Read Hard’s Pop-Punk Picks #31: Me First and the Gimme Gimme Gimmes- …Are a Drag

Posted: August 26, 2016 in Read Hard's Classic Pop Punk Picks

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This is a little cautionary tale to all you music stealers out there! When I was 12-13 I used to download Blink-182 songs I had never heard off the internet, covers of famous songs. I’d obviously know it wasn’t Blink, but I had no idea who sang them (Little did I know it was the same band). I would have songs like “Seasons in the Sun”, “Phantom of the Opera” and “Uptown Girl” (I think the latter was credited to Weezer). The idea of Punk covers of famous songs fascinated me. In the summer of 2003 I would hear “I Believe I Can Fly” on the modern rock radio I was listening to at the time. Again, little did I know that these were all done by the same band. I googled “Phantom of the Opera punk cover”, and what showed up was NOFX, but it didn’t really sound like NOFX.  2003 was the year I went to London for the first time, for my 14th birthday and decided to see the musical Phantom of the Opera. I went to the record store Tower Records in Piccadilly Circus and they played the Me First album  Have a Ball and realized they were the band who sang all these punk covers I’d enjoyed the last few months. My parents really liked the band too, in fact we bought an album each, I bought Take a Break, my dad bought Have a Ball and my mom bought Are a Drag, because it had the Cabaret song on.

So, yeah that shows the dangers of illegal downloading! But then again I wouldn’t have heard them if it weren’t for illegal downloading. 2004 was a year with a lot of memories for me. And quite a few include the Gimmes. I remember coming home from seeing a movie and listening to Have a Ball. I went to the movies a lot that year apparently. I remember seeing the movie Lost in Translation two months later and the Bond song by Carly Simon “Nobody Does It Better” (from The Spy Who Loved Me) appeared in the movie and it made me think of the Gimme Gimmes version on Have a Ball. I remember buying Blow in the Wind and I remember buying Ruin Johnny’s Bar Mitzvah. I also remember listening to the latter the day I crashed a moped when trying to learn how to ride one (never tried that shit again). I slowly realized that the originals were better on Blow in the Wind. I also remember a Beatles cover band playing “All My Lovin’” (which the Gimmes also covered) at the Cavern Club in Liverpool during the Easter. I often feel like Have a Ball is the album that has affected me the most. When I heard “Nobody Does it Better” in Lost in Translation it made me think of the Gimmes version. When I heard James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” in, I thought of the Gimmes. Both versions are great, but they produce such different feelings. Taylor’s version is so sad and beautiful, while the Gimmes version is so fast, lively and almost positive. And it’s a strange twist to such an incredibly sad song. It’s one of their best moments and one of the reasons why I’ve wanted to write about Have a Ball. But lately I’ve been really into Are a Drag, so I decided in the 11th hour to write about that instead!

The band was started by bassist Fat Mike and guitarist Joey Cape in the mid-nineties. Fat Mike’s label Fat Wreck Chords did well, and so did their bands NOFX and Lagwagon and Mike wanted a side-project, but he didn’t want to make the mistake a lot of side-project bands make, when they have the same singer and you can’t distinguish them from their other bands. So instead of Joey and Mike fighting for who’d do the vocal duties, they wanted to go for someone else. The first choice was someone from Bracket, but they went with Spike Slawson from Swingin’ Utters, who isn’t even their singer, but he actually has one of the best singing voices in Punk Rock and he is also did back up vocals on several NOFX albums. On lead guitar, the band was joined by No Use For a Name’s Chris Shiflett who went on to join the Foo Fighters. Lagwagon’s Dave Raun was hitting sticks behind the kit. The name Me First and the Gimme Gimmes is the title of a book by Gerald G. Jampolsky and Diane V. Cirincione.  The band is famous for their album titles that are both commands and sentences describing the actions of the Gimmes (similar to what the Queers did for a lot of albums), from (The Gimme Gimmes) Have a Ball to Love Their Country.  They are also known for singles covering a specific artist and naming the 7’’ after the artist, usually by first name, like “Elton” and “Willie” and “Stevie, the 7’’ are usually released on different labels than Fat, and they’ve released singles on quite a few labels. Since 2007, the singles are also released on Fat. They also wear matching clothes on stage, like suits or Hawaiian T-Shirts. The first album Have a Ball was released in 1997.

