That Is Rock & Roll

by Bill Tuomala



Okay forget your Beatles, Stones, Velvet Undergrounds, Radioheads (please) - the greatest band of all time is the Coasters! If you need proof, check out The Very Best of the Coasters on Rhino.


The tunes swing, typically feature a honking saxophone and blissful harmonizing complete with a booming bass. "I'm A Hog For You" has a guitar sound that Brian Jones would have killed for and mesmerizing YEAHs from that bass voice. The songs have heroes ("Along Came Jones"), antiheroes ("Charlie Brown"), and violence ("Riot in Cell Block #9.") It has a good tune that the Rolling Stones couldnŐt top or even touch ("Poison Ivy") and a tremendous hard rocker that Bad Company absolutely butchered ("Youngblood.") It has social protest ("What About Us"), veiled Black Man vs. Whitey threats ("Run Red Run"), and perhaps most importantly it has a stripper who falls for the protagonist ("Little Egypt.")


Richard Berry sings lead on "Riot in Cell Block #9" (actually recorded by Coasters predecessors the Robins.) Berry also wrote "Louie Louie" and therefore invented punk rock. "Riot" is more menacing than anything Black Flag or the Dead Kennedys ever did. It's also the song from which Sly Stone lifted the title for his drug/breakdown/malaise album There's A Riot Goin' On.


The songs were all written by two Jewish guys, executed to perfection by four or five black dudes who were obviously having a blast while recording them. That team came up with single after single that were funnier than mere annoying novelty acts like the Violent Femmes or Talking Heads; funnier than unintentional novelty acts like Bjork; funnier than the Ramones (easily); and funnier than true comic geniuses like the Replacements or the J. Geils Band. It's the best singing-in-the-shower music there is - I think Shower of Power on The White Shadow may have even covered one or two of these tunes. Is there any higher endorsement?







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