Suzi Quatro

As the year’s primo slice of pseudo jailbait, Suzi Quatro broke big - sold millions of singles and was helpful in the self-polluting efforts of countless teenaged boys. She wasn’t an adolescent by the time this album came out, but Suzi was marketed as one - a strange mix of sleaze and juvenile vulnerability.

On the back of the album, she poses in a leather jump suit unzipped to her navel, with chains dangling on her bare chest. Hands on hips, staring back at teenaged fan-boys, she’s confident, sexy and young. On the front, she’s wearing a leather jacket and skin tight jeans. Her expression isn’t straight-up come-on. There’s a placid, almost lost, look in her eyes. She’s a pretty girl tarted up for her big career move, surrounded by her band: three shaggy reprobates. One is guzzling beer and sticking his hand down his pants. Another holds a cigarette and a beer and leers at the camera, as though to say, “yeah she’s barely legal and we’ve all done her.”

Suzi Quatro started out as a fifteen year old bass player in a band called The Pleasure Seekers. Going from sex to motherhood, that group evolved into Cradle. Mickey Most, like a music-biz pimp turning out his latest find, saw Suzi in ‘71 and moved her from her native Detroit to London. She had teenaged energy and good looks. But those aren’t that uncommon. The fact that she could really play bass set her apart, but her voice - something just one notch less annoying than a pantheress in heat - was exactly right for the moment. Her combination of androgynous feline yelping and soft-porn breathy whispers hit the record-buying mainline in ‘73. It’s sleaze all the way: “Glycerine Queen,” “Skin Tight Skin,” “Primitive Love,” “Shine My Machine,” and a very odd cross-gender rendition of “I Wanna Be Your Man.” The time was ripe for this kind of titillation. When a teenaged girl in black leather wails that she wants to be somebody’s man, it stirs troubling impulses in many hearts.

Maybe it was just a cheap commercial ploy - glam had broken big the year before, with plenty of rock musicians playing in the shallows of the turbid queer pond. And the hits here, “48 Crash” and “Can the Can” are basically catchy nonsense. There are some oblique bestiality references, but it certainly doesn’t add up to the battle cry for any sexual revolution. Suzi yelps about tigers and a “feline touch,” a boyfriend named Eagle, “evil lovin,’” and then repeats the inane rhymey chorus: “Put your man in the can, get him while you can.” Pushing her voice just beyond her range was supposed to evoke excitement, but Suzi sounds slightly hysterical here, like a cheerleader who’s taken a few too many snorts from her mom’s benzedrine inhaler before the big game.

The album contains an unsurprising mix of the sounds du jour: bluesy riffing, a little prog-rock keyboard noodling, a double-speed guitar solo. There are some T-Rex echoes. Slade and The Sweet too can be heard here, pop fodder teeny glitter. A whiff of rock and roll revival also floats off the disc (Suzi does “Shaking All Over” and “All Shook Up.”) It’s seldom noted, but the glam explosion was as much about the past as it was about the gender-bending gay-lib future. Shiny gold jackets, feathery boas, zoot-suit exaggeration - these come straight out of fifties-era show biz. Nobody ever topped Little Richard for outrageous gay wildness: gobs of makeup, huge hair, batting his eye-lids like neon butterflies. And he got there a whole generation before Bowie and Roxy and Jobriath.

Even the name Suzi Quatro seems to point to the past: “Suzi” from the Cheese-Whiz fifties and “Quatro” from the original Star Trek. So it should come as little surprise that she ended her career in the pseudo-50s nostalgia atrocity “Happy Days,” playing a tough crypto-slut named Leather Tuscadero.