#118 – “Sally Boy Candy Bar” (1983)

TMBG Unlimited - July


L.K.: This fucking song.
L.K.: We should’ve done this yesterday when I had my capslocking excitement! It’s worn off since then!
A.S.: I’m trying to recapture the excitement of seeing this pop up in the shuffle.
L.K.: I can’t feign keyboard-smashes… Go copy and paste whatever I did yesterday.
A.S.: Sorry I was busy watching Mon Oncle at My Mind’s Eye and then talking about music and stuff til 4:30 a.m. Ummm… lemme find it. Eh, I’ve closed out the window.  Your excitement is lost. But believe me, dear reader, we both have irrational reactions to this song.
L.K.: “wait what rea;yty fjsdfkahsdljkfansldk the whole review is just going to be me going AAAAHHHHHHHHHH” via Facebook.
A.S.: Right.
L.K.: But yeah man, this song.
A.S.: Guys, “Sally Boy Mothafuckin’ Candy Bar”
L.K.: It is insane that this is such an early TMBG song because actually, uh… it’s a lot better than a lot of later ones. IT’S SO FUCKIN’ GOOD.
A.S.: This ranks right up with “Puppet Head” for me as all-time best John Flansburgh song.
L.K.: I’m sort of torn between whether my love from it stems from the song itself, or just from the incredibly aggressive, incredibly lo-fi recording of it.
A.S.: Yes, that intense, raw, punk/new wave sound is something rare for TMBG.  They can get loud, they can get aggressive, and they certainly have plenty of low fidelity recordings, but rarely have all of these excellent qualities melded together so effortlessly in their catalogue.
L.K.: I really wish they had done more stuff like this, because it’s such an anomaly.
A.S.: Flansburgh’s lyrics are just batshit insane, quoting 60s pop hit “Boys” (made famous by The Beatles), toying with gender confusion for the first of a number of times, referencing Hollywood Squares
L.K.: Oh yeah, nobody has any idea what the hell the lyrics are about. They seem just on the verge of meaning something.
A.S.: Which isn’t unusual for the band, but these lyrics just seem especially odd. Again, it’s probably partly due to the rawness of the delivery and performance. You asked Flansburgh what they meant once!
L.K.: I did! And said it had something to do with language. Maybe. I’m willing to bet he either doesn’t remember what it’s about, or doesn’t want to admit something. Considering that it’s a song that was written and recorded almost 30 years ago, I can understand that.
A.S.: I love this song’s intro.  Just this insistent, ominous pinging, very much implying that something is going to happen. And then when it does, it’s just this rough explosion of music.
L.K.: It’s so good. Hot damn. This song, guys.
A.S.: Would you go so far as to say that it’s the best hidden gem in the catalogue?  I would.
L.K.: Considering that it never made it beyond the demo tape stage, I’d say yeah. I mean, I love “Hell Hotel” too, but I think this song tops even that.
A.S.: I’d say so. Those five songs we’ve heard from that 1983 demo tape… it really begs the question of whether or not there’s anything else on there because if they’re half as good as the songs we have heard…
L.K.: Since the incredibly raw sound of the recording is part of the song’s charm though, I really wonder whether a cleaned-up album version of this would’ve been as good. And I mean, there almost certainly are tons more old TMBG songs sitting around in boxes of cassette tapes, the problem is just whether we’ll ever get to hear them or not. God, I’m just thinking about this song’s lyrics again (always a dangerous idea).
A.S.: Oh yeah.
L.K.: I feel like this needs to be handed off to an English major and a women’s studies major or something nuts like that, to see what they pull from it.
A.S.: I also feel like they’ll just hand it back and say, “Yeah, this is just gibberish.”
L.K.: Oh yeah. I mean, it probably is just gibberish. But the “boy is a girl” fish-with-bicycles stuff just seems weirdly deliberate to be totally meaningless. It probably ultimately is still meaningless though. Just the title phrase itself… I mean, what is  a “sally boy candy bar” anyway? I’ve always wondered that because it’s such a strange phrase. Is a sally boy like a nancy boy? Usually I don’t bother trying to interpret TMBG lyrics because usually they are pretty straightforward. Still, this song is frustrating because it still doesn’t seem to mean anything when taken at face value.
A.S.: I think the allure of the song itself is just drawing you to try to get anything from the song’s lyrics.  You love the song so much that you want to understand it completely, and being unable to understand it only encourages you to study it even more closely.
L.K.: It keeps flinging odd juxtapositions of potentially loaded statements at you… while also being totally fucking rocking. Seriously though, I mean, no offense to all the other really old TMBG songs, but I really think it’s a shame this song is as obscure as it is.
A.S.: Oh yeah. You know, I think knowing and loving this song was one of the reasons why “Read A Book” was so exciting when it came out.  I feel like that song, polished up as it is (then again, in terms of lo-fi music, “Sally Boy Candy Bar” is pretty cleaned-up, relatively speaking) is a real call-back to the punk energy of “SBCB”.
L.K.: Oh, I remember the earlier, super-rough “Read A Book” from whatever YouTube video Flans posted at 4 am last summer/fall. I don’t know if I immediately connected it with “SBCB”, but I think I see what you’re saying.
A.S.: Both songs are of a common musical root.  And it helps that they’re both Flans-tunes.
L.K.: Yeah, for a couple of guys who claim 1977 changed their lives, their music has always been pretty definitely not punk. Especially Flans, Mr. “I-Went-To-London-In-1977”, Mr. “I-had-a-fake-ID”.
A.S.: Well… At least in the musically regimented terms of punk.  Spiritually, especially in the early days, that’s a whole different issue. TMBG were pretty punk.
L.K.: Oh yeah, ancient TMBG was definitely full of the DIY ethos though. But musically & lyrically they’ve always been fairly tame and non-confrontational, which isn’t to say that punk is required to be confrontational, but it’s at least usually challenging some assumption in some way.
A.S.: TMBG challenged that assumption though; they were confronting the uh, confronters by not being confrontational. Which is why we love them.
L.K.: Now we’re getting very meta.
A.S.: Well, that’s what TMBG was and is.
L.K.: And it illustrates the way we are.
A.S.: Sally
L.K.: Boy
A.S.: Candy
L.K.: Bar
A.S.: Yup.
L.K.: Man, I want to start a rock club called SBCB’s now. It would be TERRIBLE.
A.S.: Yeah, I don’t know if Sally Boy Candy Bar would be a particularly great name for a rock club, but SBCB’s does have a ring to it.
L.K.: Really getting off topic, did anybody else mistakenly think the CBGB’s awning was hanging over the restrooms at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or was that just me?
A.S.: No, I did. I got pissed.
L.K.: I was all “Whoooa, that’s kinda political”. And then I realized it wasn’t actually hanging over the bathrooms.
A.S.: I think it might’ve been two or three times later, I went down to investigate and found out that those weren’t bathrooms. I also got pretty pissed off when I went to Bleecker and Bowery to find that CBGB’s was some like… high-end clothing store. I mean, I knew it had closed but I was just upset there were no traces of it left.
L.K.: That’s New York City for ya, man. Always rushing to erase its past glories and triumphs with crass commercialism.
A.S.: And it illustrates the way we are?

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