by Doug Gillard
In 1980, Doug Morgan was about to begin a short run as touring bassist for Human Switchboard, and had just released a collaborative 7" with Charlotte Pressler under the name Pressler-Morgan ( "You're Gonna Watch Me"/"Hand Piece" - Hearthan Records, 1979). He formed Neptune's Car with Pere Ubu/Home and Garden drummer Scott Krauss, guitarist John Freskos, and bassist Brian Cox, and went into Cleveland's After Dark studios to churn out the jarring avant-pop found on this single.
This 45 epitomizes the best of Northeast Ohio's short-lived "post-punk underground" sound. It comes from a time when men weren't afraid to use chorus pedals - not the smooth Roland JC sound of the mid-80's, but the off-phase, piercing, early chorus pedal sound. The record also benefits from the co-production of The Mirrors' Jim Jones, then just forming the great band Easter Monkeys. Both of these tracks were thankfully included on the Pere Ubu box set Datapanik in the Year Zero, on the included CD Terminal Drive- Ubu-related Rarities. (Geffen/Cooking Vinyl, 1996)
"Baking Bread," with its semi-ska drunken sailor intro led by a repeated Krauss fill, quickly gets into the meat of its angular modern garage pop. Morgan's slightly Verlainian vocals overlay chiming guitars not given to typical strumming or chord voicings. Okay, it's a little like Television, but takes that approach a step further; a little more obtuse.
"Lucky Charms" is almost as strong as the A-side. Propelled by Krauss's forward leaning straight-4 beat, this faster, danceable rocker exhibits the same unexpected chord changes, along with some nice, quirky guitar improvisations along the way, not too far removed from the likes of what Pylon was doing in Athens at the same time. Krauss's beat style here is consistent with the flavor he demonstrated in Pere Ubu and would use in the future with Home and Garden. The guitar parts Morgan devises to fill holes between vocal lines are ever-interesting, never typical.
Neptune's Car changed its lineup and carried on another few years, with Gary Lupico (ex-Kneecappers, pre-Dr. Bloodmoney & California Speedbag, and inventor of the name "Dead Kennedys") coming in on guitar, and Jeff Benik (pre-Ca. Speedbag, The New Ceasars, more) replacing Krauss.
Morgan moved to New York, formed/quit some bands, moved back to Cleveland, and in the 90's formed the New Caesars. Koolie--in fact, Morgan's own label--compiled and released the EP Peter Laughner in 1982.
I saw a later version of Neptune's Car in '82 at an outdoor college radio festival when I was 16, not knowing I would play in some capacity with its members in a few separate outfits years later. (Gary Lupico, Brian Cox, Doug Morgan, Jeff Benik)
In 1996, Doug Morgan was living back in Cleveland and asked me to record 2 songs with him in what would come to be called the New Caesars. "Flame" and "Lou" were 2 very different songs, but have Morgan's melodicism and gift for well thought-out lyrics. Practicing the songs with Doug and the band was fun, and I stayed late those couple nights at a studio in the Flats adding backup vocals and extra guitar. One night after recording I found my car window smashed by a thief who tried to get the crappy radio/cassette player inside. It was worth it, of course, because the songs came out great! You can hear the New Caesars stuff HERE.
(Dedicated to the memory of Gary Lupico and Jim Jones. Thanks to Mike DeCapite and Brian Cox)
"Baking Bread" mp3
by Neptune's Car, 1980.
out of print
"Lucky Charms" mp3
by Neptune's Car, 1980.
out of print
top photograph © Ted Barron
Doug Morgan, Grand Street, Brooklyn, circa 1990.