Thee Headcoats’ Classic 1990 Album Gets a Well-Deserved Reissue from Damaged Goods
Some 33 years ago, when the Earth was young and the future held nothing but honey and peacocks for us all, Sub Pop released Thee Headcoats‘ ‘Heavens to Murgatroyd, Even! It’s Thee Headcoats (Already)’ a grammar-packed album which was doubtless already their umpteenth in the 12 months they’d been operating.
The original artwork by Daniel Clowes has been ditched – somewhat ironic, as for many it will have been the reason they picked up a record by a band they hadn’t heard of from the rack – but such is Thee Headcoats modus operandi – their way or no way. It’s just taken them 33 years is all. In its place is a monochrome photo of the three chaps – Billy Childish, Johnny ‘Tub’ Johnson (with some bass from Ollie Dolot) and Bruce Brand – belting out zero-budget raucous hipswayers for a delighted audience of discerning listeners. Headcoats are worn by all three and flaps are up. There are standards, y’know.
Exactly how to describe their music was a matter of some debate, and no doubt there were wags out there who heralded Childish and friends as ‘Godfathers of Grunge’ the catch-all pigeonloft for anything with a guitar at the time. They weren’t grunge – not much if anything was, but they were certainly held in high esteem by many of the artists on Sub Pop at the time, and though their signing to the label was a surprise, it certainly had some logic behind it. In fact, the recommendation of Mudhoney’s Steve Turner, who had seen Childish and Brand perform in London during their Thee Mighty Caesars phase some years prior, proved to be the catalyst which led to the release of this record.
If you only own one of the many thousands Childish has released over the years, this should certainly be under consideration. Excitingly, we’re even treated to two bonus tracks – ‘Troubled Times’ – perhaps the definitive Childish track – appears officially for the first time, originally released as a 7″ single in Australia, although it appears with reassuring regularity on many releases and is a live staple. Also included is ‘Girl From ’62’, another track only originally released as a single but fully warranting inclusion here.
Those expecting AI remastering to turn Thee Headcoats into a lost U2 will be sorely disappointed, as well as needing a good talking to. Defiantly mono and at best with ‘some fidelity’. Thee Headcoats are, in Childish’s own words, “Maximum drums and racket”, a nod to 60s beat bands, 70s and 80s revivalists and a cuff to the chops of any band who attempts more than two takes of any song. Some tracks are nods to others throughout Childish’s career: ‘Man Trap’ is barely a hop, skip and a jump from ‘You Broke My Very Mind’; ‘Pochahontas Was Her Name’ is one of several tracks about the Native American and the Old West; ‘Headcoat Man’ is one of many tracks dedicated to the art of being them, whilst ‘Reindeer Are Wild’ is one of countless tracks which take a ‘Louie Louie’ approach but incorporate an unexpected diversion through random landscapes. The simplicity and immediate familiarity allow every track to a sing-along standard after the first listen.
‘Heavens…’ stands up perfectly today of course, given that it made no attempt whatsoever to fit into the musical landscape in 1990. ‘Girl of Matches’ still sounds electrfying; ‘Rusty Hook’ feels like the ultimate distillation of rock n roll, and ‘I Ain’t About to Give You My Name’ lumbers out of the speakers with a cosh in one hand and a pocket watch in the other. Fantastic to the last hiss.
You may purchase Thee Headcoats’ ‘Heavens to Murgatroyd, Even! It’s Thee Headcoats (Already)’ here