Richard Hell


If there is such a thing as a punk pedigree then surely Richard Hell has one of the purest ones extant. The history may be familiar but bears repeating here: a founding member of New York's first punk band, Television; a co-founder with Johnny Thunders of NYC's rockin' junkie band the Heartbreakers; the leader of Richard Hell & the Voidoids, which featured the guitar talent of Robert Quine; and the visual inspiration for the look that Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren codified into punk. (The spiked hair, ripped clothes, vacant stare, and sneering attitude all came from Hell and looked pretty good on Johnny Rotten.)

Perhaps the coolest thing about Hell (born Richard Meyers in Lexington, Kentucky) is that he got out of the music game in 1984, for the most part. Junk-sick and tired of watching others imitate his style, Hell released a retrospective set, R.I.P., on R.O.I.R. (the New York-based cassette-tape-only label; remember when indie-label cassettes were cool?) in late '84. After that, he returned to his first passion, writing. Basically, Time is a rerelease of R.I.P. with an added live disc and funny liner notes by Hell. It's thrown together and scrappy as hell (pardon the pun, or don't) but still sounds current and coherent.

Disc one is essentially R.I.P. with some extra tracks: a demo version of "Chinese Rocks" done by the Heartbreakers with Hell singing, a cover of Fats Domino's "I Live My Life" that sounds almost soulful, a manic version of the MC5's "I Can Only Give You Everything," and, from a 1984 New Orleans session, a version of Allen Toussaint's "Cruel Way To Go Down" (possibly Hell's best vocal performance to date). Disc two is live stuff from 1977 and '78 that confirms the Voidoids' reputation as a great live band. Recorded at London's Music Machine in '77 and at NYC's CBGB in '78, Hell and his band run through the songs on their debut LP Blank Generation but with a noisy abandon that their official release never displayed.

People still like to squawk that the dual-guitar interplay of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd in Television has seldom been topped. Well, a brief listen to what Robert Quine and Ivan Julian got up to live with the Voidoids puts that overstated myth to rest. Verlaine may have chucked Hell out of Television for being an incompetent bass player (and a junkie, okay), but by doing so, he missed out on working with a collaborator who might have pulled the skull-faced one out of his solipsistic slide into the hall of memories. Context is everything, and Richard Hell got out when his was gone. --

Grade: A-

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