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The Best of Ranger Rick

Rick Johnson Gets A Haircut

After completing my series of articles on Creem magazine, I felt that Rick Johnson needed a final salute. Here, I’ve wrapped up my favorite quotes from Ranger Rick, the man who would write his humorous phrases on index cards and then thumb through them to see what fit in a particular piece. As he later told interviewer Andrew Lapoite, “I would do anything to get a good line into the piece.” He also mentioned in that interview, still available on RockCritics.Com, that he was heavily influenced by first generation rock critic/terminal bad boy/Blue Oyster Cult lyricist Richard Melzer. Johnson, “The idea that I got from Richard Meltzer was that you don’t take anything seriously and you make fun of everything, including the stuff that you really, really like. Once I adopted that point of view, that changed everything.”

Below are quotes from the Peoria, Illinois based “Prairie Sun” newspaper and from Creem magazine.

The Raspberries, “Side 3.” “The Raspberries are more fun than a good hanging. Make that 10 good hangings. They are that much fun.” November 1973, Prairie Sun.

Thunderpussy, “Documents of Captivity. “Illinois bands tend to sound like a cow in the last stages of Bang’s Disease squatting on a steel guitar, play ‘bout as fast as a drugged leech on a sticky driveway, and record their albums in greenhouses. There was even some scam called “River Music” bouncing around here for a while, no doubt referring to the tendency of the thick-witted Big Miss to clog-out into total scum-bottomed anti-motion, leaving everything within 50 miles smelling like a damp basement in July. Then along comes Thunderpussy like a beer fart in Sunday school, really cleaning out the air.” April 1974, Prairie Sun.

Sparks, “Kimono My House.”  “Pick up on some of this engaging weirdness before you find yourself left out of the cheese.” October 1974, Prairie Sun.

Angel, “Angel.”  “’Tower’ is the prototypical Angel song. A massive sound-effect opening that blips like an oscilloscope plugged into a seagull’s ass, roaring Amtrak bass lines, deep-sea organ washes, guitar that’s sealed in a vacuum-packed feedback container, holy-water Mellotron, and guilt-drenched vocal dramatics that carry muddled lyrics concerning dreams, pain, monasteries, ox-carts lumbering over dung-covered cobblestones in the evening mist, that kind of thing.” December 1975, Prairie Sun.

Jim Croce, “The Faces I’ve Been.”  “The guy was so dormant when he was alive that his death was redundant.” December 1975, Prairie Sun.

Steppenwolf, “Hour of the Wolf.” “Basically forgettable hard tedium and armpit sounds. For a band that once seemed ready to take on all of L.A. armed only with filed-down Silvertone guitars, the trip to obedience school was apparently near-fatal.” December 1975, Creem.

“ZZ Top are now being patted on the wallet as an overnight phenomenon after five long years of road sleaze and playing to zoned-out cowboys with branding irons in their eyes.” Creem, January 1976.

“Canuck rockers do seem to have some uglier-than-thou competition going among themselves along with a tendency to pounce on unsuspecting ears like a carnivorous dumptruck.” Feature on Rush, March 1976, Creem.

“With the possible exception of the late-coming Queen, no other group has their distinctive combination of pyramid vocals layered on a solid base of clinical drumming and a guitar that sounds like someone trying to scrape their way out of a grave with a rusty spoon.” Feature on Sweet, May 1976, Creem.

“It isn’t easy being a minor character in your own dreams.” Johnson on Bill Wyman, June 1976, Creem.

Wings, “At the Speed of Sound.”  “McCartney’s first move was to hang up the new car smell of the ‘Venus and Mars’ LP. That record was ‘nice,’ but you kept expecting Mrs. Olsen to totter out between cuts and mumble something about mountains.”  July 1976, Prairie Sun.

“As the prime purveyors of desensitized stupidity in the twilight of behavioral sink, Kiss could not be matched. Their 70s treatments of Chuck Berry succeeded where others of the same ‘mentality’ fell short because they alone had a true insight into the realities of day-to-day teenage dumbness not unlike a latter day Beach Boys.” July 1976, Creem.

