The Annotated Embarrassment Discographyby Matt Wall. Version 12.01 last updated March 16, 2001
The information here was compiled from many sources: recordings, label promotional material, printed articles, fan email postings, and wherever possible from the original participants in the recordings. There have occasionally been contradictions, some from misprinted information, others from perhaps faulty memories. In the instance of small inconsistencies, I've attempted to use the preponderance of evidence to decide which version to repeat; in the one or two instances where the evidence is not clear, or a significant question remains, I've tried to mention this explicitly.
This discography started out as a typed file in 1987 by Matt Wall, and formed the core of what may have been the very first band web site on the network in 1991-92. It was revised into a more formal discography in 1995, and significantly corrected with information provided by John Henderson, Jim Rosencutter, John Nichols, and Bill Goffrier in 1996. Bill Rich and Kris Gillespie, as well as the staff at Bar/None records, and many fans and associates of the band also provided some details. It underwent a major revision in 1998 to get a lot of incidental details covered, and a minor revision in 2001 for corrections/additions.
New to this version:
Minor technical revisions around that time:
The annotations are an attempt to describe variants in the songs as best as I am able: different recording fidelity, versions, mixes, live cuts, and so forth. I have included only a little studio information, as some of my sources are oral or via informal email; when contradictions have come up, I have deferred to the recent liner notes on Heyday as more recent and printed and therefore more authoritative. In all cases, where a member of the band (notably Bill Goffrier and "Fifth Embo", soundman Jim Rosencutter) has provided alternative information, we've gone with that.
The Embarrassment Studio sessions are described in more detail on another page - click and ye shall see it.
We also have a brief list of originals that never got recorded, and covers performed live (some of which made it to the recordings listed here).
I have also included some notes at the bottom on Big Dipper songs that started out life as Embarrassment tunes. Thanks very much to Bill Goffrier for providing horses' mouth-level info, as it were!
A little bit of critical commentary creeps into the notes -- please take these as purely my personal opinions at the time of writing unless I've attributed it otherwise.
Even though "Patio Set" was the "A" side (or was it a double A?) "Sex Drive" is the song that became better known.
John Bernhardt helpfully reports the following: "Patio Set" is listed as BT-1-A and "Sex Drive" is listed as BT-1-1 on the printed label. On the etched matrix, Patio is BT-1-3:07 and Sex Drive is BT-1-5:00. On the back of the sleeve printed in someone's handwriting is
The Embarrassment Patio Set Sex Drivewhich is the only actual "ordering" implicit between the two tracks.
Some of the first sleeves were assembled incorrectly by the band and the two halves are "upside down" from one another.
Also recorded in these sessions were "Berliner's Night Out", which appeared on both the ERT and HD, the version of the Seeds' "Pushin' Too Hard" which appeared on the BOMP collection, and the original version of "After the Disco", which surfaced on HD and the "Time for a Change" compilation.
Only 500 copies were pressed, and this record has become something of a minor collectible. Two different people wrote me to say they'd gladly paid $75 and $100 for original copies of this single (pre-Heyday-release), and we've had reports of it selling for as much as $250 as of 2001
The record got sparsely reviewed, and of the two tunes, "Sex Drive" got the most notice. "Patio Set" was performed by the band throughout its early career, though, and the song's sound continued to evolve even as "Sex Drive" became the song most eagerly sought out by cognoscenti in later years.
The band's sound at the time is angular, chunky, and grindingly rhythmic. The Embarrassment at the time were basically a punk band with what could later be called New Wave overtones, yet had already established a fairly unique signature sound, as well as the lyrical touchstones that they'd continue to revisit over the following five years.
"Sex Drive" was later re-recorded for God Help Us.
The ERT version is not quite as cooking as evidence of later live recordings suggests, but has an eery quality to it. The studio version shreds, though. The use of John Nichols' organ as a prominent "drone" sound first appears here. Some reports about the band's being typed as a "neopsychedelic" band are reported linked to their selection of this song, although one may equally note the surreal nature of their imagery and a few explicit LSD references later on only suggest that there was a little something to this early stereotyping.
"Pushin' Too Hard" was one of several covers that were a staple of the Embos' live sets, all done with considerably personalized style.
This was recorded sometime during February of 1981 at Sooner Sound Lab in Oklahoma City; production credit to Michael McGee and The Embarrassment.
