David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 80: The Bobs (Psycho Killer)

July 15, 2020

In the early 1990's, Pix and I really got into a cappella music. Our fascination began with the accidental viewing of PBS's "Do It A Cappella," a documentary produced by Spike Lee that featured doo-wop a cappella groups, some older, such as The Persuasions, who did their version of "Looking For An Echo," some newer, such as the all-female act, The Mint Juleps, who sang their lovely "I Want To Live Easy," and the borderline-bizarre, Rockapella, whose "Zombie Jamboree" tickled us so much that Pix and I became addicted to Where In The World is Carmen Sandiego. On that show, Rockapella took their quirky act on the road, so to speak, by following kid contestants chasing the infamous Carmen Sandiego all over the world.  We had no kids at the time, but felt no shame in setting our clocks to watching it.

It wouldn't take long, as we explored more a cappella music, to discover that Rockpella had nothing on the corner of the weird a cappella market.  That honor went to The Bobs, whose album, The Bobs Sing The Songs Of I bought in 1991, figuring any group willing to do all voice/no instrument versions of such great songs as Led Zep's "Whole Lotta Love," Hendrix's "Purple Haze," The Beatles' "Helter Skelter," Tom Waits' "Temptation," and The Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" had to be worth the price of admission.

They didn't disappoint. They were talented, melodic, and hilarious, when they needed to be. Sadly, their straight-forward presentations I remember the least. In digging up the various tracks for this blog, I forgot that their version of Jimmy Cliff's "Sitting in Limbo" is downright magnificent.  Still, there's a reason I forget that song for their more outrageous interpretations. In fact, as I tried to find YouTube clips for links, I found two rollicking live performances that have made me flip a coin if today's entry would be their "Whole Lotta Love" or their "Psycho Killer." "Ce que j'ai frais" -- the evening is spent choosing The Bobs doing The Heads.

Look at the link below to see how talented you have to be to take an already insanely visual act, David Byrne and The Talking Heads' version of "Psycho Killer," and try to upstage it. The lead singer, I think it is Gunnar Madsen, channels his own version of David Byrne merged with Ed Begley, Jr., then blended with the worst Bill Murray lounge singer impersonation. Meanwhile, the rest of the group claps hands throughout, recreating the guitar riff, the Tina Weymouth bass line, and a full affront of the vocals. An already dramatic song elevates even more in terms of theatricality. 

I wonder what Byrne thought of this. Maybe even more importantly, I wonder what Weymouth thought of this, as she sometimes seemed to watch Byrne with puzzlement while she cranked out the rhythmic heart that was at the core of every Heads' song. Was she more mesmerized by the Byrne impersonation or by the bass guitar impersonation?

If you enjoy this, I beg you to look up The Bobs' live version of "Whole Lotta Love" also on YouTube.  Madsen and Jainie Scott's duet of Robert Plant meets Jimmy Page meets Robert Plant also elevates an already showy song to a different level.

I haven't thought of The Bobs in years until I went looking for these recordings for this blog series.  Turns out much of the music from the 1991 album we bought had been their act for years, including a performance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1988. Now that is a marriage made in heaven, although with a merger of Talking Heads/The Bobs/The Smothers Brothers, it may be more of a marriage made in Utah. Hey, if everybody is happy, who am I to judge?

"Psycho Killer." The Bobs Sing The Songs Of. The Bobs. Rhino. 1991. Link here.

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