North Country Records
In 1978, so the story goes, Bruce Springsteen had to change the title of his fourth LP at the last minute. He wanted to call it Badlands,but another husky-voiced, Jersey-born raconteur beat him to it. Bill Chinnock dropped his major label debut, Badlands, on Atlantic Records earlier that year. It wasn’t the first time he’d been a step ahead of The Boss. Chinnock was fronting bands in the Asbury Park scene in the late ’60s, teaching several future E Street Band members the ins and outs of R&B-infused rock and roll. After Chinnock moved to Maine in 1973, they hitched their fortunes to Springsteen, and the rest is history. Now, thanks to the efforts of the artist’s son, William, we get to hear what Bill was up to while Bruce was exploring the darkness on the edge of town. The original, independently released version of Chinnock’s Badlands, from 1977,has been released on CD for the first time, lovingly transferred from a rare vinyl copy. It’s startlingly good. On “Is That What Love Is?” a horn section soars over fluttering funk guitar chords, buoyed by the drummer’s joyful swing. It’s disco, done damn well. When Chinnock adds his cracked-leather cowboy howl to the groove, we hear something truly original, and unforgettable. Badlands also casts Chinnock as a piano balladeer, a road-weary troubadour and a biker-bar brawler. But it’s the disco dabbling that hooked me. “Something for Everything” has a flirty guitar lick that’d make anybody forget their troubles. Chinnock fans have long complained about the high gloss Atlantic put on these recordings, but the original is plenty glossy too, in all the right ways. Rock fans, especially of that era, supposedly demanded a veneer of toughness in their male singers. Bill Chinnock had that. But he also sang vulnerable songs that you could dance to — something I’ve yet to hear from Mr. Springsteen.
Badlands is exclusively available at Bull Moose locations and via bullmoose.com.