Compositions for the Young & Old, Pt. 7 | Hüsker Dü, “Flip Your Wig” (1985)

For their second album of 1985, the Hüskers move even further from their hardcore roots on the album where punk begat pop-punk.
 
 

 

Jason: So we continue to plow through Hüsker Dü’s most prolific period. New Day Rising hit stores in January of 1985. Flip Your Wig arrived with 14 new songs in September of the same year. And yet sonically, the albums sound a life time apart.
Mike: They really do. Gone for the most part are the breakneck paced hardcore punk songs, replaced with much more melodic and accessible songs. I believe this is the album that most older fans accuse them of selling out? Which is a load of bunk in my opinion.
Jason: Well, the “selling out” accusation is wrapped up in the fact that the band signed to Warner Bros. while recording the album. The fact that Warners really wanted this album but the band still gave it to SST even though SST was largely failing to keep enough stock of their records to meet demand speaks to how dedicated they still were to their punk roots.
Mike: Agreed, but fans didn’t now that then or think that.
Jason: One thing that struck me on this listen that I never noticed before is how similar NDR and FYW are, structurally. Both open with a shared vocal song, followed by a thrashy Grant song about obsession, then two punk songs from Bob (the second shorter and punchier than the first), then a Grant love song, and both side As end on a more subdued note. Both albums have a very goofy toss-off song on side B, and both end with songs that feel somewhat tossed off and incomplete. The only major difference is this album’s equivalent to “Celebrated Summer,” Grant’s epic “Keep Hanging On,” comes later in the track listing. But otherwise, it seems like they were sequenced with very similar philosophies.
Or maybe I’m just reading way too much into it. :-P
Mike: Hot damn…I think you are correct there. I’ve never looked at the song placement and structure like that. But you are dead on balls right.
Jason: And it’s not like that structure is repeated on any of their other albums…just the 1985 twins.
Mike: Yeah, not sure if that is just coinkidink or if that was on purpose due to how close in time the y were written and recorded.
Jason: Two alternate histories I pondered a lot while listening to this album that I’m curious your thoughts on.
First, what if the band had let Warners release FYW? Would they have broken bigger? FYW is a much easier album to sell to a pop audience than the dour Candy Apple Grey, and I wonder if their marketing muscle could have pushed “Makes No Sense at All” or “Flip Your Wig” or “Keep Hanging On” onto radio.
And second, what if the band had decided to back off on the prolificness a bit? What if NDR was held back a little longer and the weaker tracks were traded for some of the punkier moments of FYW (“Makes No Sense At All,” “Hate Paper Doll,” “Every Everything”), and then the rest of FYW was used in lieu of some of Bob’s blander stuff on CAG? Would those two albums ultimately serve the band’s legacy better than the three we really got?
Mike: Hmm. Yes this album had a shit ton of commercial potential. Several other songs could have gotten radio play as well. “Green Eyes” would have been a good one. Yes I would agree that they would have been a much larger band. But that opens two things: Would it have spelled a quicker end due to the growing tension between Bob and Grant and Grant’s heroin addiction, and did they give this to SST to avoid alienating the core fan base who perceived any major label signing as selling out (or, as I call it, having the ability to pay your bills)?
Your second point is very interesting. In hindsight, that would have been a much better plan. Eliminate the weaker cuts, consolidate, and keep the weaker ones for B-sides to singles like they used to do. I just wonder if an outside producer would have suggested that.
Jason: I think the anti-punk dogma stance we discussed going as far back as Everything Falls Apart proves that the Hüskers didn’t really give a shit about people thinking they sold out. They just wanted to get their albums in the hands of whoever wanted to hear them.
The B-sides and leftovers do kind of dry up a bit once you hit this era. There were two leftovers for NDR, but for Flip Your Wig, the only extra song as far as I know is the one B-side they did use, the cover of The Mary Tyler Moore Show theme “Love Is All Around” (which is, of course, wonderful).
Jason: Candy Apple Gray had two B-sides, “All Work and No Play” and “Fattie.” All the other B-sides were live recordings.
Mike: Once vinyl singles stopped being a thing, B-sides kind of went away. Not many released a lot of them that I remember, especially once CDs became the standard media.
Jason: I dunno, Sugar’s two albums had a TON of B-sides. I think it depends on any particular band’s popularity overseas. Singles are still big business in the UK, and Japanese record labels always want an exclusive track to ward off people who would rather import a $10 CD from America than pay $40 for a Japanese one.
Mike: True. I was always on the lookout for imports as they were just better for that reason. Hell, “Yellow Ledbetter” was a B-side, wasn’t it?
Jason: It was. So was Led Zeppelin’s “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” believe it or not.
Mike: That’s an idea for a great editorial/column: great B-sides.
Jason: Now now, let’s not add to our work!
Going back to my theories, one of the reasons why I think the album would have made a great major label debut is that it was the first Hüsker album I picked up, and it was a great introduction to the band, from the very first song (the title track), which introduces you to Bob and Grant.
