Graham Reid | | 3 min read
As we've noted previously, some of the albums puled off our shelves to consider are a mystery when it comes to why they were there in the first place.
But how this album by a rock'n'roll band out of Kansas City, Missouri ended up in residence is easy to remember.
It came my way just before Christmas 1987 – my first year as a writer at the Herald – and was a gift from my editor Colin Hogg. He'd been sent it by PolyGram earlier in the year for review and had disliked it.
He knew I rated the single Let My People Go-Go which went top 20 in the UK and was played on radio in New Zealand . . . so he gave me the album as “a present”.
I liked it immediately because it has paintings by the great American artist Thomas Hart Benson on the cover, they had the Memphis Horns on some tracks and the band's blend of rocked up country/guitar-driven rock'n'roll wasn't that serious.
In fact the lyrics of that Go-Go single start: “Moses went up to the mountain high, to find out from God why did you make us, why? Secret words in a secret room. He said a womp bop a lu bop a lop bam boom . . .”
Somewhere along the same axis as Jason and the Scorchers, the Unforgiven and other hard-edged, referential bands, and with role models the Rolling Stones and the Monkees, the Rainmakers were here for a good time when people were taking rock music very seriously indeed.
“God quoting Little Richard, why not?” said singer/writer Bob Walkenhorst. “God probably gets a kick out of Little Richard. I don't know if that offends anyone. But I hope so.
“I hope someone out there is getting pissed off.”
“We're making music that will make you smile, wince, think and move at the same time. It's all about rock'n'roll that stirs up a little dust on its way to the dance.”
He also said, “we're not innovative musically but we do rattle people's cages.”
Not Colin's obviously, but enough for the band to make a very small dent on the US charts with this debut and record four more albums in the following decade.
Walkenhorst was an interesting character and a smart whippet: “The generation that would change the world is still looking for its car keys”, he sings on Government Cheese, the most controversial song on the album.
He held his fellow countrymen in fairly low regard. And was maybe just a little bit more right wing than most rock artists: “Give a man free food and he'll figure out a way to steal more than he can eat 'cause he doesn't have to pay . . . . give a man a ticket on a dead end ride and he'll climb in the back even though nobody's driving. Too goddamn lazy to crawl out of the wreck and he'll rot while he waits for a welfare cheque . . .” (Government Cheese).
“I've worked in a factory putting pills in bottles, I worked on a farm hosing down beanfields. It was very boring work, but at least I was doing something and I kept my dignity.
“The American people just don't seem to have any pride.”
He also delivered a bunch of literary and rock'n'roll references (and more) scattered through his lyrics.
Not too many writers would mention astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee (in Rockin' at the T-Dance), Mark Twain, Harry Truman and Chuck Berry (Downstream), JD Salinger (Big Fat Blonde), as well as taking a poke at the bureaucratic waste and patronising culture of welfare dependency in the US (Government Cheese) or the irresponsibles who are Drinkin' on the Job.
But there is a strong morality here too: Information is about not judging but asking why and supporting.
As the chorus of Let My People Go-Go says, “I did not put you here to suffer, I did not put you here to whine, I put you here to love one another and get out and have a good time”.
And all of this is tied to the rock solid rhythm section of bassist Rich Ruth and drummer Pat Tomek, with guitarist Steve Phillips laying skittering hard rock guitar across the top.
The Rainmakers were funny and deliberately offensive: “Mamamamamama keep you skinny girls at home, cause this skinny boy wants a big fat blonde . . . I'm talkin' six-foot Swede, 40-30-40, Amazon bombshell, tall damp and dirty . . .”
Not your standard Christmas present, but I was glad to get it then.
And to still have it now.
You can hear this album on Spotify here.
Elsewhere occasionally revisits albums -- classics sometimes, but more often oddities or overlooked albums by major artists -- and you can find a number of them starting here