Not really fair to The Undertones, a fine band from Northern Ireland. They were headlining a U.S. tour for the first time in 1980, riding the success of their second album, Hypnotised. They came to the Keystone Berkeley, a tiny club (room for 500) that was a shithole, but it was our shithole. We saw several shows there ... it’s where I shook hands with Muddy Waters. If you go there now, you’ll find a copy store. Anyway, we didn’t come to see The Undertones ... no, we were interested in the opening act. I mention this partly to explain why we left only a couple of songs into The Undertones’ set ... again, no slight intended, that’s just not why we were there ... and to help understand why the band we wanted to see was mostly ignored. (This is turning into a Music Friday post on Throwback Thursday.)
That opening act was Robin Lane and the Chartbusters. Lane was a music veteran, already in her 30s. Her dad was Ken Lane, who played piano on Dean Martin’s TV show (old timers who saw that program will remember Lane’s weekly appearances accompanying Dino on a few brief novelties and then a romantic number Martin would sing from a couch). At one point, she became friends with Danny Whitten, who was a member of the band Neil Young dubbed Crazy Horse (Whitten died a heroin addict ... see “The Needle and the Damage Done”). That friendship led to a connection with Young, and Lane later sang backup on “Round and Round” from Neil’s second solo album. Somewhere in there, Lane found time to be married to a pre-Police Andy Summers for a couple of years. Eventually she moved to Boston and got involved in the new wave club scene. She formed The Chartbusters, which included two former members of The Modern Lovers ... their first major-label album came out in 1980, and we liked it enough to see the band at Keystone. That was (gulp) 35 years ago today, July 2, 1980. (There is some disagreement about this date ... one website that lists every show The Undertones ever played claims it was July 4, but honestly, I can’t imagine going to the Keystone for the 4th of July, and the holiday is nowhere in my memories of the night.)
Anyway, Lane and her band were touring behind that first album. It was a decent record, lots of good songs and Lane’s voice was interesting, but the production was a bit thin, didn’t really capture their intensity, and while “When Things Go Wrong” was an early hit, they disbanded after two more albums, one an EP. I’m guessing that I first heard of her from Greil Marcus, who wrote:
In her early thirties, bearing down with all she has on her first album, Robin Lane is a born-again Christian whose mission is not to save you from sin but to make life real. Goodness is not the issue here—nor, one might think, in Lane’s faith. Rather, the terror that motivates her music is rendered palpable; so is hope; so is hope abandoned. Strong as the Brains’ music is, Robin Lane’s music shows it up as the sound of young men who can’t wait to grow out of their fears. Such a premise isn’t a lie, nor is it as close to the truth as she gets.
Problem is, this is from the August issue of a magazine, so in theory I likely hadn’t read it yet. So who knows. (Marcus put the album on his Pazz & Jop ballot that year.)
Here she is live, about a year before we saw them:
Here’s a crappy copy of the video for “When Things Go Wrong”, which was the 11th video played the day MTV began:
Finally, here’s “I Don’t Want to Know”:
To find out about Robin Lane today, check out Songbird Sings.