The random mid-90s alt-rock compilation; is there any better source for oddball rarities and bizarro obscurities? It’s thanks to this trend of “let’s package as many bands who we think the kids who like Nirvana might like together and see what happens” we have albums like No Alternative, with Soul Aslyum’s awesome take on “Sexual Healing” and that crazy Carpenters tribute record with Sonic Youth’s cover of “Superstar.”
Chairman of the Board, a collection of alt-rock groups taking on standards made famous by Frank Sinatra, doesn’t have any classic cuts like those records do, but it’s still an interesting time capsule showcasing the wide variety of alternative bands that existed in the mid-90s that had absolutely nothing to do with grunge.
The album originally came out on CD and (blue!) vinyl in 1993 by Grass Records as a benefit album supporting both NARAL and Rock For Choice (the album is out of print now, so I don’t feel guilty about giving away a charity record for free). Odds are you’ve never heard of most of the bands here, save for a few very noticeable acts who were on the verge of breaking through right before the album was released. Despite this, these crazy takes on songs that you no doubt have heard a billion times over are usually fun to listen to. And if you’re like me, they’ll have you wondering whatever happened to a lot of these also-rans from the alt-rock landscape.
The tracks I’m posting here are from the first LP of the two record set. I’ll be posting the second half later this week.
Screeching Weasel – Chicago
Screeching Weasel has been around for approximately 80 years, and 429 people have been in the group (actually, it’s more like 26 years and 20+ people, but whatever) and I don’t think they’ve ever had anything that could be considered a hit single. They’re one of those bands you’ve heard of but never actually heard. Or you have heard them, but don’t recall where from. Their rendition of “Chicago,” originally written in 1922 by Fred Fisher, is a straight-up “let’s take the original version and play it fast” punk rock cover. Silly fun.
Kramer – My Way
I’ve never heard of Kramer, but he apparently has toured/recorded/produced about half of the bands I liked in the late 90s, including Urge Overkill, Galaxie 500, Low, White Zombie and Butthole Surfers (and GWAR – who I totally met once…it’s a long story). He also knew Penn & Teller, which may be why Penn Jillette wrote the linear notes to the album. His version of this Paul Anka tune is fucking creepy.
Sister Double Happiness – Summer Wind
I know absolultely nothing about this band aside from what I found on YouTube, all of which is better than this hideously awful cover. You’ve been warned.
Babe The Blue Ox – Lady Is A Tramp
This band has a horribly written Wikipedia page that was obviously put together by either a fan or the drummer. That being said, the wiki page is accurate when it says “It would be impossible to classify the style of music favored by the group,” if this cover is any indication. Quiet acoustic sections, random horns blaring, SCREAMING vocals. I love it. I don’t know what it is. But I love it.
The Toadies – Luck Be a Lady Tonight
I’m so glad I found this album so I could finally know where this cover came from, I’ve had it on my computer as a shitty 128kpbs MP3 since I was in college. It’s a great cover, and like everything The Toadies have ever done, it’s vaguely creepy in an undefinable way. Random trivia: This song is from the musical “Guys and Dolls” and is sung by the Sky Masterson character, not Nathan Detroit, the character Sinatra played in the 1955 film. He didn’t perform it until the 60s.
Twitch – Pretty Colors
There are about 80 bands named Twitch. If anyone wants to tell me which one this is, who is in it, and what happened to them I would appreciate it, because I like this cover.
Lester Vegas -Fly Me To The Moon
Again, I have no idea who this is. I think this may have been his only release. Any help?
Ten Bright Spikes -Brazil
If someone ever pulls a gun on you and demands you name a song that was covered by Bing Crosby, Paul Anka, Frank Sinatra, Chet Atkins, The Vengaboys, Kate Bush and Arcade Fire (albeit not all at the same time – although that would be awesome!) you’ll have an answer. My favorite version is still probably the Kate Bush version, simply because it’s in the movie of the same name. This is a good version as well, and is one of two tracks on the album that were vinyl exclusives. Once again, this cover is by a band that I can find absolutely nothing about, so if anyone wants to fill me in please do.
Girls Against Boys – My Funny Valentine
Hey, a band I’ve not only heard of, but love! Let me share with you some Girls Against Boys (aka GVSB) facts.
FACT: Nearly every GVSB song sounds vaguely similar to every other GVSB song
FACT: Nearly every GVSB song is pretty good, rendering the above fact okay.
FACT: They have two bass players
FACT: They have a song called “Kill The Sex Player”
FACT: I have no idea as to what a “sex player” is, nor why someone would want said sex player dead.
FACT: They haven’t updated their website in three years.
This is also the only version of “My Funny Valentine” I’ve ever heard that didn’t make me want to pull my hair out. So kudos to them.
Prisonshake – I Wish I Were In Love Again
Apparently these guys have been around since the late 80s. But don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of them before, because they’ve only put out three albums, one in 1993, another in 1995, and a third in 2008. Productivity is for suckers! This is probably the most straight-forward cover on the entire album, which is cute, but kind of boring.
The Flaming Lips – It Was a Very Good Year
Without a doubt the biggest band on this record (sorry Toadies), but if you’re hoping for some Wayne Coyne psychedelic theatrics, I’m sorry. This is a very low-key and minimalist cover, and actually sounds more like something Grandaddy would have done. It’s still cool though.
Pitchblende – Here’s To The Losers
I can only say “I like this weird cover but I know nothing about the band” so many times. But…I really like this cover but I know almost nothing about this band. They were from DC and put out a few records in the 90s before vanishing, from what I can tell.
The Vindictives – Call Me Irresponsible
Miek Weasel (of The Screeching Weasels) was in The Vindictives, and it shows. Another “let’s play the slow song fast” punk cover. Generic? Maybe. But hey, if the formula ain’t broke then don’t fix it.