March 25 – Forgotten Gems : Wall Of Voodoo

March doesn’t have the best of reputations when you think about it. The big sporting event in the States during it is basketball referred to as “March Madness” and while little bunnies are usually considered passive and cute, come the third month of the calendar, they are “mad as a March hare.” So, that in mind, since we’re deep into this March, this month’s Forgotten Gem comes from a gem of a band… although perhaps not the diamond-level version of it : “Far Side of Crazy” by Wall of Voodoo.

Wall of Voodoo were the southern California band that rose to prominence in the early-’80s mainly on the quirky strength of their hit “Mexican Radio”. It was a band defined by Stan Ridgway’s nasal, droll voice and quirky lyrics. Alhough they’d never quite hit the real big-time, they were pleasing IRS Records by selling decently, hitting the charts well in Canada and on U.S. college ones as well as being seen regularly on MTV. So though not the headliners by any means, they got invited to play the US Festival in 1983, in front of over 100 000 people. As they left the stage, Ridgway and two others decided then and there to quit the band.

Going on after losing a charismatic and distinctive singer is difficult – they could have asked the J. Geils Band who were trying to do the same about that time as well. But try it they did, with the two remaining members, guitarist Marc Moreland and keyboardist Chas Gray, inviting Marc’s brother, bassist Bruce (who’d been an on-again, off-again member of the group earlier) back in and adding a new drummer as well as a new singer, Andy Prieboy. Whether by intent or coincidence, Prieboy seemed to sound a fair bit like Ridgway. Whether or not he had the same charisma or writing chops is up for debate, we’ll say.

IRS seemed confident, and sent them over to Liverpool to record their third album, and first without Stan Ridgway, in 1985. They brought in up-and-coming producer Ian Broudie, who’d soon after start the band Lightning Seeds, and another star producer, Gil Norton, to be sound engineer. The result was Seven Days in Sammytown. You can be forgiven if you don’t quite remember it, especially if you’re not from Australia. Sammytown was something of a ghost town when it came to sales, except Down Under where it was a minor hit. What success it did have was almost entirely off this single, the lead track on the record, written by Prieboy. Allmusic gave the album a middling review but did praise the song, which they felt was a “memorable start” and a “disturbing examination of a serial killer.”

Turns out that wasn’t quite correct, but they were close. Prieboy said he was mostly thinking about the killer of John Lennon when he wrote the song, but he got the title from a poem written by John Hinckley, the would-be assassin of president Ronald Reagan, in which he admitted “I remain the far side of crazy.”

The song was dark but surprisingly listenable, rather a companion piece to Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” perhaps. But fans of quirky, nasal alt rock seemed to prefer lighter material, or perhaps Ridgway himself (Stan was doing moderately well with his first solo record, The Big Heat and the single “Camouflauge” around the same time). It got a little attention on alt rock stations in North America but failed to chart. However, the fun-loving Aussies pushed it to #23 there.

As for the Wall, that was their last hurrah. They disbanded in ’88 after one more, less successful album.


8 thoughts on “March 25 – Forgotten Gems : Wall Of Voodoo

  1. Badfinger (Max)

    Mexican Radio WAS MTV for me for a while. They played that non stop.
    I can’t believe they quit like that when they did…I didn’t know that. They were a decent known band…youth is wasted on the young.
    That vocal was their signature…that would be hard to replace.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘Mexican Radio was big on Canadian radio, but I’ve heard what you say from other Americans as well…it was not big on mainstream radio but everyone knew it from MTV. I think Ridgway quitting was the usual- band tensions & at least one of them , can’t remember which, was getting to be close to useless due to spiraling drug problem, so he just walked away. What surprises me as much is that IRS, never a big money label, sent the new version to Britain to record & brought in halfways famous producer & staff.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Badfinger (Max)

        Many members of bands should friggin think before they quit…hell Metallica got a physiatrist to keep on.
        I know…that is surprising…it wasn’t like they were J Geils with a huge track record.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Compromising, and taking a year off if need be is a good idea. Not a lot of frontmen who quit big or almost big bands do as well on their own. Or so Misters Wolf, Ocasek, Ridgway and Lee Roth would lead us to think.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Badfinger (Max)

        Yes that is so true! Many quit because they are wore out. I think ego comes in and they think people like the band only because of them.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Not heard of them but I might look ’em up. I didn’t like the song as much as their earlier stuff or Ridgway’s solo, but it was oddly catchy. I hadn’t thought of it for years but it suddenly popped into my head a week or two back.

      Liked by 1 person

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