Check out these rare 1967 Velvet Underground covers from Dutch kids and U.S. soldiers in Vietnam!
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It’s truly amazing to think that somehow a few eager rock ‘n’ rollers, living in the Netherlands in the ‘60s, getting whatever US and UK records they could get their hands on, wind up with the first Velvets LP, grouping it in with The Beatles, Stones, Monkees, and Lovin’ Spoonful albums that they got that day. And when it was time to go for broke and make their own first record, what did they do? That’s right, pick 2 songs off that weird banana record! Think about that thought process—they didn’t pick 2 songs from 2 different bands, or one original song with a cover song on the flip side like every other band, they covered two Velvets songs! I can’t wrap my head around this. These Dutch kids saw, in 1967, what the rest of the world took about 25 years to notice. The band is called The Riats. What could the name mean? Stair backwards? Misspelling of Riots? Rats? We probably will never know.

When I first found this years ago it just about melted my mind with questions that are still unanswered. The band made several 45’s and an LP, none anything much to speak of. This is pretty great though. Take away the Velvet Underground’s mystique, vibe, danger, art, even their sunglasses, and what do you have? This solid beat dancer! Organ-dominated, with a pounding production and a great guitar solo. Phonetic babbling a go-go, lord knows they had no idea what they were saying. But “Run Run Run” is really great. The B side, a somber, sorta clunky run through of “Sunday Morning,” could be anybody making any record in 1967, but my mind is SO etched with wondering what this meant to them, and what it means to me personally that it still screws me up a bit hearing it. I really wish there was an interview from ‘67 where these guys explain why they made this 45. It’s pretty odd for a band to basically do a tribute to a totally unknown band. Especially THAT band.

Enjoy the unbelievable: The Riats, “Run, Run, Run”/“Sunday Morning,” Omega Records, 1967 (Sadly I can’t find “Sunday Morning” anywhere on the internet).

Similar but even more incredible is the saga of The Electrical Banana.
In March of 1966 Dean Kohler, then of The Satellites, was drafted, and his rock ‘n’ roll dreams were put aside…for a few minutes! Dean’s amazing story, including his Vietnam sojourn, is way too much to go into here, but please check his website here, or check out his book Rock ‘n’ Roll Soldier: A Memoir. In a nutshell, he taught a buddy to play bass on the bottom four strings of a guitar supplied by their ship’s chaplain during a 28-day boat ride across the ocean. Along with roughly three thousand men were guitars, amps, and drums. Together with a drummer and another guitarist (the aspiring bass player was not quite ready), Dean’s thrown-together threesome played for “all aboard” on Christmas Day 1966.

Upon landing, Dean and the shy bassist formed The Electrical Banana. They were originally The Swinging Banana in homage to Portsmouth’s Swinging Machine (the most revered and feared band of Dean’s hometown), but after thinking about it for a quick minute they nixed the name for obvious reasons! With matching banana yellow uniforms, Vietnamese guitars and a bamboo stalk for a mic stand, the guys were in business, playing at servicemen’s clubs in the off time from their rigorous regular schedules as MP’s. Remarkably, and mostly due to their conceptual banana fever, someone got ahold of and gave Dean the first Velvet Underground LP (with the Warhol banana cover, of course) within a month of its release. The band promptly snagged “There She Goes Again” for their repertoire and even recorded it live in the middle of Vietnam about a month later, along with Dean’s fine jangler “She’s Gone” (also on the compilation LP mentioned below).

In the best sense of American musical spirit and ingenuity, the band threw down pallets, pitched a tent, dragged over a gas-powered generator, hooked everything up and voila! Not only was it recorded, but released (sort of) in the form of ten acetates with individual custom labels crediting “The Banana,” with a copy of the finished product going to all involved. Again, given the decades it took for the Velvet Underground to receive their due respect and rewards, it’s almost impossible to conceive of the true story I just told, that a band recorded a Velvets cover in the middle of a Vietnam jungle in a gas-powered recording studio straight out of Gilligan’s Island, around ONE MONTH after the Velvets debut release!! Talk about being ahead of their time—woah.

The two Electrical Banana tracks, along with music by The Satellites, The Swinging Machine, and many more can be heard on the compilation Aliens, Psychos and Wild Things (Rare & Unissued Virginia Garage 1964-1967) on the greatest record label in the world, Norton Records. Check out their website.
Big thanks to Simon Trent whose liner notes I used (liberally) to write the Electrical Banana story.

Posted by Howie Pyro
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