The Hindu Love Gods never actually existed as a band. They were just a goofy name for an occasional R.E.M. side-project that played scattered and occasional gigs featuring mostly covers, but which recorded a one-off single in 1986. The participants were Bill Berry (drums), Peter Buck (guitar) and Mike Mills (bass) of R.E.M., Warren Zevon on piano and fellow Athens singer Brian Cook on vocals. The A-side was a cover of the Easybeats song, ‘Gonna have a good time tonight’, whilst the B-side, ‘Narrator’, was a very early R.E.M. song that the band had never recorded.
It was fun, it was good (I tend to prefer the B-side but what the hell, I’m an R.E.M. fan. right?) and that was that.
Among the songs the Hindu Love Gods had played on stage were early versions of songs that Zevon would record on his 1987 comeback album, Sentimental Hygiene, for which he asked the R.E.M. trio to assist him. On the strength of their involvement, I bought the album, properly introducing myself to Zevon for the first time, though with an irony that is more common that you’d suspect, the best track on the record – indeed, my favourite Warren Zevon song of all – was the haunting ‘Reconsider Me’, one of two songs the R.E.M. boys didn’t feature on.
The experience was apparently a weird one for Berry, Buck and Mills, who were used to a loose, combinative approach when playing live with Zevon, and even on the single. But on Sentimental Hygiene they were working for Zevon, not with him, and he was a very strict taskmaster, ready and willing to point out that the fifteenth beat was fractionally early.
But the quartet had fun in the studio as well, jamming at night on old blues standards, whilst the drink went down, recording ten covers.
In 1990, these after hours recordings were collected and issued as an album. And what better name for the project, since it featured four of the original five, than to resurrect The Hindu Love Gods.
It’s a fun album, simultaneously loose and tight, since these people were all professionals who knew how to have fun with music without being self-indulgent and sloppy.
I’ve never played it very often because I’m not really a blues fan. There’s classics and standards like ‘Mannish Boy’ and ‘Wang-Dang-Doodle'(which I suspect has something to do with sex), with a jaunty old Woody Guthrie track, ‘Vigilante Man’, thrown in to close the set. It’s just musicians I like and respect having fun, and it’s fun to haul out and play every so often.
Best track on the album – and I’m not alone in thinking this because it was issued as a single – is the only contemporary cover, a delightfully upfront and rocking romp through Prince’s ‘Raspberry Beret’ (the original of which I’ve never consciously heard before checking it out for this review: I still prefer the Hindu Love Gods version).