Picture sleeve for Oingo Boingo's "Dead Man's Party" single.
Oingo Boingo was formed in 1972 as The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo by Richard Elfman, and was a musical theater troupe in the tradition of Spike Jones and Frank Zappa. This version of the group contained as many as fifteen members, but the core personnel were Elfman, Leon Schneiderman (saxophone) and Sam “Sluggo” Phipps (saxophone, clarinet). They were soon joined by Richard Elfman’s brother, Danny Elfman (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, percussion) and Dale Turner (trumpet, trombone). Few recordings of this period exist, although they did release a novelty record about the Patty Hearst kidnapping called “You Got Your Baby Back”. By 1976, Richard Elfman turned his attention to filmmaking, and leadership of the band shifted to Danny Elfman. That same year, the band appeared on “The Gong Show”, avoiding being gonged and scoring 24 out of a possible 30 points. They also appeared in the movie “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”.
By 1979, the band had added Steve Bartek (lead guitar), John “Vatos” Hernandez (drums) and Kerry Hatch (bass) to the lineup. Richard Gibbs (keyboards) joined the band in 1980, making the band an octet. In October 1979, Oingo Boingo released a demo EP, limited to 130 pressings for radio stations and A&R representatives. The band signed with I.R.S. Records and released their first official release in September 1980, the “Oingo Boingo” EP, released in both 10-inch and 12-inch formats. The success of this EP led to the band signing with A&M Records, who released their first full-length album, “Only a Lad” (1981). They released their second album “Nothing to Fear” the following year. Their next album, “Good for Your Soul” (1983), was their last album on A&M Records, and also their last album with Richard Gibbs. The band signed with MCA Records and made two personnel shifts: Mike Bacich took over for Richard Gibbs, and John Avila replaced departing Kerry Hatch. They released their fourth album, “Dead Man’s Party” (1985), and released two singles from the album: “Weird Science” and “Dead Man’s Party” b/w “Stay”. This is today’s featured single.
“Dead Man’s Party” is a song with an interesting, minor-key melody, accentuated by interesting percussion and, as always, Oingo Boingo’s horn section. The band’s quirky sense of humor is in evidence in the song’s lyrics: “I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go/Walkin’ with a dead man over my shoulder/Waiting for an invitation to arrive/Goin’ to a party where no one’s still alive”. About 3 minutes and 50 seconds into the track, there is an instrumental break with a tuneful keyboard solo. Overall, the track is a good example of the tighter, more commercial sound manifest on the parent album, which made “Dead Man’s Party” a good candidate for Oingo Boingo’s true breakthrough album.
The B-side of the single, “Stay”, is another track from the parent album, “Dead Man’s Party”, and is driven by a catchy guitar riff, punctuated as always by the horn section, and with somewhat more melodic percussion than on the other tracks. The lyrical content enhances the song: “This is not the first time–You had to get away/This is not a party–Where people know your name/This is not a classroom–With teacher at the board/This is not a cat show–With prizes at the door”. The protagonist may not be able to spell out what his relationship with his significant other is, but at least he knows what it isn’t. “Stay” is a worthwhile track and further evidence of the evolution of the band’s sound. The song was also used as the theme music for the Brazilian soap opera “Top Model”.
The single (catalog #: MCA-23638) was released on MCA Records with a picture sleeve. There was also a 12-inch version of the single with extended mixes of both songs. The band released “Boi-ngo” (1987), which was not a major hit, and subsequently replaced Bacich with new keyboardist Carl Graves. They released “Boingo Alive” (1988), a two disc set containing versions of their older songs re-created on a soundstage without a live audience and several previously unreleased tracks. They next released their sixth studio album, “Dark at the End of the Tunnel” (1990). The band was then dropped by MCA and signed with Giant Records. Graves was dropped from the lineup, and the band added Warren Fitzgerald (guitar), Marc Mann (keyboards) and Doug Lacy (accordian). This lineup recorded “Boingo” (1994), an album which contains some of the longest songs in the Oingo Boingo catalog. The band broke up in 1995 following a final Halloween concert at the Universal Amphitheatre.
Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lover's "Roadrunner" single.
Jonathan Richman was born on May 16, 1951 in Natick, Massachusetts and began playing and writing his own music in the mid-1960s. He became infatuated with the Velvet Underground, and in 1969 moved to New York City and lived on the couch of their manager, Steve Sesnick (later moving to the Hotel Albert), worked odd jobs, and tried to break into the music industry. Having failed at that, he moved back to Massachusetts. In Boston, Richman formed The Modern Lovers. Also in the band were guitarist John Felice, bass player Rolfe Anderson, and drummer David Robinson (later of The Cars). In 1971, both Anderson and Felice left the band and were replaced by bassist Ernie Brooks and keyboardist Jerry Harrison (later of Talking Heads). In April 1972, The Modern Lovers went to Los Angeles and recorded two demo sessions: the first for John Cale (ex-Velvet Underground) and the second for A&M Records. In early 1973, the band was signed by Warner Bros., but by the end of the year, Richman wanted to scrap their recorded tracks and start anew with a mellower, more lyrical sound. As a result, Warner Bros. withdrew their support and the original Modern Lovers broke up in February 1974. In 1975, Richman moved to California to record as a solo artist with Beserkley Records. Several of his tracks appeared on the “Beserkley Chartbusters” (1975) compilation LP. In January 1976, Richman put together a new lineup of The Modern Lovers, with Greg “Curly” Keranen on bass, Leroy Radcliffe on guitar, and David Robinson returning on drums. Two albums were released in 1976: “The Modern Lovers”, which consisted of material recorded by the previous incarnation of the band (with six of the nine tracks taken from the John Cale sessions), and “Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers”, recorded by the new version of the band. In 1977, a single from the first album reached #11 in the U.K.: “Roadrunner (Once)” b/w “Roadrunner (Twice)”. This is today’s featured single.
“Roadrunner” is a garage rock classic, one that features three chords (D and A, and only two bars of E), and, by most accounts, is a nod to the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray”. Supposedly, Richman wrote the song by 1970, and began performing it in public. John Felice recalled the original inspiration for the song: as teenagers he and Richman “used to get in the car and just drive up and down Route 128 and the Turnpike. We’d come up over a hill and he’d see the radio towers, the beacons flashing, and he would get almost teary-eyed. He’d see all this beauty in things where other people just wouldn’t see it.” The can be thought of as almost a one-chord song, as it leans very heavily on D throughout the song, which in some ways is more of a chant, a Chuck Berry/Bo Diddley-style rock anthem. The lyrics almost seem to be improvised: “Gonna drive past the Stop ‘n’ Shop/With the radio on/I’m in love with Massachusetts/And the neon when it’s cold outside”, and there are slight differences between the lyrics in this version and the ones in “Roadrunner (Twice)”. The lyrics also seem somewhat nonsensical, suggesting that the content is of secondary importance. Nevertheless, the song has an endearing quality, with it’s introductory count off (“One, two, three, four, five six!”), and its lyrical refrain of “radio on”. “Roadrunner (Once)”, recorded in late 1974, stands as one of the great precursors to punk rock; ironically, by the time this song was released, Richman had moved on to more laid-back, acoustic music.
The B-side of the single, “Roadrunner (Twice)”, is the version of “Roadrunner” that was recorded at the Cale sessions in 1972 (and had been previously released on “The Modern Lovers” LP, entitled “Roadrunner”). This version is considered by many to be the stronger take, with Richman sounding someone more passionate and less disaffected than on the 1974 version. (This version was also released on the “Berserkley Chartbusters” LP.) Although the A-side is the better-known of the two, both takes are worth a listen.
The single (catalog #: BZZ 1) was released in June 1977. The Modern Lovers subsequently released “Rock ‘n’ Roll with the Modern Lovers” (1977), “Modern Lovers ‘Live’” (1978), and “Back in Your Life” (1979). The band subsequently broke up, after which Richman took a sabbatical before forming a new Modern Lovers lineup in 1980. This lineup released “Jonathan Sings!” (1983), after which the band broke up again. Richman again formed a new lineup up the band, releasing “Rockin’ and Romance” (1985) and “Modern Lovers 88” (1988) before retiring the moniker Modern Lovers and embarking on a “true” solo career.
