Junkman – a duet by Genya Ravan and Ian Hunter
Performed by Genya Ravan and Ian Hunter and written by Joe Droukas. You can listen to the song here and buy it at iTunes here. The song first appeared on Genya Ravan’s And I Mean It and appears on the Ian Hunter Collection, Once Bitten, Twice Shy.
It’s 1979 and singer, producer, all-around tough girl, Genya Ravan goes into the studio to cut her second solo album. By then she had evolved through every genre that would have her, beginning with her girl band roots (Goldie and the Gingerbreads). She led the New York-based rock band Ten Wheel Drive, signed with Columbia, who thought she was the next Janis Joplin, discovered and produced the Dead Boys after a night at CBGBs and sang with everyone from Buddy Guy to Ronnie Spector to Dusty Springfield and jazzman Buzzy Linhart.
She entered the studio with a song penned by Joe Droukas that called for a duet, a rock ballad with some possibilities. Van Morrison was supposed to provide the male voice, but a tour kept him from the recording session. Ravan’s manager reached out to Bruce Springsteen cause he may have been tough enough and had the swagger to match Ravan’s fierceness. While Springsteen dawdled, Mick Ronson, lead guitarist for Mott the Hoople wandered into the studio. He had a natural suggestion: Mott’s front man, Ian Hunter. Is there anyone who does the combination of jaded and vulnerable better than Ian Hunter? He’s the ultimate cad who turns out to have a heart. One listen and you know that Hunter and Ravan made the perfect pairing for this song.
Play “Junkman” now and you’ll wonder how this didn’t become a monster hit; why isn’t it a hit now? After a few listens, you’ll have the song floating round your cranium and you’ll be repeating, “Should’ve listened to the junkman.” Forget those lists of run-of-the-mill power ballads (“November Rain” indeed), cause this here’s the real thing: a song that starts small and intimate and grows to a raging wall of sound and emotion, singers who make us believe and performances the that tear the paint off the walls.
First, we hear the acoustic strums of Ronson’s guitar lulling us into a quiet moment, drawing us closer, then comes the plaintive, incredibly sexy voice of Ravan. “The Southside girls they told me/That you were hot as fire.” Her voice is constrained, but you know it won’t be for long, you can feel the pent-up longing and lust. “And I remember every word you said/When you told me I’d get burned/I said don’t worry baby/I’ll just live and learn.” And she meant it, you know she did, even if remorse already drenches the line.
She sings the first chorus as if a gentle rebuke, “should’ve listened to the junkman…it’s a sin that takes a love and loses.”
Ian Hunter’s voice responds with the perfect combination of British cockiness and world-weariness, telling her, “You’ve been confusing lust with love/I think I’m gonna let you go.”
There they are: the girl who won’t get burned and the been-around-the-block guy who never falls in love. You know where this is headed. “Oh, baby we play these games/I’d never thought we’d do it/But we done it just the same.”
The song rises on Ronson’s guitar and swirling keyboards and those voices, growing more powerful as the truth of their longing overwhelms their coolness. Next thing you know, Ravan’s singing, “I sweep away that shattered heart that one time got away.”
The song soars with combination of desire and loss and the revelation that these hidebound creatures couldn’t help themselves. Call it love, call it lust, all the reasons in the world couldn’t keep them apart. The chorus repeats, “You should’ve listened to your junkman,” but the voices make clear the disbelief as to how far each went. “I don’t want to beg,” they sing over and over, begging for one more time. The song builds to a crescendo of Ronson’s guitar licks and the full-lunged wailing of Ravan and Hunter venting their irresistible longing and regret, their voices transcending the lyrics to full-throated cries of love.
Melodrama comes when a song reaches for emotions it doesn’t deserve, but this near six-minute explosion of desire generates real passion that comes to life in the perfect pairing of Ravan and Hunter’s voices. He swings low, damning himself while she keens, whirls and flies above, each burned and giving voice to the anguish of their desire.
We often connect people with songs, especially people who introduce us to new music. When this album came out in 1979, I hosted a college radio show and a friend turned me on to Genya Ravan and “Junkman.” I was immediately smitten with the song – as this small appreciation clearly indicates – and played it as often as I did Neil Young’s “Thrasher,” Graham Parker and the Clash. Genya Ravan wasn’t a household name – no one else at our less than edgy station had heard of her – so it took some explorations and special knowledge to find her music and a particular person to become a fan. Which brings me to Carol, the woman who did the exploring and the experimenting and had the combination of toughness to like Ravan enough to own two of her albums. It turns out that Carol knew a lot more music than just Genya Ravan, in fact, she knew a lot more about a lot of things, and that combination of riskiness, daring and high standards added to her charms. I was a fool back then, still am, but I knew enough to follow that friend and still do, since Carol became my bride. You might have seen her recently shaking her hips to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings cause she still has a thing for tough women and a weak spot for fools like me.
The song originally appeared on Genya Ravan’s album And I Mean It, which you can get at ITunes. You can listen to the now 70-year-old Ravan on her radio show that is part of Little Steven’s Underground Garage on Sirius Radio. Check out her website here.