The Bongos were, originally, a trio from Hoboken, NJ, who found their signature sound in a mix of '60s coffee shop folkiness and late-'70s jangly power pop with angular, mildly off-center arrangements.
Richard Barone, Rob Norris, and Frank Giannini debuted with a fantastic 1980 single, "Telephoto Lens" b/w "Glow In The Dark," on the independent Fetish Records label. With that signature sound already fully formed, both songs are instantly memorable and insidiously catchy. They would follow that a year later with another killer single, "The Bulrushes" b/w "Automatic Doors." Here the A-side was clearly the star; "Doors" tries a bit too hard to be consciously offbeat. But how can you complain about three solid sides out of a band's first four?
These singles, as well as a few other early indie releases, were compiled into a handy full-length LP, Drums Along The Hudson, in 1982. Within a year, The Bongos signed with RCA.
Around the same time, the band expanded to a quartet with the addition of guitarist James Mastro. The foursome made a bit of a splash with their first major-label release, the five-song Numbers With Wings EP (1983). The title track was issued as a video clip that received a decent push in MTV's playlist; "Tiger Nights," "Barbarella," and "Sweet Blue Cage" continued the band's string of pop gems. Noticeably better production polished those gems to positively gleaming, highlighting The Bongos' shimmering harmonies without removing their occasional eccentricities - a rarity when a major-label production team gets their mitts on such a band. This is a must-have record, no question.
The followed with their first (and, as it would turn out, only) all-new full-length album, 1985's Beat Hotel. Lead by yet another winning single, "Brave New World (True Love Is Ordinary)," the record has many wonderful moments, but also made it clear that The Bongos powers were strained when it came to filling out an album's worth of material. This is not to say it's a bad record; however, it does get a bit samey-sounding about halfway through side 2.
Barone and Mastro issued a side-project album along the way, and Barone released a series of solo records in the late '80s. The Bongos' material is all available on CD and well worth picking up. For this week's NW4NW entry, here are a pair of The Bongos' best: "The Bulrushes" and "Numbers With Wings." Enjoy!