Formed in New York City in 1973, The Dictators are a proto-punk outfit for whom the success of The Ramones and the revisionist interest in The Stooges and The Velvet Underground has meant being somewhat written out of the Big Apple punk and garage rock story.
Perfectly cartoonish – Ramones before Ramones existed – for me The Dictators are as important as The MC5 and The New York Dolls in the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll and their music is way more seminal, far more visceral and, importantly, completely more engaging due to its fantastically woven melodies and sleazy impact (that’s not to say that the Detroit heroes or Morrissey’s favourite band should not be touched either, though,).
Cartoonish – The Dictatrors
It’s no wonder that The Boss and the members of the E Street Band were enamoured, really. As Steve Van Zandt puts it: “[The Dictators are] the connective tissue between the eras of The MC5, The Stooges, The New York Dolls and the punk explosion of the mid to late 1970s”.
‘Stay with Me’, from 1978’s career-defining Blood Brothers record, is a song that incorporates elements of glam, ’50s rock ‘n’ roll and the punk from the two years previous (the years zero and then surely one 1976 and ’77) while vitally having that Dictators stamp indelibly indented upon it. It’s a breathless, exhilarating ode to love in the city, forcing imagery upon its consumer that would later be pivotal to the movie The Warriors.
Provocative and as punk as piss – Onstage with Miss All Bar America at CBGBs in 1977
From the opening flurry of alarm bell noise guitar to the anti-amorphous descending bass fill just after Richard Manitoba (at this point in the band’s history the sole frontman and vocalist – there’ve been many line up changes to The Dictators) yells “You just ain’t fair to this Romeo” to the anthemic chorus of “My,my,my,my,my,my,my heart is calling/Won’t ya’ stay with me” the song fizzles with electricity and pumps with alacrity. It’s a ride. It’s a big, nasty screech in a world of mediocrity and pointlessness. It’s one of the best ways to spend four minutes with your pants on.
An interesting thing to note about the Blood Brothers record and, thus, ‘Stay with Me’, is that its producer was Sandy Pearlman – producer of choice for Blue Oyster Cult and the man accused of over-polishing The Clash on their second record (recorded, also, in 1978). Thankfully, there’s no buffering here. ‘Stay with Me’ is a perfect piece of garage rock memorabilia and has unfortunately been somewhat forgotten by many. Those in the know, however, surely recognise its importance and that of the band that made it.
The Dictators – Stay with Me