Thin Lizzy, “Jailbreak.” “How’d you like to run into Thin Lizzy in a dark alley? No, thanks, they’d remove your face for future lampshade use. They treat life like a napkin.”  December 1976, Prairie Sun.

Runaways, “Queens of Noise.” “These bitches suck…They’re not any good, they’re not so bad they’re good, they’re not ANYTHING…On the whole, they just play too slow. You can almost hear ferns turning into coal in the background.” April 1977, Creem.

“He doesn’t like a day older than a clean urinal,” Johnson on Dick Clark. May 1977, Creem.

Peter Frampton, “I’m in You.” “His voice whines like an overheated egg. His guitar playing is whiny as well. In fact, when he trades off his vocals with his guitar, he sounds like two extremely tired waitresses discussing a particularly obnoxious customer.”  September 1977, Prairie Sun.

“How to Be a Rock Critic (In One E-Z Lesson),” “The Record Review: The greatest reviews contain the same three elements as the greatest songs – sex, violence, and uncalled-for insults. Example: Stevie Nicks voice makes your undies feel like they’ve been in a waffle iron (sex). I barely got through the second cut on ‘Agents of Fortune’ before I had to go firebomb an orphanage (violence). Helen Reddy’s latest sounds like cyanide dripping slowly into the Los Angeles water supply.” Rick also explained the terms “Riff: What a thin dog says” and “Editor: A tinny voice on the phone that tells rotten jokes you have to laugh at or else.” October 1977, Creem.

Rick Johnson on AC/DC, “Australians are the Good Old Boys of the Southern Hemisphere. After a hard day at the billy club factory, your avg. Aussie guzzles a couple garbage cans of beer and heads down to the beach (it’s either that or the desert) where they all sit around comparing leg hair, telling aborigine jokes and hitting each other over the head with surf boards…These olfactory infants just donkey the old bambam to death with all the inspiration of a pajama flame-retardant…Stay tuned for their live-in-N.Y. album, tentatively titled ‘Wallaby of Broadway.’” November 1977, Creem.

Electric Light Orchestra, “Out of the Blue.” “’Two Record Set’ is one of those phrases you don’t want to hear, like ‘payment overdue,’ ‘appeal denied’ and ‘roving gangs of black youths.’” February 1978, Creem.

Wire, “Pink Flag.”  “Wire isn’t just another crew of Limey gearhogs dropping empty black paint cans down the trash chute of some hovel skyscraper. Besides reducing punk noise to a drone essence not unlike stripped-down Ramones, they’ve left incriminating brain marks all over their lyrics, suggesting a deadly I-beam intelligence pure enough to measure red shifts in the reflection off a greasy urinal handle.”  April 1978, Prairie Sun.

Boston, “Don’t Look Back.” “Let’s get this out in the open right away: BOSTON SUCKS. The corrupted simplicity that’s the base of the Tom Scholz Big Sound is totally hollow. Their music is so exterior, you really shouldn’t listen to it. You should paint your water tower with it.”  September 1978, Prairie Sun.

Johnson on The Stranglers, “Their melodies are about as exciting as good sleeping weather.” September 1978, Creem.

Johnson on Rick Roberts of Firefall, “It’s not so much that all of his songs sound alike as that you can’t tell them apart. He should cut notches in their ears like cattle so that when one of them wanders over to Stephen Stills’ spread, it can be returned to his rightful owner. Oh, I see. Stills IS the rightful owner.” February 1979, Creem.

Sparks, “The No. 1 Song in Heaven.”  I never really did ‘fit in’ with the disco scene. My clothes are all borrowed from Junior High School exhibits of Unsuitable Attire. I have difficulty remaining ‘animated’ during pointless pick-up conversations. And, when I try to dance, I look like a demonstration of rubber farm implements.” May 1979, Prairie Sun.

Journey, “Evolution.”  “If they ever create a cartoon character based on snot, Steve Perry will no doubt be called upon to be the voice.”  June 1979, Prairie Sun.

“The voice of Geddy Lee sounds like snip ‘n’ fix time at the kennel.” October 1979, Creem.

