I quickly compiled a list of 25 songs, envisioning a double album, only to find that the reason these songs are rare is that most of the master tapes are missing. Apparently one of the band members, in an extremely agitated and paranoid state of mind, buried them in a field to protect them from cosmic rays, and has yet to remember where. Of the 25 songs, I managed to find masters of only seven. Here they are:
HEART: This song was previously available only on the B-side of the Yugoslavian release of "Take the Skinheads Bowling." The lyrics were originally recorded in Serbo-Croat. It was subsequently learned that the "translator" (who happened to be the band manager's second cousin) was not actually a famous Yugoslavian poet-playwright, but rather the owner of a New Jersey sanitation company, and he only spoke a smattering of Serbo-Croat. Consequently there were some serious mistranslations. "Heart," for example, was rendered in Serbo-Croat as "Chest." When the band learned of the translation errors, they went back into the studio to record this truly beautiful English-language rendition.
NEVER GO BACK: B-movie and CVB aficionados may recall this song from the soundtrack of Paul MacKinney's 1974 classic "Vampire Surfers" movie. The Campers actually have cameo roles in the film: they play a group of doomed microbus hippies who camp on a deserted beach. Needless to say, they last only a few minutes into the movie. Later, at a surfer beach hangout (many will recognize it as the now defunct Safari Sam's in Huntington Beach), "Never Go Back" blares from the jukebox while the tanless, cape-wearing Transylvanian surfers square off against a wholesome bunch of California wavehounds.
SEVEN LANGUAGES: Sometime in 1980 I was visiting a friend in the East Village, and while thumbing through his record collection I came across a dusty 7-inch by the Tarantula Sisters. The A-side was "Fun to Be Paranoid" and was their "big hit," which means it was popular with the Downtown set and no one outside the island of Manhattan ever heard of it -- or indeed of the Tarantula Sisters. It is not my intention to denigrate the memory of the Tarantula Sisters (who were killed in a performance-art accident in 1983) -- they were in fact a talented and surprisingly unpretentious ensemble. The real surprise was the B-side of their record, a tune entitled "Seven Languages" and attributed, strangely enough, to Camper Van Beethoven. After some research i discovered that the song had been written by CVB specifically for the Tarantula Sisters. When I was asked to compile this record, I asked the Campers if could include "Seven Languages." They were surprised that anyone had ever heard of the song, but after consulting the I Ching and several telephone astrologers, and armwrestling with the mailman, they agreed.
SIX MORE MILES (TO THE GRAVEYARD): Very little is known about this particularly heartfelt version of a Hank Williams song. Some scholars have claimed it is a rare example of CVB's "automatic recording" technique (i.e., studio recording without any conscious control by the band over their instruments), recorded at the peak of their "W. B. Yeats period." Others maintain that the particular ambience of the recording resulted from large portions of Italian food, followed by 36 hours travelling in the back of a truck across Europe with no sleep.
ICE CREAM EVERY DAY: Here is Camper Van Beethoven's version of Box O'Laffs 1981 disco classic. The song was written by Eric Curkendall, Chris Hart, Chris Molla, and David Lowery, at a time when Molla and Lowery were still members of Box O'Laffs. It is reputedly based on a cycle of songs found on a cassette tape under Eric Curkendall's bed (although some sources have suggested that it was actually found in the pocket of a Roy Rogers apron). In late 1987 the No Such record label requested that CVB record "Ice Cream" for a compilation record to be entitled Songs found on cassette tapes under the beds of people in North America. It appears that budget cuts and waning enthusiasm at No Such Records eventually forced the cancellation of the project, and so the song is belatedly included here.
PROCESSIONAL: Originally this song was entitled "Why don't you challenge the boundaries of rock music by playing harsh furious dissonant guitar noise music with lyrics exclusively about death and sex and pretend like you are making some kind of original statement about the relation between the two and therefore expressing the pain and confusion of modern society, and then become a rock critic and write about your own band under a different name but not before you move to New York or LA or Chicago or some sufficiently urban area and live in a bad part of town while still receiving checks from your parents who were probably liberals and didn't let you watch enough violence on TV and so you never got it out of your system, and then go to law school like everybody else." It was originally released on a Throb Magazine compilation in 1985.
PHOTOGRAPH: In March of 1987, after exposure to dangerous levels of X-rays, CVB developed some strange ideas about ex-Beatle Ringo Starr. Some of them came to believe that Ringo was in fact one of three supernatural beings responsible for the creation and continued existence of the universe as we know it. Although not all the Campers shared this view, they did all agree that Ringo Starr can fly through the air; has a kidney made of a top secret aluminum alloy; wears a special pair of socks that allow him to communicate with David Rockefeller; and can say the word regenerative even after going to the pub and drinking eight pints with the BBC sound engineers. The Campers have since abandoned these ideas. Of course, it was Greg who first came to his senses: quick thinking fellow that he is, he immediately drank half a case of champagne, smashed a cake in Victor's face, yelled "Fishsticks" out of the window at precisely twenty minute intervals for three or four hours, until he eventually fell asleep in the stairwell of the hotel, at which point the other Campers cried out in unison "What *were* we thinking?" I think this version of the Starkey/Harrison classic beautifully documents Camper Van Beethoven's "Ringo" phase.
On these recordings Victor Krummenacher played bass guitar; Greg Lisher played guitar; David Lowery played guitar and sang; Chris Molla played guitar and sort of yodelled (on PROCESSIONAL), Chris Pedersen played drums; Jonathan Segel played keyboards, played guitar, played a tape of a violin and sang.
Liner notes (c) 1987 Isaac Fringe
[Isaac Fringe is a rock journalist and historian and has written articles for nearly every major music publication in the USA and UK, despite the fact that he is a figment of the CVB collective imagination]