Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The 34th Most Important Band in the World

Maybe some bands were never meant to break out.

Maybe some bands were always supposed to be big fish in small ponds.

In the early 1980s, Blotto appeared nearly everywhere up and down the East Coast, sounding like the Bonzo Dog Band updated with new wave rave-ups. Blotto, whose members had been in a mime troupe together then in the Star Spangled Washboard Band, hailed from Albany and wrote tunes like "My Baby’s the Star of a Driver’s Ed Movie," "She’s Got a Big Boyfriend," and the "The B-Side" ("you can't sing along, the words are awkward..."). Their songs were smart and fun… and they were arguably better than many of the bands that did break through in the early 80s.

In homage to the Ramones, they all took the name "Blotto" as their last name – so the group consisted of Broadway Blotto, Sergeant Blotto, Bow-Tie Blotto, Cheese Blotto, Lee Harvey Blotto (who has since become a lawyer and now sometimes calls himself "F. Lee Harvey Blotto" – proving that jokes can stretch too far), Chevrolet Blotto, and (briefly) Blanche Blotto.

But the Music Gods are inscrutable and fickle. So while Adam Ant became a star, Blotto floundered, a beloved cult-band from Albany with a fanbase up and down the Eastern seaboard.

They toured endlessly and got lots of radio airplay for a couple years. They should have been signed by a major label (and nearly were several times), but it just never worked out (not even with Burt Ward, Robin from TV’s Batman show, as their manager). And by 1984, the band was done (save for the occasional reunion gig).

That might have been that… and they might have stayed a distant memory. Except for one thing.

A couple of SUNY-Albany students looking for a fun senior project spent thirty bucks making a "rock video" with Blotto lip-synching their song "I Wanna Be a Lifeguard." The students got an A, then moved to New York City where many of their friends were working for a brand-new cable network.

So when MTV launched on August 1, 1981, the "I Wanna Be a Lifeguard" was a favorite of the people who worked there. And while everyone knows that "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles was the first video played on MTV, most people don't realize that, a few hours later, MTV was playing "I Wanna Be a Lifeguard" (sandwiched betwen Iron Maiden and Rod Stewart).

Some people will tell you that when MTV started they were so desperate for videos that they played anything they could get their hands on. But I've got a better explanation.

Sure, maybe they never broke through and reached the national (or international) audience they deserved. But on August 1, 1981, Blotto was the 34th most important band in the world.

"I Wanna Be a Lifeguard"

"I Quit"

"Metal Head"


Bob Malone said...

There was one kid in our rural NJ high school in the early 80s hip enough to know about Blotto - Frank Bland - he was also really into Good Rats. He would go see them in NYC with his fake ID. If you're covering semi-obscure NY/NJ Tri-State Area rock and roll here, ya gotta do something about the Rats!

Alex said...

Hey, they're playing this Saturday at Orphan Annie's in Stirling, NJ!

Anonymous said...

A great tribute to Blotto.
Time for a reunion tour.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tribute to Blotto. I frequently find myself singing "I yi yi wanna be a lifeguard. I yi yi I wanna guard your life." Simple, to the point, honest.

Anonymous said...

One Halloween night, back in the eighties, Blotto was featured at a joint named J. B. Scotts on Central Avenue. J. B.'s played host to Pat Benatar and Bill Bruford, among others. Blotto's Lifeguard was getting lot of play and the place was packed. That night a local radio station had a Halloween costume contest and my wife won the contest dressed exactly like the Blotto girl on the cover of the album, the big drum as a head, the stockings, gloves and all. She won a cheap bottle of champagne, all of 6 ounces. We had a blast.

Bryan said...

Thanks! Was/am a Blotto fan. Always enjoyed their humor and ability to poke fun and pay tribute at the same time. Saw them once in Troy, NY (home turf about 20 minutes outside of Albany). Great fun. Had their records too, but someone took them while I was looking the other way (actually when I moved and left them in the temporary custody of some (careless) friends). They're not to find in record shops in Europe! I'll have to look the next time I'm in the States. We sang, a couple of friends and I, Lifeguard in a summer camp review in teh early 80´s. I won't post the link. Too little clothes, too much white stuff.

Alex said...

Bryan -- There are two great Blotto CDs that are available: Collected Works had almost all of Blotto's material that was released in the 80s and Then More Than Ever combines some additional studio tracks and live performances from the period. You could go on www.blotto.net and ask them about shipping to Europe. I don't know if Blotto is up on iTunes where you are, but they might be. (You could also buy Blotto downloads through eMusic.com -- which launched in Europe and the UK in 2006.)