If you’ve been following along here for any period of time, it should probably come as no surprise that I listen to a lot of relatively obscure bands. It’s not out of a desire to be counter-cultural or hipper-than-thou, since I would really love it if the charts were dominated by the things I enjoy, because then I wouldn’t have to read about so much crap in the popular music press. No, it’s more just a matter of justice not necessarily being fairly dispensed when it comes to quality music. So to help promote the causes of some of my favorites from off the beaten track, I introduce you to the following five bands who should, absolutely, be better known than they are, if not rich and famous. Some are currently active, some are of historic interest, all are great. I give you a sample from each one, and encourage you to buy something from any or all of them at your earliest convenience. You will be glad you did. As will they.
1. The Weasels: This Albany, New York-based ensemble have been steadily creating an undeniably great body of work over the past quarter century, one perfectly-crafted album after another. Like Steely Dan, the group features a meticulous core pair of songwriters (mysteriously known as Dr. Fun and Roy Weasell) who draft great combinations of session players to bring their archly sardonic compositions to life in glorious jazzy Technicolor, sometimes with trombones. Unlike Steely Dan, The Weasels’ lyrical obsessions include The Larry Trinity (Hovis, Fine and Storch), famous killers, UFOs, and cheese. They’ve got a new EP, Also Sprach Larrythustra, coming out this fall, and their back catalog is highly recommended, all the way through. Sample song: “Jimmy’s Talking Pants.”
2. Octopus: Wikipedia will tell you that there are a few bands that have used this name commercially over the years, but the one I’m talking about is a British psychedelic pop band founded and led by Englishman Paul Griggs, active from 1969 to 1971. They’re better known these days as footnotes in some of their members’ later biographies (Noel Griggs and Malcolm Green went on to play in Spliz Enz, while Brian Glascock played with The Motels andseveral other bands with his late, great, bass-playing brother, John), but Octopus are well worth hearing in their own right, having left one great album, Restless Night, in their creative wake. Its cover must be seen to be believed, which counts for something, even now. Wow. Sample song: “The River.”
3. Doyle: The Misfits are a well-known and historically significant band, though they’ve mostly descended into parody and musical irrelevance in recent years, as bassist Jerry Only preserves the franchise with a variety of sidemen, much to the outspoken chagrin of original singer Glenn Danzig. Longtime ‘fits guitarist Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein (who is also Only’s kid brother) issued an album a couple of years ago with his own self-named band (also featuring fellow ex-Misfit Dr. Chud and Alex Story of Cancerslug), and rather than being a vanity sideman project, it’s easily the best thing to come out of the extended Misfits family tree in a couple of decades. If you love the horror punk and/or epic screaming lead guitars then don’t miss this classic disc. Sample song: “Valley of the Shadows.”
4. Love Songs for Lonely Monsters: I first became aware of Love Songs for Lonely Monsters when I downloaded Maximum Ames Records’ great Sonic Harvest compilation soon after moving to Iowa, as a convenient way of orienting myself to the Hawkeye State’s musical community. LS4LM (as they’re colloquially known) contributed a song called “Reputation” to the compilation, and it became an instant Smith Family favorite as one of our most played songs of 2012. While it’s not really helpful to compare one relatively obscure band to another one, LS4LM always remind me of Athens, Georgia’s cult favorite Pylon, with strong female vocals, great lyrics, and angular guitar-based rock with a beat you can dance to. The Monsters issued one excellent eponymous album after Sonic Harvest, after which they appear to have gone into a quiet hibernation, based on lack of gigs or activity on their website. They aren’t (or weren’t) prolific in the studio, but they were dynamite in person and on disc, and deserve to be widely heard. Sample song: “Ganglion Sister (Live).”
5. Good Rats: I’ve written about Long Island’s finest at length before (see “In Praise of Good Rats“), but you may not have listened to me when I did it, so I’m going to keep telling you about them until you get with the program. Rolling Stone once dubbed them “The world’s most famous unknown band,” as The Good Rats seemed (and still seem) to be a band more people have heard of than actually heard. This is a shame. I saw them play live half a dozen times in the ’70s at the peak of their collective powers, at large arenas (stealing Rush’s thunder as openers at Nassau Coliseum) and small venues (a summer party at Eisenhower Park) alike, and they rocked their audiences like nobody’s business, no matter how many people they were playing for. Their studio albums are great fun, too, with awesome chunky rock chops supporting the late Peppi Marchello’s weirdly progressive songs and lyrics, most featuring glorious singalong choruses. Or shout along, if that’s your style. Anybody can do it. At bottom line: you don’t have to be from Long Island to love the Good Rats, as they make everything tastier. Sample Song: “City Liners.”