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Author Topic: LAB Record Reviews, Part II: The Bongos, Drums Along The Hudson  (Read 772 times)

Andy Peters

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LAB Record Reviews, Part II: The Bongos, Drums Along The Hudson
« on: December 30, 2006, 04:42:59 pm »

Some of you may know that I'm "from" Hoboken.  (By that, I mean I attended Stevens from 1984 to 1988, then moved to Rutherford but then started working at Maxwell's in 1989.)  Every once in a while, the topic of a "Hoboken Sound" arises, mostly among people my age (40) and older reminiscing about "Back In The Day."

Back in the day, before it was rebuilt with $million condos, Hoboken (situated along the Hudson River between the Lincoln Tunnel to the north and the Holland Tunnel to the south) was a sleepy working-class city best known as the birthplace of Frank Sinatra (and Pia Zadora).  There was a Maxwell House coffee factory along the river, and "Wake up and smell the coffee" really meant something.  Rents were cheap and the city became a mecca for musicians and artists escaping the high cost of living in Manhattan.

There are two bands I've always associated with "The Hoboken Sound," namely the Feelies and the Bongos.  Of course, the Feelies were from Haledon, a small town outside of Paterson; the Bongos actually lived in Hoboken.  (Of course, there is a bunch of other Hoboken bands -- the Cucumbers and Tiny Lights, to name but two -- from back in the day and I don't wish to slight anyone.)  The Bongos were the first group to play the legendary club Maxwell's ("where the legend is bigger than the room"); they played out in the front room (the back wasn't open back then) under the moniker "A," and quickly became favorites due to their quirky and energetic guitar-based power-pop, Ricky Barone's strong, bright lead vocals and obtuse lyrics, Rob Norris' bouncy lead bass and Frank Giannini's peppy drumming.

Which brings us to their first elpee, Drums Along The Hudson, first released in 1982 and long out of print.  (Good news: apparently, it's slated for CD-re-ish in Feb. '07!)

I'm not good at describing what bands sound like. Consider, though, that it's a polar opposite from whatever was on the radio in 1982.  Here, there's no bombast, no pretense, nothing but snappy playing and it's guaraneed to raise a smile.  Google for some sound clips, and buy the record when the re-ish happens.   I'll say this: in a more-perfect world, "The Bulrushes" would have been a Big Hit Single On The Chart (With A Bullet) -- it's like the perfect pop tune.  Of course, so is "Zebra Club," "Glow In The Dark" and "In The Congo."  And their cover of T Rex' "Mambo Sun" bests Bolan's own.

After Drums, Jim Mastro (who played in Richard Lloyd's group at the time Alchemy was recorded) joined the group on second guitar,  and they recorded their major-label debut, an EP, Numbers With Wings.  The title track, a quick-paced roaring number with E-Bow, again would have been a Big Hit Single.   Also featured here is the quirky tribute to "Barbarella" and the beautiful "Sweet Blue Cage."

The production was a lot less spare than Drums.  Numbers was followed by the disappointing full-length Beat Hotel, which found the band's sound redone as New Wave.  And then they broke up.

In October, they played two shows at Joe's Pub in NYC, the first time they'd played together since 1995 when they did a one-off benefit show.  And they're doing another couple of NYC shows in February, too.

24 years later, Drums is still a great album!

"This isn't some upside down inverted Socratic method where you throw out your best guess answers and I correct your work." -- JR

"On the Internet, nobody can hear you mix a band."

Michael 'Bink' Knowles

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Re: LAB Record Reviews, Part II: The Bongos, Drums Along The Hudson
« Reply #1 on: December 31, 2006, 11:22:57 am »

Great review! Now I wish I could preview a song or two to see what I was missing all these years. So far, Amazon and CD Universe don't have any streaming clips available for this album. Maybe in Feb...

Michael 'Bink' Knowles
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