Originally published in: Village Voice, 1977

Blondie Chaplin Whams & Bangs

There was a time when rock & roll had roots. Country folk had roots. R&B'ers had roots. Then somehow rock & roll came to mean something to people with diverse roots. Or no roots at all. England heard rock & roll and suddenly every skiffle band in the land was turning to electricity and picking up a couple extra chords. And pretty soon rock was being exported to the far corners of the English-speaking empire.

Blondie Chaplin comes from Durbin, South Africa. The South African government tries to keep native blacks bound up in their "tribes." Blacks in South Africa have roots. White have everything else. Blondie Chaplin is mulatto; that means he's nothing. Blondie Chaplin is smart enough to take a hint; he split.

First, with an anglophile pop-rock band called Flame. Then he became a Beach Boy for two albums, the unjustly maligned (but that's a whole nother story) So Tough and Holland. When the Beach Boys went into their post-Holland hibernation, Chaplin gigged with Joe Walsh. When Walsh became an Iggle, Chaplin finally got his shit together for a solo album.

Which is just plain great. Flame had been an odd amalgamation, but never had much of an edge. The Beach Boys made some use of Chaplin's racially ambivalent voice, his remarkable range and gracefulness, but the songs Chaplin and fellow Durbiner Ricky Fataar wrote were ultralaidback ballads with a strange sense of timing; they were hard to grapple with and not exactly Proper Beach Boys Music anyway. (An unfortunate prejudice, sine "Leaving This Town" in particular is an especially solid road-as-exile song.)

But no one's likely to snooze through Blondie Chaplin. The first cut, "Bye Bye Babe," jumps off to a breakneck pace, with the big thump, banging piano, a classy guitar run, Chaplin's vocal acrobatics, and Rob Fraboni's why-not-the-kitchen-sink production. Next on tap is "Can You Hear Me," starting out slower but working up still more frenzy, with a jagged guitar solo and a chorus line pounded into universal import.

And from then on the album's like a rollercoaster ride: highs and lows, speed stretched out over space, speed crammed into intensity, all manner of whams and bangs, hoots and hollers, screeches and yowls, somehow orchestrated into coherency, the whole contraption never separating itself from the tracks it is constantly testing.

But the album is not just a joyride. Chaplin brings to rock & roll his own unique flavoring and color. But more than that, he bridges the gap from Durbin to London to El Lay, proving not only that we live in some sort of a Global Village, but in this Global Village the people's lingo is rock & roll.

Archaeological notes: May 12, 2002

This was retyped from an edited manuscript.