Today in the spotlight an innovator of punk music and fashion. He was one of the first to spike his hair and wear torn, cut and drawn-on shirts, often held together with safety pins. Malcolm McLaren, manager of the Sex Pistols, has credited him as a source of inspiration for the Sex Pistols' look and attitude, as well as the safety-pin and graphics accessorized clothing that McLaren sold in his London shop, Sex. Hell was in several important, early punk bands, including Neon Boys, Television, and The Heartbreakers, after which he formed Richard Hell & The Voidoids. Their 1977 album Blank Generation influenced many other punk bands. Its title song was named "One of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock" Time to check him out and ...N'Joy
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Richard Hell was one of the original punk rockers to emerge from New York City in the early to mid-'70s, and is often pointed to as a major influence by other subsequent punk bands -- whether it be with his music, poetry, or even fashion sense (he was one of the first punks to wear ripped clothing). Born Richard Meyers in October 2, 1949, and raised in Lexington, KY, Meyers discovered rock & roll via the usual suspects (Rolling Stones, etc.), and befriended another local music fan, Tom Miller. Miller and Meyers embarked on an unsuccessful hitchhiking journey down south before being picked up by police and sent back to their families, but the taste of life on the road was enough for Meyers to realize that he wanted to relocate to New York. During the late '60s/early '70s, Meyers worked on original poetry and picked up the bass guitar, as he was soon joined in New York by his old pal Miller (who had become quite an accomplished guitarist by this time).
The pair promptly changed their names (Miller -- Verlaine, Meyers -- Hell) and formed the Neon Boys in 1974, changing their name shortly thereafter to Television. Influenced by such proto-punks as the Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls, the new group (which also includes second guitarist Richard Lloyd and drummer Billy Ficca) began playing regularly in the downtown Bowery area of N.Y.C., and slowly built a following playing regularly at places like CBGB's. Along with Blondie, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, and Ramones, Television lent a major hand in putting New York's punk scene on the map, but Hell grew frustrated with his role in the group (the group's leader was unmistakably Verlaine, while few of Hell's compositions were used) and left in 1975. Hell wasn't band-less for long -- it was right at this time that Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan left the New York Dolls, and immediately asked Hell if he was interested in playing bass for their new outfit, the Heartbreakers.
But, like his previous band, it quickly became established that Hell would not be the leader (Thunders was), and despite rave reviews, Hell jumped ship just a few months later. Undeterred, Hell decided to form his own band, Richard Hell & the Voidoids. Putting together a stellar lineup (including one of the genre's finest guitarists, Robert Quine, as well as second guitarist Ivan Julian and drummer Marc Bell). The quartet was an immediate hit with the CBGB's crowd, as Hell was finally able to utilize the backlog of compositions that he had compiled over the past few years. After a self-titled, three-track EP was issued independently in 1976, the group inked a recording contract with Sire.
Their 1977 debut, Blank Generation, has gone on to become one of punk's all-time classics, spawning such standards as the title track and "Love Comes in Spurts," as the band toured the world, including a tumultuous stint opening for the Clash in England. Despite a promising career ahead of them, little was heard from the group subsequently (Hell's substance use around this time may have had something to do with the delay, as well as his dissatisfaction with touring). With most assuming that the group had broken up, Hell decided to revive the Voidoids in 1982, although Hell and Quine were the only members remaining from their previous incarnation. The resulting album, Destiny Street, was another exceptional set of punk-pop, spawning another quirky classic with "The Kid With the Replaceable Head." Yet once again, the group failed to follow the record-tour-record-tour pattern, as the Voidoids sunk from sight (although Quine around this time was doing double duty -- lending his six-string talents to Lou Reed's solo band, including the albums The Blue Mask, Legendary Hearts, and New Sensations).
Hell kept himself busy in the '80s with his poetry and bit parts in movies, his best-known role being Madonna's boyfriend in 1985's Desperately Seeking Susan, while a 14-track collection of Voidoids outtakes and live material, R.I.P., was issued on the ROIR label (another collection, this one a set of live tracks, followed a few years later, titled Funhunt). Just as it appeared as though Hell had turned his back on music for good, he reappeared in 1992 as part of the group Dim Stars (which featured Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley, as well as Gumball's Don Fleming, and, once again, Robert Quine on guitar), issuing a self-titled release the same year. The group proved to be a nonpermanent project, however, as the '90s saw several archival releases that featured Hell circa the '70s -- the Heartbreakers' What Goes Around and Live at Mothers, plus a CD single on the U.K. label Overground which featured a few rare tracks from the Neon Boys.
