Record Review: Holly + The Italians – The Right To Be Italian

Virgin-Epic | US | LP 1981 | NFE 37359

Holly + The Italians: The Right To Be Italian US LP [1981]

  1. I Wanna Go Home
  2. Rock Against Romance
  3. Youth Coup
  4. Just Young
  5. Miles Away
  6. Tell That Girl To Shut Up
  7. Just For Tonight
  8. Do You Say Love
  9. Baby Gets It All
  10. Means To A Den

This was an album I bought at the tail end of the Summer of 1981 for three reasons in particular. First of all, it has a cheap $5.98 list price as part of the much-loved CBS Developing Artist Series. During the industry downturn of ’80-’82 the $8.98 list price album wasn’t moving as it had in earlier times. CBS wisely responded by pricing breaking artists at a lower price point. Since I was a teenager with a super limited budget [$7.50/week in “lunch money”] in the first place, this held some cachet with me! So it was possible to take a chance for a few less dollars on something you might not have heard in those times. That meant at the store I shopped at, they also took $1.00 off the list price. Bingo! Possibly enough left over for an import single as well!

The second factor that moved me to purchase was the fact that this was a female fronted band. This was a time when the whole second wave of “Women In Rock” was starting to really move and I certainly approved. There were too many men monopolizing rock throughout the seventies! This was a time when new points of view were needed. Blondie was one of the top selling acts in the world and executives all over were trying to see if lightning would strike twice. So the media approved “Women In Rock” meme started to spread again. It had been tried earlier but with just the likes of Fanny and The Runaways to point to, it had failed to catch fire. Trends like prog rock and heavy metal were like a steamroller of testosterone putting an end to that. But punk was different. It aimed to throw out the old rule book and cracks in the glass wall appeared for the XX chromosome set.

Thirdly, the album was titled “The Right To Be Italian!” I thought that was a hilarious title. Anyone with such a sense of humor might be someone to listen to. So I laid my money down and took the thing home. Back in that earlier, more innocent time, when buying records I immediately played them! Imagine that! I was rewarded immediately when over a music box backing, Holly Beth Vincent intoned the following words:

“There are those who achieve greatness.
Others have it thrust upon them.
And then there are those who were… [dreamily] 
born Italian [laughs]”

And then the homeland lament of “I Wanna Go Home” began in earnest amid a snarling lead guitar played by Holly was joined by the capable rhythm section later on. The record was produced by Richard Gottherer, who after producing classic debuts by the likes of Blondie and The Go-Gos in his New Wave phase, made it a hat trick with this third classic. And as much as I love the debut albums by Blondie and The Go-Gos, this one trumps them both. Blondie is very clever. The Go-Gos are fun. This one’s clever, fun, and it rocks!

Richard Gottherer, who should know this territory like the back of his hand, produces the best album Phil Spector never touched. The drums boom majestically as an antidote to the sterile gated drum sound quickly becoming de riguer in the early 80s thanks to the dreaded Mr. Collins. No, this record features the holy Gold Star Studios drum sound [even though it was recorded at the Record Plant].

“I Wanna Go Home” outlines the travails of a band that moved to the UK to make it, and after catching Charlie Gillett’s attention and then signing with Virgin Records, made the best pop punk album that The Ramones and The Ronettes never made. Like The Ramones, the album revels in the details of middle class meatball culture. The song is about the primal urgings of missing the thrill of Coke Slurpees® in a land of beans on toast. Like the 60s muses that Joey Ramone followed, Holly Beth Vincent gave as much attention to classic girl group arrangements [that Gottherer was behind in the 60s] as she did to her full-on razor sharp guitar; making this album the perfect blend of Ronnie Spector sass and Johnny Ramone guitar snarl. Is it any wonder that Joey and Holly ended up friends and cut a single together?

Vincent’s vocals on “Rock Against Romance” are flat out perfect as the song moves from Mark Sidgwick’s stuttering bass intro through Vincent’s clean, fat chords for the bulk of the song. The tune peaks with Torrie Zito’s string arrangements taking it up to a Spectorian feel of melodrama as the “Pizza Sheet Boysa Choir” add their very masculine counterpoints to Vincent’s yearning tones. Music this enjoyable is such a pleasure to hear that it can sooth the savage breast in no time at all.

“Youth Coup” was one of the UK singles from this album and if the attitude is perfect snotty punk rock, Vincent’s delivery is more moderate and polite that sees her working that Ronnie Spector action on the choruses. Bassist Mark Sidgwick wrote “Miles Away,” which was another single from this album and it sounds like the perfect bunkmate to Blondie’s “Dreaming” as the heartbreaking chord sequence hook in “Miles Away” complements the more upbeat Blondie track perfectly. The intro is stunning with flanged guitar leading into a galloping bass riff that continues for a measure before the drums kick in to take it away. Again, Vincent’s vocal is a killer performance; transitioning from plaintive hurt to sneering spite.

