Life is like a bowl of tangents.
No, Forrest Gump didn’t say that. But it’s true! After writing about the Pretty Things I saw that they were now playing dates with other musicians filling in around Taylor and May. That started me thinking about bands who eventually have other players come through their ranks in later years, from Bad Company to Foghat to Steppenwolf, so I decided to look up everyone who had been a Pretty Thing. And although I knew that Jack Green was in the band for a bit, I had totally forgotten it.
I didn’t discover Green from his tenure in the Pretties (even though I played Silk Torpedo and Savage Eye a lot) or as a member of T.Rex, either. My first conscious exposure to him came on an album that came out thirty years ago called Humanesque. Released at the cusp of the post-punk, corporate rock days, this fell into a group of refreshing albums with catchy songs, great guitar and a bit of a New Wave edge that this new channel called MTV would soon try to jump all over. But Jack Green wasn’t about posing and synthesisers and bullshit – he had crafted an album equal parts powerpop and Ziggy Stardust.
At the time I was both managing a small club and writing for an arts weekly called The National Rag, so I was fortunate enough to get pitched on bands from both angles, but his label never mentioned Jack Green. I was struck by the album cover – any veteran bin-browser has discovered many a favorite this way – and I think I remember reading a small clip comparing his voice to Bowie’s. I saw, I bought, and was conquered.
Green was a great guitar player but didn’t flash out just to show off; his solos (“Babe” is a great example) were tasty without wanking. He sounded as comfortable with pop-reggae (“Life on The Line”, “So Much”) as with more raspy rocking (the Bryan Adams-ish “I Call, No Answer”, featuring some Ritchie Blackmore axe work). “Thought It Was Easy” is a very pretty slow-tempo rocker that showcases his knack for a hook and his very appealing voice; ditto “Valentina” which features some nice tempo changes. And “Murder” should have been as big a hit as Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded”.
“Factory Girl” starts out is a pretty straightforward pop rocker – fat chords, short sharp chorus – but morphs into a nice guitar workout. And the hypnotic closer, “This is Japan”, cleverly integrated Oriental arpeggios with a churning rock beat. (When I moved to Rochester a local band making good named Duke Jupiter covered it on their album; I’m pretty sure someone else had a minor hit with it as well). Frankly, there’s really not a duff track to be found here.
My favorite was the three-minute killer “Bout That Girl”, which did indeed sound like a Ziggy outtake. Great vocal, punchy guitar and a chorus that I found myself humming immediately. I played that song over and over; I thought it might be the greatest hook I had heard in years. The cassette player in my old Pontiac got quite a workout in those days, and anytime I had anyone in the car I would play it for them and blast the chorus…and to a person I’d get that nod of agreement: indeed, this is a hit record!
That was until the day I was giving Ed Hamell (yep, Hamell on Trial) a ride home. The first time through he stared intently at the tape deck (why do people stare at radios and tape players?) before breaking into a wicked grin. When the chorus came around the second time he sang loudly, and in perfect rhythm…the first line of the chorus from The Byrds‘ “Chestnut Mare”.
Damn. “Somebody should have told me about that girl“…”I’m gonna catch that horse if I can“…that was a perfect fit.
Reeling, I let buzzkill Ed out of the car, probably as amazed that he nailed the reference so easily as I was that I missed it in a hundred listens. No wonder that one line struck me so immediately – it had been in my brain for years! But lest you think I’m accusing Mr. Green of deliberately swiping a hook, I’m not. The rest of the chorus, let alone the rest of the entire songs, are as different as night and day. The Byrds never said anything, and I never heard anyone else but Ed make the connection. Just another happy accident in rock and roll.
But that anecdote is as fresh in my head as if it happened yesterday, and whenever I think of that song I think of Ed and that Pontiac and that time of my life. It’s just one more occasion where a song and a time and an experience are linked together and burned in my memory. And those are the things that will continue to put a smile on my face as long as I live.
Video: “This Is Japan“
Copies of this album are going for ridiculous prices on Amazon; I have no idea what the situation is regarding ownership of the masters or whether anyone even cares enough to try to re-release them again. Lord knows there can’t be a ton of money in that. But I’ve got a rack full of albums from that 3-4 year period surrounding 1980, and it’s a gold mine of greatness. Gary Myrick, The Sinceros, Phil Seymour, The Photos, The Fabulous Poodles, Pearl Harbor and The Explosions…trust me, it’s a long list of people who mostly had two albums before having the plug pulled.
I own both Humanesque and Reverse Logic; I never saw the other two or I would have snapped them up in a heartbeat. His later efforts provided a hit for Roger Daltrey and an association with John Mellencamp, and he’s enjoyed a successful artistic career in and out of music.
Some of the CBS artists have been lucky enough to have their work re-issued as 2-fers, giving a new generation an opportunity to discover albums that didn’t get their due. It would be really great if whatever conglomerate owns these RCA albums would do the same for him to remind the world how special these Jack Green albums are.
Don’t confuse him with this guy.