In the late 1970s, Boston was a hotbed of so-called “New Wave” music. Sparked by the Cars’ national success, record labels came to the city eager to sign bands. The Fools, Robin Lane & the Chartbusters, Private Lightning, Human Sexual Response and the Nervous Eaters were just a few who made deals.
When the Hub sound didn’t play out on national level, most faded away after a few albums.
But the Fools play on.
Apart from a brief 1990s hiatus, the band has steadily gigged and made records (most recently, 2007’s “10”) since arriving on the Boston music scene.
Friday night, they’ll play a special sit-down. unplugged, “Storytellers”-type set at Tupelo Music Hall.
EMI signed the Fools in 1979 on the strength of the politically incorrect “She Looks Alright In the Dark,” and their Talking Heads send-up, “Psycho Chicken,” which David Byrne dryly called “a humorous version of a brilliant song.”
They made a pair of albums, but spent a lot of time clashing with the record company. At one point the band was asked to re-work “It’s a Night for Beautiful Girls” – ironic considering the song was their biggest hit for the label.
“Part of our time with EMI was about them trying to bang off the rough edges,” lead singer Mike Girard said recently. “I don’t think they ever succeeded.”
True to their name, in 1985, the Fools started their own label.
“World Dance Party” brought success on the band’s own terms. They covered Manfred Mann’s “Do Wah Diddy,” and the video received heavy MTV play. A couple of the album’s songs became radio hits, and remain crowd pleasers to this day.
Says Girard of the decision to go it alone, “back then it wasn’t called “indie” – it was called stupid to have your own record company.”
But, he continues, “it was the first time we were totally free to do what we wanted, and we’ve been that way ever since.”
The album also yielded the twangy “Life Sucks, Then You Die,” a song the band first played in disguise – as their own opening act.
“We decided rather than have a crapshoot on that we’d form kind of a butt-poke country band,” says Girard. For ambience, they’d put a bucket of manure on the stage, and use a fan to send the aroma into the crowd.
“We’d come out in chaps and cowboy hats, the whole deal,” he says. “More than one drunk person over the years said to me, ‘boy, you guys gotta get rid of that country band that opens for you’.”
“I took that as the highest compliment,” he says. “Even from a drunk person.”
Their major label days weren’t all about artistic struggle. Some of the stories likely to come up in this Friday’s show revolve around their experiences opening shows for a who’s who of bands in the late 70s and early 80s.
“We did the only Knack tour,” says Girard, adding that being a one-hit wonder (“My Sharona”) was that band’s own fault.
“They did so much to repel every radio person in America that their second album never saw the light of day,” says Girard, “but they were a surprisingly good band.”
While on the road with Van Halen, “it was suggested about halfway through the tour that we stay in different hotels. We were probably a little too rowdy or something. It wasn’t like throwing TVs out windows. I know Alex [Van Halen] liked to party, so he was missing sound checks at times because of us.”
So their legacy is being a bad influence on … Van Halen?
“It seems that way,” says Girard. “I don’t know what else to make of it. David Lee Roth was kind of tough to get along with at times, everybody else was great.” As for Eddie Van Halen, “he was with Valerie Bertinelli, and they had those little heart balloons over their heads. Anything was fine with Eddie. It was love.“
Girard is sure they’ll have more stories about their time in Europe touring with an on-the-verge Journey, playing festivals alongside Cheap Trick, and drinking with Phil Collins as the Genesis singer/drummer contemplated a solo career.
“If we can’t think of any stories we’ll just make them up,” Girard laughs. “I’ve never felt a responsibility to tell the public the truth about anything.”
He’ll be serious, though, if fans ask whether the long-unavailable “Sold Out” and “Heavy Mental” LPs will ever come on CD.
“We can’t get EMI to release them,” says Girard, complaining that the label demands “exorbitant amounts” every time the discussion comes up.
“We’ve kind of given up trying to battle through that,” he says. “If you want to hear some of those songs, you’ve got to come and see us.”