In Vinyl Retentive, A.V. Clubbers share what we find while crate-digging in our own houses.
"Yes, She Is My Skinhead Girl"
Format: 7-inch single
File Under: Perverse, perverted twee
Key track: "Yes, She Is My Skinhead Girl"
"Started as a noisy improv high school band and turned into an indie legend," is how Mark Robinson, on his TeenBeat Records website, describes his old band Unrest. That pretty much sums it up: The D.C. group started out making spazzy, sludgy, at times even silly records in 1985 and became, by its '95 breakup, one of rock's most passionate exponents of hyper, pristine guitar pop. Of course, lots of bands have made such radical transitions, but few are as abrupt and cut-and-dried as Unrest's. The band's first two 7-inch singles of 1991–"Yes, She Is My Skinhead Girl" and "Cherry Cherry," the latter of which would show up on the trio's breakthrough LP, 1992's Imperial F.F.R.R.–became practically the epitome of indie tweeness (at least until Belle And Sebastian was born a few years later). But it came totally out of nowhere–even though Robinson couldn't keep his sick sense of humor out of Unrest's new sound.
The single's cover should tip you off to the fact that there's more to "Yes, She Is My Skinhead Girl" than angelic strumming and giddy sweetness. Keep that title in mind while looking at the artwork, a photo of Sammy Davis, Jr. getting cozy with a young, white, female fan; it's enough to make you wonder if Robinson and crew found the picture first and wrote the song later to complete the punch-line. The song itself is just as much of a study in prankish extremes: "I said I want to need you / I said I want to fuck you all the time," Robinson coos with a throat full of honey, cutting through a murky, echoey, Kramer-remixed atmosphere clearly influenced by the producer's simultaneous work with Galaxie 500. "Yes, she is my skinhead girl / Yes, she is whiter than a pearl…" Nothing like a little ironic white supremacy to complement your swooning indie-pop.
The song later appeared on the K Records compilation International Hip Swing–but despite that show of pop solidarity in the face all those humongous guitars of the grunge era, Unrest really didn't sound like any of its contemporaries. Instead, the band was clearly (and quite uniquely for the time) indebted to the early-'80s Factory Records scene, particularly groups like Crispy Ambulance and Stockholm Monsters, as well as jangly outfits like Miaow and The Wedding Present from England's brief C86 movement. And sure enough, Unrest would go on to cover both Miaow and Crispy Ambulance–although it's kinda funny that "Skinhead Girl" owes far more to "Belinda," a great track from Eurythmics' overlooked (and Can-assisted!) debut album, In The Garden.
Current whereabouts: Unrest went on to short-lived semi-fame with Imperial and its equally incredible follow-up, Perfect Teeth before morphing into Air Miami and then splintering into about a thousand Robinson projects (although singer-bassist Bridget Cross has a new solo album under the name Maybe It's Reno, assisted by both Robinson and Unrest drummer Phil Krauth, due next week). Unrest is also still remembered as the band that turned down an opening slot on a Nirvana tour at the height of the latter's fame. The cosmos retaliated with this–Hole's version of "Skinhead Girl."
Album availability: The 7-inch is out of print, but still easy and inexpensive to track down second-hand; the B-sides, "Hydroplane" and "Feeling Good Fixation," can be found on the single only. "Skinhead Girl" is also readily available via download and on the Unrest anthology B.P.M.