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Music You've Never Heard #51 To #55

51. Toad the Wet Sprocket

Horrible name, great band. Bizarre that their name hints at a sense of humor that their music didn't have. Absolutely earnestly poetic songs. But luckily, there were great guitars and vocals to back things up. "All I Want" and "Walk on the Ocean" were minor hits, but the band never found much success and eventually broke up. That seems to be a common thread with all the bands I've blogged about lately: some initial success, but not enough to sustain them. Or maybe the taste of fame led them to expand too quickly - a false promise so the band couldn't go back to simpler roots. I dunno. Lead singer Glen Phillips made a few good solo albums, but people don't really care about another white guy with a guitar and perchant for folky ballads.

True fact... there was *another* band named Toad the Wet Sprocket in Britain in the sevenites.


52. Too Much Joy

More quirky melodic power pop. Do you sense a theme here? Yeah, I'm a sucker for the sweetness. You might know this band from their song "That's a Lie", which had minor airplay. But everything they did was great - with solid melodies and a wicked sense of humor. But one reason I love the band is because in 1990, they decided to cover 2 Live Crew's album "As Nasty As They Want To Be" in concert. At the time, "black" music was code for concern-trolls who could mask their racism by complaining about gangsta rap (see Clinton's comments about Sister Souljah). After singing a few 2 Live Crew songs verbatim, Too Much Joy wound up in jail for a night... suburban white boys fighting the man and making a blow against censorship.


53. Trip Shakespeare

It was "career day" at school. I thought I was cool because I found a professional musician, and I got to interview her about her career, and brought in samples of her saxophone playing and her original classical music to share with the class. My fellow student Jay Matthews did me one better: he called up the local chamber of commerce, and found a local ROCK musician who actually came to class (!) to talk about music and life on the road. Jay beat me.

Even better, that cool musician, Matt Wilson, offered for his band to play at our Junior/Senior prom. So, I got to see Trip Shakespeare many time my final two years of high school. They played a great mix of originals and covers, loving to add layers of harmonies over Byrds songs. The drummer, Elaine Harris, was a woman who played standing up - incredibly cool of her. I must have seen this band over thirty times live.

Most of the people in the band eventually became Semisonic, which had a monster hit in 1999 for "Closing Time". But I will always think their best song was "Toolmaster of Brainerd". Trust me, if you were from Minnesota, you would find that title funny. I have made fun of the band for having awful lyrics (sample, "Your mouth is my apartment in the evening") but I think favorably about thier psychedelic northerness, if that's even a possible category of musicality.


54. Uncle Bonsai/Electric Bonsal Band/Mel Cooleys

This one is a treat, if you haven't heard them already. Go, go, buy one of their CDs today. I recommend starting with "The Essential Uncle Bonsai" (www.amazon.com/Inessential-Uncle-Bonsai/dp/B000003Y0V) which is a greatest hits collection. It was one guy Andrew Ratshin, along with two women: Arni Adler, and Ashley O'Keeffe. Andrew is an *amazing* guitarist, full of tight acoustic counter-melodies and weird chords. But what made the band unique was that Andrew would sing in falsetto, mixing with the two women to sound like a better version of The Roches.

And the songs? Well, this is one of the rare bands where I had to get my guitar and learn every song on their CD. Sometimes at "open circle" music nights with my friends, I would bust out a version of "Folk Song" or "Heartache". Instant crowd-pleasers, and if another person at the party knew the lyrics and could sing along with me, it was ofter one of those magical moments that made me remember why music is so powerful and gave me hope for the human race. Thank you Andrew - though you were kind of a dick to me when I met him in person. And I was a rude to him right back. Fucking artists.


55. The Vapors

You know the song. C'mon, sing it along with me, "I think I'm turning Japanese, I think I'm turning Japanese, I really think so!" But what you may not know is that that is not even their best song. The Vapors only last two years, but in that time, produced several songs of blissful power pop. I like one-hit wonder bands as much as the next eighties-loving music geek, but it's a shame when the music industry milks a band for their one song (remember "The Rembrants"?) and then drops them like a cold potato. The world is weaker as a result.


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I love Uncle Bonsai. Actually, Ratishin is a counter tenor, and that range is normal for him.

More like a bargain counter tenor

Ah, you've seen PDQ Bach, too.


Heh, I quoted the full lyrics of a Toad the Wet Sprocket song in one of my (very) recent posts.

Great minds think alike.

And so do we!

Uncle Bonsai used to play at ACT a lot, and the costume shop staff hated them, for some reason. (I never found out why!)

We used to play, "If I Had a Penis", in the costume shop at the ballet. Kent, the artistic director, thought it was hilarious!

The one time I met Andrew, he was kind of a dick. I went up to him with a friend-girl of mine. We were a little *too* enthusiastic, but she and I told him how much we liked his music and that that we sang one of his songs recently at a bar.

"Where's my money?" he said.

I was flummoxed. But he continued, "Any time you perform my music in public, I'm supposed to get royalties." Then went on for several minutes berating us, while his mom stood next to him. A sad situation.

Later, I got into a flamewar with him on USENET, back before the internet days. I criticized one of his lyrics, ("Leapin' and lurchin', searchin' for the Midas Touch", which I still find laughable). He responded with several long posts taking the argument personally and attacking me in return. So, maybe the costume shop staff hated him 'cause he is a fucking asshole. Great music, though.

Yeah..... it's a shame... he's kinda cute, in an unattractive way...

C&C (costumers at ACT) aren't the easiest people to get along with, by anybody's reckoning, but their complaint sounded a little like that, except, no computers involved! I think they said the girls were annoying, too!

Maybe next time, tell him; the check is in the mail, you WILL come in his mouth, but you won't respect him in the morning!

Apparently they are big in Finland.

I was talking about the new Depeche Mode album's use of a theremin and was reminded of how I always thought a lead electric triangle would sound very similarly.

I was quite surprised when I heard TtWS on the air, knowing about the earlier band of the same name.

Here's a little bit about the other Toad the Wet Sprocket:

RN: Rex Stardust, lead electric triangle with Toad the Wet Sprocket, has had

to have an elbow removed following their recent successful worldwide tour of

Finland. Flamboyant, ambidextrous Rex apparently fell off the back of a

motorcycle. "Fell off the back of a motorcyclist, most likely," quipped ace

drummer Jumbo McCluney upon hearing of the accident. Plans are already

afoot for a major tour of Iceland.

Edited at 2009-04-25 10:13 pm (UTC)

I just got done with work, got in my car, turned the radio on and caught The Vapors! synchronicity...

i'm a big fan of Toad having seen them perform a couple times (including a show at the old Guthrie theatre). And I have also seen Trip Shakespeare perform in Loring Park many many summers ago. You're bringing back some great memories!

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