To many people, Harvey Danger is nothing more than their one big hit “Flagpole Sitta”. It’s a shame, really. There have been plenty of one hit wonders. Especially in the 90′s when it became commonplace for labels to push bands to record radio-friendly outliers. Meanwhile, people were suckered into buying a full-length record of material that sounds nothing like what they thought they were getting. I suppose that’s one advantage of living in today’s world of digital distribution and a la carte song purchases. We didn’t have that option back in the day. But sometimes that works out for the best.
I was one of those people who bought “Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?” because of “Flagpole Sitta”. When I was a teenager I thought the song was batshit crazy. The lyrics were weird and irreverent with lines like “you told them all I was crazy / they cut off my legs now I’m an amputee god damn you” (cue maniacal laughter) So I bought Merrymakers. I didn’t really know what to think of it at first.
I didn’t see Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” until two years later, so the lyrics to album opener “Carlotta Valdez” went right over my head. It would take years for me to learn to appreciate the slow-build of album finale “Radio Silence”. The tracks in between would resonate with me during different parts of my life. Whether it was saying goodbye to a loved one in his later years (“Jack The Lion”) or fantasizing about reconciling with a former partner or an estranged friend (“Private Helicopter”).
Two things really set Harvey Danger apart from what was on the radio at the time. The first and most obvious was Sean Nelson’s unique delivery. Snarky and brash meshed with youthful and articulate. Like sitting next to the smart kid in class who said he hated school and homework yet aced every exam anyway. Second was the presence of Aaron Huffman’s very fuzzy lead bass. While rock radio was getting slicker and more polished, here was a band that was writing eccentric, gnarly songs about Sophocles. No wonder they abandoned all hope of fitting in when they wrote their follow-up record, the not-so-accessible “King James Version.”
16 years later I’ve had plenty of time to digest. I’m glad I got suckered in. I didn’t get what I was expecting, but I discovered a band that ended up way cooler than anything else I was into at the time. Recently, No Sleep records was kind enough to reissue the record on vinyl. (the format of choice for collectors of physical media) Now a whole new generation can get suckered into Harvey Danger for the first time.