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes Are a Drag was released May 18, 1999 on Fat Wreck Chords. The album was their second full length. It was produced by Ryan Greene and the band themselves. The theme of the album is show tunes from Broadway. Most of the songs on the album are traditionally sung by women. The album cover has the band members dressed up in drag!(hence the pun in the title) Recently Fat Mike has become more open about wearing women’s clothing. This is also shown on the new NOFX album with there being a song called “I’m a Transvest-lite”. The album cover is pretty cool and maybe my favorite Gimme Gimmes album cover (Blow in the Wind is close though), but not sure if I should judge the album by its cover, even if they are a cover band! Their newest album Are We Not Men? We Are Diva also has a cover with the band in drag. This is also their first album that doesn’t have the command and action title, and rather as a reference to DEVO’s first album.

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  1. “Over the Rainbow”: The opening track is the classic from The Wizard of Oz. It’s a perfect opener. The movie version is sung by Judy Garland in the role of Dorothy Gale. The song is sung in the beginning of the movie when Dorothy is told by her aunt to find a place where she won’t get into trouble. The place Dorothy thinks of is a place where her trouble melts like lemon drops. She wonders why birds can fly over the rainbow and she can’t. The rainbow is a common symbol for something that is magic and beautiful. We can trace this back at least as far as Norse mythology, when the rainbow, that they called Bifröst, was the road that separated the common people in Midgard from the gods in Asgard. Later, this same symbolism is also found in several fairy tales where you are promised a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This stems from Irish culture, and the gold has been hidden by Leprechauns. In later years, the rainbow is also associated with LGBTQ culture, something the Gimme Gimmes have embraced at their shows. Later Dorothy ends up in the magic Land of Oz and becomes friends with a scarecrow that resembles Joe Queer’s view of a lot of punk fans and posers. When she arrives there the black and white movie turns into a color flick. The movie always looked so much newer to me and it looks very modern to be from 1939. The movie is based on the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum and illustrated by W. W Denslow. There was also created a 1902 Broadway musical about it, but it doesn’t include “Over the Rainbow” and most of the songs have become forgotten in the dustbin of history. Later Eva Cassidy and Israel Kamakawiwo have recorded popular versions of the song. The Gimme Gimmes version starts up with Dave Raun and Fat Mike playing together before a pick slide kicks in the rest of the band and Spike starts singing. I think it’s one of the first MFAGG songs where we can really hear how great Spike’s voice is. When I saw them live their performance of “Over the Rainbow” was a highlight. On the album cover, Dave Raun is dressed like Dorothy
  1. “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”: I remember that when I was a small child “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” was one of my favorite songs. I recall watching the movie, Evita, starring Madonna and thought the movie was a bit boring, but loved the shit out of that song. Evita started as a rock opera/concept album by written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice following up Jesus Christ Superstar. The story is about Eva Peròn, who married Juan Peròn, the president of Argentina. The song is sung from Eva’s ghost to not mourn her. She sings the song from the balcony of Casa Rosada. The rhyming scheme of the first two verses and pre-choruses is interesting, as the lines in the second rhyme on the line in the first rather than rhyming on a line its own verse. The Gimme Gimmes version is one of their finest works. And the bridge melody sounds so different from the original, and I like it a lot better. Joey Cape’s back up vocals are awesome, and I used to think it was Fat Mike for years, but yeah, thumbs up Joey!
