Home Read Albums Of The Week: Neon Leon | 1979​-​84 Singles Collection

Albums Of The Week: Neon Leon | 1979​-​84 Singles Collection

They don't know what you've been listening to, but these groundbreaking ’70s punk OGs from New York City are back to tell you what you oughta do on this anthology.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “When N.Y.C. hit its punk stride in the mid-1970s, the one-of-a-kind ‘Neon’ Leon Matthews was already in the thick of it. Getting his start in music in the late ’60s and having incredible luck in his friendships along the way, Neon Leon had a life story that could easily be made into a really amazing film.

After being the roommate of Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor (and dating his wife!) while living in the U.K. in the early ’70s, he moved to America, where he cut acetates with the original members of Pure Hell around Philadelphia, and ended up moving into the Chelsea Hotel in ’73 upon the insistence of his pal Johnny Thunders. Making fast friends with Elda and the Stilettos (including Debbie Harry), The New York Dolls, David Peel, Harold Black and the Teenage Lust crew, he soon fell into the maddening world of the Lower East Side zeitgeist right when everything was exploding. He was gigging at Max’s on the regular, seeing the incredible punk scene blossom before his eyes, and even got to appear briefly in the exploitation film classic Punk Rock (1977) with Elda and co.

Naturally, Leon put together his band with girlfriend/stripper Honi O’Rourke and hit the scene around Max’s, CBGB and the like. Upon entering the studio, they caught lightning in a bottle with the Rock’n Roll Is Alive 7” EP in 1979. The title track is simply irresistible, laying down a filthy scuzz guitar tone dreams are made of in one of the most potent anthems of N.Y.C. punk ever caught on tape — right up there with Max’s Kansas City by Jayne County, and headed straight into your pleasure receptors. Everyone was reeling and even caught the attention of notorious Glimmer Twins Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, who were locals at the time and looking to sign bands for their label.

Fast forward to Sid Vicious’ implication in Nancy Spungen’s murder — and Leon’s alleged involvement as one of the last people to see them both alive at the Chelsea — and his legend starts to build exponentially. But even after being courted for a possible signing to the fledgling Rolling Stones Records, Leon said Mick talked him out of the deal. But not before they got together for the impossibly great recording of Heart of Stone included here — a version that surely equals the classic rendition by The Pagans that’s become the gold standard. Even though the record deal fell through, Leon was still asked to perform at the N.Y.C. album-launch party for Some Girls, and remained on great terms with the Stones camp.

In the early ’80s, as the winds shifted, Leon moved back to Europe, settled in Sweden with some musical cohorts, and started the second phase of his underground rock ’n’ roll career. Releasing three singles over the next few years on Scandinavian labels and touring as support for his old friend Johnny Thunders, Leon continued to enjoy the success that was evading him back home in the States. This archival LP collects all of Neon Leon’s 7” releases from his 1979-’84 period and makes these overseas-only recordings available in the U.S. for the first time, cementing his legend in the sacred halls of the American punk pantheon.

The Neon Leon debut album was released in 1983 (and funded by Jagger) as a Swedish-only LP. It featured Blondie drummer Clem Burke as well as notorious KBD star Snuky Tate, and showcases a sold late ’70s Stones vibe perfectly ripe for radio consumption — in a better world, that is. Fast-forward to the 21st century and Leon still holds it down in Germany these days, still performs occasionally, and has published two books (Fast Track to Hell and New York City Babylon). Now that these classic tracks are back in circulation, feel free to crank it up, and don’t look back!”