Hello there! This is another installment in our recurring series, Tim’s Cover Story Goes To The Movies. This week we will discuss the song Smokin’ In the Boys Room, one of the great ‘bad boy’ songs.
We will first direct our attention to the original version by Brownsville Station. Next, we will discuss the movie Rock and Roll High School, where this tune was featured. We will then review covers of this song by Motley Crue and by LeAnn Rimes.
Brownsville Station and Smokin’ In The Boys Room:
The band Brownsville Station was formed in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1969. Their leader and lead vocalist was Cub Koda. Other original members of the band were guitarist Mike Lutz, bassist Tony Driggins and drummer T.J. Cronley.
Here is a photo of Brownsville Station circa 1970. From L: T.J. Cronley; Cub Koda; Tony Driggins.Embed from Getty Images
Initially Brownsville Station focused on covers of songs from bands that inspired them. They were particularly focused on ‘roots’ rockers such as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Jerry Lee Lewis. However, they soon began writing their own material.
The song Smokin’ In the Boys Room was co-written by Mike Lutz and Cub Koda. It was initially released on the band’s 1973 album Yeah! The tune describes a group of high school boys who are determined not to get caught while breaking the rules by smoking in school.
The song begins with an intro by lead vocalist Cub Koda. Koda addresses the listener and promises to share some of the wisdom he has absorbed from his time in school. “How you doin’ out there? Ya ever seem to have one of those days where it just seems like everybody’s gettin’ on your case? From your teacher all the way down to your best girlfriend? Well, ya know, I used to have ’em just about all the time. But I found a way to get out of ’em; let me tell you about it.”
Koda then launches into the song.
Sitting in the classroom, thinking it’s a drag
Listening to the teacher rap, just ain’t my bag.
The noon bell rings, you know that’s my cue
I’m gonna meet the boys on floor number two!
Smokin’ in the boys’ room
Smokin’ in the boys’ room
Now, teacher, don’t you fill me up with your rules
But everybody knows that smokin’ ain’t allowed in school.
Checkin’ out the halls, makin’ sure the coast is clear
Lookin’ in the stalls, “No, there ain’t nobody here!”
My buddy Fang, and me and Paul
To get caught would surely be the death of us all.
Smokin’ In the Boys Room became one of the iconic ‘bad boy’ tunes. A salute to teenage anarchy — copping a smoke while holed up in a high school toilet — resonated with young men across the country. The irreverent attitude celebrated in Smokin’ In The Boys Room became an anthem for rebellious teenagers.
The song rose to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts at the beginning of 1974, and it also hit #3 on the Canadian playlists. Smokin’ In The Boys Room went on to sell over two million records. The hit propelled Brownsville Station to stardom, and for a short while the boys cashed in on their newfound fame.
So here is Brownsville Station in a live performance of Smokin’ In The Boys Room.
This took place on a Midnight Special broadcast; I believe that it aired in early 1974. Cub Koda rocks away on lead guitar and lead vocals. Koda is seen in his trademark gigantic round glasses, while he sports a shirt reminiscent of a Footlocker shoe store employee. Meanwhile, Tony Driggins thumps away on the bass while drummer T.J. Cronley keeps time for the band.
Alas, Brownsville Station never really re-captured the magic of their one big hit. Although they placed seven songs on the Billboard Hot 100 singles, no other single record scored in the top 20.
In 1977, the group released a song called The Martian Boogie. It was regularly played on “The Dr. Demento Show,” a weekly radio program that featured weird and unusual tunes (and was the show that first made Weird Al Yankovic famous). However, Martian Boogie stalled out at #59 on the Billboard pop charts.
The group issued their last album in 1978 and disbanded in 1979. After that, Cub Koda fronted a couple of other bands, but then became best known for his contributions to rock music history.
Koda had a famous collection of ‘roots’ rock music such as doo-wop, rockabilly and the blues. He was a regular contributor to the AllMusic Guide.
He also wrote a popular column (“The Vinyl Junkie”) for Goldmine magazine and co-authored the book Blues For Dummies. In addition, he hosted The Cub Koda Crazy Show for Massachusetts radio station WCGY during a period in the early 80s.
Cub Koda died of liver disease in July 2000; he was 51 years old. However, Koda’s outsize personality and ‘wild man’ image were inspirations to some later artists such as Alice Cooper, and Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band.
The Film Rock and Roll High School:
The 1979 movie Rock and Roll High School was produced by Roger Corman, the king of the low-budget film, and directed by Allen Arkush. Below left is a promotional poster for that movie.
The premise of the movie is that Vincent J. Lombardi High School keeps losing its school principals. The students in that school are obsessed with rock ‘n roll to the detriment of their academic performance; this causes one principal after another to suffer a nervous breakdown.
In this movie, Lombardi High student Riff Randell (P.J. Soles) is a fervent fan of The Ramones. Riff is ecstatic when she obtains a ticket to a Ramones concert, as she intends to present them with a song, Rock and Roll High School, that she has written for their band.
