The Dead Milkmen were bustin' down the neighbor's door with the bitchin' satirical hardcore -ologies of this plum dumb rastabilly orgy that'll make your hair curl. Joe Genaro ("Joe Jack Talcum") started the group as an imaginary band as part of a game with his high school buddy Garth: "It was called Billboard Top 200. I was obsessed with charts and stuff. There was a game where you tried to put songs off the charts. It involved charts and cards. The cards represented stuff that happened to fictional bands, and there was monopoly money. I came up with the Jack Talcum character, and you could actually make up song titles. Way too much detail. But then we actually started writing songs...And I was in the Wings Fun Club, and they sent out a newsletter four times a year–that is Paul McCartney’s Wings–and I was making fun of the Fun Club with the Jack Talcum Fan Club Newsletter. If you look at the early ones, they are online now, it sort of has the story of how this character merged in with this band called The Dead Milkmen...To make the newsletter more interesting, I made tapes to go along with them. My neighbor Garth, my brothers and sister, a church youth director. Strange but we made this tape called The Dead Milkmen-So Long Seventies. The very last part of the tape was recorded on New Year’s Eve 1979. I was into punk music, and the idea, a funny concept, was that this was a punk-folk band. So Garth was passing this tape around at school, and Rodney heard it...[We were] 15 and 16. Rodney wanted to be on the next tape. So that’s how he came in."
After years of mix tapes, Newzletters, and general goofing around, The Dead Milkmen played their first actual gig (Newzletter Issue Number 23: "Punks Invade Harleysville: 'I Feared for my life' - Local Farmer.") in October of 1983 in Harleysville, Pennsylvania. Rodney Linderman ("Rodney Anonymous") recalls: "The second show was at the Pine Street Beverage Center, which they closed down because they were selling crank out of there. That was when we had to make up covers, like “Hanky Panky,” because they just kept saying, “Keep playing!” They were filling these people up on booze. There was a guy who would tell obscene, racist jokes, and a woman would just tell racist jokes. She would say, “Can I tell a joke?” and we’d say, “Sure,” and everyone’s yelling, “No! No! Turn her off!” So that was the Pine St. Beverage Center. The Harleysville Rec Center was the first show...We met [future drummer Dean Sabatino] at our first show. The Beverage Center was great if you drank, because if you could drink a hundred different kinds of beer in some certain amount of time, your name would be put up on the wall. I was just about to get my name on the wall when the cops shut the place down."
The Dead Milkmen began playing in earnest wherever they could. They caught the attention of Lee Paris and Mike Morrison, who were DJ's at the University of Pennsylvania radio station WXPN in Philadelphia; who played their tapes and connected the band with Colin Camerer, Wharton economics professor and owner of indie label Fever Records.
Dean “Clean” Sabatino says: "I was the last member to join in 1983. We played for a year or two and recorded the first album which was the Big Lizard album. We toured pretty solidly for about ten years...We got our start in the Philly hardcore scene, playing all-ages shows with hardcore bands. But if anything, we went for a cleaner sound in order to sound different from them. Some of the humor was that these hardcore bands back in the day took themselves way too seriously. We wanted to sound different, and I think we succeeded...Early on we had a champion in Philly with the Penn radio station WXPN, and they picked up a homemade recording of “Bitchin’ Camaro” and it kind of took off from there. We played a couple of hardcore shows and the people had really identified with that song; they knew all the words already...We were definitely a touring band. We made our money touring and we toured relentlessly. I used to joke that we used to do two laps around the country every year. And we also did a couple tours of Europe. But that’s how we survived; we toured a lot and we did well on the road...[Our style] was much cleaner sounding. We played on the same bill as those kinds of bands, but we didn’t really sound like them. I guess it is kind of unusual how we got lumped into that [hardcore] group."
Big Lizard in My Backyard was produced for nine hundred dollars by The Dead Milkmen & John Wicks and featured Dave Blood on bass guitar, Joe Jack Talcum on uitar and vocals, Rodney Anonymous on vocals, and Dean Clean on drums. The album was released alternately on Fever Records, Hollywood Records, and Enigma subsidiary Restless Records.
Genaro: "That was a college radio hit. I'm not sure how big it would be to you, but to us it was significant enough. It got our name around and, yeah, more people came to see us probably because of that. Everything seemed kind of gradual up until when that song started getting played a lot. The album got released in June of 1985. But the college dj kids did not start to play it a whole lot until September. I think most of them were on summer vacation and when they got back to school, that's when we started noticing more people coming to the shows too. I guess in late August it was starting to get played."
Hey Jack, what's happenin'?
I don't know.
Well, rumor around town says you think you might be thinking about down to
Uh, yeah, I think I'm gonna go down to the shore.
What are you gonna do down there?
Uh, I don't know. Play some video games, buy some Def Leppard t-shirts.
Hey, don't forget to get your Motley Crue t-shirt. Y'know, all proceeds
go to get their lead singer out of jail.
Hey, you gonna check out the sand bar while you're there?
Uh, what's the Sand Bar?
Oh, it's this place that lets sixteen year-old kids drink.
Hey guess who's gonna be there?
My favorite cover band, Khrystal Shyt.
Yeah, they do a Doors show, you'd be really impressed. In fact, it goes a
little like this:
Love me two times baby
Love me twice today
Love me two times girl
Cause I got AIDS
Love me two times baby
Once for tomorrow
Once cause I got AIDS
Pretty good Jim Morrison impression there. I hope those guys have a
good sense of humor and don't take us into court.
Uh, what's the court?
Never mind that. The important thing here -
You mean like the People's Court?
No, that's another story. The important thing here is that we get to
the part where you ask me how I'm gonna get down to the shore.
Oh, how you gonna get down to the shore?
Funny you should ask, I've got a car now.
Oh wow, how'd you get a car?
Oh my folks drove it up here from the Bahamas.
I must be, the Bahamas are islands. Okay, the important thing here is
that you ask me what kind of car it is.
Uh, what kinda car do ya' got?
I've got a bitchin' Camaro.
I ran over my neighbors
Now I'm in all the papers
My folks bought me a bitchin' Camaro
With no insurance to match
So if I happen to run you down
Please don't leave a scratch
I ran over some old lady
One night at the county fair
And I didn't get arrested
Because my dad's the mayor
Donuts on your lawn
Tony Orlando and Dawn
When I drive past the kids
They all spit and cuss
Cause I've got a bitchin' Camaro
And they have to ride the bus
So you'd better get out of my way
When I come through your yard
Cause I've got a bitchin' Camaro
And an Exxon credit card
Hey man where ya headed?
I'm drunk on unleaded!
Big Lizard in My Backyard
All tracks written by The Dead Milkmen
"Tiny Town" - 1:45
"Beach Song" - 2:00
"Plum Dumb" - 1:56
"Swordfish" - 1:31
"V.F.W."(Veterans of a Fucked up World) - 1:48
"Rastabilly" - 1:07
"Serrated Edge" - 1:59
"Lucky" - 2:10
"Big Lizard in my Backyard" - 1:59
"Gorilla Girl" - 1:33
"Bitchin' Camaro" - 3:01
"Filet of Sole" - 1:57
"Spit Sink" - 2:01 (Produced By Mike Ace & Jonny Earthshore)
"Violent School" - 1:58
"Takin’ Retards to the Zoo" - 0:48 (Produced By Mike Ace & Jonny Earthshore)
"Junkie" - 0:52
"Right Wing Pigeons" - 2:21
"Dean’s Dream" - 1:49
"Laundromat Song" - 1:47
"Nutrition" - 2:17
"Tugena" - 5:27 (instrumental)