One of the coolest alternative-rock bands of the 80s, back when the label “alternative rock” actually meant something.
The “alternative indie” bands of the eighties were an oasis in a dry wasteland of dance pop, hair metal and whatever Phil Collins was working on at the time. While MTV and mainstream radio were selling a message of Reagan-era prosperity and capitalist hedonism, the pirate radio broadcasts of Camper Van Beethoven, Pixies, Flaming Lips et al were reveling in the surreality of the current zeitgeist. (I’m keeping that sentence just to remind me why I don’t like writing band biographies—i.e., because I suck at them.)
Most rock bands wanted to be The Beatles or Velvet Underground. Camper Van Beethoven wanted to be a Ukranian folk band, or at least be the surf-punk equivalent of a Ukrainian folk band. Their first two albums, Telephone Free Landslide Victory and Camper Van Beethoven II & III, explored this desire with equal amounts of aplomb and abandon (aplandon) while tantalizing listeners with humorous songs (“The Day That Lassie Went To The Moon,” “Take The Skinheads Bowling”) mixed with moments of disarming sweetness (“Sad Lover’s Waltz”).
On their eponymous third album, the band seemed to figure out that Ukrainian folk music probably wasn’t their future and wisely shifted the balance of their energies to writing absurd rock songs with really catchy melodies (“Good Guys & Bad Guys,” “We Saw Jerry’s Daughters”). Their (sort of) breakthrough came with Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart and a video for the single, “Eye of Fatima (Part 1).” Even a little success seemed to spoil them. Signs of internal dissension or simple boredom could be seen in the disappearance of Jonathan Segel and the appearance of various offshoots (Camper Van Chadbourne, Monks of Doom).
Camper Van Beethoven re-emerged on a major label (Virgin) for one last album, Key Lime Pie, which featured a new violinist (Morgan Fichter) and a remake of Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” When Pie failed to chart well, the Campers disbanded for good, with lead singer Lowery starting Cracker and the rest of the band setting up camp in the Monks. The band today enjoys an elevated status as elder statesmen of the alternative indie rock movement, which has fueled interest in several reunions. Interestingly, Lowery has also parlayed his experiences into a side career as a university lecturer (on the subject of the business side of music) and digital media muckraker (see The Trichordist for more on that).
TELEPHONE FREE LANDSLIDE VICTORY (1985)
Border Ska / The Day That Lassie Went to the Moon / Wasted / Yanqui Go Home / Oh No! / 9 of Disks / Payed Vacation, Greece / Where The Hell Is Bill? / Vladivostock // Skinhead Stomp / Tina / Take The Skinheads Bowling / Mao Reminisces About His Days in Southern China / I Don’t See You / Balalaika Gap / Opie Rides Again/Club Med Sucks / Ambiguity Song. Released on elpee in 1985 in the US (Independent Project, IP-016) and in 1986 in the UK (Rough Trade, ROUGH-95). Re-issued on CD on April 27, 2004 in the US (SpinART).
CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN II & III (1986)
Abundance / Cowboys From Hollywood / Sad Lovers’ Waltz / Turtlehead / I Love Her All the Time / No Flies On Us / Down And Out / No Kruggerands For David / (Don’t You Go To) Goleta / 4 Year Plan // (We’re A) Bad Trip / Circles / Dustpan / Sometimes / Chain of Circumstance / ZZ-Top Goes To Egypt / Cattle (Reversed) / Form Another Stone / No More Bullshit. Released on elpee in 1986 (Pitch-a-Tent, PITCH A TENT 01) and in 1987 in the UK (Rough Trade, ROUGH-123). Re-issued on elpee, cassette and compact disc in the US (Rough Trade/Pitch-a-Tent , PITCH 01/C/CD) with purple cover. Re-released on CD on March 24, 2009 in the US (Cooking Vinyl) with bonus tracks.
Take The Skinheads Bowling (1986)
b/w Colonel Enrique Adolofo Bermudez + Cowboys From Hollywood, Epigram (two versions), Atkuda. Released on 7-inch single and six-track EP in 1986 in the UK (Rough Trade, RT/RTT 161) and in 1987 in Germany (Full Blast/Line, FBS 1.00023) with picture sleeve.
CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN (1986)
Good Guys & Bad Guys / Jo Stalin’s Cadillac / Five Sticks / Lulu Land / Une Fois / We Saw Jerry’s Daughter / Surprise Truck / Stairway To Heaven (sic) // The History of Utah / Still Wishing To Course / We Love You / Hoe Yourself Down / Peace & Love / Folly / Interstellar Overdrive / Shut Us Down. Released on elpee and cassette in 1986 in the US (Pitch-a-Tent, PITCH A TENT 02/C), the UK (Rough Trade, ROUGH 109) and Germany (Full Blast, FBLP 4.00279K); cassette has different cover.
VAMPIRE CAN MATING OVEN (EP) (1987)
Good Guys and Bad Guys / Heart / Never Go Back / Seven Languages / Ice Cream Every Day / Processional / Photograph. Released on EP in 1987 in the US (Pitch-A-Tent, PITCH 05) and in the UK (Rough Trade, RTM-205).
OUR BELOVED REVOLUTIONARY SWEETHEART (1988)
Eye of Fatima, Part 1 / Eye of Fatima, Part 2 / Oh Death / She Divines Water / Devil Song / One of These Days / Turquoise Jewelry // Waka / Change Your Mind / My Path Belated / Never Go Back / The Fool / Tania / Life Is Grand. Released on elpee, CD and cassette (with unique cover) on May 24, 1988 in the US (Virgin, 90918-1/2), the UK (Virgin, 86055) and in Germany (Virgin, 209.096.630); reached #135 on the US charts.
Eye of Fatima Pts. 1 & 2 (edit)
b/w Torquoise Jewelry. Released as promotional 12-inch single in 1988 in the US (Virgin, PR 2312).
Turquoise Jewelry (1988)
b/w Waka + Love Is A Weed, Harmony In My Head, Wade In The Water. Released as promotional five-track 12-inch in 1988 in the US (Virgin, PR 2471). Also released as promotional CD single in 1988 in the US (Virgin, PRCD 2471) with just the first two tracks.
Life Is Grand (1988)
b/w Love Is A Weed. Released on 7-inch in August 1988 in the UK and Australia (Virgin, VS 1122) with picture sleeve. Also released on 12-inch (Virgin, BST-1122) with “Harmony In My Head” and “Wade In The Water” added.
KEY LIME PIE (1989)
Opening Theme / Jack Ruby / Sweethearts / When I Win The Lottery / (I Was Born In A) Laundromat / Borderline / The Light From A Cake / June / All Her Favorite Fruit / Interlude / Flowers / The Humid Press of Days / Pictures of Matchstick Men / Come On Darkness. Released on elpee, compact disc and cassette in September 1989 in the US (Virgin, V2-91289) and the UK (Virgin, VUSLP/CDVUS/VUSMC-8); reached #141 on the US charts.
(I Was Born In A) Laundromat (edit) (1989)
Released as promotional CD single in 1989 in the US (Virgin, PRCD 3118).
Pictures of Matchstick Men (1989)
b/w Jack Ruby + Closing Theme, The Humid Press of Days. Released on 7-inch single and four-track 12-inch and CD single in 1989 in the UK (Virgin, VUS/VUST/VUSCD-8) with picture sleeve. Also released as promotional CD single in 1989 in the US (Virgin, PRCD 3024) featuring remixed version only.
CAMPER VANTIQUITIES (1993)
Heart / Never Go Back / Seven Languages / Axe Murderer Song / SP37597 / Crossing Over / Guardian Angels / I’m Not Like Everybody Else / A.C. Cover / Flowers (Demo) / One of These Days (Demo) / Humid Press of Days (Demo) / All Her Favorite Fruit (Demo) / Silent Monster / Porpoise Mouth / (We Workers Do Not Understand) Modern Art / We Eat Your Children / Six More Miles To The Graveyard / Ice Cream Everday / Processional / Photograph. Released on CD on March 23, 1993 in the US (IRS, 13211-1). Re-issued on CD on April 27, 2004 in the US (SpinART, SPART-143).
Crossing Over / Seven Languages / Photograph / Take The Skinheads Bowling / We’re A Bad Trip / Good Guys & Bad Guys / Shut Us Down / In Anticipation of the Pope / Broadcast at Midday. Released as promotional CD in 1993 in the US (IRS, DPRO-6706).
