Josie Cotton: A Release Party At the House of Machines, Saturday October 5th 2019
Josie Cotton may be known because of her early ‘80s hit ‘Johnny, Are You Queer?’ but there is much more behind the petite singer-songwriter who jumped on stage at the House of Machines on Saturday night.
She was actually celebrating the release of her new album titled ‘Everything Is Oh Yeah’, a record that was originally slated for release in 1986 but, because of stupid music industry shenanigans, was shelved and buried… 33 years later, it was rediscovered by people involved with the show ‘Stranger Things’ which takes place in 1986, as they were searching for unreleased records from the ‘80s. Josie herself rediscovered the album which features special guest appearances by Brian Setzer of The Stray Cats, Hunt Sales (Iggy Pop, Tin Machine), producer Geza X (Dead Kennedys, Germs), Paul Roessler (45 Grave, Nina Hagen) and others, and felt in love with it all over again. She has finally decided to share it with the world with her wearing a new-wave haircut on the colorful and retro art cover. The album, which was actually never finished at the time, was just released last Friday via Cleopatra Records, and the House of Machines and its eclectic crowd seemed to be the perfect venue to launch ‘Everything Is Oh Yeah’.
Vicky and the Vengents opened the night with their blend of garage rock spiced up by a rockabilly flavor. Singer Vicky Tafoya, a hairspray/grease theme girl with a leather jacket, had certainly the powerhouse to go with their repertoire of vintage girl-groups, punk, and retro rock & roll. And when I thought they were playing a very Ramone-y tune, they covered ‘Do you Wanna Dance’… It was a dance party indeed with a wink to the ’60s, a touch of doo-wop and a grand finale with the famous crowd-pleaser ‘Shout’.
Prima Donna had also a release to share, their new single ‘Sing To Death’ which premiered on the airwaves the following day. Frontman Kevin Preston is a familiar face, as he is also part of the Long Shot, the side project of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, but this is not the only reason to find a real coolness attached to their band,… ask the girls in the front! Their set was as fast as a bullet with effervescent rock energy and plenty of poppy hooks, while Kevin was sliding from one side of the stage to the other with an effortless dynamism, a few high jumps, and leg kickings. Since it was really a record release party there were balloons to go with the band’s tight set of rock & roll, and this was even including a saxophone number and a cover of Bananarama’ s ‘Cruel Summer’.
On a moving side note, both Vicky and Kevin paid homage to Kim Shattuck during their sets.
As soon as the band played ‘He Could Be The One’, the opening track of Josie Cotton’s 1982 album ‘Convertible Music’, the mood was in full cheerful mode and never departed much from its bubble gum pop appeal. Josie, with the help of a few Go-Go dancers and her band (featuring Paul Roessler of Screamers and Twisted Roots and once again Kevin Preston, among others) performed catchy songs with a youthful bounce and plenty of tease at the corner of the eyes. Let’s not forget that her international hit ‘Johnny Are You Queer?’ which was released on this same album — after being first performed by the Go-Go’s and then released by Josie on Bomp! Records in 1980 — started a firestorm of controversy, as it was breaking down sex and prejudice barriers. It was a phenomenon ‘much bigger than me’ she has admitted in interviews, but she gained a large gay following while the church turned her into some Satan-like infamous artist. Things have never been simple for witty and adventurous Josie, who could not be pigeonholed by the music industry, and after releasing a second album ‘From the Hip’ in 1984, she was dropped by her label Elektra. She ultimately walked away from the music business, but continued recording and even opened a recording studio, Satellite Park, with her friend Geza X.
Josie hasn’t performed much since the ‘80s, but she is back with plenty of confidence and a ‘60s girl group sensibility mixed with an ’80s modernity,… at least this was the vibe for the first songs, but the set got more diverse when she played the new songs ‘Loves Love’, a fun pop song with an almost rockabilly tempo, followed by ‘Boulevard’, a hooky tune with a great pop sensibility and a nostalgic side, or the more ferocious title track, ‘Everything Is Oh Yeah’. Every song was in full swing perhaps digging in the infectious pop of bands like the Bangles or the Go-Go’s, but she went all Russian folk ballad with ‘Ukrainian Cowboy’, a Bolshoi country song, and an adventurous combination that she completed with ‘Cold War Spy’ then ‘Secret Agent Man’.
With her platinum pink-ish hair and galaxy-theme dress, Josie could have been the embodiment of B-movie girls, a Nancy Sinatra meeting Barbarella in a James Bond movie, some themes she has visited with previous albums like ‘Movie Disaster Music’, ‘Invasion of the B-Girls’ and ‘Pussycat Babylon’.
The set also included a Ramone cover (‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker’) and of course the obligatory famous one, ‘Johnny Are You Queer’, preceded by the B-side, the punkier ‘(Let’s Do) The Blackout’, all done with the unrehearsed help of Ginger Coyote, editor in chief at Punk Globe Magazine. There was even an encore with a punk new wave tune which was rocking a sort of B-52s theme.
It may be a come back, but if you visit Josie’s website, you realize she has never stopped putting music out there, with seven albums exploring a large collection of genres from pop to rockabilly, electronica, swamp, lounge, Western, garage rock, while none other than John Waters wrote the liner notes for her ‘Invasion of the B-Girls’ album. She will be reissuing her entire catalog on her own label Kitten Robot Records throughout the upcoming year, and the first single, featuring ‘Ukrainian Cowboy’/’Cold War Spy’, has even started the collection.
Looking at the energy on display inside the packed room, Josie Cotton still has plenty to sing and many witty tunes to share.
He Could Be The One
School Is In
Everything Is Oh Yeah
Calling All Girls
Cold War Spy
Secret Agent Man
Sheena is a Punk Rocker
Let’s Do the Blackout
Johnny Are You Queer?