Also recorded in these sessions was "Two Cars", which appeared in medium-fi on the ERT, on the Human Music compilation, and was reissued in re-mix on HD along with the five originally-issued cuts. It's not clear why "Two Cars" didn't get included on the EP.
There were five more tracks that were recorded in 2/81 at Sooner Sound Lab "live" (straight to 2-track, not much mixing, somewhat lower fidelity) which appeared on various artist compilations, the ERT, and/or Heyday, which are listed in their release contexts below: "Lifespan", "Sound of Wasps", "Can't Forget", "Sexy Singer Girl", and a 'medley' outtake that appears on HD as "Sex Drive/Pants Down/Gibberish". These latter tracks were 'produced' by the Embos.
One quick critical note is that these particular tracks have that somewhat looser 'live' feel, somewhere halfway between the lower-fidelity live tracks on the Embarrassment Retrospective Tape and the rest of the studio work, and are relatively unique as a result.
The record was a 12" 45 RPM disk with a paper sleeve, hand-produced by the Embarrassment. The EP itself was pressed twice, and the first time it had a typo on the label: "Elizabeth Montgomer's Face". A story circulated later that this was done to avoid a possible libel suit, but this was just a joke put out (apparently by John Nichols).
The cover art work by John Boyd was not a custom job for the EP, but were from lithographs that were literally taken down from the wall to produce the photo-ready artwork for the sleeve.
Jim Rosencutter reports the following about the production of the EP:
"The covers were all folded and hand-glued by the band, Dan Rouser and me. At one cover-gluing session, we were writing messages on the flaps before applying the Elmers. Of course, no one will be able to see these messages unless they tore the cover apart."The Embarrassment EP was a breakthrough release which brought the Embos real attention on the college radio circuit, and a number of great reviews, including showing up at the top of several end-of-year top ten lists. One fanzine had the Embarrassment listed as the second favorite band -- after Minor Threat -- following the release of this record and the continuing series of live shows.
That comparison may seem an odd confluence when the sounds on this record are considered. "I'm a Don Juan" most clearly showed the band's punkish origins, while "Celebrity Art Party" was a successful combination of a little grind rock, stop-start song structure, and signature don't-want-to-be-hip lyrical attitudes. "Don't Choose the Wrong Song" uses a "walking" melody line and some guitar work that, while fuzzed out in some areas and with country twangs in other, owes a little something to disco and dance music. "Elizabeth Montgomery's Face", which got a lot of attention at the time for the then-unusual references to classic TV (and its vague suggestions of auto-eroticism), was originally a straightforward punk tune that the Embarrassment made into a country-swing tune on the EP. And the valedictory "Wellsville" is a wonderful, bouncing pop song with a triste overtone.
The music rocked, it rolled and lollygagged across country roads, it was punkish and new wavey but borrowed from at the time totally uncool sources like country and disco. The lyrics were baffling to many used to the extremes of banal love songs and punk rants, but appealingly evocative and personal. In short, the band had already become too original to be typecase as anything but what they were -- The Embarrassment.
This was a fairly limited run two-cassette (cassette only) compilation of Fresh Sounds artists of the time, the first in a continuing series (although not numbered "#1" at the time -- they eventually went up to # 8 or more) from the Kansas label run by Bill Rich.
This item remains a rare collectible and is quite valued by fans, although somewhat less precious now that all of the cuts have appeared on Heyday.
Of incidental note to Embarrassment fans, the other cassette in the set includes tunes from Embos' soundman Jim Rosencutter's band the Buckthrusters.
This tape has been referred to as the "Buffalo tape" because of the Buffalo imprint on the cover of the tape. The tapes included thick booklets with pictures and interviews of each of the bands.
These tracks were recorded "August 19, 1981 at Jim Skeel's home studio in Wichita" according to the liner notes on HD; co-production credits to Jim Skeel and the Embos. The Skeel sessions included much material that either made it onto Heyday or was never released.
"D-Rings" is what I will label "version 1", and is a bit more choppy and chunky but not as full-sounding as the version that appeared later on Death Travels West; both versions appear on Heyday and are audibly different due to remixes and remastering. I personally enjoy all four versions/mixes but would maintain the sound is distinctive in each release.
"Chapter 12" is also what I will label "version 1" of that song, the re-recorded version again appearing on Death Travels West. Again, both versions appear as remixes/remasters on Heyday
"Jazzface" is "version 1" of that song as well, the studio version being cut live-to-2 track in April of 1983 and later appearing on the combination mini-album/reissue The Embarrassment LP (see below).
