Don’t Call It Dead Stock
By Lance Barresi
ecently, the entire discogra-phy of untouched, 30 year-old Clone Records releases were unearthed from an Ohio basement tomb. In some cases hundreds of stone mint copies of these thirteen vintage releases were discovered. Used copies of these records rarely surface in the wild, making this discovery all the more incredible!
A couple issues back I wrote a piece on some of my favorites and promised a second part, if interest warranted it. Reader feedback was overwhelming, hence Part Two, a roundup of the previously uncovered Clone titles.
As some of you may recall from the first installment, the Akron based Clone label operated from 1977 to 1981. A disproportionate number of this small, independent label’s bands (Bizarros, Rubber City Rebels, Tin Huey) signed major label deals and one, The Waitresses, struck gold with their hit “I Know What Boys Like.” Others like Teacher’s Pet, Human Switchboard, Housekeepers, and John Rader have gone tragically under-heard for over three decades.
From the Bizarros to the Gray Bunnies, Clone offered something for everyone. Proto-punk, minimal synth, new wave, power pop, you name it, Clone’s got it. Call it what you will, just don’t call it “dead stock.” These records are anything but dead. I encourage serious record collectors and lovers of all things underrated to read on and enjoy the second and final installment of the Clone Records series.
Bizarros / Rubber City Rebels
From Akron, LP
Clone 001! Although the 1977 From Akron LP isn’t technically Clone’s first release (that honor belongs to the Bizarros Lady Doubonette EP) it’s one of the finest. This meeting of Akron heavyweights, Bizarros and Rubber City Rebels, is the Rumble In The Jungle of 12” split platters.
Both of these hard hitting bands ended up with major label deals just a couple years after this independent release and it’s not hard to hear why. This split LP is filled with 200 proof proto-punk / hard rock jammers.
Those familiar with the Lady Doubonette EP will recognize, at least in title, the first two cuts from the Bizarros side. These reworkings are definite improvements over the EP versions, both in fidelity and enthusiasm. The other three tracks on the A-side (“Jackson’s Pride,” “Ice Age,” and “White Screen Movies”) are fine examples of the Bizarros harder-edged sound to come on the 1978 “Laser Boys” single.
Bizarros circa 1977 were a tough opponent, but Rubber City Rebels were up to the challenge. Some more boneheaded folks might even dig their side more. The Rebels make haste in kicking out five rockers, the purposefully dumb subject matter of which varies from poverty aspiration to eating children to getting a “Brain Job,” whatever that means. I have a brain idea, but I’m not exactly brain sure. Anyhow, the RCR side climaxes on the incredible “Rubber City Rebels” theme song, one of the few (along with the Bizarros “I, Bizarro”) that makes me think that every band should have one. Not actually a good idea, but these two are just that good, guys.
Had Clone pressed a few less copies, collectors would be paying dearly to own an original copy of this monster. The quality of the tracks is outstanding and this is one of the many examples of rarity equating more to value than quality. This record is worth its weight in petroleum (and then some).
Dare I call it the Holy Grail of Akron rock LPs? I dare. Bonehead Crunchers fans take note.
Still don’t believe me? Why don’t you take Robert Christgau’s word for it?
“The Bizarros’ deliberate discordances (including viola, lest we forget John Cale) are carried forward on surefire junk-rock riffs; mastermind Nick Nicholis has the hang of Lou’s deadpan songspeech…The stoopider approach of the Rubber City Rebels – “Gotta get a brain job/Gotta get it now/Gotta get a brain job/But I don’t know how” – proves more foolproof. Alice Cooper sang about dead babies, these guys claim to eat them. The album seems to be in mono, with sound presence worthy of Andy Warhol, but it hasn’t quit on me yet.”
