Thursday, March 8, 2018

Certain Songs #1150: The Miss Alans – “We Don’t Know Yet” | Medialoper

Cassette: Bus
Year: 1987

Bus was originally intended to be a demo tape, and not necessarily for public consumption. But the songs they laid down with Gray Greggson in late 1986 turned out so good that — after getting great feedback from those of us who heard it — they decided to release it locally.

It was total D.I.Y, of course. For the cover Scott used an old photo of Andrea’s mom, and they set up a makeshift assembly line at Ron’s house, and took the initial batch of cassettes to sell at Tower Records, not knowing yet what was going to happen.

It was a fucking smash.

Scott estimates that they sold nearly 1000 copies — every single one hand-made — of Bus at Tower Records. And because many of the cassettes were, um, procured from the back room of another record store chain, their major cost was the time it took to fulfill the demand. Of which there was quite a lot.

Stoking that demand, of course, was KFSR, the Fresno State radio station, then at the height of its power. He said humbly. But fuck humble: KFSR was a huge part of the reason that bands like R.E.M, The Replacements, Toy Dolls and loads of others didn’t just come to Fresno, but sold out halls and theaters. Given the deep deep ties that the band had to KFSR — Jay Fung and Ron Woods weren’t just DJs, but beloved DJs — it was a natural that Bus would get a lot of initial airplay.

Initial airplay. But not sustained airplay. What made Bus so popular wasn’t any kind of insularity or nepotism: it was the quality of the music. So good that I’m sure a lot of people just assumed that they weren’t local and were happily surprised to find out that they were.

For me, what made Bus more than a demo tape made by my friends were all of the cool musical moments: Scott’s “Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy kiiiiiiiid, listen” at the end of “The La La Song,” Manny’s Marrish guitar line that dominates “The One He Likes,” Jay & Ron’s locked-in groove of “Road 7.” And of course, the entirety of the psychotic near-rockabilly “We Don’t Know Yet.”

It’s ironic that Ron Woods doesn’t really like “We Don’t Know Yet,” because he absolutely kills it start to finish. Listen to how he goes to his snare and toms in the last part of every verse — with Jay following along with a grin — and then switches it up at the beginning of the chorus. He may have been hanging on for dear life playing it, but that’s what makes it so amazing.

Which is all about Scott’s fear of commitment:

Must I love someone that I don’t need?
Or must I say that I dooooooo
When I have fears stronger than today
And I believe your life two times twice a day

Ron also provides the starting point for Manny’s cathartically disjointed solo, which barrels out of a stop-time part, bounces around the studio a few times and somehow gets sucked back into Manny’s guitar as Scott shushes him. It’s so gloriously manic that Jay broke out laughing so hard the first time he heard it, Gray thought that something had gone incredibly wrong. Nope: in fact, it was the opposite.

At the time, Manny wasn’t quite sure if he was up to composing a guitar solo, as well as not even sure — in the finest Peter Buck tradition — if he even wanted to perform one, so what came out was fueled by those two somewhat contradictory thoughts. But it totally worked in the context of the song.

Despite the relatively serious subject matter, “We Don’t Know Yet” was probably the most playful The Miss Alans ever got — Scott’s “shhhhhhhhhh” after the solo indicative of how much fun they’re having — twisting and turning in ways you’d never expect, right down to the abrupt drumroll-fueled slam-the-door-shut finish.

“We Don’t Know Yet”

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