Sergeant 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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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