Monday, 25 May 2015

It's been 40 years... does your mamma like her, yet?

Quite understandably, only the most hardcore Suzi Quatronians (like me) would be aware that this May is the 40th anniversary of her third studio album, Your Mamma Won't Like Me. As I have always considered this record to be her finest in terms of being a collection of 10 cohesive songs - not to mention featuring some of Suzi's finest compositions - I couldn't let this momentous milestone go unmarked. This article is especially ironic coming from me, considering that my Mamma liked Suzi before I was even born... oh, the irony.

Suzi Quatro - Your Mamma Won't Like Me, 1975
The album cover for Your Mamma Won't Like Me was a live shot taken in Sydney
The exact date of the release is unknown, nonetheless, I contacted Suzi at the end of April and we set up an interview to discuss her memories of the making of this record.

In her 51 year career, Ms Quatro has taken herself, and allowed herself to be taken, in various different musical directions. Her first album, the sterling Suzi Quatro, was a straight boogie-rock album, packed with strong compositions by both herself and former guitarist Len Tuckey, as well some excellent Chinn/Chapman (her singles writers) compositions, and some of her strongest covers to date.

A year later in 1974, the rather shaky Quatro was released. Despite excellent musicanship and production, Suzi's follow-up album failed to dent the UK charts - possibly thanks to her second number one single, Devil Gate Drive, being omitted from the record. With a slower version of The Wild One opening the album, Too Big  represented the only hit single on Quatro. With Suzi's 10 minute epic Angel Flight not being permitted to be featured, the record was packed out with rockabilly covers, showing a distinct lack of creativity compared to its predecessor.

However, by 1975 Suzi and her entourage were back on form, both musically and creatively. Your Mamma Won't Like Me represented the first major shift in her musical style, incorporating a horns section into many of the new tracks and exploring a much funkier rock sound, than ever before.

Speaking to Suzi about how she felt when Mike Chapman, who took inspiration from the likes of Rufus, approached her with this rather drastic shift in sound, she told me that the musical transition was an easy one for her. "You gotta remember my hero was Otis Redding, after Elvis. So, I liked all the soul and the funk, and I'm from Detroit, so no, I didn't mind, and the main thing being I trust Mike. If he wants to try me in a direction, I go for it and if I don't like it I tell him right away; I mean he wanted me to do Some Girls, the Racey hit that he wrote. He brought it to the studio and I said no. He didn't like it, but I said it's too poppy and it's not for me - and it was too poppy, I was correct. So if he suggested something I didn't like I said so, but most of the time Mike and I are on the same page."

Recorded at the band's studio of choice, Audio International in London, Your Mamma Won't Like Me featured some sterling guest musicians who shared the RAK label with Suzi. The horns were provided by label mates Gonzales; Phil Dennys supplied the string section, and backing vocals appeared courtesy of session singers Sue and Sunny, as well as Suzi's sister, Patti - the guitar player for all-girl US band, Fanny.  

The record was also engineered by Peter Coleman, who would go on to aid Pat Benatar's career. By 1975, the songwriting duo of Chinn/Chapman was breaking up. Your Mamma Won't Like Me was the first of Suzi's albums to not credit Chinn as a producer; rather this was credited as a Mick Chapman production, in association with Nicky Chinn. 

Suzi Quatro singleYet despite the massive shift in sound, and the strained relationship between Chinn and Chapman, Suzi remembers her third album as being an enjoyable one to record."It was a very creative album and it was a musical genre that I was very comfortable in, actually. Having been an Otis fan and all that, that's what I did when I was learning the Otis songs, I listened to him doing that and I imitated him. So it was not a problem, at all, I found it very exciting, that album, because it was different."
Much of her own material was also very funk-oriented. Did she write with this particular style in mind? "No, I did not, in fact maybe that's why Mike thought of that style because what I was writing was going in that direction, you know? I don't write for a style, when I write I just simply write and whatever comes out, comes out."

