In 1968, a bunch of high school greasers from Detroit came together to form Brownsville Station. After spending their early years banging out respectable but unremarkable covers, they finally hit paydirt in 1973 with their No.3 hit single “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.” Unfortunately, they never bettered it, at least from a commercial perspective. Their follow-up albums and singles barely made an impression on the charts. By 1979, it was all over. Cub Koda, the band’s grizzly voiced guitarist and vocalist, went on to enjoy a semi-successful career as a solo artist and a very successful career as a music journalist before his death in 2000.
Mike Lutz ended up producing songs for Atlantic and touring with Ted Nugent. Henry Weck went into producing and engineering. In 2012, the band briefly reunited for their first album in 30 years, the aptly (if unimaginatively) titled Still Smoking’. It troubled the charts about as much as their early work had. But commercial appeal isn’t everything. If you like your music loud, hard, and Fun with a capital F, pull up a chair, grab a six-pack, and prepare to party like it’s 1973 with our round-up of the top 10 Brownsville Station songs of all time.
# 10 – My Friend Jack
30 years after the underwhelming Air Special dropped, the boys were back in town with the somewhat obviously titled Still Smokin’. Truth be told, it wasn’t the greatest comeback ever made. Bassist Mike Lutz delivers a gutsy vocal performance, but the absence of departed dragon slayer Cub Koda is palpable. Some of the tracks are frankly risible (“Rock & Roll is Better than Music,” one of the few originals on the album, would be comical if it wasn’t quite so lame) while others aren’t ‘bad’ as such, but they lack the tongue in cheek sleaziness of the band’s earlier work. Case in point, “My Friend Jack.” Lutz dials in an adequate performance, but if you want to hear this dirty little drinking ditty as it was intended, Kudo’s booze-sodden original on the band’s 1977 self-titled album is where it’s at.
# 9 – They Call Me Rock and Roll
Yeah! and School Punks weren’t exactly complicated. They were about having a good time, all the time. The band’s fifth album, Motor City Connection, is about what happens when the party ends. There’s loneliness, there’s self-recrimination, there’s guilt, and there’s “They Call Me Rock and Roll,” a nine-minute marathon that takes the band closer to art rock than they’d ever come before, and ever would again. It’s not necessarily the best song they ever did, but you’ve got to applaud its ambition.
# 8 – Automatic Heartbreak
Brownsville Station could tear it up with the best of them, but on “Automatic Heartbreak,” they put down the six-pack and get reflective. The moody, atmospheric opener to the criminally underrated Motor City Connection has more spit and polish than their hardest-rocking numbers, but the sleeker sound works surprisingly well.
# 7 – Martian Boogie
Don’t listen to “Martian Boogie” with a hangover. It’ll make it worse. A seven-minute, psychedelic romp that’s designed to be played loud and proud and not on a Sunday, it promises the kind of sonic adventure from which recovery isn’t guaranteed. You’ve been warned.
# 6 – Lady Put the Light On
By rights, “Lady Put the Light On” should have been a hit. Obviously, it wasn’t, because this is Brownsville Station we’re talking about, and Brownsville Station weren’t in the business of making hits Whether that was by design or accident, who knows? The fact is, these one-hit wonders crashed into the Top 10 on exactly one occasion and never bothered it again. Listening to some of their tracks, it’s understandable. Epic they may be, but commercial? No. But “Lady Put the Light On” is exactly that, with the band’s newest member, Bruce “Beezer” Nazarian delivering a seismic vocal that could give even Cub Koda a run for his money.
# 5 – All Night Long
To the casual listener, Yeah! is about one song and one song only – “Smokin’ In The Boys Room.” Suffice to say, casual listeners don’t know what they’re missing. True fans who’ve had the sense to listen to more than just the obvious will know the album’s most underappreciated gems are also its sparkliest. “All Night Long” is practically blinding, with a mind-bending guitar intro and one of the hookest choruses in the band’s canon.
#4 – Kings of the Party
In 1974, Brownsville Station scored their second-highest charting position on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Kings of the Party.” It peaked at No. 31. By rights, it should have gone higher. This is what Chuck Berry would have sounded like if he’d spent more time downing kegs and less time riffing. It’s not necessarily clever, but it is big, and if you want to party, there’s nothing quite like it.
#3 – Sweet Jane
Brownsville Station’s cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” might lack the bite of the original, but it’s still a mighty fine effort, undercut with an infectious, rock and roll attitude that takes Lou Reeds’ lyrics in a new and not unwelcome direction. It doesn’t have the sweet pathos that helped the Cowboy Junkies turn it into a hit in the 1990s, but it’s got all the passion and energy you’d expect of the band.
#2 – Barefootin’
Brownsville Station might have been a bunch of overgrown high school delinquents, but they knew how to craft a song. “Barefootin'” is a decisive middle finger to anyone who ever said they had more attitude than talent. Flawlessly executed in the band’s inimitable wham, bam, thank you Ma’am style, it’s a stone-cold classic.
#1 – Smokin’ In The Boys Room
Sure, it’s predictable. But did you really expect to see anything other than “Smokin’ In The Boys Room” at the number one spot? It wasn’t just the band’s biggest hit, it was their only hit. In itself, that should give you some indication of just how epic it is. A teen anthem that speaks to every angstful, spotty delinquent that’s ever been and quite possibly ever will be, this is Brownsville Station at their ballsiest, blooziest best. It was all downhill from here, and two years later, they couldn’t even get arrested. But regardless of what came next, Koda’s sleazy snarl and the bright and breezy chug of “Smokin’ In The Boys Room” is undeniable.
Feature Photo: Malco23, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Top 10 Brownsville Station Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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