Basic Food Groups (Pt. 1)
“Attention shoppers. Be sure to check out aisle 6 to help inspire you in the naming of your next band.” Judging by a perusal of the CD bins at your local record store, that’s one way rockers seem to have solved the name game over the years. So stop fretting over what to call your new group. Just head to the nearest supermarket. Let those automatic doors slide open. Feel the cool breeze of that over-modulated air-conditioning system wash over you. Grab a nearby cart, the one with the stuck right front wheel. Let’s tour the produce section. There’s bound to be inspiration amongst the bounty of fruits on hand.
First up, you’ll find different kinds of apples. One named Fiona Apple was born Fiona Apple Maggart and decided to just use the middle name passed down from her grandmother. This Apple blossomed around June 1996 when she released her debut album “Tidal.” Filled with angry, slice-of-angst imagery, the moody song “Criminal” stood out from the rest of the bunch, climbing the chart grapevine to number 21 in the U.S. This particular Apple has a tendency to be tangy and bitter, especially during the year 1997 when she gave a bit of a spoiled rotten Apple speech at the MTV Video Music Awards.
The Silver Apples are rarer and much harder to spot. Their seeds were planted in New York in 1967, and this duo group played melodies with a science fiction bent. Lots of oscillator tones and bombarding bass pulses. Along with those noises, they paired spoken poetry with lyrics about things like teen phlegm, which signaled a very odd apple indeed. These whacked-out hippie Apples were re-discovered in the mid-90s when one-half of the band, Simeon, toured with a new partner, and then, later, the former bandmates re-released some of their previous tracks.
Around the Denver area, you might be able to find a rare quartet which originally referred to themselves simply as The Apples in 1993. But perhaps wanting to show they had ripened in their sound by 1995, they renamed themselves Apples In Stereo and released a catchy album called “Fun Trick Noisemaker.”
The same variety of inspiration can be found amongst the grape family. Rooted firmly in the mid-1960’s San Francisco Bay area, Moby Grape cranked out a cluster of psychedelic, Summer-Of-Love tunes resulting in their first two albums cracking the top 30 in the U.S. Like many a grape family, this one mixed genus in its personnel line-up over the years, but always retained its original Moby Grape name.
Up in British Columbia, Canada, some grapes sprang forth in 1983 with the Steinbeck moniker, Grapes of Wrath. This quartet cluster wasn’t the least bit angry though and presented jangly folk-pop tunes reminiscent of early Elton John compositions. Releasing several albums throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s, this group had a hit single in Canada with “Peace Of Mind.” Incidentally, this particular grape family made a jump to the spice aisle in 1994, when three of its members formed a band called Ginger. Overall.
In Manchester, England, Happy Mondays’ lead singer Shaun Ryder was plagued with drug addiction, and his band was forced to break up. The not-so-happy Ryder battled out his affliction, and in 1995, cultivated his musical vineyard for a new group of bandmates known as Black Grape. Happy once again, this funky, satirical, house party quintet struck the British charts with their optimistic debut album “It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah.”
Amongst the lemon bin, you’re likely to find an old, unusually sugary-sweet band from the 1960s called The Lemon Pipers. Grown around the Cincinnati area in 1967, this group fancied themselves a psychedelic force, but when their label was about to drop them from their roster of acts, the Pipers accepted an offer to record the bubblegum classic, “Green Tambourine.” The song went to number 1 on the Billboard charts in February 1968. The lemon bandmates swallowed this bitter pill, produced a few more saccharine songs, and then tried, unsuccessfully, to revive their career with their own material. By 1969, this particular fruit was no more.
The Lemon Drops followed the same growth trajectory in Chicago over the years between 1967 and 1969, but to a lesser degree of success. They stayed true to their psychedelic reflections with singles like “I Live in the Springtime” and the anti-Vietnam War song, “It Happens Everyday.” But without wider exposure, this fruit band withered and dried up by 1969.
True to their lemon roots, The Lemonheads, burst forth in the mid-‘80s with an acidic, pulpy, punky, hard rock approach. Led by singer, songwriter, and guitarist Evan Dando, this Boston-based group changed its personnel over the years but always seemed to deliver straightforward punk-pop and had moderate success covering tunes like Suzanne Vega’s “Luka” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.” The Lemonheads spun off the vine around the early ‘90s when Dando wrestled with a severe drug addiction. Success for this fruit band was sweet but short-lived.
Seedless describes the pulp of the banana fruit, and suffice to say, aside from the vocal range possessed by the members of the 1980s band Bananarama, this fruit group did not contain any other seeds in the talent bin. But vocal harmonies proved to be enough, because with the help of hit producer/writers Tony Swain and Steve Jolley, the Bananarama trio released a slew of top ten hits in the United Kingdom as well as the number 9 ranked hit “Cruel Summer” in the U.S. The pinnacle of success came in September 1986, when the girls’ remake of the song “Venus” topped America’s charts.
Wheeling the cart over to the berry section, we find a variety of bands that have snatched inspiration from this delectable fruit. The biggest wake-up call to the psychedelic ‘60s seemed to ring out from the Strawberry Alarm Clock. Planted in the Los Angeles area in 1966, the band members were inspired by the Beatles’ song “Strawberry Fields Forever,” both in its name and its psychedelic allusions. The band released three albums over the next three years, producing the number 1 single “Incense and Peppermints,” but by 1971, the Strawberry’s brand of trippy songwriting was yesterday’s news, and the group went their separate ways.
