Reissued Gold II: Numero tells the Ork Records story
For all the influence the New York punk explosion of the mid-’70s has had on indie rock to this day, the most celebrated bands that made their names at C.B.G.B. almost all issued their debut albums on major labels. The truly great D.I.Y. record labels didn’t start to emerge until the ’80s, with the notable exception of the imprint started by a frizzy-haired San Diego-to-New York transplant named Terry Ork.
Ork arrived in Manhattan in 1968 to make movies at Andy Warhol’s factory. He wound up managing a beloved film bookstore called Cinemabilia, and there he met Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell. Those two eventually convinced a Bowery dive to let their band perform, and Ork would become a familiar face at C.B.G.B., as a band manager and eventually as the head of his own labor-of-love record label at a time when such a notion was almost unheard of.
The Ork Records release of Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel”—a 45 that split that epic tune into half per side—is a treasured relic for those of us lucky enough to have scored one. The same could be said of many of the other records Ork released, including the first bows by the Feelies (much punkier versions of “Fa Ce La” and “Forces at Work”), Richard Hell and the Voidoids (the original take on the immortal “(I Belong to The) Blank Generation”), and platters by the nascent power-pop genius Chris Stamey and the resurgent, post-Box Tops and Big Star Alex Chilton.
Just as revelatory, however, are releases by lesser-known, often unjustly forgotten bands such as the Student Teachers, the Idols, the Erasers, the Revelons, and Marbles, either released on Ork’s own label, or on other tiny imprints he fostered, inspired, and helped. And then there are the two brilliant curiosities from critics who gave voice to the punk ethos of passion over proficiency, putting their reputations on the line to create music of their own: Brit journalist Mick Farren’s covers of “Play With Fire” and “To Know Him Is to Love Him” and the legendary Lester Bangs’s originals “Let It Blurt” and “Live,” which found him bellowing over a band that included the Voidoids’ Robert Quine on guitar and the Patti Smith Group’s Jay Dee Daugherty on drums, originally issued with the blessing of none other than the Velvet Underground’s John Cale.
As usual, Numero presents these 49 tracks either on CD or on vinyl as part of a beautiful package that includes an extensive historical booklet that alone is worth the price of admission, contributing to a must-own set for anyone who cares at all about the punk era and the roots of modern independent music.
Various artists, Ork Records: New York, New York (Numero Group)
Rating on the 4-star scale: 4 stars.