When the recent Redd Kross tour passed through my town, a friend asked me if I was going. I couldn’t go (to my regret—everyone who went RAVED about it), but I joked that I’d make a point of attending if it were a Tater Totz show, and my pal had no goddamn clue what I was talking about.
For a few years around the turn of the ‘90s, Redd Kross’ principals Jeff and Steve McDonald, along with White Flag’s Pat Fear and a large rotating pool of heavy friends, formed the Tater Totz, a half-reverent, half-goofy take on the catalog of The Beatles, Yoko Ono, and a few assorted others. Redd Kross had long been famed for irreverent cover songs, but Tater Totz went completely around the bend, tackling unlikely candidates for tribute like Ono’s “Telephone Piece” from the album Fly, a song that consists of 35 seconds of a phone ringing and Ono saying “Hello, this is Yoko”; mashing up “Give Peace a Chance” with Queen’s “We Will Rock You”; recruiting The Partridge Family‘s former child actor Danny Bonaduce to sing “I’ve Just Seen a Face.” They made THREE ALBUMS of stuff like this, all while concurrently still functioning as Redd Kross, and releasing their major label debut Third Eye.
The first album, Alien Sleestacks From Brazil (Unfinished Music Volume 3), features the Queen mashup and the Bonaduce guest vocal, plus a great version of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “Let’s Get Together” from The Parent Trap, and a take on Gilberto Gil’s Brazilian classic “Bat Macumba” that more closely resembles’ Os Mutantes’ version than the original. It was released on Giant Records (an indie, not the Warners subsidiary of the same name) in 1988.
As completely awesome and bonkers as Alien Sleestacks is, the 1990 sophomore LP Mono! Stereo: Sgt. Shonen’s Exploding Plastic Eastman Band Request is the one to have if you can only have one. The cover art is a wonderful send-up of the Beatles’ HELP! but with four Yokos in place of John, Paul, George and Ringo, and it features a cover of David Essex’s “Rock On” that destroys the Michael Damian hit version released the year before, another “Tomorrow Never Knows” sung by the Three O’Clock’s Michael Quercio, “Rain” sung by Shonen Knife, and “Instant Karma” sung by the Runaways’ Cherie Curie (which I prefer over the original, there I said it). The album also contains plenty of Ono material, and far from making cheap fun, it seems to take her work’s aesthetic merits as given, but it never becomes so serious that they don’t mash up the “Instant Karma” single’s flip side “Who Has Seen the Wind” with “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Though it’s still great fun, the least essential Totzprodukt is the 1992 Rockville release Tater Comes Alive! (Tot Live! If You Want It!). The parodic title reflects that the album is in fact the documentation of a live set, from San Francisco in 1989, with the exception of “Don’t Worry Kyoko,” a recording of an ill-fated performance at the annual L.A. Beatlefest in 1988. Some members of the audience of devout Beatlemaniacs were not one bit pleased with the Totz’ performance. Luckily for posterity, there’s video. Enjoy this while we all thank the heavens that the McDonald brothers never parodied the Two Virgins LP cover.