One for Friday: Too Much Joy, “Hey Merlin”

For quite some time, I operated under the theory that every college radio station had their one artist, the band or performer that the whole population of DJs tirelessly championed despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that no one else out there in the big, boundless musicverse understood the greatness contained within their records. I didn’t have a lot of empirical evidence to back this theory up. I’d peruse individual station charts in the back of CMJ and notice the occasional obscure outfit charting in the upper reaches of someone’s list, or have a label rep push some release that had generated no interest from our staff by insisting it was doing incredibly well in St. Cloud or Boulder, so we should really check it out. For the most part, though, I generated my theory on the basis of the band that dominated our playlists during the years I was there: Too Much Joy.

This wasn’t a band operating in complete anonymity. They were featured in Rolling Stone back when the magazine devoted a page at the front to up-and-coming bands. Their videos were directed by Bobcat Goldthwait and Teller from Penn & Teller, generating them a sliver more attention than they would have gotten otherwise from the music channels. Through it all, they were a consistent top five band for us, operating on the margins for everyone else. While other college radio parties across the nation reached their pinnacle at the moment “Teenage Riot” unspooled from the carefully crafted evening mix tape, ours erupted when it was time to drunkenly pogo along with Too Much Joy’s cover of L.L. Cool J’s “That’s a Lie.” For a stretch, the most overplayed song on our airwaves was undoubtedly “The Otter Song.” I’m not sure how many other stations can say that. (For what it’s worth, I played “The Otter Song” a few times when I was working with the college radio station in Florida years later, and always received a call excitedly asking me what it was.)

It was my old college roommate, Uncle Rob Bob, who elevated the band to this anointed place at the station. When their sophomore effort, Son of Sam I Am, was released, he played it endlessly. He’d head into the studio, pull it out of the stacks and hand it the DJ on air, announcing “I have a request.” During the summer that followed, he was on the air nearly every day, providing central Wisconsin listeners with regular doses of TMJ. In short order, the handful of other staffers keeping the station running during those warmer months followed that lead. By the time Too Much Joy’s third album came out a couple of years later, the band had become the guiding light of 90FM. Between those two albums, Uncle Rob Bob got to see the band play live at a dinky club in Milwaukee (and bend the ear of one of the band members at the beer, as I recall). He came back gushing abut the performance, especially a new song called “Hey Merlin” that he was certain would be a highlight of the next record.

The band was flatly perfect for us at that age, at that time. They were bratty, sarcastic and fun. They liked beer and were suspicious of authority. They were lovelorn, but hardly distraught about it. We spoke our own language, and they sang in it.

Too Much Joy, “Hey Merlin”

(Disclaimer: The entire Too Much Joy catalog, not surprisingly, seems to be out of print, although it appears that damn near everything is available as MP3 downloads through Amazon. Maybe iTunes, too. As I wrote this up, I thought their obscurities album, Gods and Sods, was the only one Amazon didn’t offer up in digital form, but further examination yields the result of “Oh, there it is.”. I don’t ever intend to infringe upon a band’s money-making ventures with these weekly posts, and, if anything, I’m even less inclined to do so when it comes to Too Much Joy. Therefore, if anyone with due authority asks me to remove the MP3 linked to above, I will gladly comply. If nothing else, it’s the least I can due for being pretty annoying that night I drank beer with them on the Milwaukee rooftop after their stellar show at Shank Hall. I’ll also try to make up for posted a free version of something you can buy by pointing you in the direction of the new release from Wonderlick, a band featuring at least half of the clasic line-up of Too Much Joy.)

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