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 is as diverse as FL – musically, they combine anything from noise to ambient to psychedelia 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 performance 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 “Unconsciously Screamin” EP.
All Music Guide described “In A Priest Driven Ambulance” as a loose concept record that brings Wayne Coyne’s long-standing obsessions with religion bubbling to the surface.” Further on, AMG also pointed out that “In a Priest Driven Ambulance ranks as the first truly brilliant Flaming Lips album; the first effort to feature guitarist Jonathan “Dingus” Donahue”.
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.
AMG described “Transmissions” , another prismatic delicacy that continues the group’s drift toward pop nirvana.” Further on, they commented that “In typical fashion, the record’s left-field hit, the freak-show singalong “She Don’t Use Jelly,” bears little resemblance to the album as a whole; the remainder of Transmissions is much more sonically and structurally ambitious — the towering “Moth in the Incubator” keeps generating new layers of noise before erupting into an amphetamine waltz, “Pilot Can at the Queer of God” dive-bombs with kamikaze recklessness, and the slow-burning “Oh My Pregnant Head” is as mind-expanding as its title.”
While Flaming Lips tasted success thanks to a popularity of “Transmissions…”, they also started having problems with sustaining it further – 1995 “Clouds Taste Metallic” (the title of which 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 anyone else. Although they struggled with being perceived 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.
Update: In 2009, the band released their 12th studio album – “Embryonic”, their first double record. It features contributions from the likes of Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and MGMT.
Richard English (Radial Spangle)
The Flaming Lips 12″ (Restless, 1984 / Pink Dust, 1987 / Enigma, 1987)
Hear It Is CD / LP (Restless, 1986 / Enigma, 1986 / Pink Dust, 1986 / Plain Recordings, 2005)
Oh My Gawd!!! CD / LP (Restless 1987 / 1990 / Plain Recordings, 2005)
Telepathic Surgery CD / LP (Restless) 1988
In a Priest Driven Ambulance CD / LP (Restless, 1990 / City Slang. 1990 / Plain Recordings, 2005)
Unconsciously Screamin’ EP 12″ (Atavistic, 1990 / City Slang, 1990)
Hit to Death in the Future Head CD (Warner Bros., 1992)
Transmissions From the Satellite Heart CD / LP (Warner Bros.) 1993
Clouds Taste Metallic CD / LP (Warner Bros.) 1995
Providing Needles for Your Balloons CD (Warner Bros., 1995)
Zaireeka 4XCD (Warner Bros., 1997)
A Collection of Songs Representing an Enthusiasm for Recording … by Amateurs CD (Restless, 1998)
The Soft Bulletin CD / 2XLP (Warner Bros., 1999 / 2009)
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots CD / CDr / LP (Warner Bros., 2002 / PIAS, 2002)
Flight Test CD / 7″ (Warner Bros., 2003)
Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell EP CD (Warner Bros.) 2003
At War With the Mystics CD / 2XLP (Warner Bros., 2006)
Embryonic CD / 2XCD + DVD (Warner Bros., 2009)
Selected Compilation Tracks:
“Cant’s Stop The Spring” on The Enigma Variations Compilation 1988 (Enigma, 1987)
“After The Goldrush” on The Bridge – A Tribute To Neil Young (Caroline, 1989)
“Drug Machine” + “Strychnine / Love Peace And Understanding” on Fuck Me I’m Rich (Sub Pop, 1990)
“It Was A Very Good Year” on Chairman Of The Board (Grass, 1993)
“Nobody Told Me” on Working Class Hero – A Tribute To John Lennon (Hollywood, 1995 / Polydor, 1995)
“Hot Day” on SubUrbia Soundtrack (Geffen, 1997)
“If I Only Had A Brain” on Stubbs The Zombie Soundtrack (Shout! Factory, 2005)
“The Big Ol’ Bug Is The New Baby Now” on Colours Are Brighter (Rough Trade, 2006)
“She Is Death” on In Search Of Syd: 15 Mind-Bending Freakouts! (Mojo Magazine, 2007)
“Ice Drummer” on An Invitation To Suicide (Munster, unknown year)
Jim DeRogatis – Staring At Sound (Robson Books, 2006)
Waking Up With A Placebo Headwound 1987-2004 (Warner Bros., 2004)