Thursday, September 10, 2009

Barbi and the Kens

A very with-it friend of mine circulates an occasional email list with links to mp3s from bands he is hearing a lot. I will listen to anything once and, sadly, I usually do. One day the list included a cover of "Walk On By" by Richard X. When I listened to it I immediately noticed that the female coldly speaking the words sounded awfully similar to Deborah Evans - of course you all know she was one of the female singers in the Flying Lizards, right? I emailed him to ask if it was her (I didn't use to be the most proactive googler) and he said "No - couldn't be." Pleased, I sat expectantly at my computer. After about ten minutes, another email appeared. "Wow it is her. Weird. Wonder where he found her?"

Now, since I don't have the three or four days needed to properly cover the Flying Lizards, I'm instead going to go on and on mindlessly about a band (this word may be a bit of a stretch) that employed a similar approach but yielded much less output. In all likelihood this band was a studio project of Bobby Orlando, AKA Bobby O, who founded the thoughtfully named O Records. To say this guy had his hands in a lot of stuff is an understatement. My favorite achievement of his, other than this record, is his production of the original version of "West End Girls" by the Pet Shop Boys. Spectacular. But nothing of his can top the Barbi and the Kens record.

The cover is very nice. A very cold-looking woman in a very stylish-at-the-time sweater. I guess that's supposed to be Barbi? The back cover consists of a cast of names and credits that make little sense. This band had a drummer? OK - maybe on a couple songs. If their name is Barbi and the Kens why is there a guy named Klaus? Despite the long list of credited musicians, the record itself credits all the original songs to either "O" Music or Intersong Music. That plus a quick listen to this record will tell you all you need to know - Bobby O put together some stuff in his NYC apartment and got some girl to sing when he said to sing. And if anyone ever tells you how good this band was live I'd think twice about that loan they're about to ask for.

Everyone knows this band for the song "Just A Gigolo" - an original, not a cover. It was played on WLIR in New York throughout the early 80's and it showed up on some of those compilations of more obscure 80's songs. But there's four songs here so let's get to it. This is a weird example of a record where every song is better than the one before it. The two songs on the A-side, "Pay My Bills" and "Uptown Downtown Cruising" are decent, tight new wave songs. "Pay My Bills" is kind of lame though. "Uptown Downtown Cruising" is a better quirky new wave song that shows Bobby probably saw the B-52's a few times. Or at least heard "Rock Lobster". Also, both songs manage to sound alarmingly like the Flirts. Hmm - it says here on my Flirts records that Bobby Orlando wrote all their songs.

The B-side is where the money is on this record. "Just A Gigolo" leads off. Here's a link to someone's youtube link with the song. I know, that's a pretty low-rent way to get a song posted and I apologize if you thought this was some kind of upscale blog. Cool song and all. 80's hit. If you picked this record up expecting it to have an 80's hit and some filler (I'm raising my hand slowly...) you would be wrong. There is an essential new wave song on here and it's not the one on the compilations. "Not Your Steppin Stone" is indeed the Monkees cover. It's a good song to begin with but it is been drastically overhauled as if the instrumental half of the Flying Lizards had gotten an adrenaline shot while Deborah Evans went about her business as usual.

To be clear, ANY Barbi and the Kens record is a rare one but they were never worth a thing - no one cared. But, when the cool people elected to make synthesizers cool again, someone (not me) got smart and put an mp3 of this up on an ebay listing along with the words "minimal synth". $150 later it was its own mini-legend, with some people kicking themselves for not having picked up a few copies when they were free for the taking.

Here's a clip. Bobby O should really get the band back together.

No comments:

Post a Comment