“Many pop sociologists and complete idiots alike think that the ’80s are going to be a chromium whazoo, mainly because that’s when 1984 will occur. Where would they be if George Orwell had entitled his book ‘Rats Nibbled My Eyeballs’ instead?” January 1980, Creem.

“The Beat’s debut album is as easy to like as babysitter breasts. Strong tunes, tight playing, bright production and an overall snappiness comparable to Islamic justice.” February 1980, Creem.

Ramones, “End of the Century.” “Repeats and remakes and vocals in slings; dream sequence piano and sax without swing; disc jockey blabber and let’s throw in some strings! These are a few of my favorite things. Sure they are, right up there beside the Ayatollah, Marshall Tucker fans, songs about lemon squeezers, bringing up the draft…and certain people who exist solely for the purpose of asking stupid questions.” May 1980, Creem.

Van Halen, “Women and Children First.” “Combining as they do the most endearing musical aspects of helicopter decapitations, clothes dryers full of hunting knives and your average hailstorm of frozen aluminum dinnerware sets striking a Pepsi-Cola bottling plant, the little Dutch boys and their pals have cut through the façade of heavy metal manners and taken a bead on pure form bamalama.” July 1980, Creem.

Rick Johnson on Journey, “Dry heaves conceptualized.” August 1980, Creem.

Johnson, describing the heavy metal genre, “imitates sound of cinderblock hurricane striking local petting zoo at lunchtime.” October 1980, Creem.

Johnson on the Scorpions, “One of post-war Germany’s biggest mistakes.”  October 1980, Creem.

Eagles, “Eagles Live.”  “’Double Live Album’ is one of those red flag phrases that anyone sensible doesn’t want to hear. Those three little words carry a Nuisance Potential comparable to such winners as “consecutive life sentences,” “minimal brain damage,” or “was that red car yours?” November 1980, Prairie Sun.

Johnson on big moments in “Wimp Rock,” “The Beatles perform ‘Till There Was You’ on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ creating several million Rolling Stones fans.” December 1980, Creem.

Johnson on the year 1961, “This is the last year for many centuries that you could turn upside down and it still reads the same!” December 1980, Creem.

Edgar Winter, “Standing on Rock.”  “Oh boy, Edgar Winter is in love. Hallelujah, have a cigar, unbag that rice, you sure caught a fine one this time, Dad hasn’t lost a daughter, he’s gained albino chromosomes for the family gene pool.”  March 1981, Prairie Sun. 

Johnson reviewing Blondie, “Plainly speaking, ‘Autoamerican’ is indisputedly the biggest bomb by a major act since Christianity.” May 1981, Creem.

Johnson on AC/DC, “Brian Johnson’s fingerprints were found all over Bon Scott’s neck.” July 1981, Creem.

Johnson on “The Secret History of Queen,“ “1978 – The ‘Jazz’ LP becomes most ignored effort by a major act since Tanya Tucker’s suicide attempt. 1980 – “Another One Bites the Dust’ reaches ridiculous heights of fame for a song that sounds like Trigger counting to six.” August 1981, Creem.

Lester Bangs & the Delinquents, “Jook Savages on the Brazos.” “The 10 originals here demonstrate a style of songwriting that, if it were a nuthouse or prison, would be described as ‘seriously understaffed.’” September 1981, Prairie Sun.

Johnson on “The Partridge Family,” “Let us not forget Chris and Tracy, a pair of child actors so wiped out they make autism look like tap dancing.” September 1981, Creem.

Kraftwerk, “Computer World.” “A couple of these tunes are catchy in a sticky sort of way. So is spilled coffee, and I don’t see anyone lining up to lick my desk.” September 1981, Creem.

Johnson on Richard Simmons, “Possesses a personal magnetism slightly below that of a relocated witness…His wimpy/crawly voice sounds like Lassie whining through a kazoo…A hair transplant that resembles a scale model of an amoeba being electrocuted…curlytop puppetwipe…the studio audience, a mass of grounded airships in tights rolling around on the floor like waterbeds stuffed with mittens.” October 1981, Creem.

