Reader Eddie sent us a link to this video by an all-female ’80s group from New York called Pulsallama, a short-lived art-punk ensemble made up almost entirely of percussionists, plus some bass guitar and the occasional horn line (because this was the ’80s, after all). According to their Facebook page, their sound was sometimes described, pretty accurately, as “13 girls fighting over a cowbell” (though they eventually slimmed down to a svelte seven-piece). After opening for The Clash and releasing a couple of singles, they disbanded in 1982.
This song, “The Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body,” was a minor college radio hit, which is just further proof of something we’ve been saying for years: The ’80s were an awesome time for weird music.
If you want to learn more about Pulsallama, fringe culture experts Dangerous Minds (who else?) have a great summary of the band’s brief career.
We’ve been doing this blog for a long time, so we like to think we’ve gotten pretty good at tracking down information about obscure artists over the years. But every once in awhile, one of you eagle-eyed readers points us to something so far off the pop culture grid, no combination of Google search terms yields many results. That certainly seems to be the case with the South African novelty act Pocket Lips.
A reader named Shane sent us a link to Pocket Lips’ one and only hit—and yes, by accounts it was a hit in South Africa back in 1987, when it climbed all the way up to No. 6 on the local pop charts. Also by all accounts, the band was a studio project made up of producers/musicians Ian Osrin (actually a highly respected South African recording engineer and record producer with an extensive list of legit credits), Zack Haynes and Sam Wingate, plus a vocalist named Keith Berel who had previously fronted a popular Johannesburg band called Flash Harry. How all these apparently talented individuals came to record a song as ridiculous as “It’s Amazing (The Incredible Dance)” is a bit of a mystery—although I suppose the bigger mystery is how a song as ridiculous as “It’s Amazing (The Incredible Dance)” became a top 10 hit. Was pop radio under apartheid a whites-only affair? Maybe that might explain it.
At any rate, this ridiculous song from this ridiculous band (not be confused with a more recent U.K. act called Pocket Lips, who are also ridiculous, but for different reasons) has an equally ridiculous video, which we will now share with you because ridiculous is kind of our thing. Enjoy.
We’re starting off the week with a flashback to 1984. While I was listening to The Cars and trying to grow my hair into a New Wave mullet, an experimental British musician who recorded under the name Fad Gadget was working on his latest album Gag in Berlin, continuing his attempts to combine pop and New Wave with industrial music. This time around, he was able to enlist some pretty cool collaborators: German industrial pioneers Einstürzende Neubauten. He was so appreciative of their contributions to one track that he named the song “Collapsing New People,” a nod to the English translation of their name, “Collapsing New Buildings.”
According to Dangerous Minds, this video is from a performance of “Collapsing New People” on a show called TV Playback in 1984. Fad Gadget was famous for dramatic, self-abusive stage antics like ripping out his own pubic hairs and tossing them into the audience. Since this was television, I guess he decided to settle for getting tarred and feathered instead.
We just got another one of those long “why haven’t you written about these bands yet?” lists from a reader named Sherlock (and we love those lists, by the way—keep ’em coming! they are the lifeblood of this site). Among the many great weird finds Sherlock (yes, his real name) sleuthed out for us was a short-lived ’80s band from Australia called Big Pig, who were sort of a New Wave-era cross between Stomp, Adam Ant circa “Goody Two Shoes” and an Australian’s impersonation of a American-style hoedown, complete with stylized overalls and a harmonica player. Apparently the track in the video below, released in 1986, was a pretty big hit Down Under, but sadly the group disbanded after just two albums and never built much of a following outside Oz. Which is too bad, because in addition to being weird and highly original, a lot of their stuff is catchy as hell.
Thanks for the tip, Sherlock! We will probably be posting more of your suggestions soon, along with terrible detective puns because we can’t help ourselves.
Amazingly, both of Big Pig’s albums are available on Amazon.com, although our American readers will have to pay import prices for one, Bonk, and collector’s item resell prices for the other, You Lucky People. If you want to own a copy of “Hungry Town”—and why wouldn’t you?—the one to go for is Bonk.
You seriously still don’t own a copy of DEVO’s “The Complete Truth About De-Evolution”? That’s OK, they’re reissuing it again next month.
Although they’re still mostly remembered for “Whip It,” DEVO made some of the greatest and strangest music videos of the MTV era, beginning with early avant-garde classics like “Jocko Homo” and culminating in eye-popping performance clips like “Peek-a-Boo” and “Time Out for Fun.” Most of these videos were first collected in 1993 on The Complete Truth About De-Evolution, released exclusively in the ill-fated Laserdisc format. The collection was later reissued on DVD in 2003 by Rhino Records, but that set went out of print. Maybe third time’s the charm?
On Feb. 11th, MVD Entertainment will release the latest incarnation of The Complete Truth About De-Evolution on DVD. As near as we can tell, it’s the same material that was included on the Rhino release, which is to say that the band’s 1984 cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Are U Experienced?” still doesn’t make the cut (apparently the Hendrix estate really didn’t like DEVO’s take) but a bunch of cool bonus materials do, including some early live footage and Bruce Conner’s short film version of “Mongoloid.” There’s also commentary by Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale, which is the worth the price of admission alone.