Mike: One thing that really stands out on that track for me is the fantastic vocal harmonies.
Jason: The title track is magnificent. It’s pure pop. And going back to my days as a Beatles fan, I’m always a sucker for using two lead singers on one song so that track remains one of my favorites.
Mike: The shifting vocals and their harmonizing are just wonderful. And Bob’s solo….oof.
Jason: The solo is phenomenal. I think “swirling” is the best adjective I can think of for it.
And I love the lyrics to “Flip Your Wig,” too. It’s kind of the quintessential “small band outgrowing their roots” song. But has their ever been a more wholesome lyric about fame than “Sunday section gave me a mention/ Grandma’s freakin’ out over the attention”?
Mike: As a whole, Bob’s songs on FYW are much more positive sounding. And this is such a strong album on the front half, up to the god awful “The Baby Song.”
Jason: See, I’m actually kind of “meh” on both “Games” and “Find Me.” Yet another reason why chopping up FYW seems like a good idea to me.
And yes, I realize how contradictory it is to say “This is the best album for first time listeners!” and then immediately saying “Here’s all the things I’d change about it!”
Jason: What about you, where in your fandom did you first hear FYW? And would you consider it the best gateway album to the curious?
Mike: FYW is definitely a good intro album. It’s accessible yet still maintains some of their harder edge. It showcases some of both Bob and Grant’s stronger songs.
It came to me later. When I got into Bob through Sugar, I went for the most acclaimed so I hit ZA and NDR and absorbed and reabsorbed them. When I got into FYW, it was because of “Divide and Conquer,” “Makes No Sense At All,” and “Keep Hanging On.”
Jason: FYW came into my life as a serendipitous vinyl find at Vintage Vinyl. I picked up FYW and R.E.M.’s Fables of the Reconstruction” (both on vinyl) on the same trip.
Mike: I would image the vinyl sounds better than the pre-digital CD transfer.
Jason: Oh, it does. All of their albums do. As does Workbook. I…don’t think I ever bought Black Sheets of Rain on vinyl.
It’s been a minute since I’ve whined about getting these albums reissued/remastered right? Because man, the drums on the CD version of this album are just sooooo flat. The little drum fills in “Makes No Sense At All” should be muscular. Instead, they kinda sound like farts.
Mike: Hahaha! They really need to get on that.
DOGS & PONIES
Mike: I would say over the years, I’ve grown to love FYW more. Outside of “The Baby Song,” the low points here really are not that low and I generally don’t skip them….except “The Baby Song,” which I actually removed from my iPod. The last two tracks do kind of peter out but they are ok
It would be interesting, though, to take NDR and this album and build our own album to prove your point #2 from earlier.
Jason: Yeah, the lows on FYW aren’t bad. It’s just you have good songs and ALL-TIME GREAT OMG songs, and the merely good songs suffer by comparison.
Mike: Very true. It’s really hard to stand out standing next to Michael Jordon, Larry Bird, etc.
Jason: “Games,” for example: I love the music in the song, particularly that zooming guitar sound Bob uses to great effect, but the lyrics and vocal melody don’t really grab me.
“Find Me” is an ok song from the dirge end of Bob’s oeuvre, but it’s not the best example of the style he ever concocted (though I suppose this is one of the earlier examples).
“The Baby Song” kind of is what it is. It’s stupid, but I dunno, I find it kind of endearingly stupid, even if it’s not really a song. 47 seconds of slide whistle? Um, ok, Grant…
 And as for the two instrumentals that close out the album: “The Wit and the Wisdom” is one of the more fascinatingly weird things Hüsker Dü recorded. It’s really quite metal, but there’s some squealing guitar stuff you’d never hear in a traditional metal song, paired with Greg’s super-ominous 6-note bass riff that repeats over and over.
But as I said, it feels kind of unfinished, not least because there are live versions out there that have lyrics, but the studio version didn’t. It’s like Bob decided “Eh, the lyrics aren’t good enough, so let’s just put it out there without them” or something.
 Mike: The vocal melody to “Games” is great I think. I think he’s just using chorus to achieve that effect. “Wit” could also be there just to prove a point that they can still do stuff like that, which was mostly missing from this album in comparison to others.
Jason: “Don’t Know Yet” is actually quite beautiful, and I think a fairly fitting end for the album, even if it’s one of the songs I listen to the least. There’s something majestic about the grooving sustained guitar style Bob is using here, and I love the shuffling drum figure that plays throughout, even if (again) the CD mix makes them sound flatulent. And am I right that it sounds like the entire song was recorded backwards? Makes you wonder if it was always intended to be heard that way or if it was a happy accident.
Mike: The guitar tone I think is intentionally backwards. Trying to remember when Boss and pedal companies came out with that effect pedal. They may have been playing around with it and got the idea to just do that similar effect to the drums.
