David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 224: The Inmates (Tell Me What's Wrong)

February 5, 2023

I hate sounding trendy, but TIL.

For those of you other old farts, TIL is short for "Today I Learned" and is used at sites like Reddit or BuzzFeed to showcase a person's late-in-life knowledge of something they should have already known, such as that the arrow next to the gas pump icon on your dashboard is telling you what side your gas cap is on, or that George Harrison funded Monty Python films. It's a cute on-going gag that mostly makes me want to shake my head at other people's ignorance.

Anyway, I have a TIL, and the great news is that almost no one will give a hoot or question my ignorance (well, maybe a few of my RateYourMusic colleagues as knee deep in late 1970s/early 1980s pop music obscurity as I am).

One of the great things to come from Punk Music was the dedication to choosing an apt stage name, something that reflected the punk attitude. Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Siouxsie Sioux, Tory Crimes, Jello Biafra, Cheetah Crome, Lux Interior -- the names were fantastic, even if they contributed to society's dismayed view about them. Even after punk died out, this necessity to choose an edgy stage name continued for a lot of emerging rock and rollers.

The Inmates were one of those post-punk, new wave, pub rock bands that had some success in the late 1970s, primarily off of their covers of great, classic rock songs, "Dirty Water" and "The Walk."  I ended up buying several of their albums, most notably their debut, First Offence (1979), and the follow-up Shot In The Dark (1980). While both albums relied heavily on covers, each featured several original songs, all credited to P. Staines. I couldn't help chuckling at the naughty schoolboy connotation of P(ee) stains, and believed that moniker, since none of the band members went by P. Staines, was a conglomerate name for collective song-writing.

Whether it was an individual or a collective, P. Staines' showed a real ear for straight-forward 1950s-styled rock and roll: "Back In History," "Crime Don't Pay," "(I Thought I Heard A) Heartbeat," and "Tell Me What's Wrong," to name just a few off of these first two albums (a later album, Five, may be my favorite Inmates' album, but that is secondary to today's discussion). "Tell Me What's Wrong" was my favorite from both of those albums. The song exuded The Animals' at every turn. Beyond sounding a bit like Eric Burdon, lead singer, Bill Hurley, crooned with hints of Elvis Presley, carrying the tune through the frequent instrumental breaks. If one song had to highlight him as a vocalist, "Tell Me What's Wrong" was it.

Meanwhile, the instrumentation conjured up classic beats and riffs embossed all over 25 years of rock and roll at the time. One of the guitar solos could have been by Carl Perkins. The second could have been Jimmy Vaughn. If someone needed to capture a moment for a Pub Rock documentary, this song could have stood beside any Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, or Brinsley Schwarz cut. The production is perfectly crisp and clipped.

The Inmates ended up being much more popular in places other than America or Great Britain. The French particularly seemed to love them. Their international stardom almost predicts David Hasselhoff, huge elsewhere despite seeming so unique to American culture. I even found (and this is not my TIL moment yet) a clip of an Inmates tribute band where the fan comments are in French, and whose FaceBook home page suggests constant booking of this tribute band across France.  And remember, this is a tribute band to a band whose hits were primarily covers that barely broke into the Top 40. Tributing a band that couldn't break through while other catchy, well produced bands like The Cars, The Police, Dire Straits, U2 dominated their genre. Who could predict this? 

"So, what's your TIL moment, Dave," you might ask. "Do you have to wait 'til the end?"

Apparently, you do. P. Staines is guitarist Peter Gunn's actual name. He actually was christened Peter Staines.  He choose the cool private-eye-invoking Peter Gunn as his stage name, pooh-poohing (well, you know what I mean) what must have been a brutal name growing up in school. I suspect he would have had some serious need for counseling, perhaps avoided by turning to guitar and song-writing. That is much more of the teenage way to deal with pain as opposed to telling some shrink what's wrong.

The Inmates. "Tell Me What's Wrong." Shot In The Dark. Polydor, 1980. Link here.

Day 223: Zero 7 "In The Waiting Line"

Day 225: The B-52's "Deadbeat Club"

See complete list here.