Kim Fowley. His name probably doesn’t ring a bell, but his resume might. For decades, Fowley’s been a part of the Los Angeles music scene and he’s got his fingerprints on a ton of the biggest names in rock.
In the mid 60s, he hung out with Frank Zappa (even appearing on the first Mothers of Invention album, Freak Out!). As the decade waned, he re-invented himself as both a psychedelic garage rocker, making a minor splash with the single “The Trip”, and a record producer, working with KISS, Alice Cooper and Helen Reddy. He wrote songs for The Byrds and helped The Modern Lovers get started. Later, he managed The Runaways to success and Steel Breeze to oblivion. Currently, he’s a host on Sirius/XM satellite radio. He’s got a memoir, too.
But as he was doing all that, Fowley was also recklessly pursuing his solo career. Wikipedia has 28 albums in his discography; only one actually merits it’s own page. Two of his records – I’m Bad and Outragous – are included in Robert Christgau’s Consumer Guide and both get the lowest possible rating: E. “I don’t understand how he continues to earn a living, but he does,” wrote the Dean of American Rock Critics.
Listening to Fowley’s music, it’s easy to see Christgau’s point. Fowley was a charlatan. Album to album, he changed his music, image and attitude to reflect whatever was popular at the time. For one album he was a hippie, then just a couple years later a revolutionary. And forty years ago, after a trip to England, he reinvented himself as a glam rocker.
Just a quick listen to International Heroes shows what Fowley had in his record collection. Some songs sound like Mott the Hoople, others like T-Rex. Some even sound like Roxy Music. Sometimes he cops Bowie, other times Lou Reed. On the front cover, he’s wearing eyeshadow and on the back, he’s dressed like some kind of 60’s vampire: fur coat, heeled shoes and paler-than-pale skin. This record’s a shameless hodgepodge of influences and ripoffs, and man, it’s a classic.
It kicks off with the title track, which sounds more than little like Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes”, although with less guitars and no David Bowie. Here, Fowley pretty much lays his gameplan out: “think I’m going to cut my hair off and start all new again. Why bother being different? We all look the same.”
Like all the glam records, he alternates between acoustic, vaguely sci-fi numbers and hard rock. Take “ESP Reader”: on this acoustic track, he sings about visiting a woman with some strange interests: “I see your black raincoat, I see your leather whip.” Wonder what Lou Reed thought about that one.
Another keeper here is the laid-back “So Good, Wish You Would”, a vaguely funky number with some killer vocals on the chorus and some great, chunky guitar playing. It quickly turns into a strange number when Fowley starts mumbling like he’s on drugs, saying stuff like “woman, uh, you got no groove / brother, sister, they have to move.” Well, if you say so, Kim.
It closes with its hardest rocking number, “Dancing All Night”. Here, over a T-Rex-styled groove, Fowley and a handful of backup singers shout about keeping the blues away. It’s a catchy piece of trashy garage rock. And I mean that in the very best way possible.
Almost in spite of itself, though, International Heroes is a minor triumph. It’s an earnest attempt to cash in on the glam rock scene, so it sounds like records you’ve heard on classic rock radio a million times. But it’s just different enough that you’ll recognize the influences, but not the songs themselves. It’s a cool experience, not unlike to hearing Bowie or Roxy Music for the first time. And it helps that Fowley’s occasionally a decent songwriter, too.
International Heroes is long, long out of print and I’m grateful the fine people at Aquarium Drunkard dug up a copy. Used LP’s with battered covers are going for over $50 on eBay and there’s no CD release. But oddly enough, the record’s available on iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere. Check it out: if you like Ziggy, Eno or anything else that came outta England in the early 70’s, this forgotten gem’s right up your alley.
Freelance writer and music fan, whose writing has appeared on The Good Point, The Toronto Review of Books, and CTV.ca, among other places. Favorite albums: Dig Me Out, Live-Evil, Decade.