This week’s band is one of several recently suggested to us by the inimitable Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin, who could probably do a way better job than us running this blog if she were so inclined. They’re a French group called Rockets, or sometimes Les Rockets or Roketz or even Silver Rockets to avoid being confused with a much less interesting American band called Rockets. And they did the whole ’70s glam/proto-disco/space-rock “We are aliens and we have come to your planet to boogie” thing the way only a bunch of ’70s French dudes could.
Rockets started in Paris way back in 1974 under the name Rocket Men. Dressed up in matching silver suits with shaved heads and silvery gray facepaint, they no doubt caused quite a scene in the French rock clubs of the day. Their otherworldly appearance and heavy use of synthesizers and vocoders suggested a strong Kraftwerk influence, but there was more to them than that: The very first track on their 1976 self-titled debut album, for example, was “Apache,” a funked-up version of a faux-Spaghetti Western rock instrumental recorded by a 1960 British skiffle band called The Shadows. They later covered Canned Heat, too. So their influences ranged pretty far beyond Ziggy-era Bowie and Krautrock—although that was clearly all part of the mix, too.
By 1979, Rockets had begun to enjoy some commercial success, at least in Europe, where their third album Plasteroid sold out in some countries almost as soon as it was released. By this time, they had developed more of a pop/New Wave sound and outfits that appeared to borrow rather flagrantly from Ace Frehley’s Spaceman look. But they had also perfected a highly entertaining live show that featured lots of robot dance moves and a scary, bazooka-like device with which lead singer Christian Le Bartz could shower the audience with sparks. Check the three-minute mark of this clip from an Italian TV appearance for a taste of the spark-bazooka; I’m pretty sure that even in Italy, they don’t let you get away with shit like that anymore.
Rockets peaked, both commercially and creatively, with 1980’s Galaxy, a brilliantly campy piece of space-rock/synth-pop with blacklight-ready cover art and high-concept songs about space travel and cyborgs and other bits of sci-fi geekery. It sold over a million copies worldwide, but the band began to unravel soon thereafter. By 1983, both lead singer Le Bartz and drummer Alain Groetzinger had quit the group, followed shortly by their longtime producer, Claude Lemoine, and their bassist, “Little” Gerard L’Her. With a new British lead singer, Sal Solo, the remnants of Rockets squeezed out two more albums, 1986’s One Way and 1992’s Another Future—the latter of which gamely tried to update the band’s sound with some Brit-rave beats, but without much success. By 1993, the band was effectively defunct.
But nothing helps revive musical careers like a healthy dose of nostalgia—so you will not be surprised to learn that as of 2000, Rockets have resumed their existence, albeit in heavily watered-down form. The closest thing they still have to an original member is keyboardist Fabrice Quagliotti, an Italian who joined the group in 1977. Although we’re not sure exactly when it was shot, we’re pretty sure this video is Rockets in their current incarnation. The spark-shooting guitar is kinda cool, we guess, but go-go dancers? Seriously, guys? They’re like a bad Eurovision band now. We prefer to remember them in their spacey and slightly awkward late ’70s heyday, like in this video:
Or even when they were getting all arty and high-concept with guest female vocalists in the early ’80s, like in this clip:
So thanks for the tip, Petunia! Who knew that over 20 years before Daft Punk, French people were already dressing up like robot/alien space creatures?
- Les Rockets (site dedicated to the “old” Rockets, in Italian)
- Rockets home page (fan site, with an excellent bio we cribbed most of this post from, in English and Italian)
- Rockets & Rocketsland (official site of the “new” Rockets, in Italian)
- Rockets.com.ua (Ukrainian/Russian fan site)
- Rockets on MySpace (appears to be a fan page, not recently updated)
Normally, we wouldn’t really classify The Flaming Lips as all that weird. Sure, they sing songs about pink robots and have people cavort onstage in animal costumes, but by definition, if your music is regularly played on KCRW, sorry–you’re just not that weird.
But tonight, Stephen Colbert had the Lips on as his musical guest, and he specifically told Wayne Coyne, “You guys are weird.” Good enough for us! You’re in, Lips. Just don’t think this means you can start coasting again on that bland power-pop you crapped out on At War with the Mystics.
KCRW rotation aside, we guess it’s actually pretty fair to characterize these Oklahoma boys as weird. After all, it’s not every band that releases an album of four CDs meant to be played simultaneously or writes a song for the Spongebob Squarepants soundtrack called “Spongebob and Patrick Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy.” Gotta admit, it’s never hard to Google a Lips song.
By now, everyone’s seen images of Wayne rolling around the audience in the giant transparent ball and the people dressed up in panda suits romping around the stage…so to give you an idea of how weird the Lips are capable of being, here’s a video from one of their 1996 “boom box experiments.” We’ll let a very young Wayne explain: