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Punk Rock Girl

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"Punk Rock Girl"
Punk Rock Girl - Dead Milkmen.jpg
Single by The Dead Milkmen
from the album Beelzebubba
B-side
  • "Ringo Buys a Rifle"
  • "Life Is Shit"
  • "Dizzy in the Daylight"
ReleasedDecember 1988 (1988-12)
Recorded1988
StudioArlyn Studios (Austin, Texas)
Genre
Length2:40
LabelEnigma
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
  • Brian Beattie
  • Mike Stewart
The Dead Milkmen singles chronology
"Instant Club Hit (You'll Dance to Anything)"
(1987)
"Punk Rock Girl"
(1988)
"Smokin' Banana Peels"
(1988)

"Punk Rock Girl" is a song by American rock band The Dead Milkmen. It was the first single released from the band's fourth album Beelzebubba (1988). Released in December 1988, the track was primarily composed by guitarist and vocalist Joe Genaro and bassist Dave Schulthise, though it is credited to all four band members. The idea behind the song was to create a punk rock nursery rhyme; as such, it is a simple love song, written from the perspective of a sheltered boy dreaming of a rowdy, delinquent girlfriend. Lyrically, it depicts the duo bonding over record-shopping and eating pizza.

The song was recorded with producer Brian Beattie in Austin, Texas. In addition to the band's normal lineup, the song also incorporates an accordion. Beattie hoped to emulate the quality of the quartet's original demo, by ensuring the guitar solo seemed stifled or imperfect. "Punk Rock Girl" makes several pop culture references, from comedian Minnie Pearl to musicians Mojo Nixon and the Beach Boys. It mentions several locations in the band's hometown of Philadelphia, including the counter-culture shop Zipperhead.

The track was the group's biggest commercial hit; it peaked at number eleven on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart, the band's only such entry on the charts. Its music video was a surprise success when it was picked up by MTV, where it became a staple of the era. The song has been considered one of the first pop punk hits, as well as a breakthrough for the comedy rock genre. "Punk Rock Girl" remains the band's best-known song, and has been covered by numerous artists and licensed for a variety of media. The song is the namesake of a forthcoming stage musical by Joe Iconis.

Background[edit]

The song was written by guitarist/vocalist Joe Genaro (pictured) and bassist Dave Schulthise.

The Dead Milkmen formed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1983 by guitarist/vocalist Joe Genaro, vocalist Rodney Linderman, drummer Dean Sabatino, and bassist Dave Schulthise. The quartet began performing together in mid-1983, gaining a reputation for their high-energy live shows and juvenile sense of humor. They released a string of albums that decade that became underground successes, particularly their debut album, Big Lizard in My Backyard (1985).[1] By 1987, the group were "poised for a breakthrough" according to AllMusic biographer Steve Huey.[2]

"Punk Rock Girl" was written several years prior to its recording, primarily by Genaro and Schulthise. Genaro had just graduated from Temple University and was working in its library when a musician friend spoke about wanting to write a punk rock-inflected nursery rhyme. Using this as his basis melodically, Genaro wrote much of the song but stalled when running out of words that rhymed with "girl". He enlisted the assistance of Schulthise, who contributed a reference to comedian Minnie Pearl, as well as the word "beau". The two were uncertain it would fit within the Dead Milkmen's catalogue, and took to performing it within a side project they called Ornamental Wigwam. They received positive responses from audiences, who suggested they share it with their main band, though it took them several years to do so.[3]

Composition[edit]

"Punk Rock Girl" has alternately been described as a pop punk[4] and comedy rock song.[5] The story of the song is penned from the perspective of a character who is not interested in punk rock music, only a punk rock girlfriend.[3] Genaro describes the protagonist as a "middle of the road" kid who just wants to "walk on the wild side".[6] In the song, the narrator meets the titular girl one Saturday evening, and launches "into a series of boredom-avoiding, punk-themed adventures with her".[5] The song references several locations from the band's hometown of Philadelphia: the couple meet at Zipperhead, a legendary counterculture clothing store in the city.[7] From there, they venture to the Philadelphia Pizza Company, a real-life pizza shop open at the time of the song's release.[8] When the waitress explains they only serve iced tea over hot tea, the duo hop onto the table and rebel, crying out "anarchy".[5] Steve Huey of AllMusic observes that Genaro's vocals are often "spoken-more-than-sung, stream-of-consciousness lyrical rants".[5]

