Monday, November 28, 2005

Beathoven - Tasmanian Pop Overthrow

I went to school for nearly six years. By school I, of course, mean university or college and I can’t for the life of me say why. I guess my Baptist upbringing coupled with too much teenage ‘existentialism’ somehow fooled my flintlock-brain into thinking that ‘yes, life is suffering…self-martyrdom is the way…you may have a choice, but it is in seeing the correct path and spurning it that you fully assert your fetterless free-will’ (this also shows that my high school self hadn’t quite grasped what existentialism actually was, though, with hindsight, I suppose that’s just as well). Throughout my late teens and early twenties, inertia ruled my life more than anything else. Graduated high school, kept going, got my B.A., kept going, had a slight nervous breakdown, thought I was gay, decided against it, got my M.A, stopped - again, not for any reason mind you, my academic inertia had simply run out with no Peter Cook around to top me off.

Leaving academia behind, I found I was less interested in things than ever before. At least in school, I had my rituals - the angst, the stress, the sleepless nights, the daily inscribing of I HATE SCHOOL on my hand in dripping, red felt-tip. Now where was I? Where do we go from here; Rex Smith didn’t know, so what hope had I?! An old, dead Dane once said in reference to life and things in general that ‘I can swim in existence, but for this mystical soaring I am too heavy’ and if I’m honest, I’m probably a little too doughy to fit through that camel’s eye myself. Luckily, and I should probably say providentially, I have plenty of records which do the mystic soaring for me and carry me with them - if only for a while - in faithful congress towards a vanishing-point infinity where I am resigned and contented. I don’t need to know what my life is all about; only that the next two to three minutes of it will be worth experiencing.

This is what truly great pop music is for. All the residual post-graduation badness and madness I was feeling - gone, eviscerated, melted away by this absolutely stunning disc of tunes by a late 70's pop combo from Tasmania named Beathoven (pronounced ala the Germanic composer, not the silly UK new wavers).

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I wish I could find a better picture - you should see 'em! Full Dickensian Artful Dodger kit -- top hat, tails -- enough to make Martin Newell look underdressed -- dreamy wisps of brown, semi-longish hair -- all four of them prime dreamboat material as well as genuinely teenaged. Combine this with a slick, high harmony sound that is TOTALLY Beatles/Hollies-lite (note the Fabs homage in the band's name) and you have the Rickenbacker thunder-from-down-under that was Beathoven!

I came across these guys - Charlie Touber, lead guitar and vocals, Greg Cracknell, bass and vocals, David Minchin, rhythm guitar and vocals and ‘Beep’ Jeffrey, drums and vocals - as I’ve come across numerous other music industry casualties, through that lecherous king of the writing credit, Kim Fowley, who in ‘78 ‘discovered’ Beathoven after they were already a near-two-year-old sensation on their home shores, quickly slamming them in a studio to produce a few sides. Fowley - who had come to Australia in search of ’the next ABBA or Beatles’ - seemed impressed by the band’s ability to provoke - on command - mass amounts of underage female undress as well as their obvious debts to the structures of Vanda and Young. Predictably though, after declaring the band 'the future of rock ‘n’ roll,' Fowley quickly lost interest (most likely still smitten with the girl-band bug) and Beathoven were cast adrift. Nevertheless, this did not stop the four boys from Tas from tearing it up-and-down on the Oz tour circuit (ambulances were kept waiting outside their shows to deal with hysteric female fans) or from cranking out a killer album, the first single from which, 'Shy Girl,' ranks with the best of the Paley Brothers or Rubinoos (who, it should come as no surprise, were and are huge admirers).

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The future seemed luminescent-lavender for the four Beathoven featherweights. Female fan hysteria not seen since the storming days of 'Easyfever' was a regular fixture at Beathoven gigs. Greg Shaw's pop-standard BOMP! magazine dubbed them ‘dynamite’ (the '78 Nick Lowe issue for all my fellow Shaw cultists) while the band's lone album also went directly to number one in ten states, flying in the face of all that was hard rock and nascent new wave. The four lads were even offered the honour of their own signature ice cream line - the late 70’s equivalent to the promotional cereal box - which would naturally have featured the boys’ charming name as well as ooey-gooey likenesses.

Nevertheless, by the end of ’78, after nearly two years of teeny bopping supremacy, it was clear that the members of Beathoven were deep in the clutches of the sickness-unto-pop-death known as the quest for artistic legitimacy (all sigh). Strangely however, this dread monster began to rear its stodgy head at the exact moment in which Beathoven were also enjoying their greatest flush of national notoriety. In December 1978, after a twelve month touring blitz of high schools and dances and numerous appearances on staid Antipode chart-show, Countdown, Beathoven were nominated as ‘Most Promising New Group’ (aka the Kiss of Death prize) on the annual ABC King of Pop awards. Beathoven’s competition on the night included Adelaide hoon-rockers Cold Chisel, Graham Parker copyists, Sports, token-punks the Teenage Radio Stars (very soon to revamp themselves as eighties art-popsters, the Models) and soft-rockers the Sutherland Brothers. Ostensibly, the award-winner was to be decided strictly upon the number of phone-in votes each band received. And obviously, amidst such a tacky line-up and knowing full well the demographic of people who actually call in to those things (90% pubescent females), Beathoven were the clear choice for victors. Nevertheless, in a result fixed by shady anti-pop industry types representing Mushroom Records, Mushroom recording artists Sports miraculously triumphed on the evening to wide jeers from the largely live audience. This set-back at the hands of a corrupt media-industry opened the first fissures in Beathoven’s pop foundation; cracks that would ultimately culminate in the band’s dissolution.

