Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Over the weekend I paid another visit to The Record Store That Sells 80's Albums That No One Has Ever Heard Of For $2.99, which is currently my favorite store in NYC. I didn't find anything as amazing as the Wayfarers album, but I did turn up a really weird mystery record. I'm hoping that someone will read this and shed some light.

The band is called The Upbeats , the record is called Pop Songs, and it's on Laser Records. It came out in 1986, and the address for the label is in Athens, GA, which says to me that someone must know more about these guys -- that's too much of a music hub to produce an unknown band. I can't find a thing on the internet. Well, I did find one store that's selling a promo copy of the album, but they gave no information. My copy is a promo also, in a plain black sleeve. I wonder if there are any "real" copies.

I bought it after previewing a song that should be better known. Here's Jello Party Mania, which I'm sort of stunned not to find on any WFMU playlists. This song breaks a number of rules: novelty songs shouldn't last over five minutes, you shouldn't include a piano solo in a novelty song (unless piano solos are part of the joke), songs about Fraternity theme-parties aren't funny, white people singing with fake accents aren't funny (it seems to include aspects of Athens, Jamaican and Italian)...I'm willing to put up with all of this because the song moves in such strange ways and the singers really do sound enthusiastic about their jello party. My wife is patiently waiting for me to stop playing it over and over...I give it another couple of days.

So by itself, Jello Party Mania isn't so weird. What's weird is the rest of the album. It kicks off with a Windbreakers style track called Just Another Pop Song that has an almost Game Theory-esque chord progression and a lead guitar part that sounds like it was influenced by the sound of a turntable coming up to speed. The production is mostly what you'd expect from an 80's bar-band's demo and the group doesn't seem to know what to do for a bridge and chorus, but somehow the verse is getting really stuck in my head.

Next track is a pretty straight cover of I Wanna Be Your Man, which makes no sense to me. Other tracks on the album include a classical piano piece called Nothing To Fear (you keep waiting for it to turn into a pop song, but instead it turns into a horrible fusion instrumental) and an absolutely terrible prog/fusion instrumental called Roadrunner. There's a pop song called The Laser Beam Boys that features kids singing, a catchy verse/chorus that they repeat over and over, and an awful wanky guitar solo that's straight out of Guitar Player magazine.

Finally, the record ends with two almost Terrastock style pieces: an instrumental and a kind of pretty folk/psych (but still with cheesy 80's production) track called Someone Like You.

I don't know if I've encountered anything, this side of Kim Fowley, that combines interesting ideas with garbage in quite the same way. Part of me wonders if the record is a compilation of different bands, but there's nothing to indicate that. I'd love to find out more about it. I can't say that Pop Songs is exactly good, but it's one of the most interesting things I've heard lately.

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