Thursday, August 12, 2004

(I'm away for the next few days. Something very much like this piece originally ran on June 1st of this year. I was sure someone would be able to tell me something/anything about the band, but thus far it hasn't happened. I've added a couple more mp3s this go round. I'm still completely baffled by the intent of this album.)

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 is kind of a novelty song about two girls with cute Georgia accents who've always dreamed of throwing a "Jello Party Mania Party". It goes on too long and makes all sorts of "mistakes" as far as being a novelty song, but I'm just fascinated by it. Just one of many strange details: note the nature of the phone ringing at the beginning. My wife is patiently waiting for me to stop playing it over and over...I give it another couple of days. [Two months later and I'm still liking it.]

So by itself, Jello Party Mania isn't that 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. [Two months later and I still really like this track as well.]

Next track is a pretty straight cover of I Wanna Be Your Man, the purpose of which is a mystery 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. It's like someone doesn't understand the mechanics of writing the kind of material they're writing.

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 good 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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