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Music / Camper Van Beethoven

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Circa 1989. Left to right: Victor Krummenacher, Greg Lisher, Morgan Fichter, David Lowery and Chris Pedersen.
Camper Van Beethoven is an eclectic American Alternative Rock band from Santa Cruz, California, whose output mixes elements of Country Music, Ska, Punk Rock, and Folk Music. They are best known for their 1986 single "Take the Skinheads Bowling." Their lead singer, David Lowery, would go on to form the band Cracker — who would have a mainstream hit with "Low" — in The '90s.

Camper Van Beethoven provides examples of:

  • Accentuate the Negative: "Life is Grand" is a big Take That! to people who felt they didn't do this enough.
    And life is grand
    And I will say this
    At the risk of falling from favor
    With those of you
    Who have appointed yourselves
    To expect us to say something darker
  • Affectionate Parody: Bradley Nowell of Sublime recorded an acoustic parody of "Lassie Went to the Moon" about his missing dog, Lou Dog (as well as releasing a more straightforward cover of "Eye of Fatima Pt. 1"). Camper Van Beethoven would later cover "Garden Grove," one of Sublime's songs.
  • Chronological Album Title: Sort of - their second album is titled II & III. The band culled material for the album from two separate recording sessions with slightly different lineups, so they considered it two albums in one.
  • Concept Album: La Costa Perdida and New Roman Times.
  • Cover Version: "Pictures of Matchstick Men" (originally by Status Quo), "Interstellar Overdrive" (originally by Pink Floyd), "Photograph" (originally by Ringo Starr), "Who Are the Brain Police?" (originally by Frank Zappa), "I Love Her All the Time" (originally by Sonic Youth), a countrified cover of Black Flag's "Wasted," a live cover of Butthole Surfers' "The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey's Grave," Steve Reich's "Come Out," and the entire album Tusk (originally by Fleetwood Mac).
    • "Peaches In The Summertime" is a loose adaptation of 18th century folk song "Shady Grove". Similarly, "O Death" is based on a traditional folk song about The Grim Reaper.
    • "Take The Skinheads Bowling" has been subject to many a cover over the time it's been released, most notably by Teenage Fanclub (which was included in the film Bowling for Columbine) and Manic Street Preachers (twice).
  • Creator In-Joke: A few inside jokes have made their way into their lyrics and David Lowery has explained some on his blog. For instance, "Long Plastic Hallway" mentions Box O' Laffs opening up for Talking Heads aboard a flying saucer. Box O' Laffs was a band Lowery was in before Camper. Once Box O' Laffs' guitarist phoned the rest of the band to let them know that he'd just secured them a gig opening up for Talking Heads in Los Angeles that night, then hung up without giving any more detail - after much ado, it turned out the guitarist was stoned out of his mind and claimed the concert was going to be held on a UFO flying above L.A.
  • Credits Gag: The back cover of the US version of the Key Lime Pie CD gives the track-list and other pertinent information in the form of a long paragraph formatted to scroll around the CD case, and includes a couple of humorous asides: Besides alluding to a song that was left off at the last minute because the album was already "too damn long", the text also laments that having to include legal notices on the packaging "makes it a little more difficult to have a stark artsy sleeve like all those cool British imports".
    • Drummer Chris Pedersen has sometimes been credited as "Crispy Dersen", as a bit of Fun with Homophones with his name.
  • Epic Rocking: "Surprise Truck".
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin:
    • The lyrics to "Ambiguity Song" largely consist of the repeated line "Everything seems to be up in the air at this time."
    • "Border Ska" is a ska instrumental with Mexican influence.
    • "ZZ Top Goes To Egypt" combines the blues-rock of early ZZ Top with a stereotypical Ancient Egyptian-sounding violin melody.
  • Greatest Hits Album: Popular Songs of Great Enduring Strength and Beauty, which covers material from 1985 to 1989 (i.e. all of the albums released before they initially broke up, but nothing from the reunion onwards). "Pictures Of Matchstick Men", "All Her Favorite Fruit", "When I Win The Lottery" "One Of These Days" and "Eye Of Fatima" are all re-recordings specially made for the album, since they couldn't license them from their two albums on Virgin Records.
