Way more than a rock band, as rock writer John Levy said in a recent interview on VH1, Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics 'were a phenomenon'. They changed American fashion and when they came to town they were news. Their stage shows which included the blowing up of automobiles (usually a Cadillac), the sledgehammering of TVs, the chainsawing of guitars, collapsing of lighting trusses and exploding speaker cabinets among other things were so excessive Billboard's Roman Kozak called them "the absolute limit of what can be accomplished in rock and roll theatrics", and this view holds up today, because nothing has yet come close. Created by radical conceptual anti-artist ("neo-Dadaist") Rod Swenson around the now legendary Wendy O. Williams, the Plasmatics, who, among other things, brought the mohawk haircut to rock and roll and American culture, were, in the word's of WBCN's Oedipus, "the most outrageous band in the world."
Swenson, who got an MFA from Yale, came from the view that the measure of art is how confrontational it is. His immediate opus prior to the Plasmatics was producing counter-culture theater in NYC's Times Square, and it was here where he and Williams met when she applied for a job. Deeply involved in the underground rock scene at the time producing shows and videos of then hardly known groups such as Patti Smith, the Ramones, Blondie, the Dead Boys, and others, Swenson was determined to produce the world's most controversial or ultimate rock band, and Williams was the logical choice to star. Completely rejecting the disassociated hypocrisy of the conformist culture around her Williams had walked out on a repressive home and high-school life when still a teen. "I'd rather be dead," friends remember her saying and by the time she showed up in Times Square she was more convinced than ever that the only authentic way to live was in complete opposition to the banality, the lethargy, and the denial or complacency of the status quo.
Challenging convention at every turn, Wendy and the Plasmatics exploded on the underground scene in 1978 with their debut at CBGB in New York. They synthesized punk and metal when it was a sacrilege to do so, and produced shows so intense and over the top, they have never been equaled. After releasing multiple EPs and singles on Swenson's Vice Squad Records, the Plasmatics were signed to Stiff Records in the UK for their first full album “New Hope for the Wretched”. Following the release of "New Hope" the group went on to play their first show in the UK where Wendy was labeled an "anarchist" and banned by the Greater London Council. “Beyond the Valley of 1984”, the second Plasmatics album, released in 1981, was recorded during one of the most intense periods in Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics careers. Following a show in Milwaukee, Wendy was arrested by the Vice Squad on an alleged obscenity charge and beaten unconsciousness. When Rod attempted to go to her defense he too was beaten unconscious. and others were arrested too. Two nights later after being released on bail Wendy was arrested again in Cleveland on a similar charge and the band now faced serious and mounting legal bills to get and stay out of jail.
Dates followed in Europe with riots after a number of the shows while in the States the Bond's Legal Defense fund benefit shows were set up in New York to raise money to pay the legal bills, and it was right at this time when the landmark "Beyond the Valley of 1984", produced by Rod Swenson with its Orwellian and apocalyptic themes was recorded. In between touring drummers, Alice Cooper's drummer Neil Smith was brought in to play drums, and the 50's group "The Angels" were used for backing vocals on the song "Summer Nite". The album contains numerous Plasmatics classics such as "Masterplan", "Living Dead", "Fast Food Service" (from the New Hope period), "Nothing", and "Pig is a Pig" sung with ferocity and passion coming in no small part from the upcoming trials in Milwaukee on just these issues. As usual with the Plasmatics the music was ahead of its time with their beginning here the synthesis of punk and metal that the pioneered, and for the first time the audience heard the country western opening of "Pig is a Pig" jaws dropped to the floor.
The dramatic and characteristic over-the-top cover art captures the accusatory Judgement Day flavor of the album itself. Shot by Swenson (under the pseudonym "Butch Star") in the Arizona desert (a favorite Plasmatics place for experimental performance pieces), it shows Wendy and the group (without a drummer) with fists in the air (the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse reviewers have written), while a white late-model Cadillac is ritualistically blown up, assistants in lab coats and gas masks dive for cover, and a helicopter hovers in the background. "Valley's cover", wrote Cream Magazine's Edouard Dauphin, "is a masterwork of orchestrated chaos, surrealistic vision and...awesome logistics," while the record inside, he wrote "draws a bead on the laundry list of sickies, sadists, culture vultures, and money clutchers...(a) definitive cry of outrage against those who would like to manipulate and control our patterns of thinking." Play it loud!