Fishbone was one of my very favourite bands in the ’80s and ’90s – never did catch them live though (which is true of a lot of my favourite ’90s bands, no recollection why). Truth and Soul was my favourite of their albums at the time but I also had a lot of love for the self-titled debut mini-album, which I recently found on cassette alongside their It’s a Wonderful Life EP in a charity shop for 10p a throw. An insane bargain and a good excuse to listen to them for the first in a long time. On a Walkman, yes.
I’ll get to It’s a Wonderful Life in a future post but in the meantime, the mini album, Fishbone, is fantastic (some call it an EP but, come on, it’s six tracks and over 25 minutes long). For a relatively under-the-radar release from a band which never really broke commercially, there’s considerable pop-cultural resonance here, with two tracks being notably ripped off and sampled. Opener U.G.L.Y’s chorus (“U.G.L.Y, you ain’t got no alibi, you’re just ugly”) went on to become a cheerleader chant via the movie Wildcats a year later. From there it eventually ended up (uncredited) as a pop song by Daphne and Celeste about, what, ten years ago? Remember Daphne and Celeste? No? Well, I’ve just reminded you. You’re welcome. Anyway where its cheesy pop reiteration seemed to be a celebration of bullying, the Fishbone original is an attack on the then US administration (“All the children’s suffering lies in your hands/Unless the commies are gonna heed your demands/Your mind is twisted and your flesh is warm/You scare me sick ’cause I just want to get out”). In amongst all that, in 1995, the last track on Fishbone, Lyin’ Ass Bitch, was sampled by Prince during his ‘artist formerly known as’ period for Billy Jack Bitch from The Gold Experience. Happily, Prince gave credit where it was due. Then, in 2011, when Republican US presidential candidate Michelle Bachman appeared on popular TV chat show Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, house band The Roots played her on with the pre-chorus section of Lyin’ Ass Bitch. A genius touch which caused all manner of controversy at the time.*
Although the band incorporated a lot more rock, punk and metal influences in later releases, their early output was much more ska-oriented and Fishbone is basically a rockin’ ska release. Only V.T.T.L.O.T.F.D.G.F. (that’s “Voyage Through The Land Of The Freeze Dried Godzilla Farts”, apparently!) breaks the mould, mixing as it does an odd, almost proggy, vibe mixed with P-funk touches and the kind of crowd-rapped vocals and new wave punk-funk The Red Hot Chili Peppers had pioneered with their 1984 debut. Otherwise it’s uptempo ska all the way, great horn arrangements and brilliant bass playing (Norwood Fisher, yes!). Party at Ground Zero is an epic favourite but it’s Lyin’ Ass Bitch that takes the prize. Featuring guest lead vocals from co-writer Lisa Grant, it’s a laugh-out-loud, cheerfully mean-spirited break-up song with a killer chorus and an unforgettable end vocal ad-lib from frontman Angelo Moore.
As for the tape itself? Looks decent and plays like new. Result!
*Cheers to me old mucker Michael Greer for the reminder on the Michelle Bachman story.