Oklahoma natives Flaming Lips are best known for their song “She Don’t Use Jelly” off of their 1993 album “Transmissions From The Satellite Heart”. This song, however, can hardly do justice to a band that (now in their 2nd decade together) is as diverse as FL – musically, they combine anything from noise to ambient to psychedlia to more traditional indie rock.
Flaming Lips started in Oklahoma in the early 80s as a trio of Wayne Coyne, his brother Mark and Michael Ivins. Their debut was at Oklahoma Blue Note Lounge and eventually added drummer Richard English to the line-up. In 1984 they recorded their self-titled debut (a 5-song EP, which came out on Restless Records) – the only one to feature Mark Coyne on vocals. Later on, “Flaming Lips” appeared in its entirety on “Finally Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid” compilation and one of the tracks from EP also appeared on “A Collection of Songs Representing an Enthusiasm for Recording…By Amateurs”, another compilation of Flaming Lips work.
Mark Coyne left the band in the mid 80s and Wayne assumed the vocal duties for 1986 “Hear It Is” (Pink Dust Records), an early CD pressing of which included bonus track “Summertime Blues”, as well as their self-titled EP in its entirety. “Hear It Is” was also reissued on white vinyl in 2005 with new album art, promotional photos and a story of Lips written by Dave Dunbar.
1986 “Oh My Gawd” opened with “Everything’s Explodin”, a track that sampled/quoted Beatles “Revolution 9” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” and it also included bizarre cover art by Wayne Coyne – a collage of dogs, landscapes, monsters and bizarre track titles, which became the band’s trademark (“One Million Billionth of a Millisecond on a Sunday Morning” and “Maximum Dream Of Evil Knievel” are just two examples, along with “Jesus Shootin’ Heroin” and “Trains, Brains & Rain” – two songs from “Hear It Is”).
1989 “Telepathic Surgery” was originally planned as a 30-minute collage, but those plans were scrapped, although parts of the original idea can be heard in “Hell’s Angels Cracker Factory”, a trippy 23-minute track. The album was named after a line in FL song “Chrome Plated Suicide”, a song which was based on Guns’n’Roses track “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. “Telepathic Surgery” included a cover of “Strychnine” (Sonics) and “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love And Understanding” (originally by Nick Lowe, but made popular by Elvis Costello). LP and CD versions of the album had different tracklist, due to limitations of vinyl LP and the album appeared as a part of “Finally Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid” compilation with “Hell’s Angels Cracker Factory” cut down to 3 minutes.
Their next album was 1990 “In A Priest Driven Ambulance”, which featured Nathan Roberts who replaced English and Jonathan Donahue from Mercury Rev. The album was based on Wayne Coyne’s obsession with religion (track titles are the best proof of this) and included a cover of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World”. It was reissued in numerous forms – as a CD with two bonus tracks, as a double-CD special edition and as vinyl LP. Some of the tracks from this album appeared on 1991 “Unconciously Screamin” EP.
After the band almost destroyed American Legion Hall during a show in Norman, OK, they were approached by a representative from Warner Bros, who witnessed the event and signed the band immediately. Their first major-label release was 1992 “Hit To Death In The Future Head” and by the time of its release Donahue had left the band in order to work with Mercury Rev and Roberts left the band, as well (they were replaced by Steven Drozd and Ronald Jones). The album closer was untitled 20+ minutes track and according to the band’s website “The CD features a joke eleventh track of a forty odd seconds loop repeating for about thirty-five minutes.”
1993 “Transmissions From The Satellite Heart” finally exposed the band’s work to a larger public, thanks to “She Don’t Use Jelly” and accompanying video, which was featured on “Beavis And Butt-Head”, a year after its release. The band also shot a video for single from this album – “Turn It On”, which, while not as huge as “Jelly”, was still popular.
While Flaming Lips tasted success thanks to a popularity of “Transmissions…”, they also started having problems with sustaining it further – 1995 “Clouds Taste Metallic” (whose title apparently came out of conversation with Tool drummer Danny Carey) was not a commercial success and since the band was dissatisfied with musical business and standard rock music, their next efforts were much more experimental in nature than their predecessors – 1997 “Zaireeka” was a 4-CD album intended to be played on 4 CD separate player and 1999 “Soft Bulletin” and 2002 “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots” further solidified their reputation.
Although none of their further efforts featured any hits the size of “Jelly”, Flaming Lips were still able to achieve further success and do things their own way, rather than follow trends. Although they struggled a lot with being percieved as one-off project/one hit wonder/joke band, in the end they were able to prove that, without a doubt, this is one band that will last despite the trends, no matter what kind of direction they will ultimately choose to pursue.