Blank Generation (album)
|Studio album by Richard Hell & the Voidoids|
|Richard Hell & the Voidoids chronology|
1990 CD reissue cover
Kentucky-born Richard Mayers moved to New York City after dropping out of high school in 1966 aspiring to become a poet. He and his best friend from high school, Tom Miller, founded the rock band the Neon Boys which became Television in 1973.
The pair adopted stage names after French poets they admired: Miller became Tom Verlaine, after the Symbolist Paul Verlaine, and Mayers became Richard Hell, inspired by A Season in Hell (1873) a poem written by Verlaine's idol Arthur Rimbaud. The group was the first rock band to play the club CBGB, which soon became a breeding ground for the early punk rock scene in New York. Hell had an energetic stage presence and wore torn clothing held together with safety pins and spiked his hair, which was to become punk fashion—in 1973, after a failed management deal with the New York Dolls, impresario Malcolm McLaren brought Hell's ideas to back with him to England and eventually incorporated them into the Sex Pistols' image.
Disputes with Verlaine led to Hell's departure from Television in 1975, and he co-founded the Heartbreakers with New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders. Hell did not last long with this band, and began recruiting members for a new one. For guitarists Hell found Robert Quine and Ivan Julian—Quine had worked in a bookstore with Hell, and Julian responded to an advertisement in the The Village Voice. They lifted drummer Marc Bell from Wayne County. The band was named the Voidoids after novel Hell had been writing.
Musically, Hell drew inspiration from acts such as Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, protopunk band the Stooges, and fellow New Yorker group the Velvet Underground, a group with a reputation for heroin-fueled rock and roll with poetic lyrics. Quine's admiration of the Velvet Underground led him to make hours of bootleg recordings of the band in the late 1960s. Hell also drew from—and covered—garage rock bands such as the Seeds and the Count Five found on the Nuggets compilation of 1972.
Hell had written the song "Blank Generation" while still in Television; he had played it regularly with the band since at least 1975, and later with the Heartbreakers. The Voidoids released a seven-inch Blank Generation EP in 1976 from Ork Records whose tracks were "Blank Generation", "Another World", and "You Gotta Lose". The cover is a black-and-white cover photo by Hell's former girlfriend Roberta Bayley of a bare-chested Hell with an open jeans zipper. It was an underground hit, and the band signed to Sire Records for its album début.
The original album sleeve features a front cover photo of frontman Richard Hell in black jeans and shirtless, opening a frayed jacket to reveal the phrase "YOU MAKE ME _______" written across his chest. The photo was taken by CBGB's unofficial photographer Roberta Bayley. The back cover featured a posed photo of Hell and the Voidoids taken by Kate Simon. He wore his hair spiked, and said French poet Arthur Rimbaud wore it the same way.
AllMusic called Blank Generation "one of the most powerful [albums] to come from punk's first wave" and "groundbreaking punk rock that followed no one's template, and today it sounds just as fresh—and nearly as abrasive—as it did when it first hit the racks." BBC Music had a positive 2007 review of the album calling it "a thrilling and improbably poignant listening experience".
1990 CD reissue
The 1990 CD reissue of Blank Generation differs in several respects from the original vinyl album. It has a different cover, and includes two bonus tracks: a version of the pop standard "All the Way" and an original, "I'm Your Man" (not the Leonard Cohen song of same name). Both are outtakes from the original album sessions. Also, "Down at the Rock & Roll Club" is a noticeably different recording from that which appeared on the original LP.
The album was recorded at Plaza Sound Studio in New York City. Both Quine and Julian played Fender Stratocasters through Fender Champ amplifiers, Quine panned to the right and Julian to the left in the mix. Mixed in the center are Bell's drums and Hell's bass and vocals.
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To me, blank was a line where you can fill in anything ... It's the idea that you have the option of making yourself anything you want, filling in the blank. And that’s something that provides a uniquely powerful sense to this generation. It's saying 'I entirely reject your standards for judging my behavior'.
"Blank Generation" became a punk anthem with its nihilistic, fill-in-the-blanks lyrics.
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Julian opens "Blank Generation" with a riff loosely inspired by the Who's 1970 song "The Seeker". The rest of the band joins one by one until Quine's lead starts to feedback. The main section of the song features lyrics reflecting the hopelessness of his generation against a descending chord progression patterned after "(I Belong to the) The Beat Generation", a late-1950s novelty song by Bob McFadden and poet Rod McKuen, the descent matched with falsetto "ooh-ooh" backing vocals. Quine takes two guitar solos—the first eight bars, the second sixteen—exhibiting Quine's peculiar atonal mix of 1950s rock and roll with 1960s free jazz.
Rock critics have held Blank Generation in high regard. It's been highly influential, reflecting the kinds of themes that soon became commonplace in punk. Along with such groups as Television, the Ramones, the Patti Smith Group, and the Heartbreakers, the Voidoids came to define the early New York punk scene.
