I recently found these videos on YouTube of my favorite bar band of all time, Fear of Strangers. Back in the late seventies and early eighties there was a very vibrant arts scene in Albany on and around Lark Street, within walking distance of the State Capitol. Fear of Strangers was a huge part of it. The other Albany band at the top of the heap was Blotto, who had a national hit with “I Want to be a Lifeguard.” I enjoyed Blotto, but I could never take them seriously. Fear of Strangers had it all: excellent musicians, great original songs, and an interesting blend of rock, pop, country, punk, and new wave sounds. The tunes were catchy and the lyrics were quirky and original. At the center of it was singer-songwriter Val Haynes.
These live videos are of the quality you’d expect from that era. They also appear to be from before the release of their only album since I can hear guitarist/keyboardist Doug White playing in the darkness. Doug left the band just as the album was coming out and musically, they continued as a trio afterwards. Val’s also really playing up the little schoolgirl act (twenty years before Britney Spears, and with a hundred times more musical talent). I remember her toning that part of her act down as the band progressed and acquired a growing, loyal fan base.
Maybe you had to be there in the dark, on the hot sweaty dance floor, nervous about the new wave of conservatism and general uptightness that was sweeping the nation at the time, to truly appreciate them. Maybe they are best left as fond memories. But the music that stays with us is the music that evokes a time and place and makes us remember who we once were, wistfully thinking about what might have been. And to reafirm the things that once mattered so desperately to us.
Thank you Al, Todd, Steve, Doug, and especially, Val. You’re all on my iPod.
Shotgun (cover of a Motown classic)
I Need to be Told (Fear of Strangers Original)
“You have to actually say the words.”
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