The first album by LA
band The Wondermints
(other than tapes circulated among fans) is an album of cover versions originally recorded for Japanese-only release (the title is actually in Japanese - the title of this node is the generally accepted translation among fans). The band themselves were reportedly unhappy with doing an album of covers, fearing a 'retro' tag, but it was their first chance to do a proper album, so they went with it.
The covers are usually obscure tracks from the mid-late 60s, with a few 70s tracks thrown in...
Porpoise Song, the opener, is originally from the Monkees' film Head. The track is a note-perfect remake of the original, the Monkees' attempt to go psychedelic, but written by Brill Building team Goffin & King. (The original track has recently been reused in the film Vanilla Sky to great effect).
Guess I'm Dumb is a remake of an obscure track written by Brian Wilson and Russ Titelman for Glen Campbell at around the same time as Wilson was working on Pet Sounds. While it's impossible for this track to measure up to the original, one of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces of music ever comitted to vinyl, the mints do a great job of capturing the essence of a beautiful song.
Louise is the album's first uptempo song, a cover of an old Paul Revere And The Raiders track. A decent performance, but hardly an astonishing song.
Don't Go Breaking My Heart is the polar opposite. A cover of a Burt Bacharach song (not the Elton John/Kiki Dee song of the same name), this is lush soft-pop at its softest, reminiscent of The Free Design.
My Friend Jack is a glam-psych stomper. The original track was by British band the Smoke (available on the Nuggets II box) and is probably the most open drug song ever to get into the UK top 40, with lyrics like 'My friend Jack eats sugar lumps' and 'he's seen the hawk fly high to hail the setting sun'...
Barbarella is a cover of the very silly (lyrics like 'Barbarella psychedella') theme to the film of the same name, originally by Bob Crewe (better known for his work with Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons). Like many of the tracks on this album, it's an example of what happened when people who'd previously specialised in soft pop went 'psychedelic' in 1967 and 68.
Ooh Child is a cover of a track by The Five Stairsteps. I haven't heard the original, but this is one of the standout tracks, with soaring horns and gorgeous backing vocals, reminiscent almost of the Beach Boys' Sunflower album.
Arnold Layne is one of the two best-known songs covered on this album. It's Syd Barrett's classic psych-pop song about the man who 'had a strange...hobby', covered in a fairly close approximation to the original. While the Pink Floyd original is a hugely influential track, it's a tribute to the quality of the obscure songs on the album and to the mints' musicianship that it doesn't seem at all out of place here.
Darling, a midtempo pop track originally by the Stories, is by far the most nondescript track on the album, but is saved from banality by a really nice arpeggiated baroque-feel countermelody in the verse, an interesting instrumental tag (crossfaded into the next song), and some rhythmic irregularity in the bridge.
So You Are A Star, originally by the Hudson Brothers, is built around the staccatto piano that became a cliche in the late 60s and early 70s. While I haven't heard the original, this version sounds very like Paul McCartney at his most Brian Wilson-esque, being somewhere in between Hey Jude, My Love and Come And Get It (with a bit of a hook taken from Lennon's section in A Day In The Life), with a simillarly gorgeous melody and vapid lyrics. This could easily be Badfinger, Big Star or any of the other great 70s powerpop bands.
Skyman, a song originally written and performed by Geoff Goddard but better known for its producer, Joe Meek. It is very silly, being melodically very like early English folk songs (based on the same pentatonic scales and starting with the line 'as I was walking down one night, me and my darling'), but with lyrics about aliens, and ridiculously processed vocals. A wonderful piece of nonsense.
Knowing Me, Knowing You is an absolute highlight of the album. The mints take the ABBA standard and totally turn it inside out, removing the 'ah-ha!' backing vocals and general cheesiness, and replacing it with distorted guitar and sneering vocals, changing the original's sad resignation into anger. The result sounds like nothing so much as Elvis Costello And The Attractions at their best, and is simply incredible. In an ideal world this track would have gone to number one for a decade. Buy this CD, if only for this track.
Love In The City is a straight note for note remake of the track from The Turtles' Turtle Soup album. However, as that track is one of the very best obscure tracks of the 60s, this is no bad thing.
Tracy Hide (cover version), the last track on the album, is the album's only original, by Darian Sahanaja. The track is a gorgeous piece of Wilson-esque falsetto balladry that also appears on the band's second album, and a perfect closer to the most overlooked album of the 90s.
Since making this album, the Wondermints have become rather better known, in no small part due to their stint as the core of Brian Wilson's backing band (currently only Darian Sahanaja, Probyn Gregory and Nick 'Nicky Wonder' Walusko are with Wilson, Mike D'Amico being replaced by Andy Paley while he does pre-production on the next mints album).
Other Wondermints albums:
The Wondermints also appear on:
Brian Wilson Live At The Roxy (as part of Wilson's backing band)
The Brian Wilson Tribute Concert (TNT special, now on DVD, as the core of the house band)
The forthcoming Brian Wilson Live In London (Sahanaja, Gregory and Walusko only)