Saturday, September 17, 2011

September 17: Camper Van Beethoven, "Take The Skinheads Bowling"

Artist: Camper Van Beethoven
Song: "Take The Skinheads Bowling"
Album: Telephone Free Landslide Victory
Year: 1985

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Though it often makes it easier to describe the sound of a particular band, there is no arguing the fact that genre classifications are completely arbitrary, and in many cases they are rather meaningless.  This idea is perhaps easiest seen in the fact that there are a number of bands playing a particular sound far before it is given the more popular genre title, and yet these early bands are often placed into a different category.  While this has occurred a number of times over the course of music history, it has rarely been more obvious than in the case of the handful of bands in the 1980's that bridged the gap between punk rock, folk rock, and "garage" rock.  In more modern times, the sound these bands created would certainly be called "alternative" or "indie" rock, and yet in their own time period, it was so unique that it was often not given any classification at all.  Bringing one of the most unique sounds in all of music history, and laying the groundwork for what would become the "alt rock boom" of the early 1990's, there are few groups that better display this reality than Camper Van Beethoven, and there are few records of the entire decade more impressive than their 1985 masterpiece, Telephone Free Landslide Victory.  Filled with a massive array of sonic approaches and influences, the record still easily holds its own to this day, and there may be no other song that better captures the essence of Camper Van Beethoven than their seemingly immortal 1985 song, "Take The Skinheads Bowling."

Only a few notes into the song, the unique and almost defiant nature of "Take The Skinheads Bowling" becomes apparent, as the band seamlessly fuses together the core of folk music with the angst and spirit of the punk rock sound.  Though other bands had experimented with stripping down the punk sound, none did so in a similar manner, and one can easily hear the wide range of influence that this track had on later bands.  It is the way that the grouped guitars ring across the track that makes the song so distinctive, as they seem a bit rough and edgy, and this is where one can hear the punk influence.  Many might argue that the tone of the guitar sounds unfinished or perhaps even "off," and yet it is this same element that stands as the songs' most enduring musical aspect, as there is an energy within the guitars that is unlike any other recording.  It is also the fact that there are multiple guitars at work that make "Take The Skinheads Bowling" so unique, and their sound is perfectly complimented by bassist Victor Krummenacher.  Within the bassline, the song gains its fantastic sense of movement, as one can feel the track sliding back and forth, and yet this is also what keeps "Take The Skinheads Bowling" from becoming labeled as punk, furthering its distinctive nature.  Drummer Anthony Guess rounds out the band, and it is his fast paced, almost nervous sound that serves as the ideal finishing touch, and once heard, it is impossible to forget the musical performance and hook found on "Take The Skinheads Bowling."

Yet while the musical arrangement on "Take The Skinheads Bowling" is superb, there is no question that the spirit and soul of both the sound and band reside within the vocal performance of David Lowery.  Furthermore, it is Lowery's vocals that cement the bands' place within the punk aesthetic, and yet on many levels, the singing and lyrics are more "artsy" than what one expects from the punk genre.  However, Lowery's seemingly detached, almost nonsensical performance is truly fantastic, and it becomes almost, if not more iconic than the music over which he sings.  Moving between speaking and almost uncontrollable shouting, there is simply no parallel for the style of David Lowery's singing, and on many levels, it is this performance that would become the blueprint for every "alternative" singer that would emerge half a decade later.  It is this unique swagger that manages to make the extremely strange lyrics somehow work, and due to the way with which he presented them, countless people assumed there was some "deeper" message within the words.  However, when one steps back and inspects the lyrics to "Take The Skinheads Bowling," they are completely random, and though the chorus is beyond catchy, the verses themselves are as dadaist as one can find anywhere within the history of music.  Yet the fact that they are so unforgettable serves as proof to the power of a great vocal delivery, and it is the reason that David Lowery stands so far apart from his peers.

There is no question that "Take The Skinheads Bowling" stands as one of the most iconic songs of the entire decade, and few can recall a time when the song did not exist.  However, while this is all true, the fact of the matter is that the song never even came close to charting on any sales records.  Though the track became a staple of college and independent radio during the 1980's, this did not lead to greater success for the band; and in this way, Camper Van Beethoven stand as one of the most unique acts in all of music history.  Yet the reason why the song became such an "underground" success is completely clear, as few other recordings in history are as outright irresistible and unforgettable as one can experience in every aspect of "Take The Skinheads Bowling."  The trio of guitars are nothing short of perfect, and it is largely the attitude behind this sound that defines the song.  Rarely has their been a song based around a largely acoustic instrumentation that has as much attitude as one finds here, and this is much the reason that "Take The Skinheads Bowling" was able to appeal to such a wide range of music fans.  This seemingly limitless appeal can be seen in the fact that in the time since the song was first released, the track has been covered by artists ranging from rock to ska to punk to folk, and in each case, it seems to fit perfectly with the genre in question.  Taking this all into account, there is no question that Camper Van Beethoven stand as one of the most unique bands in all of music history, and there are few songs as timeless as their 1985 track, "Take The Skinheads Bowling."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! Nicely done, as usual!