We here at the deathwatch are forgoing our usual year-end wrap-up of rockin' stars who died for your sins in 2003 -- first off because they're all nominated for Grammy awards anyway (Warren Zevon, June Carter and Johnny Cash and late 2001 entry George Harrison) and secondly because it's depressing even to us moribunds to know that nearly every legendary group has got at least one or more dead members now. That's right, half the Beatles, the Who and the Ramones are dead, four-fifths of the original Temptations bought the big tuxedo, two-thirds of the Jimi Hendrix Experience are no longer experiencing anything, most of Canned Heat are permanently canned goods and all of Tyrannosaurus Rex is extinct. The list goes on and on. Surely the Grim Reaper will cut his swath through your favorite groups sometime soon, so while we still have a chance, let's take this time to celebrate truly great groups that have yet to suffer a single loss in the mortality bites sweepstakes.
Cynics will helpfully point out that the Archies were never really in any danger of being killed off on account of not actually being people, but they probably never saw "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" Even cartoon bands suffer personnel changes; witness how the Groovy Ghoulies continue touring without a Hauntleroy or Wolfie in the ranks. Archie, Jughead, Reggie, Betty and Veronica are to be commended not only for staying together despite sexual tension that makes Fleetwood Mac seem like "The Newlywed Game" in comparison, but for the way they've managed to "just say no" to sketch pad erasers and all that paint thinner people are constantly snorting backstage.
The Guess Who
Not only haven't these Winnipeggers suffered any casualties since their 1965 "Shakin' All Over" lineup, neither have any of their offshoots -- Brave Belt, Bachman Turner Overweight, Burton Cummings and His Newcummers -- even the crazy '90s lineup where the original drummer and bassist decided to finally listen to the voices in their head that kept saying, "I sure wish to God the Guess Who's original rhythm section would reunite to play soft rock like Mike and the Mechanics." What's the GW secret of longevity? Bachman opted out of the fast lane early on for Mormonism and carbohydrates, leaving Cummings' insane Tourette's syndrome lyrical ad-libs to flourish and grow. Who could forget the way he stretched the alphabet soup on the live version of "American Woman," imploring every "American bitch! American cunt! American slut! American lesbian!" and, yes, even "American beaver!" to "just stay away-hey!" This move insured that none of the above disease-carrying agents would ever wander backstage to ball Jim Kale, Garry Peterson or even the Burtman. Probably added 20 years to all members' lives while single-handedly killing off their second and third on the bill Canadian competition. Lighthouse, the Stampeders and the Five Man Electrical Band, now three-fifths down, all took fatal romps with the Typhoid Mary of all groupies, Goner Rhea.
There've been so many "Ginger Baker is dead" rumors over the years even the Reaper must've thought the world's first supergroup had a member in the netherworld. Or maybe Clapton being God for all those years intimidated all the right people.
Grand Funk Railroad
They reposed peacefully in coffins on their 1976 album "Born to Die," yet these Flint, Mich. stoners continue to draw breath. Reuniting and breaking up manages to keep Mark, Don and Mel busy while Craig Frost has found a pop afterlife as a member of Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, where Seger's secret for staying alive is to only sing songs about remembering being young while never actually doing anything crazier than open up an IRA account.
You've got to wonder about any band where Graham Nash is the rebellious one. By 1967, the Manchester lads still thought LSD stood for "let's shoot darts" and no sex ever took place in any of their songs beyond, "Please share my umbrella." Threatened by Nash's facial hair, they refused to record his "Marrakesh Express" because they thought it was about smuggling hashish and "Sleep Song" because it intimates that people like to disrobe and sleep together. Nash went on to become a nursemaid for David Crosby while the Hollies continue to this day to mine the oldies circuit. Always the cautious Brit-poppers, they've dropped "Stop! Stop! Stop!" from the set for fear that audience members will think the song is about breathing.