Upon the album's release, critics such as Velvet Lanier called it "one of the greatest records ever cut"; Jim LaLunia at The Village Gate called the title track "a classic, a unifying lifeline" for the punk scene; and Record World called it "the Future of American rock". To Joe Ferbacher at Creem, "Blank Generation" was evidence that punk was essentially American, and was less authentic in the more commercially successful but less intellectual or philosophical British punk scene.
Punk became a phenomenon in England, with the quick rise and fall of the Sex Pistols and with longer lasting bands such as the Clash. McLaren instructed the Sex Pistols to write a British "Blank Generation", and the result was "Pretty Vacant" in 1977; Hell was at first offended at how much McLaren had taken from him—muscially, lyrically, and visually—but came to accept it, as he believed "ideas are free property", and praised the band's vocalist Johnny Rotten for taking his nihilist persona further than he felt himself able to do. The Voidoids toured England with the Clash in 1977, during one show of which Rotten appeared on stage and goaded the audience into demanding an encore from Hell and his band. The nihilism of "Blank Generation" was echoed in other songs in the early British punk scene such as the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the U.K.", the Clash's "London's Burning", and Generation X's "Your Generation".
Hell became mired in heroin addiciton, and the group did not release another album until 1982's Destiny Street, by which time punk had passed from headlines in favor of new wave. The album had a weak reception, and Hell turned focus on non-music projects.
Meanwhile, British punk had swept the US and was to largely define its public perception. American bands influenced by British punk proliferated, and the music evolved into genres such as hardcore punk and alternative rock. Many of these bands delved into punk history and paid tribute to the Voidoids and other New York bands, in particular New York-based noise rockers Sonic Youth, whose frontman Thurston Moore had seen the Voidoids live in the 1970s. The Voidoids were a key influence on the Minutemen, whose D. Boon name-dropped Hell in "History Lesson – Part II".
All songs written and composed by Richard Hell, except as indicated.
|1.||"Love Comes in Spurts"||2:03|
|2.||"Liars Beware"||Hell, Ivan Julian||2:52|
|4.||"Betrayal Takes Two"||Hell, Julian||3:37|
|5.||"Down at the Rock and Roll Club"||4:05|
|2.||"Walking on the Water"||John Fogerty, Tom Fogerty||2:17|
|CD reissue bonus tracks|
|11.||"I'm Your Man"||2:55|
|12.||"All the Way"||Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen||3:22|
- Richard Hell – vocals, bass guitar
- Robert Quine – guitar, backing vocals
- Ivan Julian – guitar, backing vocals
- Marc Bell – drums
- Richard Gottehrer – producer
- Richard Hell – producer
- Hannon 2010, p. 98.
- Finney 2012, pp. 15–16.
- Finney 2012, p. 5.
- Finney 2012, pp. 47–48.
- Hannon 2010, p. 99.
- Hermes 2011, p. 207.
- Finney 2012, pp. 24–29.
- Finney 2012, pp. 25–26.
- Finney 2012, p. 30.
- Balls 2014, p. 58.
- Balls 2014, p. 59.
- Law 2003, p. 485.
- Deming, Mark. "Blank Generation – Richard Hell & the Voidoids : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards : AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved September 9, 2012.
- Smith, Sid (April 24, 2007). "BBC – Music – Review of Richard Hell and the Voidoids – Blank Generation". bbc.co.uk. Retrieved September 9, 2012.
- Christgau, Robert (October 31, 1977). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice (New York). Retrieved April 29, 2013.
- Astor 2014, p. 3.
- Finney 2012, p. 33.
- Astor 2014, pp. 2–3.
- Astor 2014, p. 4.
- Astor 2014, pp. 3–4.
- Finney 2012, p. 6.
- Finney 2012, p. 35.
- Finney 2012, pp. 35–36.
- Finney 2012, p. 49.
- Finney 2012, p. 52.
- Finney 2012, p. 53.
- Finney 2012, pp. 53–54.
- Finney 2012, pp. 48–49.
- Finney 2012, pp. 6–7.
- Finney 2012, pp. 57–61.
- Finney 2012, pp. 61–62.
- Finney 2012, pp. 63.
- Astor, Pete (2014). Richard Hell and the Voidoids' Blank Generation. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1-62356-856-6.
- Balls, Richard (2014). Be Stiff: The Stiff Records Story. Soundcheck Books. ISBN 978-0-9575700-6-1.
- Finney, Ross (2012-04-10). A Blank Generation: Richard Hell and American Punk Rock (PDF) (Senior thesis). University of Notre Dame. Retrieved 2014-12-24.
- Hannon, Sharon M. (2010). Punks: A Guide to an American Subculture. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-313-36456-3.
- Hermes, Will (2011). Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever. Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-1-4299-6867-6.
- Law, Glenn (2003). "Richard Hell". In Buckley, Peter. The Rough Guide to Rock. Rough Guides. pp. 485–486. ISBN 978-1-84353-105-0.