Hell has authored several books over the years, including such titles as Wanna Go Out? (a collection of poems collaborated on with Verlaine), I Was a Spiral on the Floor, Artifact, and Across the Years, plus the short novel The Voidoid. Hell has also served as editor for New York literary magazine CUZ for the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church, and, in 1996, issued his first full-length novel, Go Now (which was also released as a spoken word CD under the same name, with Robert Quine laying down some splendid noisy licks under the text). Hell and the former Voidoids were interviewed around this time for the excellent book Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, which offered interesting insight into Hell's early years. In the late '90s, Hell began doing readings at clubs, universities, bookstores, plus other venues across the U.S. and also Europe, and also found the time to put together a gallery show of his drawings at the Rupert Goldsworthy Gallery in New York. In 2000, Hell reunited the original lineup of the Voidoids to record a new composition, "Oh," which initially appeared as a free download on a website, before being included on the 2001 compilation Beyond Cyberpunk.
He released a collection of short pieces (poems, essays and drawings) called Hot and Cold in 2001. His second novel, Godlike, was published in 2005 by Akashic Books as part of Dennis Cooper's Little House on the Bowery Series. All three books were highly praised. Also published in 2005 was Rabbit Duck, a book of 13 poems written in collaboration with David Shapiro. Hell's nonfiction has been widely anthologized as well, including a number of appearances in "best music writing collections". Hell's archive of his manuscripts, tapes, correspondence (written and email), journals, and other documents of his life was purchased for $50,000 by New York University's Fales Library in 2003.
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Richard Hell was one of the first men on the scene when punk rock first began to emerge in New York City as an early member of both Television and the Heartbreakers (he left both groups before they could record), but his own version of punk wasn't much like anyone else's, and while Hell's debut album, Blank Generation, remains one of the most powerful to come from punk's first wave, anyone expecting a Ramones/Dead Boys-style frontal assault from this set had better readjust their expectations. "Love Comes in Spurts" and "Liar's Beware" proved the Voidoids could play fast and loud when they wanted to, but for the most part this group's formula was much more complicated than that; guitarists Robert Quine and Ivan Julian bounced sharp, edgy patterns off each other that were more about psychological tension than brute force (though Quine's solos suggest a fragile grace beneath the surface of their neo-Beefheart chaos), and while most punk nihilism was of the simplistic "Everything Sucks" variety, Hell was (with the exception of Patti Smith) the most literate and consciously poetic figure in the New York punk scene. While there's little on the album that's friendly or life-affirming, there's a crackling intelligence to songs like "New Pleasure," "Betrayal Takes Two," and "Another World" that confirmed Hell has a truly unique lyrical voice, at once supremely self-confident and dismissive of nearly everything around him (sometimes including himself). Brittle and troubling, but brimming with ideas and musical intelligence, Blank Generation was groundbreaking punk rock that followed no one's template, and today it sounds just as fresh -- and nearly as abrasive -- as it did when it first hit the racks.
Richard Hell and The Voidoids - Blank Generation (flac 257mb)
01 Love Comes In Spurts 2:00
02 Liars Beware 2:50
03 New Pleasure 1:53
04 Betrayal Takes Two 3:34
05 Down At The Rock And Roll Club (Alternate Version) 4:04
06 Who Says? 2:06
07 Blank Generation 2:42
08 Walking On The Water 2:15
09 The Plan 3:53
10 Another World 8:11
11 I'm Your Man 2:53
12 All The Way 3:23
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No one ever accused Richard Hell of being the hardest working man in rock & roll, and not only did it take him five years to get around to making a follow-up to his first album, the remarkable Blank Generation, but he didn't even bother to come up with a full LP's worth of new material for 1982's Destiny Street; the opening song, "The Kid With the Replaceable Head," first appeared as a B-side to a single in 1979, and three of the album's ten tunes are covers, which hardly speaks well of his productivity. But if it's hard to imagine why it took five years to come up with Destiny Street, there's little arguing that Hell's second album is nearly as strong as his first. While the covers might seem like padding, the interpretations of the Kinks' "You Gotta Move" and Them's "I Can Only Give You Everything" are wildly passionate and overflowing with ideas and energy, and Hell's dour, jagged take on Dylan's "Going, Going, Gone" nearly surpasses the original. Robert Quine's guitar work on Blank Generation staked his claim as one of the most interesting and intelligent guitarists to emerge from the New York underground scene, and if anything, he was in even stronger form on Destiny Street, while new members Naux (on guitar) and Fred Maher (on drums) give him all the support he needs. And though Blank Generation made it clear Hell was among the brainiest members of punk's first graduating class, the handful of new originals here show he'd actually grown since his debut; on "Downtown at Dawn" and "Ignore That Door," Hell subtly but implicitly rejects the dead end of night-life decadence, "Time" is a meditation on mortality that's unexpectedly compassionate, and the title cut proved Hell had not only begun to recognize his own faults, but had even learned to laugh at them. Destiny Street sounds looser and more spontaneous than Hell's debut, but it's just as smart and every bit as powerful, and it's a more than worthy follow-up.
