went into the studio, and I had never done that before,” he said. “I’d usually get stuck writing in the studio, so I was pretty confident of what I was going to do where. I usually listen back and go, ‘Hmm, I could do that better,’ but I’m really happy.”
The Rant N’ Rave sessions, which took place at London’s Maison Rouge Studios, reunited the Stray Cats with the man who’d produced their debut, fellow rockabilly enthusiast Dave Edmunds. Guest musicians on the album included noted session pianist Geraint Watkins, ubiquitous '70s and '80s saxophonist Mel Collins and doo-wop group 14 Karat Soul, which featured prominently on the Top 40 track, "I Won’t Stand in Your Way."
While Rant N’ Rave was generally well received by critics, who acknowledged and appreciated the band's tributes to such rock ‘n’ roll forebears as Gene Vincent ("Hotrod Gang") and Bo Diddley ("Rebels Rule"), the tastes of American audiences proved typically fickle. Despite the album’s first single, "(She’s) Sexy + 17," vaulting into the Top Five, the album reached only No. 14 before beginning its downward tumble. By the following year, the band had disbanded.
Even though the trio would reunite in 1986 to record the album Rock Therapy, subsequently breaking up and getting back together several more times over the course of the next few decades, the first falling out left too many scars.
Rocker reflected on the band’s post-Rant N’ Rave dissolution in a June 2013 interview with the Modesto Bee. “There was so much going on,” he said. “It was four, five years of nonstop work and touring. If we had a better scheme, the wise move after about three years would have been to take six months of downtime, then regroup and write some songs, [but] a three-way democracy is an ugly equation. Without an agreement, nothing happens, and to get three guys to agree on anything is difficult. I have no regrets or complaints, but there were other ways it could have gone."
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