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Week 52 | Mick Ronson’s Slaughter on 10th Avenue (1974)

It wasn’t until recently that I learned that the instrumental title track of this album was originally composed for a ballet sequence in the 1936 Broadway Musical, “On Your Toes.”   Far from being a glam-era rock song, it was written by none other than Richard Rogers.  Nonetheless, Mick Ronson gives it the electric guitar treatment and makes it one of the highlights of this pretty good album.

Richard Rogers is not Ronson’s only inspiration.  Bowie’s presence looms large, not just because he co-wrote three of the album’s seven songs (or eight, depending on whether you count one song as two), but because it sounds like a Bowie album from the period.  Bowie does not perform on the album, but Ronson’s singing sounds awfully familiar.  Ronson had been Bowie’s Spiders from Mars guitarist, fellow-spiders Trever Boulder and Mike Garson back him, and none of them are trying to deviate from what had been working for Bowie to that point. 

Bowie’s greatest influence is on the song, “Growing Up and I’m Fine,” which he wrote.  To my knowledge, Bowie himself never recorded this song, which is too bad.  It is my favorite song on this particular album and stands up on its own.  Bowie also provided lyrics for “Music is Lethal” and “Hey Ma Get Papa.”  Bowie never recorded any of these songs, but all three sound similar to (albeit obscure) songs that Bowie did record.  “Growing Up and I’m Fine” has similarities to Bruce Springsteen’s “Growin’ Up,” which Bowie recorded as part of the “Pin Ups” sessions but didn’t make the cut (though it has subsequently emerged, for instance on the box set, “Sound and Vision”).  “Music is Lethal” is reminiscent of the Jacques Brel song, “Amsterdam,” which Bowie had been performing.  And “Hey Ma Get Papa” sounds slightly like another outtake, “Bombers,” from around the time of “The Man Who Sold The World.”  It’s hard to tell if Bowie was giving Ronson what he thought to be cast-offs from a scratch pad, but they work.

Richard Rogers and David Bowie were not Ronson’s only influences for this album.  Ronson kicks it off with “Love Me Tender.”  For me, this is a poor initial impression.  Though the song was made famous by Elvis Presley a mere 18 years earlier, it had already been covered by just about everybody and it sounded like music from another age.  Ronson does not try to camp it up, enhance the guitar element or deliver the lyrics with irony.  It’s an odd start to what plays out thereafter as a glam album.  

It turns out that Ronson was not taking his cue from Elvis, but rather an artist with whom I am not very familiar named Annette Peacock.  She had put out an album with the arrangement of “Love Me Tender” that Ronson borrowed, as well as another song, “I’m the One” (which was also the name of Peacock’s album).  

The only song on the album that lists Ronson as a co-writer is “Only After Dark.”  To round it out, the album’s other song is “Pleasure Man” which, for some reason appears as part of the same track as “Hey Ma Get Papa.”   

Although I think “Love Me Tender” is misplaced, I like the whole of the album and in fact listen to it from time to time.  It suffers a bit from perhaps being too obviously derivative and not making the most of Ronson’s strength, which is his guitar-playing.  He does that with “Slaughter on 10th Avenue,” but on the others he seems to be trying to feature his singing.  His singing is good enough, but especially by drawing comparison to Bowie in particular, and other artists in general, his singing voice is not on par.  This is probably why the album isn’t as prominent today as some other Bowie collaborations like, say, “All the Young Dudes” or “Lust For Life.”  But there’s an upside in that it is waiting to be discovered by Bowie fans like me, who once they hear it will be satisfied with an enjoyable piece of work that they probably didn’t know existed.   

My version of the album is a download that includes a few bonus tracks, most of which are variations of songs already on the album.  As usual, the addition of bonus tracks don’t add much, however my version does have one song that’s not part of the main album, “Leave My Heart Alone,” which is value-added.

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