The Bongos – Drums Along the Hudson

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

First things first: this is an outstandingly witty album title – it is a compilation, so I don’t know who to credit for it, but kudos to that person. The Bongos were an early ‘80s band out of Hoboken, and I never heard of them until decades later but apparently they had an MTV hit at one point. As surprising as it is that Moby is apparently a big fan, that is hardly the biggest shock here: rather, I need to point out that this is definitely the only album I own that has guest appearances by both a member of Throbbing Gristle and a contemporary classical composer (Mark Abel), and both in the service of what is more or less nervy power pop.

What I Think of This Album

This is confusing release. It combines the original Drums Along the Hudson with some live tracks (backed by most of Throbbing Gristle), the “first recorded show” from 1979, and a 2007 re-recording of Hudson track “The Bulrushes” with collaborator Moby. But Hudson was itself a compilation album, as far as I can tell, collecting their first four or five singles as well as their first EP, Time and the River (though there is overlap between the singles and the EP). If you listen to the whole thing, you get multiple versions of multiple songs. It is a bit much.

Nonetheless, this is an interesting peek at a band that had a unique sound. Basically power pop, the band sometimes added squalls of saxophone or cornet, or just plain guitar, and there was a nerdy, nervous quality to the sound that mixed the weirdness of early Talking Heads with the frayed endings of early Feelies. Which is not to minimize the dark sexiness of “The Bulrushes” or the lighter bedroom playfulness of “Glow In the Dark.” And befitting their name, drummer Frank Giannini was a vital contributor to the sound, though primary songwriter and lead vocalist Richard Barone probably should get most of the credit.

The songs generally feature rapidly strummed guitars, harmonized vocals, and pounding toms, and some also have some unexpected element thrown in. So, “Clay Midgets” has weird shouts in the background; “Certain Harbours” is all about the free jazz saxophone and choppy rhythms; instrumental “Burning Bush” has guitar parts pulling in different directions; and “Automatic Doors” relies on bent notes and whammied chords to announce itself. But most of all, this is a grouping of great songs, like “In the Congo,” “Hunting,” “Zebra Club,” and “Three Wise Men.” The T. Rex cover is also outstanding.

Guitarist Rob Norris was in a post-Lou Reed/Sterling Morrison/Maureen Tucker version of the Velvet Underground for a hot minute.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Glow In the Dark,” though could just as easily say the drumming throughout.

Release Date

1982 (original); 2007 (reissue)

The Cover Art

Average. I think it’s the hands that bother me. Otherwise, I dig the pointilist style and the colors are basically fine. I don’t love the black frame.

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