Bonnie Hayes & The Wild Combo: Good Clean Fun

Expanded 2020 reissue of 1982 pop classic

Originally released in 1982 amid the MTV/New Wave boom, this San Francisco band’s only full-length album shared some of the boom’s pop sensibilities, but with a craft that was more musically rich than its video-enhanced counterparts. Hayes’ roots in jazz might have informed some of the chords and harmonies, but her musical training never hindered the album’s pop joy, finding expression in a depth of songwriting that was often missing from the mainstream. The band’s indie label (Slash) and its corporate distributor (Warner Brothers) failed to turn any of the album’s tracks into hit singles (though “Girls Like Me” and “Shelly’s Boyfriend” both appeared on the soundtrack of Valley Girl), and Slash dropped the band after this album. A follow-up EP, Brave New Girl, was self-released in 1984, and marked the end of a surprisingly short run for a group whose debut was so brimming with life, and whose songwriter proved to have a great deal more to say (notably penning “Have A Heart” and “Love Letter” for Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time).

The original album was reissued in 2007 by Wounded Bird, but is augmented here by the follow-up EP, the pre-LP single version of “Shelly’s Boyfriend” (and its flip “Rochambeau,” released as The Punts), and a trio of demos that failed to make the album. The debut opens with the exuberant one-two punch of “Girls Like Me” and the cautionary sibling shout-out “Shelly’s Boyfriend.” Hayes’ slow piano intro doesn’t tip off the punchy rhythm of “Separating,” and her organ and coy vocal give “Dum Fun” a hint of new wave before her solo and Paul Davis’ scorching guitar give the throwaway-titled song some soulful musical heft. The original “Coverage” would find subsequent cover on David Crosby’s 1993 release Thousand Roads, giving Hayes’ songwriting the exposure its lyrics seemed to beg for.

The follow-up EP is highlighted by the wondrous impressions of “After Hours” and the closing “Night Baseball,” the latter of which Hayes characterizes as a “multi-meter modal extravaganza about my love affair with San Francisco.” The pre-LP Punts single is a treat whose lack of distribution made it a rarity. The earlier version of  “Shelly’s Boyfriend” is taken at a slower tempo that is less anxious with its advice than the album take. The B-side pairs a lovely vocal with an unusual rhythm and a dash of Hayes’ jazz background in the instrumental passage. The collection’s demos were recorded by the pre-Wild Combo Punts (including producer Steve Savage on drums), and though a bit more punk rock in attitude than what ended up on the album, it’s not hard to imagine how these songs might have fit. Altogether, this is a terrific upgrade to Wounded Bird’s straight-up album reissue, and the place to start if you missed the album in its previous incarnations. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

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