The fidelity here is a bit low, but the songwriting is on in full force here. Lyrically, the topics included a strange rhythmic first-person rant about African exploration and a dinosaur hunt; an ode to a mathematician; a sreeching elegy to the Voyager spacecraft's never-ending journey; a grinding seedy sequel to the "Book of Love"; and the jazzy lament of a roué.
Jon Bernhardt put it this way: "Before Bruce Pavitt hooked up with Jonathan Poneman, Bruce had an occasional fanzine and/or cassette release under the Sub-Pop monniker." The Embos appeared on Sub/Pop #5 and #7, both cuts taken from the live to 2 track sessions in February 1981 cocontinuous with the Embarrassment EP sessions. Both cuts appear on HD. Nobody I've talked to could remember an exact "release" date for either cassette, if there really was such a thing. The fidelity was cleaned up a bit for the Heyday release, but I've never heard the direct copies on either Sub/Pop tape, although I doubt that anyone with anything but a totally pristine copy could have a "high" fidelity version given the nature of cassette tape degradation.
Contemporary pricing information was that the #5 tape sold for $4, and the #7 tape for $5, direct from Bruce.
"Lifespan" is a bouncy tune with solid guitar lines and an interesting coda that appeared in several different recording forms over the year and was a clear favorite of the band.
Recorded in late 1982 (apparently October 30) at Crystal Clear Sound, Dallas according to the release notes on Heyday; produced by Michael McGee, Jim Rosencutter, and The Embarrassment. A version of "Sex Drive" was reportedly attempted, but didn't gel too well. The version of "D-Rings" on this record was live to two-track; the band liked the first listen of this song so much, they were afraid they wouldn't be able to match the raw power in re-mix, so left it as is.
The artwork on this 12" sleeve was custom-commissioned by the band from their artist-friend Eric Cale. Somewhat ironically, Cale is reportedly currently employed as the caretaker of a graveyard. The record had a paper insert with some band information on one side, and the so-called "Dirty Room" picture labeled "The Embarrassment" featuring John Nichols in his basement bachelor pad.
Also called a "mini-LP" in some circles, Death Travels West was the longest-playing issue the Embos put out in their first incarnation, and arguably the strongest set of work put out by the Embos. In one of the classic instances of bad timing in the music industry, the Embos had broken up by the time the critical praise had started in for this record. There were favorable reviews in publications ranging from The Village Voice to Playboy, and critical praise continued to mount over the succeeding months. It remains, many years after its release, a pop masterpiece and perhaps one of the true high points in the independent record movement in the 1980s. Original vinyl of this record sells for as much as $80 in pristine condition, even though all the songs have since been re-released on Heyday - perhaps for the sound on vinyl, perhaps for the excellent artwork.
The record has been considered by fans a loose conceptual album centered around the notion of traveling, a theme which recurs in a lot of Embos songs, and has a vaguely "frontier" or western theme with overtones of horror and science fiction. The band has since disclaimed any intention towards making a "concept" album, but the persistence of some themes and imagery makes it hard to resist this notion.
What's going on with this cat's friend, turning into a monster in "Careen"? What sinister purpose awaits one out there at Hoover Dam in "Viewmaster", a song named after that child's toy designed to show things far and wide? In what sleazebag dive does the action of "Chapter 12" take place? Do Lewis and Clark travel west to meet Death on a motorcyle before or after they've driven to the park in their Isetta, listening to the fat lady "sing" in ecstasy? The combinations of the lyrical imagery with the ordering of the tracks and passage of musical tone over the record, if not a concept by design, are a great vision.
The sound ranges from driving and bright to grinding and dank, from desperate and punkish to clean, clear, and bright. One of the brilliant characteristics of the record is the combination of clear production and "bright" musical lines with dark lyrics, overdubbing, harmony and backing vocals moving in and out, and great phrasing of both instruments and vocals without conceding any of the original aspects of the songs or the band's style. And the whole thing rocks and is frighteningly danceable during this whole twisted trip across America.
I will withhold further effusiveness about Death... but will say I think there's a great novel or movie to be made based on these songs. It's the all-American record.
The fidelity of this tape ranges from fair to middling; this may be partially ascribed to some lower original recording quality, the general quality of cassette playback, and as is apparent with the superior sound on Heyday, the mastering done at the time. Suffice it to say that even the studio versions released elsewhere sound considerably different.
