We Aren’t The World
[later reissued as Still Got Live, Even If You Don't Want It]
Producers: Stan Lee and Ron Hitchcock
Availability: CD, iTunes, AmazonMP3, eMusic, Spotify
In the pre-CD-reissue boom days, trying to find already classic records by the first wave of American punk bands was best filed under next to impossible. Sure, the Sex Pistols and Clash were still in print at the time (and never did go out of print), but several others – the likes of the Dickies, the Dictators, Richard Hell, and several others whose recorded work is more easily found nowadays even without the advent of file-sharing – had unfortunately gone the way of the cut-out bin. Even some of the proto-punk pioneers were left twisting in the wind for a bit – sure, by this time Polydor was remastering the Velvet Underground back catalog for vinyl reissue and eventual CD editions, but at the same time, I had tried to order a copy of the Stooges’s Fun House from a local record shop after reading Henry Rollins’s rave write-up of it in Spin, only to be told (at least by the guy’s supplier) that the album was “out of print”.
I initially found this out the hard way when I tried to look for Dickies albums after watching excerpts from a 1985 Los Angeles concert that later ended up on the MTV special Punks and Poseurs. On that special they had played many of their standards – “Give It Back”, “Doggie Doo”, “Walk Like an Egg”, “Bowling With Bedrock Barney”, “Manny Moe and Jack”, and their version of the theme from “Gigantor” – but their entire back catalog at the time – their two albums (The Incredible Shrinking Dickies and Dawn of the Dickies) and many singles for A&M, and their eight-song mini album Stukas Over Disneyland – were all out of print or miserably hard to find, and some record collectors were already shithoarding the colored-vinyl 45s they had released through A&M in England.
So it was with great delight that I snapped up this release – then a cassette-only album from ROIR, who had already staked their reputation on releasing albums only in that format a few years earlier – when I discovered it at my favorite local record store of the time, Listening Booth. I had gotten hooked on the Dickies after videotaping and incessantly replaying the Punks and Poseurs special and wanted to get ahold of their stuff, so it was a lucky find. Like most releases on ROIR [the legendary eponymous debut album from the Bad Brains was one exception], We Aren’t the World is mostly live material, save for starting with the four-song demo that had helped the band get their A&M deal in the first place, and most of it isn’t exactly Wally Heider mobile truck, Kiss Alive/Frampton Comes Alive quality. Much of it, save for a transcription of a radio broadcast that is somewhat treble-heavy, comes from soundboard cassettes. But it does encapsulate much of the Dickies’s career up to about 1985, when the newest recordings on the album – recorded from the soundboard during an appearance at CBGB’s in October of that year – were made.
The first thirteen tracks of the album – corresponding to side one of the original cassette – feature the original lineup that recorded for A&M, starting with the four-track demo and then going on to several tracks taken from soundboard recordings of two performances done during the band’s 1978 tour of England – the period and location where the band had their biggest commercial peak success, mostly thanks to their punked-out cover of the Banana Splits theme – followed by a couple of tracks from a 1980 Cleveland show and a live version of “Gigantor” that is credited as being from the same show but is actually the band’s contribution to the first Flipside Vinyl Fanzine; the mix is totally different from the two Cleveland tracks that preceded it, and on the CD reissue it is also sonically obvious that the track was taken directly from a copy of the vinyl album.
The remainder of the album – the original cassette’s side two – is mostly from a radio broadcast recorded in 1982 at City Gardens in Trenton, NJ. On the original cassette these tracks came off rather trebly, which may or may not have been a result of the original release’s medium (they sound less trebly on the 1999 CD reissue), with the band mixing a couple of newer songs from Stukas Over Disneyland (including the should’ve been a hit “Pretty Please” – then again, the EP was first released on the shitty PVC label) with classics from their A&M period. These recordings also have what appears to be the album’s most receptive – or at least most audible, given that they may be the album’s only multi-track live recordings – audience, and some killer one-liner introductions from lead singer Leonard Graves Phillips (Example: he introduces the band’s major-key uptempo rearrangement of “Nights In White Satin” with “This is a song we wrote for the Moody Blues”.) The year before, founding member and keyboardist/guitarist/saxophonist Chuck Wagon had shot himself after coming home from a local Dickies gig, which had knocked the band for more than a considerable loop. Seemingly a year after the incident, the band seems quite revitalized, taking on some of their early material at a seemingly faster pace than their original versions. The newest tracks on the album – the aforementioned CBGB’s tracks – are highlighted by a version of “If Stuart Could Talk” bookended with an unlisted parody of the Who’s “See Me Feel Me”. A final track from the 1982 City Gardens show – the band’s biggest hit single, their cover of “Banana Splits” – appropriately closes things out.
The one caveat I always had with this album, besides the random sound of the source recordings, was its liner notes from Frontier Records founder Lisa Fancher. I wasn’t sure why Fancher was tapped to do the liners since her label was never associated with the Dickies, save for maybe her having witnessed the band’s early performances, but her liner notes – entitled “Would You Have Signed These Guys?” – take a rather negative tone towards the band (poor Chuck Wagon gets it the worst, with Fancher claiming the musician “left this world due to his great mortification at being on these records”)… or perhaps, given the Dickies’s own frequently comical lyrics, that was part of the joke. Given the fact that I wasn’t the only one grabbing up this tape in the wake of the MTV exposure given the band by Punks and Poseurs, perhaps these kind of cocky remarks being printed on the liner notes of a Dickies live anthology weren’t the greatest of ideas. The cassette itself ended up being a good idea; Stan Lee would state two years later in a Flipside interview – promoting both the band’s then-new studio album Second Coming and the Great Dictations anthology of their A&M recordings – that ROIR was the only label at the time that had consistently and regularly paid the Dickies their royalties due.
The cassette has had three CD editions released; the original CD release, subtitled The ROIR Sessions, was part of a short-lived series issued by Relativity’s sub-label In Effect in 1990, while an import edition was issued briefly a couple of years later by the French label Danceteria, along with many other classic ROIR titles. The current edition – the one used for this review – was released by ROIR itself in 1999, but is curiously retitled Still Got Live, Even If You Don’t Want It and repackaged with artwork featuring a Warhol motif of some sheep, referencing the then-year-old story of a sheep being cloned in England (Year-old news references seem to go hand in hand with this album; the original artwork [depicting the band as hungry African refugees] and the cassette’s original title were a goof on USA For Africa). Fortunately, the CD itself openly states the album’s original title on the back cover and – more importantly – sports some highly improved sonics. With the band’s A&M back catalog back in print thanks to releases by the English label Captain Oi!, this album is more of a curiosity – but worth it if those albums left you wanting more.