Saturday, 14 January 2012

The end of Lookout Records

I was sorry to read that Lookout Records is, finally, no more. I say 'finally' because it's been a long time coming, ever since Green Day stopped Lookout selling their first two albums in 2005.

Funnily enough, my first real job was an unpaid internship at Lookout in early 2004, where I worked in the radio and press department, cutting out articles from music magazines about the label's bands for their promo packs, and data inputting their record's positions on the American college music charts. Occasionally, I franked a lot of merchandise packages and lugged them off to the post office. With hindsight, it all seems so 20th century, which could well be why they cut their staff's hours to part-time six months after I left, and then fired them altogether a year later. They stopped innovating. It was a pivotal time, but I was too naive to realise it.

I'm also being a little flippant. During the mid to late '90s Lookout put out some of my favourite records; records that I still listen to and favour over anything that's happened pop musically since. It's somewhat melodramatic to say, but Lookout's closure is, like my bad knees, a further sign that my 20s are over; not only are they not coming back, it's like they've been hermetically sealed off, consigned to the dustbin of history, bankrupt, arthritic, a curio.

I'm looking forward to reading The Rise and Fall of Lookout Records. While I was there, although I wasn't paid I got a lot of free records. I have pretty much every '90s Lookout release in every format. So, for the geeky hell of it, my top 5 classic Lookout records.

 5. Groovie Ghoulies, Travels With My Amp
For boys that liked girls, the Groovie Ghoulies didn't really cut it, writing songs about sci-fi and comic book folklore. But to me, they epitomised Lookout's colourful and zany punk rock. I don't know what Larry Livermore looks like, but I always imagined him as a Groovie Ghoulie; old and rock 'n' roll, with brycreem hair, Converse and a Cramps t-shirt. The Highwayman, (The Girl Is) An Unsolved Mystery and Leprechaun Rock are magick.

4. Screeching Weasel, Anthem For A New Tomorrow

The best thing about Screeching Weasel was their name, which they said was a take on a frat boy t-shirt that said 'I've got a screaming otter in my pants'. Which in itself harks back to a sweeter time, when frat boys were like John Belushi and not Abercrombie wearing terminators. I never liked the Weasel as much as other people did, although there's no denying that at their best they were LKR's most highly tipped mainstream contenders after Green Day, mainly because Ben Weasel is that universally compelling jock-gone-wrong character - the musician equivalent of Seann William Scott and Will Ferrell. Anthem For A New Tomorrow was better than their acknowledged classic, My Brain Hurts, with bigger hooks and better lyrics. Talk To Me Summer is the pop punk instrumental to beat, Totally is the best Ramones rip-off that Joe Queer never wrote, while A New Tomorrow was the anthem the title promised, with its monotone stock market call-outs, sloppily chugged chords and Blake Schwarzenbach's gravel-throated cameo.

3. Green Day, Kerplunk
I don't get the whole Green Day revival thing. These days, they're just a bad mix of U2 and, I dunno, some other shit middle-of-the-road rock band. But back in '93, when Metallica and G 'n' R were at the height of their (then awesome) powers, Green Day's cut 'n' paste, black, white and green photocopied album sleeves and badly recorded pop songs were about as 'underground' as you could get, as anyone who can remember life before the Internet should be able to attest. They opened up a whole new world for me. Grunge was misery, metal was angry; Kurt was suicidal, Axl was an undiagnosed bipolar lunatic. But Green Day, and Lookout, with Chris Appelgren's distinctive cartoon artwork, were happy-go-lucky, carefree and frivolous. If that doesn't sound like the right ideology for a teenager then I don't know what does. 2000 Light Years Away, Christie Road and One Of My Lies are way better than Basket Case, American Idiot or anything else that came later.

2. The Queers, Don't Back Down
When I was at LKR, Joe King was persona non grata; vilified as an unpleasant drug addict who was impossible to deal with. Despite his unfortunate name and slightly pervy older-dude chauvinism, he was the most naturally gifted, pure-dumb-pop songwriter in the Lookout stable. Like the Ramones, every Queers album sounds the same; this one has the best production values, so it's top of my list. Here's another thing, the Queers were better than the Ramones. Punk Rock Girls, I Only Drink Bud and Janelle, Janelle are about as good as three chords and a leather jacket ever sounded.

1. The Mr T Experience, Milk Milk Lemonade
Always my favourite band on LKR - wordy, nerdy-but-cool in a smart, funny way. I read somewhere that Ben Weasel said this was the worst album of the year when it was released in 1992. In 2012 it won't get a fancy 20th anniversary release, especially because MTX were one of the few former LKR bands not to reissue their records on another label. Dr Frank Portman is now an author; when I was at Lookout I interviewed him on a couple of occasions with a view to writing a book on MTX (which I abandoned when I came to the simultaneous conclusions that no one would want to read it, and I didn't have a clue what I was doing). I Love You, But You're Standing On My Foot is hilarious; See It Now is poignant and bittersweet; Love American Style deserves a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Honorable mentions:

The Donnas, Turn 21 (probably the last good LKR release)
Operation Ivy, Energy (the one that started it all)


  1. I agree with all of the above - with the obvious exception of the fact that the Queers best moments were captured on love songs for the retarded, with Ursula Finally Has Tits as the unequivocal musical aspic of horny older men refusing to grow up and succeeding in doing so via heroin in punk rock. RIP, Lookout!