The live recordings were all straight to the mixing board dubs. A complaint later voiced by Jim Rosencutter was that the mixes were for the "room", or the acoustics of the location, and not for the tape, and consequently are poorer fidelity than some unofficial fan tapes that have since circulated for other gigs.
The cover art for this is taken from a painting by Bill Goffrier, that sort of presents John Nichols singing into the mike as if he were doing so in Edvard Munch's The Scream. The tape itself is red plastic.
I have omitted production information for the studio side (below) when it appears elsewhere. The live cuts are listed by order of recording date, not the order they appear on the cassette.
All these cuts re-appeared in remixed form on Heyday.
Side one, the Embarrassment EP:
The original "Out of Town" was done in "Parts 1 and 2", which may account for the instrumental and vocal "parts".
The LP included several inserts. One was a painting of a kind of clown with the words around the edges: "Memphis feared the scarey joke band". (This has since been explained and will be documented elsewhere on the web site). This side also included credits:
Mastered by Joe Brescio, Master Cutting Room, NYC Edited by Gary Waleik Cover Layout by Bill Goffrier and Steve Michener...and a fake interview done with Embarrassment lyrics as answers to the questions -- by John Nichols, it runs out. The other side was an 11" x 11" photo of the band.
Copies sent out for promotional purposes included a three-page insert: page one was by John Henderson, and described Time to Develop records and an update on what the band members were doing at the time. The second page is a band bio by Doug Hitchcock. The third page was a discography of the band to that date.
According to the liner notes, this was the version that appeared on the ERT from the 1980 Skeel sessions, and the sound matches closely enough to believe this.
The sampler features 22 songs by 14 artists; the Embos's songs are the 1988 recording of "Train of Thought" on the God Help Us CD but in a different mix with both the "first part" and the "reprise" together, and the original 1979 "Sex Drive" session version of "After the Disco" which later appeared on Heyday.
The CD silkscreen appears to be unique: it's a design done in the same general style and patterning as the God Help Us CD silkscreen, but with members of the band done in loose drawing instead of the nude figure.
"Beautiful Day" was being pushed as the single for the album, and the original lyric "Blame it all on Jack Crapstain" was quickly apprised to be perhaps a bit too much for more mainstream audiences. Hence Bill Goffrier went back in and dubbed "Blame it all on Captain Crane" -- a character reference to the classic Irwin Allen TV series "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" -- in a remarkable John Nichols impersonation.
Restless later dropped out of distribution, and later reprints have only the Bar/None imprint.
The artwork is an original painting by Bill Goffrier, of a Picasso-esque nude; the CD itself has a patterned version of the same nude figure as a silkscreen.
The LP/CD can still be obtained directly from Bar/None, and it's available in more comprehensive record stores.
All the "duplicate" versions of the songs are fairly faithful to the original song structure and lyrics of the original recordings, but the production layers are considerably "cleaner".
The only material written specifically for this album was "Vision of '61".
"Horror of the Fire" and "Beautiful Day" were rarely-performed classic Embarrassment songs that were re-written for the occasion.
"Albert" is a reworking of a song originally entitled "Nothing to Eat", also dating from relatively early in the original Embarrassment run.
"After the Disco", "Train of Thought", "Lifespan", and "Podman" were old Embarrassment live standards, dating back to the earliest days of the band.
"Sex Drive" was a complete re-recording of their original classic song.
"Burning Love" was a favorite of John Nichols, and the band performed it live during their later "reunion" gigs in the mid-late 1980s.
The original recordings for The Embarrassment EP and LP and Death Travels West were also remixed at this time with Lou Giordano and Bill Goffier at the helm; in 1989, at the Boston reunion gig, Jon and Bill told me they were going to put these out "very soon" on Bar/None. They kind of languished in the can for a while; six years later, they appeared on Heyday after Kris Gillespie and Bill did quite a bit of additional archival and re-mastering work on other material, about which I've editorialized just a tad in the section on that issue below. But it's interesting to note the coincident timing of the God Help Us mix and the first Heyday mixes.
I've had some rather broad opinions expressed back to me about the quality and closeness to the original spirit of the band in this record. The sound is definitely "smoother" and not quite as crunchy as either the original records or the band's live shows during the abortive reunion tour in 1989, and the musicianship shows the impact of more years of playing on Bill and Brent's part. Surpisingly, given his years off, John Nichols also shows more maturity and polish in his vocals, and Ron's bass playing can't be quibbled with. In short, the band was playing as hot as it ever did, and then some; differences in sound may be more due to changes in production circumstances than anything else.
