This was one of those records that my roommate Danny brought back from a summer in Boston, a summer where he was suddenly exposed to a raft of cool music that we would never hear in Syracuse.
I am not sure I can express how uncool the radio scene was in the Salt City at the time. The FM scene was rock, rawk and RAWWWKKKKK. I remember two stations getting into a tiff when one stole the new pre-release Judas Priest record from another station (to make it that much more seedy, they stole it from the Greyhound bus that was delivering the parcel). I understand people love metal. I do not, and there is nothing I could possibly care less about than which radio station first got to play a Judas Priest song. Except the song itself, of course. 1979, 1980, the music world was exploding with exciting new wave, and you could hear just about none of it on the Syracuse airwaves. I should have been hearing Talking Heads, Squeeze, The Jam. None of that was happening (with the limited exception of the college FM station, WAER, but like a lot of college stations, its tastes were then so broad that, well, I couldn’t listen for long stretches).
That doesn’t mean the records weren’t available, but we had no way to know what was on them. So when Danny came back from a vastly cooler city with a pile of music we’d never heard before, it was a breath of fresh air. He came back with Paul Collins’ Beat, with Fingerprintz, with The Vapors, with 4 Out of 5 Doctors. In a land where my radio options were AM Top 40 and FM that thought REO Speedwagon was great new music, I cannot overstate the importance of hearing these new records. They came into our lives just before MTV, so we were prepped when that arrived for the weirdness that was to come (see “A Flock of Seagulls”).
Several tracks from this album, their 1980 eponymous debut, made it onto mixtapes of the day, got played at parties, were generally very much part of our 1982/1983 life, those last couple years of college. Even after that, a few stayed in rotation. I got a copy of this for myself because I liked those tracks so much but I never ran across another 4 Out of 5 Doctors record. The magic of the internet now informs me they had only one other record, in 1982, and that they originally hailed from Washington, D.C. To my knowledge, I have never met another human being who was aware of their songs. (Though these days, my music nerd friends go deep, so I will not be surprised to learn I am now wrong.)
This is primarily good fun power pop. Listening to it again after many years, I’m still captured by the same four songs that interested me long ago; the others are more or less solid. “Waiting for a Change,” “Opus 10,” and “I Want Her,” all great punchy fun. I’ve had “Elizabeth” in my head all weekend.:
“It’s not that they’re all stupid
Though they’re slow at taking hints
It’s just your subtle deviation’s
Like a capital offense
In a town that still thinks cool is something dirty
And that sex is just a temperature.”
But it’s not something I put on very often anymore. Fond memories, but that’s mostly it. We got much further into other new wave bands we discovered at that time, so it’s all good.