|Day 52: Holly And The Italians (Rock Against Romance)
June 17, 2020
Since 1978, Rock has been against everything. It started with Rock Against Racism; then we had Rock Against Communism. Along the way we have had Rock Against Bush; Rock Against Poverty; Rock Against M.S. (I am still waiting to find out if Country & Western was for M.S.); Rock Against Trafficking (pretty sure it's human and not automobile); and more recently Rock Against Trump. The Rock Against movements were so easy to lampoon that Saturday Night Live even brought back Candy Slice (Gilda Radner channeling Patti Smith) for Rock Against Yeast.
Yet we never hear about Rock Against Romance. Damn, we should.
"Rock Against Romance" was a Holly & The Italians song off of their 1981 debut album, "The Right To Be Italian," one of the all-time great album titles. Led by Holly Beth Vincent, the band clearly enjoyed the drag left by Suzie Quatro, Blondie, Pat Benatar, The Pretenders, and Joan Jett. "Rock Against Romance" is just-short-of-six-minutes of anti-romance from a hopeless romantic. "Don't come any closer than that which the law allows," Vincent sings after a lengthy raucous opening minute of soaring guitar, frolicking drum, and emergent bass that pulsates like a strobe light. The lyrics come right out as saucy and unsentimental -- "when I see you to your end/how can I still be proud" -- and the battle of lust over love seems well on its way.
Quickly the title makes its own appearance, "Grind my heart against this stone/this rock against romance/flow these tears into my eyes/when blind I stand a chance." Vincent sings the verses as if she were the narrator of a language translation app, each word given its own space among the strummed guitar and strobe light bass.
Then the bridge kicks in, and Vincent sounds triumphant, helped by the hi-hat percussion of drummer, Steve Young: "For you, for me, for nothing/for you, for me, that's all/I will not violate you/but I'll help you load your gun." On the war front, refusing to let love invade any foxhole, Vincent crows in victory.
After a scintillating guitar solo, Vincent begins to soften, as if her heart has been worn down by the grindstone:
"Lull me softly,woo me gently/
I will be alright/
You will be my best tin soldier/
I will sleep tonight//
Someone told me once/
There really is a wonderland/
Do you think so, could it be so/
Oh, I hope so."
More guitar fireworks come in, then the last verse is repeated with male singers providing the "someone told me once/there really is a wonderland/do you think so/could it be so/oh, I hope so," while Vincent's voice, ramped up by the sweeping synthesizers, galloping bass, and perfectly placed hi-hat percussion, wails over and over "woonderlaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand," until both male background singers and Vincent collapse into shared ecstasy.
You see, maybe rock helped end communism (doubtful, but let's throw it a bone instead of a pair of knickers), but rock can't kill racism, rock didn't get Bush out of the White House, rock hasn't got a hope of ending poverty, and rock can't even spell M.S., so there is no way rock will defeat romance. Love will wear us down.
I can no longer find the only live clip I have ever seen of Holly & The Italians performing this song. I am pretty sure it was for the Old Grey Whistle Test, and it blended with their song Youth Coup as a medley, meaning we miss the full glory of the song. In the video, Vincent stands with her leg in a cast, with no explanation for why associated with the video. She was supposedly a volatile, difficult-to-work-with musician, which might explain her very choppy history of releases either with The Italians, Johnette Napolitono of Concrete Blonde, The Oblivious, or as solo artist.
Assuming this personality issue is true, it is too bad. "Tell That Girl To Shut Up" was the minor hit off of The Right To Be Italian, but "Rock Against Romance" was the indication of greater things to come from Vincent. She never achieved it with other musical partners. I have a feeling the line "don't come any closer/than the law allows" has never been hyperbole in her book.
"Rock Against Romance." The Right To Be Italian. Holly & The Italians. Virgin Records. 1981. Link here.
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Day 53: The Breeders "Blues At The Acropolis." ->
See full unfinished list here.