Sunday, August 19, 2012

Musical Quotations: I Wanna Be A Lifeguard

As August wanes, I offer a great summer song, which quotes from another great summer song (or two). “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard” is a brilliant piece of summer fluff. Released in 1980, it has the sound of classic ‘60s surf music, and it quotes, liberally, from the Surfari’s legendary “Wipeout,” whose drum riff inspired millions of drummers, and instantly makes you think of surfing, the beach and simpler, more innocent times. And yet, the song has a certain amount of pathos—it is about a guy, selling shoes, who dreams about working as a lifeguard and spending his days at the beach checking out girls, instead of being a loser attending to stinky feet. And, because it is Blotto, the song is hysterical—my favorite line is:
Summer blondes revealing tanlines
I'll make more moves than Allied Van Lines
Blotto was a solid bar band with some good schtick who briefly made it “big” before reverting to cult status, disappearing, then reforming to take advantage of said cult status. From the Albany, NY area, they honed their craft in the Capitol District, particularly in Saratoga Springs (where, about 3 decades later, my son would go to college. I suspect he would have been a big fan.) What distinguished the band from other, similar bands was its sense of humor. For example, parodying The Ramones, each member of Blotto was billed with Blotto as a last name and a false first name.
“Lifeguard” was only one of their amusing songs. I also like “(We Are) The Nowtones,” a spoof of lounge bands, “She's Got a Big Boyfriend,” about the risks of attraction to a girl with, yes, a really big boyfriend, and “The B Side,” which explains, hilariously, why some songs make it, and some don’t.
Blotto’s humor, and the way they poked fun at themselves, prefigured the satire of “This is Spinal Tap,” the definitive affectionate skewering of rock music. The line from the movie where Michael McKean and Harry Shearer explain that there is a fine line between “stupid and clever” clearly describes Blotto, and this song, perfectly. And it is definitely on the “clever” side of the line.
Fun fact—Unlike most bands in 1980, and certainly unlike most bands in those days on independent labels, there was a music video for “Lifeguard,” shot by SUNY Albany students. It was played on MTV’s very first day, and was a bit of an early hit for the band and the station. Unfortunately, despite the MTV exposure, and a song that featured Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, they never were signed by a major label and disbanded in 1984, before reuniting in the 2000s.
The song that is quoted, throughout the song, is “Wipeout,” one of the great surf rock songs, originally released by The Surfaris in 1963. It has been covered many, many times, and its iconic drum riff will, I believe, be recognizable forever. There is, also, in “Lifeguard,” a Beach Boys quote, from “Fun, Fun, Fun,” which also fits the song, and the humor that made Blotto special.

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