Bowling Balls II, LP
Like the first volume, this 1981 comp was named for a graveyard of buried bowling balls discovered in Akron three decades ago. Otherwise, neither volume has anything to do with knocking over pear shaped pins with holy balls and the only band the two volumes have in common is Waitresses. They wrap up Side B with “Astronettes,” but that’s not really where we should start. Let’s begin with Susan Schmidt and Debbie Smith and their femme/new wave/ very Lust For Life-esque “Men..”This yin to the yang of the Energy’s “Girls Don’t Like Me” is the first groove your needle will slide into. Then, Unit 5 present their Midwestern Go-Gos sound for the first of three appearances on “Go Ahead And Kiss Her.” Nick Nicholis selflessly ordered the Bizarros’ “Another Desert Story” third on the first side leading nicely into Hammer Damage, who you may remember from a recent Last Laugh reissue single, appearing here with the super catchy “Noise Pollution.” Tin Huey then go on to show-off their decidedly David Byrne-esque “Wise Up.” On the flip, Unit 5 and Schmidt/Smith return for tracks B1 and B2 – both solid estrogen-laden new wave tracks and Unit 5’s male singer takes the lead on the funky and post-punky “New Leather Jacket.” The only bit of pure testosterone on this side comes from the only non-American band ever released on Clone, Japan’s Totsuzen Danball. Their track “Jelly Beans Say” is an angular, repetitive post-punk guitar fest that’d make Gang of Four gang-green with envy and it’s one of the rare vinylized documents of the band. Which brings us back to doe…aka “Astronettes” by Waitresses. An interstellar new wave sax-y jam about female cosmonauts. And that’s why “Bowling Balls II” is the perfect platter for your next ten-pin party!
Scared Of The Dark, LP
Unit 5 is one of the least publicized groups on the Clone roster. Info on the band is scarce (as a matter of fact this 1981 release doesn’t even have a Discogs entry), but according to Trouser Press Unit 5 featured some members of the Waitresses. TP also said “Unit 5’s vocalist, Tracey Thomas, however, is more from the school of Debbie Harry than the late Patty Donahue. The band plays sprightly, slightly synthesized pop with craft and dedication, making Scared of the Dark easy to like.”
Scared Of The Dark was included on Buzzbin Magazine’s “10 Albums Every Akronite Should Have” list alongside the Bizarros LP and The Akron Compilation. Their favorable review went like this:
“Another band the likes of Belinda Carlisle and Susanna Hoffs should tip their cap to is the Tracey Thomas-fronted Unit 5. Originally released in 1981 on Bizarros’ frontman Nick Nicholis’ Clone Records, the album’s 12 tracks of catchy, Blondie-esque pop is definitely worth 40 minutes of your time.”
Who am I to argue? I’m nobody. If you dig female fronted new wave, you’ll love Unit 5’s sole LP.
Hooked On You, 7”
“Hooked On You” may be the best single on Clone aside from the Bizarros singles (and the Waitresses single… geez, there’s so many good ones). This 45 is probably the most accessible (read: appealing to traditional punks) record Clone released. “Hooked On You” is a revved up proto-punk banger for the ages. It’s unbelievable that it hasn’t been comped yet. The flip “To Kill You” is a bit less uptempo, but it’s still driving and totally comp-worthy (Bonehead Crun-chers Volume 3 maybe?). If you dig a bit of glam in your proto-punk, this crud’s for you. It’s far better than the “Missing Person” single by Teacher’s Pet (same band?) that’s sold for over $300. Don’t let the black and white images of Pete Sake, Ben Dover, Rex Lax, and Richard Face fool ya. These guys are punk as fuck.
I Gotta Know, 7”
Human Switchboard, although only on Clone for this one 1978 single, was one of the label’s most prolific bands. These new wavers recorded two LPs and five singles from 1977 to 1981. A comp of these recordings was released by Bar/None on CD back in 2011. “I Gotta Know” is a super catchy number (The Housekeepers thought so too — they dedicated one side of their sole single to covering it) with loads of organ and even some xylophone in the mix. “No!” is a retro sounding Nugget that could’ve easily found it’s way onto Lenny Kaye’s comp had it been recorded 10 years earlier or on a Mummies album 15 years later. Was Human Switchboard ahead or behind their time? We may never know. One thing we do know is that somebody, Bar/None or otherwise, needs to preserve the anthology to
The bearded fellow smoking a cig in front of a reel-to-reel on this picture sleeve is none other than Tin Huey mainman, Harvey Gold. The A-side of Mr. Gold’s sole solo single from 1977/78 is a heavier-than-the-original cover of John Cale’s “I Keep A Close Watch.” (How many Akronites owned solo Cale records in 1977? Crazy.) Anyhow, fairly true to the original in pacing, this is a slow burning ballad the builds up to a prog mini-epic over the course of it’s 4 minute running time. Unlike the original, it substitutes strings with synth and features some absolutely fabulous guitar work and a bit of throbbing low end. The pitch shift wind down is a nice touch. I can’t help but think of a heavier version of Shorty’s Portion as I listen to it (Have we discussed this non-Clone private press record yet? Maybe the subject of a future column…). The Harvey Gold original on the flip “Armadillo” is a horse of a different color. It sounds a lot more like what you’d expect a Tin Huey member’s solo outing to sound like. It’s not as exaggerated as Tin Huey’s most far out moments, but it’s lyrically quirky and has a fairly complicated arrangement. Fans of Zappa, Bowie, and Devo shouldn’t have a problem getting into these “Experiments.”