No details yet on where you can find the newest version of The Complete Truth About De-Evolution but most MVD Entertainment releases are pretty easy to track down via Amazon.com and elsewhere. If we can get our hands on a copy, we’ll post a longer review of the full package soon.
Let’s play this post out with some classic DEVO eye candy from the 1981 New Traditionalists era, aka that time when the guys all wore fake plastic Reagan hair for a year. This is “Through Being Cool,” which I’m tempted to say is the weirdest video they ever did, except they’re all pretty weird in their own ways. I do believe, however, that this is the only DEVO video to feature some sweet breakdancing spin moves. [Update: Nope. Turns out this one does, too. We apologize for the oversight. We also blame the Hendrix estate.]
I really hope we get to take the people over at Aggronautix out for beers someday, because those guys are frickin’ awesome. Their Throbblehead series sometimes seems like it’s ripped from the pages of this blog: GG Allin, Mojo Nixon, Roky Erickson (OK, Roky’s not on the Weird List yet, but he probably should be). If they come out with an Anklepants Throbblehead, we’ll take that as proof that they’re mining our Weird List for likely candidates to immortalize in polyresin.
The latest entry in Aggronautix’s growing pantheon of weirdo Throbbleheads is none other than DEVO. Based on the classic look from the band’s 1980 “Freedom of Choice” tour, the seven-inch figure sports a bitchin’ keytar and a red Energy Dome hat—which bobbles! To the best of our knowledge, the keytar doesn’t work—but it still looks bitchin’.
The DEVO Throbblehead figures ship in September and only 2,000 are being made, so pre-order yours now. And as if you needed any more convincing, here’s a video starring Gerry Casale and, uh, some other dude, touting the Throbblehead’s many virtues.
This week’s band comes to us from a reader named Alex Thermostellar Duddy (Thermduddy, to his bros) and from the dark, twisted heart of the early ’80s. Back then, much of Italy was getting its hairy-chested groove on to the synth-heavy sounds of Italo-disco, a whole weird genre unto itself that might have been the missing link between Kraftwerk and Detroit techno. Or it might just have been what happens when a bunch of Italian dudes with cheap synthesizers and a Giorgio Moroder jones try to make dance music after an all-night cocaine and Chianti bender. And I know it doesn’t sound like I mean that as a compliment, but I do. Italo-disco rules. It just rules in a trashy, gold-chain, uniquely Italian way.
One of the Italo-disco scene’s less heralded producers, a guy named Stefano Pulga, originally conceived Pink Project as a one-off—a slightly tongue-in-cheek disco rework of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” and Alan Parsons Project’s “Mammagamma.” It was a mashup decades before that term even existed—except that, given the more primitive quality of samplers back in the day (and the looser laws governing cover songs, as opposed to wholesale sampling), it was easier for Pulga to just get together with some of his Italo-disco buddies and a hired children’s choir and record the whole thing themselves. Released under the title “Disco Project,” it was probably never meant to be more than a curiosity piece, while Pulga turned his attention back to his solo stuff and his other, semi-successful group, Kano, who were churning out fairly awful Italo-disco hits like this.
But then something unexpected happened: “Disco Project,” at least in Italy, became a hit. The track’s popularity in 1982 reached such heights that Pink Project began getting invitations to appear on American Bandstand-style Italian TV shows—which was sort of a problem, because as a band, Pink Project didn’t really exist. Pulga solved this rather ingeniously by hiring some performers (one of whom may or may not have been Pulga himself) to show up disguised in black hooded monk’s robes and mime playing the song. Combined in this clip with a fresh-faced children’s choir, the effect is both disturbing and totally ridiculous.
Flush with the success of “Disco Project,” Pulga decided to put out a sequel of sorts: another mashup, this time of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and The Greg Kihn Band’s “Jeopardy,” released under the title “B-Project.” As far as we’ve been able to find out, it was never a hit, but it’s even more fantastic than the Floyd/Parsons medley. And when Pink Project got invited to appear on another TV show, Pulga one-upped himself by…well, just watch and you’ll see.
Pink Project’s recorded output also consisted several other mashups, including a Police/Vangelis hybrid we quite like, a collision of Trio’s “Da Da Da” and Falco’s “Der Kommissar” called (obviously) “Der Da Da Da,” and a “Rockit”/”Superstition” mash that, sadly, is nowhere as awesome as that combo sounds. They also released a few original tracks, although the less said about them, the better.
All of Pink Project’s singles and their two albums, Domino and Split, are out of print, and there’s not much more info about the project on the web, at least in English. Even Stefano Pulga’s official website only mentions the group in passing (and in Italian, so we’re not sure what he says about it, except that it was “un prodotto nuovo”). But all of their stuff is widely available on YouTube and collector’s websites like Discogs, as well as a few of those naughty Torrent sites, if that’s your thing.
