Nov 212013


Know nothing.

Many moons ago, when I was so much older then, I used to work in a bookstore with a lot of other musicians and music lovers. It was as wonderful as a low-paying job could be at that time in a young person’s life. We worked hard. We played hard. We got 35% discounts on books. We were counted on by regulars who sought our advice on tracking down obscure books in their genre of choice. Those of us in bands were assured of getting a decent crowd of bookstore employees and their friends to show up for gigs.

A slightly older, wiser colleague who drummed for an established local band that helped introduce me and my little band to The Scene, as it was, lived in a high-rise apartment 2 blocks away from the bookstore. Once a week, we’d go to his apartment at lunchtime so we could get high and listen to records. We had similar tastes in ’60s and punk rock. Sometimes we’d listen to stuff we both already liked, such as Magical Mystery Tour or Sound Affects. Other times he’d root through his collection to play me deep cutz by a band I’d only known for its hit singles (eg, he’s still the only person I’ve ever known whose owned most if not all of The Beau Brummels‘ albums) or to find a somewhat obscure record I’d never heard. One day, while seeking an album that might earn him Turn-On Points, he pulled out a very silver album sleeve containing an album by a band called The Monochrome Set. The album must have been Strange Boutique. The cover was very silver, and I was really stoned.

That afternoon, I felt like I was hearing the greatest, off-kilter pop album since my beloved Positive Touch, by The Undertones. The rhythms were propulsive. The guitars jangled in jagged, unexpected ways. The melodies were ’60s-based but in no way slavishly devoted to that decade’s melodic conventions. The only thing that stopped me from running down to Third St. Jazz & Rock that afternoon, beside the need to get back to work and little spending money, was the singer’s voice, which had that dramatic, “overdone” English quality that sometimes puts me off from the likes of a Robyn Hitchcock.

Long story short: I never got around to buying a single album by The Monochrome Set, although I rode through the next few decades on the power of that high introduction, only buying and downloading individual songs from their albums over the last few years. All this time I’d never read a single article about the band, never seen a videotaped performance, and never even seen a still photograph of the band members. I knew nothing about The Monochrome Set, despite having kind of liked them since 1985. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I saw this video:

This is cool! These guys would have been really fun to see in their prime. They seem to have been ahead of their time, like a Hoboken band before the Hoboken scene really took root. I still know nothing else about the band, other than having been reminded that they were led by a guy with the excellent stage name Lester Square. I will probably take some time to read up on them. Perhaps you have some details to share. Meanwhile, I’m content to let my ignorance stay clear from this feeling of bliss.

Have you long liked an artist or band that you still know nothing about?


  19 Responses to “Bands You’ve Always Kind of Liked Yet Known Little to Nothing About”

  1. Nick Cave. Friends have played me songs and albums of his many times over the years, and I almost always like what I’ve heard. Still, I own none of his records, I have never seen him perform, and I know absolutely nothing about him.

  2. I saw the Monochrome Set in Philly a few months ago. Amazing show. I knew some of the songs but never owned any. Needless to say I looked them up on line after the set.

  3. I am listening to a band that I have always liked but knew nothing about and never owned one of their albums. Blue Oyster Cult.

    Found Tyranny and Mutations (1973) for $1. No “hits” (before they had hits?) and I have never seen this LP cover before in my life.

    I know they are from NY, that they have a guy named “Buck Dharma” in the band and that Godzilla, Don’t Fear The Reaper and Burning For You were classic rock staples. However I have no idea when these songs came out (70’s? 80’s?) They may or may not be the same band that did Radar Love (ok they are not) or Lunatic Fringe (they are also not) but might as well be for what I know. I know Eddie Trunk (that Metal Show) loves them almost as much as UFO (another band I know nothing about)
    Is this LP one of the better ones? Is this what their other songs sound like? No idea.

    If somebody asked me “do you like BOC?” I would have said yes (and still would 3 songs into T&M)

  4. Good starting point. I’ll give you my perspective. He’s a guy whose music I’ve come to appreciate despite initially thinking I wouldn’t like a thing about him. The Birthday Party looked like one of the “vampire rock” outfits that never interested me, like Bauhaus. Then Cave appeared in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, spouting off some bad Jim Morrison poetry and putting the final nail in the coffin of a move that started out amazing, in my opinion, before running off the rails halfway through.

    In the early ’90s I began to see Cave in a new light, playing a hipster parody of himself, I guess, in the movie Johnny Suede, and dancing around in a perhaps unintentionally funny video for a song entitled “Do You Love Me” (I think that was the title). I started reading interviews in which he seemed like a thoughtful guy. I eventually bought an album called No More Shall We Part, and I’ve bought a couple of albums since. I still don’t know much about him nor care to revisit The Birthday Party, but he’s way better than I ever thought he would be.