Still, bloodied yet unbowed, more sensational touring and Countdown appearances followed. By early ‘79, the membership roster for the Beathoven fan club numbered in the thousands as Beathoven performed for over 150,000 teenagers at various Australian high schools - a sonic-glimpse into one of these lunch period riots is provided on the CD and the sheer ear-shredding volumes of shrieks and screams rivals the final hours of Jonestown. By late-1979, however, the rot had definitely (not maybe) set in for the group; specifically, the band’s desire to be taken seriously - the death-knell for all pop! After a few line-up shifts too many (’let‘s sack the drummer!’) and outright hostility from their parent label, EMI (never the most tolerant of companies), Beathoven reinvented themselves in 1980 as sparkly-new-wave-popsters, The Innocents. Off went the top hats, tails and Lennon/McCartney fixations - on went Ian Hunter shades, close crops and short-back-and-sides Paul Weller complexes.

Though debuting with a resoundingly sound first single, 'Sooner Or Later' - a late Beathoven raver toned down for Jam fans - the Innocents soon stalled, seemingly more concerned with distancing themselves from their teen-pop past than they were with building upon their impressive first-fruits and making actual pop records. Much dawdling and cleverness then ensued with song titles like ‘Boeotia Blue‘ and ‘Beyond The Moon‘ if that gives any hint. The Innocents finally called it a day in 1986, after many line-up changes and a score of uneven, unrealized attempts at the selfsame pop golden ring they had rejected nearly eight years prior.

The Innocents/Beathoven story reads as a tragic textbook test-case of what becomes when self-consciousness meets pop. The two oppositional aesthetics mix like hobo moonshine and repel all, but the most desperate of egoists. Beware! Let Beathoven’s greater tragedy be a lesson to all and any who would seek the summit of teen power pop glory. Confucius say you don't come down from the mountain peak just to admire yourself in a different shade of light. Stay where you are and enjoy the view, you big dummies!

As for actually hearing Beathoven and not succumbing to the sickness unto death yourself, here’s your revelatory leap from the lion‘s mouth. While the original EMI vinyl remains decidedly hard to come by, your best bet for Beathoven or Innocents material if you're not in the Antipodes or possessed of a vast inheritance is a classy two-disc comp out on Zip records called 'No Hit Wonders From Down Under.' This really is the yardstick by which reissues should be measured: everything they recorded, liner notes, photos, period video clips (which are stunning), FAN LETTERS WRITTEN TO THE BAND and some of the best music to ever come out of the Southern Hemisphere (or the late seventies for that matter). Forget Young Modern, forget…well, actually, words can not properly convey what I would like to see done to the Hoodoo Gurus - suffice to say I would like to see all evidence of their distasteful existence expunged from the face of the planet. In terms of Aussie pop/rock or power-pop, only the Sunnyboys come close to outpacing Beathoven and even they’re a bit too moody (to say the least). The Zip records comp came out in 2001 so you can probably still find it if you dig - it is every bit as impressive and essential a collection as Black Vinyl Shoes or the lone album by the Toms. And you don’t have to believe simply me - just give a few of the fan letters below the once-over and practically hear the foam fizzing and dripping from rabid teenage jaws.


Dear Beathoven Fan Club,

Hi! My name is Andrea Coma
[great punk name!] and I go to Moorligh High School. My problem is I love Beathoven. It's not realy a problem when you think about it, but every time I think about them, I get shaky, hot and sweaty. I've never felt this way about a pop group before and I kind of like it.


Dear Charlie,

The concert last night was great. If you’re not doing anything Friday night, will you come out to my place? What did you do after you left the concert? I was going to come and kiss you goodnight. But then I thought I better not. Next time I see you, I will. My girlfriend liked the autographs. Give my love to David, he’s nice. When you come out to my place, don’t say anything about me writing to you - Mum would get mad with me. Thanks Charlie (for not saying anything).


Dear Beathoven - excuse the spelling if its wrong,

Hi Spunks - I'm one of the girls from Sunshine West High School. Remember when you'se came and had a concert at our school? You'se were just great, no doubt about that. That was our first concert we've ever had at Sunny West and believe me the whole school liked it as you'se all saw. The girls went wild over you'se (How's when CHARLIE went flying down the stairs - I wish you fell into my arms). I Imagine when you'se will be much bigger and for that I can't wait. After you'se left we had to get back to our school-work, but no one felt like working after all that. Anyway your names were all over the school furniture, desks, walls. It says on them, CHARLIE YOU SPUNK, and other nice things about you'se. And it was done it great big, black letters (!!!). I hope you'se have realized that your coat hangers are missing ‘cos a few of my friends happen to get a hold of them.

You know what to do.

Oh, and by the way, I'm Collin, my favourite colour's blue and I like my turkey deep-fried.

1 comment:

Meg said...

You can still buy the album from Zip records.
It is a brilliant album - I remember the guys as 17 year olds and they are still just as good musos today. Get onto the site & buy it!