However, school principal Miss Togar (Mary Jane Woronov) throws a monkey wrench into Riff’s plans by confiscating her ticket. Next, Miss Togar convinces a group of parents to organize an event where rock records will be assembled and burned. The students protest by naming The Ramones as honorary students.
Eventually, the students take over the school but are evicted by the police. The film ends with the school blowing up.
Rock and Roll High School featured a number of hard-rock hits. Not surprisingly, most of the songs (11 in all) were by The Ramones. However, a number of ‘bad boy’ rock songs were also included, including Smokin’ In The Boys Room by Brownsville Station and School’s Out by Alice Cooper.
Interestingly, the first choices of the movie’s producers were Cheap Trick or Todd Rundgren. However, both of these artists had schedule conflicts, so the Ramones got the part.
This movie was filmed at LA’s Mount Carmel High School, a school that had closed in 1976. One big advantage of utilizing an abandoned school was that the producers were able to film the actual demolition of the school, and work that into the script.
Apparently the blast was significantly stronger than had been anticipated. As a result, several people on the set were so frightened by the explosion that it took several days before they returned to work.
Here is the music video for Brownsville Station’s Smokin’ In The Boys Room.
Here, clips of Brownsville Station (I believe from the same Midnight Special performance we showed in the preceding section) are interspersed with shots of teenagers lighting up. In addition, there are a number of clips of apes smoking cigarettes.
Rock and Roll High School received generally positive reviews. The film had an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and became one of Roger Corman’s cult classics. As a result, a sequel Rock and Roll High School Forever was filmed in 1991; and there are persistent rumors that shock-radio DJ Howard Stern’s company is planning yet another remake of the movie.
Motley Crue and Smokin’ In The Boys Room:
The heavy-metal band Motley Crue was formed in L.A. in 1981. Bassist Nikki Sixx assembled a quartet that included Tommy Lee, Mick Mars and Vince Neil.
Here is a photo of Motley Crue from circa 1983. From L: lead guitarist Mick Mars; drummer Tommy Lee (back); rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist Vince Neil; and bassist Nikki Sixx.Embed from Getty Images
Apparently Mick Mars was recruited to the band after the other members answered an advertisement he placed in the West Coast classifieds-only paper The Recycler that read: “Loud, rude and aggressive guitar player available”.
The band’s debut album did not sell particularly well. However, Motley Crue became notorious as a result of various incidents on a Canadian tour associated with that album. Several of those incidents were staged to provide publicity for the group – such as the confiscation of a trove of sex toys and pornographic magazines when the group passed through Canadian customs; a phony bomb threat that ended one of their concerts; and an incident where Tommy Lee threw a TV set off the top of their Edmonton hotel.
However, the group also experienced significant real-life drama. In 1984, Vince Neil was involved in a head-on car collision in which his passenger was killed. Neil eventually served 18 days in jail and was fined $2 million, for his conviction on both DUI and manslaughter charges. Motley Crue responded to the notoriety by issuing a box set titled Music To Crash Your Car To.
Then in 1987, Nikki Sixx was declared legally dead following a heroin overdose. However, a paramedic in the ambulance transporting Sixx revived him with two shots of adrenaline in his heart. Again, the group capitalized on the incident by writing a song titled Kickstart My Heart.
Motley Crue subsequently surged to the top of the heavy-metal charts. They embodied the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll” lifestyle. They combined top-selling albums with prosperous tours, and remained in the public eye with their outrageous antics.
Apparently Motley Crue was accustomed to using the iconic Brownsville Station rocker Smokin’ In The Boys Room when they carried out sound checks before a performance. They liked the song so much that they eventually decided to record it for one of their albums.
The song was included on the band’s 1985 album Theatre of Pain. Released as a single, the Motley Crue cover of Smokin’ In The Boys Room reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 playlists. It was the first top-40 pop hit for Motley Crue; the song subsequently became a popular tune in the band’s live concerts.
Here is Motley Crue in a live performance of Smokin’ In The Boys Room.
This took place in Moscow’s Lenin Stadium. After starting off with a few F-bombs, Vince Neil reprises Cub Koda’s introduction to Smokin’ In The Boys Room before launching into the song.
Spectators at the packed stadium seemed delighted to experience Vince Neil’s vocals, backed by Mick Mars on guitar, Nikki Sixx on bass and Tommy Lee banging away on drums. I have to say that I am more impressed with the band’s energy than their musical talent.
This took place at the August 1989 two-day Moscow Music Peace Festival, a momentous and somewhat bizarre concert. As part of Mikhael Gorbachev’s perestroika policy, a few rock ‘n roll concerts were permitted in Russia shortly before the breach of the Berlin Wall.
At left is a photo of a poster advertising the Moscow Music Peace Festival. This event was drenched in irony, as the Soviets had previously strongly condemned rock ‘n roll music as evidence of the decadence of the West. Of course, this only increased the demand in Russia for rock music.
But the idea of opening up the Iron Curtain to head-banging glam-rockers seemed rather outrageous, even in an era that occasionally permitted visits of rock musicians.
