May illustration from the Marchbanks Calendar by Harry Cimino, c. 1950
'60s Memphis girl group the Goodees is best remembered (when they're remembered at all) for the song "Condition Red", a minor hit that rips off "Leader of the Pack". The Goodees really amp up that Shangri-Las-style drama, though, with spoken-word sections and goofy sound effects that make the song something of a three-act play. Regardless, the song's plinking-piano intro is quite memorable, and the song has some catchy sections. And a fatal motorcycle crash, of course (spoiler alert!) - who doesn't love one of those? My favorite part of this song is the monologue she delivers to her boyfriend after he's ridden away on his bike.
In 1976, another little-known band, Sneakers, recorded a song called "Condition Red", and it was an homage to a contemporary group. Sneakers was an early band of Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter, who both later became idols of the '80s power pop scene, and their '76 EP has been called one of the first releases of the American indie scene. "Condition Red" comes from that EP, and, like a lot of the Sneakers material, it's all over the place, with a variety of great hooks executed sloppily and organized haphazardly into songs. The verse starts out in the Sneakers style but quickly mutates into a clear Alex Chilton imitation circa Radio City, complete with cowbell and that Big Star vocal reverb. The song also has a nice chorus, with a confusing lyric featuring the lines "We'll be American/let's be Americans!"
So basically it comes down to choosing between a fun Shangri-Las ripoff or a fun Big Star ripoff. I'm in a Big Star mood today, and the cowbell bit in the Sneakers song is really doing it for me.
"Condition Red" by the Goodees
"Condition Red" by Sneakers