She turned up out of nowhere, she appeared out of a dream. Oh, somewhere in London, in some grayly lit music paper mausoleum, some grizzled hack with his back warped by years of subservience to the the rock’n’roll dream, knew that she hailed from Detroit; that she’d cut a few singles with her singing sisters; that she’d already had one bite at the UK pop cherry after Mickey Most brought her home in 1971.
But so what? That was then, this was now, and in the same weekend that David Bowie kicked off what would become his final British tour before he became rock’s first three-dimensional shadow, nobody tuning into Top of the Pops expected life, the universe, or anything else to ever be the same again.
For they had seen Suzi Quatro. And she had canned the can.
In a perfect world, “Can The Can” would have been the perfect debut single, and in many ways it was. Yes, there was the unfortunate episode of the earlier single, an Errol Brown (Hot Chocolate) cowrite called “Brain Confusion,” and there were the adventures of the Pleasure Seekers in sixties motor city.
But “Can The Can” was… deep breath. Her first single with Chinn and Chapman, the mercurial songwriters who had already transformed Mud and Sweet to solid gold. Her first with Len Tuckey and the rest of a band that looked like a bunch of bikers she’d just picked up in an especially grim corner of the city. And her first in the leather catsuit that manager Mickie Most insisted she shouldn’t even think of wearing. Because, he said it had already been done.
“Yes it has,” replied Suzi. “But not by me.”
The Girl from Detroit City (Cherry Red) is the four CD box set that tells the story of all that happened next. And before. The first four cuts on the first disc trace the prehistory that we didn’t know at the time, and they do so with grim dedication to the anthologist’s art.
But like Suzi’s career, the box really starts once you reach track five, and “Can The Can” still sounds like it was made on Venus by the Spider-squashing Women from Mars, a stomping, romping, declaration of intent that effectively blueprinted so much of the music that has come along since then that it’s almost redundant to list all the acts that ought to walk right up to Quatro and give her a great big kiss, mwaaaaaaah.
“Can the Can” topped the UK chart, “Ain’t Ya Something Honey” was the self-composed b-side that set the pattern for the next few years worth of releases. Chinn and Chapman took care of the hits, Suzi and co wrote the rockers around them. Sophomore smash “48 Crash,” the motorvating “Daytona Demon,” the raw and raucous “Devil Gate Drive”… four singles that still sound like the greatest album on earth and, in all iconoclastic seriousness, Suzi had already writ her legend so large that it didn’t matter whether she scored another hit, or even made another record.
She was a goddess… and forty years on, she still is. Her most recent recordings, that wrap up disc three here, are no less a glorious deathgrip on your vitals than any of the hits that established her immortality. And if the journey from then to now does meander a little in places… does go off the boil a few times… does serve up some singles that you wish they’d forgotten to include (and one particular image change, for the grisly “Good Girl” single, that you wish they’d forgotten to illustrate)… so what, again? There’s enough in between times to nail the box set to your Christmas list, and keep you playing it through next year as well.
Plus, we’ve still got the fourth disc to dance through, a twenty song strong mash of demo, rarities and unreleased treasures that reach back to the demo tape she cut with Mickie Most around the same time as “Brain Confusion” – and seriously, who could resist a song called “Curly Hair For Sale”?
There is less (a lot less, sadly) than old fans might hope there would be from the purple patch of the early seventies… one more pre-”Can The Can” recording, her first with the eventual band in tow, and suddenly we’re into the mid-1980s, which weren’t a good time for anyone, really, and Suzi was no exception.
But there’s also a terrific version of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”; a boggling take on the Normal’s “Warm Leatherette” which makes Grace Jones’s sound like a rollerskating nun; and a back-to-where-it-started match with Jeff Beck… because, as that same old grizzled London hack could tell you, it was at a Jeff Beck session in Detroit that Mickie Most first met Suzi.
That’s it, then. Or rather, it isn’ it, but you’ve got the picture now. Eighty-two tracks, all the hits, a heap of the rest, twenty rarities, a fabulous booklet, a track by track run down with Suzi’s own views, and a cover picture that is guaranteed to send everybody who remembers whirling back in time and space, to a front room Thursday and Top of the Pops, and the tiniest stick of dynamite that had ever been strapped to a bass guitar.
She turned up out of nowhere, she appeared out of a dream. And we liked the way she walked, we liked the way she talked. Suzi Q.