Spongetones – Scrambled Eggs

January 01, 1970

(Loaded Goat)




When pop pundits pontificate upon the rise of the so-called
New Southern Pop Scene during the early ‘80s they inevitably focus upon the
Georgia kudzu axis (R.E.M. et al) and
its NC counterpart having roots in the unexpectedly fertile town of
Winston-Salem (which spawned the musicians who formed the dB’s and Lets
Active). Frequently overlooked, however, are the Spongetones, hailing from Charlotte
a banking center perched on the northern edge of the NC-SC border and itself
often overlooked for its musical contributions, which have included punk
terrorists Antiseen, psych-funk legends Fetchin Bones and, recently, roots
upstarts the Avett Brothers (the latter technically from Concord, but it’s
essentially a suburb of Charlotte, so…).


See, the Spongetones got to the table wayyyy before most of the other regionals, forming in the late ‘70s
and specializing in a distinctive Merseybeat-flavored (read: Beatlesque) brand
of pure pop that, admittedly, was probably at odds with the emerging punk and
new wave of the day. It probably didn’t help the quartet’s case that they took
awhile to release an LP, and when they did, with 1983’s Beat Music (plus ’84 EP Torn
), they were also the odd men out on a label that specialized in the
indigenous coastal Carolina style known as beach music (read: R&B watered-down
for aging white boomers). Yet for those who did latch onto the ‘tones early in
the game – I proudly count myself among them and still cherish those early
records, while no less than Kurt Loder and Tarheel boy Parke Puterbaugh sang
the band’s praises in Rolling Stone
it’s been a long-running musical love affair that shows no signs of abating.
Some wise soul once proposed that if it’s got a backbeat, you definitely won’t
lose it, and that the Spongetones had, in spades, along with the kinds of
soaring melodies and rich harmonies that send chills down the spine. One of my
fondest memories from my Charlotte days is of the time when the Spongetones
headlined a benefit for out-of-work local symphony musicians: with a
mini-orchestra crowding the stage of a punk rock club, the band came on and
brought to life material from Sgt.
Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
and other songs the world never got to
hear the Beatles perform in concert.


Which brings us to Scrambled
. Amazingly, the Spongetones have persevered over the years, continuing
to perform and record and remaining true to their original musical vision even
as they have refined and elaborating upon it in order to keep things fresh for
both fans and band. With the band leading up to their 30th anniversary this fall, Scrambled Eggs comes on the heels of 2005’s Number 9 and 2008’s Too Clever By Half, and
yes, if you can spot the subtle Beatles nods in those album titles, you win a
free Jane Asher-guided tour of Liverpool. (Hint: “Scrambled Eggs” was the
original working title for “Yesterday.) The ‘tones – guitarist Jamie Hoover,
bassist Steve Stoeckel, guitarist/keyboardist Pat Walters, drummer Rob Thorne –
are in as fine a form as ever, rallying with 13 choice beat combo nuggets
guaranteed to tweak your inner John, Paul, George, Dirk and Stig.


The record kicks off with “All the Loving,” a
cowbell-kicking, harmonica-flecked, power chord-fueled declaration of
resilience (gal leaves guy, guy misses gal, guy declares that she’ll “miss all
the loving” she had soon enough). Another hi-nrg highlight is “Lost Weekend,”
which takes an early Joe Jackson bass thump and marries it to choppy chords, a
surging organ and classic three-part harmonies, while “Where Ya Gonna Go?,”
with its strummy acoustic-electric motif and lush envelope of sound, brings to
mind vintage Dwight Twilley. Images of other powerpop icons flit by as well –
Big Star for “Unlikely Too,” Todd Rundgren/Nazz for “Inevitable You,” even Roy
Wood for “Karma Depleted” – while the album’s most Beatles-like number, the
‘50s-ish “She’ll Be Gone,” is so dead-on it’d flummox a blindfold test subject.


The Mersey thing’s not a pervasive obsession for the band,
however, as evidenced by songs such as “It Can’t Go on Forever,” a slice of
Southern soul featuring gospel-like backing vocals and stately keys, and
“Propeller Flights,” so wonderfully sunny with its brisk acoustic strum that in
a perfect it would’ve been discovered and recorded by the Traveling Wilburys. Well,
the world ain’t perfect, of course, and the Wilburys are no more. But we do
have the Spongetones, and God bless ‘em for all the musical sunshine they’ve
brought into this world during their three-decade tenure. Long may they beat.


Standout Tracks: “All
the Loving,” “Unlikely Too,” “Propeller Flights” FRED MILLS


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