“We generally like to reference stuff in song titles and in songs because we think they’re funny or if people see a Simpson’s reference in a song title, they might look at it a little more.” - Mikey Erg
The Ergs! collectively know too much about everything, most of all music (this is where the beauty of The Erg’s! sound comes in, you have to have a PhD in pop/punk rock/indie rock/power-pop/rock and roll/rap/anything and everything history to fully appreciate all the diverse influences that are welded into The Ergs compact and ready to roll rock and roll/pop tunes-be it a musical or lyrical influence or simply a liner-note/live banter reference), and are not afraid to let their opinions be known…They are however certifiable dorks, and will be the first to admit it. So any and all bickering is meant only in good fun. - Lew Houston, Vinyl a Go-Go
The final proper Ergs! release, the aptly titled “That’s it…Bye,” begins with Jeffy Erg playing naggingly familiar power chords. Personally, it took me a solid .2 seconds to recognize his intro as a nod to a classic MTV bumper spot (specifically, the one that introduced MTV to the world in 1981). It’s fortunate that “Anthem for a New Amanda” is a good song on its own, as Schroeck’s intro mentally prepares you to watch Trevor Horn creeping around a spaceship.
The pop-culture references that drifted off the edges off music, however, were what usually burst the top of the fun-o-meter. The Ergs! were unabashedly products of the 1990s. They made no pretensions to bury their pop culture loves under a blanket of post-modernist angst like so many punk bands of the Bush era did. Relatively early in their existence (due to a valuable MC Chris connection), they recorded an adult swim lineup theme. This felt appropriate considering how their body of music was not unlike the Venture Brothers: thoroughly enjoyable for people who didn’t get the strings of references, but full of bonus prizes and extra vindicating for those who did. Then again, the Ergs! hardly presented themselves as exclusionary; one could feel like they were in on whatever joke existed just by listening to the song.
When Rik Mayall died a few weeks ago, the first person I thought of was Joey Erg. Honestly, it was mainly because I was in the middle of writing this, but also because of Keller’s rare vocal turn on dorkrockcorkrod, where he attempts what the liner notes called a “bad Rik Mayall impression” sandwiched in between the dude from Deadguy screaming references to his own song on “Maybe I’m the New Messiah”
I’ve decided to throw together a sample list of references buried (no matter how thinly or deeply) in Ergs! songs. I’ve decided against (intentionally) using the internet for assistance for a couple of reasons. First, considering how I’m in the same age group as Schroeck, Yannich, and Heller, much of our sub-cultural sensibility was informed by media we ingested years before it was instantly available in archived form at the push of a button. People our age had to remember and quote, rather than search and pull up on a phone to relay a funny anecdote from a television show. With certain exceptions late in the series, Mystery Science Theater 3000 built an empire off of the collective pop-culture knowledge of writers who couldn’t google-image search Ray Davies to make sure that Sartoris looked like him in “The Final Sacrifice.” Second, and more pragmatically, if I were to use Google and dive into the deepest corners of the internet, this list would never fucking end. As a common adage about academic publishing goes, there are two types of work: perfect and done. Watch me apply that ethos in quite possibly the nerdiest way possible here.
To begin with a Sideshow Bob reference, I’m aware of the irony of writing an article for a website on the internet while making a point to decry it, so don’t bother pointing that out.
- “Fishbulb” - perhaps the band’s most blatant Simpsons reference. In episode ep 4F18 “In Marge We Trust” (first aired 4/27/97), Homer finds his face on a Japanese box, and after calling the Mr. Sparkle factory in Hokkaido to get a video press release, he, Bart, and Lisa see that Mr. Sparkle’s face is the combination of a happy fish and a yellow lightbulb of the detergent’s two parent companies. “There’s your answer, Fishbulb,” says Bart. According to Keller, this song’s name (much like “August 19th”) originated as a non-sequitur written at the top of the page.
- In “More Vocal in the Monitor,” which Yannich admits in the ‘Hindsight is 20/20’ liner notes was written while watching The Simpsons, includes the line “you won’t be needing this no more” a blatant nod to Bart’s classic heartbreak sequence when Laura, the attractive older girl next door, excitedly tells him she has a boyfriend. (Editor’s note: watch this particular episode of The Simpsons before ANYTHING else referenced on this list. “Can yer grandfadda do THIS?”).
