Before The Real Housewives, The Osbournes, and The Real World, there was An American Family. The twelve-part 1973 PBS documentary series chronicled the day-to-day life of the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California. It's now considered a prototype for modern-day reality television: its 300-plus hours of filming yielded footage of Pat Loud breaking up with her husband Bill after 21 years of marriage and of their son Lance's coming out as gay. Lance was the breakout star of the program, and one of the first openly gay "characters" on television. It's less-remembered today that he was also a working musician whose band Mumps was one of the earliest to play CBGB. Mumps not only took that fabled New York stage but also played other high-profile venues such as Max's Kansas City. In addition, they opened shows for the illustrious likes of Cheap Trick and Van Halen. Now, almost 20 years after Lance's December 2001 death at 50 years old and just as Pride Month 2021 is beginning, Omnivore Recordings is celebrating his discography with Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That: Best Case Scenario, You've Got Mumps.
The 23-track anthology produced by Mumps' pianist and primary songwriter Kristian Hoffman, drummer Paul Rutner, and Omnivore's Greg Allen brings together 21 hard-to-find sides with two previously unreleased tracks from the pre-Mumps band simply (and appropriately) called Loud. Despite significant media attention on the heels of An American Family, Mumps never received a major label contract. Mumps released a 1977 single on the Bomp! label and an EP on Perfect Records the following year, but the lion's share of their material wasn't issued until the CD era.
The collection features songs from the various line-ups of the perennially "underground" outfit. The earliest tracks feature future Patti Smith Group drummer Jay Dee Daugherty as well as Loud sisters Delilah and Michele. Lance Loud and Kristian Hoffman were the only members to remain in each iteration. The final 1979 unit featured Loud, Hoffman, guitarist Rob DuPrey (who joined in 1975), bassist Joe Katz, and drummer Paul Rutner (a member since 1976). Loud and Hoffman's presence kept the sound consistent, and consistently interesting. Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That is titled after the band's 1978 lampoon of artists who had self-servingly saluted the genre in song (see: Lou Reed's Rock & Roll Animal and countless others). A sense of humor and wry sarcasm is peppered throughout the songs (the anti-casual sex anthem "I Like to Be Clean," the pointed "Anyone But You"), not to mention real musicality.
While there's a rebellious punk spirit, many of Hoffman's inventive compositions go beyond simplistic chords and expected time signatures ("Not Again," "Forget-Me-Not"). Pure pop hooks and glam theatricality go hand-in-hand on these tracks sung to the hilt by charismatic frontman Lance; he made up for any vocal shortcomings with evident swagger and exuberance. Earle Mankey (Sparks, Runaways) co-produced the Perfect Records EP which included the Lance-penned "Muscleboys," aiming its humorous ire at muscular gym dwellers.
Mumps has been compared to every group from The Archies to The Velvet Underground, and while that eclectic ethos and lack of easy categorization may have hindered the band from landing a major label contract, it makes for an enjoyable listen these many decades later. It's also possible that the industry wasn't yet ready to embrace a group with an openly gay lead singer. Hoffman shares in the liner notes that "I tried not to think that for years, and I thought it must have been some flaw in our band that we just couldn't see. But if one examines how many perfectly talentless bands of the era were actually signed to a major label, when we were consistently getting reviews of how great our songs were and how amazing our live act was, what other variable is there?" He also points out that "we were viewed as slumming, co-opting poseurs because of An American Family when we had been in bands for years before that series was ever a remote possibility." Hoffman's feelings are very likely on the mark. Both A&M and Sire both passed, and a recent article in The New York Times recounts a representative from the former telling Mumps' manager Joseph Fleury, who also handled Sparks, "We don't want the gay band."
Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That shares 21 tracks with the 1994 compilation Fatal Charm: 1975-1980 - A Brief History of a Brief History. This set drops "Gimme Gimme" and an alternate "Crocodile Tears" for the two pre-Mumps tracks performed by Loud (the band). While these are positively lo-fi compared to the later recordings, the presence of the Loud sisters - particularly on the amusing "Cha-Cha-Cha" - makes for a very different and still enjoyable sound. (The 2005 collection How I Saved the World has a slightly different track listing, too, with two more tracks not reprised here, "The Decision" and "That's All Right with Me." That release also included a DVD component.)
Michael Graves has spruced up the audio quality here with a new remastering, and co-producer Greg Allen has designed a spiffy 16-page booklet with Hoffman's essay and equally affectionate remembrances by Paul Rutner, Joe Katz, and the late Loud family matriarch, Pat, who died earlier in 2021. The only bittersweet note is that Lance Loud isn't here to share in this release which should go a long way in sharing the music of Mumps to a wider audience. He did escape the double-edged sword of An American Family to find success as a journalist for such publications as Interview and The Advocate. Lance died on December 22, 2001 of liver failure as a result of Hepatitis C and a co-infection with HIV. Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That is a spirited tribute to his legacy and that of his bandmates. It's due out this Friday, June 4, from Omnivore Recordings on CD and digital platforms, as well as a vinyl LP with only the core 14 tracks.
- I Like to Be Clean
- Just Look, Don't Touch
- Crocodile Tears
- Awkward Age
- That Fatal Charm
- Scream and Scream Again
- We Ended Up
- Rock and Roll This, Rock and Roll That
- Anyone But You
- Did You Get the Girl?
- Not Again
- Brain Massage
CD-Only Bonus Tracks
- Teach Me
- Before the Accident
- Dutch Boy
- Dance Tunes for the Underdogs
- Cha-Cha-Cha - Loud
- Back in the Street - Loud
Tracks 1 & 3 from Bomp! single BEJ-1, 1977
Tracks 5, 8 & 11 from Perfect Records EP PR-1, 1978
Tracks 22-23 previously unreleased
All other tracks first released on Fatal Charm: 1975-1980 - A Brief History of a Brief History, EggBert Records ER80011, 1994