Beat Happening



by The Jungler USER (183 Reviews)
December 27th, 2006 | 14 replies

Release Date: 1988 | Tracklist

When I first heard Beat Happening I was disgusted.

I listened to their second CD, Jamboree, after reading an extensive and highly praising profile in the now mx famous Our Band Could Be Your Life. Grunge writer Michael Azerrad kept calling the band a brilliant, essential indie rock group, but I guess I didn’t see that. Lead singer (if you could call that) Calvin Johnson drones on in a tuneless baritone voice over sloppy musicianship, repeating lyrics of almost bothersome cuteness. He sounds like a retarded Ian Curtis hosting a TV special on child development, using uses flowery, pathetic sexual metaphors like they’re going out of style. He and guitarist, Bret Lunsford play limp riffs through treble washed distortion to the basic at best pounding of Heather Lewis, the band’s female third member (she does vocals too). It’s enough to make any sane man reach for the cyanide. I kept on wondering why anyone would write a praising article on them. Was this some sort of joke? I sure wasn’t getting this stuff.

But I like them now, so that doesn’t really matter.

Beat Happening are one of the first and most successful bands of a style of music known as Twee Pop (also called Love Rock, sometimes Cuddlecore). The band takes heavy influences from Post Punk giants like The Smiths, though their crunchy, often grating musicianship is hardly an homage to the sweet jangle pop Morrissey and pals used to cook up. In fact, the band has a much more distinct similarity to 60’s suck poppers The Shaggs, with one difference. Beat Happening can write. And I mean that, Johnson, Lunsford and Lewis are certainly not retarded. Their happy-go-lucky naivety and near talent-less instrumentation are a slap in the face to the cookie cutter punk scene thriving around the Washington (that’s the state mind you) indie rockers, making them a rebellion against a rebellion against modern, popular music. Beat Happening are a biting ode to the 1950’s, when times were simple and people were friendly, be it a bite with color coded braces or not.

The music of Beat Happening is, while hard to get into, actually kind of enjoyable when you get down to it. On Mid Night A Go-Go the music is at its most “rock”, with a highly danceable swing beat from Lewis and a brilliant, if simple, riff from Lunsford, culminating in, what’s this? Yes, a guitar solo. Calvin also has one of his best vocals on the track, showing a surprising amount of energy hidden inside his tuneless moan. But Calvin’s most touching track on the CD is the almost a cappella The This Many Boyfriends Club, which finds him wailing angrily about the mistreatment of his female friend Laurie, over red hot, ear splitting feedback. It’s the sort of song that opens your eyes, because behind the screeches and the moans is a troubled, frightful array of emotion and power. Xiu Xiu should be taking notes here.

Another semi straight forward rocker, Bewitched, is on the other end of the emotional spectrum. Calvin’s silly lyrics bring a smile to my face every time I hear them and Lunsford also certainly delivers, with his red hot riffage injecting a full dose of rockin’ distortion to the song’s Love Rock beat. On the songs Heather sings the band takes a completely different feel, though remaining incredibly naïve and detached. Her girlish vocals succeed in bringing in even more Shaggs to the band’s interesting mix of influences.

In conclusion, Beat Happening’s self proclaimed “dark and sexy” sophomore disc is certainly a step away from their previous, sunnier material. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, as the disc delivers in many aspects and, in fact, it seems as though the darker, more in your face tracks are the album’s most brilliant. Do I love Beat Happening’s Jamboree? No, not really, for all the reasons mentioned earlier in the review, but it is certainly a great indie rock record.


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user ratings (82)

Comments:Add a Comment 
December 27th 2006


Excellent job, very informative. As for the Beat Happening, they're alright, but a little to bland.

December 27th 2006


Album Rating: 3.0

This is my least favorite Beat Happening album. The band is at their best when they play really short songs that are barely over a minute long. Like you said it's a good record and all but their s/t album is way better.

The Jungler
December 27th 2006


Album Rating: 3.0

I've been listening to songs from the self titled and they seem much better. I only checked this out first because Allmusic and that book, Our Band Could Be Your Life said this was their best effort.

Thanks for the votes guys.

December 27th 2006


I'm really interested in these guys, great review.

Two-Headed Boy
December 27th 2006


Guess what I'm listening to?

Also Recommended by Reviewer:

The Smiths - The Queen is Dead

Thash right, punk.

Great review, ol' chap. Sounds like a good album.

February 17th 2008


this album reminds me of a more traditional Shaggs.

February 17th 2008


maybe a shaggs that can play their instruments and write songs

Staff Reviewer
August 22nd 2011


i think this is one of the worst albums ever, not an exaggeration

December 3rd 2013


Album Rating: 3.0


January 25th 2014


Fookin cool album

September 26th 2014


Album Rating: 3.5

such a lovely album

indian summer, cat walk and midnight a go-go are my faves

Digging: John Grant - Queen Of Denmark

June 16th 2018


Album Rating: 4.5

"If the first Beat Happening was a child it would be the little brother who makes crayon scribble drawings and insists that you hang them up on the fridge. Jamboree is his older brother who wears a leather jacket, listens to weird music, and steals your cigarettes." - RYM-user andrewkennedyevans

Nailed it

November 1st 2018


Album Rating: 1.5

They're not coy, they're irritating. Bland as aesthetic. Barf.

November 1st 2018


Album Rating: 4.5

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