  2. “Science Fiction/Double Feature”: I always liked this song. I found the lyrics to be quite weird and I couldn’t really think of how a musical with a song like that would be like. It actually took me a lot of time before I realized what the Rocky Horror Show was. For years I mixed it up with Little Shop of Horrors. I remember watching the movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show in November 2012. It was the fourth month living on my own in Bergen. I remember liking the movie a lot, but thinking it was sort of weird. “Science Fiction/Double Feature” is the opening (and ending) song of the musical. It’s a tribute to B-movies and references a lot of characters from horror and sci-fi movies like King Kong, Dr. X, The invisible man, Leo G. Carol. A lot of these are the same that I mentioned in the Teen Idols article about “Midnight Picture Show”. The song is sung by the character Usherette who is a character in disguise, usually played by the same actress as the character Magenta, meaning the song is usually sung by female singers. In the picture show, however, the writer and composer of the musical Richard ‘O Brian sings the song and Magenta actress Patricia Quinn lip syncs the song and creates the lip imagine that distinguishes the movie version from the musical. When I was in Leeds in 2013, me and my mom went to an Entertainment Exchange store(a chainstore for used entertainment) we found a very cheap cd of a West End production of the musical and it’s one of the best performances I’ve heard of it, at least in English. A year later when I decided to write my own musical, The Rocky Horror Show became sort of an inspiration because of how weird it was, but still included some incredibly heartfelt and great rock n’ roll songs. It’s interesting that except for O’ Brian himself, few males have sung “Science Fiction/Double Feature” and Spike is also than a rarity. A brilliant thing the Gimmes did was with this relatively slow-paced musical is taking the slowest song and speeding it up. I don’t know if it’s a bias with growing up with this version, but to me this version of the song is my favorite. I love the speed of the song and I love the vocal harmonies in the chorus. To me this is how this song should sound! A few years ago I also discovered that there was a Norwegian version of the musical, that was put on stage in Oslo in 1977(Punx!) and it’s translated into Norwegian by Folk singer Ole Paus and he made a quite risqué musical seem even dirtier. I really got into this version Christmas of 2015 and the last year it was one of my most played records on Spotify (I’ve heard the vinyl is pretty damn hard to find). The cast includes some of Norway’s’ most famous singers and actors and also some talented jazz and rock n’ roll musicians. And it’s actually a really great version of the musical. And while this year has been really Rocky Horror for me, there’s more, FOX is making a new version of the picture show. The Rocky Horror Show was also a huge inspiration for Fat Mike growing up and “Don’t dream it, be it” from “Rose Tint My World” (or “Floor Show”, more specifically in the part known as “Don’t Dream It”) was a line that affected him a lot and he says it has encouraged him to follow his dreams and dress the way he wants. Spike is dressed as the crossdresser Frank-n-furter on the cover.
  3. “Summertime”: Another play I’ve been obsessed with the last months is the American opera Porgy and Bess. An opera based on a book by DuBose Heyward called Porgy. Heyward also wrote a lot of lyrics to the opera, including “Summertime” and the libretto. George Gershwin composed the music and his brother Ira wrote some of the lyrics as well, making have both Heyward and Ira’s individual and distinctive lyrical styles. George Gershwin’s idea was to write an America Folk opera. The song “Summertime” has become a jazz standard and one of the most famous songs of all time. It’s been famously covered by The Zombies on their debut album, Sam Cooke, Janis Joplin and Billie Holiday first made it a hit in 1936. Sublime also sampled it in their hit “Doin’ Time”. The song us sung several times in the opera and most significantly when the character Clara sings a lullaby to an orphaned baby. The opera’s characters are mostly African Americans except for the sort of racist cops. There was made a great movie of the opera as a musical version in the late fifties with Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge in the lead roles. Harry Belafonte was offered the role, but declined because he saw the opera as racist. Many African American singers have embraced the opera and the opera has also on several occasions been used to protest segregation and Jim Crow laws, but it’s also seen as an opera that reinforces negative racist stereotypes. The movie is actually one of the first big movies with a mostly African American cast, but was shown in limited theaters because of the controversy around the topic. The Gimme Gimmes version has kind of a surfy vibe to it. I don’t think it’s the best version of the song, but it has its moment, especially the added “Hush little baby don’t you cry”’s. Fat Mike’s bass line is also some of his best work, I’d say. They also made a music video for it. They are in Hawaiian T-shirts on Hawaii! They drink Pina Coladas and surf. They’ve actually made very few videos, the other two are “Danny’s Song” and “I Believe I Can Fly”. The lyrics to the song are seen as some of the best in musical theater.
