Tag Archives: Wondermints

Blast From The Past: The Wondermints

Fortunately for us, the profile and accessibility of The Wondermints has increased in leaps and bounds over the past decade. Their association with Brian Wilson has not only paid great dividends for them individually and collectively, but they’re done the impossible by getting Brian out of the sandbox and back onto the stage, and later the recording studio. Wilson and Beach Boy fans should have an altar with Wondermints items on it.

Here’s my original review of their self-titled album issued on (the sorely missed) Big Deal Records.

Tasty Treats!

Tasty Treats!

Years ago, a struggling guitarist named Jimi Hendrix had to break in England before his own homeland would recognize and support his talents. Thirty years later, a Los Angeles band is making ends meet by recording for a Japanese label. Fortunately, Big Deal, a New York label, has licensed the debut record and made it available and affordable for American audiences.

Anyone who has the Hollies tribute Sing Hollies In Reverse (eggBert Records, and if you don’t, stop reading and go buy it now. I’ll wait!) was no doubt enthralled with the version of “You Need Love” – picture perfect pop, the kind that allows you to plunk for a full CD without a moment’s hesitation. I did, and although this is not a pop album with “hit singles” busting out of it, most of it is jaw-dropping great. (Okay, maybe there’s a single – the Posies meet Rubinoos sound of “In A Haze” just kills me.)

“Shine”‘s shuffling beat, bongos and psychedelic guitar will appeal to anyone who enjoyed the deeper side of 60’s records, the meat behind the hit singles (indeed, one could sing Joe South’s “Hush” over this melody and not be far off). “Fleur-de-lis” has all that 1980’s Britpop bounce that will make even cynical heads spin (the piano is straight out of “Oliver’s Army”), but in place of the gruff vocal of an Elvis or Nick there’s the candy-sweet harmonies fans of this band have come to love. Yet it’s not all retrospective – slip “Thought Back” onto Jason Falkner‘s recent release and no one would know the difference – and that’s a compliment!

Brian Wilson supposedly claimed that if he had the Wondermints back in 1967, he “would have taken Smile out on the road”. While post-sandbox Brian has to be taken with a grain of salt (he recently called “Grumpier Old Men” one of the three best movies ever made), one listen to the stunning “Tracy Hide” will confirm that this was said on a day when all the sand grains aligned properly. Hypnotic and haunting, “Tracy Hide” blends the effortless falsetto choruses, harpsichord rhythms, kettle drums and other studio nuances that instantly transport the listener to The Golden Age Of Brian. If this had been the flip side of “Good Vibrations”, no one would have complained.

Besides this record, the band has a couple of (now out of print) singles, and “Carnival Of Souls”, here as the record’s closer, is featured on Yellow Pills #2. The band has also released a CD of cover songs, which – you guessed it – is only available as a Japanese import. Some things never change.

The Wondermints on MySpace

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Tributes

I got a couple of emails from readers of yesterday’s post who were loving the Beatles cover comp and asking about tributes, since I’m on record as an obsessive fan of such efforts. On more than one occasion I’ve made my mixtape entry a covers collection (even pilfering a Replacements track title – I’LL BE YOU – for one of the more recent efforts) and I always love when I get them in return. (I’ll have to dig up that comp and post it here in the near future.)

I’ve found that the best ones are usually from independent projects on small labels where the scope will go outside the artist roster. By licensing tracks from other worthy bands that would appeal to the same audience as the internal ringers, the label is saying “we are putting the project first” rather than “this is a cheesey effort to get even the crappiest band on my roster some attention“. Frankly few of these get airplay anyway, so those weaker efforts just wind up in the band’s garage where they belong.

The major labels often blow it as well; too often their efforts wind up using big name artists that have no clue. Of course, with their overhead mapped against the unlikely hit potential, these are not frequent releases. But like the tiny labels trying to build around one good band with filler, the big boys have proven that they’re equally adept at creating a PLE (painful listening experience).

A list of the greatest tribute albums ever deserves more time and thought than I have to spare right now, but I do want to float out a couple of my favorites as well as clue you in to a little known collection assembled by a fellow blogger. These aren’t necessarily the five best, although my favorite tribute ever is included. 

Winner and still champion

Winner and still champion

SING HOLLIES IN REVERSE (eggBert): A majestic collection of power-pop artists including Bill Lloyd, Jon Brion, The Wondermints, Mitch Easter, Tommy Keene and Material Issue. Compiled by the late Greg Dwinnell, this was an all-hits no-misses effort where even the artwork and liner notes were first rate. Greg’s eggBert label also issued a wonderful Bee Gees tribute called MELODY FAIR that was almost as good.

Kovering the Klassics

Kovering the Klassics

THIS IS WHERE I BELONG (Rykodisc): Steve Forbert, Jonathan Richman, Bill Lloyd (the KING of tribute album appearances), Fastball, Fountains of Wayne, Cracker, Minus 5…a solid list of great commercial bands drawing from one of the Koolest Katalogues around. A little better than GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT, which was released around the same time, although “Ring The Bells” by The Model Rockets from the latter might be the best cut of all. (If you can find a copy of SHANGRI-LA on Communion Records, that’s also highly recommended! (Note – if you listen to the Amazon clips, realize that the matchup of artist and song is incorrect).

Whipped Gum and Other Delights

Whipped Gum and Other Delights

RIGHT TO CHEWS (Not Lame): For the bubblegum pop listener in all of us, Not Lame’s impeccable release was complied by John Borack (longtime reviewer and author of Shake Some Action) and features some of the best artists in the current power-pop scene.  Great takes on The 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Ohio Express and Tommy Rowe by Michael Carpenter (genius) , Walter Clevenger (ditto), The Lolas and others. Not Lame has released several great tribute albums for artists as diverse as Gene Clark, Jeff Lynne/ELO and The Cars, among others; every one of them has several chestnuts worth roasting.

Bone Up on these great covers

Bone Up on these great covers

While you’re waiting foa any of the above to arrive in the mail, why not enjoy a great tribute mix right now? Angelo from Power Pop Criminals assembled these brilliant cover comps that are available as free downloads. And on that same page, the excellent rarity and out-of-print Bobby Fuller Four tribute OUR FAVORITE TEXAN.

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