The Case for the Dead Milkmen: An Article by Russell

I’m seriously frustrated. How could I not be? One of my favorite bands in the world barely got any respect in the ten years of their “professional” existence, and now I can barely find their albums on the shelves. How can this be? You would think the punk community would embrace the ones known as The Dead Milkmen as part of their history. Sadly, this is not the case.

People, I want to change your minds.

When I go into a so-called punk rock record store, and I can’t find even a placard for the Milkmen, it bugs the shit out of me. Why are they not represented along the likes of the Ramones or the Dead Boys or Suicidal Tendencies. What, are they too silly for you? What about the Descendents, or the Dickies? Hell, even the Dead Kennedys could get stupid at times. So why do the Dead Milkmen get such a bad rep?

In the early 1980s, Rod, Joe, Dave and Dean formed the band because, as in most cases, there was nothing better to do. After playing local shows and putting out some homemade tapes, they were signed to Restless Records. In 1985, Big Lizard in My Backyard was unleashed to the world. The music on this album is muddy, gross, and fuckin’ rocking in the only way four punk-ass kids could in the mid-’80s. I mean, come on… it’s got “Bitchin’ Camaro” on it! Sure, some of the lyrics are pretty juvenile, but the passion these kids put into making an awesome record is undeniably there. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s raw, and it’s rockin’.

Okay, so maybe in your mind you’re putting “funny” and “punk” together and coming up with images of Blink-182 or some other overproduced crap-ass band. Let me assure you, this is not the case. The Dead Milkmen follow the form and style of early style punk rock and turn it on its ear. It’s sloppy as fuck.

Anyway, in 1986 they put out Eat Your Paisley which, in my opinion, doesn’t quite capture the brilliance of the first album. It’s a little too “self aware,” if that’s possible. 1987’s Bucky Fellini is slightly better, probably because they were experimenting with their sound. Their second “hit,” “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything)” is a big middle finger to the new wave pop that was infiltrating the airwaves at the time.

But instead of becoming a parody band of sorts, they went on to record their most popular and arguably their best record of their career. I speak, of course, of Beelzebubba. You want punk? Consider the subject matter of this record: anti-fraternity sentiments, schizophrenia, bleach drinking, the songs “Smoking Banana Peels” and “Life Is Shit,” and the true gem of this album, the one song that launched them to superstardom: “Punk Rock Girl.”

“Punk Rock Girl?” I hear you scream. “The fucking song with the accordion?” Yes, that song. You know you liked it. Hell, you probably owned it and just don’t remember, whether it’s a beaten copy of the album, or from an old high school mix tape. And as a friend of mine pointed out years ago, it’s really the most romantic song ever recorded. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, they say “fuck you” to everyone around them, and they drive off (in a stolen car) to be together forever. It brings a tear to my eye.

So after getting tons of attention from that album, they followed it up with Metaphysical Grafitti in 1990. It’s pretty diverse as far as song styles go, but it’s got enough punk energy to take you through it, and even the pretty songs are cool. Oh, and Gibby Haynes guests on a psychedelic freakout at the end. Hey, he was still kinda cool back then.

And now we come to the low point of the Dead Milkmen’s career. 1992’s Soul Rotation. I don’t know why, but they wanted to make a soul record, complete with a horn section. While it has its great moments, for the most part it’s a pretty weak album. Many people attribute that to their signing to Hollywood Records (owned by Disney, aka: the Devil), some people thought they were just getting old and they’d lost their touch.

But then a weird thing happened. In 1993 they released the brilliant Not Richard, But Dick. While not quite as rockin’ as their previous albums, the spirit is still there and it makes for one of the most enjoyable albums ever. Unfortunately, no one gave a shit and it bombed hard. Hollywood dropped them. The band took it personally. They decided to split. But before they did, they released one last proper album.

Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig) came out in 1995 on Restless Records. I think since they realized it would be their last album, it loosened them up a bit. They had nothing to prove anymore. They just wanted to make a good album. And they did. As far as send-off albums go, it’s one of the best, up there with the Ramones’ Adios Amigos.

So, you got eight albums, a live record, a greatest hits record, and a handful of EPs and singles. That’s a lot of output for one band. So why, when I go to an indie record store, can I only find their greatest hits? Why, when people see my extensive Dead Milkmen collection in my CD rack, do I get funny looks? Why does a band with a fun outlook to music get forever labeled as a “joke band”?

People, listen to me! You’re missing out on some great music. Search these babies out! If you need some sort of guidance, here are my picks from favorite to least favorite:
1) Big Lizard in My Backyard
2) Beelzebubba
3) Not Richard, But Dick
4) Metaphysical Grafitti
5) Bucky Fellini
6) Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig)
7) Eat Your Paisley
8) Soul Rotation

If you need any more information, check out the official Dead Milkmen webpage at http://www.deadmilkmen.com. It’s band operated, so it’s free of the typical band site bullshit. Check it out and for God’s sakes go buy their albums!

Thank you.

 

Russell is a film/video editor in Los Angeles. He is also a writer for http://www.emptybowl.com/ and likes to watch “Drunken Master” at every possible opportunity.