  4. “My Favorite Things”: The Sound of Music might be the most famous musical ever and “My Favorite Things” is probably the most famous song from it. Made famous by Julie Andrews in the movie version. Plenty of punk band have covered songs from the musical and The Vandals do a great version of “So Long Farewell”. Dr. Frank also references “My Favorite Things” in the MTX song “We Hate All the Same Things”. “My Favorite Things” is about thinking of your favorite things when life seems bad and shit gets better. The Gimme Gimmes version is a good one! They do something they were to do a lot afterwards (and had done only with “You’ve Got a Friend (Blitzkrieg Bop)”, where they mash up famous songs with Punk Rock classics. “My Favorite Things” is mashed up with Bad Religion’s “Generator” and has the same intro, just singing “When the bug bites, when the bees sting I don’t feel so fucking bad” instead of “Like a rock, like a planet, like a fucking atom bomb”.
  5. “Rainbow Connection”: I remember hearing this song on Are a Drag and thinking it was one of the most beautiful songs I’d ever heard. I had no idea it was originally by the Muppets. The song is from The Muppet Movie from 1978. The song was nominated for an Oscar, but lost. Kermit’s (and Spike’s for that matter) opening line is “Why are there so many songs about rainbows?” and I think I might have answered that one in “Over the Rainbow”. The song is for all the dreamers and romantic fools who believe in magic and shit that is above our borings lives here on earth. It’s a beautiful and cute song. Both the Muppets version and the Gimme Gimmes one.
  6. “Phantom of the Opera”: Like I said earlier, “Phantom of the Opera” was one of the first Gimme Gimmes songs I listened to, and I remember liking it from the get-go. It even inspired me to want to go to the actual musical when I was in London, on the same trip we heard Have a Ball in Tower Records! The musical was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with lyrics by Charles Hart and additional lyrics and parts of the book by Richard Stilgoe. The thing I remember from the musical was the terrible wooden seats and the great mints I had to chew on. I remember thinking the musical was terrible and I usually can’t stand operatic singing and this was a hell of a lot of that. I also remember this old man who saw it for the ninth the time and he always went alone cause his wife hated it. Kind of debunks the whole South Park episode, doesn’t it? I still love the Gimme Gimmes version though, the opening riff is great and the performance is awesome. It’s also has female guest vocals, I think it’s from Karina Denike from Dance Hall Crashers.
  7. “I Sing the Body Electric”: I’ve always loved this song too. I had no idea it was from Fame, until I saw the movie. The movie is pretty cool, and I guess I didn’t expect that. It’s about a Performing arts high school in New York and they want to become famous. I think “I Sing the Body Electric” is a much stronger song than the actual theme song. And the line “Anytime anytime we will all be stars” is pretty fitting to the song, even if we don’t know if anyone of the characters will actually be stars. And the ambiguity of the word “stars” is interesting in the song. The title of the song is actually a reference to a poem by Walt Whitman. This is America, right there.
  8. “It’s Raining on Prom Night”: A musical or movie probably everyone has some relationship with, whether they hate it or love it or feel indifferent to it is Grease. I remember the first time seeing it when I was 7, the girls let me hang with them and see Grease, even if I was a dude, after that we listened to the Smurfs, I used to love the Smurfs when I was 7, but that’s another story. I guess I’ve always been sort of ambivalent to the movie, I’ve always loved a lot of the songs. I had no idea it was actually a pre-existing musical before the movie. The movie was released in the time of 50’s revival movies and disco, and the mix is really strange, since there was no disco in the 50’s and the Gibb-penned Frankie Valli tune just called “Grease” makes no sense in the movie at all, but it must’ve appealed to the disco crowd in the late 70’s. A lot of the most famous songs in the movie weren’t in the musical and were written specifically for the movie, and some of the best songs as well to be fair, like “You’re the One That I Want”, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “Sandy”. In later productions of the musical, all of these songs have become included. The most famous songs from the movie are songs that are sung the world over and have been covered a lot, Less Than Jake even made a cover EP of the most famous songs from the movie. The Gimme Gimmes were clever and chose to cover a song that hasn’t been covered that much or isn’t that famous. “It’s Raining on Prom Night” is a way more significant song in the musical than it is in the movie. In the musical, it appears in the beginning of the second act where Sandy sings along to the radio dreaming of Danny. Whereas in the movie it is just played in the background on the jukebox at the diner. The song is about a teenage girl’s expectations for the prom, and how these all fall apart when it’s raining and she gets the flu and her corsage as fallen down the sewer with her sister’s I.D. There’s a spoken part, and is one of the few songs along with “Leaving on a Jet Plane”(they sing “fuck around” instead of “played around” and “Stand by Your Man” where they sing about being the Gimmes) where they have actually changed the lyrics of the song. The girl speaking in the song says “It’s raining real menstrual blood from my thighs” rather than “tears from my eyes” and “He’s never gonna want to eat meat again” rather than “Make him want to see me again”. Their version also has acapella ending with dark baritone (I think, don’t arrest me on this one!) background voice and I always wondered who sang, but I think it’s actually Spike doing all the vocals in the ending himself. Fat Mike is dressed like Sandy on the album cover.
