Friday, November 07, 2014

Friday 80s Flashback for November 7, 2014

A Side - Take The Skinheads Bowling 7"

[Camping with Beethoven?] -- I recently listened to Episode 546 of WTF with Marc Maron. In this October 30 podcast, Maron interviews David Lowery who is best known as the founder of Camper Van Beethoven (1983–1990 and 1999–present) and co-founder of Cracker (1990–present). As this is an 80s Flashback post, I'll be focusing on the first of those two bands. So, yeah ... remember Camper Van Beethoven? I remember the moment I discovered them during my freshman year at PSU. Well, OK, it was more like I was introduced to them, but that's still a form of discovery on my part, right? Anyway, While I don't remember who first spun their discs for me -- it could have been my roommate at the time, Paul from down the hall, or half a dozen other folks -- but I do remember thinking, "Who is this band? Camping with Beethoven? Well, do they have more?" I immediately loved their sound, which I thought to be a fantastic blend of jangly Americana, punk, and rootsy hillbilly. When I dug into their back catalog a bit, I found their earlier stuff also featured their imitations of ethnic-type instrumentals (they must have been developed by thinking something along the lines of, "What would a Klezmer band based in India sound like?"), and it all had a hint of that punk DIY attitude fueling it.

It should come as no surprise that the band was eclectic and experimental. David Lowery, the vocalist and main songwriter for Camper, is also a mathematician and something of a tech-head. (Side note: Lowery has done pretty well for himself through investing and side work as a financial analyst, and he has also headed up a number of music-related businesses). Camper Van Beethoven released five studio LPs and four EPs during the 80s. Two of the LPs and at least one of the EPs were self-produced and released on the bands own label, Pitch-A-Tent Records. While their records never charted big sales numbers, the band did earn effusive critical acclaim, and they toured rather successfully. Check out a few of their tunes after the break! 

Flashback #1"There's not a line that goes here that rhymes with anything | I has a dream last night, but I forget what it was."

If you want songs celebrating -- and alternately mocking -- 80s counterculture within the 80s, look no further than Camper Van Beethoven's debut album, Telephone Free Landslide Victory (1985). Garage tunes, instrumentals, and absurd lyrics are all staples on this record. And nowhere is the Camper aesthetic better displayed than on our first Flashback of the day, "Take the Skinheads Bowling." 

Flashback #2(Instrumental)

The band's sophomore album was self-produced and released on their own label, Pitch-A-Tent, early in 1986. Songs for this LP were selected from two separate recording sessions (each with a different lineup of the band). Perhaps that is why they saddled the LP with the confusing title of II & III. Of course, there might not be any logical reason for the name. Nor is there any logical reason to record an instrumental titled "ZZ Top Goes to Egypt." But they did it. And the tune appears as track 6 on side two of the album.  

Flashback #3(Instrumental)

Later in 1986, Camper Van Beethoven released their third studio album. Remember I mentioned that the Campers were experimental? Well, this album really demonstrates that in spades. Many of the songs were parodies (lyrically or otherwise) of Led Zeppelin and Deadheads. The notion that the album is self-titled (it is listed as Camper Van Beethoven) is also an inside joke: The album title is actually revealed in the liner notes, and scratched into the inner groove of the vinyl record, as Soviet Spies Swim Upstream Disguised as Trout. This title was suggested by an overly enthusiastic fan (Lowery explains all this at the 42:50 mark of the podcast episode linked at the beginning of this post). With all that in mind, I think the final Flashback of the day should be Camper Van Beethoven's acid-rock jam cover of Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive." Enjoy!

[UPDATE: I forgot to mention that the three tunes here -- and the albums they were released on -- really show the technical chops and growth of the musicians in Camper Van Beethoven. To appreciate this, you have to understand that most members who joined the lineup between 1983 and 1987 were learning their instruments. For example, according to several interviews (including the podcast linked above), David Lowery was a bass player learning to play guitar, and violinist Daniel Blume had only recently picked up fiddle-playing. Keep that in mind when you listen to the intricate work in their Floyd cover.] 

Once again, I remind you that the rule of three applies when doing Flashbacks. As I've made my three offerings, that's all till next week. Dedicated 80s-philes can find more flashbacks in the archives. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If, however, you don't like the flashback, feel free to share it with your enemies.

And if you are on Twitter, and feel so inclined, please +K my influence in Music on @klout.

I'll see you in seven!

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