    • A somewhat rare Best Of compilation is The Virgin Years, which was released in 1994 and features eight songs each by Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. This is mainly notable as the only commercial release of "Eye of Fatima Parts 1 & 2", a promotional radio edit of "Eye Of Fatima Part 1" that segues directly into a shortened version of "Eye Of Fatima Part 2".
  • Hidden Track: The reissue of Telephone Free Landslide Victory adds one to the end of "Ambiguity Song" - it's a dub-influenced experimental remix of their song "Heart".
  • Instrumentals: Tons, from "Border Ska" to "Eye of Fatima Pt. 2"
  • N-Word Privileges: The name of Lowery's band Cracker is a tongue-in-cheek invocation of this trope, referring to "cracker" in its racial sense.
  • Protest Song:
    • Parodied in "Club Med Sucks", which uses the same kind of rhetoric as political Hardcore Punk songs of the time to describe a teenager's parents forcing him to going to Club Med instead of just letting him hang out on the beach on his own all summer ("I want no part of their death culture/I just wanna go to the beach").
    • "Might Makes Right" is from the point of view of a disillusioned soldier who
    • "Sweethearts" is an oblique criticism of Ronald Reagan and his militarism.
  • Punny Name: The band's name is a punny portmanteau of the phrases "camper van" and "Ludwig van Beethoven."
  • Recycled Lyrics: Both Camper Van Beethoven's "The Long Plastic Hallway" and Cracker's "Big Dipper" mention "Cigarettes and carrot juice". Cigarettes And Carrot Juice was also the name of a CVB box set - oddly, this was back when only Cracker had used that for a lyric. Also, the title of their Greatest Hits Album Popular Songs of Great Enduring Strength and Beauty was later used as a lyric in David Lowery's "The Palace Guards".
  • Rock Opera: New Roman Times
  • Shout-Out:
    • "All Her Favorite Fruit" is based on the romance between Roger Mexico and Jessica Swanlake in Gravity's Rainbow.
    • "The Long Plastic Hallway" is a reference to a common Hunter S. Thompson quote, "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."
    • The sole lyrics to "Ambiguity Song", "Everything seems to be up in the air at this point," are a quote from the Talking Heads song "Mind" from Fear of Music.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: "Opi Rides Again" and "Club Med Sucks", sort of: On the original version of Telephone Free Landslide Victory they were listed as one song called "Opi Rides Again / Club Med Sucks", but the most recent reissue of the album converted them to separate tracks. They're always played together live, too.
  • The Something Song: "Ambiguity Song", "Devil Song", and "Axe Murderer Song".
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: from "Take the Skinheads Bowling":
    Some people say that bowling alleys got big lanes (got big lanes, got big lanes)
    Some people say that bowling alleys all look the same (look the same, look the same)
    There's not a line that goes here that rhymes with anything (anything, anything)
    I has a dream last night, but I forget what it was (what it was, what it was)
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Jonathan Segel, Victor Krummenacher, and David Lowery more or less split vocal duties evenly for Tusk, which is otherwise highly unusual for the band. This is most likely because the lineup of Fleetwood Mac that recorded the original album also featured a three-way Vocal Tag Team. In fact, the three of them are generally paired with a specific Fleetwood Mac member: David Lowery mainly sings on songs originally sung by Christine McVie, Jonathan Segel mainly sings Lindsey Buckingham, and Victor Krummenacher mainly sings Stevie Nicks.
  • Synthetic Voice Actor: No one in the band wanted to sing "Sister Of The Moon" on the Tusk cover album, so they had a text-to-speech program read the lyrics instead. They also gave it some This is Spın̈al Tap references and quotes from William Shakespeare and Pindar to recite, seemingly just for the hell of it.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "Take the Skinheads Bowling" surprisingly isn't really about skinheads or bowling — or anything else for that matter. Word of God is that the lyrics were intended to make less-and-less sense as they went along.
    • "Eye of Fatima Pt. 1" arguably counts as well, containing lyrics such as "cowboys on acid are like Egyptian cartoons" and somehow relating them to the eye of Fatima, an Arabic name for the eye on a hamsa.