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Articles Home » 1981 Articles » Johnny And The Distractions - 1981 Let It Rock
Johnny And The Distractions - 1981 Let It Rock

ARTIST: Johnny And The Distractions
ALBUM: Let It Rock
YEAR: 1981


LINEUP: Johnny Koonce - guitar, lead vocals, background vocals * Gregg Perry - piano, organ, percussion * Mark Spangler - lead guitar * Larue Todd - bass * Kevin Jarvis - drums, percussion

TRACK LISTING: 01 Shoulder Of The Road * 02 Complicated Now * 03 Forever * 04 Octane Twilight * 05 In The Street * 06 My Desire * 07 Guys Like Me * 08 City Of Angels * 09 Break These Chains * 10 Let It Rock

The little research I have carried out points towards this album originally being a marriage of convenience, on one side you had the The Wasted Rangers, who were basically a tight country band, and of course there was Johnny with a batch of songs needing a band. As they performed together on the same bill, even helping Koonce with his demos, inevitably it wasn't long before these Rangers became The Distractions. This partnership turned out pretty well, they managed to get signed to A&M, recorded and released this there fruit of their loins in 1981 and managed to get out on the road.

In fact they toured with the likes of Asia, J Geils Band, Tom Petty and Joan Jett but alas that hit single eluded them. A couple years later Koonce reappeared with the 1983, Al Kooper produced album 'Got My Eye On You', albeit without any distractions! (well at least in name, not sure if they didn't help out again), I've located numerous copies on the web, but all stuck in American, each with a potential posting cost of 10, in times of austerity Britain (thanks George Oz) just a bit too high. But again released on A&M, so at least someone had faith in him.

I brought this blind off eBay; surprisingly I was attracted by the explanation, being that this sounded like Bruce Springsteen. That probably would have put me off but towards the end of last year I listened quite a lot to Springsteen and picked up many of his albums for next to nothing, anybody know which group covered 'Growin Up' from Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J,? it's been driving me crazy. Also the seller had listed lots of AOR albums, so maybe this was more than just a Springsteen copy so I checked out YouTube and I would imagine caught the track 'Shoulder of the Road', which sounded good, so I put my bid on, and was successful for all of one pound, last of the big spenders.

Anyway, while Johnny and the Distractions (not the most punchier of names is it?) have a faint trace of Bruce in their bloodstream, it's that not that immediate, so the original description was not that conclusive, so take that ever to be a bad or good thing depending where you are starting from. You see Johnny and the boys, seem very troubled and during the album they make that quite obvious. They add elements of early John Cougar, his 'Nothin Matters And What If It Did' from 1980 is a reference point and come to think about is, this was an album that I have also discovered over the last 6 months, and well worth tracking down, Ok back on track, the great Todd Hobin (interested now?), The Cars, The Buzzcocks and Bon Jovi (are you sure on both of these, or am I lazy just looking at the letter B's in my collection, I can't be I haven't got any Buzzcocks!), just without the perms. No keyboards here in the sense of AOR, but dollops of Deep Purple Hammond organ and piano.

The songs are so much better than the somewhat crass 'rock and roll' name and the Anvil style cover. They are clever, chilling, and obtuse but all angles are covered. They have issues, slight punk influenced, new wave but melodic in terms of delivery, excitement and display a vivid and individual persona. I found them to have as much impact as to when I heard 'Starlite' by Young Heart Attack. This album should have been used for the Rocky film soundtrack, I don't mean the third and fourth, but the best, the first. While Graham Smith, the South African cricket captain, always had Jacques Kallis as the 'to go to' bowler, I found this to be my 'to go to' album.

The Songs
To put it bluntly, the opening pairing is like the West Indies cricketers, Desmond Haynes and Gordon Greenidge (probably the best cricket opening batsmen ever, well at least in my lifetime.), unmovable from my turntable! 'Shoulder Of The Road' has the Hammond organ vibrating the tarmac off the road; they seem to use the organ the way Hanoi Rocks used to use the saxophone. This being the closest anthem to Ram Jam, The Knack. Johnny pushes his vocals to the maximum so much you can hear the build-up of lactic acid in his voice; he puts everything into this performance. Vocally on this track comes across like a clean Josh Todd from Buckcherry, before he got all those tattoo's, that mean drawl, with hint of melody, epic. 'Complicated Now', rolls from the melodic gates of harmony, interesting is the main lyric hook on this being 'didn't somebody, somewhere warn you that you're heading for a fall...' Well does this sound familiar? quoting from the good book, Bon Jovi, from the 5th psalm 'Shot Through The Heart', from 1984, he states 'didn't somebody somewhere say, you're heading for a fall'.

