It’s a Shame About Ray
1992, Atlantic. Producer: The Robb Brothers.
In My Collection: CD, 1992.
IN A NUTSHELL: It’s a Shame About Ray is a Generation-X jangle-fest. Great melodies, cool lyrics, and even some lead guitar now and then. There’s much to love here, even though it clocks in at under 30 minutes. It’s certainly a showcase for Evan Dando’s easy facility with melodies and hooks. The songs are super short, but they’re so packed with hooks that if they were longer they’d verge on cloying. As a Gen-Xer myself, I’m proud to have Dando and The Lemonheads on our team!
THEORETICAL PLACE IN A FUTURE TOP 100 LIST I’LL NEVER WRITE: Top 50.
A year ago or so, the whole “OK, Boomer,” thing went wild around the internets. Teens and young adults mocked the outdated, bigoted ideas of many from the Baby Boomer generation by dismissing them with these clever two words. It’s a modern-day “Don’t trust anyone over 30” which, deliciously, targeted the originators of that 60s slogan, and I loved it. Except when my teenaged daughter would say it to me!
“Listen!” I’d say, “I don’t mind that you’re dismissing my opinion, but DON’T CALL ME A BOOMER! I was born in ’67 – I’m a Gen-X-er! I’ve been hating Boomers since at least 1989!” (Not all Boomers! Shout-out to Sandy, one of my most steadfast and engaged readers, who even helped me with my novel! She’s a great person with a terrific husband, Joe!) Collectively, the Boomers did some good things, but mostly they selfishly ravaged the planet while Kumbaya-ing all over themselves to cover up their smug, bullshit back-patting. As a true Gen-X-er, it makes me so angry that I shake my head and say, “Whatever.”
And while I agree that they listened to the greatest band ever1, the often-espoused idea that good rock and pop began and ended with the Boomers is just one more example of why I think they’re generally a bunch of whiny frauds. Every generation makes great music, and one of the touchstones for Generation X music is The Lemonheads’ 1992 release It’s a Shame About Ray.
The Lemonheads, a Boston band, are essentially Evan Dando, plus a rotating cast of supporting musicians. Dando was kind of the grunge-ish, Gen-X version of a teen idol. Instead of the pre-fab, sparkling, unthreatening, beautiful teen-agers that generations past, and future, would foist upon the world, our team said, “here’s a shaggy, creative, beautiful young man, instead. Oh, and he’s a drug addict. Whatever.” But regardless of anything else he was (watch Dando charm David Letterman and his audience in 1992 – he really seemed to have the whole package…) Evan Dando wrote excellent songs!
The first song I remember hearing from It’s a Shame About Ray was the lead track, “Rockin’ Stroll,” a song about a baby in a stroller with a video about a baby in a stroller. It’s a minute-forty-five of total kick-ass.
The tumbling guitar riff is tight, and lyrics about a baby seemed so cool in 1992! The hookiness of the song can’t be denied, and it’s a characteristic of the entire album. These songs get stuck in your head, even if they can be difficult to sing along to. For a long time I sang the next song, “Confetti,” as “Hey, kindly share a soda with a lover or a cola.” My sister pointed out that the actual words, about unrequited love, were much better than that. David Ryan’s drums in the song are great, as is Dando’s guitar solo (1:45), a rarity for early-90s rock.
The songs on the album are short, all under 3:00, but they’re all such concentrated nuggets of pop charm that if they were any longer they’d overwhelm. The title track, with a video featuring another Gen-X heartthrob, fits a cool guitar riff, a great chord progression, and a note that sounds like it’s held for 12 bars (“Raa-aaa-aayy”) into a pleasing little gem. 100FaveAlbum member Juliana Hatfield plays bass on the album and sings backing vocals, as well. “Rudderless” has another great chord progression (two, actually), and more Hatfield backing vocals. Lyrically, it expresses experiencing life in a druggie malaise (“Hope in my past …”)
If folks were ever shocked about the fact that Dando became so hooked on drugs2, they weren’t listening closely to his song’s lyrics.
“My Drug Buddy,” again with Hatfield, is a flat-out celebration of the camaraderie of drug use. Its organ riff is lovely, and the singalong melody is terrific. But as “The Turnpike Down” demonstrates, melody was never a problem for The Lemonheads. I don’t know what the lyrics are about, but it’s fun to sing “Butterscotch street lamps/ Mark my path!” “Bit Part” is lyrically far more direct, as the clamorous spoken-word opening makes clear. It’s a short song asking for a role in someone’s life.
It’s not just melody that makes Dando more than a pretty face. As “Alison’s Starting to Happen” demonstrates, he can also write some great lyrics.
Couplets like “I never looked at her this way before/ Now she’s all I see,” and, one of the best lines ever, “She’s the puzzle piece behind the couch/ that makes the sky complete,” are nearly XTC-level cleverness. The drums are great throughout, and I love the clanking bottles and cans in the wordless bridge. “Hannah & Gabi,” a Country tune with unspecific lyrics3, has a really nice acoustic guitar intro from Dando and slide guitar from Steely Dan and Doobie Bros. veteran Jeff “the Skunk” Baxter. It’s a great song that breaks up the sound.
Then it’s back to the peppy jangle with “Kitchen.”
Great bass from Hatfield, fun hand-claps, and, at 1:18, some groovy ooo-bop-bops. It’s a rom-com song, reminiscing about the meet-cute in the kitchen. “Ceiling Fan in my Spoon” is a quick, thumping rocker, and about as close to the band’s punk roots as they would get by 1992. There are once again “bop-bops” in a chorus that’s catchy as hell. (No idea what it’s about, though.)
And I guess, despite my anti-Boomerism, I have to give it to them for the musical Hair4, which gave us “Frank Mills,” the last song on the record. It’s a cute acoustic version. Covering childhood memories is very Gen-X. Which is probably why Dando covered “Mrs. Robinson,” even though he hates the song and Paul Simon5.
The song was recorded to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Graduate, but wasn’t on It’s a Shame About Ray. Dando didn’t want it on the album. But, once it became a hit, the Boomers in charge of Atlantic Records tacked the song onto the end of the record anyway. The creeps. I have an early edition of the CD, WITHOUT the song, and I’m proud of that. Which is a weird thing to be proud of. But whatever.
“It’s a Shame About Ray“
“My Drug Buddy“
“The Turnpike Down“
“Alison’s Starting to Happen“
“Hannah & Gabi“
“Ceiling Fan in My Spoon“
BONUS TRACK (not on my CD):