Monday, January 23, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #142

With their plinky, chant-along music and their hillbilly/dreadlock/thrift store chic appearance, Haysi Fantayzee staked out a unique territory during the year or so that the band existed.  Dismissed by many as so much fluff, their singles still found enough receptive ears to get them steady mention in the UK charts during 1982 and into 1983.  Undeniably childlike, those songs nonetheless spoke to the issues of racism, nuclear apocalypse, and suicide.  At the same time, they were addictive little bits of ear-candy that kept club dance floors packed.

Jeremy/Jeremiah Healy and Kate Garner were the image of Haysi Fantayzee, while Paul Caplin stayed in the background playing all the instruments and managing the band's affairs.  Instead of taking the usual route of sending demo tapes to various record labels in hopes of landing a contract, Haysi Fantayzee leveraged their most obvious feature: Healy's and Garner's carefully constructed image. They put together a low-budget video and sent that around, eventually finding a home with the Regard label.  Granted, dancing about in their colorful rags made Healy and Garner an eye-catching duo, but the "style over substance" label would haunt them.

The substance was there, even if the critics chose to ignore it.  Their debut single, "Holy Joe," caught on enough to get them into the lower reaches of the charts; their sophomore effort, "John Wayne Is Big Leggy," broke them big.  Using a story of The Duke taking liberties with a squaw as an allegory for the treatment of Native Americans by European settlers, it was mildly controversial.  But damn if it wasn't catchy! The single went to #11 and got them national exposure throughout the UK.

Their third single would be their most well-known, the post-apocalyptic square dance "Shiny Shiny."  Though it fell a bit short of its predecessor's mark (only reaching #16) in the UK, it was a huge club hit in the States and remains a staple of nostalgic New Wave compilation albums today.

In early 1983, their lone album, Battle Hymns For Children Singing, appeared, gathering up all three previous singles as well as the concurrently released "Sister Friction."  A fun record worth picking up if you can find it, but be wary of the CD reissues:  the version issued in 2000 by Razor and Tie features extra tracks, but was poorly mastered resulting in some songs being sped up while others are slowed noticeably; Cherry Pop's 2007 reissue doesn't have the mastering issues, but has different bonus tracks.

This week's NW4NW features Haysi Fantayzee's two big singles.  First up, the exuberant "Shiny Shiny," followed by "John Wayne Is Big Leggy."  Enjoy!

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