THE VIRGIN YEARS (1994)
Eye of Fatima, Parts 1 & 2 / Turquoise Jewelry / Waka / One of These Days / Sweethearts / (I Was Born in a) Laundromat / All Her Favorite Fruit / Pictures of Matchstick Men / Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now) / This Is Cracker Soul / I See The Light / Mr. Wrong / Dr. Bernice / Low / Get Off This / Euro-Trash Girl. Released as promotional CD in 1994 in the US (Virgin, DPRO-14129).
CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN IS DEAD: LONG LIVE CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN (2000)
Broadcasting Live from the MCI-Worldcom/AT&T/Daimler-Chrysler / L’Aguardiente / Tom’s Flower’s 1500 Valves / All Her Favorite Fruit (Orchestral Version) / Closing Theme / Loose Lips Sink Ships / Who Are the Brain Police? / Stayin’ at Home With the Girls in the Morning (vienna club mix) / Klondike / SP37957 Medley / Balalaika Gap (Demo) / The Perfect Enigma Machine / We’re All Wasted and We’re Wasting Your Time. Released on CD on June 6, 2000 in the US (Pitch-A-Tent, 2002).
SELECTIONS FROM CIGARETTES & CARROT JUICE (2002)
Take the Skinheads Bowling / The Day That Lassie Went to the Moon / Sad Lovers Waltz / We’re a Bad Trip / Good Guys and Bad Guys / Shut Us Down / Never Go Back / Photograph / All Her Favorite Fruit (Orchestral Live) / My Baby Just Got Out of Jail (Live). Released as promotional elpee in 2002 in the US (SpinART, 247).
CIGARETTES & CARROT JUICE: THE SANTA CRUZ YEARS (2002)
TELEPHONE FREE LANDSLIDE VICTORY / II & III / CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN / CAMPER VANTIQUITIES / GREATEST HITS PLAYED FASTER. Released as 5CD boxed set on November 5, 2002 in the UK (Cooking Vinyl, COOK CD 247).
Over And Over / The Ledge / Think About Me / Save Me A Place / Sara / What Makes You Think You’re The One / Storms / That’s All For Everyone / Not That Funny / Sisters of the Moon // Angel / That’s Enough For Me / Brown Eyes / Never Make Me Cry / I Know I’m Not Wrong / Honey Hi (spanish) / Beautiful Child / Walk A Thin Line / Tusk / Never Forget. Released on 2CD on August 5, 2002 in the US (Pitch-A-Tent).
Take The Skinheads Bowling / Tusk / Think About Me (2002)
Released on CD single in 2002 in the UK (Cooking Vinyl, FRYCD 143P).
NEW ROMAN TIMES (2004)
Prelude / Sons of the New Golden West / 51-7 / White Fluffy Clouds / That Gum You Like Is Back In Style / Might Makes Right / Militia Song / R n R Uzbekistan / Sons of the New Golden West (Reprise) / New Roman Times / The Poppies of Balmorhea / The Long Plastic Hallway / I Am Talking To This Flower / Come Out / Los Tigres Traficantes / I Hate This Part of Texas / Hippy Chix / Civil Disobedience / Discotheque CVB / Hey Brother. Released on compact disc on October 13, 2004 in the US (Vanguard, 79779-2) and the UK (Cooking Vinyl, COOKCD-317).
51-7 (Clean Version) (2004)
Released as promotional CD single in 2004 in the US (Pitch-A-Tent, PAT-22).
DISCOTHEQUE CVB: LIVE IN CHICAGO (EP) (2005)
Live tracks: Eye of Fatima (Part 1) / Eye of Fatima (Part 2) / Sad Lover’s Waltz / Might Makes Right / The Long Plastic Hallway / Hippy Chix / That Gum You Like Is Back In Style. Recorded live on October 29, 2004 and released on CDEP on February 15, 2005 in the US (Vanguard).
POPULAR SONGS OF GREAT ENDURING STRENGTH AND BEAUTY (2008)
The Day That Lassie Went To The Moon / Border Ska / Take The Skinheads Bowling / Pictures of Matchstick Men / Skinhead Stomp / Opie Rides Again/Club Med Sucks / Eye of Fatima (Parts 1 & 2) / ZZ Top Goes To Egypt / Sad Lover’s Waltz / When I Win The Lottery / The History of Utah / Seven Languages / All Her Favorite Fruit / Good Guys And Bad Guys / Circles / One of These Days / Ambiguity Song / Shut Us Down. Released on compact disc on June 24, 2008 in the US (Cooking Vinyl).