Ten Albums: Too Much Joy, Cereal Killers (1991)

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(Above: You don’t have this one?)

There’s been this thing going around on Facebook where people are posting up their ten favorite albums, or ten albums that meant something to them, or so on. You’ve probably seen this: you get tagged, you make the post, you tag someone else. I got tagged in one last week and said that I’d get to it, and it’s now time to do that.

I’ve set a few ground rules:

-No artist gets more than one album.  That keeps me from putting up a pile of Dylan albums, or taking the easy way out and putting up a bunch of Beatles releases.  One per act.

-No tagging.  I certainly encourage you to come up with a list, or comment on mine – but I’m not going to make anyone do it.

-No timeline.  It’s supposed to be ten albums in ten days.  I’m already late.  You’ll get ten albums, but not necessarily in a week and a half.  I’ve got syllabi to do.

-No predictability. Well, maybe a little: I’m the first to admit that my musical tastes are slow to evolve.  There will be albums I loved in high school that make this list. I make no excuses nor apologies for that.

That said, let’s jump in:

10. Too Much Joy, Cereal Killers.

In 1990 I made that quick pit stop in Macomb, Illinois that changed my career. I got to fine-tune my radio skills at WJEQ, and keep loose at WIU’s student station, WIUS.  It was at the latter that I was introduced to a group called Too Much Joy, and have since amassed most (if not all) of their catalog.

It was a toss-up between this LP and Son of Sam I Am, the first one I heard. Most days at WIUS a handwritten music sheet was left for jocks to play.  I initially resented this, with no small amount of “how dare you tell me etc.” But had the list not been there, I wouldn’t have found some of the new acts that I decided I liked. The station was playing a song called “My Past Lives” by this band, and I immediately put it into play on days when I could make up my own playlist.  It was quirky and catchy, and the rest of the album proved to be the same.

This is a fearless band.  This is the band that got themselves arrested in 1990 by getting on stage in Florida and performing 2 Live Crew’s music. That year 2 Live Crew had been arrested on obscenity charges for As Nasty As They Wanna Be, and 2MJ decided to see if the cops were arresting on content or on race.  (All arrests were later thrown out, and Communication Law professors got material for their classes for years.) The following release, Cereal Killers, weaved the occasional profanity into lyrics and amped up the pace a bit. When you drop the needle on this record, the first song – “Susquehanna Hat Company” – opens with one of the more memorable album openers ever: “So she said fuck this town/Nothin’s ever goin’ down.” It’s a tale of a “bad girl” that you just can’t help but be attracted to.

Other songs on the album are solid: “Crush Story” is from the point of view of a guy who’s infatuated with a girl (“Everything you’ve ever said is brilliant/Anything you want to do is fine by me”), “King of Beers” is a self-reflective tale of a guy with a drinking problem, and “Thanksgiving in Reno” is a story about two guys having the adventure of a lifetime – even if it’s all the sort of fabrication you tell your buddies to impress them. (“Some of this is true/Some of this is better.”)

But the song I always associate with this album is “Long Haired Guys From England.” At the end of 1991 I was wrapping up my stint at WXLP in the Quad Cities. We had a few interns from nearby Augustana College who hosted a party one night, and a few of us tagged along. I had never heard this song before, but when it came on at the party, and every girl at the party sang it word for word, I thought “I need to give this a listen.”  The song is hilarious, lamenting that all the girls only want to be with the long-haired guys from England and not the clean-cut Americans the band held themselves out to be. (“There’s this girl in my record company/I like her but she doesn’t dig me/Met her boyfriend the other night/He had a pony tail and he didn’t talk right.”)

Cereal Killers contains a lot of fun rock and roll that makes you laugh at times, which is a hallmark of the band’s work. Had I still been doing college radio in 1991, I would have probably worn this one out. If you’re not familiar with Too Much Joy, this might make a fine introduction to their work, along with the aforementioned Son of Sam I Am and …finally, which contains a blistering cover of Kirsty MacColl’s “A New England” and a song about meeting your ex-girlfriend’s husband called “Mrs. Now” (“Yes he’s very nice/I wish we just despised each other…”) If you’re looking for some new old rock, it’s worth hunting down.

“Just like the guy from Midnight Oil – except he’s bald and he’s from Australia.” You can hear “Long Haired Guys From England” – uncensored – by clicking here.

 

 

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