Read Hard’s Classic Pop-punk Pick #30: The Lillingtons- Death by Television

Posted: July 18, 2016 in Read Hard's Classic Pop Punk Picks

Sometimes you hear an album and just dismiss it as a generic Pop Punk album, and then realize later how brilliant it actually is. Death by Television is one of those albums! This is a difficult record to do, as Screeching Weasel’s old guitarist and co-founder Jughead had an episode on the album as part of his podcast Jughead’s Basement and the podcast was a huge inspiration for this column and I feel like he said more on the album than I could ever say, but it’s still an important record to me, so I’ll try. Jughead now does a YouTube thing when he talks about all the records he’s played on, worth checking out! The first time I ever heard of the Lillingtons was when I got a personal message on the Pop Punk Message Bored from someone promoting their band claiming they sounded like the Lillingtons and Teenage Bottlerocket (I had heard neither at the time). Kody from the Lillingtons also plays and sings in Teenage Bottlerocket, I think it took me sometimes to find that out and I started listening to TBR in early 2008 when Warning Device came out. The personal message I got was around the time I joined the bored in the summer of 2007. I think at the time I accidently stumbled over a Lillingtons song thinking it was awesome. It actually took me a year to listen to the Lillingtons again and I got really hooked on a couple of the songs from Death by Television.

The band was formed in Newcastle, Wyoming in 1995 by Kody Templeman on guitar and vocals, Cory Laurence on Bass and Timmy “V” O’Hara on drums. Zack Rawhauser also played guitar with the band for a while. Their first 7’’ was recorded by Joe Queer, and its title track “Lost My Marbles” also made it to his comp More Bounce to the Ounce. In 1996 they released their debut LP Shit out of Luck. A pretty regular pop punk album, about high school, heartbreak and aliens. The latter would be a more common theme for the band as the sci-fi themed Death by Television became their next album. They also released the more Ramones-y conspiracy themed Backchannel Broadcast in 2002 and a more polished album in 2006, The Too Late Show that would give us a hint of what Kody’s new band, Teenage Bottlerocket would sound like. Ironically, most of these songs are credited to Zach Rawhouser, who had returned to the band for the latest releases.

Death by Television was released in March 1999 on Panic Button and Lookout Records. It was produced by Mass Giorgini, like so many great Pop Punk records and recorded at the Sonic Iguana. The album cover is done by John Yates and to me could be the poster for a 50’s dystopian B-movie, a cover that couldn’t be more fitting for the band’s imagery and lyrics. A significant feature of the album is that extra vocal harmonies are often added and expanded in the last chorus of a song. Fat Mike commented on this on the Jughead’s Basement podcast. Fat Mike also wanted to release the album, but missed the boat on it. He originally thought it was a run of the mill Pop Punk album, but when he realized he was wrong, Ben Weasel’s Panic Button was already the band’s label. Fat Mike has also said it is his favorite Pop Punk album. Redscare re-released the album in 2005.

