Billy Karloff & the Extremes — Let Your Fingers Do The Talking

This is one of those absolute gems that I would never ever have heard of had roommate Danny not spent a summer in Boston, soaking up culture that wasn’t available to us in the Salt City and coming back with a treasure trove of new wave records that either presaged huge stardom (in the case of Soft Cell) or lesser-known fascinations (Fingerprintz).

Billy Karloff & The Extremes front cover
Billy Karloff & The Extremes front cover – a new wave eye jam from 1981, and one that was apparently issued in several different colors.

In the style of the day, he gave me a preview of the wonderment he would be bringing back through a mix tape. Titled “Toto Too” (with, of course, some mandatory dialogue recorded direct from a TV presentation of “The Wizard of Oz”), this tape included songs by groups I had never heard of before (and some of which, I’m sorry to say, I can’t identify today). Humans, Fingerprintz, The Vapors, Paul Collins’ Beat – and an incredible track called “Encore” by Billy Karloff and the Extremes. I loved it so much, and miraculously found another copy of the album at Desertshore.

It’s almost like a parody of punk, powerful melodic punk delivered with some sort of East Enders accent so thick it feels like it had to be put on. But perhaps not. The result is energetic, fun, sneering punk that’s pretty to listen to, and that I have loved all the years I have owned it, which now apparently number 40.

Never heard of Billy Karloff before then, never heard of him since. Thanks to the internet, I can at least find a single mention in the Trouser Press, which says the group started in 1977 as Billy Karloff & the Goats with a regular gig at London’s Roxy. An album by The Billy Karloff Band was put out on a super minor label is 1978. They were later called Billy Karloff & the Supremes, were enjoined from that name, and thus became Billy Karloff & The Extremes. The Trouser Press blurb says “For reasons unknown, this unreconstructed Sham 69-like punk ban wound up with an American label deal and recorded a glossily produced batch of sarcastic shouters. No big deal.” I beg to differ, sir! This is excellent!

Some of these songs are just fun, some of them just move me. They’re very, very British, with one titled “Reader’s Wife,” a reference to a phrase used to title British girlie mags back in the day, and a lyrical reference to “even when the budgie died.” But there’s such a fun energy to the whole thing. Warner Brothers, for whatever reason, put some energy into the record, issuing it with four different colored album covers, so they must have thought they were going to do something with it. Apparently not.

I can barely find a trace of Billy Karloff today. Sometimes, a single album can just be perfection. Maybe another album would have sucked, been too much more of the same, produced that sophomore disappointment that would have taken some of the shine off the original. I’m still just grateful that Danny found this record and brought it back home.

Billy Karloff & The Extremes back cover
Billy Karloff & The Extremes back cover – graphically, so perfectly of its time.
Billy Karloff picture sleeve
Billy Karloff picture sleeve
Billy Karloff lyric sleeve
Billy Karloff lyric sleeve
Billy Karloff label
Billy Karloff label

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