This week’s BHYH is an eclectic mix of soda pop doo wop suited for the most John Waters-y of us, a well-crafted DJ/rap track that reminds us of the King of Cartoons, a dip into the Orange-amped, Chuck Taylor-ed shoegaze bin, a current band doing more than just cashing in on a ’90s lo-fi psychedelia throwback, a selection from an actual ’90s ska band that doesn’t suck, and some bonafide Middle American rock’n’roll.
FRANKIE LYMON AND THE TEENAGERS, “I’M NOT A JUVENILE DELINQUENT”
I became a Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers fan the moment I heard “I’m Not A Juvenile Delinquent” as Divine shoplifted steaks up her dress in Pink Flamingos. I was fascinated there was this D.A.R.E.-like jingle that somehow fit in a phrase as syllable-heavy as “juvenile delinquent.” The song developed a new layer when I found out Frankie Lymon, this advocate against the dangers of becoming a juvenile delinquent, overdosed on heroin in his grandmother’s bathroom at the age of 25.
When I got a turntable for Christmas last year, the first album I ordered was The Teenagers Featuring Frankie Lymon. Like any great album, it’s a brief 30 minute look at the best a group currently had to offer. For Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, their gift was some of the greatest doo wop you could put in a jukebox.
The last thing I’ll mention is It’s Christmas Once Again. This track comes from Frankie Lymon’s unsuccessful solo run with Roulette Records, a label infamous for their connections to the mafia. It’s one of the most haunting Christmas songs I’ve come across. It contains the feelings many feel in December. Even when you want to be happy and upbeat about the holidays, the sun disappearing at 5 pm and constantly being surrounded by superficial jewelry ads brings out the worst in you.
This track accidentally stumbles upon that emotion. I imagine everybody behind this one wanted to catch the warm mellow vibes found in Bing Crosby’s holiday songs. Instead this song feels like being in the same room with whatever malevolent force increases suicide rates during the holidays. Whenever I hear it, I picture an abandoned department store that was the scene of some Black Friday Massacre.
If you’re in an American Graffiti mood, there’s nothing I’d recommend more strongly than anything from Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers. — Emilio Amaro
The Avalanches, “Frankie Sinatra”
Ever since Emilio submitted his piece on the tawdry and torrid life and career of Frank Sinatra, I’ve had this song in my head. I shared this fact with Emilio while linking him to the tune, and he said, “Holy shit, there’s a lot going on in that song. Almost sounds like Cypress Hill mixed with those vintage cartoons you’d see on Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Then there’s a sound byte of ‘My Favorite Things?'”
I feel like anything else I might say about the song wouldn’t be any more effective than that description. Except: amidst the calypso cartoon carnival of a DJ track provided by The Avalanches, the verses by rapper Danny Brown are as pleasantly unique as they are obnoxious (on why they chose him for the track: “Danny’s voice is almost like a punk rock voice sometimes, so we thought it’d be perfect.”). Alt-hip hop favorite MF Doom joins the mix as well.
Plus, the hallucinatory accompanying music video (see above) is better than any independent horror film I’ve seen in the last decade. — elbee
STARFLYER 59, “THIS RECLINER”
BOWERY ELECTRIC, “WITHOUT STOPPING”
Full disclosure, I went to high school with Jason Martin of Starflyer 59. I’m a year younger than he, and he was (possibly still is) the coolest dude to ever graduate from WCS. His first two records were noisy and shoegazey, with subsequent albums working toward an Americana sound–and eventually an “indie” sound that wouldn’t seem out of place on stage at the Bang Bang Bar in Twin Peaks. In recent years, growing old seems to be a recurring theme in SF59’s songs, and this latest single “This Recliner” is no exception. What makes it stand out beyond the lyrics is the sound of the song. While not repeating the style of the first two records, (think Chapterhouse, Catherine Wheel, & My Bloody Valentine), “This Recliner” recalls earlier alternative acts such as The Church and The Ocean Blue, with a hint of the aforementioned shoegaze all the while retaining the texture that Martin brings to everything he’s ever recorded. It’s what I’ve come to expect from SF59. Somewhat more of the same, but in a way that many bands rarely maintain. It’s catchy, a minor key toe-tapper. And lyrically, I get it–as I too am getting old.