There have been some suggestions that the band was under some pressure to put out a more "commercial" sounding record, this being before the Nirvana - Sub/Pop breakout in 1991 which somewhat broadened the scope of sounds labels were willing to issue. I don't really know how to evaluate this, especially given Lou Giordano's involvement and the fact that Bill was doing something a bit off-track with Big Dipper at the time. Suffice it to say that while there are some obvious differences from, er, "classic" Embarrassment this is clearly the product of a cohesive band and differences in sound and production could be attributed as much to the six-year hiatus as anything else.
There are some genuinely sublime moments on the record, and it got excellent reviews from both the older critics who'd heard the band before as well as those who knew the band by reputation only or not at all.
My major personal quibble with the album is track order. While the version of "Sex Drive" was fine, the song stylistically was out of place on the record. More delicate, lyrical, and oddly disturbing material in "Horror of the Fire", "Beautiful Day" and "Vision of '61" clashes a bit with the crunchy attitude of "After the Disco" and "Train of Thought" and the similar sounds of "Podmen" and "Lifespan".
Heyday was the long-awaited combination re-issue and rarity CD. The compilation was produced by Kris Gillespie and Bill Goffrier, and was mastered by Dave Steele at dbs digital in Hoboken. Disk 1 is labeled "The Standards" and has artwork on the CD silkscreen of a ruined bridge near Wichita; Disk 2 is labeled the "Scarcities" and is silkscreened with a picture of the band.
The double CD set is an amazing statement of confidence by Bar/None, and may be one of the great unsung gestures in the history of independent record labels. Rather than trying to cull a "greatest hits" album that might be pushed as a new effort to sell the Embarrassment to America and beyond, instead it's a very comprehensive collection of virtually everything the band produced while it was together and a number of never-before-released cuts. While not completely comprehensive, it's still a wonderful gift to Embarrassment fans everywhere unparalleled for a band that was so relatively obscure during its Heyday.
As noted above, Disk 1 is the original 7", the EP, the mini-LP, and the aborted LP project which was issued as part of The Embarrassment LP in 1987. Most tracks except the 7" cuts were remixed by Bill and Lou Giordano in 1989 at the time of the God Help Us sessions. The remixes make this a bit of an independent entity in terms of the basic sound; presumably with the skills of Giordano and the distance of years, the intent was to improve the mix to what the band aspired to originally. Hard to say; in any event, the remix reduces the bass somewhat, brings up the vocals a little, adds a little timbre, and cleans up the quality of the originals a bit.
It's been suggested that some of the differences in sound may be those between the "warmth" of vinyl and the more mechanical digital nature of compact disks. This is also hard for this writer's ears to hear, although the continuing high prices placed on the Death Travels West CD may speak to this for the true vinylphile.
I would recommend neither set above the other; they're different sounds, and both sets sound excellent in their own way, and you can adjust the mix with your equalizers, anyway, if you don't quite like one or the other. My only personal quibble is I think the bass is down a little bit too much in the remix.
In the track listing below for Disk 1, I have not included original production information for tracks, which is included in the original listings above.
Disk 2 is the "Scarcities", which includes tunes previously issued on the ERT, various compilations, and the Fresh Sounds from Middle America tape, plus some bonus tracks from various places, most notably various live to two-track sessions and the Skeel sessions. In the track listing below for Disk 2, I have included brief notes about the reissue tracks already mentioned above, and full production information for the "new" tracks on this disk.
Disk 1: The Standards
Disk 2: The Scarcities
The CD label is simply marked "The Embarrassment" with the "Death Travels West" typeface, as if we didn't have enough one-offs called "The Embarrassment". The side of the CD is labeled "The Embarrassment Promo".
The version of "Sex Drive" is the original 7" recording, but the Heyday remixed version. The next 11 cuts are from the Heyday re-mixes; "D-Rings" is the Death Travels West (second) version. "Train of Thought" and "Beautiful Day" appear as they were on God Help Us.
Cuts included are:
The genesis of the project was in 1997-98, when in the course of reviewing this discography, Jim and I corresponded via email and Jim sent me some tape dubs. I was amazed that some of this unreleased material sounded so great -- in fact, it sounded like there was more than enough quality stuff to make up most of an LP.
