344. ‘Devil Gate Drive’, by Suzi Quatro

Hey, Y’all wanna go down to Devil Gate Drive….!? Well come on!! Or not. I mean, it’s fine. Whatever…

Devil Gate Drive, by Suzi Quatro (her 2nd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 17th February – 3rd March 1974

Suzi Q’s first #1, ‘Can the Can’, properly rocked, properly dripped with spiky attitude, and her second starts promisingly, with that yelled intro and the same glitter-glam drumbeat. A deep voice intones Welcome to the dive… and the anticipation peaks.

It’s a song about a dive bar, a dance hall, a brothel, a strip club… all of the above? There are chugging guitars, a barroom piano and some revving motorbikes for that peak ‘73/’74 sound. Well at the age of five they can do that jive, Down at devil gate drive… And at the age of six they can get their kicks, Down at devil gate drive… Someone call social services, this does not sound like a reputable establishment…

According to Suzie, and the song writing team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, ‘Devil Gate Drive’ doesn’t refer to an actual place. It’s any place you go to as a kid, to misbehave and piss off your parents… Well your momma don’t know where your sister done go, She goes down to the drive, She’s the star of the show… In which case, my ‘Devil Gate Drive’ was the woods behind my house where we shared cigarettes and bottles of Buckfast.

This is a fun record, a great rocker, extending the pretty long run of decent #1s that we’re on. But… It’s a bit gimmicky, a bit of a pantomime, compared to ‘Can the Can’. I feel that Quatro is camping it up a bit here, playing up her leather-clad image for the cameras. It’s another song in which glam-rock takes a tiny step towards self-parody.

Though, to be honest, glam rock will soon be a thing of the past, and I’ll miss it when it’s gone. What I won’t give for a glam-rock smash when I’m ploughing through the #1s from, say, 2016. Just because this isn’t T. Rex doesn’t mean it’s not still a solid seven out of ten chart-topper.

Similarities can be drawn between this and the previous #1, Mud’s ‘Tiger Feet’. There’s the songwriters for a start – the aforementioned ‘Chinnichap’ team. And then there’s the faux-live feel of the recording. It sounds as if Suzi and her band are performing this live, at the Dive, especially when she announces: Come on boys, Let’s do it one more time for Suzie! and her boys take it home.

Suzie Quatro won’t have any further UK #1s, but she’ll continue to record, perform and inspire pretty much every woman who has picked up a guitar since. She continued to get hits throughout the seventies, as well as scoring a recurring role in ‘Happy Days’ as the fabulously named Leather Tuscadero, which finally gave her some fame in her native US. I’ll leave you with a line from her follow-up to this disc, ‘The Wild One’ (a song that might just be better than either of her #1s): I’m a blue-eyed bitch, And I wanna get rich, Get outta my way, Cos I’m here to stay… And if that isn’t rock ‘n’ roll, then I quit.

331. ‘Can the Can’, by Suzi Quatro

I promised you more glam, and is there anything more glam than the ascending drums ‘n’ guitar intro on this next number one?

Can the Can, by Suzi Quatro (her 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 10th – 17th June 1973

But when the vocals come in, we take a leap forward. For this is rock music… sung by a woman! The girls are getting in on the act! (I hope they finished the washing-up first, etc etc…)

Like all the best glam rock singles, ‘Can the Can’ is about the sound and the attitude first and foremost, with trifling matters such as ‘lyrics that make sense’ coming a distant second. How else to explain a chorus that goes: So make a stand for your man, honey, Try to can the can… Put your man in the can, honey, Get him while you can… Can the can!

According to songwriters, Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who also wrote for chart-topping artists like the Sweet and Mud, it is about attempting the impossible. About trying to snag your guy and hold on to him against all the competition. Quatro sums it up best when she screeches, just before the chorus: Scratch out her eyes!!!! You can picture her, in her jumpsuit, outside the pub at closing time, launching herself at some slapper who’s just looked at her bloke the wrong way…

Meanwhile, the guitar work is pretty great. The lead cries out like the tigers and the eagles in the lyrics, while Suzie’s bass keeps us chugging along. By the end, when the barroom piano is keeping pace alongside, this has become the heaviest, most raucous #1 single since ‘School’s Out’. Forget glam, this is some pretty darn hard rock.

Imagine being a teenage girl in 1973, and seeing twenty-three year old Suzi rock up to Top of the Pops in her leather jumpsuit and tomboyish hair. It must have been thrilling, seeing her rock out like one of the guys. This was her first single to make the charts, so she really would have come out of nowhere. Similarly, imagine being a teenage boy in 1973, and seeing twenty-three year old Suzi rock up to Top of the Pops in her leather jumpsuit and tomboyish hair… There must have been many a, shall we say, ‘awakening’. (You know, man, they say she’s naked under there…)

After repeated listening, and after having it explained to me by the songwriters, I’m still not sure what the hell ‘Can the Can’ means. But I am confident that it does not matter one bit. Any song with the a yelled Scratch out her eyes! as a refrain is alright by me. Plus, Suzi Quatro is the first solo female to top the charts in nearly two years (!), since ‘I’m Still Waiting’ by Diana Ross. From that, to this. You can see why Quatro was an influence on everyone from Joan Jett and Girlschool, through to Goldfrapp and KT Tunstall. And she still has one more chart-topper to come! Yay!