  9. “Tomorrow”: One of my favorite songs as a young kid was “Tomorrow” from Annie. I think the first version I heard of it was a Norwegian version. I always thought the melody was beautiful and I don’t know if I paid much attention to the lyrics. I remember renting the VHS of the 1982 film version one night I was sleeping over at my grandpa’s house and we ate pizza and watched the movie. I remember thinking it was so sad, but it was a cool evening. The musical was based on a comic strip called Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray and the musical has music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Michael Charnin, and the book by Thomas Meehan. It debuted in 1977. Strouse, apparently, wrote the song in 1970 for a short film called Replay, with different lyrics and title(“The Way We Are Now”. The finished “Tomorrow” was actually written for a musical version of Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algeron, but was added to Annie because it was having problems. It’s now along with “Hard knock Life” the most famous song from the musical. The Gimme Gimmes version was a bit of a letdown for me when I first heard it and it meaning so much to me as a kid, but it grew on me and the English version of the song made me realize how great the lyrics really are. It’s like it’s totally sad and totally wistful at the same time; “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow, you’re always a day away”. Yesterday is something we can’t really do anything about, but tomorrow is always there full of hope. I definitely think it’s one of the best songs ever written. The Gimme Gimmes also add a bits from Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” in the end. Joey Cape is dressed like Annie on the album cover.
  10. “What I Did for Love”: A Chorus Line is a musical I don’t really know much of, except that I love the Gimme Gimmes version of this song. It appears to be rather meta and about an audition for a Broadway show. The song is sung by the character Diana Morales in the play and is by the end and it’s about someone not regretting what they did for love. The Gimme Gimmes riff has always reminded me a bit of Blink’s “Wendy Clear”, but I doubt there is a connection as Enema of the State and Are a Drag had somewhat close release dates. Chris Shiflett is dressed as one of the chorus line dancer on the cover.
  11. “Cabaret”: I saw the movie Cabaret last night, so don’t tell me I’m not doing research! The movie starred Liza Minelli and was from 1972. The musical is about Berlin in pre-Hitler Germany and we can subtly see the rise of the National Socialist party. Most of the musical takes place in a club called Kit Kat Klub (KKK?). The title song is sung by the main character Sally Bowles and is by the end of the musical where she has decided to become a star and had an abortion, because a baby might’ve ruined her career. We can see racist attitudes coming towards the surface through the musical and Fritz, the Jewish character, experiences antisemitism and discrimination. The lyrics to the song have always fascinated me and I remember being shocked at 14 how messed up the lyrics were and I thought the Gimme Gimmes re-wrote them until I saw a documentary on the musical in musical class in school later in 2004. I think the lyrics are brilliant to be honest: “The day she died the neighbors came to snick her/That’s what comes from too much pills and liquor, but when I saw her laid out like a queen/she was the happiest corpse I’ve ever seen”. The bass line in the Gimme Gimmes version is great and reminds me a bit of “Why Can’t I Touch it?” by the Buzzcocks and it was one of the first things I remember from the Buzzcocks, I don’t think it’s one of their mash-ups. It’s also the only song on the album where they play Ska. It’s a great performance and a great ending to the album.

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So now I got that covered. I think this is the longest article in this column until now. Almost thousand words more than the second place too! Wow! The next one will be another 90’s Pop Punk classic: Got Beat Up by Weston.

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