The Feelies' "Everybody's Got Something to Hide (Except Me and My Monkey)" single.
The Feelies were formed in Haledon, New Jersey in 1976 when Glenn Mercer (guitars, vocals), Bill Million (guitars, vocals, keyboards), Dave Weckerman (percussion), and Richard Reilly (vocals) began playing together in a band called the Outkids. The Outkids evolved into the Feelies with the departure of Reilly and the addition of Vinny DeNunzio (drums) and John J. (bass). The revamped group quickly created a buzz throughout the New York City new wave circuit, with the Village Voice dubbing them “The Best Underground Band in New York”. Anton Fier replaced Vinny DeNunzio in 1978, and Keith DeNunzio (Vinny DeNunzio’s brother) replaced John J. in 1979. This lineup of Mercer, Million, Keith DeNunzio and Fier released their debut single, “Fa Cé-La”, on Rough Trade Records (an independent British label) in 1979. The band’s refusal to work with outside producers jeopardized their immediate hopes for a major label deal, and as a result their debut album, “Crazy Rhythms” was released on another independent British label, Stiff Records in April 1980. The debut single from “Crazy Rhythms” was “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide (Except Me and My Monkey)” b/w “Original Love”, released in February 1980. This is today’s featured single.
“Everybody’s Got Something to Hide (Except Me and My Monkey)” is a rambunctious cover version of The Beatles song from the White Album that rips along at an even faster pace than the original. At the same time, the percussion on the track (especially the drums) are very restrained, and as always, The Feelies bring their unique vocal style into the mix. Although The Feelies were usually categorized as a new wave band, this track exemplifies the eclecticism of the band, with their sound seemingly incorporating elements of different genres without being easily pigeonholed into any of them. This is one of the better songs from “Crazy Rhythm”, and a worthy choice for the debut single.
The B-side of the single, “Original Love”, is one of the original tracks from “Crazy Rhythms” (all the songs on the parent album, except for “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide (Except Me and My Monkey)” and a cover version of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” were penned by Glenn Mercer and Bill Million). Nowhere near as raucous as the A-side, it has a somewhat mournful-sounding melody, to accompany lyrics about a relationship gone awry (“You said no commitment/When I asked you for a compromise/Just a compromise/Now I don’t know why I ask you/It’s always such a problem/Why make it a problem”). I liked the tremolo-like opening guitar chords, and the song proceeds along at a brisk pace, and the wailing background vocals were a nice touch. There is also a brief instrumental break about a minute and a half into the song (which lasts about thirty seconds). This is another good song by the band, and a nice counterpoint to the A-side.
The single (catalog #: BUY 65) was released on Stiff Records. Unusual for a Stiff Records BUY single, there was no picture sleeve; instead, a company sleeve was issued with it; the specially-designed label is shown above. Although “Crazy Rhythms” was a critical favorite, its lack of commercial success sat badly with Stiff, who began pressuring the band to release a hit single. Fier and DeNunzio left the band, and The Feelies were in limbo throughout much of the early 1980s. The band emerged from its hiatus with their second album, “The Good Earth” (1986), released in the U.S. on Coyote/Twin/Tone Records, which saw the original core of Mercer and Million augmented by new members Dave Weckerman (percussion), Brenda Sauter (bass) and Stan Demeski (drums). The band signed with A&M Records and released “Only Life” (1988); A&M also released their next album, “Time for a Witness” (1991). The band played their final gig at Maxwell’s in Hoboken on July 5, 1991. Subsequently, Bill Million moved to Florida without telling any of his bandmates or even leaving a forwarding address, marking the end of The Feelies after about fifteen years. The band reunited in 2008, and after several warm-up shows at Maxwell’s, they performed with Sonic Youth at Battery Park that year. A reunion album, “Here Before”, was released on April 12, 2011.