Not Your Chick

Before riot grrrls were born, libbers mocked rock's males

At the height of brash, cock-rock bluster, years before Karen Finley slathered herself with chocolate and Bikini Kill revolutionized Girl Style Now, the Chicago and New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Bands released a joint album. In early 1972, Rounder Records invited the groups, composed of members of each organization's "agit-rock" arm, to record a split LP, Mountain Moving Day. Now reissued as Papa, Don't Lay That Shit on Me, the record has swelled to include six previously unreleased songs and two tracks from the like-minded Le Tigre: Boisterous and bright, Papa is a gleeful, somersaulting collection of calmly persuasive feminist advice.

The collective's self-proclaimed mission was to make "non-assaultive, joyful rock music," but their cooperative spirit was ultimately all-encompassing. Straining to stop stage-as-pedestal posturing, the bands alternately mocked and subverted male rock-show ritual. There was no tangible audience-performer differentiation, and unpretentious (and unabashed) crowd participation was both encouraged and facilitated: The bands dispensed lyric sheets, invited observers onstage, organized synchronized dances, cracked jokes, and snuck guitar tabs into the liner notes. Unsurprisingly, Papa is not afraid to point fingers, openly indicting the decade's more condescending rockers: "Well, the Rolling Stones, Blood Sweat and Tears/I've taken that shit for too many years!/Papa, don't lay that shit on me/I ain't your groovy chick!" howls Chicago vocalist Kathy Rowley, pipes heavy with bemused disbelief, her bandmates grinning along, rolling out slide whistle, electric piano, and light drums.

Until they worked out the kinks of composition, the bands rewrote traditional tracks, layering tough, feminist lyrics over goofy folk songs, and the resulting tension—between new and old, male and female, giggly and caustic—is instantly palpable. While the track listing sags a bit, and the bands' rollicking, leg-kicking stompers wilt midstream, Papa is still intensely compelling as a historical signifier—a proto-riot-grrrl, anti-aggressive stab at dismantling the ever pervasive cult of cock.

 
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