In the late 1970s, the Ramones came to Portland on tour and forever changed the course of Pacific Northwest punk. Local music stalwart Fred Cole, whose band King Bee opened the show, was blown away by the rough-edged rockers. Though Cole had been playing rock music for over 10 years at this time, he knew he had to start a punk band. He taught his partner, Toody, to play bass, enlisted a local drummer, and The Rats were born. In a Desperate Red, the band’s third LP, is punk canon: a perfect, minimal garage pop record, which, fortunately for us, is being re-released by Mississippi Records.
The album opens with the sound of someone dialing a rotary phone, and then bursts into a rhythmic track reminiscent of X, about the frustration of waiting for someone to call. Toody and Cole trade vocal duties throughout, which keeps the sound interesting. “Come on Toody” is a sweet, playful song, where Cole bemoans his wife’s tendency to make him late. “Just a Man,” sung by Toody, is post-punk satire about a jerk who lacks self-awareness (think Bikini Kill’s “Reject All American”). “Just a Man” has a slow, bare-bones spoken word chorus, and a fast, catchy verse that builds into a Patti Smith-esque crescendo. While Cole and Toody would go on to reach acclaim with Dead Moon, The Rats was a crucial stepping stone in their long careers. In a Desperate Red—melodic, raw, and full of attitude—more than deserves another moment in the spotlight.