Formed out of the ashes of Beatnick Beatch, San Francisco’s Jellyfish wore their influences firmly on their sleeve. A summery Sixties Power Pop with a snap and clean punch that had you tapping your foot and immersing yourself in the melody rather than reliving an old bad acid trip. Singing drummer Andy Sturmer and multi-instrumentalist Roger Manning Jr were Beatnick Beatch survivors adding Jason Falkner from recently disbanded Paisley Underground band, The Three O’Clock and later Chris Manning, Roger’s brother joined on bass.
Their debut album, Bellybutton was soaked in Psychedelic Pop imagery, a musical Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. They dressed more like they had just walked offstage from the matinee performance of a pantomime than from nineties San Francisco but their vocal abilities and technical expertise on their instruments made them a powerful and convincing live force. I saw them play at the Town and Country Club in London, lead singer drummer Andy Sturmer performed the whole show centre stage at the front, standing up. He didn’t miss a beat or a note and made the whole affair seem completely effortless.
The album is a must for fans of Badfinger, The Raspberries, the Beatles, The Beach Boys – strongly influenced but still writing their own songs, Sturmer and Manning Jr created an album full of catchy Pop gems. Opening with a church organ into piano and guitar stabs, The Man I Used To Be might have been a massive hit in another era but as Grunge approached, dressed in plaid shirts and holey jeans, hand in hand with Kate Moss, Jellyfish didn’t stand a chance.
The cascading melody of the second track, That Is Why, a Soul Pop Rundgren/Beatles crossover, you simply can’t imagine that people wouldn’t like it and when the express power of the first single, The King Is Half Undressed with its classic drumbeat and rising melody hit you clean between the eyes you might have wondered how you were still standing after such a punch. But that was the problem, it was clean as a whistle, shiny as a new penny, unstained, pristine, positive, almost perfect – the opposite of Nirvana.
Sturmer wrote the ‘other’ Manic Monday, I Wanna Stay Home with that easy to understand sentiment of the daily grind but to no avail as The Bangles careered to No.2 in the US charts, Jellyfish floated around the outskirts of Billboard like a stranded suburban train having watched the express fly by arriving on time.
She Still Loves Him seems to live somewhere between McCartney and the Split Enz Pop classic, I Got You, perfect Pop – but somehow not translating to the audience that followed those two other artists, especially odd that the eccentric clothing didn’t attract the Split Enz fans? They simply must not have been aware of the band’s existence – there’s no other explanation.
All I Want Is Everything is New Wave, finding it’s way out of the Sixties the band were less comfortable here, only in that they didn’t stand out as much. Now She Know’s She’s Wrong might be Nilsson or The Monkees and although the influence is obvious, it’s an area where they work so well that you forgive them for so brilliantly embracing such twee and happy lands.
Bedspring Kiss is a little moodier with the wood block and shaker and again it might be Crowded House, a band that so spectacularly tapped into the willing audience that Jellyfish missed.
Baby’s Coming Back has exuberant hand claps that sound like the song might have been a hit for Edison Lighthouse after Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes. We return to the idea that this band just appeared in the right place at the wrong time and that almost any other period previous to Grunge filled America they probably would have been widely recognised. The album ends with Calling Sarah, a throwaway by their standards but anyone else’s single.
After Bellybutton, Jason Falkner left to follow his own muse as singer/songwriter, producer and session man also working with Air and The Grays with singer/producer and multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion. Jellyfish made one more album, Spilt Milk released in 1993 and although it followed the same smart Pop path it never quite had that irresistibility that was evident on Bellybutton. They disbanded and Andy Strumer became involved with Japanese artists Puffy Amiyumi and soloist Yuki as well as various sessions as producer/writer or singer. Roger Manning Jnr formed Imperial Drag with Jellyfish live member Eric Dover and later joined Beck as well as working as a session man on various projects and releasing his own solo albums in Japan. Chris Manning became a producer/engineer.
To think that Jellyfish happened 25 years ago seems hard to imagine and down the years they have become respected songwriters and producers, however success in their own right eluded them and Jellyfish qualifies as one of those classic, mysterious, musical injustices.