The song also makes reference to psychobilly musician Mojo Nixon, whose albums the couple search for a record store, to no avail.[9] It also alludes to the rock band the Beach Boys. Their cover of "California Dreamin'", which the song references, was released in 1986.[10] Genaro’s concept was that the protagonist of the song–a sheltered, conservative kid–might not know the original version and mistake the Beach Boys' cover for the original.[6] As the song progresses, the listener discovers the punk-rock girlfriend has stolen a cassette tape and may possibly be the daughter of the Vice President of the United States (at the time of the single's popularity, Dan Quayle).[5] The song concludes with the quartet finding increasingly creative ways to rhyme words with "girl", including "Duke of Earl", "Minnie Pearl", and "fudge banana swirl".[5]

Recording and production[edit]

Eventually, the song was recorded for the band's fourth album, Beelzebubba (1988). It was produced by friend Brian Beattie, and recorded at Arlyn Studios in Austin, Texas. The group had forged a friendship with the producer over the years, having hosted each other when performing in the band's hometown of Philadelphia, and in Texas, where Beattie resided. They had previously worked with the producer on their last album, Bucky Fellini (1987). The album was recorded over the period of a month, during which the group rented a home with a pool, which made them "[feel] like rock stars." The album was largely recorded live in the studio's main tracking room, with vocals overdubbed in one week later. Mike Stewart engineered the sessions, and was credited as the album's co-producer.[3]

Beattie suggested incorporating an accordion in the song, and lent Genaro one to learn how to use over the course of a weekend. He only improved at the instrument enough to play the melody with his right hand, and Beattie overdubbed the left-handed part himself. The final piece of recording was double-tracking the full-band chorus at the song's conclusion. Beattie found the effect amusing, comparing it to the Sherman Brothers' song "It's a Small World".[3] For Genaro's guitar solo, Beattie attempted to capture Genaro's original demo track, which was poorly-recorded. To achieve an imperfect sound, Beattie pushed the compression on the mix using a 1176 Peak Limiter.[3]

Music video[edit]

The music video was partially filmed at Eastern State Penitentiary, an abandoned prison seen here in 2009.

The "gritty" and "low-budget"[11] music video was partially filmed at the abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.[12] Parts of the video were filmed at Zipperhead, "a popular counterculture store on Philly’s South Street" which is mentioned in the song.[13] It was directed by Adam Bernstein.[14][15]

The video was first added to MTV's rotation the week it reached its peak position on the Billboard charts;[16] peaking at number one on the channel's Dial MTV request list.[17] Several years later, the song saw a resurgence in popularity when it was featured in a segment of MTV's animated series Beavis and Butt-head.[18] MTV included the video among its annual yearbook of videos from 1988 on its website, calling it among the "biggest, best, most memorable music videos".[11]

Commercial performance and reception[edit]

"Punk Rock Girl" was first issued as a 7" single in the U.S. by Engima in December 1988.[19] It debuted on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart on January 7, 1989 at position 27;[20] it spent ten weeks on the chart,[21] peaking at number eleven on February 4, 1989.[22] It was issued as a single in the UK with cover art, illustrated by artist Melissa Bell, on February 13, 1989.[23] To promote the single, the band guested on Club MTV with host Downtown Julie Brown, a show typically relegated for dance artists. The channel demanded the quartet lip-sync their taped performance, and to agree, the band got MTV to agree to some conditions: a tuba for Linderman, an oversized drum kit that Sabatino ends up playing little of, and more. The band viewed the opportunity as a joke, and still found it "hilarious" years later.[24]

