Joke Band Respect: Surf Punks, Upper Crust

Many people, including close friends and family of mine, hate joke bands. I understand the sentiment. Music has an almost sacred ability to break through left-brained chatter, reconnect you to the present and to emotional truth, and lift your spirits– so it seems almost profane to turn the whole thing into a joke– to drag it back into the domain of distancing, cleverness, and the inauthentic. But some joke bands have meant a lot to me, and I sincerely love them– with The Surf Punks and The Upper Crust at the top of the list.

The Surf Punks were primary stars of my teen years. One of my favorite concert experiences ever was seeing them with my friends Ed and Peter at Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, probably around 1982. They set up an entire beach scene on stage, complete with a lifeguard station. For their finale, guitarist Drew Steele donned an emergency life vest, stood in a kiddie pool, and let drummer Dennis Dragon (who also played on his brother's The Captain and Tennille albums) poured the following over his head: maple syrup, chocolate syrup, strawberry syrup, marshmallow Fluff, and several boxes of breakfast cereal. Now, that's entertainment! Steele then took the life vest off and threw it into the crowd, and Ed caught it. I believe that this {price-, worth-}less piece of rock history still resides in a paper bag in the back of a closet at Ed's parent's house. Here is a short taste of Surf Punk magic, a video for their 40-second song "New Lead Guitar."

The Upper Crust, champions of faux-aristocratic "roque music," played songs like "Monarchy In The U.S.A." wearing breeches, stockings, and powdered wigs. If you know the AC/DC song "Big Balls" then you have a sense for what the Upper Crust's songs are like– but the Crust develops the concept further. They put on a fantastic show which I enjoyed at Bottom Of The Hill in San Francisco about 10 years ago, but I missed seeing them with original member Lord Rockingham, who had left the band to write speeches for Bill Clinton. Here is a video of their rousing "Let Them Eat Roque" (2:48). Enjoy!