Monday, May 24, 2010

The Simpletones- I Have a Date (Re-Force Records, 2002)

Nearly as unconscionable as Maxim leaving Christina Hendricks (who should have been #1 with the other 99 spots left vacant) off of its 2010 Hot 100 was the OC Weekly’s list of the 129 greatest Orange County bands of all-time completely omitting The Simpletones. Come on, man! Major points to y’all for putting the Adolescents in the top spot, but where’s the love for the Simpletones? I like the Stitches as much as the next guy, but isn’t #23 a little high (Smogtown would have been a far better contemporary choice)? And why are Lit and The Offspring on there? Did they think they were making a worst-of list?

If you start naming all the most underrated and overlooked bands of first wave punk, you turn to California and the list starts to fill up fast. While not as good as The Gears, or as important as The Dils, or as influential as The Crowd, The Simpletones may have been more underrated than all of the above. And considering that they were kind of a precursor to what would be later termed “pop-punk”, albeit with an authentic early punk edge, the Simpletones merit a special place in history. It’s absolutely shocking, then, that their music has not been kept in print. Immortalized on Poshboy’s 1979 Beach Blvd compilation, the Simpletones are loved by punk record collectors but completely unknown to the more casual fan.

I can’t tell you for sure if The Simpletones were an influence on the Descendents, but I’ll bet you a six-pack that Milo, Bill Stevenson, et al owned Beach Blvd and played it ‘til it wore out. While a number of bands beyond the sea were incorporating melody into the punk rock sound, the Simpletones were one of the only punk groups of their era to be overtly “pop” both in sound and sensibility, wearing a Beach Boys influence on their sleeves and writing songs about girls. But while these lads were typically hormonally-driven teens with designs on the fairer sex, they weren’t nice, clean-cut kids…they were punks! If the Beach Boys in the ‘60s typified the bright sun and innocent fun of Southern California life, the Simpletones were like their wayward sons a generation later – going to school high on drugs, chasing girls with all sorts of diseases, and unable to really enjoy the beach because of all the smog polluting the air. And although the band’s anthem “California” reads lyrically like an early Beach Boys song, it’s sung with such disdain and irony that it leaves no doubt that these kids believed they lived in a shithole. As redolent as “Tiger Beat Twist” and “Kirsty Q” may be of Dick Clark approved teen idol rock n’ roll, this was not your grandfather’s beach band. “I Have a Date” is so wholesome and cute on the surface, but you just know that this date is going to end not with a kiss on the front porch, but rather with a sordid coupling under the boardwalk or a drug binge at some stranger’s house. And like the Ramones, whom they clearly emulated, the Simpletones were not against using the three-minute pop song as a vehicle for twisted social commentary. Note the black-humored environmentalism of “Dead Meat (Killer Smog)" or the way-ahead-of-its-time statement “TV Love”.

Released eight years ago by the German imprint Re-Force, the 22-track I Have a Date gives you EVERYTHING the Simpletones recorded in their short time together – the Beach Blvd tracks, the “Kirsty Q” 45 (which was Poshboy #2 – how’s that for historic?!), and all sorts of outtakes, which if not quite first-rate, are still a hell of a lot of fun (e.g. “Nasty Nazi” and a disco rendition of the Dickies’ “You Drive Me Ape”). Featuring three different lead singers but held together by the songwriting and guitar work of Jay Lansford, these songs just sound like late '70s Orange County – the half-spoken vocals that manage to convey boredom and anger, the melodic sensibility that’s practically imbedded in the Californian’s DNA, the chip on your shoulder that can only come from having to watch wide-eyed tourists frantically descend upon the crap town that you cannot wait to leave. As such, these songs have as much in common with the Adolescents or early Social Distortion as they do with any modern pop-punk band you could name. The best of these songs – “I Like Drugs”, “I Have a Date”, “Don’t Bother Me” – are as classic as anything in the annals of punk rock. Considering that dozens upon dozens of lesser bands have been given the full reissue/anthology treatment, it seems high time for I Have a Date to return to print. In the meantime, happy hunting. Land yourself a copy of the 1991 CD reissue of Beach Blvd, and that'll do you just as well!

-Josh Rutledge

1 comment:

gunther said...

I'm assuming you have this CD, correct? I'd love to hear the non-Beach Blvd. stuff.