Monday, July 31, 2017

Two Words: Somewhere Rocks

Ian Hunter: England Rocks  
Ian Hunter: Cleveland Rocks
[purchase England Rocks]
[purchase Cleveland Rocks]

One of the advantages of a theme like this is that it allows me to write about pretty much any artist I can think of, because the odds are pretty high that I can find a song from that artist with a Two Word title.

It turns out that the great Ian Hunter has never been featured in the long history of this blog (although he was mentioned in a piece about his fellow member of Mott the Hoople, Mick Ralphs). After that band broke up, Hunter started a solo career. Although his self-titled first solo album was successful, his next two, which did not feature guitarist Mick Ronson, were not.

In 1977 Hunter released a single, “England Rocks,” in England, with the B-side, a song from his third album. It was very much in the glam-rock tradition of Mott the Hoople, featuring a prominent piano part, and lyrics that appeared to relate to the rise of punk (safety pins!) and references to his grandfather’s badges from World War II. I first heard the song at WPRB, from a compilation album, Shades of Ian Hunter: The Ballad of Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople, which was released in 1979.

Also in 1979, Hunter released a new solo album, You're Never Alone with a Schizophrenic, which featured a reworked version of the song, titled “Cleveland Rocks.” Now, the song begins with a clip from Cleveland’s Alan Freed, the legendary DJ, the piano has been replaced by a synthesizer, and Mick Ronson is the guitarist. The lyrics are changed a bit—the grandfather in the original was a “villain,” now he’s a “rocker” and the WWII-era badges the singer wore have morphed into records he played.

Overall, I kind of like the “England” version better—it is less slick and a bit rougher around the edges. And I find the synth in the “Cleveland” version annoying. Interestingly, Hunter insisted that he originally wrote the song for Cleveland, but changed it to England, because his record company wouldn’t release it in that way in the US. Based on the lyrics, though, I’m not sure I’m buying that story, but what I think really doesn’t matter, does it?

“Cleveland Rocks” became probably Hunter’s most well-known solo song, especially in Cleveland, where legendary rock station WMMS would kick off the weekend by playing the song every Friday at 6. Cleveland mayor Dennis Kucinich gave Hunter the keys to the city in 1979. It was adopted by the Cleveland Indians and Cavaliers as a theme, and Hunter even performed the song in the pregame ceremonies of Game 3 of the 2007 NBA Finals in Cleveland.

A cover of “Cleveland Rocks,” by the Presidents of the United States of America, was used in the credits of seasons 3-7 the Drew Carey Show, which took place in the self-proclaimed “Rock ‘n’ Roll Capital of the World," and covers of the song by other artists were used in later seasons. The Ian Hunter original also was used in one episode of the show. This exposure helped to bring the song to the attention of a new audience.

Hunter continues to record well-received solo albums, and to tour, as a headliner, occasionally with a re-formed Mott the Hoople, and once as a member of Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band.