One of my favourite Quatro compositions, Michael, closes this record. This track uses a string section and is a very anthemic ballad - a far cry from the rest of the album. How about this track? "It wasn't written for the album, it was just written and I loved it from the second the first chords came out. Mike Chapman loved it and it just found its way onto the album, that's a particularly good song... and I will never tell who it's about. I don't think anybody would even know it anyway, but I think maybe the Michael in question knows it!"

Suzi Quatro on the cover of Rolling Stone
1975 was also the year Suzi made the cover of Rolling Stone magazine
Despite Your Mamma Won't Like Me's funky sound being spearheaded by Mike Chapman, and the majority of the songs being supplied by the Quatro/Tuckey duo, Suzi says that the album cover - a live shot taken during one of her countless Australian tours - was Mickie Most's idea. "He was very artistic and he had a good way of picking out pictures. If you gave him a whole contact sheet of maybe 25 pictures, he would pour over them and pick out the exact right one.

"When you look at the iconic photo - hands on hips and all that, a la Unzipped - Mickie had maybe three of four contact sheets to look at when I had that first session and he picked that one out, so he was good at it. I remember him looking at it in his office and he said 'this is the one', he was just absolutely sure."

Is that the picture Suzi would have chosen? "Well how can you beat it? It is the photo, isn't it? Even all these years later, it is the photo: it's the attitude, it's the hands on the hips, it says, whatever Suzi Quatro was and is, that photo says it. It doesn't look out place today, that's the most important thing."

Suzi wrote in the booklet her new box set, The Girl From Detroit City, released to commemorate her 50th year in the music business, that the opening track from the album, and one of the singles, I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew, was her original band's finest moment. This song hasn't been performed live since she toured the States with Alice Cooper in 1975, but she added it to her final tour of Australia, this year.

Despite being a four minute single, the outro runs for some 10 minutes. "When I did my final tour (of Australia), I actually did a little speech about this. I said every line-up has a 'moment'; I said there's been lots of musicians through my career. Every line-up has its moment and this was the first band's moment. We were doing it in the studio and Mike just kept the track going, it must have lasted 10 minutes. 

"Usually, the producer will push the button and say 'okay, thank you', and he didn't; and it went on, and on, and on. And when we heard it back, Mike said 'I couldn't stop you, it was too good', so whatever was happening in the studio that day, it was the band's 'moment', that's what I always say. Us musicians, we say it 'sits in the pocket' - that one sits in the pocket."

Despite Your Mamma Won't Like Me not making much of a dent in the charts, the lead single did get to #31 in the UK charts. In August that year, I May Be Too Young, a single not on the album that was more straight rock than funk, just scraped into the UK Top 50.

However, as a live act, Suzi Q was still a draw. In February she embarked on a UK headline tour, RAK Rocks Britain, with Cozy Powell's Hammer and The Arrows. Later on in the year, she would go on to tour Australia, Scandanavia, New Zealand and Japan.
Suzi Quatro plays live in 1975
Suzi playing live on the Alice Cooper tour
After that, she toured the States with Alice Cooper for four months as his special guest on the Welcome to My Nightmare tour; the same tour she broke his nose with a dart gun. She then continued touring for two months after those 75 shows were completed.                                                                             So, where does Your Mamma Won't Like Me rank in Suzi's estimation? "It's up there, I'd say it's probably number four, maybe number three, it's a good album. I think it's my family's favourite album, actually. Back to the Drive, I love. Spotlight has got some great moments on it; I love Four Letter Words. The first album is always gonna be special because it's the first album, and that actually was very 'Suzi Quatro' - it was very boogie, it was very me.

"If You Knew Suzi, it had some good stuff, but I wouldn't say overall it was my favourite album, I think the picture is the best part of that one. It had some good moments, but I wouldn't say that every track was a winner, but it was a good album."

Many thanks to Suzi, as ever, for her time.

Your Mamma Won't Like Me was remastered and released by Cherry Red in 2012, and can be purchased on CD here.

For the latest news and dates, visit Suzi's official website. 

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