Side two began with the band’s best known single, “Tell That Girl To Shut Up;” a snotty kiss-off to an ex-boyfriend that later reached a much higher standing in the UK charts in the inferior Transvision Vamp cover of seven years later. Vincent’s petulant put down is a classic and it’s hard to believe that a song like this didn’t exist earlier. It’s followed by the only cover on the disc, a version of The Chiffons “Just For Tonight.” Gottherer gets to do do that voodoo that he does best while showing admirable restraint in adding a cover to the album that he didn’t get a piece of the publishing on! What a champ! For yet more girl group cred Ellie Greenwich guests on backing vocals on this track.

Finally, the album peaks for me with the incredible “Do You Say Love.” The drum break on the bridge is like something you must hear in paradise! For unbeatable sonics, it’s right up there with the intro to “By My Baby,” only it bristles with an urgency unknown to that classic. Holly’s stinging lead guitar is like a choir of backstreet angels in black leather! For the last 30 years this has been my go-to track on this album. I have to hear it every six months at high volume to blow the cobwebs out and it feels so great to hear.

It slays me that I missed out the one time that Holly + The Italians were playing in Orlando Florida in the summer of 1981, opening up for The Ramones on tour. That was a show at Spit, Orlando’s token New Wave club that took over the Park Avenue disco one night a week on Wednesdays back in the dawn of the 80s. In 1981 I was under age and couldn’t get into Spit. Actually, I had a three month period when I turned eighteen late in the year [but before Florida upped the drinking age] where I could have gotten into Spit but this is all moot since the Holly & The Italians concert was when I was seventeen! Stinging irony? I’ve always been a total straight-edge. Never had a drop!

The album only ever got a release on CD in 2002 on the tiny Wounded Bird reissue label. I bought a copy the single time I saw it in 2004 and it was a darned good thing too. The album swiftly went OOP and is now in the $50-$125 range. The release was abetted with three B-sides and an alternate version of “Miles Away” from the 7″ A-side. The group as such split after this one album, leaving Holly Beth Vincent to go solo for her followup project, which was an album named… “Holly + The Italians” but otherwise a very different kettle of fish. But that’s a tale for another time. Beg, borrow or steal to get a copy on vinyl of this unmitigated classic. It’s the very best female led rock and roll album I’ve ever heard and Ms. Vincent nails the songwriting, singing, and guitar playing on this release making her an all time triple threat who should be in the Rock + Roll Hall Of Fame if only for this album!

– 30 –

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4 Responses to Record Review: Holly + The Italians – The Right To Be Italian

  1. Echorich says:

    Great album! I think Ms. Vincent did suffer from rather than benefit from the success of Chryssie Hynde’s Pretenders though. Radio and the industry itself still didn’t have enough vision to see that you could have more than one Rock Chick. Even Joan Jett had to wait until The Pretender’s popularity waned to take off. I’m curious if you are Yea or Nay when it comes to the The Pretenders. I hold the first two albums on a pretty high pedestal, even if I have never been in the majority on this with most of my friends.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I finally got the first Pretenders album on CD in 2006. I had managed to last 21 years without a copy. My album had gone away during the Great Vinyl Purge in 1985. It’s a good, but not great album. I never bought Pretenders II. I had heard “Bad Boys Get Spanked” and thought it pandered to the lowest echelon of listener. Since I already had the Sire EP, it ended there for me. All of the Pretenders material that I care to hear is on the debut and EP. “Cuban Slide” is a great song! Holly Beth Vincent wipes the floor six times over with the far less adept Chrissie Hynde! The woman is a major, major talent in my opinion. Ms. Hynde was in the right place at the right time. Too bad she had junkies for band mates. The act was lost without Scott and Farndon. Too right with your comment about “the industry!”


  2. Taffy says:

    Unmitigated classic for sure! Been on holiday, was delighted to scroll through your entries and find a review of one of my all-time favorite albums. I adore this joyous fusion of girl-group yearning and punky power-pop. While I do appreciate subsequent solo efforts, I wish there was another album or two in this vein so I’d have more than ten songs to play over and over.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – I hope you enjoyed your break. I loved this album so hard, that I went loooooo-oooong years before picking up her 2nd album since I was aware of how different its thrust was. What a sap I was! At my friend Tom’s behest, I finally bought a copy and was blown away on a different level that time! The Vowel Movement album was a big miss for me, I have to admit. I got “Demos Federico” last year and was pleased with how satisfying it was in spite of its origins. I need to get all of her other projects.


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