Jason: As for favorites, beyond the effervescent, ebullient title track, I love the pop-punk one-two punch of “Makes No Sense at All” and “Hate Paper Doll.” “Makes No Sense at All” is the band at their pop peak: a super catchy melody (the title repeated until it drills into your head in the best way possible), great harmony vocals from Grant, and the way all three instruments are practically skipping like a kid on the last day of school. It’s so happy but the lyrics are so not, which is a trick a lot of bands would steal later on. It’s almost like this is the song that birthed Green Day. And then “Hate Paper Doll” is even faster and somehow even catchier, even though its lyrics are downright nonsense. I love it.
Mike: And we’ve gone this whole time and no mention of “Private Plane.”
Jason: Yeah, speaking of radio friendly songs, I think “Private Plane” and “Flexible Flyer” more than fit that bill. I love that guitar riff in the verses on “Private Plane.” “Bom-ba-bom, BOMP-bom-bom.”
Mike: “Makes No Sense at All” is just a stellar pop track. I adore “Divide and Conquer” “Private Plane” and “Keep Hanging On”. “Flexible Flyer” is a great little pop gem. It just sounds muddy from the mix. Vocals need to be cleaner. “Flexible Flyer,” “Private Plane,” and “Keep Hanging On” make a damn great trio.
Jason: “Flexible Flyer” might just be the first song Hüsker Dü ever recorded that contains no evidence at all of their punk past. It’s not pop-punk, it’s just pop, moving along at a nice mid-tempo bounce with Grant sweetly crooning the vocals. The guitar solo is nicely done but it’s fairly understated considering the slice-and-dice style Bob still uses on “Flip Your Wig” or “Private Plane.”
Mike: Yes, the solo is much less angular than most of his others.
“Divide & Conquer” is one of my all time favorite songs. Bob pretty much foretold our contemporary society in that one song. I read an article not too long ago where the author felt this was one of their most overrated tracks.
Jason: “Divide & Conquer” definitely deserves special consideration. This is the song that ties back to the band’s past the most, the one that sounds the most like the natural progression of the band that made Everything Falls Apart just three years earlier. It’s fast, it’s heavy, it’s punky, and it’s got incisive, insightful, highly political lyrics that were almost scarily prescient in how well they sum up life in the 21st century.
Mike: Hence why “Divide &Conquer” might be my favorite song they’ve ever done. I believe Bob studied city planning when in college and had great insight into how everything was being split up and what was coming.
Jason: “Green Eyes” is the first—and hell, only?—straight-up love song Hüsker Dü ever recorded.
Mike: “Green Eyes” just may be their only love song. It certainly is the yin to the yang of “Sorry Somehow” from Candy Apple Grey.
Jason: It took a long time for that one to grow on me, but I adore it now. It’s basically a three-minute-long swoon. The lyrics are romantic and heartfelt and Grant sings the hell out of them, and (OF COURSE) Bob saves one of his better solos for the song. Like you said when we talked about “Flexible Flyer,” it’s a lot less angular and really molded around the song Grant wrote, using weapons from Bob’s arsenal that don’t normally find a home in his own songs.
You love “Divide & Conquer,” but for me, the best track here isn’t from Bob, it’s Grant’s “Keep Hanging On.” It might just be my favorite song Grant ever wrote. It’s just so passionate and uplifting. It plays like a bird taking a few steps before taking flight, Greg’s beautifully bouncy bass line being swept away as the guitars and drums swoop in and carry the song into the air.
And the lyrics are just wonderful. That first verse is, in my humble estimation, one of the best first verses of all time. “Only angels have wings, girl/ And poets have all of the words/ The earth belongs to the two of us/ And the sky belongs to the birds/ You’ve given me so much happiness/ That I’ve wrapped up and given you this song/ You gotta grab it with both hands/ You gotta keep hanging on.” It’s just magical
Mike: Almost like a love song…and his delivery is very passionate.
Jason: Oh yeah. It’s like the passion overwhelms Grant, his voice gradually shifting from a croon to a scream.
Mike: This is like soul from a white guy. Then he’s frantic on the drums on the end, to add exclamation to his point . And something I haven’t noticed before: the chorus of Bob and Greg in the background.
Jason: You mean them singing “Keep haaaanging oooon” in the background? Yeah, that’s a nice touch, how it comes and goes and gets a little bit louder throughout the song. It starts out almost subliminal before it finally arrives as an obvious, vital part of the song after the final chorus.
Mike: Exactly. That is one thing through this whole album that seems to be a bit more present long with some vocal harmonies on other songs like on the title track.
Jason: This is the first album that Grant and Bob produced entirely by themselves, but they were clearly making excellent, confident production decisions.
Mike: So for dogs: “The Baby Song,” hands down. The final two tracks, are not the strongest on the album, and as you’ve pointed out, just feel there and incomplete. They are not bad, just not on the same high level as almost the rest of the album
FINAL GRADES
Jason: Overall, I give Flip Your Wig an A- (again, on the Bob Mould curve). It and New Day Rising are as similar in quality as they are in structure…they really are two very different sides of the same coin, and are pretty much tied in my eyes.
Mike: I can go with the A-. Over time, this has aged very well and would probably be the best place to bring a new fan into the fold. Unless that fan was already a huge hardcore fan.

 

Tune in next time for part 8, which dives into the Hüskers’ major label debut, Candy Apple Grey.

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