Much more so than the contemporary New York or London scenes, California punk was very open to female singer/songwriters. From Penelope Houston of the Avengers to Exene Cervenka of X, the San Francisco and Los Angeles punk scenes were emphatically female-friendly, treating women as active, leading participants rather than novelties or pretty faces. It was no accident that the Go-Go's and the Bangles, from Los Angeles, succeeded where so many New York- and London-based female-fronted bands failed. Singer/songwriter and keyboardist Bonnie Hayes was the leader of the Punts, one of San Francisco's best punk bands, but Hayes had more on her mind than the usual three-chord ramalama. Coming from a musical family well-steeped in jazz, blues, and soul (Bonnie's brother Kevin, the Punts' drummer, later joined Robert Cray's band; another sibling, Chris, was lead guitarist and a major songwriter in the R&B-laced pop powerhouse Huey Lewis & the News) and clearly fond of Spector-style '60s girl groups, Hayes took the Punts in a more melodic and musically varied direction; renaming themselves Bonnie Hayes & the Wild Combo, the group signed with LA's Slash Records and released 1982's Good Clean Fun, probably the finest album of the entire early-'80s California girl pop scene. Yes, even better than Beauty and the Beat or All Over the Place. First and foremost, the songs on Good Clean Fun are almost embarrassingly catchy. The first two tracks, "Girls Like Me" and "Shelly's Boyfriend" (both used to fine effect in Martha Coolidge's 1983 cult film Valley Girl), are three-minute classics with more vocal and musical hooks than many whole albums. While the other eight tracks are slightly less immediate, every single one of them has a catchy chorus or appealing riff that imprints itself in the listener's memory. The Hayes siblings, along with guitarist Paul Davis and bassist Hank Maninger, also have the instrumental chops to pull off considerably more sophisticated tunes than anyone was likely to find on, say, a Josie Cotton album. Able to slip from the restrained turmoil of the surprisingly non-whiny indie band lament "Coverage" to the impassioned hard rock of the devastating closer "The Last Word," Bonnie Hayes & the Wild Combo also reveal an unexpectedly jazz-influenced bent on the extended instrumental sections of "Dum Fun" and "Raylene." Aside from the musical heft of the album, Hayes is an acute lyricist with a knack for both clever Elvis Costello-style wordplay and vividly realistic imagery. "Shelly's Boyfriend" is a sympathetic portrait of the frustrations of teenage love, but the immediacy of the lyrics lifts it above similar tunes. Other songs, like "Inside Doubt" and "Separating," deal with more complex emotions without losing the power pop bounce that makes the album so instantly appealing. Good Clean Fun works brilliantly on every level, and only Slash Records' limited distribution muscle -- and possibly the unfortunately cheesy cover art -- kept it from being a hit. As it stands, Good Clean Fun is a neglected '80s pop masterpiece. -AMG
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