Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Bongos are the biggest thing out of Hoboken since Old Blue Eyes

The Bongos : Telephoto Lens

In April of 1980 The Bongos, a trio from Hoboken, New Jersey, released their debut single, "Telephoto Lens" b/w "Glow In The Dark", on the UK label Fetish Records. Both songs are ridiculously catchy and barely crack the two minute barrier. Critics were knocked out. Trouser Press writes "if your idea of a dream band is Paul Revere and the Raiders crossed with Television and a dash of Merseybeat, The Bongos are for you".

The trio consisted of Frank Giannini on drums, Rob Norris on bass and songwriter Richard Barone on guitar. (Glenn Morrow was a member of an earlier incarnation of the band and left to eventually form The Individuals). "Telephoto Lens" is about a lonely man spying on people from his apartment. The second song is inspired by a sign at a Tampa drive-in restaurant: "Flash Lights When Ready", and is played with a Drop D tuning ( Chords are E B F# in verse and A C# B in chorus).

In a Boonton, NJ studio called Mixolydian, the trio first set about trying to capture a drum sound inspired by The Rolling Stones' Some Girls. To do this they had Giannini overdub a second snare on both songs. Everything else is live in studio except for a second acoustic guitar on "Telephoto" and a borrowed electric guitar on "Glow".

"We went to England pretty soon and we kind of created the sound of the band and the look of the band more in England, I think," Barone says in the documentary I Belong to Me."When Fetish Records began putting the singles out in America we immediately started getting good reviews. It was really cool to have this immediate feedback from the media."

The boys did their own artwork on the sleeves and served as their own press agents, shipping the 45's all over the country. As Barone remembers in his entertaining memoir Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth ---he  even pressed a copy of "telephoto Lens" into Captain Beefheart's hands. 

"Bongos," he said in his gravelly but whimsical voice. "Cute." He looked us over and said, "Let me give you some advice. Whatever you do, never let the audience stand above you." Silence. In our minds, all the chattering in the room stopped for a moment. while the advice was absorbed. We thanked him, shook hands and said goodbye, his remark tumbling  in my mind over and over like laundry in a dryer.

The Bongos were arriving in the scene at the perfect time, the birth of alternative rock and college radio. In May of 1980 they  were scheduled to open for Joy Division on the very first date of their American tour, but of course Ian Curtis would hang himself days before. Barone writes:

He was only twenty three. It was said the last thing he listened to was Iggy Pop.
How odd I thought...When I listened to Iggy, more than anything else, I wanted to live.

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