It is one of the oldest stories in this game: an American prospect with a new way to rock and no love at home emigrates to England for the big score. So is this: raised hopes, promises broken and the ticket home. The reissues below, already in the running for the best of 2016, tell you everything that happened in between and why both bands deserved more happy endings – before now.
Milk ‘N’ Cookies, Milk ‘N’ Cookies (Captured Tracks)
What worked for Jimi Hendrix, Sparks and the Strokes – grabbing passports and rolling the dice in London – went weird and very wrong for New York’s Milk ‘N’ Cookies, a mid-Seventies power-glam quartet from Woodmere, Long Island, that was so good and right for its era that everyone close to the band could taste it except for Island Records, the U.K. label that signed the group, then dropped the ball – hard.
Founded in 1973, a year before the Ramones’ first rehearsals and Television’s debut at CBGB, Milk ‘N’ Cookies – songwriter-guitarist Ian North, drummer Mike Ruiz, helium-tenor singer Justin Strauss and bassist Sal Maida – were deceptively wholesome, offering a high-school-dance spin on Sparks’ arch concision, the power-chord bubblegum of Sweet and the knowing-dandy aura of early Roxy Music (Maida’s previous employer) laced with disappointed irony. “(Dee, Dee You’re) Stuck on a Star,” the opening track of the band’s only album, Milk ‘N’ Cookies, recorded in London in 1974, is a starburst of double letdown: the girl obsessed with a distant pop star; the boyfriend on the losing end of that infatuation. “Success seemed just like fame/A very special thing/I thought that I’d have/If I learned to sing,” North wrote and Strauss sang in the high-stepping futility of “Nots,” with its glistening “Paint It, Black”-like guitar hook.
The band was smarter than they knew. After issuing the bright distress of “Little, Lost and Innocent” as a British single in 1975, Island turned cold, shelving the album. Milk ‘N’ Cookies returned to New York in time for the punk boom at CBGB and Max’s Kansas City and, with Maida off to join Sparks, cut a new demo that all but landed them a deal with the Ramones’ label, Sire – until Island suddenly got interested again, scotching that rebirth. Milk ‘N’ Cookies belatedly came and went in Britain in 1976; Island never released it in America; North eventually went solo, leaving a whole lotta what-if.
This boxed-vinyl set is the entire telling across three 12-inch discs – including the original album, the Sire recordings and the 1973 demos that got Milk ‘N’ Cookies abroad in the first place – with appropriate glamour and, in the fat LP-sized book, great rock-holiday photos, period-gig ads and deep-dish detail like this: Brian Eno, a fan, was in an adjacent studio during the Milk ‘N’ Cookies sessions, recording Here Come the Warm Jets. Never innocent but definitely lost, Milk ‘N’ Cookies finally get their just desserts.
Eggs Over Easy, Good ‘N’ Cheap: The Eggs Over Easy Story (Yep Roc)
This earlier version of the striving-Yanks-in-England syndrome ended better, though not in fireworks. Eggs Over Easy were a good-time rock & roll product of San Francisco’s psychedelic afterburn, founded by singer-guitarists Austin de Lone and Jack O’Hara there in 1969, then moved to and named in New York, where they auditioned for former Animals bassist and ex-Hendrix producer-manager Chas Chandler. In 1971, Eggs Over Easy recorded an album’s worth of material with Chandler in London, then were stranded there by business complications that left Chandler free to make hits with Slade.
Eggs Over Easy, with keyboard player Brien Hopkins, made the best of their exile by landing a residency at a pub, the Tally Ho. Mixing their earthy, catchy originals with country, blues and R&B-party covers, they delighted local cognescenti such as BBC DJ John Peel and future New Wave idol Nick Lowe, then in the British country-rock band Brinsley Schwarz. The blend of sounds, cheer and setting soon had an audience and a name – pub rock – although the Eggs were back in the U.S. by the time the scene became a phenomenon. In 1972, A&M Records issued the band’s debut album, Good ‘N’ Cheap, produced by guitarist Link Wray (of “Rumble” fame) – which got strong reviews and a lot of attention for its Edward Hopper-inspired cover art but not much else.
This two-CD set, with a fuller liner-note account of the above, features Good ‘N’ Cheap; a rare 1976 stand-alone single; Fear of Frying, a belated 1980 follow-up produced by singer-organist Lee Michaels (of “Heighty Hi” fame); and the Chandler sessions. With its peaceful, easy stride and country-choir harmonies, Good ‘N’ Cheap is a savory link between the rustic precedence of the Band and the cultivated shimmer of the Eagles with a prophetic nod, in a song like “Face Down in the Meadow,” toward the wheat-field introspection of Uncle Tupelo and the early Wilco. The Chandler tracks, all different songs, have a formative charm that underscores the Eggs’ Bay Area origins; the ballad “I Can Call You” has the rural poignance of the Marin County-era Youngbloods.
There are, alas, no live relics here from those nights at the Tally Ho. But this set gets you as close as the archives allow for now – when this hearty band of Americans was the talk of London, pointing a way forward through the roots of rock, with a raised glass.