Songs Of Spiritual Uplift As Sung By Today’s Sounds

I put together “Songs Of Spiritual Uplift” back in 1996, shortly after it became apparent that the Meat Puppets were headed for a permanent hiatus. I still had some Nirvana money burning a hole in my pocket, so I made a few phone calls, dumped some gear into the back of my pickup, and made for the recording studio. For a couple years, I actually offered the four-song seven-inch EP on my Web site. I even sold one or two, believe it or not. But I suppose it’s only fair to the likes of the Archie Ulms, Steve Karmens and Alan Niedermanns of the world that I offer my own amateurish musical efforts for the bargain price of a download. Besides, if I don’t hurry, someone will scoop me. Trouble is, I’m in such a hurry right now that I hardly have time to offer a reasonable spiel on the subject. Fortunately, the marketing drivel I wrote to accompany the disk’s release should serve me just fine:

Derrick Bostrom has long been known as the drummer for alternative rock legends the Meat Puppets, building a reputation for himself as both a reliable performer and a cooperative interview subject. But rarely in the Puppets’ 16-year history has he come out from behind the kit to afford us a closer look. The first release from his new solo group, Today’s Sounds, attempts to correct this imbalance.

Bostrom began his musical education at an early age, playing his father’s acoustic guitar and pounding on coffee cans. He received his first drum kit for Christmas at age eight, but his little brother quickly destroyed it. Thereafter, his talent lay dormant, confined to the dashboard of his mother’s station wagon. A decade later, undaunted by his newfound love of punk rock (which sounded no worse to her than the screechy caterwauling of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan or Neil Young), Bostrom’s mother gave him another drum kit. This time, he started a band called the Atomic Bomb Club with his friend Jack, a guitarist. They played for practically no one and only occasionally received reprimands from the neighbors.

Most of their material came from “Greatest Hits of the Sixties” songbooks, though they did throw in a few originals and punk rock covers. They finally split up when Jack returned to school. The next 16 years progressed smoothly enough and are largely a matter of public record. Bostrom went on to start the Meat Puppets with Cris and Curt Kirkwood. They remain a fixture of the “alternative” scene, albeit an aging one. Somewhere along the way, Bostrom learned some chords and started doing some caterwauling of his own.

“Growing up, I never cared for rock and roll,” Bostrom recalls. “I remember getting the serious willies from songs like ‘Walk on the Wild Side,’ or ‘Nights in White Satin.’ I mostly bought records like ‘The Banana Splits,’ ‘Switched on Bacharach,’ and ‘Up With People, Live at the 1971 Boy Scouts Jamboree.’ I never even heard the Rolling Stones until after I was already into the Sex Pistols. Soon enough, I started to discover artists who were experiencing the same feelings I had, and weren’t afraid to show it.; artists like The Carpenters and Bobby Sherman.” Addiction soon followed, chaining Bostrom to an endless circuit of thrift stores and dollar bins.

“Songs of Spiritual Uplift as Sung by Today’s Sounds” is a product of this addiction. The lead-off track, “Nursery Rhyme,” was originally recorded by The Archies, who are best known for the 1969 hit “Sugar Sugar.” This “group” was a collection of studio musicians hired to provide recordings for the Saturday morning cartoon show featuring the popular Archie comic book characters. The lead singer was Ron Dante, whose other work includes lead vocals on The Detergents’ “Leader of the Laundromat” and The Cuff Links’ “Tracy,” as well as co-production credit on the first half-dozen Barry Manilow albums. “Nursery Rhyme” was written by Jeff Barry (”Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Chapel of Love,” “Be My Baby”) and Andy Kim (”Rock Me Gently”). “Let’s Turkey Trot” was written by Gerry Goffin and Jack Keller. When they played the song for their boss, Don Kirshner, he loved it. Kirshner was the president of several record labels and publishing companies, as well as the Svengali of the early ’60s “Brill Building” pop style. The problem with “Turkey Trot” was that it wasn’t really written by Goffin and Keller. It seems they were in such a hurry to supply Little Eva with a follow-up to her 1962 hit “The Loco-Motion” that they just put new lyrics to an older record, the Cleftones’ “Little Girl Of Mine.”

Though they fully intended to update the melody before it was recorded, Kirshner proclaimed the song a hit and released it immediately. “I guess they were hard up for material,”claims Bostrom. “It’s a pretty stupid record. For my version, a took out some of the stupider parts and updated it with some muddy guitars.” Side two’s opener, “Pac-Man Fever,” was a hit in 1982 for Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia. A bizarre by-product of the video game craze, it came from a whole album of tributes to these popular machines.

While he confesses his love for Ms. Pac-Man, Bostrom admits no recollection of the song. “I really hated radio in the early ’80s. The Meat Puppets were the only music I acknowledged back then. Much later, I found an Osmonds album documenting their 1984 Independence Day spectacular, ‘The Glory of America.’ Jimmy Osmond does a rock and roll medley featuring ‘Pac-Man Fever.’ Though it lasted for all of 45 seconds, Jimmy’s version formed the basis for my arrangement. I still haven’t even heard the original.” The final track, “Still Going Steady” is another mystery number. Says Bostrom, “I heard it about a dozen years ago. Somebody must have have given it to me on a cassette; I don’t have it on any album and I have no idea who did it. Either way, I liked it well enough to record a version of it myself, and that’s the only version I have.” According to the BMI archives, it was written by longtime Nashville tunesmith Harlan Howard, composer of such country and western classics as “I’m The Boss,” “Lynchin’ Party,” and “Kickin’ The Dog Around.”

For this edition, I’ve supplemented the original four tracks with an additional half-dozen demos.