20 Essential Songs From the Late Lookout! Records
A listen back to the label that documented the scraggly, playfully defiant East Bay pop-punk scene, from Operation Ivy to Crimpshrine to Mr. T Experience
4. Crimpshrine “In My Mind” (from The Sound of a New World Being Born, 1998)
The first Crimpshrine seven-inch EP, Sleep, What’s That?, still gets my vote for the best record Lookout! ever released. A remarkable first blast in a remarkable sequence of further blasts that still hits you over the head with as much force as it did back in ’88. F.P.
3. The Queers “Love Love Love” (from Grow Up, 1990)
Queers CEO Joe King and I used to talk a lot about our dreams of, one day, being able to make “the perfect punk-rock pop album,” and about what doing that might involve. Later on, he came as close as anyone possibly could with the Don’t Back Down LP; but years before that, I used to imagine that a whole album of songs like this one (or repeats of this song with the lyrics changed around a bit) would pretty much do it. Or you could listen to it 14 times in a row like I just did. Instant “album,” right? F.P.
2. Brent’s TV “Superwoman” (from Hello Again, 1995)
Just goofing off in a garage with your friends and some guitars is where rock’n’roll is born, and it can be pretty fun, but it occasionally also results in a work of inadvertent genius, and this is one of those occasions. From the infectious melody to the charmingly gormless sentiments to the exuberant back-ups, and completely random, screamed, middle-eight recitation about picking grapes in the Central Valley (or something), this is true rock’n’roll, like almost nothing else. On a related note, I once sat in on drums with the Neerdowells, the band that, sort of, rose from the ashes of Brent’s TV. This was another suit band, and the word had come down from headquarters that for this gig we would also be wearing Beatle wigs. While I was waiting to be picked up for the show, some local thugs managed to get into my Oakland apartment building and were running up and down the stairs pounding on doors and generally being scary. Knowing I somehow had to face them down, I grabbed the nearest weapon, which happened to be a pitchfork, and headed out the door. A guy in a suit and Beatle wig wielding a pitchfork was, I believe, quite literally the last thing they expected to see, and that vital element of surprise afforded me just enough time to make it past the thug gauntlet to the Neerdowells’ van and away to Benicia. This is why, to this day, I always keep a pitchfork or other garden implement handy at gigs, just in case, as guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution. This is also probably my favorite rock’n’roll memory. F.P.
1. The Mr. T Experience, “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba” (from Love Is Dead, 1996)
Dr. Frank would never stoop to include one of MTX’s songs here, so we had to intervene and state the plain fact: This is, without a doubt, Lookout!’s definitive (i.e., most absurdly fun) song and the smart-dumb-transcendent pinnacle of pop-punk, when the genre finally expressed everything it truly represented — a scrappy, witty, subversive, giddy tendency toward chaos and self-loathing, riddled with pop’s bittersweet romance. Which is a rock-criticky way of saying that it’s punk as fuck, yet sweet as pie.
First off, like all great songs, it delivers on more than one level — the verses teach you a universal life-lesson and the chorus gives you such a rush that you forget everything you just learned: The verses of “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba” hum past with a charming strain and yearn, concisely summing up, as Dr. Frank is wont to do, the entire subcultural alterna-dilemma: “The things that we used to do have been turned into a zoo / By people who say all the things that we used to say,” goes the second verse, with Frank starting to despair, unsure of where to turn, but not close to giving in. “And if we say them again, we’re gonna sound just like them / After years of remorse, I’ve finally taken it in.” But before self-pity takes hold, he stares down the eternal futility of clinging to cool’s fraying edge. “It’s the little things that get you down / It’s the bigger things that you can’t get around. And it’s way too flat on the middle ground / But everything else is our oyster / Everything else is a picnic / Everything else is terrific / So let’s go!” Just then, what had been a trap becomes a trap door as the bottom drops out in the best possible way, and the chorus (simply, “ba ba ba ba ba”) catches you and lifts you up, and suddenly you’re floating, free from the earthly hipster maw. It is, not to overstate the point a whit, pure fucking magic.
As my wife (who formerly worked at Lookout!, I must fully disclose), puts it: “I don’t know if anybody could possibly understand how exciting and liberating pop-punk really was unless you saw a thousand kids — and I mean kids — pogoing in unison at Slim’s during ‘Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba.’ It was like every person in there was up in the air at the exact same time. That song made everybody so happy.” C.A.