The Rough Guide To Rock


Formed San Francisco, 1979; disbanded 1983; re-formed 1990.

In San Francisco, January 1978, Johnny Rotten ended the Sex Pistols' career with the words: 'Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?'. Well, yes, a growing legion of San Francisco punks felt exactly that way, and within months the city was awash with bands - the Dead Kennedys, the Avengers, the Mutants, and, somewhat less celebrated, a bunch called Negative Trend, whose singer, Rozz, overdid the Iggy impersonations and injured himself too seriously to continue. He was replaced by one Rickie Williams, who renamed the band Flipper. A legend was about to be spun.

By mid-1979 the band - Negative's rhythm section, Will Shatter (bass) and Steve DePace (drums) - had found another new vocalist, Bruce Loose, and added Vietnam vet Ted Falconi on guitar. Announcing that they were playing a new form of music called 'PET Rock' ('not a joke, and, if it were, it wouldn't be funny'), they were signed to a new independent label, Subterranean, appearing on a four-band sampler EP, SF Underground (1979), which launched the label. Flipper's contribution, typically perverse, was a slow, grinding number about spine-free mud-munchers called "Earthworm". The band also appeared on the following year's SF punk scene LP, Live At Target.

By now, Flipper's logo of a line-drawing of a fish with sharp teeth bared, and motto (Flipper Rules OK?), were appearing on walls all over San Francisco. The Flipper sound, meanwhile, had jelled, with a simple, repetitive bassline upfront, guitar feeding back and improvising in the background, and a mad shouty bloke shouting madly over the top. "Love Canal" (1981), their first single, also demonstrated a love of echo and, on the flip side, "Ha Ha Ha", deranged chaos. Its follow-up, "Sexbomb" (1981), overlaid the whistle of a bomb falling earthwards whilst Will Shatter screamed incoherently, occasionally breaking off to bark the intricate lyric 'She's a sex bomb, yeah', before ending without warning mid-scream.

The first Flipper album emerged in 1982, entitled Album - Generic Flipper. Unclassifiable then and now, it crystallized the band's slow, rhythmic sound (when all around the scene had turned to thrash), though closing with a near apocalyptic, saxed-up version of "Sex Bomb". It was followed up with another great single, "Get Away", whose B-side was a wild Flipperization of "The Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly".

After a two-year hiatus, Flipper reappeared with the humongous Gone Fishin album (1984). Only The Stooges' Funhouse comes close to the demented wonder of this record. The music seems skewed, out of time, out of tune, even, but - it's perfect. No other band ever sounded like this. The only problem was that Flipper had split up before its release. All that was to be heard for the next few years were the posthumous live collections Blow'n Chunks (1984) and Public Flipper Ltd. (1986).

Then in 1991 an orange vinyl seven-inch single, "Some Day"/"Distant Illusion", materialized. The 'perky porpoises of punk' (as they billed themselves) were back, sadly without bassist and driving force Will Shatter, who had died during the lost years and to whom the single was dedicated, but with a great sound still. Strangely, a decade on, it was better appreciated. Grunge had arisen from the roots of punk, and several of its main men credited Flipper as a major inspiration; Kurt himself sports a Flipper T-shirt on the sleeve of In Utero.

So, welcomed back, Flipper became unlikely label mates to The Black Crowes and Johnny Cash on Rick Rubin's Def American label, and in 1993 released the splendidly titled American Grafishy. It couldn't be described as a return to form, since this is a band who've never been off form, but it hung right in there with earlier releases, a little more straightforward, perhaps, but what the hell. Flipper bit the dust after the failure of this corporate-sponsored resurrection but Steve is still functioning care of Subterranean Records. An in-concert album Live At CBGB's (Overground 1997) rounds out the band's history by capturing some of the manic bliss of Flipper in full effect. All Flipper recordings are in print though distribution difficulties have made them difficult to locate. Well worth having your friendly record store order them in for you and well worth badgering the suits at Warner Bros to release the band's mythical 5th studio album.

Album - Generic Flipper (1982; American Recordings). Re-issued, this is a must for any weirdcore collection.

American Grafishy (1993; American Recordings). More straightforward than its predecessors, sure, but Flipper's idea of straightforward, nonetheless.

Sex Bomb Baby (1995; Infinite Zero). This recent CD gathers all of Flipper's singles and EPs on Subterranean plus various compilation appearances. An excellent introduction, though if you can find the original release (1988 on the band's own label) then you'll appreciate the vastly superior (i.e. more outrageous) artwork

- Glenn Law

[taken from (now defunct), can also be found in the rock edition of the lexicon of the same title]

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