Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"From A to Z" by Boys Life - February 8th 80's Quest Song of the Day

Man-o-man, was I glad to see that someone posted this video on youtube just a couple weeks ago.  It is a joy to see!  Prior to this, I could only find a still photo of the band posted with the song playing in the background, so this is soooo great!! 

Boys Life was a band from Malden, Massachusetts consisting of John Surette (vocals, guitar, bass), Robert Weiner (drums, vocals), Chris George (bass) and Neal Sugarman (saxophone, keyboards, vocals) who were all around 16 - 18 years old.  They took their name from a monthly magazine put out by The Boys Scouts of America for boys aged 6 to 18 years old.  During the first 3 months of their existence they began playing shows wearing Boy Scout uniforms, but later scrapped that schtick.  John Surette's older brother Dave (a former manager of a Strawberries Record Store) managed the band and helped write lyrics.  They released some 45's that got them some attention.  Their first 6-song EP was produced by David Robinson, the drummer for the band The Cars and Modern Lovers and released in 1983.  Their EP received mention in the CMJ New Music Report.

Boys Life received a lot of airplay on famed Boston radio station WBCN, and one year (unknown?) "A to Z" was the number one local song of the year on WBCN. Their EP also topped the best of the year poll in The Boston Phoenix underground newspaper (probably 1983 or 1984, I'm guessing).   As a teenager in New England, my friends and I paid close attention to all of the great local bands recording and playing around Boston.  There were so many great ones!  WBCN held a huge contest called The Rock and Roll Rumble at a Boston club called The Rathskeller, or more popularly known as "The Rat".  A preliminary set of the best local bands were picked to compete.  Each night for about a week about 4 bands would play a 30-minute set and be judged by various judges from the Boston music industry.  A winner was announced at the end of the night and the winning bands became semi-finalists.  The semi-finalists then competed at a separate show and the winner of the Rumble was awarded such prizes as cash, studio time, legal services, and got their album produced.   Boys Life participated in the 1980 Rock and Roll Rumble and notably came on stage and said, "We're Boys Life, and we're here to make you feel old!" 

Boys Life forged a relationship with English band The Jam which started in 1980.  The Jam were booked to play a Boston club called The Channel.  The night before the show, Boys Life received a phone call saying that The Jam needed someone to take them around Boston that night.  So Surette and Sugarman met up with the Jam at the Newton Marriott Lounge.  The Jam wanted to go see some bands, so Boys Life took them to a club called The Metro.  A not yet famous band, U2, were playing that night, but when the group said they were playing at competing club The Channel, they were not let in.  So they went over to another club called The Underground in Kenmore Square to see the Future Dads and The Prime Movers play.  After a number of beers Paul Weller and Bruce Foxton got onstage along with Surette and Sugarman, Ritchie Parsons (Future Dads guitarist) and Dennis McCarthy (Prime Movers drummer).  They played "Substitute", "Heatwave" and "Slow Down" and a 20 minute drunken cover of "The Batman" theme before calling it a day.  As they were exiting the stage, who was stading right in front watching, but Bono and The Edge from U2!  Boys Life ended up opening for the Jam at The Channel the next night, and also opened up for them at the Orpheum Theatre in 1981.   They also were the opening band for Stiff Little Fingers in New York City, and for Echo and the Bunnymen at The Ritz (10-16-1981).  They opened for a bevy of local Boston bands including The Neighborhoods (hundreds of times, according to Surette).

I was turned on to Boys Life through a friend, and made a cassette recording of her album, and played it all the time.  I especially loved the song "From A to Z", and I've missed hearing it because I tossed all my cassettes in the garbage when I moved to New York City.  It is really great to hear this lost gem again!. What teenager wouldn't love the lyrics to this song?  At age 17 or 18 you are ready to set off in the world and begin experiencing life.  The lyrics are so earnest.  Some of my favorite passages include:

"I hope I will be crying today, and laugh till there's tears in my eyes.  I want love to be ecstacy!"

"I want to know and feel it all from A to Z.  I need every moment to be a struggle to be free."

"I want to fall dead every night, unable to move a muscle.  I need to be jolted alive."

"I want to scrape the bottom and rise above it all."

As happens in many bands, there were tensions between the members and times when they weren't talking to one another. They spent a lot of time together. Surette is quoted as saying they practiced five days Monday - Friday, and played out every weekend. If they had a bad set on Friday, they would get together and practice some more before their next gig on Saturday night. As he explained, "We played every weekend without fail as long as we were in existence. It was a plain case of 'familiarity breeds contempt'" that led to the band's breakup.

What a surprise to learn that the saxophone player, Neal Sugarman now plays with Brooklyn-based soul band The Dap Kings.  They are in one of my favorite current bands, "Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings".  The Dap Kings also worked with producer Mark Ronson (who just produced Duran Duran's 2011 album "All You Need is Now") and were hired as session musicians on Amy Winehouse's 2006 Back to Black album.  Six out of 11 tracks on that album feature The Dap Kings including the hits "Rehab" and "You Know I'm No Good". 

Sugarman grew up in Newton, Massachusetts (and was a 1981 Newton South High graduate) and played with Boys Life and Black Cat Bone during the 80's before moving to New Orleans for a stint.  He moved to New York and formed the funk band Sugarman 3 with Hammond organist Adam Scone and drummer Rudy the late 90's.  He helped form the Dap Kings and in the late 2000's played as a session muscian on albums for Lily Allen, Robbie Williams, Al Green, Nas in addition to his Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings and Amy Winehouse recordings.

I love 80's Quest!  Even I learn new, interesting things in writing this blog for you!

Weiner went on to tour Europe with Boston band The Fools.  George played with a band called Drumming on Glass.  In 1987 John Surrette (a 1980 Malden High School Graduate, and attended Bunker Hill Community College for a year) became part of The DeNiros who then became known as John Surette and The DeNiros.  Dave Minehan of The Neighborhoods produced their 2000 disk and contributed much of the guitar work and backing vocals.

List of recordings:
"Boys Life vs. The Outlets" (45" on Modern Method Records 1980)

Songs:  "It Wasn't Me/Heroes of the Dead" (on the compilation album "Wicked Good Time" on Modern Method Records 1981)

Song:  "Keep the Edge" (on the compilation album "Wicked Good Time, Vol. II, on Modern Method Records 1981).

Songs:  "Perfect Life"/ "More Trouble for Modern Man" / "It Came From Here"/ "Water"/ "From A to Z" / "Happy People"/ "True Believers"/ "Person I Want to Be" (on the self-titled Boys Life EP, SECO, 1982)

Songs:  "Two Doors Down" / "I (Finally) Found Her" (45" on SECO, 1981)


I hope I will be crying today and laugh till there's tears in my eyes
I want love to be ecstasy
And all the the hate that destroys men
and fight a fight I'll never win.

I want to know and feel it all from A to Z
I need every moment to be a struggle to be free

I want to fall dead every night unable to move a muscle
I need to be jolted alive
A morning cold slap in the face
Ready to win the human race


I need to taste my tears and my sweat
To have you close and far away
You're the bird of youth --
-    but always strong


I wanna scrape the bottom and rise above it all
I wanna rise above it all

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