Jason Heller wrote about the song in a 2012 piece for The A.V. Club examining classic singles. He called it "a classic pop song: well crafted, well played, well produced, and impeccably infectious." Heller praised the tune as "rife with smart, subversive flourishes: The asthmatic accordion. Genaro's strangulated un-solo. And some sly, mischievous runs from founding bassist Dave "Blood" Schulthise."[13] AllMusic's Ned Raggett, reviewing Beelzebubba, singled out the song for praise, calling it "near-perfect" and commenting, "Sprightly and catchy, it mixes the unexpectedly tender, sweet side of the band with the usual drawling humor."[25] The song has been covered by MxPx,[26] Ben Gibbard,[27] Diesel Boy,[28] and Streetlight Manifesto.[29]

The song was licensed as featured music in the video game Tony Hawk's Project 8 (2006),[30] and used on the Fox television show Raising Hope.[6]

Legacy[edit]

Zipperhead, the iconic punk clothing shop in Philadelphia's South Street district referenced in the song

"Punk Rock Girl" was one of the first punk rock crossover hits, and balances between the genre's early days and its poppier, more mainstream interpretation.[31] The Dead Milkmen were among the first artists to gain attention playing this more melodic strain of punk, like fellow genre pioneers NOFX and Green Day. However, Genaro declined to be considered part of the "pop punk" scene; in a 2015 interview, he stated he "[doesn't] really think that we fit into that genre. I don't know what genre that we fit into".[31] The band's impact on later musicians, specifically through the wide popularity of "Punk Rock Girl", is evident. MXPX covered the song in 2009 on their album On the Cover II. Tom DeLonge, guitarist for Blink-182, recalls that his first concert was the Dead Milkmen and mentions "Punk Rock Girl" fondly in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2019.[32] Steve Huey of AllMusic writes that the single was "one of the first comedy rock songs from the alternative world to break through to a wider audience; in that sense, it prefigured the post-grunge breakthrough of a wave of quirky collegiate comedy bands".[5]

For the Milkmen, this newfound spotlight was fleeting and not to their liking. The label pushed Genaro to write more songs to feature his solo vocals, to capitalize on the success of the single, but the group refused.[24] Their follow-up album, Metaphysical Graffiti (1990), received a divided response from fans and critics, and stalled the band's momentum.[2] After the band broke up in 1995,[33] the band members got day jobs but continued to occasionally pursue music part-time.[11] Since 2008, the Milkmen have recorded two new albums and have continued to tour; "Punk Rock Girl" remains the band's best-known song.[6] The song is currently the namesake and title track of an in-development stage musical by Joe Iconis, set to be announced soon.[34]

Formats and track listing[edit]

Personnel[edit]

Adapted from Beelzebubba's liner notes.[35]

Charts[edit]

