The Infinite Jukebox: The Knickerbockers’ ‘Lies’

Synchronicity is not just the title of an old Police album. Synchronicity is coincidence wearing its Sunday best clothes. This is a tale of synchronicity.
Back in the mid-Seventies, in those mid-decade dog days when music was still dominated by prog rock titans who thought nothing of taking four years off and expecting the fans just to hang about patiently for them, when acts like Rod Stewart, The Electric Light Orchestra and Leo Sayer set out to vacuum pack their recordings with an over-production that squeezed out all the air, not to mention the energy, when punk was only just beginning to take things that little bit further than pub-rock, it got pretty damned boring.
So much so that the New Musical Express, my rock-weekly of choice, started inventing albums to review.
What they would do would be to construct imaginary compilations, taking the tracks from the back catalogue of specific Record Labels (so that the actual record could, if any bright A&M man cottoned on, be summoned into real-life existence.)
Inevitably, the focus was on bands and songs who hadn’t had a famous career, or unsuccessful but more interesting follow-ups to one hit wonders. In short, something with a bit of liveliness, and energy to it, much more so than the wilted efforts of mid-Seventies commercial pop.
One of those uncompiled compilations introduced me, in writing at least, to ‘Lies’ by The Knickerbockers, an American band, a garage band, with a single from 1966.
‘Garage-bands’ were bands more often marked by enthusiasm than talent. They were basic line-ups, guitar, bass, drums, who got their name because one guy’s dad let them practice in his garage, in the hope of getting some local gigs and building from there. And the name of the game was sounding like the British. Short, sharp songs, played with vigour, trying to emulate the British invasion led by The Beatles. And if you could sound like John Lennon, that was a real coup.
What made whichever NME writer putting this collection together select ‘Lies’ was the fact that here was a band who succeeded beyond everybody’s wildest dreams. The singer of this band sounded as if he was John Lennon, right down to the exact degree of nasality. Apparently, the writer suggested you could slip this track into Beatles for Sale without anyone noticing.
That was high praise and it caused me great intrigue. But this was 1976. Short of amazing luck on Shudehill Record Stalls, getting to hear obscure singles by unknown American bands that may never have even been released in Britain was as close to impossible as made no difference.
When it came to my daily music, I had, since 2 April 1974, devoted my time to Manchester’s commercial station, Piccadilly Radio, 261m on the Medium Wave Band. Amazingly, that far back Commercial radio, or Piccadilly 261 at any rate, was far hipper, cooler and musically forward-looking than Radio 1. I particularly loved the evening show, hosted by the abrasive but intelligent James Stannage, Monday to Friday, 11.00pm to 2.00am. First my University course committed me to no lectures earlier than 10.00am, and none at all on Wednesdays. Then I moved on to a six month professional exam course that meant I had to be ready to be collected for the lectures at 12.45pm. Ideal conditions for sitting up to 2.00am, every night.
Thanks to, primarily, Stannage’s show, I heard a lot of mid-Seventies bands with singles that attracted me: Sugarloaf, Starbuck, Orleans, Firefall. I also heard an eclectic mix of oldies. One night, not much more than a fortnight after reading about The Knickerbockers, Stannage announced that he would be playing ‘Martian Hop’ by The Randells, a real little weirdie. I pressed the record button on my reel-to-reel tape recorder and sat back to enjoy it.
As it reached the end, and before I could jump in to stop the recording, Stannage segued ‘Martian Hop’ into another song. It shot out in a burst of guitar/bass/drum energy with the word ‘Lies’ in a great John Lennon-esque nasal scouse voice. I couldn’t believe it: it was The Knickerbockers. And so soon after I’d only just heard of it.
I listened to the song with amazement and glee, and very rapidly concluded that the NME had been absolutely spot on. I wouldn’t go so far as to say you could slip the whole thing into a Beatles album just like that: there was a rawness and raucousness to the sound that didn’t sit well alongside The Beatles’ polished and jangly guitar sounds.
But that was as Lennon as Lennon can be, and the song had a great simplicity to it, and a propulsive energy to it that gripped your ears. And I now had it on tape to replay and re-relish as often as I wanted.
Now, I can look such things up on YouTube just as soon as I hear of then, with a 98% certainty of being able to find the record. And I can find out now that The Beatles liked ‘Lies’ and claimed The Knickerbockers sounded more like them than they did.
Naturally, the band couldn’t do it twice, but sometimes once is all you need. They caught lightning in a bottle: no shame in not being able to repeat that.

4 thoughts on “The Infinite Jukebox: The Knickerbockers’ ‘Lies’

  1. When Lies came out in 1965, I was still in my stupid, snobbishly rejecting rock music period, but somehow it got through to me and I had to grudgingly admit that it was pretty good. In a case of temporally displaced synchronicity, around the time that you were first listening to this, I’d moved in with a friend who lived just a few blocks from Knickerbocker Ave. in Bergenfield, which the boys, who grew up in Bergenfield, took their name from.

    1. I love things like that. As you’ve surely worked out by now, the Infinite Jukebox is about personal significance as much as it is musical significance.

  2. I came to Lies the traditional way, through Lenny Kaye’s 1972 compilation Nuggets, albeit at the other end of the seventies. Your introduction’s much more interesting than mine.

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