As I was listening to this track on Spotify, when the song was over, the algorithm built a playlist of songs that might fit well with SF59’s sound. And one of these songs was from a band from the mid ’90s I had never heard of: Bowery Electric. The song selected was “Without Stopping” from their album Beat. Upon further listen, I could include any of the songs from Beat…but let’s just stay with the song suggested. “Without Stopping” also sounds appropriate for the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks. Somewhat minimal in its layers, there’s a steady underlying beat, a somewhat hooky bass that groves along, whispery femme-vox akin to Slowdive, and guitar embellishments that are also the tiniest bit shoegazey. It could even be considered ever so slightly trip hop, if you squint and cock your head to the side just so. And while it’s not the most dynamic song, it needn’t be to get my attention. It seems a part of a larger whole, which is why I suggest listening to the entire album after whetting your beak with this track. It’s all very good stuff. I’ve found a new favorite in the Bowery Electric thanks to Spotify’s suggestion. It seems sometimes the algorithm works. — Andrew Bargeron
WHEELS, TRAVELER: PT. 1
I’ll be blunt: Colorado three-piece Wheels really need to work on their SEO. A casual google reveals at least three other bands called “Wheels” or “The Wheels” who, like Wheels, describe themselves as “psychedelic.” What they don’t need to work on is their sound. Traveler Part 1 is a blast of lo-fi attitude that harkens back to the grimy ‘90s when four tracks was all you got and Pro Tools was for Pro Fools. Strains of Sebadoh, early Pavement, and Neutral Milk Hotel permeable the EP: the guitars growl but don’t splash, the drums thud hard without being muddy, and vocalist Ian Foster’s Mangum-like warble cuts through the mix without seeming brash or ostentatious. But a bunch of name-drops can’t do justice to Wheels’s ability to pack their short (4 minutes and less) songs with formidably complex but supremely accessible arrangements. Wheels uses the rusticity of their sound to their advantage: they speed up and slow down tempos at their leisure, write songs with lopsided parts that I don’t even want to begin visualizing on a computer screen, and create exciting noises by pushing their instruments to the limit of what their modest equipment will tolerate. Bottom line: the only thing Wheels should bring in line with the polished 2020s is its name; everything else – more please! — Tyler Peterson
THE TOASTERS, Ska Killers
The 1996 Esperanto compilation, Ska Killers, collects the first two albums from the New York ska band, the Toasters, 1987’s Skaboom and 1988’s Thrill Me Up. While both albums had been reissued on Toasters’ frontman Rob “Bucket” Hingley’s own Moon Ska label in ’94 and ’95, respectively, this is an American reissue of a Japanese compilation first issued in 1994.
That’s a lot of data, but just understand that the most important thing about this is the “2 FER 1” label on the front of the disc, which was a very important thing to this broke-ass rude boy when he bought it sometime around 1997. Two albums on one disc? Sign me up. I’ll certainly buy this somewhat sketchy looking, near-bootleg compact disc because it gets me nearly 70 minutes of music for something like $14.
Also, you have to understand that when I grabbed this, it was simply because I found it in a record store in the “ska” section (obvs emblazoned with a checkerboard pattern inside the bubble letters on the divider). and it had dudes in suits on the cover, and I think I had maybe heard the band’s name once. Of course, during the ska boom of the late ’90s, you could find Moon Records releases in your local mall. I’m pretty sure at bought Less Than Jake’s Pezcore at a Musicland, Sam Goody, or some other such store in Wichita, Kansas, on a trip to the state forensics finals my senior year of high school, and it was prominently featured on a display as soon as you walked in the door.