The company I was working for at the time was about to issue a software CD that had 95% of the space unused. It occured to me at that point: why waste it? Why not sneak some music tracks on there? (This idea was actully done by another software company, Freeverse Software, in 1997. They recorded their janitor singing Guatemalan folk songs and his originals, very badly, and stuck the tracks along with their game software on their distribution CD. Someone at Blockbuster Video heard it, stuck it in a commercial, and they supposedly made more money off royalties than they did for the software.) The idea is that if you wanted the software, we'd stick in one set of jewel case inserts; if you wanted the music, we'd stick in a music booklet.
The "hidden bootleg" concept didn't work out for a variety of reasons, but Jim started work on remastering the tapes. He had some help from Bill Goffrier in sorting out old band tapes, and over the course of a couple of years, managed to get the best tidbits selected and remastered. (Incidentally, the Final Gig at the Cedar would make a fabulous "Live" CD all by itself.) All four of the original band members gave their consent to the project along with various additional tape sources for a few last minute additions. Henry Nelson, the band's original semi-official photographer and now a design professional, contributed the rather extensive artwork and layout, and Jon Solomon of My Pal God records in New Jersey provided a publisher. It was finally (officially) released on March 26, 2001, and it's an amazing artifact.
Jim's liner notes in the CD cover a lot of origins of the songs and have dates, etc. I've got a more wide-ranging subjective appreciation of this album linked here. The list below is a modified excerpt of this longer list (I'll interpolate track detail on this page at some point in the future.)
Having conducted many interviews like this as a college DJ, I can sympathize with the interviewer's problem in coming up with intelligent questions. What I love about this snippet is the sequence/montage by which John and Bill conclude that the proper descriptive category for the Embarrassment's music is "Blister Pop." Who is it that said great art is about the process of discovery as much as the final product...?
This is a classically identifiable Embarrassment tune, much louder and more roaring than the Retrospective tape version thanks to some superior re-mixing.
A proto-punk snippet with a typically contemporary semi-egg-headed lyric. What I find interesting about this cut is that while the sound is harder and the guitar playing less original than the band came to be known for, there's a clearly distinctive structure to the song.
Agreeably higher-fidelity than the other version of the Embarrassment's cover of this song. I've always wondered whether the source was the original Chambers Brothers tune, the Ramones cover of same, or some other cover recording. This is one of the great lost Embos tracks: the treatment is their own, the building fuzz-out drama of the song truly amazing. I particularly admire Woody's drumming in the middle.
The Embarrassment, despite my comments above, may rightly be seen as having been ahead of their time in a lot of ways. One of which was their source material for covers. Roy Orbison was a pretty obscure figure in the early 1980s, before he made his late-career comeback just before his death. Pretty Woman was his most familiar hit on the oldies' circuit and an obvious choice for the Embos' brand of woman-man angst. This version features the trademark Embos organ roar over Goffrier jangle and a nice vocal pairing between John and Bill. John had a vocal subtlety -- and clarity in phrasing, both musically and literally -- not many Indy singers of the day had, which could be heard most clearly on the God Help Us album but which is also evident on this cut.
Jim calls this a "Vanilla Fudge dirge" in his liner notes, but this version makes me think of Joy Division bootlegs. It's got that pre-suicidal tonality to it, and the lo-fi quality of this version alternates rollercoaster guitar chords with the vocal wailings. Fortunately, John's vocals were better than Joy Division's and neither was he suicidal. I believe a finished studio version of this song would've fit in very well in the pseduo-conceptual Death Travels West.
This is a rougher version in some ways than the version on Retrospective, and the audio is fuzzy, but there's a certain verve to the tune, particularly with the buzzcut guitar amidst the more familiar jangle. This clearly fits in well with the ethos of the first EP, although the guitar just might as well have been leading into "Careen".
Just about the most positive proof the Embarrassment were indeed a punk band to start out, and a pretty good one, too. The version that appeared on the EP is clearly more polished and, shall we say, evolved, but this one's a lo-fi slasher. I remain hopeful someone will cover this in hyped up punk style. The song has become nostalgic and nearly poignant now that Elizabeth Montgomery has passed on, but I will always associate the mystery of the two Darrins with the Embarrassment.
