1978: Armand Schaubroeck Steals - Ratfucker

My favorite type of backing vocals usually occur in R&B music. There’s a passion in the ooh and aah’s and elongated sex sounds that feels inspired next to rock singers, who often seem bored behind a lead vocalist. I only mention this because there are backing vocals on all but one track off the 1978 album Ratfucker. And I cannot imagine anyone even being remotely bored singing along to the seedy fucked up insanity that is Armand Schaubroeck Steals.

Littered with expletives, pimps, drug dealers, statutory rapists, preteen whores, gigolos, and different types of contract killers, Ratfucker is as bizarre as it is filthy. The LP is arguably the pinnacle of Armand Schaubroeck Steals’ short lived career before retiring to run a famous vintage guitar store (House of Guitars) in Rochester with his brother.

Gospel choir backing vocals fuel the title track, and there’s a distinct sense of Catholic upbringing throughout the album that’s reminiscent of the Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died.” Musically, there’s some typical garage rock arrangements when the guitar riffs aren’t getting into Television/Dire Straits territory. Most notably though, the album’s processed sax sound is dripping in post-Velvets/“I Wanna Boogie With You” Lou Reed-era rock and roll.

Juxtaposed with Schaubroeck’s angry speak-singing, the centerpiece of the album is impossible to avoid. Using repetition, an antagonistic disgust, and stretched out atonal yells, Schaubroeck wears his depraved street characters in a disturbingly intense way. There’s a seedy cinematic quality surrounding the whole narrative and its cast of characters, particularly present in the ripped-off James Bond theme riffs during the last track — a theatrical 11-minute closer sung from the perspective of a hired killer who murders wives.

Schaubroeck is an actor as much as a singer, unafraid to veer off into crackpot ad-libs of hi ho’s or zip a dee do dah’s. It doesn’t seem so surprising that his impossible-to-find debut triple LP was a rock opera interspersed with spoken word dialogues about his teenage imprisonment for grand larceny (hence, the “Steals” at the end of his band name). Listeners can’t help but sense that, through his menacing sneers, Schaubroeck is processing some worthwhile exploration into the seedy underworld of urban life. The music is a case study as much as it is an artistic statement, and it’s easy to wonder whether Ratfucker could’ve been The Blue Mask or Street Hassle if the title and songs weren’t so explicit. Instead, it survives in the margins of rock and roll history as a deranged but brilliant cult classic.

DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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