Blotto

REVIEW: Blotto – Collected Works (1994)

BLOTTO – Collected Works (1994 Blotto Records)

Blotto’s discography was dominated by singles and four track EPs.  They had one album, the supremely entertaining Combo Akimbo (1982), and that was that!  So, when the CD age rolled around, the suits over at Blottones publishing must have decided to get in on that!  Almost all Blotto’s output was reissued in a single CD collection, including the complete album Combo Akimbo.

Blotto’s Collected Works is probably the most logical pit-stop to check out the band on your musical journey.  We begun with their hit “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard”, from their debut EP Hello, My Name Is Blotto, What’s Yours?.  “Lifeguard” represents the hopes and dreams of a shoe salesman who really just wants to get paid to hang out on a beach all day.  Done in the surf-rock style of course.  Then “(We Are The) Nowtones” is a musical advertisement for the band you should hire for your next event.  “We are the Nowtones!  We do Top 40!  We wear matching outfits!  We look real sporty!  Like a living juekbox, we play the hits.  Appear in nightclubs that are the pits.”

At this point the compilation presents the Combo Akimbo album in sequence.  For my money, I prefer the vinyl.  Not only is it a self-contained work, but it’s got way more beef to it.  Comparing LP to CD, there is no question which sounds better.  Combo Akimbo is blast of an album, but we’ve already reviewed it, so check that out for more detail.  The key takeaway for most people will be the song “Metal Head” featuring Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, which received some MTV and MuchMusic play in the early 80s.  For a certain generation, this is the only Blotto song they know due to its presence on the legendary compilation LP Metal For Breakfast.

Blotto’s second EP Across and Down (1980) is also presented in sequence.  “She’s Got a Big Boyfriend” has a riff similar to the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer”, but the song goes in another direction — 80s pop rock.  Then “Gimme the Girl” is tropical reggae vibes via Albany NY.  It’s supremely fun for parties.  Run for cover if you’re overly sensitive when “My Baby’s the Star of a Driver’s Ed Movie” begins!  The classic ballad stylings contrast with the words.  The final Across and Down song is the punk rock scorcher “H.S.H.” — “High School Honey”, a clear winner in any race.

“Lightning Strikes” is a real rarity, from a 1982 indy compilation called Hudson Rock: Fifteen Bands From Albany. It’s an also-ran with nice harmonies but is otherwise largely forgettable.  A live version of “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard” is better than the studio original, and it’s another rarity.  It was originally released on a low quality flexi-disc that came with a 1987 compilation LP also called I Wanna Be a Lifeguard.  Then there’s an amusing song called “The B-side”, from the single for “When the Second Feature Starts”.  “The A-side gets all the glory, the B-side, that’s another story…and you’re probably not even listening to this right now!”

The only serious skipper is the cover of “Stop! In the Name of Love” with lead vocals by former singer Blanche Blotto.  This B-side from the first EP is campy but not particularly good.  The overwrought vocals ruin what might have been a cool disco arrangement.  Another dicey inclusion is a “karaoke” mix of “Lifeguard” (eww).  A better song to include would have been “Bud…Is After Us” from the first EP which otherwise would have made the CD too long.

Yes, it’s the Collected Works, but there’s still a bit more out there to collect.  There’s even another compilation CD called Then More Than Ever from 2000, all unreleased material.  Still more to explore; but in the meantime consider Collected Works as a great way to get really, really Blotto.

4/5 stars

 

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#700: How Are You Doing?

GETTING MORE TALE #700: How Are You Doing?

It’s been a week since we lost Mum…and we are doing OK.  Jen’s been focused like an electron microscope on getting things done for the funeral.  My job is scanning photos and preparing music…and catching up on laundry.  Attempting to put a dent into the pile of clothes I call “Sock Mountain”.  I’m assuming reality will hit us later.

For music, Mum would have liked if we used something by my sister Dr. Kathryn.  I hope I can find something appropriate, perhaps from her Stealth CD.  At least one track.  For the reception after, I’m using Mike Slayen’s awesome acoustic guitar album DUDE.  Don’t let the title fool you!  If Mum was well enough, I know she would have been enjoying this album with us.  Probably in the car on the way to the cottage.  She would have loved it.  Me, I would have loved just having Mum with us.

This has been a very hard year for us, and I know the power of music is such that you always associate certain tracks or albums with periods in your life.  Music also has the power to raise the spirits, and it did that for me quite a few times this summer.  On every shitty drive to Toronto on the 401, to every dismal hospital parking lot, my stereo was on.  A lot of albums were repeat listens, and I worry:  “Will I always associate the Bosstones or Blotto with this shitty summer?”