So what do you think? Italo-disco ’80s mashups—superior to hipster ’00s mashups? We say yes. Especially when delivered by guys dressed up like a low-budget cross between Xanadu and Lord of the Rings.
If we really wanted to, we could probably just change the name of this blog to Weirdest Bands of the ’80s and take a permanent wayback vacation to the era of skinny ties, suspenders and John Hughes movies. What was it about that decade that produced so much wackadoodle pop music?
Me, I was all into Def Leppard and chicks with mullets, so I missed the boat on most of it. Which probably explains why until a reader named Eustaquio (seriously, that’s his name) hipped us to a band called Cardiacs, I had never heard of them before. But consider me schooled, Eustaquio! Even for a time that gave the world Klaus Nomi and DEVO, Cardiacs were pretty out there.
Some history: Cardiacs were originally called Cardiac Arrest and were founded by a pair of brothers named Tim and Jim Smith in a place called Kingston Upon Thames, a suburb of London. Don’t you love how British people name their towns things like “Kingston Upon Thames”? It was probably exactly that kind of stiff-upper-lip prim-and-proper shit that the Smith Bros. were rebelling against.
Anyway, early Cardiac Arrest recordings were apparently pretty scruffy, lo-fi affairs, but by the time the band changed its name to Cardiacs, they were getting a little more polished and a whole lot wackier. Much of their spazzy new sound came from Tim’s herky-jerky vocals (compared to him, David Byrne is Frank fucking Sinatra) and the elaborate keyboard arrangements of a later addition to the band, William D. Drake. They also added a chick sax player, which was very ’80s of them, don’t you think? Her name was Sarah Cutts but she eventually married Tim and became Sarah Smith.
The combination of raw energy and spazzy, complex arrangements (and saxophones!) has led some to label the early Cardiacs sound “pronk,” which is apparently short for “prog + punk.” To his credit, Tim Smith rejected this completely retarded label and would usually just say Cardiacs was a psychedelic pop band. Works for us.
Because everyone in the ’80s was a bit of a weirdo, Cardiacs actually gained a decent cult following and even had a hit single in 1988 with a song called “Is This the Life?”—although by this time they were starting to get that bombastic ’80s guitar sound (thanks a lot, U2) and shooting boring music videos in wind tunnels. Within a few years, Sarah Smith and William D. Drake quit the band and their weirdest days were behind them…although they were active right up until 2008, when Tim Smith suffered a series of strokes that nearly killed him. He’s apparently doing a bit better now, but his days of making music are, sadly, probably behind him.
Anyway, here’s a flashback to Cardiacs’ ’80s heyday, when they dressed up in quasi-military uniforms and smeared greasepaint across their faces and performed as the demented puppets of their malevolent overlords, the Alphabet Business Concern. (He doesn’t show up in the clip below, but they were occasionally joined in videos and onstage by an ABC representative called The Consultant who would alternately stand around looking blandly handsome and/or hurling abuse at the band members, particularly Drake. If you were stoned and British in the ’80s, it was apparently hilarious stuff.)
P.S. We must also give a nod to reader Oded, who also recently suggested we add these guys to The Weird List. But sorry, Oded…Eustaquio beat you to it. By 10 days. Was there just like a Cardiacs documentary on the Bio Channel or something?
If you’re a vinyl junkie, this Saturday, April 21st is probably like Christmas to you—hell, it’s probably bigger than Christmas, because your stupid relatives probably still buy you CDs no matter how many times you tell them it’s an obsolete technology. Yes, kids, it’s Record Store Day, and the cornucopia of limited-edition collector’s crack that will be hitting the shelves of your local independent music retailer should be a boost to eBay’s bottom line for months to come.
We’ve already written about the Flaming Lips’ pretty sweet-sounding Record Store Day exclusive. You can also snag RSD releases from such TWBITW-approved acts as The Misfits, Tinariwen and Captain Beefheart. But the other release that has us really intrigued is a 1981 live album (available only on vinyl—it’s the Record Store Day way) from DEVO called, in typical DEVO utilitarian fashion, Live in Seattle 1981. Previously
available only as a bootleg unreleased, the album is a document of the band’s New Traditionalists tour, which featured Greek columns and treadmills and the Ronald Reagan hairpieces seen above. This was right after “Whip It” became a huge hit, so DEVO was a big deal back then.
Seattle Weekly just published a great little interview with DEVO’s Gerald Casale in which he talks about that tour, the 1981 music scene, and why the band likes supporting Record Store Day. (Spoiler alert: They think it’s “quaint.”) Read up on the backstory, then call your record shop and ask if they’ll be carrying Live in Seattle 1981. Then prepare to knock a few DEVO nerds’ Energy Domes off en route to securing your copy this Saturday. (Kidding! Be nice to the DEVO nerds. This is the one day a year some of them get out of the house.)
We’ll leave you with one of our favorite DEVO songs from the New Traditionalists era. Not sure if it’s on Live in Seattle 1981 or not, but we sure hope so.