Sad news out of Wisconsin: Dennis Flemion, one half of the Milwaukee-based sibling duo the Frogs, disappeared over the weekend during a weekend family boating trip, and is currently presumed drowned. Of the growing population of rock & roll heaven, surely Flemion is one of the few members already equipped with his own wings, whether he needs them now or not.
It's safe to say that there has never been another band like the Frogs. Starting in 1980, Dennis and brother Jimmy Flemion recorded literally hundreds of cassettes containing ad-libbed "Made-Up Songs." These, more often than not, were extremely scatological and riotously funny. Sounding eerily like an even more debauched Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie, the Frogs couched these outrageous lyrics in pillows of acoustic guitar and fey vocals. Toward the end of the decade, the Flemions broke out of the cassette underground with a 1988 self-titled LP, but it was the next year's It's Only Right and Natural that really became the Frogs' statement. It was a song cycle mostly celebrating homosexuality at a time when that still made people nervous. Or wait: were the Flemions making fun of homosexuals? They sure weren't going to tell. At their concerts, they dressed in silver lame costumes complete with bat wings, and performed these songs in an absolutely deadpan manner. In this way, they made both the hipsters and the squares uncomfortable (while unconsciously anticipating the likes of Flight of The Conchords, who mined a similar absurdist approach with completely different subject matter).
Whether through outrageousness or sheer persistence, the Frogs eventually developed a Zelig-like ability to shadow the 1990s mainstream. In the post-Nevermind world, Jimmy and Dennis Flemion found themselves feted by some of the most famous names in the business, yet remained too resolutely offensive and plain weird to do much cashing in themselves. Yet, even after their profile faded, they never stopped creating. Last week, coincidentally enough, they released two new albums on iTunes, Squirrel Bunny Jupiter Deluxe and Count Your Blessingsz. In celebration of Dennis Flemion's unique and irreplaceable voice, here are six of the Frogs' most famous fans.
6) Beck. One of It's Only Right and Natural's highlights was "I Don't Care If U Disrespect Me (Just So You Love Me)." A college radio hit, the song began with an offhanded aside - "That was a good drum break" - before setting the scene of "a beautiful night, making love to every guy in sight." Beck and producers the Dust Brothers wove that line into "Where It's At," the first single off his chart-topping Odelay. On an album full of clever, witty samples, this remains a highlight.
The Frogs: "I Don't Care If U Disrespect Me (Just So You Love Me)"
Beck, "Where It's At"
5) Nirvana. It's Only Right and Natural was Kurt Cobain's fifteenth favorite album of all time, just above P.J. Harvey's Dry and below Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. In appreciation, the Frogs wrote songs about Cobain (including "Lord Grunge," the opening track on their Starjob EP) and made an experimental film for him called Toy Porno. Here's a live version of "Hot Cock Annie" from Toy Porno, complete with a full band Frogs lineup.
The Frogs, "Hot Cock Annie" (from Toy Porno)
4) Pearl Jam. Not to be outdone by Nirvana, Pearl Jam included an actual Frogs recording - the Flemions' cover of "Rearviewmirror" - on the b-side of a single. In 1996, Vedder and company recorded "Smile" for No Code, supposedly based on a set of lyrics Dennis passed Vedder during a Pearl Jam performance.
The Frogs, "Rearviewmirror"
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