Unsolicited Bus Boys Minimum Wage Rock N’ Roll Review

The Bus Boys
Minimum Wage Rock n’ Roll
Arista
1980

The general population remembers this Los Angeles sextet for their rollicking 1982 hit “The Boys Are Back In Town,” which was prominently featured in Eddie Murphy’s breakout detective flick 48 Hrs. A few years prior, the Bus Boys released their major label debut, Minimum Wage Rock n’ Roll, a remarkably more staid affair that cops the lion’s share of its moves from Don Henley over Bo Diddly or Little Richard. To wit: The terse guitar that drives opening cut “Dr. Doctor” is the same monster that’s kept your city’s classic rock station pulsating for decades, and you actually sort of have to strain to hear the boogie-woogie piano this group would later build a small empire upon.

Even the Moog seems to get more spotlight here than the regular ol’ eighty-eight, accenting New Wave dips like a bizarre shoe shiner’s lament called “Did You See Me” and the Rentals-evoking non-Aretha-related “Respect.” Generally, though, it’s an overcooked ’70s guitar at the center of Minimum Wage. This is the sound of a bar band trying to find its footing—yet there’s no mistaking the unabashed R&B stamp in all the album’s vocals. The O’Neal brothers, keyboardist Brian and bassist Kevin, sell their mostly second gear material with buckets of soulful harmonizing. Less competent throats surely couldn’t have handled the confusing speedy government dis track “KKK” with such sugar and aplomb.

Race comes up quite a bit in Minimum Wage’s lyrics, which strikes the listener as strange only because the Bus Boys’ basic legacy is a party sound so carefree it was eventually transformed into a beer commercial. These guys want to have a serious discussion about civil rights? Well, no. The O’Neals keep their tongues firmly in cheek when they turn the tables to complain about a Caucasian invasion in “There Goes The Neighborgood”; on the aforementioned “Did You See Me,” you can hear the fellas grinning as they challenge “You never heard music like this by spades!” For the Bus Boys, there’s no reason to check the playful tone when discussing big picture stuff.

In the end, Minimum Wage Rock n’ Roll only boasts one or two selections whose relative obscurity is humankind’s absolute loss. One such selection is the delightfully Cars-ish love whine “Angie,” a song Prince probably could have scored with during his Purple Rain reign. The other might be that damn Moog-infested “Respect.” For all its herky-jerkies, the melody cuts like a diamond, and the chorus contains what more or less amounts to the official Bus Boy manifesto: “If you don’t like rock n’ roll music, you can kiss my ass!”

FINAL SCORE: Two solid Eddie Murphy laughs (out of four).

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