I might.  And that might make the Bosstones or Blotto hard to listen to, down the road.  I think we have to try and make more memories of those bands later on.  Maybe when we finally do return to the cottage.

That aside, we sure did devour a lot of music on the road.  Just last week, between Toronto and the work commute, I polished off Marillion’s The Singles ’82-’88 (12 discs), its followup Singles Box Vol 2 ’89 – ’95 (12 more discs), and a third “box set” of eight more singles. A whopping 1.5 gig of music.  Basically all their singles and B-sides in one massive weeklong stretch.  Meanwhile, back at the office, I had my Kiss flash drive.  Basically, everything I own by Kiss in one place.  I’ve been focused on the studio albums, and each one has been spun more than once.  I realised this:  I never seem to get tired of Kiss!

Whether it was Lick it Up, Hotter Than Hell, Dressed to Kill, Love Gun, Rock and Roll OverDynasty, Unmasked, Creatures…even Asylum got multiple plays in the last couple weeks.  When a band has been your favourite for over 30 years and you can’t explain why, I guess you can just keep playing those albums in rotation.  The later albums…admittedly less so.  The emotional attachment isn’t quite there.

Get this!  While I was bopping to Kiss Unmasked one afternoon, the guy in the office next to me put on “Summerland” by King’s X!  How cool is that?  When was the last time you heard King’s X in the office?  The guy even knew the names of the members.  Said a friend recently turned him onto King’s X, but all he had was the Best Of.  Gotta start somewhere!

Thanks for checking in.  We’ll be OK.  I think we’ll manage to make it through this, but not without the support of friends and loved ones.

VIDEO REVIEW: Blotto – Tonight at Toad’s (1982)

BLOTTO – Tonight at Toad’s (1982 television broadcast)

Since finally “discovering” Blotto this summer, I’ve already viewed their concert Tonight at Toad’s (3/25/82) numerous times, so much that I know the whole broadcast by heart.  The comedic rock band took the stage at Toad’s Place (New Haven, CT) for a TV broadcast.  The amicable, well-rehearsed group kept things at all times entertaining.

Blotto opened with the satirical “(We Are) The Nowtones)”, an oldies-style advertisement for a band who’ll play anything you want; and they’ll say “thank you” at the end of every song!  It’s a clever little pastiche with even the stage lighting being part of the story.

The second broadcast song, “It’s Not You” was from their then-forthcoming album debut, Combo Akimbo.  Guitarist Bowtie Blotto has to tell his girl that it’s all over, but it’s not her fault.  “It’s not you, it’s your family that I can’t stand.”  With a catchy guitar lick, Bowtie tells it how it is.  As soon as Bow takes the girl home, her family goes right into him.  “I try, and I try to be cool when they start.  But girl, they’re the ones who are tearing us apart!”

Your mother wants to know if I am on drugs,
Your brother shows me his collection of bugs,
Your aunts don’t like me and your uncles are a bunch of thugs.
Your father coughs and blows smoke in my face,
He still believes in the superior race,
He says if he was president, the world would be a better place.

Dear God, that sounds like a nightmare.  But it gets worse!

Don’t take it personally,
It’s just all those little things,
Like when I come over and your father tells me, “don’t park in the driveway ’cause your car drips oil on the new white pebbles!” And then when I come inside, the cat jumps all over my lap, and gets hair all over my shirt and pants! And your grandmother sits on the newspaper and gets it all wrinkled and balled up, I can’t even read it. And your sister brings out her scrap book, she wants me to look at all of her old prom pictures. I mean, who cares! And your brother wants me to help him with his science project, dissecting frogs! Oh, what a mess! And then when I go in the bathroom, and wash my hands, and all they have is soft soap, and my hands smell like coconuts, and I can’t dry ’em on those little guest towels, so I gotta dry ’em on my shirt, which is already covered with cat hair!

What a great little pop rock tune, though.  That’s the thing about Blotto.  Even if mixing comedy and rock (a dicey proposition to be sure) isn’t your bag, there’s no denying Blotto were top-notch.  The musicianship and especially their singing was always spot-on.  They could tackle multiple styles easily, and had an arsenal of three lead singers (Bowtie, Broadway and Sergeant Blotto) to harmonize.  They also just wrote good songs.

Broadway goes next with “Occupational Hazard”, also from the forthcoming album.  Enjoy this decent rock n’ roll track about the dangers of being in a band.  Another good tune:  if the songs were not good enough, the lyrics wouldn’t carry the show alone.