The Moscow Music Peace Festival was sponsored by the Make A Difference Foundation and its founder Doc McGhee, who also happened to be the manager for both Bon Jovi and Motley Crue. Those two acts were headliners in a group that also included Ozzy Osbourne and Scorpions.
One stated purpose of the concert was to combat alcohol and drug abuse. It therefore seemed paradoxical to include artists like Motley Crue and Ozzy Osbourne, who had a reputation as notorious abusers of drugs and alcohol. Cynics suggested that the anti-drug theme of the event, and even the creation of the Make A Difference Foundation, were merely efforts by Doc McGhee to minimize his sentence following a drug conviction.
In any case, the event drew enormous crowds, predominantly young males, to Lenin Stadium. Each of the headlining groups ran through a set of their biggest hits, and each day ended with an all-hands jam session.
As might be expected, there were also a number of disagreements among the groups. Perhaps the most bitter dispute was between Doc McGhee’s two bands Motley Crue and Bon Jovi.
The members of Motley Crue were angered by what they perceived as McGhee’s favoritism towards Bon Jovi. Part of this stemmed from the conviction by the Crue members (and the tour’s other glam-metal acts) that Bon Jovi was not an ‘authentic’ heavy-metal band, but more pop-oriented.
So the fact that Bon Jovi went on last, and their act featured pyrotechnics that had been forbidden to Motley Crue, became a source of considerable friction. Immediately following the tour, Motley Crue dropped McGhee as their manager.
Eventually, the years of drug and alcohol abuse caught up with Motley Crue. With the exception of Mick Mars, all the band members landed in drug rehab (Mars sobered up on his own).
The last couple of decades have been marked by tension between various members of Motley Crue. Vince Neil was fired by the band in 1992, but returned in 1997. Tommy Lee quit the group at least twice, but then returned for reunions.
As far as I know, Motley Crue disbanded for good in 2015. However, over the course of its lifetime the band sold 100 million records. Only 25 million of those were in the U.S. and the rest of the sales were abroad, but their commercial success was striking.
To date, the band has been passed over for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Motley Crue were one of the best-known heavy-metal or glam-metal bands, and were (for good or ill) an inspiration for a gaggle of “big-hair” bands that followed them.
We will see whether Motley Crue makes the Rock Hall of Fame one day. If not, then “all that glitters …”
LeAnn Rimes and Smokin’ In The Boys Room:
LeAnn Rimes is a country singer who was born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1982. Ms. Rimes started out as a child actor in musical theatre roles. At age eight, she appeared on Star Search where she was highly touted by Ed McMahon.
Ms. Rimes was then groomed by Dallas DJ and record promoter Bill Mack. She became a child star at the age of 13, when her debut album Blue reached #1 on the Top Country Albums charts.
Here is a photo of LeAnn Rimes performing while in her teens.Embed from Getty Images
In her debut, LeAnn was frequently compared to country legend Patsy Cline. This was in no small part because Bill Mack, the songwriter for Blue, claimed that he had originally written the song for Ms. Cline, but she died in a plane crash before recording it.
The album Blue made LeAnn Rimes an overnight sensation. In 1997 she became the youngest person ever to win Grammy Awards, for Best New Artist and Best Country Vocal Performance. In addition she was the first country performer to win the Best New Artist Grammy.
After a couple more country albums, LeAnn began issuing work that was more in the pop music or adult contemporary vein. While her shift in emphasis cost her some of her country music fans, she became exposed to a whole new audience, and her albums continued to sell like hotcakes.
Here is LeAnn Rimes in a live performance of Smokin’ In The Boys Room.
This took place at a Pacific National Exposition concert in Vancouver in 2014. I really like Rimes’ take on this heavy-metal tune, which she first debuted on a Motley Crue tribute album. She gives it a very enjoyable R&B flavor, which she likens to a “strip-club sound.” The song features a couple of impressive slide-guitar solos.
I was not very familiar with Ms. Rimes prior to seeing this performance, but I am now a big fan. I can see why she was a teen-age sensation as a country singer.
In the past decade, LeAnn Rimes has produced most of her own music. She had a highly-publicized break with her father, who had produced her early records. Ms. Rimes also fought hard to gain control of record production decisions and ownership of her record catalog.
In recent years, Rimes has alternated between country music and adult contemporary, and has continued to find success in both ventures. In addition to Patsy Cline, her voice has been compared to country stars Brenda Lee and Tanya Tucker (Tucker was the only country star in living memory to achieve fame at a younger age than Ms. Rimes).
LeAnn Rimes continues to be nominated for Country Music Association awards, and she has recorded duets with heavy hitters such as Reba McIntyre and Kenny Chesney. Rimes has also written two novels and two children’s books.
In 2011 Ms. Rimes married Eddie Cibrian, an actor whom she met when the two of them were working together on a made-for-TV movie. Their relationship precipitated a rather messy divorce for Mr. Cibrian, but he and Rimes have been married for the past 7 years.
We wish LeAnn Rimes all success in her many ventures, musical and otherwise.