It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been pining to dive into a Rock G.P.A. for The Blow Monkeys since day one here at PPM. I started this site in 2010, and the fact that there was that live album from 2009, “Travelin’ Souls: Live! At The Legendary 100 Club” always stayed my hand in the early days here. Then 2010 turned into 2011, and a new Blow Monkeys album [“Staring At The Sea”] manifested…and resisted my grasp until 2016. By then the albums that came after that one [“Feels Like A New Morning” – 2013, “If Not Now, When?” – 2015] were also non events in my Record Cell owing to periods of release coinciding with intense travel periods and the desire to save money for travel expenses and remote shopping in exotic environs.
By 2016, I managed to keep up with the more recent albums and crowdsource campaigns again since I was staying put for a change. 2017’s “The Wild River” was just stunning and I’ve just received the band’s 40th anniversary opus, “Journey To You” recently and it maintains the band’s extremely high caliber of achievement and after hearing it I was annoyed that “If Not Now , When?” had been so difficult to buy. I had missed the Pledge Music campaign and that seemed to be the only point of buy-in. Fortunately, the band have embraced Bandcamp now and have a store where their copies of that CD can now be easily obtained, so I threw caution to the wind and finally ordered that missing link in my Blow Monkeys collection last weekend and am wasting no time in starting this long-simmering paean to the works of this band. A group that have never disappointed in their long and rambling journey.
I vaguely remember seeing a bit of, or maybe the whole video for “Forbidden Fruit” somewhere along the line in 1985. It might have been MTV’s “London Calling” program or perhaps even the dawn of 120 Minutes on MTV. Where “college radio” music got stuck in the Sunday at midnight time slot. But exposure to “Forbidden Fruit” once did not trip my alarms. What alerted me to The Blow Monkeys was probably the same thing that almost any of their fans would point to as their vector of infection: the video for “Digging Your Scene” getting MTV airplay and sticking in the charts until the song nearly scraped into the Top 10 at number fourteen.
The pop-soul sound of the band was not a typical Monk-magnet thing for me. Even in 1986, I was still aimed toward more synthetic musical targets. But the Post-Punk era was over…I just didn’t know it at the time. Outside of Propaganda, the most I could hope for in the musical environment of the day was Generation C synthpop like Pet Shop Boys and Erasure. And I’d be lying if I said that the musical merits of “Digging Your Scene” was what caught my attention.
No… what caught my attention was the indelibly crass music video for the song that was climaxed by lead singer Dr. Roberts; his outfits changing as if by magic, crooning to an elderly lady in the audience who went all twinkle-eyed at the lip glossed rent boy of her dreams. Even now, 35 years later, I am astonished at its boldness. It quickly became a lightning rod for me and my friend’s eyes. One such friend [he occasionally posts commentary here as The RAHB] beat me to the punch and went out and bought the “Animal Magic” album” first and got the opportunity to appleseed me this time.
I quickly followed suit and discovered that this band were a lot more interesting than the music of “Digging Your scene” led me to expect. The album proffered a compelling blend of jazz, soul, pop, barbershop quartet [!], and even a touch of Dub in its splendid mix of songs. In short order, all of my friends were listening to The Blow Monkeys and I quickly pivoted to buying everything under the sun. Good thing, too.
Their career would travel widely into areas that were not my main concerns, but the quality of the songwriting and playing insured my rapt attention until the fateful day when The Blow Monkeys were no more. By that time in 1991, I had a large collection that has only gotten larger over the years. For the next dozen or so years, lead singer Dr. Robert [Howard] had a solo career that was challenging to follow in the early web era, but I managed to get many of the albums and even some of the singles. Then, in 2008, the band reconvened and have stuck together ever since; having recorded even more albums since then that point then had been recorded at the start of their career. The band had its origins in a vision of “Punk Jazz” but had always had Soul music as one of their main touchstones. Tomorrow we’ll cast our gaze at their earliest recordings.
Next: …Of Parasols And Punk Jazz