Another type of berry sprang up in 1971. Formed by Eric Carmen, who would later have a solo soft-rock hit with “All By Myself,” The Raspberries clustered around the Ohio region and began performing Beatlesque melodies with memorable hooks. Their debut album featured a “scratch-and-sniff” raspberry sticker on its cover, and the first single off the record, “Go All The Way,” went to No. 5 on the U.S. charts. By the mid-‘70s, the band members gave Eric the raspberry, and struck out on their own, less pop-filled frontiers.
The most powerful berry of the bunch has to be The Cranberries. This Irish quartet perfected their Celtic trance-rock throughout the early ‘90s around the Dublin, Limerick and Cork region and were led by the tart trills of vocalist Dolores O’Riordan. Their debut album, “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?,” harvested the top ten single “Linger,” and the band saw further success with songs like “Zombie,” “Salvation,” and “Free To Decide.” Their 1999 album, “Bury The Hatchet,” helped the legacy of The Cranberries branch into the 21st century.
Not usually associated with being a sweet bunch, a group of Germans formed a progressive electronic-rock outfit in 1967 Berlin with the juicy name Tangerine Dream. Fostering a cult of devoted followers, these sequencer craftsmen have pushed their fruity band through droning-industrial soundscapes to new-age synth-laden instrumentals. Although the initial trio has gone on to produce their own solo projects, Tangerine Dream’s prodigious output of albums, like the early ‘70s masterpieces “Rubycon” and “Ricochet,” still grows as the band reunites in one form or another seemingly every year to produce a new record.
Over in the melon section, be sure to sample the firm, hit-charting quintet of the early ‘90s known as Blind Melon. Forming in Los Angeles, the band was quickly signed to a record deal and became widely known for its video of the song “No Rain,” which featured a girl in a bee suit. The group’s eponymous debut album went to #3 in the U.S. before this melon splattered off the music radar by the late ‘90s.
Speaking of splattered fruit, be sure to watch your step around the Smashing Pumpkins in this aisle. This monster alternative hard rock band defined what other so-called alternative rockers should’ve aspired to be in the ‘90s, namely a potpourri stirring of heavy metal, goth, progressive, art, orchestral, pschedelia rock. Led by the now-baldheaded Billy Corgan (whose head, come to think of it, kind of resembles that of a jack-o-lantern), the Pumpkins’ hit the height of lush and layered creativity with the release of their double-disc set “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” which debuted at number one on the U.S. charts on November 11, 1995. The band still has not faded from prominence into the next century.
Cherries are certainly a welcome fruit at any time of the year. Back in 1976, a brand of Wild Cherry was formed for a second time, after a misfire career incarnation under that name earlier in the ‘70s. This time around, group leader Bob Parissi wanted to focus on hard rock, but disco was taking root. After continually being harangued by club patrons to play “funky music,” well, the boys did just that. Their hit song, “Play That Funky Music,” went to number one on the Billboard chart for three weeks in September 1976, and the group put out four more chart singles before dropping off the musical vine in 1979.
First performing with a band called The Cherries, and later branching out on her own, Neneh Cherry, born in Sweden as Neneh Mariann Karlsson, pioneered a rap-pop sound that would forge the way for later band sounds of TLC and SWV. Her 1989 hit single, “Buffalo Stance,” off her album “Raw Like Sushi,” hit number 3 on the U.S. charts, and was the high point of this Cherry’s career.
But from one hit Cherry soon came another. Neneh’s step-brother, Eagle-Eye Cherry, blossomed in the mid-to-late ‘90s when he put together a jazzy rock debut album, “Desireless.” The single, “Save Tonight,” charted on many European top ten lists throughout 1998 and finally peaked at number 5 on the U.S. charts in 1999.
Along the cherry aisle, you also might spot an album called “Cherry Alive” which should really be in the plum section. Confusing at first, but understandable once you learn it was released by a band called Eve’s Plum. Formed in New York in 1991, this pop-punk quartet offered alternative hits like “Blue” and “I Want It All” as their pleas to independent radio. These tunes were rewarded with ample airplay until the mid-‘90s when the band’s output began to be seen as a little dried up.
But those plums didn’t fully dry up to be prunes. No, leave that to The Electric Prunes. Their short shelf life debuted in 1967 with this quintet’s release of their 12-track album titled after their band name. A psychedelic song, “I Had Too Much To Dream” charted in the U.S. at #11, and the group went through a major personnel change shortly thereafter. By 1969, this prune had passed.
Over in Ireland, a special strain of prune, known as The Virgin Prunes, were being cultivated around 1978. They broke onto the club scene as one of the first punk bands in the Dublin area. One of the bandmates, Dik Prune, was the brother of another famous Irish musician, U2’s The Edge. Bashing the inference drawn from their name, the band members often appeared on stage partially or completely naked, simulating sexual intercourse with each other. These prunes certainly were not prudes.
Let’s stop with all this fruit. Soon, we’ll see what the rest of the rock supermarket has to offer.
© 2000 Ned Truslow