Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Let's Go Bowling's "Music To Bowl By" Revisited

Editor's note: With the recent release of Let's Go Bowling's Music to Bowl By on vinyl--for the first time ever--through Mike Park's Asian Man Records, we thought it would be a good time to revisit this essential American ska album.

Despite issuing some incredible releases in the late '80s--most notably The NY Citizens' On the Move and Ska Face: An All-American Ska Compilation (The Toasters' Skaboom! and Thrill Me Up were actually issued through Celluloid/Skaloid, since Moon was hard-pressed for cash)--by the end of the decade, Moon Records was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. A series of indie distributor failures--Greenworld, Rough Trade, and New World--condemned almost 75% of Moon's pressed product to America's landfills (and then Celluloid/Skaloid went out of business right after the release of Thrill Me Up, without paying The Toasters any royalties on either album--and Skaboom! had sold around 12K copies by that point).

Rob "Bucket" Hingley (The Toasters' founder/guitarist/songwriter and Moon label head) spent much of 1990 rebuilding Moon Records, which was beginning to find its footing and some financial stability again through a newly-struck distribution deal with IRD (later Relativity). The Toasters' This Gun for Hire became the band's first release on Moon and one of its best-sellers up to that time (another release that year was Dance Hall Crashers' debut album with the yellow cover and black Charlie Brown zig-zag stripe on cassette and LP--the vinyl was pressed in the UK as a Moon Release by Revolver and imported to USA for sale). With some money in the bank and the means to reliably deliver product to the record shops, the label was (finally!) well-positioned to move forward and promote ska bands beyond New York City's limits.

Buck also was serving as Moon's A and R person while on repeated tours of the US with The Toasters, which is how he first encountered Let's Go Bowling (LGB) in the flesh in 1990 (along with DHC and Hepcat, who released their debut on Moon in '93). Buck recently recounted for The Duff Guide to Ska, "I had met LGB at the Country Club in Reseda where they blew me away with their tremendous live show--they were among the more instrumentally proficient bands on the scene at that time. But what impressed me the most was their blend of Latino stylings, as exemplified by the stand out track 'Esta Noche,' where everybody sang in Spanish." Buck and LGB hit it off and a simple, one-page licensing deal was soon signed for their debut album to be released on Moon.

Let's Go Bowling already had contributed a track to Moon's 1988 comp Ska Face ("Bitch") from their demo cassette and released their classic debut single "Rude 69" b/w "Dance Some More" on their own Spare Records that same year (here's the Zoot Skazine review of it from issue 14: ""Rude 69' is a pleasantly familiar jaunt through Potato 5 country, a chugging instrumental harking back to the good old days of Sixties ska. The flip side, 'Dance Some More,' is must faster (too fast?) and you'd really need to be on something to keep up with it"). They even played CBGB's in November 1989, with The Steadys, The Toasters, and Potato 5; I found out about the show a few days after it happened--urgh!

By the time Music to Bowl By was ready to be put into production in 1991, IRD had "advised" Moon that they wanted all new releases to be issued on compact disc, as vinyl was falling out of favor with music consumers at the time (Buck states that LGB was "gutted" that an LP wasn't pressed up), so this album became Moon's first release on CD (to be almost immediately followed by fantastic debut albums from The Scofflaws and King Apparatus, also on CD). [Cassettes were still viable in the early '90s; many of the promo copies that I sent out for review at that time were on tape.]

By all measures, Music to Bowl By is Third Wave classic. LGB's sound is a supercharged modern take on traditional ska, with elements of jazz, swing, Latin--even some classical music via Carl Stalling--in its DNA. The songs are all top-notch (especially "Pin Stripe Suit," "Rude 69," "Dance Some More," "L.G.B.," and the phenomenal "Esta Noche") and the performances are all-out stellar. The only flaw is the somewhat anemic original recording; it would have been great if the album had been remixed and remastered for this reissue.

Soon after its release in October of 1991, Music to Bowl By was one of Moon's hottest-selling albums and became enormously influential on the then still nascent national US ska scene (just think of the slew of American ska bands who cropped up in the mid-'90s and could trace their modern trad sound back to Let's Go Bowling...).

Buck gets the final word here on LGB's Music to Bowl By: "I am thrilled to finally see this album on wax and it's a tribute to the longevity of the band and the durability of the tunes that this particular release can still be viable 30 years on."

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Jreadlock said...

Great article man. Thanks for the good read.

This was one of the first ska CD's I ever bought and I still listen to it fairly often. Brings me back to one of the best times of my life.

Steve from Moon said...

Thanks, Jreadlock!

I love it, too!

Skanzo said...

Nice one Steve! I too was curious as to if they sourced any original tapes for a new master. They actually played Oklahoma back in the 90s. I managed to catch them a few additional times out of the state as well. Always enjoyed their tunes, especially compared to the more choppy distorted guitar driven bands. It was nice to hear a band with a more organ lead.

Steve from Moon said...

Thanks, Skanzo!