I Gotta Know, 7”
This Chicago band is the only Clone band not from Akron besides the Jap-anese group Totsuzen Danball. The A-side of this superior ‘81 single is a wham-bam-thankya-ma’am jam worthy of Powerpearls comping or Nobunny covering. The Housekeepers thought so…it’s actually a cover of the Human Switchboard song of the same name. No matter who’s playing it, in less than two minutes, this earworm wiggles it’s way into your gray matter and surgical tools become required for removal. The flip, “Down The Road (Mizzle The Mode)” is almost as catchy, but would fit in more snugly on a Devo outtakes comp than in the Powerpearls series. As far as I can tell, this is Housekeepers sole release. There’s no picture sleeve and virtually no further info to be found and I forgot to ask Nick about these guys in our interview. Next time, for sure. Until then, stop thinking for a few minutes enjoy these two excellent numbers in all their poppy glory.
One Step At A Time, 7”
The decidedly mellow A-side of this single is an anomaly for the Clone label. John Rader’s solitary single dating back to 1979 is probably the straightest release on Clone. Once you hear the B-side and read the liners, it’s easy to see how this Akronite got hooked up with Nick Nicholis. Rader was backed by three members of Bizarros and Denis DeFrange (remember that name from the Bowling Balls From Hell comp?). I’m not sure what happened to John after this, but I sure am glad Nick took a chance on this Akron-based singer-songwriter. I’m hearing a lot of proto-power pop on these two songs. The B-side “Get You Back” is an especially upbeat number with some phased synth backing courtesy of DeFrange. The record and its aesthetically pleasing picture sleeve are total collector bait. Private press diggers and dudes that get stoked on Ariel Pink and his influences would likely buy it for $20 based on the sleeve alone and the same guys will flip when they hear the tunes.
Gray Bunnies – He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss), 12”
This, the one-and-only foray into the realm of 12” dance singles, proved to be Clone’s last release. Not because it’s a bad record, but because the label founder had familial responsibilities to attend to that the label was not supporting fully by 1981. Unfortunately, the record business is only life-supporting for a lucky few. For Clone’s final release, you should come for the cover of the Spector-produced Crystals hit “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)” and stay for the hyper-original B-side, “Cigarette.” “He Hit Me” was super controversial upon its release in 1962, surprise surprise. The Gray Bunnies stay fairly true to the OG version, just waving it up a little and making it more dance floor friendly. Over a decade before Hole would do their version on MTV Unplugged, no less. It’s good, but the J-A-M on this vinyl sandwich is the flip. “Cigarette” is a super repetitive, minimal, Disco Not Disco rug cutter of a hypnotic leftfield jam with just one lyric, “Cigarette,” which sounds like it’s being sung by Kid Congo Powers. Take this big single to your next 80s night spin gig and blow some minds. It, like all the best 45rpm records, sounds AMAZING at 33. Bonus!
Want more Clone? If you’d like to read the first installment in this two-part series, cruise on over to RecordCollectorNews.com, dig up the July-August 2012 issue and flip to page 45. Also, the interview I did with Nich Nicholas is up on the Permanent Records Soundcloud page.
Lastly, if you’re interested, copies of most of the Clone releases are available online at PermanentRecordsLA.com and at Permanent Records in Los Angeles and Chicago.
Lance Barresi: email@example.com; or go to permanentrecordschicago.com