A million years ago, give or take, I was encouraged to buy a compilation album called Pillows and Prayers. It was a collection of songs by artists who recorded for a British indie label called Cherry Red. I don’t think I’d heard of any of the bands on it. But it was cheap, something like five bucks, and my music mentor (Barry Budget) was the one doing the encouragin’. So I bought it. Barry, by the way, ended up creating the cover art for my novel Crossroads Road a long time later.
Anyway, I fell in love with that album. Especially the songs by a band called The Monochrome Set. When I saw one of their full-length albums (Eligible Bachelors) in the import bin at Budget Tapes & Records I asked Barry if I should take the plunge on it. It cost way more than five dollars. He said, “Absolutely!” Then he went on for a long time telling me how great The Monochrome Set are. So I bought it, and it’s one of my all-time favorite albums. I can’t explain it, but there’s some kind of crazy magic in that thing. Some of the lyrics are hilarious, but it’s no joke. Every song is great, and there’s just a general vibe that I find highly appealing. And it felt like Barry and I were the only people in the world who knew about them. At least in West Virginia (ha!). Here’s the original AllMusic review of the album:
One of the classic, undiscovered albums of the early ’80s, Eligible Bachelors is a tour de force of wit and musical imagination. It features some of the funniest songs ever committed to vinyl, kicking off with “Jet Set Junta,” which, alongside bookend song “The Ruling Class,” pillories the neuroses of the wealthy. “The Mating Game” is also deeply amusing as a cad’s cynical guide to the opposite sex, with lyrics like, “Blond, brunette or redhead, black, yellow or white/They taste the same, in the mating game.” But it’s not all jokes. “The Midas Touch” is an exquisite slice of whimsy riding a near-perfect guitar riff, with an emotional reach that shames most peers of songwriter Bid. Whether or not the rear cover testimonial from Andy Warhol is genuine, the Monochrome Set had released an age-defining record here. It’s a shame nobody else knew about it.
Hey, I knew about it! Oh, I knew about it real good. In fact, when I was at WEA Atlanta one of my co-workers was going to London and I gave her a twenty and asked her to find a CD copy for me. She came back with it, only mildly annoyed that I’d given her an assignment during her vacation. In any case, the band broke up in the 80s and got back together in the 90s. Then they broke up again and re-formed in 2008. And (check this out!) I’m going to get to see them in March! I can’t believe it.
They rarely come to the U.S. But they’re doing a quickie tour in early spring, and I’ve already purchased my tickets for the Philadelphia show. And I only had to wait 35 years! I’m super excited. I’m taking the younger boy with me. Oh yeah.
And speaking of bands breaking up and getting back together. I have a theory about that. I believe there’s a timeline that goes something like this:
- Band forms with no expectations. Fun!
- Band builds a small following, and members start to believe this might actually add up to something.
- Band experiences even more success: the upward trajectory has been established. The sky’s the limit!
- Band plateaus, and eventually backslides in popularity.
- Band members start to blame each other for the fact they’ve been doing this for seven years now and playing the same places or worse.
- Band breaks up, vowing to never speak to any of those assholes again.
- Band members take jobs in the civilian world, realize it SUCKS MASSIVE ASS, and quickly re-group.
- Band hits the road again, thanking the Lord God above that they still get to play the same places or worse.
I’m not talking about The Monochrome Set here, I’m just talking about bands in general. That’s gotta be the way it works, right? They get beaten down and resentful, leave the music world in a blaze of defiance, and quickly realize they had it pretty damn good. Even if they didn’t become U2. What do you think?
The new podcast episode is up. Check it out here, or wherever you get your podcasts. Here’s the summary:
In this one I tell about our new dishwasher fiasco (it’s currently inside a box in our living room), a brief run-in we had with a surly store clerk (asshole), a disappointing visit to my beloved Five Guys (no horizontal hold), and a travel back in time in search of an elusive beer (found it!). All that and The Whistle Dick of the Week. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for listening!
I don’t really have a question, so I’ll go with this… Just like that generic band, I was talking about above, have you ever made a sizable change in your life only to realize that the grass is not always greener on the other side? In the comments please tell us about the times you’ve made big decisions that didn’t work out for you. Like leaving a job I guess and realizing later that it wasn’t so bad after all. Heh. Use the comments.
And I need to go now. Another week of “opportunities” awaits. Sweet sainted mother of Bump Wills!
See you guys again on Thursday.
Now playing in the bunker
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I believe The Stray Cats are going to put out a new album/tour this year. I guess they do that every so many years.
I listen to the Monochrome Set because you recommended them to me back during our record store days.
You’re a good man, Mr. Surf Report.
Barry Wooldridge says
Jeff knows how to spread the love…
I have nothing to say about The Monochrome Set but wanted to say thank you for suggesting Catastrophe. My wife & I love it so far. It makes me want to go back to London soon!
Barry Wooldridge says
I’m envious as hell, but of course I’m so happy that you’ll get this opportunity to finally see TMS live. The Jeffling will be bowled over – yer doin’ a wonderful thang for that kid by taking him! Loved the piece…
I’d never heard of The Monochrome Set before today, but listening now on youtube I see that it’s right in my wheelhouse. Makes me think of Durutti Column, Gentle Giant, Repo Man and a little ELP.
First off, thank you, Jeff for the Catastrophe recommendation. Binged this past weekend. Loved it.
I’ve never heard of the monochrome set but I’ll give it a whirl. I had a bit of a musical surprise last week, too. I listen to a lot of oldies radio and they play a lot of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. My parents had a bunch of those albums. I decided to Google Herb and found out he’s playing in a little venue in NYC. I’m buying tickets today!!!
I just watched a documentary about him the other day. I did not know he was married to Lani Hall (Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66).
JANE BARNES says
For more information on The Monochrome Set and all the dates for their US tour please go here
They have a Facebook group here
I agree. Monochrome is great!
Grass is not greener in moving back to Florida. Would have stayed in Boone, NC had I known all the crap I would go through in the following 14 years.
Crazy Canuck says
After listening to the Podcast (which I love) – and hearing about Jeff’s experience at Five Guys, even though it was an unsatisfactory experience for him, it still was enough to establish a DEEP, DEEP craving for five-guys. Happy to report that the craving was just satisfied and it was significantly satisfying! Thanks Jeff – it was the gastronomic equivalent of getting a song stuck in my head!
Unfamiliar as I am with the Chromosome Four, it strikes me that we also don’t see much of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers these days. God knows we could use some performances that don’t involve backing tracks. Or Keith Richards, who I love, strumming an electricless guitar while an underpaid guy offstage is playing his part. Sure, I hire a guy for the bedroom stuff, but this is music. This is important.