While it was hardly amazing, the original 1976 Max’s Kansas City compilation was still interesting as a representation of the kind of (mostly) local talent you could see dropping by the famous New York City hangout on any given night in the mid-’70’s. The main complaint about it has always been that it didn’t include anything from New York greats like Richard Hell, The Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith…etc., and the one brilliant act it did include, Suicide, is represented by demos of “Ghost Rider” and “Rocket USA” that pale in comparison to the versions on their debut album. True, nothing on here will make you forget about “Blitzkreig Bop” or “Marquee Moon”, but if you’re a fan of that kind of stuff you’ll probably also like the Doors-meets-Television vibe of Harry Toledo’s “Knots” or the post-glitter tracks from Wayne County (soon to be Jayne County), Cherry Vanilla and The Fast, all of which capture and preserve the anything goes attitude the Max’s scene was famous for. Only Pere Ubu’s “Final Solution” is missing from the original compilation’s tracklisting, supposedly due to licensing issues.
The new “1976 and beyond” reissue on Jungle Records is bursting at the seams with new material, blossoming to an astounding 40 tracks over two discs. All the extra space gives listeners a chance to hear rare 1970s tracks from lesser known Max’s scenesters Jimi Lalumia and The Psychotic Frogs (try not smiling during “Disco Sucks”), The Cellmates, and The Senders whose “6th Street” sounds something like Van Halen for Johnny Thunders fans. There’s also eight 21st century recordings from artists associated with Max’s. These range anywhere from excellent (Senders’ front-man Phil Marcade’s Dylan-esque “All Quite Wasted”) to terrible (“Ruby From the Wrong Side of Town” by Ruby and The Rednecks is grating) and expected (Jayne County reprising her titular “Max Kansas City” not once, but twice). Finally, it ends with five live songs from some bigger names (Sid Vicious, Iggy Pop, Nico, and Johnny Thunders, who shows up with The Heartbreakers and alongside Wayne Kramer in Gang War) which have enough in spirit to make up for what they lack in fidelity. Iggy’s entry is especially interesting – a live recording from 1977 of a song called “Rock Action” that never made it onto any of his studio albums.
It ain’t perfect, and it unjustly ignores Max’s role in early New York hardcore (no Stimulators, Misfits, Mad or Kraut) but if you’re still reading this review, chances are good there’s something here you’ll really like. Track-by-track liner notes from Peter Crowley and Jimi Lalumia add important historical perspective.