Beat Happening - Look Around - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Beat Happening - Look Around

by Andy Brown Rating:10 Release Date:2015-11-20

The genius of Olympia’s Beat Happening lay in their uncanny ability to turn deceptively simple ideas into absolutely timeless, indie-pop classics. Formed in 1982, the band earned themselves a particularly devoted fan-base with their honest, uncluttered approach. Famous fan, Kurt Cobain went as far as getting a tattoo of the bands iconic label, K Records, on his forearm. A band that inspired love and rabid devotion, Beat Happening were a band many held close to their record-loving, DIY hearts.

Led by Calvin Johnson, the band combined the uncompromising ethos of punk with a playful, musical naivety. The band bridged the gap between punk’s noisy, anti-corporate stance and the fey, lovelorn world of indiepop with 2 minute paeans to teenage cavemen, Indian summers and doe-eyed crushes. With their albums going in and out of print over the years it’s a delight to see Domino releasing this rather handy 23 song introduction.

The magic starts with the band’s first single, 1984’s ‘Our Secret’. Everything is in place from the beginning; the lo-fi crackles of the production, the primitive drums and childlike melodies and Calvin singing, “We went to her friend’s house/to have a cup of tea/she said that it was true/she was in love with me”. There’s no macho bravado with Beat Happening, with Johnson’s lyrics and non-confrontational stage presence giving the punk rock community a different kind of frontman.  

Along with the likes of Half Japanese, The Meat Puppets and The Vaselines the band is often described as ‘amateurish’ with their wonky, on the edge of collapse, three chord pop songs. This is, of course, a complement as the songs sound perfect in all their ragged, untechnical glory. Ok, so the band probably couldn’t play ‘Stairway to Heaven’ but then again Zeppelin could never nail the thrilling innocence of ‘Foggy Eyes’ or the lustful, Cramps-esque cool of ‘Red Head Walking’.

There’s a whole lot to love on Look Around but I always find myself coming back to the sublime pop-thrills of ‘Bewitched’. Starting with a hail of feedback and a two-note riff stolen from The Sonics, ‘Bewitched’ encapsulates all the excitement, lust and joy of a new crush as Johnson sings, mantra-like, “I got a crush on you/what am I to do”. It should be mentioned alongside the likes of ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘You Really Got Me’ as an example of simple, unfettered pop perfection.

It’s Johnson’s distinctive drawl that leads us through a lot of the songs yet many of my favourite moments seem to come when fellow founding member, Heather Lewis, steps up to the microphone. Take the staggeringly beautiful ‘Fortune Cookie Prize’ as Lewis’ pines over the songs beguiling, melancholic strum, “climb high/climb high/you’re my fortune cookie prize”. I listened to this song about 8 times in a row the other day and still couldn’t get enough.

Lewis’ greatest moment arguably comes with the unusually epic, Galaxie 500-esque ‘Godsend’. Taken from the bands last album, 1992s You Turn Me On, the song breaks a number of the bands golden rules. For a start it’s nearly ten minutes long. Yet as the song gently unfolds you’re pulled into a dreamlike world as Lewis coos the songs sad-eyed refrains, “you stay up every night/and wash in candlelight”. Magical.

In an age where every band you’ve never cared about and their parents seem to be reforming it would be a genuine thrill to see these guys back together. Officially the band has never split up but with their last release being the surprise, one-off 2000 single ‘Angel Gone’ it seems increasingly unlikely that we’re going to see any new Beat Happening material. Yet while Johnson continues to tour and perform and while the likes of ‘Indian Summer’ continue to be played in bedsits across the globe, the indiepop, twee punk dream is still very much alive and well. 

Comments (6)

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Good review Andy. I really like this as well. The male/female vocals are so different. He sounds a bit Howe Gelb/Lee Hazlewood at times.

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I also picked up a little bit of V.Femmes, and Billy Childish's Thee Headcoatees. I like the looseness of it all, rollicking good fun

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Cheers Rob! Interesting you should mention Lee Hazlewood. Calvin covers a song of his here- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyZ1k2_vM34

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That's right ! I forgot I had that on Total Lee, a Comp of Hazlewood songs. I'd forgotten because I have so much actual Hazlewood

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I like the instrumental on that version of Sand

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Yeah, Total Lee is great. Need some actual Lee though!

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