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  1. “War of the Worlds”: The album starts off with a rocker! And it’s off its rocker too! “War of the World” always gets me all pumped up. I’m not sure if all these songs are based on books or movies, but most likely this song is based on, or at least inspired by, H.G Wells’ classic science fiction novel The War of the Worlds. There’s been made over ten movies based on the book and Orson Welles (No relation, I believe) made his famous radio play based on it, that scared the shit out of America in 1938. Jeff Wayne made a concept album based on the book and he got thee Richard Burton to narrate it. The album lasts for over one and a half hours and includes a lot of words. The Lillingtons song is barely two minutes and includes very few words. The words are almost indecipherable until the chorus kicks in and Kody screams “The war of the worlds/ we’re all gonna die!” and then we know this shit is serious! We can only thank some ancient god that it hasn’t caused as much of a furor as the Orson Welles radio play.
  2. “Don’t Trust the Humanoids”: The dystopia doesn’t end on the second song. “Don’t Trust the Humanoids” is almost as frightening as its predecessor. A humanoid is something that resembles a human ( human+oid), but isn’t human. The song is about a humanoid from outer space that wants to destroy the human race. The chorus seems like the Lillingtons’ version of “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, proclaiming these humanoids are shitheads and that it’s time to run them over with a van. The verses are also direct with these alien humanoids. “So toss me the old death ray and I’ll put ’em in their place”. The song is even catchier than “War of the Worlds”.
  3. “Black Hole in My Mind”: It’s not until the third song, “Black Hole in My Mind”, that the album gets really great lyrically. Like the rest of the album, it’s very minimalistic and there’s only eight lines in the entire song and like so many other Lillingtons songs the second verse is just a repetition of the first. The song could interpreted literally and metaphorically. The song is about Captain Scott, an astronaut that gets lost in space. The chorus goes “My life has been a waste of time/ I’ve got a black hole in my mind”. This could be a reference to the 1979 movie The Black Hole, or just to the concept of black holes in general. It could also have a figurative meaning. The black hole in the captain’s mind could be a metaphor for lots of things, as the actual lyrics are so vague (which also is its brilliance), It could be about depression, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, amnesia or just general confusion and discontent in life, and probably hits each person and their own personal struggles individually.
  4. “I Saw the Apeman (on the Moon)”: When I first heard the album, one of the songs that stood out to me was “I Saw the Apeman (on the Moon)”. It was so catchy and the idea of the apeman walking on the moon was a funny image. Now this reminds me that I need to see the Kubrick movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, I’ve only seen the beginning, but the beginning is somewhat reminiscent of the song. The movie (and the book, I believe, haven’t read that either!) starts with an apeman looking at the moon, he is known as the “moon-watcher” and maybe he could be walking on the moon one day. The moon is usually in fiction an interesting symbol, usually associated with werewolves and shapeshifting as well as lunacy (that I wrote about in the Goddamnit article) and there is lots of mystery to the image, even if it lights up our nights, there’s also a dark side to it (which Pink Floyd had to point for us). Of course there are also many conspiracy theories and myths related to the moon, whether it is real, whether it is made of cheese or whether we’ve been there or not. The song does reference the moon-landing, the apeman in the song is having a bad day because Neil Armstrong took his banana away. I think the song, as well as the 2001 scene, gives an image of no matter how far human beings go (both in technology and in actual destinations) we will still just be apes. The song “Super Heroes” from the Rocky Horror Show also explores the same idea, only with insects. Giving us some nihilist image of how little humans really mean in the grand scheme of things. It’s also of course references to chimpanzees being sent to space like Ham and Enos (Kody does sing “Send the apeman up instead of a chimp”). There’s a Ramones reference in the song too, in “I Wanna Be Sedated” Joey sings “Put me on a rocket, put me on a plane”, Kody sings “Put him on a rocket, put him on a blimp”. A blimp is an air-ship, usually one of those that come with advertising. I’m guessing they only used “blimp” instead of plane as it rhymes with “chimp”. The entire song is pretty catchy, but the ending when several singers do gang vocals on “I saw the apeman on the moon”.
  5. “X-Ray Specs”: The album is not only Sci-fi themed, some are also comic book and super hero themed. One could say Superman is also sci-fi to some degree, I guess. “X-Ray Specs” is about someone reading a comic book about someone wanting the same x-ray vision that Superman has, to look through people’s underwear, of course! The comic being read in the song is apparently Superman #58. The issue was released in May, 1949 and includes “Tiny Trix, the Bantam Bandit”, “Lois Lane Loves Clark Kent” and “The Case of the Second Superman”. According to the song , the reader reads page 43 to find out how to get X-ray vision. Whether or not this actually happens in the actual comic book would be interesting to find out. The song itself is pretty catchy and it’s one of those songs that seem like a cool enough song at first, but really grows on you. The title could also be a reference to Poly Styrene’s band X-Ray-Spex.
