I vividly remember where I first encountered Hoboken band The Cucumbers. Back in 1986, I caught a fantastic clip on MTV’s 120 Minutes for the band’s wonderful cover version of “All Shook Up.” The Super 8 + everything else but the kitchen sink clip was typical of the mid-80s indie rock era but it was a killer version of the familiar Elvis hit with all the quirky charm that only people who live and breathe pop music could muster. I didn’t see that EP but at a nearby Peaches Records, I found the band’s debut album, “Who Betrays Me …And Other Happier Songs” and snapped it up with nary a second thought.
The brief and endearing album [my first rule of This Business Called Show: always leave them wanting more] was a keeper that survived various vinyl purges in my Record Cell over the years fully intact. In 1986, I was there when the band went from NJ indie Fake Doom Records to much more successful NY indie Profile Records. The eponymous album, “The Cucumbers” was more delightful quirk-pop with a single that showed up as another video on 120 Minutes for the song “My Boyfriend.” I was happy to have an album on the modern CD format, but after that, I lost track of The Cucumbers.
<Flash Forward 23 years>
It was in the last days of 2010 when I ran across the “All Shook Up” EP at a record show, so I snatched that puppy up in all due haste. By this time, two things had happened: I had been mastering my own CDs from vinyl for a decade and Discogs.com had been on the internet for several years. I saw that there had been a 1983 EP, “The Cucumbers” from the band that was their first waxing, so I needed to get that one to remaster the complete Fake Doom Years recordings from the relevant vinyl…
<Flash Forward 6 Years>
The Cucumbers: The Fake Doom Years 1983-1986 US DL 
The Cucumbers [1-4]/Who Betrays Me…And Other Happier Songs [5-15]/All Shook Up [16-17] + [18-19]
- My Boyfriend
- Susie’s Getting Married
- Go Ahead And Do It
- Snap Out Of It
- Who Betrays Me
- Walking And Talking
- Everything Goes
- Want To Talk
- Susie’s Breakdown
- Feels Good
- You’re Still Here In My Arms
- Don’t Watch TV
- All Shook Up
- All Shook Up [Extended]
- Keep Your Cool
- Body Groove [Live At Ziggy’s]
Or… one could simply buy the new DLX download that The Cucumbers have thoughtfully mastered from their master tapes and have a pool party [or two] with the time saved! If you did the latter, you’d have no entertainment needs for the pool party either; just pop this one on “repeat” and get moving. After being a fan for 30 years, it was great to finally hear the EP that has still eluded my crate digging.
The early version of “My Boyfriend” was superficially similar to the 1987 re-make as far as the music bed went. Both tracks were redolent of the percussive pop attack that the band favored with emphasis on trebly, clean guitars and syncopated rhythms. Deena Shoshkes carried the first verse and Jon Fried sang the second, which was exactly the same verse but it took on new dynamics when sung by a man. They then united for a third run through the verse together. The song was pure pop perfection no matter how it was sliced. “Susie’s Getting Married” was a skittish piece of frantic pop that addressed that big event in question while “Go Ahead And Do It” hewed to more languorous vibes. Jon Fried took lead on the peppy “Snap Out of It;” which had an irresistible chorus of “snap out of it” repeated sixteen times in rapid succession!
This EP, back from the day when there was something noble about crafting 4-5 songs and putting them out in the world, established the modus operandi of The Cucumbers. Their sound was sometime complex chord progressions and a heavily percussive rhythm attack [all four members played percussion in the studio] mated with mostly upbeat pop. It had the feel of early Talking Heads music as made by people who were fundamentally more well adjusted. Truth be told, their music slotted in nicely next to surprisingly complex yet-heart-tugging art-pop such as Let’s Active or The Feelies, and they smoked Hoboken’s other great New Wave pop band, The Bongos, for lunch. Had I encountered this in real time, I’d still have become a big fan.
As it was, that came down to the wonderful “Who Betrays Me…And Other Happier Songs” to get me on board The Cucumbers bus. The combination of Deena Shoshke’s winsome vocals and guitars both solo and in harmony with Jon Fried was immediately appealing. One got the notion that in parallel universe she was possibly a big country music star instead, but thankfully Country’s loss was New Wave’s gain. The rhythmic complexity possible when all members of the band played percussion gave them an edge that even Wall Of Voodoo couldn’t top in their heyday.
The title track was an urgent breakup song while “Walking And Talking” looked at the more euphoric side of love. I loved how Ms. Shoshkes pronounced “walkin’ with my be-béh” in the hooky chorus. “Everything Goes” was also the B-side to “All Shook Up” and had a lazy, Athens-band feel. The album side closed originally with “Susie’s Breakdown,” what I must imagine had to have been a sequel to “Susie’s Getting Married” with the newly hitched heroine not fitting so well with the change of lifestyle. The brief instro was just a melange of loopy percussion; heavy on the sproingy jaw harp.
Side two had delights like “Desperation;” a winning slice of infatuation served straight up with twangy guitars on the side. The killer tune that always spoke directly to where my head was at was the peak frenzy of “Don’t Watch TV!” I love the desperate way that “don’t watch TV [don’t watch it! don’t watch it!]” was shot through the song like a fevered mantra! When I pulled the plug in ’93, the song had by then become a personal anthem for me. When Ms. Shoshkes reels off the line near the end of the song “don’t buy cable, don’t buy cable, don’t buy cable cable cable cable cable cable” it gives my heart such a lift! If only everyone had such passion.
Both mixes of “All Shook Up” figured here and the sly reading of the Otis Blackwell Elvis classic couldn’t be more different than what we’re used to. Again, the percussion was given a real spotlight here, and the song also boasted a killer swelling synth hook from a band that didn’t normally traffic in that sort of thing. The song sounds so much fresher in the hands of a woman like Deena who sounds like she’s head over heels in love [l-u-v] than even those of The King himself. The extended version sounded like it was the source of the single edit, with a longer intro and a extended coda that followed on the heels of where the single edit ended cold.
The program now has two “new” songs and the unreleased “Keep Your Cool” was probably pulled back in the day due to it having a slight whiff of The B-52s. In the 21st century we’ll take all of the kickin’ party rock we can get, thank you very much. “Body Groove [Live At Ziggy’s]” was a near-bootleg recording that might have even come from a boom box set on “record” on the sound man’s board. Snatches of the conversation of revelers were here in equal measures with the band, making its inclusion here something of a head-scratcher, but it’s the only one on this much-needed remastering of the band’s entire Fake Doom Records output. The production and engineering of Dave Young and Roger Moutenot [Lou Reed, The Nails] was well served by the luscious, full-range remastering that has avoided all taint of the Loudness War. This download release is available at the usual purveyors of digital bits: iTunes, Amazon, but only CD Baby offers the holy FLAC format. Purchase as necessary!
Now that I have the Fake Doom era all sewn up, what I need to purchase is definitely the rest of The Cucumbers discography. The plucky group has managed to last, off and on for 35 years now in various forms, but the husband-and-wife core of Deena Shoshkes and Jon Fried remain steadfast and wouldn’t you know it? Next month they have a rare live outing at the Maplewood in Woodland, New Jersey on lucky Friday the 13th!
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