Camper Van Beethoven: Telephone Free Landslide Victory (1985)

I still remember when this one landed at the college station where I was DJ'ing (WPRB New Jersey) -- a totally left-field record unlike anything we'd heard.  Post-punk/hardcore sensibilities crossed with college radio jangle pop and maybe a touch of Jonathan Richman/Violent Femmes' silly earnestness (earnest silliness?) -- all interspersed with instrumentals you might describe as weird Balkan polka music crossed with ska and surf rock.

Remove the instrumentals (and, to be honest, I never listen to those), and you're left with a briefer work, maybe a 25 minute EP, but what a crazy, stellar EP at that.

The album is undoubtedly best remembered for the totally bonkers ditty "Take The Skinheads Bowling," a bit of delirious nonsense over a compelling guitar jangle; it's fun and infectious and timeless.  But plenty of other songs are in the ballpark.  "Where The Hell Is Bill" perfectly summarizes and pokes fun at the punk clique fashions of the day, set to a simple folk tune; "Wasted" takes the Black Flag/Circle Jerks hardcore classic, slows it down, and turns it into a gentle violin-driven garage rocker; "The Day That Lassie Went To The Moon" is another silly mid-tempo ditty ("Lassie knew she had the duty to serve the youth of America and the stars above..."); "Oh No" is somewhat chipper pop with an edge; "Ambiguity Song" seems to reprise "Skinheads" for some more oddball pop; and "Club Med Sucks" is punk-ish rage directed at suburban angst.  

The sound, full of violins and guitars and odd ethnic sounds, is unusual, the lyrics playful and sophomoric and clever, and it's a bold declaration of collegiate rebellion freed from the more standard hardcore delivery of the era.  Great stuff.  And at a time when college radio was serving up self-serious proclamations of Minor Threat and Black Flag, and the casual post-punk artsiness of R.E.M., CvB were like a smoke bomb dropped into the classroom.

The band would go on to produce more consistent, mature works (I think 1988's Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart -- alas, not streaming on Spotify -- is their most solid album start-to-finish; and their 2004 return to recording after a 15-year break, the surprising rock opera New Roman Times, is quite strong).  But Telephone Free is an innovative and undeniably entertaining debut.

Here's the "Bowling" video:
...and a live performance of "Lassie":
...and some live "Wasted" following the band's return from a long hiatus:


  1. "Where The Hell Is Bill" is also the story of every band that had to wait around for the one guy who is ALWAYS late to rehearsal. :)

    1. Funny, hadn't thought of it in that context, but that sounds pretty spot-on.


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