Motley crews

By BRETT MILANO  |  November 15, 2006

Arnie was also among the first to discover that some new music was starting to come out of England. One fateful day in 1963 he heard of a record that was topping the charts in the UK, got himself a copy sent from abroad, and was the first in the US to play it. And that record was . . . well, it was only “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (On the Bedpost Overnight)” by Lonnie Donegan. The Beatles were still a few months away, but he made sure we heard them too.

40th_lyres
JEFF CONOLLY OF THE LYRES: Gutter-preaching three-chord grit.
Beatlemania struck in earnest on February 9, 1964, with the band’s fateful appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Garage doors throughout the country swung open the next day, as Beatles-inspired kids set up instruments, learned three chords, and proceeded to rock. As singer Brad Delp, who later fronted the platinum band Boston, recalled, “I got a guitar that same week; so did a lot of my friends who are still playing. Before the Beatles all we had was Little League, and I knew I wasn’t going anywhere with that.”

But Boston’s pre-eminent ’60s band was already starting up before the Beatles hit. Boston University student Barry Tashian made a trip to England in ’63, where he saw a long-forgotten blues band do a killer version of “Got My Mojo Working.” Armed with this inspiration, he came back to BU and formed the Remains, who boasted a similarly raw and bluesy sound. Nobody used the term “garage rock” back then, but Remains tracks like “Who Do I Cry” and the frenzied “Don’t Look Back” came to define that genre. The Remains went down in music history when they opened some shows on the Beatles’ 1966 tour, including the one at Candlestick Park in San Francisco — which was, save for the Apple rooftop concert, the last live show the Beatles would ever play. Tashian remembers an ominous feeling about that show, looking out from the stage and seeing a fog roll over the city.

Despite their nasty and raunchy sound, the Remains were clean-cut pros who wore suits on stage. A more delinquent bunch were the Lost, who had a baby-faced, piano-pounding frontman. Signed to Capitol Records, the Lost made a few singles that ’60s collectors would treasure over the years. Although the band didn’t quite make it, that frontman would reappear with a long string of great bands. His name: Willie Alexander.

The biggest Boston song to appear in the ’60s wasn’t a Boston record at all. Although “Dirty Water” will always be a Boston anthem, it was written by Texan Ed Cobb and recorded by a Los Angeles group, the Standells (Cobb did have a Boston girlfriend, apparently one of those frustrated women who had to be home by 10). But the closest Massachusetts came to a ’60s hit was one underground classic by the Barbarians, who asked the musical question on every Beatles-era parent’s mind: “Are You a Boy (Or Are You a Girl)?” A truly motley crew, the Barbarians were a long-haired, anti-social-looking bunch with the crowning touch of a one-handed drummer: Victor “Moulty” Moulton lost his left hand in a fireworks accident at age 14, and managed to play pretty well with a drumstick fitted into his hook. Few would have guessed that these tough-looking guys hailed from Provincetown, the Portuguese-fishing-village-turned-artists’-colony at the edge of Cape Cod.

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