Or: The Musical Genius of Randall Peck
Get Ready To Boink with the Boynks
(Mr. Basement's House of Hidden Agenda, 2011)
*** Just who are these Boynks who wish us to boink with them? ***
The Backstory: Back in the early '80s, I had the pleasure/privilege of playing drums with Randy Peck, Jay Ludwig, Rick & Stephanie Eney, and Katie "Katatonic" Glancy in a pop music group called The Boatniks. We wore silly sailor caps and Hawaiian shirts and celebrated middle class life in our 'hood, the azalea- and rhododentrum-covered suburbs.
Boatniks' '81 World Cruise
Katie and I were freshly departed from punk band Thee Katatonix, and emerged from the rough-and-tumble sonic wilderness of the Marble Bar Scene to serve an apprenticeship under the song-writing workshop that was the Boatniks - an ensemble in which Peck, Ludwig and the Eneys all wrote songs (Jay and Randy even helped me out, like Beatles Paul and John with Ringo, on my "Bake You a Bundt" and "Teenybopper" songs).
Boatniks songwriters Jay Ludwig & Randy Peck
But it was Randy Peck's "pure unadulterated pop music" song stylings that most impressed me; influenced in equal parts by the lyrical inventiveness of Elvis Costello and the melodic, harmonious musical leanings of his beloved Brian Wilson-led Beach Boys, Randy's songs pointed to all the signposts Katie and I loved in pop music: British Invasion, The Beatles, The Zombies, The Raspberries, Badfinger, 10cc. It was Pure Pop for Then People, Old School pretty three-minute melodies in an era of harsh-sounding punk rock and the cold synth-heavy sang froid of postpunk music. In a word, it was kinda corny compared to what was on the MTV and radio airwaves then. The words were clever and humorous, if you stopped to listen to them, and the melodies were unabashedly pretty. And the "middle eights"! These were a revelation to Katie and I, accustomed as we were to the one-note simplicity and repetitive three-chord onslaught of punk. The songs even celebrated love without irony - OK, maybe some irony in lines like "I bought some pizza and I saw your face in it" from Peck's masterpiece "The Honky Tonk Is Over" (which won a songwriting competition and landed us free studio recording time and a gig at Washington, DC's The Bayou). Which is why I liked it. Plus, I learned how to play drums in the Boatniks, after years of faking it (though few were fooled!) in Thee Katatonix.
The little drummer boy became a man - thanks to the Boatniks!
Post-Boatniks, Randy Peck played for a while in Saddle Soar, went to culinary school, became a chef, got married, and became Randall Peck. But he never stopped writing songs and recording them in his basement (on analog tape, the dominant medium of the time) with the most rudimentary of instrumentation (Randy was never one for fancy tech gear - back then he'd just as soon use chopsticks and an ashtray for drums rather than buy a beatbox!). The only change since then has been technology; he's gone digital, invested in a few electronic gizmos, and now records onto CDs instead of tape. But his studio is still his basement, where he retires after a hard day at work to record his musings about life and love. And, like his muse Brian Wilson, he can create a whole mini-orchestra of sound working at his own pace in the comfort of his home.
On a recent visit to Randall's workplace, he gave me a copy of one of his latest home productions, which was called Get Ready To Boink with The Boynks. Though the attractively packaged CD attributed the music to The Boynks - specifically "Chad Boynk" and "Gordon Boynk" on guitar, "Kirby Carlisle" on keys, "Christian Velcro" on bass, and "Nigel Tripper" on drums - they are merely Brit Invasion Boy Band standins for one-man band Randall Peck himself.
RP: The One-man Band
Randall explained, "I figured you would 'get' this one because we like the same kind of stuff that no one I work with, these kids, appreciate. You know, Raspberries, Beatles, 10cc, Badfinger..." Yes, the usual pop suspects. He added, "And it's real poppy and uptempo, unlike some of my other stuff, so I had a feeling you'd appreciate it."
It's official: I'm a Fan!