Blotto’s big hit was 1979’s “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard” from their debut EP.  Sergeant Blotto leads the charge to the beach in this surf-rock new-wave anthem.  Poor Sarge, stuck working in a shoe store all summer.  His dream job?  Being a lifeguard of course!  “I want an ocean, and some sunscreen lotion.  Take me to the beach with a thousand pretty girls in reach!”  Sounds awesome Sarge, sign us up.

The show takes a break for an interview with the five Blotto members, including bassist Cheese and drummer Lee Harvey.  They talk about the still-untitled album and banter about naturally.  Why were Blotto not huge?  Watching this video, it’s easy to imagine Blotto appealing to many.  The legend goes that they were once offered a major label deal but would have lost creative control.  They chose to put out their album on Blotto Records instead.  Maybe if they had signed with the label…?  Who knows.  Watch this interview yourself and see a band that coulda woulda shoulda.

 

Back to the music.  “Goodbye, Mr. Bond” is sung by the evil villain “Dr. Bow”.  Any Bond fan will take delight in this spy adventure.  Will Bond escape this time?  “I could kill you right now, but no!  There’s a better way…”  That usually doesn’t go well for the villain, but the song goes on the verge of progressive rock during an instrumental breakdown.  “Goodbye, Mr. Bond” flows seamlessly into a cover of “Secret  Agent Man” with Sarge on lead vocals.

Kids of the 80s remember Blotto for one song:  “Metal Head”.  Sergeant Blotto’s friends are gettin’ worried.  He’s turning into a heavy metal head!  It has all the necessary ingredients for a metal song:  Solid riff, howlin’ vocals, ripping guitar solos, thunderous drum fills, and screams aplenty.

This great little show is a wonderful way for you to enjoy the next 45 minutes of your life. Get Blotto.

4/5 stars

 

    1. (We Are) The Nowtones (from 1979’s EP Hello! My Name Is Blotto. What’s Yours?)
    2. It’s Not You (from 1982’s Combo Akimbo)
    3. Occupational Hazard (from Combo Akimbo)
    4. I Wanna Be a Lifeguard (from Hello! My Name Is Blotto. What’s Yours?)
    5. Interview
    6. Goodbye, Mr. Bond (from Combo Akimbo)
    7. Secret Agent Man (Johnny Rivers cover)
    8. Metal Head (from Combo Akimbo)

 

 

 

REVIEW: Blotto – Combo Akimbo (1982)

BLOTTO – Combo Akimbo (1982 Blotto Records)

Blotto were just too much fun!  A variety of rocking styles and amusing lyrics makes Combo Akimbo, their only studio album, a blast to listen to front to back.

Singer Sergeant Blotto takes lead vocals on “Too Much Fun”, a punky vintage Alice Cooper rock and roll romp, powered through a particle accelerator.  For track two, guitarist Bowtie Blotto leads.  “It’s Only Money” is just pure and simple rock and roll:  Kiss with a hint of early Beatles.  Broadway Blotto (guitar) takes over lead vocals on “Scream”.  It’s a pleasantly New Wave 80s-sounding rock song with a great chorus, aided and abetted by Sarge and Bowtie.  “I Quit” (vocals by Broadway) is a perfect rock anthem for those who wanna take this job and shove it.  Sassy, fun rock and roll.

The most legendary of the songs is of course “Metal Head”, lead vocals by Sarge.  It’s a funny and uncomplicated story of what could happen if you too inadvertently become a metal head.  Done in the metal style, Sarge complains that “suddenly there’s an endless void where I used to keep my brain”.  It plays on the 80s brain-dead metalhead stereotype, but for a comedy song it works.  “Wanna customize my van, and I don’t even own one.”  That’s Buck Dharma from Blue Oyster Cult on lead guitar (and in the video).  Dig those four (count ‘em!) false endings.

Side two is just as much fun as side one.  “It’s Not You” boasts chiming, jangly guitars and catchy everything.  Bowtie proclaims that “It’s not you, it’s your family I can’t stand!”  It’s just a quick blast of gleeful complaining.  “Occupational Hazard” sounds, strangely enough, like an outtake from Peter Criss’ first solo album…if it was the best song on the album.  It has that old-timey style that Pete was so good at back then…but better.  Then the very New Wave rock-styled “When the Second Feature Starts” is a memento of the old drive-in days.  Kissing through the cartoons, fogging up the windows…remember what it was like?