- “Fall Back” (on the band’s debut recording ‘F’n’) opens with a clip of Homer finding a pair of eyeglasses (that belong to Henry Kissinger), putting them on, and quickly spouting a theorem about isosceles triangles, getting corrected by an anonymous man in the stall next to him that he was talking about right triangles. He poetically yells “d’oh.”
- The existence of The Hamiltons (stay tuned…)
- The title of their “Hindsight is 20/20, My Friend” compilation is a throwaway line by Chevy Chase in the film, reflecting with Mitch (Norm MacDonald) on how he’s accumulated such massive gambling debts.
- “It’s Like I Say, Y’Know” - this is a throwaway line from a scene where Mitch and his buddy/brother (Artie Lange) are drinking on a rooftop and reflecting.
- "Note to Self"- This 7" collaboration title was also a reference to Norm MacDonald’s incessant catch phrase that almost never got laughs on SNL but appeared throughout ‘Dirty Work.’
- The artwork for all of the split 7”s with The Measure (SA) featured Dirty Work references, including a drawing of Norm MacDonald, one of Chevy Chase, and one of two fishes that Mitch and Sam are holding as they overhear a brutal gangland shooting that they caused.
- The first words of their first album were “I’m in love, I’m in Trouble,” a play off one of the best lines from the Replacements’ first album. Badass. They’d eventually just complete the circle and cover the original song for a tribute compilation.
- The “so what” studio bumper from the beginning of “I Hate Music” also adorns the beginning of “Bought a Copy”
- In “Radio K,” Mike begins with ‘it’s getting kinda cold, so I’ll take the skyway home. New Jersey isn’t cold enough for skyways. This is about the Twin Cities, and the Replacements (see “Skyway” off of ‘Pleased to Meet Me’). It also references St. Paul. I could be missing something much more blatant here, but the jokes on me I guess.
- “Feeling Minneapolis” (see above)
- “Johnny Rzeznik Needs His Ass Kicked” on the Thrash Compactor EP screams that the lead Goo Goo Doll is no Westerberg, not that we didn’t already know that. By the way, if you’re into absurdist humor, read this.
- “You Bet We’ve Got Somethign Personal Against the Steinways” (If you didn’t get this one, you have a lot of homework to do).
- At the end of “Pray for Rain” on dorkrockcorkrod, the band inserts a clip of Henry Rollins reading from his “Get in the Van” diaries about being dumped and hung-up on long distance. Nobody who remembers dating before cell phones should understand what an affront that was.
At the beginning of “If You Don’t” on the Three Guys, Twelve Eyes EP, they throw in a clip of D. Boon yelling “I must look like a dork!” from “Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing.”
- They covered a very obscure (to the point where they taunt vinyl junkies with “it’s way out of print! good luck, fuckers”) Mike Watt project (Crimony) with “Vampire Party” on dorkrock, so don’t doubt their dedication.
THE BRITISH INVASION
- Fuckin’ “Rod Argent.” Yannich was listening to the Zombies non-stop while writing this one, and it bleeds through. The lyrics aren’t about Rod Argent, but the feel and appeal of it certainly are. Once upon a time, I threw it on at the beginning of a cast party composed primarily of middle-aged people. To my pleasant shock, a bunch of them took to the dance floor as if “I Want to Hold Your Hand” had been blaring. Tell me catchy hooks and sappy lyrics aren’t universal.
- “When You’re Squeeze” - Squeeze were technically part and parcel of the second British invasion that arrived with MTV. Personally, I think that “Tempted” and “Pulling Mussels from a Shell” are unlistenable, but that’s just me. Literally. Every other human being I know loves those songs. Including, from what I can gather, Jeff Erg.
- While we’re on the subject of the second British invasion (sort of), “Introducing Morrissey.” Apparently, the “last album I loved the whole way through,” which Mikey sings to open it, was a Prince line. Who knew?
- The “Trouble in River City” song title on upstairs/downstairs came straight from The Music Man. Like ‘Fishbulb,’ it seems like a non-sequitor. But then again, it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility for Meredith Willson to have some influence on The Ergs!’ songwriting.
- I’m really not that knowledgeable about musical theatre. I’m learning, though, give me some time.
- Any band that has existed and shared a last stage name in the past three decades has technically taken that cue from The Ramones.
- The Ergs! recorded an acoustic Ramones medley that made its rounds on the torrent circuit in the mid-2000s. All clues suggest it was just the trio jamming after-hours at the house of a friend who had a decent recording apparatus. It’s pretty effortlessly good.