Back in the 1980s, long before THE DIGITAL AGE of music (or of everything, I suppose, but music in this case), people had to rely on the radio to hear their favorite songs, or rely on their friends who had the albums or tapes, and you could borrow theirs, OR you purchased either the 45s or the full albums, depending on the artist. If you purchased the full LP, sometimes, like with albums by ASIA or Bruce Springsteen or Thomas Dolby or Cyndi Lauper or Michael Jackson or INXS, you’d consider yourself lucky that the entire album (or most of the album) was a keeper.
Not ranking on Millennials here, but youngstahs today have it easy, with iTunes and Spotify and Pandora and YouTube to check out entire new albums first and / or they can pick and choose any tracks off the albums that they want to purchase. Even now with vinyl making a strong (and deserved) comeback, almost always when you purchase a full-length record album, there is a digital counterpart included for your convenience (kinda like a marriage of the old and the new).
Well, back in 1982, I only had a handful of albums to my name because (1) I was being frugal about purchasing albums for reasons stated above, and (2) I was frugal about buying albums because I just didn’t have the ca$h. There was one album, though, that proved to be a MUST BUY – the 12th studio album by Worcester, MA Rock legends, The J. Geils Band – FREEZE-FRAME.
Not only did the nine-track FREEZE-FRAME album have the awesome singles “Centerfold,” “Angel In Blue” and the title track, it also had gems that could have been singles themselves – “Rage In The Cage,” “Piss On The Wall” and “Flamethrower.”
Before owning the FREEZE-FRAME album, I had already purchased the “Centerfold” single (at last check, ranked at No. 63 on BILLBOARD’s 2016 list of the Greatest Hot 100 Songs Of All-Time), which had “Rage In The Cage” as the B-side. My oldest friend, Pete, had the album, and I remember going to his house and listening to it, which inspired me to pick it up as well. The FREEZE-FRAME album deserves its own blog post, and I’ll prolly write about the entire album on the bloggy thing here at some point. Today, though, it’s all about that Rockin’ and Soulful “baby who’ll melt you with her touch.”
“Flamethrower” is the sixth song on FREEZE-FRAME (or the first song on Side Two, if you prefer), and right from song’s start (featuring a killer harmonica courtesy of the band’s longtime harmonica and saxophone specialist, Magic Dick), you quickly realize there’s NO WAY you’re gonna be able to sit still through this five-minute jam.
Back in 2015, for the first time, I (along with one of my besties, the super-talented and awesome Hopey T.), saw The J. Geils Band perform in Portland, Maine, and they were phenomenal. There are many bands who work well together, and then there’s The J. Geils Band, whose musical interaction between band members is amazing to watch. And on songs like “Flamethrower,” it’s amazing to listen to.
Almost exactly half-way through “Flamethrower,” each of the band’s (then) six members – Peter Wolf on vocals, guitarist and band namesake J. Geils, keyboardist and vocalist Seth Justman, bassist Danny Klein, drummer / percussionist Steven Bladd and the aforementioned Magic Dick – play together on a sensational minute-long-plus instrumental jam, even prompting Peter Wolf to exclaim, “Yeah!” It actually kinda reminded me of one of THE best instrumental gems, er, jams in Rock history – the last four minutes of their brilliant 1973 hit, “Give It To Me.”
NERDY FUN FACT: “Flamethrower,” “Angel In Blue” and “River Blindness” (all on the FREEZE-FRAME album) featured five backup singers, including Whitney Houston’s mother, Cissy Houston, and the late, great R&B / Pop legend, Luther Vandross.
Even though “Flamethrower” was never officially released as its own single, it does have an interesting BILLBOARD chart history. As a 12” B-side to lead single, “Centerfold,” both songs reached No. 12 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart in 1982. As the 7” B-side of the album’s second single, “Freeze-Frame,” it was actually “Flamethrower” that led both songs to reach No. 25 on BILLBOARD’s R&B chart for two weeks in April 1982. And, over on BILLBOARD’s Mainstream Rock chart, it was the only non-single song from FREEZE-FRAME to chart there, reaching No. 30.
Hearing this song again on my iPod this afternoon makes me want to pull out the 41-minute FREEZE-FRAME album and play it all the way through a couple of times, from the title cut through to “Piss On The Wall.”
Seth Justman, who wrote or co-wrote every song on FREEZE-FRAME and who was the sole writer on “Flamethrower,” once told NME (New Music Express) that the song was “not just about a woman, it’s about a woman factory worker and how she lets loose at night. It’s about a certain spirit that’s in everybody.
“In the middle of that song the spirit in the body has taken over. It’s not just a hot chick in hot pants. It’s a woman who punches the clock every day at 8 and 5 and when she leaves she does something with her life, whatever she has to do to punch the clock the next day and not go crazy. That punch clock is in everyone; there’s something inside everyone that makes you want to go on and get better and stronger.”
I can’t tell you enough how much I wholeheartedly agree with Seth’s amazing and surprising comment. Or maybe I just did. Or maybe when you jam out to “Flamethrower” again, you’ll think about that punch clock or flamethrower inside of you, and figure out ways on how to get better and stronger. I know I will…
“I forget the darkness / I forget the pain / When she’s movin’ through my heart / And when she’s pumpin’ through my veins / She’s the part inside me / I can never control / And she’s the only reason / I know I’ve got a soul…”