Funny thing. I always lumped The Swimming Pool Q's in with the Athens bands of the early eighties only to find out with this reissue that they were, in fact Atlanta-based and not involved with that scene at all. Perhaps it is that underlying B-52's sound on certain of the earlier tracks or maybe it is just because as much airplay and success as they had, they had little or maybe even none in Seattle. That doesn't mean they shouldn't have, but if you knew Seattle radio at the time (and, yes, radio still controlled most of what you bought in spite of the inroads made by an MTV which actually played music vids back then), you would understand. The city was so wrapped up in the standard rock of the day that hearing a new song by anyone other than the accepted stars was cause for celebration. The Q's had no chance, not on radio, most of their credibility courtesy of a youth movement and zines.
They did fit nicely within that Athens group of bands, though. I worked with a guy who bought just about everything out of Athens for a short time and it is because of him I became a fan of the Q's because it is a short jump from Let's Active and Color Me Gone (a personal favorite) and even R.E.M. to the Q's, who lived by the jangly guitar and that inescapable dance beat which made The B-52's the sensation that they became. Of course, by the time I found the Q's they had already released an earlier album on DB Records (The Deep End) and their self-titled album on A&M. Blue Tomorrow was my introduction to the Q's, as far as I can recall, and it is a classic.
I consider both A&M albums classic and only exclude The Deep End and the later Capitol album World War Two Point Five because I have yet to hear them, a situation I hope to remedy in the immediate future because, truth be told, there is something in the sound of this band which, more than most bands, pleases my ear. There is just enough Go-Go's and B-52's along with plenty of the Q's in the music to keep my interest.
What sets them apart? I'm not sure. I used to think it was Ann Boston's voice which makes the sound very distinctive, and for awhile I thought it was the jangle they brought to the beat, but I think it is even more than that. They bring so much to the table that they run a gamut of sorts, switching beats at will while keeping the positive up front. In fact, if you were to ask me right now what I liked most about the band back when the A&M albums were released, I would say their positivity. They were (and are) masters of "up", the opposite of what much of the music is today and probably was back then. It seems so long ago but doesn't sound it. It sounds like today to me.
This is packaged in two ways: the double-disc A&M albums as recorded and released (as good a twofer as I've seen lately), and a special limited edition pack which includes those two albums (The Swimming Pool Q's and Blue Tomorrow) plus a third audio disc which they call Pow Wow Hour containing odd tracks and alternate takes AND a DVD which ups the ante for the fan and gives those new to the band some visual and music background. The fan, of course will want the full pack, the DVD not only uncovering bits of the band they more than likely have never seen and the Pow Wow disc, but bits of treasure they never thought they would hear. The newbies—well, they could stick with the double-CD package, but what would be the point? If they want to get into the music and the band, the third disc and DVD completes the job the A&M albums only start.
Let's take a look at that DVD, in fact. It is a loosely constructed collection of highlights of the band's run during their A&M era, starting out with a humorous sketch, a visit to Atlanta's Turtle Records to see how their album is selling, only to find out that the people who work there are not really aware. After a moment or two of being ignored by the staff, Springsteen's Dancing In the Dark playing on the store system, they flag down one lady who asks simply who they are, and when they say Swimming Pool Q's is joined by another who drives the humorous nail in the coffin with "I thought you guys broke up." Even staged, it is funny and worth watching if for no other reason than to see a record store when they were at their peak.
Which gives way to a clip from, I assume, a TV program called Let's Dance presented as the song Pull Back My String over the top of what today would be considered "vintage" stills, the pics showing '80s hairstyles and fashion in all their glory. Man, those '80s, huh?
Cut to Washington DC's 9:30 Club for a little live club action, the band rocking out on She's Bringing Down the Poison and Sacrificial Altar, showing that they brought it, live. Good clips.
Next up is a bizarre little Christmas promo video of the band playing Little Drummer Boy on recorder and flute with percussive effects, an odd choice but in keeping with the band's acceptance of humor both in and outside of their music.
They show a clip of random high jinx from their 1984 tour—the band on the beach, at the airport, at A&M Records and in the studio using the song Some New Highway as background. Cool in that the band is as natural as you can be with a camera shoved in your face.
Was This Week's Music TV program British? It looks it. This 1985 vid shows the band doing a lip sync with teens bopping their heads and clapping to the beat while other kids dance in the background. Wait. Is the drummer left-handed? Sonofagun. Didn't notice that until now. As the song fades down, the announcer says "Coming up next: A premiere video from Barbra Streisand and live—Dennis DeYoung." Kill me now.
A look back would not be a true look back without some sort of interview and Atlanta Prime Entertainment gives us that. Two members of the band give APE just want they wanted—pap. Can't expect anyone who watches programs like Entertainment Tonight to actually think, can you? Interesting, nonetheless, if only to see the guys think on their feet.
The band played The Piedmont Park Arts Festival in 1983 and luckily got a decent video of them doing a track I've not heard before, The Wig of Sensation. Not my favorite, but I love the fact that they include oddities like this. Especially live performances. They were (and are) a band to be reckoned with.
Next up, a performance of Smokey & The Miracles' Tears of a Clown, updated and upbeat, recorded and filmed at the Capri Theater in Atlanta. Intriguing arrangement, but if you're a Smokey purist, you will undoubtedly find something to hate about it. I liked it, but I hate purists.
Evidently, MTV had at one time a program called MTV's Rock Influences, which showcased bands in live performance. I wouldn't know that, having by then given up on MTV's programming which included all too many sycophantic "veejays" to my liking. Good live performance of The Bells Ring. 1984.
The Q's Boat Tour is another collection of random movie clips, these from a run around a bay somewhere on a boat evidently captained by one Bill Burton Sr. If this DVD shows nothing else, it shows the band as human beings enjoying what life had given them.
They finish off the DVD with a 1986 promo vid of one of the more bizarre things the band ever did—a semi-rap clip that I hope A&M forced them to do at gunpoint—Hip Hype. Even showing a quote from the then very well accepted Paul Scheaffer (could they have meant "Schaffer"?) could not save this.
End of DVD.
The Q's have been playing a lot this past summer. My good friend Ben said they have never stopped, that they get together at least once or twice a year for reunion shows and this year, for some reason, stretched it out into a mini-tour. Ben caught them twice in his hometown of Charleston SC and raved about guitarist Bob Elsey, who Ben calls "The King of Tasty Licks". He even recorded them at one of the shows. After seeing this clip
Track List (by album/disc):
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles