Time for another New Wave footnote that is deserving of far greater attention. This time around, we celebrate a fantastic skinny-tie power-pop trio from Staten Island who called themselves Dirty Looks.
Having each been veterans of the New York bar band scene, neither Patrick Barnes (guitars/vocals), Peter Parker (drums), nor Marco Sin (bass) were unfamiliar with toiling away in seedy clubs playing in front of drunken crowds when they began hitting the stage at CBGB's as Dirty Looks in late 1979. It seemed that luck was on their side this time around, however: those early sets resulted in almost instant interest from Stiff Records, and within two months of their first gig, they found themselves in the studio recording their first LP.
That self-titled debut was released in 1980, and remains one of the great hidden gems of the era. Solid, punchy songs with clever lyrics and just enough attitude made the album a critical success, but the single "Let Go" didn't catch on as Stiff (and particularly their American distributors, Epic) had hoped.
The following year brought about both a second album and, thanks to Epic's woefully misguided meddling, the beginning of the end of the band. The band recorded Turn It Up in early 1981, submitted it to the label, and went out on tour. Epic decided they didn't like the record - too edgy, needed to be more polished and mainstream, they said - and asked Stiff to remix the recordings. Stiff brought in Elvis Costello's production team to clean it up, but Epic still didn't like the result, and refused to release the LP in the US. The revised version did hit the shelves in the UK, and it was only upon hearing the released version that the band became aware of Epic's 'help.' Epic withdrew all support for the LP and the tour, leaving Dirty Looks high and dry, and understandably discouraged.
The final straw, though, came later that same year when Island Records offered them a chance to record some demo material for a proposed third record. Island President Chris Blackwell decided he didn't care for Patrick's voice, and told the band they should do an album of instrumentals. Without a label, the band trudged on, but when their manager died of a heart attack in 1984, Patrick Barnes dissolved the band and quit the music business for good. Dirty Looks soon became a forgotten band, suffering a final indignity when a late-80s hair metal band swiped their name. Nowadays, if you do a Google search on the band, you find a ton about that metal group but almost nothing on the original Staten Island power trio, sadly.
Both albums fell out of print over the years, but both can be had for cheap on a handy CD released about five years ago. Well worth the price of admission, if only to have that wonderful first record. For your listening pleasure, here are two audio clips from Dirty Looks: first, my personal favorite of their songs, the 'you-just-don't-dig-our-scene' anthem "You're Too Old," and then the shoulda-been hit single "Let Go." Enjoy!