Emblematic of the band's ability to break through, the only really wide-spread audience for an Embarrassment tune came from Shonen Knife's second-hand cover of this tune. Shonen Knife is such a fine band in its own right, it's tempting to think what they might've done with "Careen" or "Drive Me to the Park". I prefer this live Embarrassment version to the Big Dipper studio version for a couple of reason. First, it has a bit more of a nervy edge to it, partially because of the better drumming and the lo-fi quality of the guitar, but I also like the vocal's over Bill's Big Dipper stylings. It's a fine song either way. The groove-master riff clearly identifies it as a true Embarrassment song, and Big Dipper fans can listen to this as evidence of Bill's bridges between the two bands and what he brought to both ventures.
I've always thought of Buddy Holly as the first pop-punkster, certainly the inventor of the power trio, and the Embarrassment's fantastic live version brings out this aspect of the great one. The Embos being the Embos, the vaguely threatening sarcasm inherent but unspoken in the original is articulated much more clearly in this version. The performance can only be described as crisp, in a taut one minute thirty-five. Awesome.
An hommage to the Velvets, and I can identify with the sentiment of disappointment in the later work by great bands. Maybe it's just as well that some great bands, like the Embarrassment, disappear before their peak, since after a peak comes the decline. The organ riff at the end is the clearest cop from the Velvets, and while it's probably best that the band dropped this tune from their oeuvre, it's a fascinating little snippet of attempting to incorporate a prominent influence into their emerging style.
This is a great original: it's got all the earmarks of an Embarrassment song, and fits in very well with the Podman-Only-Want-A-Date period. This one gets my personal vote as the song I most wish they'd been able to lay down in the studio but didn't.
Another song so short it's almost a snippet, but if it had been on an LA hardcore compilation instead of buried on a practice tape, it would've had airplay in 1979. I'm not sure the Embos had heard any hardcore when this song was laid down, but it would've qualified as what my friends and I used to call happycore - a nice bouncy three-chord pop song with a simple progression and structure that didn't stay around so long it got boring.
The studio version of this song is the last great lost Embos tune, unless you happen to own the original anthology on which it appeared. This version, or all the Embos' versions I've heard, can be described as menacing. I get the vague sense this tune was directed at a band member girlfriend of the period, as probably the original was by one of the Seeds. The organ work by John on this song is scarily faithful, and I admire the teeth in Bill's riffing in the middle. One can see why this song appealed to the Embos: it's got the same kind of V8 drive the EP and Death Travels West had, but unlike their originals, it has what a jazz player might call vamp points. This one has a very crisp ending, though.
There's no small irony here in the boys covering this paeon to unrealistic optimism ("you don't have enough to eat...they say that I won't last too long...but I'm going to be a star on Broadway" -- then the variant "They're all wrong, I know they are...cause Bill knows how to play guitar"). The song also chugs along with Death Travels West-era confidence. Excellent little cover, and I prefer it to George Benson.
Vicious cover wherein the band falls apart a little along the way, a document to the way most bands have a median stage before they put it all together. The treatment simply shreds despite the tune coming apart at the seems -- isn't that threat of falling apart part of punk's appeal?
A fascinating song of pre-history, since it was re-worked into "Albert" on God Help Us, but its closest kin is probably "Godfrey Harold Hardy". What's cool about this version is you can hear the band begun to wrestle with more complex structure and pacing in the song. It's not all quite there in this version, and the crowd seems to be a bit out of it. There's a recording of the very first time "Godfrey" was played live which would've made a cute bookend to this.
The instrumentals are a bit rough, but John puts considerable drama into this song, and the echoing of the recording adds what I'd call a hollow quality into the performance. Bill does a tortured backing vocal that provides additional depth. I take this song as additional evidence that John Nichols could've been a great interpreter of other peoples' songs, given the right training and time and place: his version of "Burning Love" both live and on God Help Us is another example. The creepy theme of the stalker-narrator in the song certainly comes to the fore in this rendition.
Another punky song from their early days, but one which points the direction the band ended up going in.
A cover epic in treatment, and a wonderful little slice of a live gig. This is one that is best cranked to 11 on the old amplifier, and is agreeably tipsy. It also has ensemble work in live playing and some vocal improvisation that show what a tight group it was, even drunk and at the end of a gig.
[Editor's note: Faith Healer appeard on the Boo Boo EP in 1988.]
[Editor's query: where did this appear in Big Dipper's corpus?]
[Editor's Note: this song appears on the Big Dipper Craps album.]