  5. General consensus among BOC fans is that their first three LPs (the self-titled one, Tyranny & Mutation, and Secret Treaties) are their best.

  6. I’d never heard anything by BOC beside the hits (“Don’t Fear the Reaper,” “Godzilla,” and “I’m Burning” [if that’s the title]) until Scott made me a compilation tape of probably the best stuff from these early albums. There was some interesting stuff, but overall BOC would not be my cup of tea.

    All I ever knew about them growing up, beside the hits, was the fact that some of the guys were rock critics (Creem?) and buds with the New York punk scene. One of the guys (Alan Lanier?) used to date Patti Smith and plays on some of her records. The other thing I learned in high school was that their producer, Sandy Pearlman, produced the second Clash album, Give ’em Enough Rope.

    After all these years, though, I don’t have a clue what any of those guys look like!

  7. On the country rock side, I’ve heard and liked some stuff by New Riders of the Purple Sage, but I have no albums and don’t know a single thing about them — other than there was some connection to the Dead at one point.

  8. cliff sovinsanity

    This is difficult for me because I tend to go all nerdy when researching bands and other music that I like. The internet has since become the biggest enabler in my pointless band research and wormholing into trivial information, weird anecdotes, and of course independent labels.

    Despite all that, I have 2 albums (Sometimes That’s All We Have & Blow Out The Sun) by a late 80’s band called The Sneetches. The music is fine 80’s college era guitar jangle. Even though I’ve played the hell out of those albums I know absolutely nothing about them. And that’s fine with me. I assume they released 3-4 albums and the members didn’t go on to any other bands and are now working at record stores.

  9. Wishbone Ash is a band I will put into this category for myself. Had a friend at work about 15 years ago who I used to make/ trade mixed tapes with. He was big on this band and I had never heard of them ( and I consider myself pretty knowledgeable). Have collected several mp3’s over time and have done some research but stlll couldn’t tell you much about them. A very good band with a twin guitar attack in a mellow sort of way…..worth an attempt to find.

  10. Does anyone know if this was the SF band that Chris von Sniedern was in? His solo stuff is good.

  11. ladymisskirroyale

    Unless you grew up in Scottsdale, AZ, then this band would be on your regular playlist.

  12. ladymisskirroyale

    I’m with you, Cliff. If I’ve bought a few albums or more than a couple of songs, I’m in for the research.

  13. Nick Cave goes New Wave!

    I accidentally ran across this video yesterday on some weird tumblr site.

  14. I saw The Monochrome Set a few decades ago, at the sort lived Starlight Ballroom at Kensington and Allegheny. From what I had read, they “sounded” like something I might like, and yes indeed, they were pretty good. But not good enough that I didn’t just let them slide out of my radar without ever buying a record…until a couple of years ago when I came across a cheap compilation of their stuff. I see now why I passed. There are a lot of things about their sound that I like, but nothing actually grabbed me in a way that compelled me to repeated listening.

    By the way, I saw another legendary post-punk outfit at the Starlight, the Pop Group. Now they grabbed me to the point where I kept buying all of the subsequent records by splinter groups including Pig Bag, Rip Rig & Panic, Maximum Joy and Mark Stewart’s Mafia.

  15. I may be mistaken, but I recall the first BOC album as being the first record to be called “Heavy Metal”.

    Most of what I know about them, I got through Minutemen references. I’m not sure they were critics, but Richard Meltzer, a critic that was referenced and contacted by the the boys from Pedro rote lyrics for BOC on the early albums.

  16. Good find, geo! Here’s one of my favorite Cave performances, from Brad Pitt’s best movie:

  17. I remember seeing a lot of Wishbone Ash albums in the cutouts as a kid, but never biting –I somehow associated them with Fairport Convention, which I now know is stupid.

    Some other bands I used to see in the cutouts a lot and never bit:
    Souther-Hillman-Furay Band
    Jo Jo Gunne

  18. In the early 90’s, I was dating this girl who worked with Alias records and The Sneetches put out a couple records on that label as well as a collection called 1985-1991, which was out takes, loose ends and cuts from compilations the band had put out. She gave me that release. I quite liked what I heard. A great rendering of “Pretty Girl” by The Easybeats and it was their reworking of “He’s Frank” by The Monochrome Set that had me check out The Monochrome Set’s work.

  19. cliff sovinsanity

    Yes! The thread comes full circle.

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