In the mid-'70's, there existed a band called Detective, whose lineup contained an intriguing motley crew of musicians: sometime Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye, original Steppenwolf guitarist Michael Monarch, singer/actor Michael Des Barres (formerly of Silverhead), drummer Jon Hyde (who had played with Monarch in a band called Hocus Pocus), and ex-Sugarloaf bassist Bobby Pickett (not the "Monster Mash" guy, but wouldn't it be a howl if he was?). You'd think that an album recorded by a group like this would be unique and offbeat, but you'd be wrong; Detective's two albums (both released in 1977) were derivative of other, better-known hard-rock bands such as Led Zeppelin (the albums were released on Zep's Swan Song label) and Bad Company (another Swan Song labelmate). Detective were nothing special, but connoisseurs of '70's heavy metal will probably want the two albums in their collections. Both of those long-lost albums were reissued on CD by the Wounded Bird label in 2003.
The self-titled Detective largely consists of Physical Graffiti-era Zeppelin imitations. Four of the tracks (marked with an asterisk below) were produced by one Jimmy Robinson, a pseudonymous Jimmy Page. Lead singer Des Barres sounds like a standard imitator of Robert Plant. Most of the songs sound too ordinary or dated to spark much interest, but a few songs stand out. "Nightingale" is a beautiful if conventional rock ballad that builds nicely to an uptempo finish. The boys get convincingly funky on "Wild Hot Summer Nights". And on the strangely appealing "Grim Reaper", you can sense the members' individual personalities being momentarily let out of the cage.
1. Recognition -- (Monarch/Miller/Des Barres)
2. Got Enough Love -- (Monarch/Miller/Des Barres)*
3. Grim Reaper -- (Monarch/Des Barres/Pickett/Hyde)*
4. Nightingale -- (Monarch/Hyde)
5. Detective Man -- (Monarch/Hyde)
6. Ain't None Of Your Business -- (Hobbs/Anderson)*
7. Deep Down -- (Monarch/Pickett)
8. Wild Hot Summer Nights -- (Monarch/Hyde)
9. One More Heartache -- (Monarch/Hyde)*
It Takes One To Know One, the second and final Detective album, is more fun than the first, although it's no less derivative. The band sounds more like Bad Company this time around; Des Barres was beginning to sound like a higher-pitched Paul Rodgers. There was a noticeable improvement in the band's chemistry; the songs sounded more cohesive. This album could have done without the two ballads ("Something Beautiful" and "Warm Love" are a bit too sappy), but most of the album enjoyably rocks hard. Some people interpret "Are You Talkin' To Me?" as a reference to Robert DeNiro's character in Taxi Driver, a relatively new movie at the time.
1. Help Me Up -- (Hyde)
2. Competition -- (Des Barres/Kaye/Monarch/Miller)
3. Are You Talkin' To Me? -- (Des Barres/Monarch)
4. Dynamite -- (Hyde/Monarch)
5. Something Beautiful -- (Des Barres/arrangement: Monarch)
6. Warm Love -- (Hyde/Monarch)
7. Betcha Won't Dance -- (Des Barres/Pickett)
8. Fever -- (Hyde/Monarch/Pickett)
9. Tear Jerker -- (Monarch/Kaye/Hyde)
Fun fact: On the fourth episode of the TV series WKRP In Cincinnati, Des Barres portrayed the lead singer of a fictitious rock band called Scum Of The Earth, and he lip-synched two Detective songs at the end: "Got Enough Love" and "Betcha Won't Dance".
If you love Detective's two studio albums, you may want to search out Live From The Atlantic Studios, a promotional LP recorded only for radio broadcast. It features a New York studio performance from the quintet recorded in December 1977. The disc cements Detective's reputation as -- well, a noteworthy but unexceptional band. (Who does Des Barres sound like in this setting? A comparison to Faces-era Rod Stewart is not out of line). The first side is mediocre, but the best material and moments are saved for the second half. "Fever" in particular demonstrates good chemistry, with Monarch's guitar and Kaye's keyboards working well together.
1. Help Me Up
2. Got Enough Love
4. One More Heartache
5. Detective Man
6. Grim Reaper
9. Tear Jerker / Good Rockin' Tonight
It may be coincidental, but Des Barres appeared to have a strange knack for making unusual groups of musicians sound like typical hard-rock bands. Several years after the demise of Detective, Des Barres was lead singer for Chequered Past, another motley quintet of players. The band included former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, two former members of Blondie (bassist Nigel Harrison and drummer Clem Burke), and guitarist Tony Sales (formerly of Iggy Pop's band and later of Tin Machine). Unfortunately, Chequered Past turned out to be another group that sounded more interesting on paper than they did in the grooves. Produced by metal-man Michael James Jackson (no, not that Michael Jackson!), the songs on their self-titled 1984 album seem designed to be performed in football stadiums. If that's your bag, you may enjoy Chequered Past's undistinguished arena rock, but it's odd to hear a bunch of ex-punks behaving like presentable mainstream rock entertainers. Des Barres' singing had improved a bit, but he still owed a debt to Paul Rodgers. Jones' guitar-playing keeps the album from being boring. The second side is the better one, varied by the ballad "No Knife" (featuring slide guitar by David Lindley). Their heavy metal rendition of the Waylon Jennings tune "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" is downright surreal (I doubt Hank would have done it that way). The CD is available as an import from England.
1. A World Gone Wild -- (Des Barres/Jones/Juber)
2. Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way -- (Jennings)
3. Let Me Rock -- (Des Barres/Jones)
4. Never In A Million Years -- (Des Barres/Jones/Edmonds)
5. How Much Is Too Much -- (Des Barres/Jones/Holden)
6. Only The Strong (Will Survive) -- (Des Barres/Jones/Japp)
7. Underworld -- (Des Barres/Jones/Sales/Harrison)
8. No Knife -- (Des Barres)
9. Tonight And Every Night -- (Des Barres/Jones)
Another fun fact: Chequered Past toured with Duran Duran, which led to Des Barres being selected to replace Robert Palmer as touring singer for the Power Station.