Johnson on Blue Oyster Cult, “Rumor ’76: As a promotional stunt for ‘(Don’t Fear) the Reaper,’ Buck and Rick firebombed the office of a New York suicide prevention hotline.” October 1981, Creem.

Ringo Starr, “Stop and Smell the Roses.” “The perfect Xmas gift for that special someone you’re totally indifferent to.” November 1981, Prairie Sun.

Johnson on Devo, “While their signature beat is really just another version of the physiologically irresistible hesitation shuffle, the spudoids’ singular attack makes it all theirs…Yes, it chokes my gopher.” January 1982, Creem.

Johnson on The Knack, “There’s just no getting around the fact that these guys are the most hated band in America. It’s not right either. They should only by the SECOND most hated, right after Pablo Cruise.” February 1982, Creem.

“David Byrne – what a creepy looking guy! Rogue eyeballs and an Adam’s apple that call its own shots. So stiff that, if he stood in a draft, he’d twang.” March 1982, Creem.

Johnson on David Byrne producing the B-52’s, “There are some extra percussion sounds and special effects, but not enough to make you feel like you’re at a pygmy acid-head reunion.” May 1982, Creem.

“I don’t LIKE Rick Johnson, ” Joan Jett. June 1982, Creem.

Johnson on Haircut One Hundred, “I just don’t understand what the big deal is with all this credit card spanking, sax honk and dial-twaddle. Hell, you could dance to my sump pump every spring, but I don’t hear Clive baby tap, tap, tapping on my cellar door. And these groups adding horns just riots me to pieces. Didn’t we go through this once before? Do the words AL KOOPER mean anything to you?” July 1982, Creem.

Johnson on Kansas, “They’ve released 1974’s Album of the Year six or seven times now and they’ve got it down to a skit. Heavy guitars and bulging bass riffing together. Keyboards splashing colors like a radium map of the Pentagon’s underground watering system. A drummer who sounds like he’s typing on tinfoil and power-volleyball vocal harmonies.”  September 1982, Creem.

Rolling Stones, “Still Life.” “Stack it up with the A-side of a Van Halen LP and you’ve got the kind of ass-whomp where buttocks fear to tread.” October 1982, Creem.

“The classic symptom of longtime cocaine abuse is called formication psychosis, where the user seriously believes that snakes, insects, squids, mudpuppies or members of Fear are riding skateboards just beneath the skin. Papa John Phillip’s description of this is particularly striking. He went to half a dozen skin specialists and begged them to get rid of the bugs crawling all over him. The doc would say ‘what bugs?’ and John would storm out of the office hollering ‘liar!’” November 1982, Creem.

Robert Plant, “Pictures at Eleven.” “The band is real solid, the lyrics contain ‘got the blues’ and ‘baby baby’ in sufficient quantity and ‘House’ Plant’s production is unobtrusive. He doesn’t blow his nose in your waffles.” November 1982, Creem.

Reader comment, “I met Rick Johnson’s parents the other day. They seem to be a nice couple of guys.” March 1983, Creem.

Johnson on Paul McCartney, “He’s got more personalities than a barrel of Sybils.” April 1983, Creem.

“I missed most of 1950 itself due to my being a fetus at the time. Hell, I even went to California that year, but saw little due to the inexcusable lack of peepholes in mommies.” November 1983, Creem.

Johnson on Dave Marsh, “The only reason you didn’t get pushed around (in high school) was ‘cause your center of gravity is already so close to the ground, it’d be like pushing around a mudpie.” November 1983, Creem.

Johnson begins the Loverboy piece by noting how nervous he is doing a band interview, something he hasn’t done in almost a decade. Johnson had tested his recorder in his office with the phrases, “Test, test, test…testing…1-2-3-4 test…testes, testes…hog balls!” According to Rick, when he punched on his recorder at the restaurant with Loverboy, “’HOG BALLS!’ hollers a recorded voice loud enough to rattle the silverware in the kitchen.” December 1983, Creem.

“Iman Lababedi is quite a guy. He’s from Lebanon – hotbed of rock criticism – but he grew up in England. Although he looks like someone you can’t quite recall from your third least memorable luau, he sneaks up on you in his unmarked personality and POW! – you’re on ‘Lebanese Camera.’” February 1984, Creem.

