Friday, January 22, 2016

Hippies vs. Punks: The Lemonheads' Lick (1989)

One thing is clear to me as this rainy week winds down: Lick (1989) is certainly the best Lemonheads record. It has it all. Ballads -- "A Circle of One" (The YouTube above) -- powerful Grunge rockers like the two opening tracks, "Mallo Cup" and "Glad I Don't Know," not to mention an amazing Punk love song, "Ever" (see You Tube below) and an adroit reworking of Suzanne Vega's contemporaneously popular hit "Luka."

Lick is the last Lemonheads album with Ben Deily and the last on independent label Taang! Records. Without Deily the band loses a lot of its Punk juevos and it basically becomes a vehicle for Dando's pretty boy Grunge (which achieves breakout commercial success a few years later with It's a Shame About Ray).

On the strength of Lick the Lemonheads were signed by Atlantic. I was at the performance where the deal was either broached or consummated, a show at CBGBs on a rainy summer Saturday night in 1989. There was hardly anyone there except for a bunch of older affluent record industry types with their dates sitting at tables back near the bar, 

Downtown Manhattan's population, at least when I lived in the city, tended to drop in density in the summer months; that, combined with the torrential downpour, made for deserted streets and a mostly empty CBGBs. Dando was out front in a white t-shirt chatting with someone when my buddy Gary and I got there. We had taken the 'A' down from Washington Heights and walked over from the West Village.

The Lemonheads -- Dando, Jesse Peretz and some guy on drums that I recognized from a photo on one of the albums -- were incredible that night. I shared the pit with two skinheads. (My friend Gary was not a fighter; he enjoyed the whole show positioned directly beneath one of the PA speakers. I would look over at him occasionally and he looked as if were teleporting Star Trek style, like he was atomizing before my eyes. That is how good the Lemonheads sounded that night.) The Punks and I beat the shit out of each other all night. They battered away at me, and we plowed through tables at the edge of the pit, yanking one another up off the floor when someone lost his footing so we could get right back to pummeling each other. I think we were as much a part of the show to the execs in the back of the hall as the band up on stage. I had an edge over the Punks because I was a believer in the music. I had picked up a copy of Lick as soon as it was released that spring. My wife and I played it non-stop. So by the end of the night, when the Punks had tossed in the sponge and sat down, I was dancing blissfully -- sort of a James Brown shoulder roll -- by myself on an empty floor.

As the old year was drawing to a close last month and I was walking to the library after work a New Pornographers song shuffled on my iPod, "Execution Day." It made me feel incredibly good. And since I was starting to think about The Lemonheads because I was watching Nurse Jackie episodes directed by Jesse Peretz, I thought about that night at an empty CBGBs dancing along to the band. And I realized I have never had a better night than that one.


  1. That was a pleasure to read. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for the positive feedback, Robert. I'm thinking this winter I'll tackle IT'S A SHAME ABOUT RAY. At work we will usually listen to local hipster radio station, and I'm surprised how often cuts from the album are played. I treated all The Lemonheads albums up to IT'S A SHAME, which wasn't one of my favorites, but it definitely represented a zenith. That summer of '92 we were filled with strength, confidence and hope. The possibilities appeared endless. It didn't last long.