“THEY CALLED IT ROCK” (WRITER: NICK LOWE AND ROCKPILE)
ARTIST: NICK LOWE WITH ROCKPILE
RELEASED 1978 ON 7” 45 AND AS A BONUS ONE-SIDED 45 ON THE JESUS OF COOL LP
Bassist/singer/producer Nick Lowe had released two solo singles and one extended play 45 under his own name by the end of 1977, making him among the earliest proponents of the so-called British “new wave.” He was also a known quantity behind the desk, producing other up-and-comers like The Damned, Graham Parker, and Elvis Costello.
His first solo single of 1978 was “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass,” a sonic and lyrical nod to the David Bowie song “Breaking Glass” which the Thin White Duke had put out the previous year. (Bowie’s Low album, which included “Breaking Glass,” led Lowe to issue an EP jokingly called Bowi.)
On the flip side of the “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” 45 was “They Called it Rock,” a hot chunk of rocking, rootsy power pop with funny lyrics about a band’s quick rise to the top of the charts and even quicker skid into obscurity. It was a tale that the sardonic Lowe, already a ten-year-veteran of the pop scene, could sing from personal experience.
Lowe’s mates on the song were the other members of the loose foursome known as Rockpile: guitarists Dave Edmunds and Billy Bremner and drummer Terry Williams. (The latter would, in a few years, join Dire Straits.) Rockpile released one album under its own name and, as a group, played on each other’s “solo” projects through the early 1980s.
Most of Lowe’s greatest material had a sense of humor about itself, about pop, and about celebrity. “They Called it Rock” is no exception.
Well they went and cut a record, the record hit the chart
'cause someone in the newspaper said that it was art
…is how the fable begins. Lowe spends the chorus reciting the names of various major record labels, pleading for a chance. Later, after the band had reached the top,
They cut another record, it never was a hit
'cause someone in the newspaper said it was shit.
And it gets worse from there.
Lowe himself would become, in America, something of a “one-hit wonder” himself with the release of the impossibly catchy “Cruel to Be Kind” in 1979; it reached #12 on the Billboard charts and was his only top 40 single.