Well, I do appreciate it - and I think others will too. Too bad Big Deal and Not Lame and those other power pop labels aren't around anymore, because Randall Peck's Boynks CD could be released on them as is. It's that good and that pro. For, like Mark Harp and Mark O'Connor (another former Towsonite, who made his "mark" with OHO, Food for Worms, Dark Side and B.L.A.M.M.O.), Randall is another local songwriting genius I've had the privilege of knowing (and wish more people knew about); Harpo is gone (well before his time - Goddammit!), but like Mark O'Connor, Randall is one of those creative-type dreamers (and full-time romantic, to boot) who will never stop plugging away, making home recordings of his music (a genre I hereby christen "Basement Beat"). To be Randall Peck is to create, whether it be cookin' up food or sounds. And if music be the food of love, as Shakespeare said, play on.
And speaking of play on, play on we shall...
*** OK, Now Get Ready To Boink with the Boynks! ***
I played the Boynks CD on my way home and was so excited that I played it next for my classic pop-loving girlfriend Amy. She loved it as well, and we both agreed that two things stood out almost immediately: 1) Randall loves the Beatles (whose influence is everywhere) - not to mention Elvis Costello (listen for the Steve Nieve-styled keyboard riffs) and The Zombies (all those harpsichord sounds and minor keys) and The Beach Boys (Brian Wilson was and will always be his Obi-Wan Kenobi mentor) - and 2) Randall loves kissing. In fact, we couldn't remember an album that so celebrated kissing, the lip-smacking phenomenon known alternately as "First Base" or "Oral Sex" to our Baby Boomer generation. (Alas, I believe today's cut-to-the-chase, 4G-speed cream-on-demand generation considers cunnilingus and fellatio "First Base.") At least a half dozen songs either specifically mention kissing ("Wake Up Baby It's Time To Kiss") or are orally fixated on the mouth and bussing. I, for one, find oscullation incredibly sexy, as did wrestler-turned-politician Jesse Ventura when he likened the act of face-chewing to "Two carp goin' after the same piece of corn." (A beautiful image for a beautiful act of intimacy, no?) But to Randall, kissing is as romantic as it gets and he's far from tongue-tied in celebrating the elation that comes when two tingles intermingle.
Randall Peck: Bitten by the Kissing Bug?
And, with my flair for the obvious (it's a true gift), I would add a third glaring observation: 3) Randall loves being in love. Following is the evidence to support my case:
Tuned In: Track by Track
1. "HEY GWENDOLYN"
"There she is full of fizz, just about to pop/All the while I just smile and I cannot stop/Hey Gwendolyn, you make gray skies blue/Hey Gwendolyn, I'm so turned on by you."
Things kick off with a blast of irresistably catchy fun (and yet another song to add to my A-Z List of Girl's Name Songs) flavored with Zombies-styled harpischord sounds and lyrics celebrating the Zen of Gwen. "Smartly dressed, she's the best you will ever find." In Arthurian legend, Gwendolyn was Merlin the magician's wife; in modern times, she's simply the girl who's cast a spell over RP.
Oral Fixation Factor: "To the lips takes a sip, spills some on her blouse/After tea, nuzzles me, plants one on my mouth."
2. "HOW COULD I FALL IN BED WITH A GIRL LIKE YOU?"
Romance Downy Ocean
A poignant and uptempo break-up song that unfolds at a Beach Boys setting, Downy Ocean ("You went off on vacation/I'm alone at the beach"), but while Brian Wilson preached that the girls on the beach were all within reach (if you knew what to do), Randall instead finds himself out of his depth: "Now I'm drowning in sorrow, and my beach towel is wet/You have taught me a lesson I will never forget..." but seems resigned to his plight. He had his thrill and got stung by the jellyfish of love. "There will be no tomorrow, I know that we are through/How could I fall in bed with a girl like you?"
Oral Fixation Factor: "You are sweeter than sugar/When you melt in my mouth..."
