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Referred to by fans as “the best band you never heard of,” the Embarrassment also holds the distinction of being Wichita, KS’ most influential band. The group’s eclectic yet distinctive sound wrapped a post-punk approach and a deadpan sense of humor around pop, country, disco, and metal elements, crafting songs that rivaled the work of better-known contemporaries like Gang of Four, Mission of Burma, and the Feelies. Though they toured and recorded consistently from their formation in 1979 till their breakup in 1983, the Embarrassment won only a small — but intensely devoted — following while they were an active outfit. However, the group’s cult grew over the years, culminating in a reunion in the late ’80s and the release of two anthologies in the ’90s.

Vocalist/guitarist Bill Goffrier, vocalist/organist John Nichols, and drummer Brent “Woody” Geissman were childhood friends who played together in several groups during their school years. When Geissman met bassist Ron Klaus at college, the quartet became the Embarrassment, a reference to Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Bluebeard in which a character notes that “embarrassment” is the one word that sums up the human existence. Late in 1979, the group debuted with the Patio Set/Sex Drive single, which introduced the Embarrassment’s angular, multi-guitar attack and paved the way for appearances on compilations from Bomp and the Kansas-based label Fresh Sounds.

Though the band’s reunion album God Help Us had happily been available on CD since release, nearly everything from its early-’80s years had long gone out of print or was hard to find, a situation the double-disc Heyday rectified in full a few years later. Right from the start Heyday shows its worth thanks to the inclusion of the quartet’s wonderful, rocking debut, the “Sex Drive/Patio Set” single. “Sex Drive” itself almost comes across as a Midwest response to similarly minded landmarks of punk and post-punk like the Buzzcocks’ “Orgasm Addict” and the Gun Club’s “Sex Beat.” The production is thin, perhaps, but the delivery is nervous, wired to the max, jerky riffs, and Giessmann’s quick drumming increasing the weird paranoia even as Nichols’ singing exudes amusing, boring cool. “Patio Set,” meanwhile, sounds only a touch more relaxed, a weird metaphor combining love and outdoor furniture dryly delivered over the exuberant crunch. The remainder of the first disc pulls together the contents of The Embarrassment and Death Travels West albums, plus “Two Cars,” which surfaced previously on the odds and ends Retrospective cassette. The second disc, meanwhile, gets stuffed full of treats from Retrospective, various compilations, and otherwise unreleased sessions, split between studio and live recordings both. The live recordings are a particular revelation, confirming what the studio work always suggested — that the four members were barnburners, ripping with precise energy through their work. Two covers pop up, both of which are pretty funny as well as rather well performed: Michael Jackson’s disco hit “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and Led Zeppelin’s proto-metal stomp “Immigrant Song.” It’s a pity the version of the Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard,” originally on a Bomp! compilation, didn’t make it, but that’s about the only thing missing here. A complete discography, a reprinted essay from 1988 about the group, and fun liner notes from Nichols and Goffrier complete this fantastic, long-overdue compilation.

by Ned Raggett,

The Embarrassment-HEYDAY 1979-83 (1995 compilation)
V0 MP3


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