Richard Hell and The Voidoids - Destiny Street Repaired (flac 292mb)
01 The Kid With The Replaceable Head 2:17
02 I Gotta Move 2:39
03 Going Going Gone 2:36
04 Lowest Common Dominator 2:27
05 Downtown At Dawn 4:28
06 Time 3:15
07 I Can Only Give You Everything 4:00
08 Ignore That Door 3:07
09 Staring In Her Eyes 4:19
10 Destiny Street 7:13
11 Smitten 2:10
12 Funhunt 3:16
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Richard Hell has produced a rather small body of work as a musician -- two albums as a frontman -- Blank Generation and Destiny Street -- and one in collaboration with a handful of downtown-New York all-stars, released under the handle Dim Stars. But the work casts a very long shadow; Hell has more than earned his reputation as one of the groundbreaking figures of the New York new wave/punk scene, not just for being there at the right place and time but for creating some powerful and startling records with a handful of gifted collaborators (most significantly, guitarist Robert Quine), and the literacy and force of his songwriting has stood the test of time better than many of his peers' work (with the exception of Patti Smith). But for a man with such a small legacy, Richard Hell certainly seems fond of anthologizing his work, and Spurts: The Best of Richard Hell marks the third time he has attempted to sum up his life in rock & roll in one convenient package. Spurts focuses a bit harder on the more recognizable facets of the Hell canon than either 1984's R.I.P. or 2002's expanded and revised version, Time -- since Spurts draws from a variety of sources rather than just unreleased material, it includes the most familiar versions of "Love Comes in Spurts" and "Blank Generation," as well as cuts from Destiny Street (in newly remixed form) and the latter-day Dim Stars sessions. There are a few historically important rarities on-board as well, most notably a live recording of "Blank Generation," from Hell's brief tenure with Television, a radically different version of "Love Comes in Spurts" recorded with the Neon Boys (Hell's pre-Television collaboration with Tom Verlaine), and a one-off, one-song reunion with the original Voidoids from 2001 ("Oh," which stands as a potent reminder of how great that band was). To look at the pieces, this is certainly the most career-inclusive Hell collection of the three, and serves as a vivid testament to his talents. But despite the fact this set gets a ringing endorsement from Hell himself (who compiled it), as a whole it isn't quite as satisfying as his two albums with the Voidoids, and doesn't flow with the same jagged grace as R.I.P. or Time. (Spurts also lacks Time's witty and revealing liner notes, though the enclosed interview with Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell certainly has its moments). As an introduction to Hell's music, Spurts is an appropriately intelligent, absorbing, and challenging anthology, but no one who is at all intrigued with his work should stop here.
Richard Hell - Spurts (The Richard Hell Story) (flac 431mb)
01 The Neon Boys - Love Comes In Spurts (Preliminary Version) 3:04
02 The Neon Boys - That's All I Know (Right Now) 2:34
03 The Heartbreakers - Chinese Rocks 2:41
04 Richard Hell & The Voidoids - Blank Generation 2:45
05 Richard Hell & The Voidoids - Liars Beware 2:53
06 Richard Hell & The Voidoids - Walking On The Water 2:16
07 Richard Hell & The Voidoids - Love Comes In Spurts 2:03
08 Richard Hell & The Voidoids - The Kid With The Replaceable Head 2:21
09 Richard Hell & The Voidoids - Crack Of Dawn 2:11
10 Richard Hell & The Voidoids - Time 3:05
11 Richard Hell & The Voidoids - Ignore That Door 3:13
12 Richard Hell & The Voidoids - Lowest Common Dominator 2:23
13 Richard Hell & The Voidoids - Downtown At Dawn 4:09
14 Dim Stars - Dim Star Theme 3:39
15 Dim Stars - Baby Huey (Do You Wanna Dance?) 2:33
16 Dim Stars - Monkey 3:38
17 Dim Stars - The Night Is Coming On 3:50
18 Richard Hell & The Voidoids - Oh 4:11
19 Richard Hell - She'll Be Coming (For Dennis Cooper) 4:30
20 Dim Stars - Rip Off 5:41
21 Television - Blank Generation (Live At CBGB's) 2:38
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