3. "WAKE UP BABY IT'S TIME TO KISS"
Only shallow non-romantics forgo kissing
To paraphrase Mssrs. Hall & Oates, this "Kiss" is on my list of the best things in life. (Quite a different take on rising-with-the-sun morning fun from Ian Dury's "Wake Up Make Love with Me"!) Personally, the first thing on my mind when I emerge from the Land of Nod is peeing and gargling with mouthwash, but Randall's a romantic who's allowed poetic license.
I am a fool for you, I love you through and through
I only go to be bed to wake up next to you
Wake up, roll over (sha la la) and join me in my bliss
This is one of those moments (sha la la) that I refuse to miss
Hello, good morning (sha la la) - wake up baby it's time to kiss
4. "ONCE AGAIN THAT GIRL IS ON MY MIND"
Another girl crush song, this one finds Randall obsessively pining every minute and every hour for someone he sees in every bouquet of flowers and even in his "toast with jam and tea." She's "one too many, all too much, one of a kind," small wonder that "once again that girl is on my mind."
Oral Fixation Factor: "Even when I lay my head, her name's my final breath/I dream about her every night, kissing me to death."
5. "IF SHE KNEW"
If she knew...
Randall's variation on The Beatles' "If I Fell." But the classic heart-felt ballad structure isn't limited to just the Fab Four, as I also hear the love-smitten inclinations of Brian Wilson circa "God Only Knows."
Oral Fixation Factor: "If she knew that I really want to kiss her/She may even laugh, if she knew."
6. "ALL-WEATHER SUNSHINE HAPPINESS GIRL"
Exhilirating upbeat ditty that walks on sunshine, regardless of weather advisory.
"She look so good, she looks so cute
She's on the town in her electric suit
She plugs it in and does a twirl
She's my All-Weather Sunshine Happiness Girl"
"She knows her Bach, she knows Chopin
She knows that shit like the back of her hand
She's an endless string of cultured pearls
She's my All-Weather Sunshine Happiness Girl"
Oral Fixation Factor: "Well she kisses hard and she kisses deep, and still makes love when she's half asleep."
7. "THING FOR YOU"
Got a Thing - for you!
A finger-snappin', toe-tappin' honky-tonkin' good-time romp. Randall may have honed his Country & Western chops during his stint in Saddle Soar, but the country-flavored pop in this song is more of the Beatles variety circa "Act Natural."
8. "DADDY I WRECKED THE CAR"
As a survivor of one too many heavy metal crashes in my wayward youth, I'm greatly amused by this clever, fast-paced pop song. Maybe Randall the Dad is anticipating the not-so-distant future when his kid will get his license - and become an insurance liability. (Ah, the Parent Trap.) Junior not only laments wrecking the car while out driving with a girl from outer space, but also wrecking the house (he was just doing his homework when somehow a party boke out), and finally wrecking his mind:
"My mind, my mind, Daddy I wrecked my mind
I took a little something I don't understand
That I got last week from the Ice Cream Man..."
Ha! I remember back at college the ice cream man was the campus drug dealer (was it that way everywhere? Has the Drug-Dealing Ice Cream Man become a counter-culture stereotype?).
Nice freakout - and guitar solo - during the middle jam. As Freakbeat revivalist Dave Cawley says, whenever you're rockin' out and run out of words, just scream "Wahhhhhhh!" and wail, baby! Works every time!
9. "GIRL IN THE WINDOW"
Window shopping for love
Very Zombies-like neo-psych. I can easily imagine Colin Bluntstone singing this over Rod Argent's farfisa organ; in fact, the song has a '60s Swingin' London feel with lines like those below evoking images of whatever Brit "It" Girl - Julie Christie, Twiggy, Jeannie Shrimpton, Marianne Faithful, Jane Asher - tickles one's retro fancy:
"When she purses her lips and starts to flirt - Girl in the Window
In her go-go boots and miniskirt - Girl in the Window
Well she's just the coolest thing I've ever found
So bear with me, while I expound: Girl in the Window."
