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Music Review: Cherry Poppin’ Daddies – Skaboy JFK vs. Susquehanna

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It’s hard to believe that the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies have been together for 20 years. Most of us only ever heard of them during the late ‘90s, when a swing dance craze appeared on the big city scene (a craze that dissipated all too soon). And, while swing music (and dancing) is probably far from dead, one must admit that the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies have been a bit dormant these last couple of years.

In late September 2009, Rock Ridge Music sought to “remind” everyone that the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies are still around by releasing two albums simultaneously.

One album, Susquehanna, was originally released in 2008 via the band’s website. The second release, the oft-dreaded compilation album, is entitled Skaboy JFK: The Skankin’ Hits Of The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies — a name that causes some confusion with non-CPD fans, many of whom have to question the title. The argument consists of little more than a quip about the band’s best-known mainstream effort, “Zoot Suit Riot,” and is usually followed by a scoff and/or a headshake courtesy the more devout CPD fan.

Indeed, a good decade before “Zoot Suit Riot” was played to death on the radio, the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies were making a name for themselves in the Northwest music scene.

Their performance pieces — featuring half-nude female dancers and phallic props — were branded as “pornographic” by many, and resulted in a number of death threats from the community.

Their music, however, was undeniable — and the band went on to perform nationwide. Skaboy JFK: The Skankin’ Hits Of The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies contains twelve hits dating back to 1994. In a nutshell, the songs contained on Skaboy JFK sound like every other modern ska track I’ve ever heard: repetitive and forgettable. Perhaps I would appreciate the music more if I wore baggy khakis, newsboy caps, and polo shirts on a regular basis. But I don’t. So there.

Susquehanna, the other (older) album is the better of the two. The album houses thirteen tracks that manage to muddle up a variety of Latin-based sounds, mixed with the jazz/swing/rock/ska genres that the band is best known for. A concept album without the whole “concept” part, CPD frontman Steve Perry (no, for the thousandth time, not the guy from Journey!) drew his inspiration for the album from Jean-Luc Godard’s film Pierrot Le Fou, and the various emotions expressed in that film (“remorse, guilt, and nihilism,” as Perry himself describes it) are reflected here.

Susquehanna is without a doubt the more ambitious and pretentious album of the two. Nonetheless, I found it more appealing than Skaboy JFK: The Skankin’ Hits Of The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. I’m not a big fan of modern ska, in case you haven’t already figured that out. I prefer the swankin’ tunes of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies over their Skankin’ ones. But, in the long run, I’m sure the more longtime and diehard CPD fans will probably prefer the compilation album.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.
  • http://www.songfacts.com Ndugu

    Yeah, Susquehanna is the better of the two, especially if you’re not crazy about Ska. There’s an intriguing subversive streak to Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, and they are outstanding musicians.
    We did an interesting interview with Steve Perry where he explained the band name and gave his take on the Swing Craze.

  • http://insomniacentertainment.com Luigi Bastardo

    Excellent, Ndugu! Thanks for that.

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