  6. “Invasion of the Saucerman”: In between all the catchy Pop Punk, there is also some faster stuff. “Invasion of the Saucerman” almost sounds like it could be a fast Bad Religion song or an 80’s hardcore song. It’s about aliens taking over our planet. It’s based on the 1957 Science fiction movie Invasion of the Saucer-men, which also based on a short story called “The Cosmic Frame”. The movie looks scary as fuck!
  7. “You’re the Only One”: The second song that I got really hooked early on was “You’re the Only One”. It’s the only song on the album that functions as a love song, even if the television theme is still there. The song is about someone being in love with a girl he sees on TV, because all the girls in his town don’t have a clue and none of them can compare to the girl on TV. It also drives him nuts and makes him stay up late and not get up before quarter to two. The second to last chorus is fantastic, with the little “heys”. The last chorus has full-on harmonies and adds so much to the song. I heard the Beatnik Termites’ “You’re the Only One” about the same time and it’s a good song as well. I can actually hear a piano in this song, during the second verse that I’ve never heard before.
  8. “I Need Some Brain Damage”: Like any Lillingtons record, the Ramones have had a huge impact and this can really be found on “I Need Some Brain Damage”. The song is masochistic and the protagonist has a wish to be hurt and put in a body cast and get some brain damage. The protagonist works at Dairy Queen and I think the idea of the song is to show that any kind of pain is better than working a shitty job.
  9. “Codename: Peabrain”: Another heavily Ramones inspired song is “Codename: Peabrain”, a song about a secret agent, and a peak into something the band would do more in the future. The song is about a Russian spy with the codename “Peabrain”, Peabrain works for the KGB. The chorus goes “My name is Codename Peabrain, my mission is revenge”. The song could also work as someone who is standing up against someone who has wronged them in the past. There’s also a nifty little guitar thing that goes on, something that the Hextalls also would pull off in their song “Unicorn Rider”, a song that has always reminded me of the Lillington as a whole. “Codename: Peabrain” also has two different verses, something unusual when it comes the Lillingtons.
  1. “Phantom Maggot”: Back to superheroes! “Phantom Maggot” is about a maggot who is a super hero and can disappear. It reminds me a lot of Screeching Weasel’s “Teenage Freakshow”, both melodically and because of the line “straight out of a comic book”. The last chorus sounds more like an early Beatles song and the harmonies are great. I’ve always seen the song as a defense of the underdog showing that even a maggot will become a fly and a phantom maggot will become a phantom fly and show all the maggots what he’s really made of.
  2. “Robots in My Dreams”: The “I don’t wanna go to work” theme also recurs in “Robots in My Dreams” (What is this, Clerks?) and I think it’s a much stronger song than “I Need Some Brain Damage”. The sci-fi robot theme of the song also serves as a metaphor for falling in line and becoming a robot and no longer having a sense of self. The pre-chorus goes “I’m gonna take a walk/I’m gonna leave it all behind/I gotta clear my head before you brainwash my mind”, expressing a need for human emotions in a world of robots. The chorus goes “I don’t wanna end up like the robots in my dreams”, a sore, individualistic dream to stay true to one self. The ol’ “Lillingtons add more back up vocals in the last chorus” is maybe most effective in this song. Not only are the vocal harmonies adding so much to the song, but the gang vocals singing “We’re all gonna end up like the robots in our dreams” just gives the song a sad end to it, that we’re all gonna fall in line and be another casualty of society, like some other Pop Punk band sang two years later. The song is definitely my favorite song on the album.
  3. “Murder on My Mind”: The lyrics to this song sound very metal. The music is very Ramonescore, however. Maybe even bordering on 80’s hardcore again. It actually reminds me a lot of the Norwegian band Dead Gerhardsens. The slower part of the song. The song is a horror movie song and it’s about someone escaping from the insane asylum and wanting to kill people on Halloween. Terrifying shit!
  4. “Caveman”: The 13th track “Caveman” is based on the 1981 movie with the same name starring Ringo Starr as Atouk. The song uses some of the language from the movie, like “zug zug Lana” means having sex with Lana (a woman from the movie) and eating “ool”, simply means eating food. The little guitar riff that plays the melody is also so catchy, making the song memorable. The song could also be seen as metaphorical and like “I Saw the Apeman(On the Moon)” show how primitive human beings really are and how violent we really are (“Hit you in the head with my club”) and we can ask ourselves, even with all our technology, have we really evolved from the caveman stage?
  5. “They Came from the Future”: Like “Murder on My Mind”, “They Came from the Future” is also metal inspired. Just by listening to the drums mixed with the hardcore-esque guitars makes me feel like I’ve been transported into crossover-thrash hell, but somehow it works for the song. From the title I can see that this song has to do with time travel, the chorus goes “you don’t have a clue that I was created by you!”. Which is something that puts you right into an 80’s time travel movie, where the world has gone wrong and the protagonist comes from the future to warn the people living in the present.

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I’m sure Fat Mike, to this day, still regrets not putting this classic album out. Mixing old school hardcore with Ramonescore and mixing real human themes with science fiction movies, it really stands out as a tour de force in the genre, whether we call it Horrorpunk, Pop Punk, Ramonescore or just Punk Rock. Next time I will cover Have a Ball by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.

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