Chart (1989) Peak
position
U.S. Modern Rock Tracks (Billboard)[22] 11

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cobb, Mark Hughes (January 27, 1989). "Dead Milkmen Delivering Dose Of Satire". The Tuscaloosa News. p. 9. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b Huey, Steve. "Dead Milkmen: Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b c d e Schultz, Barbara (November 17, 2017). "Classic Tracks: The Dead Milkmen, "Punk Rock Girl"". Mix. Archived from the original on May 6, 2019. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ Robinson, Joe (January 23, 2013). "10 Best Pop-Punk Songs". Diffuser.fm. Retrieved December 19, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Huey, Steve. "Punk Rock Girl – Dead Milkmen". AllMusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ a b c d Sigelman, Danny (October 20, 2011). "The Dead Milkmen's Joe Jack Talcum talks pizza, politics, 'Punk Rock Girl'". City Pages. Archived from the original on January 10, 2016. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ Marchese, John (March 14, 1993). "Out There: Philadelphia; Exceeding Odd". The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on January 29, 2019. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ Russock, Caroline (April 30, 2015). "South Street restaurateurs talk about the past, present and future of this storied strip". My City Paper. Archived from the original on July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ Catlin, Roger (April 14, 1989). "Zany rock stays demented". The Bulletin (112). p. 16. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^ Lambert, Philip (2016). Good Vibrations: Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys in Critical Perspective. University of Michigan Press. pp. 29–30. ISBN 978-0472119950.
  11. ^ a b c Fiorillo, Victor (September 23, 2011). "Photo of the Day: The Dead Milkmen". Philadelphia. Archived from the original on July 19, 2019. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ Leppo, Skye (October 27, 2014). "Scariest set in the city? A look at Eastern State Penitentiary's most famous videos". WXPN: The Key. Archived from the original on January 26, 2016. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ a b Heller, Jason (June 5, 2012). "Punks and squares alike get lampooned in The Dead Milkmen's "Punk Rock Girl"". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on July 19, 2019. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  14. ^ Thompson, David (2000). Alternative Rock: The Essential Listening Companion. Backbeat. p. 85. ISBN 978-0879306076.
  15. ^ Pond, Steve (July 30, 2014). "Emmy Nominated Director's Strange Trip: From Sir-Mix-a-Lot's 'Baby Got Back' to 'Fargo'". TheWrap. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  16. ^ "The Clip List – A Sampling of Playlists at National Music Video Outlets" (PDF). Billboard. 101 (5). February 4, 1989. p. 51. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  17. ^ Gettelman, Parry (January 18, 1991). "Dead Milkmen Becoming More Proficient, But Haven't Outgrown Brattiness". The News. p. 22E. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  18. ^ Perry, Adam (May 28, 2019). "Dead Milkmen's Rodney Anonymous: Hippies Are Better Than Rednecks". Westword. Archived from the original on June 7, 2019. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  19. ^ "45cat - The Dead Milkmen - Punk Rock Girl / Dizzy In The Daylight - Fever / Enigma - USA - 7 75038-7". 45cat. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  20. ^ "Modern Rock Tracks – For Week Ending January 7, 1989" (PDF). Billboard. 101 (1). January 7, 1989. p. 14. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  21. ^ Joel Whitburn Presents Rock Tracks 1981-2008. Hal Leonard Corporation. 2008. p. 70. ISBN 978-0898201741.
  22. ^ a b "Modern Rock Tracks – For Week Ending February 4, 1989" (PDF). Billboard. 101 (5). February 4, 1989. p. 16. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  23. ^ a b Punk Rock Girl. 45cat (liner notes). The Dead Milkmen. UK: Enigma Records. 1988. ENV 8.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  24. ^ a b Jones, Kevin L. (April 17, 2015). "Punk's Comedy Troupe The Dead Milkmen Discuss the Old Days". KQED.com. Archived from the original on July 19, 2019. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  25. ^ Raggett, Ned. "Beelzebubba – Dead Milkmen". AllMusic. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  26. ^ Kraus, Brian (July 11, 2011). "MxPx cover "Punk Rock Girl" with the Dead Milkmen's Joe Jack Talcum". Alternative Press. Archived from the original on July 19, 2019. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  27. ^ Vettese, John (November 8, 2012). "Ben Gibbard loosens up at The Keswick Theater (review, setlist)". WXPN: The Key. Archived from the original on November 11, 2012. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  28. ^ Sofa King Cool (liner notes). Diesel Boy. Honest Don's. 1999. DON 025-1.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  29. ^ 99 Songs Of Revolution: Volume One (liner notes). Streetlight Manifesto. Victory Records. 2010. VR471.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  30. ^ Kuchera, Ben (October 18, 2006). "Tony Hawk Project 8 soundtrack revealed". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on July 19, 2019. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  31. ^ a b Ells, Blake (May 8, 2015). "The Dead Milkmen carry on". Weld: Birmingham's Newspaper. Archived from the original on August 13, 2017. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  32. ^ Blistein, Jon & Doyle, Patrick (June 27, 2019). "The First Time: Tom DeLonge". Rolling Stone. Penske Media Corporation. Archived from the original on June 28, 2019. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  33. ^ Yabroff, Jennie. "Squeeze Out A Tear For Dead Milkmen". MTV.com. Archived from the original on July 20, 2019. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  34. ^ Reitman, Shelby (December 17, 2018). "New 'Punk Rock Girl' Musical to Feature Songs by Pink, Avril Lavigne, Pat Benatar & More". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media, LLC. Archived from the original on February 15, 2019. Retrieved July 20, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  35. ^ Beelzebubba (liner notes). The Dead Milkmen. US: Enigma Records. 1988. 7 73351-2.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)

External links[edit]