And it's not just that the lyric is similar, it's the tune on that specific passage, hmmm maybe a case of 'I Want Action' that got Poison into a bit of state with Easy Action, all those years ago. Well whatever there are still a beautiful mixture of melody frequencies on offer here. 'Forever' is essentially a catchy tune and this time has no reference to Kiss or even Michael Bolton. Maybe not as earthy as say someone like Rob Jungklas and not as sweet as Paul Janz, but maybe someone in the middle ground between these two. 'Octane Twilight' has that open road imagery, the dusty roads. The best bit is the guitar sound, more creepy than a Darkthorne album; I spend my time waiting for that guitar part to reappear. If John Cougar took this direction, than instead of adding Mellencamp, he would had become a lot meaner and called himself Jim or Jimmy (but Christopher his name is, John not James!). 'In The Street' begins with Jon Lord musings, and then makes an abrupt turn into more new wave, something from the early days of Blondie, but more rock than punk. This is railroad rock without paying the fare, this is jumping into an open truck when it is still moving and you ride for free. 'My Desire' begins with that awful twang of country guitars but fortunately the vocals are not that 'cheerful' country sound, these are more pointed, this is like a vicious Billy Pilgrim. This like some many of the tracks feature a killer hook or in the case it's how the lyric, 'can't you see it in my eyes' is portrayed.

'Guys Like Me', is standing in a face-off between The Clash and Bruce (I ain't picking sides either), but with the melodic pretentions of Riggs holding the towel. They are all pretty basic, but it's the drive and emotion of Johnny Koonce that wins me over. He has the knack of linking lyrical messages to great melodies using the words to flow in a melodic sea, riding the white horses, and you keep revisiting to catch another melodic wave. 'City Of Angels' picks up a similar route, like the backing band for Debbie Harry. Koonce would be drinking a cool beer while Jon Bon Jovi would be sipping on a 'warm' milk, although take Bon Jovi solo album, 'Destination Anywhere' from 1997, which is a good album and could be like this album, but just played in a cheerful mood. I like The Who style opening to 'Break The Chains', and along with the 'Let It Rock' you have a sneaky feeling of John Waite, but ideally fronting The Babys, yes, maybe without Jonathan Cain, plinky away on the keys and the great orchestral, just entering the stage, head first!

In Summary
I found this to be an album that fails to get filed away, it's an album that provides and caters for a different listening experience, it is a natural and honest homage to music, not over produced, not put together over the internet, like most modern AOR I regret. This guy should be treated as one of the great US songwriters, no, make that authors. The rather basic cover may have you thinking of a possible Anvil cover or maybe the group's somewhat dodgy name being that they are the ugly cousins to Elvis Costello's Attractions, but of course both of these references are false, although Johnny Koonce is a clever a songwriter just as a certain Declan McManus, and at times you can follow a slight family trait of similarities, although this does not extend to the Canadian side of the family, of Lipps and Co. They bang out 10 quality tunes at times falling into Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar Mellancamp, The Cars and The Babys, even the odd early Bon Jovi moment, but most tellingly and centrally down the spine of all operations is the centre character of Johnny Koonce, who writes, sings, plays guitar and by the back cover photo the one welding a sledgehammer to break down doors. So if you dare play this a night you may be jolted from your sleep by either the memorable songs or someone smashing door your door and peering through and shouting 'here's Johnny!', Koonce that is!

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#1 | gdazegod on September 08 2013 01:35:52
Here's a 2011 unplugged performance by Johnny and two cohorts, performing 'Shoulder Of The Road'.
YouTube Video:
#2 | AOR Lee on September 09 2013 05:27:12
Great review Chris, thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Now compelled to hear the album.
#3 | super80boy on January 04 2014 21:00:01
Great detailed review. The album has a lot of energy and I've read that they put on quite the live show experience. The singles off the album 'Shoulder Of The Road' and 'Complicated Now' are excellent. By the time 1985's follow up 'Totally Distracted' hit, the original band had disintegrated and the major label had pulled out. Johnny had replaced the band and had an independent label contract, thus making this LP scarce. The album takes on a more AOR approach with its melodic rock FM radio arrangements and there are keyboards in play. The lead off 'She's My Girl' was tailor made for FM radio.
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