It’s a natural fact that musicians tend to play songs about subjects they like. And it’s an even more natural fact that one of the things that musicians like most is music. So it’s not at all surprising that one of the most common topics for rock and roll songs is rock and roll itself. So for this week’s Monday Music Video, here’s the 1981 single by the Stray Cats, “Rock This Town”.
The video, like the song, is fun and light. Brian Setzer goofs off a bit on his motorcycle, dances with his girl, and the band performs on stage. Setzer’s lip synching is sub-par while on the bike, but improves once he’s “performing”. One of the fun aspects of the video is Setzer acting out the “story” of the lyrics, with a bit more embellishment, such as smashing the disco-laden jukebox. In a nice (and deserved) twist, however, it’s the girlfriend who ends up putting the “square” out of commission. The video is shorter than the album version of the song by a full minute; it abridges the instrumentals and final refrain.
The video played in heavy rotation on MTV, but was too early in the station’s existence to garner many accolades — it predated the year-end countdown and the Video Music Awards. It would, however, eventually gain a spot on MTV’s Greatest of All Time list at #158. The song itself would receive more significant praise, however, being named by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 songs which shaped rock and roll.
Not bad for a band that had a rocky start. The Stray Cats were an American band, but achieving success required them to start in the U.K. Their music was a revival of rockabilly, with a touch of punk; their visual style was a similar blend. It was an unusual sound, and eventually they landed a recording contract with Arista Records. Their self-titled debut album was a success in the United Kingdom, with “Rock This Town” reaching #9 on the singles charts in 1981, but was never released in the United States. The follow-up, Gonna Ball, was less successful, producing no hits, and was also never released in the United States. However, the combined sales of the two albums led EMI to cherry-pick tracks from the two to release as a U.S. album titled Built For Speed. “Rock This Town” was again chosen for the first single from the album. Making its U.S. debut in 1982, it would achieve the exact same position on the Billboard Hot 100 as it did on the U.K. Singles Chart, at #9. It would be the first of three top ten singles for the band, followed by “Stray Cat Strut” the same year, and “She’s Sexy + 17” the following year.
Although the band only had a short time on top of the rock scene — they went through periodic break-ups starting almost immediately after their third album, and album availability was often dicey — they remained one of the more memorable bands of the early 80s. All because they wanted to sound similar to music from 30 years prior.