Granted, this was one of the many flash-in-the-pan cash grabs by these kinds of shops at the time, trying to get kids to buy anything which smacked of “cool,” so you’d also find bands like Royal Crown Revue (swing), the Amazing Royal Crowns (rockabilly), or that No Doubt Beacon Street Collection in the same display or bin. Sometimes, even Bob Marley stuff. These were not devotees of Greil Marcus, nor even Adam Curry. However, it meant that for a teen who’d discovered Reel Big Fish, Rancid, and Less Than Jake all more or less simultaneously, I was hungry to listen to more ska, no matter what it was.
Suffice it to say, the first time I heard the Toasters, I was a little surprised. I’d been aware of Two Tone ska, thanks to the chance discovery of the Specials’ debut on cassette at the tiny shop in Leavenworth — simply named Mike’s Compact Discs and Tapes — but hadn’t really dug far into the whole movement, so the simpler, more Jamaican-influenced and less punk sounds were definitely something which took a minute to get used to. Thanks to a childhood raised on classical and easy listening sounds of the ’40s and ’50s on my grandparents’ clock radio, I had an inroads towards this music, but it was certainly worlds away from Operation Ivy.
Ska Killers, as a whole, is a bunch of really good songs recorded really poorly. The downside to most mid to late ’80s ska — your Bim Skala Bim, Untouchables, Heavy Manners, and the like — is that it all sounds incredibly sterile at best, and circus-y at worst. The music on the two albums compiled on Ska Killers falls somewhere in the middle of those two sounds, with the horns being almost tinnily high in the mix, the guitar nearly absent, and the rhythm section having absolute no hit whatsoever. It’s so strange that the British Two Tone acts in the late ’70s, or even the Jamaican originators in the ’60s, could have such higher production levels, wherein everything was mixed more evenly, with an eye toward a bottom end that could make you dance.
I blame synthesizers.
Many of the songs on these two LPs still find their way into Toasters setlists over 30 years on from their original recordings, and for good reason. “Shocker!”, despite what that word now connotes, is ridiculously catchy, and you can sing along to the chorus after a single run-through. “East Side Beat” starts out quick, and gets even faster as it goes along, and you get to shout “oi!” “Thrill Me Up” has been recorded by the Toasters on quite a few live albums, and it’s still the best romantic ska song you don’t feel embarrassed to play for a significant other who hasn’t done the whole “skanking in a circle” thing.
I’ll also make the argument that the opening horn line to “Weekend In L.A.” is one of the best things the band ever wrote, tied with the opening guitar noodling of “Radition Skank” and the entirety of “History Book.” The downside to the band’s late ’90s back-to-back successes with Hard Band For Dead and Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down means that those two LPs get an insane amount of set time, and the chances of hearing those lesser-known tracks live — where they really shine — is certainly lessened. Then again, live shows aren’t a thing right now, so just track down the band’s 1994 live album, Live In LA, for the definitive versions of all these songs, if you want to hear them with a little more oomph. — Nick Spacek
Midwest rock acts always have a chip on their shoulder, something to prove. Far away from the glitz and glamour of the coasts, their lyrics and sounds have a certain rough-hewn accessibility. In 1979, singer/ songwriter—and Cleveland native—Jonah Kolsen—left The Michael Stanley Band to form Breathless. Kolsen had penned some of Stanley fan favorites (“Waste A Little Time On Me,” “Strike Up The Band”), but the guitarist wanted to break out on his own and “wanted to be the next Springsteen or David Bowie.”
On their 1979 debut, Kolsen’s Breathless resembles The Boss more than The Thin White Duke with a heartland, boogie rock-inspired sound. The album finds Kolsen and the band looking back to their rock ‘n’ roll influences with “Dead Of The Night,” recalling classic Motown hits with a wailing saxophone and handclaps. But the standout tune on the self-titled record is “Takin’ Me Back.” “Back” features a big rock sound and an even bigger chorus punctured by new wave-y keyboards with smooth harmonies giving way to Kolsen’s screaming guitar solo. The tune is AOR-ready, pure pop perfection. — Mike Vanderbilt