The Royal Guardsmen
What band in its right mind centers an entire career around songs about Snoopy? "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron," "Snoopy's Christmas," "Hang On Snoopy," "Workin' On a Snoopy Thing," aww, the list goes on and on. No one knows what happened to Darrell, Jim, Duane, Tom and Beauregard except that they continue to draw pensions and their chat board has a lot of people concerned coz Duane cracked his pelvis trying to put up Christmas lights last year but is threatening to mount another even bigger blinking Sopwith Camel display. None of the original members has recorded a note beyond a little-known 1976 album "Happiness is a Warm Reunion" but they've fared a damn sight better than the Coasters, who all died singing about "Charlie Brown" in some goddamned casino. And let's not even get started on the life expectancy of a guy naming himself after Pigpen.
The Edwin Hawkins Singers
Anyone who wants to grumble over the short life span of rock band members should take note that all 42 members of this gospel group are still alive. Thirty-one are still singing the Lord's music, six play in various R&B lounge groups, two sell Mary Kay cosmetics and three had an epiphany after a humidifier exploded in their dressing room and now travel from city to city preaching that electricity is the dominion of the devil. One member, Johnny Halverson, credits the group's longevity to "singing God's word and praying before every show that He calls the Heritage Singers to His heavenly home first."
They made "ooga shaka ooga ooga" a household word with their ludicrous 1974 cover of B.J. Thomas' "Hooked on a Feeling." But little has been heard of them since lead singer Björn Skifs stormed out of a Scandinavian variety show taping. Something about "I'm not wearing ze fringe vest if Vrooogenshade is." We're happy to report that they're all alive and well and recording for the first time in 30 years. Says Björn, "Zere are still plenty of ze American oldies zat zee 'ooga shaka' has not been attached to. Vee are very excited about doink 'Eve of Destruction' und 'Senz in Ze Clowns.'"
Despite singing "I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight," they continue living and working construction.
The band worked in references to Captain Kirk in the English-sung version of "99 Luftballoons," so they could score big with American Trekkies. The ploy worked. We tracked this sextet back to their German homeland, where the original band has gone through at least seven Nenas since 1984. One ex-Nena is in prison for indecent exposure of a boil, another Nena had problems with consonants and had to bow out, one Nena sells Helga Schassen, the German equivalent of Mary Kay cosmetics and another is touring with someone claiming to be the original Falco in an extremely unpopular "Ein Hit Vunders" package.
The top-selling disco duo in Japan? Pink Lady! Mei and Kei's unmatched popularity in their homeland (where they sold more records than ABBA and Roger Whittaker combined!) didn't escape NBC-TV president Fred Silverman's gaze. He paired the gals with comedian Jeff Altman in a disastrous TV variety show he had hoped would be the next Tony Orlando and Dawn but turned out to merely be the next Hiroshima! Their only U.S. hit, "Kiss in the Dark," pooped out at No. 37, but the groundwork was laid for Shonen Knife! Today Mei sells Lady Kwan cosmetics and Kei recently did the voice for a shiitake mushroom on some sorry-assed Pok?mon-inspired campaign for Kikkoman Soy Sauce.
This neo-skiffle band scored the first-ever hit about drinking and driving in 1970 with "In the Summertime" and spent the next four years trying to recapture the winning formula despite the world having already decided against continuing the summer romance past September. Few can be expected to remember "During the Summertime," "Later that Summertime," "You've Lost that Summertime Feeling" and "I Wish It Was (in the) Summertime Again," each attempt more desperate than the last, each pointing the way to more gainful employment. Despite the unanimous lack of interest in their return, Godfrey, Colin, Earl, Timothy and Widget say they will consider any reunion offers that put enough dollars in the coffer for Godfrey to get a new washboard.
These crazy Krauts foreshadowed Spinal Tap, what with their misogynist album covers and boneheaded anthems. Although popular with undersexed male teens, they only land one Top 40 punch with "Rock You Like a Hurricane." Even at the height of their fame, if you put all this band's receding hairlines together on one scalp, it still wouldn't equal one of David Lee Roth's hair extensions!
René y René
This surviving Latin duo crooned the 1968 smash "Lo Mucho Que Te Quiero (The More I Love You)." The only thing that stands in the way of their continuing to make music together is a longstanding disagreement over who should get top billing.
Serene Dominic is a freelance writer and author of the Burt Bacharach tome Song by Song.