Rachel Sweet Palmer was born in the town of Akron, in the state of Ohio – the same place as Chrissie Hynde.
Something of a child singing sensation, Rachel was recording music for use in commercials from the age of six, and performed as the opening act for Bill Cosby in Las Vegas when she was twelve. Hmmm, who’d have thought that a twelve year old girl would be a suitable opening act for Bill Cosby…
That aside, Rachel had started off recording country music in 1974, but it wasn’t until she changed tack and turned her talents to rock and roll, that she came up on the radar of Stiff Records.
Whereas Chrissie had left Akron, those who had opted to stay, or had simply been too young to have that option, had the spotlight thrust in their direction when Akron’s deserters-in-chief DEVO’s first UK record label arrived in the town on a talent finding safari. Along with The Waitresses, The Bizarros, Jane Aire and the Belvederes, and Terraplane, Stiff snapped up the now 16 year old Rachel Sweet, and included them all on their Akron compilation, which came in a scratch and sniff cover, wafting the rubbery scent of Akron’s tyre factories around the world.
Rachel’s first album for Stiff “Fool Around” released in 1978 was critically acclaimed, but faired poorly in terms of chart success, despite the inclusion of the single B-A-B-Y which reached the UK Top 40.
Still hungry for a hit, and still genre surfing, on her second offering, the Martin Rushent and Alan Winstanley produced “Protect The Innocent”. With a cover that looked altogether less wholesome and more like something from the same art department used by Spinal Tap, Rachel even delivers a cover of The Damned “New Rose”. For a 16 year old, country singer from the mid-west this seems a brave choice, but it showed her flexibility and certainly lined-up with the labels Punk roots.
Was it brave? Or was Rachel just trying to fit in? Maybe it was like finding out that you’re Bonnie Langford and have accidentally signed to Sub-Pop, wouldn’t you be tempted to rattle off a version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to keep your critics at bay, and curry favour with the fans? Or maybe she was a really huge Damned fan? Or just maybe it was that old chestnut of “marketing”, which is frequently blamed for the “hit or miss” status of female singers – meaning that it’s their fault if they don’t fit into either one of the two catagories specially reserved for females. One is “Sexy” and the other is “Kooky”. A 16 year old, with a fantastic voice, a genuine feel for music, and one who can genre defy. You’re right, way too difficult.
Despite the low level chart success, Rachel still has a cult following, was once part of the Stiff Records family, and eventually went onto carve a successful career in both music and television.