“If I was a girl, I’d probably spend all my time standing naked in front of a mirror and gaping, ‘Hey, where’s my Lady Schick?’” February 1984, Creem.

 Adam Ant, “Strip.” “Sitting still through one side is almost enough an ordeal to call in to work sick. Listening to both sides is enough to call in PROTOPLASM.” March 1984, Creem.

“If you really want to get scientific, you can tackle transsexuals – well, not LITERALLY, or you’ll go back to the locker room at halftime smelling like cheap cocoa butter.”  August 1984, Creem.

Johnson on Boy George, “Frankly, you look at some of his bizarre outfits and half suspect some terrorist fashion group to call up and claim responsibility.” August 1984, Creem.

“Nothing wrong with Annie Lennox that corrective panties wouldn’t cure.” August 1984, Creem.

“’Leave It to Beaver’ featured a cast of characters that will persevere like set-in mustard stains.” September 1984, Creem.

“You know how, when there’s been a horrible sex murder, the cops round up all known sex offenders and grill ‘em? Ratt sends these same people backstage passes.” February 1985, Creem.

“Vince Neil’s got the cheap whine of Geddy Lee, the pig-squeal tootery of Freddie Mercury and the sloppy seamanship of whoever’s Black Sabbath’s vocalist this month.” February 1985, Creem.

“Do something to earn your salary.” A directive from Joanne Pearcy, the mother of Ratt’s Stephen Pearcy, to Rick Johnson. May 1985, Creem.

“Let me tell you a few things about people from Detroit. If you ask them where in Michigan they’re originally from, they’ll hold up their hand, point at the base of their thumb, and say ‘here,’ and expect you to know what they hell they’re talking about.” August 1985, Creem.

“Backstage Pass: when Vince Neil hurls a groupie to Nikki Sixx.” An entry from Johnson’s heavy metal dictionary. September 1985, Creem Metal Close-Up.

“I always hated Sammy Hagar. I mean, the guy looks like a dust mop that accidentally went through a creosote pole treatment plant.” November 1986, Creem.

Johnson on the “Heartbeat” album by “Miami Vice” star Don Johnson, “You know that Pepsi commercial where he doesn’t have to do anything but smile at the camera? He brings the same approach to his songwriting.” February 1987Creem.

Johnson on “The New Newlywed Game,” “Bashful Bob Eubanks is back as the host, having been rejected by Sigue Sigue Sputnik for looking too weird.” April 1987, Creem.

“Here in the rump end of the ‘80s, however, heavy metal has become as safe as such marginally obscene words as dickweed, kumquat and pusillanimous.” May 1987, Creem.

Johnson on Peter Wolf’s “Come As You Are” album, “Wolf is in top voice throughout, howling like a man who’s having his tonsils put back in. In fact, before playing ‘Thick As Thieves,’ you might want to have a fire wall constructed around your eardrums.” August 1987, Creem.

Johnson on Gene Clark’s post Byrds career, “Clark went on to devise all sorts of solo and group projects, including a brief, ill-advised country-glam look that went over about as big as the Velcro condom.” September 1987, Creem.

“Motley Crue are truly a bunch of fun-lovin’ guys. They run around in outfits that’re about a grade short of bacon on the USDA scale. Their composite driving record puts them in a special category usually reserved for the deceased. And like the man said, when they’ve got a hammer, EVERYTHING looks like a nail.” October 1987, Creem.

Johnson on Madonna, “Her collective acting performance could easily qualify her for the National Wandering Patients Registry.” December 1987, Creem.

Johnson on David Lee Roth, “There should be a sticker on the back saying, ‘Listeners are urged to bring lawn chairs.’” January 1988, The Best of Creem.

“After Creem, I hardly did anything, ’cause the way I wrote–boy! It was not commercial, and believe me, nobody wanted it. But for me, what was so great about writing for Creem was that they let me do anything, absolutely anything. So, I had tons of fun writing like that. And it’s a good feeling to know that, you know, no matter how insane and off the wall the stuff you write is, these guys might actually publish it!” Johnson interview with RockCritics.Com, 2002.

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