Weird at My School: The Flying Lizards

by DJ El Toro

Almost ten years ago to the day, a small American town was overrun by flying lizards. It was a Sunday I’m sure many of us will never forget.

I am referring to The Simpsons, Episode 206 (“Bart The Mother”). Our spiky-headed protagonist, wracked with remorse after killing an innocent bird, adopts her orphaned eggs — only to witness them birth a pair of winged reptiles. He is ordered to kill them, but is too emotionally attached. Consequently, the voracious critters run amok and damn near bring Springfield to its knees, until… well, you’ll just have to rent Season 10 on DVD.

I could have warned the residents of Springfield about flying lizards. Because Flying Lizards — the British band-cum-art project of the same name — have filled my existence with joy and insanity for three decades. And this week, the chaos resumes, with the domestic CD reissue of The Flying Lizards (1979) and Fourth Wall (1981), their first two albums.

Oh, you know the Flying Lizards. Their Dada version of the ’60s ditty “Money,” littered with deadpan vocals, garbage can percussion, and incessant whooping, is a pop culture staple. 29 years after it terrorized the UK Top Ten, it still turns up everywhere from hit movie soundtracks (The Wedding Singer, Charlie’s Angels) to The Morning Show. LCD Soundsystem, Ursula 1000, Nouvelle Vague, and Playgroup are all ardent fans of the band; the latter two included Lizard tracks on recent mix CDs. UK producer Richard X even dragged original “Money” vocalist Deborah Evans into the studio for two tracks (including Bacharach & David’s “Walk On By”) on his 2003 album Richard X Presents His X-Factor.

The Flying Lizards – Money

But cuckoo covers — the ever-changing group also deconstructed Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” Brecht & Weill, and Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up,” and later cut a whole album of other people’s songs, Top Ten – are only part of the twisted story. The originals are equally disorienting. My personal favorite is “The Window,” the creepy closer from the eponymous album, written and warbled by journalist and musician (Massive Attack, PiL) Vivien Goldman. The plinking “Lovers And Other Strangers,” from Fourth Wall, runs a close second; its combination of off-kilter singing (in this case, by Patti Palladin) and toy instruments really gets my motor running.

The talent roster on these two albums does my head in. Besides Evans, Goldman, and Palladin (who worked closely with Judy Nylon in Snatch, and cut an album of duets with Johnny Thunders), the assembled minions include sax iconoclast Peter Gordon (Laurie Anderson, Love of Life Orchestra), Robert Fripp, minimalist great Michael Nyman, author and musician David Toop, and members of post punk greats the Pop Group, This Heat, and Rip, Rig & Panic. Imagine if John Cage had made “pop” records, and you’re on the right track.

Be like young Bartholomew J. Simpson, and take these weird creatures to your bosom. Yes, they will send your world into a tailspin, but I assure you, Flying Lizards will never leave you wanting for top-notch oddball entertainment.

DJ El Toro is the host of the overnight show In Between Sleep & Reason, Wednesday mornings from 1 AM to 6 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and His column, Weird At My School, appears every Monday on the KEXP Blog.

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