Oral Fixation Factor: "She can play it cool, she can play it hard/As she blows French kisses to the Palace Guard."
10. "SUDDEN SORROW"
There's a vacancy I have inside, and it's where true love resides
Without warning, weeping quietly, a gentle wave sweeps over me
And I feel a sudden sorrow in my heart when I think about losing her
A remembrance of past love lost, l'amour perdu. Don't we all have one (or two, or three)? Bury those memories as we might, they still come back to us at unexpected moments - during a rainfall, looking through a photo album, passing an old dating haunt. Not an uptempo toe-tapper, but then sorrow isn't supposed to be.
11. "HOT TUB LOVE"
"Hot tub love, come join me in the jets/Hot tub love, let's make it a duet."
The album mood changes instantly from "Sudden Sorrow" to wet-and-wild fun in this sonic splash about really hot love. "Hot tub love, I miss you when you're gone/Hot tub love, the meter is still on/So crawl back in, and let the fun begin, with your hot tub love."
12. "PASSING ON A TRAIN"
Ships pass in the night and trains pass in vain, with barely time for fledgling flirtations to form ("You were gone just as fast as when you came"). But a glimpse of a girl with hat and gloves and bonnet on - looking "sweet in the gentle London rain" - is enough to fill the narrator with regret:
You were passing on a train that was stopped for a moment in the dark
Just long enough for that face to break my heart (doesn't it figure?)
I love the opening train sound effects, as well as the delightful nod to the Beach Boys at the end of the middle passage that recalls their acapella chorale showpiece "Our Prayer." It's only a snippet, but it's yet another reminder of Brian Wilson's pervasive influence on RP's songwriting. Paul Westerberg never travels far without a little Big Star; Randall never leaves ground without his Pet Sounds.
13. "PLANET LOVE"
"I'll take you where the stars light your hair
It's almost time - we're almost there, on Planet Love."
This dreamy ballad closes the album of a leisurely, lilting note and sort of reminds me of Santo and Johnny's "Sleep Walk" (which was famously covered by another of Randall's favorite '60s artists, The Ventures) as crooned (with an occasional hiccup) in his best emo-Elvis P. voice. It's meant to sound corny with the ice-rink organs and such, but I find it charming as Randall sings of love taking flight at the speed of light before reaching the final destination: "We'll crash, we'll burn, we'll land on Planet Love."
*** Final Thoughts ***
This is easily the best new music I've heard all year, with more melodic hooks and catchy choruses in one album than some songwriters manage in their whole careers. It's also one of the greatest feel-good discs you could ever pop into your CD player and immediately feel like you're walking on sunshine. It's already taken the edge off my normal road rage during the morning commute downtown to work. Lennon & McCartney...Bacharach-David...Elvis Costello...Brian Wilson...Bob Dylan...Graham Gouldman...Ray Davies...Todd Rundgren...Dee Dee Ramone...Randall Peck. Yes, that's right - I mention him in the same breath because he can take his rightful place alongside these legends as a fellow popsmith extraordinaire. I'm not kidding. In my musical wonderland, he goes toe to toe with the heavyweights and more than holds his own.
And yet I wonder how many people will ever hear his back catalog. He's so modest about his talent that Randall reminds me of those non-traditional "outsider" artists whose work is only discovered after the fact when it's displayed at the American Visionary Art Museum. You know - the unheralded artist who works a day job and comes home at night to create a secret cache of awe-inspiring works that remain unseen by the public until he dies and the landlady cleans out his room and donates them to a museum. So too does Randall create these recordings that are only known to a select few cadre of friends and associates. But that seems to be just fine by him. He loves making music and these songs are like his day journal, his diary, an audio scrapbook of who he was and what he was thinking at a certain point in his life.
Back in the Boatniks days, our "Ahoy Maties" press kit said this about Randall: "Randy's been happy lately...The happiest day of his life just might be tomorrow." Going by the sounds on Get Ready To Boink with the Boynks, it looks like that day is here - and how!