Saturday, 18 June 2011

Beat Happening - Jamboree (1988)

The musical landscape of America in the 80s was not a very pleasant one, the 80s musical world in the states lacked any real substance, aside from a few hardcore punk bands that came out of Los Angeles and San Francisco during the early 80s, a few post-punk style groups such as Devo and Pere Ubu (who had funnily enough begun in the 70s) and black America expressing itself in the music of Hip-Hop and Rap, the musical airwaves were mainly consumed by god awful hair-metal styled rock bands such as Metallica, Guns N Roses and Van Halen, also the charts were full of self-indulgent crap which consumed the billboard, stuff like Tiffany and Milli Vanilli etc etc.

It wasn't until the advent of 'college radio' that some of the more obscure groups begun to get recognised. The UK had a wealth of "underground" groups which were an influence to listeners of these American college radio stations, however there was a distinct lack of American groups, you had to search beyond the radar to find cool bands amongst the wealth of shit which was the 80s American  music scene.

The band and album I am going to write about were one such instance when the music was spot on, fresh, new and raw, it had the spirit of the current times yet also had the spirit of the past making for great songs and a fantastic album.

The Band were, The Beat Happening.

The Beat Happening formed as early as 1982 in Olympia WA its members include Calvin Johnson, Heather Lewis & Bret Lunsford.

Calvin Johnson was one of the founders of cult indie label 'K records', the label re-established a DIY punk ethic and released a shed load of stuff from a bunch of bands including The Beat Happening's own records.

The Beat Happening had 4 studio albums before they silently stopped recording and playing live, however it was their second LP, 1988's Jamboree that saw them make waves on the Indie scene and the album in question influenced a load of musician who would later cover the Beat Happening's songs and state their influence onto their own recordings, one such person was Nirvana's Kurt Cobain who claimed that 'Jamboree' was one of his all time favourite albums.

The Beat Happening's influence can be heard all throughout American Alternative music now and I guess if anything that alone is their sole legacy.

What I really dig about the band is they remained totally true to themselves, they never sold out to convention, despite the many times it was offered their way, they remained in Olympia WA and recorded primitively in their own studio and own style, they released albums and singles on their own independent record label and totally didn't care for the corporate side of things, they made a success out of humble origins and although they didn't make money, they at least influenced people in a way that taught them "HEY you can do this TOO" and I feel this idealism is what was important in the beginning stages of the 'Grunge' genre before the corporate strangle-hold tore that scene to shreds and Kurt blew his brains out.

Jamboree is a cult classic, it's a great album and I feel if you like what you hear below you should indeed purchase the album.

The album has a wealth of material which stands out and makes a great impression.

Below are my favourite tracks on the album...

Indian Summer - This song is as Dean Wareham from Galaxie 500 stated "....Indian Summer is like the 'Knockin' on heavens door' of the indie world, everyone's done it...".It's true, a wealth of bands have covered Indian Summer, I myself have recorded a demo of it at home. The song is beyond Velvet Underground in its style, the monotone of the drums, the two chord simplicity and the twee lyrics about a perfect summer time adventure around Olympia WA.... what more do you need from a song?

In Between - 'In Between' is my favourite song on the album, it's a perfect track, raw, to-the-point and more expressive than most bands' whole albums... I love the vocal style and the way the guitar sounds so discordant, I love the lyrics.... "I asked you about the past, you didn't wanna talk about it, you didn't want to trouble, it's just all history" & "Try so hard to make you forget, see yourself in the TV set".... Brilliant!!!

Bewitched - The fuzzed out garage punk guitar riff running through this is genius, the Mo Tucker styled drumming is far-out and the simple lyrics... "I Gotta Crush On You, I Gotta Crush On You, What am I Gonna Do? I Gotta Crush On You!!!"... Amazing and straight to the point, what is great to me is, shit bands like Bon Jovi and Brian Adams spent years trying to write perfect love songs, but then you hear this and its right there up in your face attacking you and making you confront your feelings and internal emotions, to me 'Bewitched' is a perfect modern day love song!!


Paul Messis

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