Combine rockabilly music, punk attitude, and penchants for trashy horror films, the occult, and serial murderers, and you may have some idea about what the psychobilly genre of rock music is all about—and a pretty fair approximation of the sounds and subject matter created by Britain's chief proponents of the genre, the Meteors. For more than 25 years, the Meteors have prompted critical comparisons to such U.S. bands as the Cramps by spicing up the self-limited rockabilly formula with an unabashedly punk ethos and affinity for the macabre. The Meteors have undergone many lineup changes since their initial incarnation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the one constant has been guitarist, singer, and songwriter Paul Fenech.
While the rockabilly genre was spawned in the United States by such acts as Eddie Cochran, Charlie Feathers, Johnny Powers, Gene Vincent, and Elvis Presley in the 1950s, interest in the revved up tempos and more liberated version of country music died out by the early 1960s. In Europe, however, and the United Kingdom in particular, the music spawned the Teddy Boys subculture, which continues into the present. Emulating the look of Marlon Brando in the 1953 film The Wild One, the Teddy Boy culture included leather jackets, white T-shirts, pegged jeans, motorcycles, and rockabilly music. While the Teddy Boys kept rockabilly an ongoing musical concern into the 1960s and early 1970s, the nascent punk scene also latched onto elements of the genre, because it was music that was relatively easy to learn and play. The nostalgia craze of the mid-1970s, incited by such films as American Graffiti, also sparked renewed interest in rockabilly. Huge festivals celebrating rockabilly sprang up all over Europe, and these festivals continue to the present day, attended by diehard rockabilly fans, nostalgia buffs, and motorcycle clubs.
In the 1970s Fenech was guitarist in a rockabilly outfit called the Southern Boys, where he met upright bass player Nigel Lewis. Upon leaving the group, the two performed as the duo Rock Therapy before recruiting Mark Robertson on drums. Billing themselves as Raw Deal, the trio began playing venues around Britain in 1980. Perhaps as a response to the more sanitized rockabilly attaining popularity during this period, or perhaps inspired by the relative success of American group The Cramps' marriage of rockabilly to the cheesy horror films of the 1950s, Raw Deal began writing songs celebrating the occult and violent subject matters. Raw Deal subsequently changed its name to the Meteors, and set about writing songs based on B-horror movies such as The Hills Have Eyes and Blue Sunshine.
The group signed with Island Records, known more for its stable of high quality Jamaican reggae acts, rock group Traffic, and Steve Winwood solo projects than for high-energy rockabilly about flesh-eating ghouls. Although the Meteors had released recordings as singles and had appeared on several rockabilly anthologies, Island released the group's first full length recording, In Heaven, in 1981. By all critical accounts, the album was an artistic failure, a result that many critics blame on the interference of record company executives unsympathetic to the Meteors's concept of psychobilly. During this period the group experienced the first of many lineup changes. Lewis and Robertson exited and were replaced by bassist Mick White and drummer Steve "Ginger" Meadham.
Released from their contract with Island Records, the Meteors soldiered on. The group released a minor hit in 1983 with an ironic cover of the maudlin 1961 ballad by John Leyton, "Johnny Remember Me," which appeared on the album Wreckin' Crew. "Johnny Remember Me" featured what New Musical Express critic Cynthia Rose described as a "spaghetti-Western stab." Rose continued to negatively review the Meteors' live set at the time, which consisted of covers of the Troggs' "Wild Thing" and the Rolling Stones' "Get Off My Cloud." Rose wrote: "They're all bad, some of course worse than others. Most obviously aspire to something Cramps-like but display complete lack of instinct about how this might be accomplished." All Music Guide critic Mark Deming, however, assessed Wreckin' Crew in a more positive fashion, noting that "The Meteors sound more billy than psycho; Fenech's lean and limber guitar chords twang just fine."
Following the release of Wreckin' Crew, the Meteors continued to experience regular lineup changes and release albums of varying quality. Sewertime Blues, an obvious reference to the Eddie Cochran rockabilly classic "Summertime Blues," was issued in 1986. All Music Guide critic Stewart Mason declared that the effort "is not one of the Meteors' key albums. Singer/guitarist Paul Fenech is running on psychobilly fumes throughout." Despite Mason's negative assessment, Sewertime Blues was the Meteors' most successful release in terms of sales. Rather than rest on their laurels and paychecks, the Meteors released Don't Touch the Bang Bang Fruit, an album All Music Guide critic Dave Thompson described as "brilliance." In his review, Thompson called the effort "the Meteors at their absolute peak."
Whatever the lineup, Fenech and the Meteors continued to tour internationally and record for more than 25 years. The group's official website claimed that they have released at least 40 official albums, that Fenech has released six solo albums, and that the group has performed at least 4,500 live shows.
In Heaven, Island Records, 1981; reissued on Edsel.
Meteors, Ace, 1981.
Live, Wreckem, 1983.
Wreckin Crew, ID, 1983.
Sewertime Blues, Anagram, 1986.
Don't Touch the Bang Bang Fruit, Anagram, 1988.
Corpse Grinder, Cleopatra, 1995.
Live, Vol. 2: Live, Leary & F**king Loud!, Dojo, 1995.
Graveyard Stomp, Nectar, 1996.
Welcome to Wreckin' Pit, Receiver, 1996.
International Wreckers, Vol. 2: The Lost Tapes of Zorch, Receiver, 1996.
Bastard Sons of a Rock & Roll Devil, Hellraiser, 1997.
Night of the Werewolf, Raucous, 1999.
The Mutant Monkey & the Surfers from Zorch, Anagram, 1999.
Undead Unfriendly and Unstoppable, Anagram, 1999.
Life Styles of the Sick, Summit, 1999.
The Meteors Vs. the World, Anagram, 2000.
International Wreckers, Sonavabitch, 2001.
Madman Roll, Sonavabitch, 2001.
Mental Instrumentals, Sonavabitch, 2001.
No Surrender, Sonavabitch, 2001.
Psycho Down, Anagram, 2001.
Live, Vol. 3: Live Styles of the Suck and Shameless, Anagram, 2001.
The Final Conflict, Raucous, 2002.
Teenagers from Outer Space, Big Beat, 2002.
Wreckin' Live, Castle, 2003.
From Beyond, Raucous, 2003.
Psychobilly, People Like You, 2003.
Hell in the Pacific, Cherry Red, 2004.
The Lost Album, Raucous, 2004.
These Evil Things, Headhunter, 2005.
Hymns for the Hellbound, Prison, 2007.
For the Record …
Members include: Shaun Berry (joined in 2000s), vocals, bass guitar; P. Paul Fenech , guitar and vocals; Wolfgang Hordemann (joined 2000s), drums, guitar; Nigel Lewis (member 1980-83), bass; Steve Meadham (joined 1983), drums; Mark Robertson (member 1980-83), drums; Mick White (joined 1983), bass guitar.
Band formed in late 1970s as the Southern Boys; changed name to Rock Therapy and then to Raw Deal, early 1980s; released first album, In Heaven, 1981; released Wreckin' Crew, featuring hit single, "Johnny Remember Me," 1983.
Addresses: Website—Meteors Official Website: http://www.kingsofpsychobilly.com.
Alternative Press, July 1994.
New Musical Express, 1983.
All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (April 8, 2007).
Kings of Psychobilly: The Meteors Official Website,http://www.kingsofpsychobilly.com (April 7, 2007).
Wrecking Pit: The Psychobilly Homepage,http://www.wreckingpit.com/psycho/bands/themeteors.php3 (April 7, 2007).
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