Possibly the most intriguing and entertaining song on the album is closer “Goodbye, Mr. Bond”.  From the perspective of the villain who has just captured 007, it’s a brilliant homage to the greatest spy of all time.  “We’ve been expecting you, monsieur Bond.”  The bad guy invites him to sit and chat before discussing how Bond should die.  “This is your last interference.  I could shoot you right now, but NO!  Hahahaha, there’s a better way!”  We all know how it goes from there!  “Goodbye, Mr. Bond” is a treat whether you like the super spy or not.  The music captures the Bond essence and the lyrics pay tribute to both the good and bad Bond clichés.

What a blast Combo Akimbo is.  It’s not an outstanding classic album by any stretch, but it’s fun, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and every song is good.  Worth tracking down if only for “Metal Head” and “Goodbye, Mr. Bond”.

4/5 stars

 

Update 2

On the last few Toronto drives, one band keeps getting played over and over again.  When I return from my hiatus I’m going to be writing a lot about Blotto.  Their upbeat, comedic rock and roll has been everything we needed.  There have been dark days these past weeks, but Blotto helps make us laugh again.  Blotto formed in the late 70s, never signed to a major label, released one album and several singles, and became a cult band.

One day before hitting the highway, I checked out a Blotto concert from 1982 on Youtube called Tonight At Toad’s.  It had Jen’s favourite song (“It’s Not You”) and two of mine (“Metal Head” and “Goodbye, Mr. Bond”).  I flipped the concert to mp3 and put it on the car stereo.  Together we found a new favourite, “I Wanna be a Lifeguard”, their first hit from 1979.

Music helps.  Every little thing helps.

Selected Road Tunes:

  • Blotto – Tonight at Toad’s
  • Deep Purple – The Book of Taliesyn
  • Deep Purple – With Orchestra: Live at Montreaux
  • Deep Purple – The House of Blue Light
  • Budgie – Deliver Us From Evil
  • Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson & Steve Vai – G3 Live in Concert
  • The Darkness – Live at Hammersmith
  • The Sword – Used Future

 

 

#494: I Think I’m Going Bald

GETTING MORE TALE #494: I Think I’m Going Bald
(a sequel to #488: Almost Cut My Hair)

A short while back, we took a look at popular hair styles in different genres of music.  One hair style we ignored, because it really knows no boundaries, is the old fashioned bald head, or the “Jean-Luc” as the kids call it today.*

When I was a young fella discovering rawk at the dawn of the 1980’s, I hadn’t seen any bald rock stars that impressed me.  Now my first musical love truly was John Williams, and he was bald.  Hard rock at the beginning of the 80’s wasn’t like that.  There was…a uniform.  Unless you were Rob Halford, Paul Di’Anno or Udo Dirkschneider, part of that uniform was having long hair to thrash about.

The only bald rockers I had seen included one rare picture of Bob Kulick, brother of Bruce, and the bass player from Blotto. I didn’t like Blotto: they also had a short haired geek with thick rimmed glasses on guitar. So, by extension, I didn’t like bald heads in rock!

Then grunge came, and long hair was no longer a “thing”. Then, even worse, our mortal rock stars began aging! How was this possible? There was no time to consider the thought, as one by one, rock stars shaved their heads completely: Rob Halford, Kerry King, Scott Ian, Billy Corgan, Joe Satriani, hell even Billy fucking Joel has lost the curls and gone cue-ball!

There’s nothing wrong with the bald head, obviously I have learned this now. I myself have rocked the bald look on and off for about 15 years now. Most people don’t do it on and off, but I’ve been blessed with a full head of hair (thanks mom’s side of the family!), and I shave it for convenience and to look tougher than I already am. Seriously though, there’s nothing better than having a shower, jumping in your clothes and heading right to work without worrying about hair. There’s nothing better to beat the heat in the summer either.

Now, funny thing. My mom and my wife both think I am going actually bald. They tell me my hairline is receding. What they don’t know is that my hairline started receding at age 16. Then it stopped and never started receding again! I have the exact same hairline I had at 16, only nobody believes me, because at 16 I was trying to hide that by growing it out!  It has not moved one centimetre since highschool, and that’s a fact, Jack!

This being summer time, I have shaved it all off once again.  This is the closest you may ever see to a picture of “topless LeBrains” here.

Who are your favourite bald rockers? Do you favour Sinead O’Connor for her fearless 80’s buzz cut? Do you call it a tie between Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel? There are so many epically talented bald rockers (not looking at you, Chris Daughtry) today that it truly is hard to choose.

* Not really, but a better name than the “Bieber” which was the name of an actual fucking hair cut.