What’s The Rockbrat Listening To Today ? The Orchids (1980)

I clearly remember seeing this album in the Rockbrat’s collection. Bit of a no brainer really – an all girl band AND with the Kim Fowley production stamp. Anything produced by Fowley – Mr Rockbrat had it, including the Dyan Diamond LP. I remember in the mid 90s listening to this Orchids album with Mr. Rockbrat on the Rockbrat 1974 issue Sanyo strereo, as we downed beer and discussed the merits of Fowley’s post Runaways production work and this somewhat obscure release. It sounded OK, but there was no real stand out tracks, and I was dismissive of it. So I’m sitting here again, and its early 2011, and I have a digital copy of the same Orchids album that I’m listening to – and you know what? It’s a pretty good album! No beer, no 74 Sanyo Stereo – but Orchid rock n roll sounds pretty good in 2011, and I can see I was a little hasty in dismissing the merits of this album all those years ago (thanks George). Some history. The Orchids were an all girl pop/rock band verging slightly on New Wave. They were created and managed by Kim Fowley and featured bassist Laurie McAllister (who had replaced Vicki Blue in The Runaways for a short period before they fragmented). The Orchids were formed rather ironically from two Bomp Records Kim was producing at the time, Vampires From Outer Space and Hollywood Confidential. Blonde bombshell drummer Laurie Bell had recorded the track ‘If You’re Gonna Change Your Heart’ for Vampires. That album also featured Laurie McAllister playing bass and singing lead in the group Baby Roulette and The Rave Ons on a tune entitled ‘Black Orchids’. Laurie McAllister was also featured as lead vocalist on a tune called “On Suburban Lawns” on Hollywood Confidential, which was billed as The Runaways. Laurie Bell had actually worked with Fowley previously on his Sunset Blvd album, appearing on the improvised title track. Joining forces with Laurie Bell and Laurie McAllister were vocalist / guitarist Jan King (from Stingray and The Wads) and guitarists Sunbie Harrel and Che Zuro, who Fowley recruited from Backstage Pass. Still with me? The Orchids, as they became known, released an EP on Kim Fowley’s Mystery Records and signed to MCA Records for this self-titled album in 1980. One single was released entitled “When Does Love Turn Out Right?”  A promotional video of “Blame It All On The Night” aired one time on the pre-MTV video program called “Hollywood Heartbeat” in the summer of 1980. ‘Blame It On The Night’ is a hard rockin tune, and one of the best cuts on the album. It’s got a heavy riff and catchy chorus. Reminded me of Desmond Child & Rouge – a good thing.  The power pop of ‘Girls’ is a good album opener. Lots of nice girl harmonies.  ‘The Boy Can’t Dance’ is disposable new wave, though it’s still catchy, ‘Bad Guys’ is a throw away filler, yet ‘When Does Love Turn Out Right’ pulls back any slack. This has elements of early 60’s era doo wop girl groups; maybe Kenny Laguna stuck his head in the studio for this one. A great slice of pop. The more brooding ‘Daughters Of Babylon’ has a dirtier blues edge to it, particularly around the guitar parts. Another good tune – played nice and loud so I can feel those guitars.’ Turn Off The Light’s and ‘I’m No Fool’ are very much formulae New Wave, yet ‘Sunshine Fire’ is another good hard rockin’ tune with a ballsy vocal.   Like ‘Daughters Of Babylon’ the guitars are dirtier and that’s how we like it, as Skynyrd once sung.  The album closes with ‘Radio Dream’, a tribute to all girl rockers who went before them. Nice way to close. All round, a pretty good album, and 8 out of 10.  The final Orchids gig was in December of 1980 in the San Fernando Valley. Shortly after the Orchids break-up Laurie Bell formed the short-lived all girl metal band Tantrum. Jan and Che recorded a demo under the name Valentine and soon after Che Zuro flew off to the UK to replace singer Wendy Wu in The Photos. When the label passed on the demos that were recorded, Che returned to Los Angeles. Laurie Bell and Che Zuro both appeared in the 1984 film “Get Crazy” and shortly thereafter formed “Puss n Boots” with singer Jan King. Both Jan and Che have continued music careers, Che in the Los Angeles area and Jan in Chicago. It’s a pity that people tended to draw comparisons with The Runaways, and the great rock n roll on this debut album was largely overlooked.

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