The Lemonheads was first formed as an alternative rock band in 1986 by high school students Evan Dando, Ben Deily, and Jesse Peretz. Hailing out of Boston, Massachusetts, the trio originally called themselves the Whelps before they changed the name to Lemonheads after a brand of sweet and sour candy. Upon the formation of the Lemonheads, they released their first EP, Laughing All the Way to the Cleaners.
When Dando realized college was not for him, he dropped out and signed the Lemonheads to Taang! Records. While with the label, the band released three albums. The first was Hate Your Friends in 1987, Creator in 1988, and Lick in 1989. These three recordings had Dando and Deily share as lead vocalists and songwriters. At first, they also served as guitarists and drummers before recruiting Mark Natola, John Strohm, and Doug Trachten. From song to song, the lineup changed frequently until Deily left the band in 1989.
Upon Deily’s departure, additional lineup changes were made that included Corey Loog Brennan and David Ryan. It was at this time the Lemonheads signed with Atlantic Records and released the album Lovey, in 1990. As an alternative rock band, the mixed genre of recordings included country, heavy metal, and punk. Unfortunately for the Lemonheads, the style of music poured into Lovey was overshadowed by the grunge music scene that dominated the first half of the 1990s.
Due to the lack of success that met with Lovey, Dando took it upon himself to do some songwriting in Australia with a couple of his friends. This would become the material used for It’s a Shame about Ray. At this time, Jesse Peretz also left the Lemonheads as a musician, leaving only Dando left as the founding member still performing. Peretz became the band’s photographer, as well as their director when it came to their music videos. Briefly taking Peretz’s place was Juliana Hatfield as the band’s backup vocalist and bass guitarist. After she left to form her own band, she was replaced by Nic Dalton.
The success of It’s a Shame About Ray, as an album and as its title track finally gave the Lemonheads the media attention needed to be considered a first-rate alternative rock band. The lineup at this time was Dando, Dalton, and David Ryan. The name of the band also changed from Lemonheads to The Lemonheads before releasing the next album, Come on Feel the Lemonheads in 1993. This album also featured Juliana Hatfield performing backup vocals on several of the album’s tracks. It was commercially successful enough on the mainstream music circuit to earn three hits for the group.
Despite enjoying the height of their success, The Lemonheads went into a hiatus after Evan Dando checked himself into rehab. After Dando was fit to perform again, he reformed The Lemonheads in 1996 with a brand new lineup. With Bill Gibson, John Strohm, and Murph in the band, The Lemonheads recorded and released Car Button Cloth that same year. The darker side of Dando’s songwriting skills was the highlight of the set of tracks featured in the album, including the jangly guitar tune “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You.” The album somewhat served as an autobiography of Dando’s battles against his own personal demons.
In addition to The Lemonheads’ seventh studio album release, the band also contributed to 1996’s Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks. This was a tribute album to the original Schoolhouse Rock! album that featured many popular songs. The Lemonheads covered “My Hero Zero,” a song that was originally performed by Bob Dorough. After this, they also covered Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” as part of an all-star ensemble that was arranged by the UK’s BBC.
In 1998, Atlantic Records released the compilation album The Best of the Lemonheads. This also marked the beginning of Evan Dando’s solo career which had him perform the band’s songs. This continued until The Lemonheads sprung back as a band in 2005. This time, Dando’s lineup featured Karl Alvarez, Josh Lattanzi, and Bill Stevenson. In 2006, The Lemonheads released a self-titled album before embarking on a multi-nation tour.
In 2008, while at an NME Awards ceremony that was held in 2008, Dando became a source of controversy when he chucked a Classic Album award for It’s a Shame About Ray into the garbage shortly after accepting it. He was heard commenting it was an award he didn’t want. Speculation had it Dando was still dealing with personal demons as the 1990s was a decade that saw him contend with drug addiction and mental illness.
So far, The Lemonheads have ten studio albums, a live album, two compilation albums, and four EPs released. From this collection, there were seventeen singles released. The majority of them became charted hits in the U.K. as the popularity of this band was significantly higher in that nation than anywhere else between 1992 to 2006. The most recent album released was 2019’s Varshons 2, which came ten years after Varshons. Like the previous album, the recorded material was cover songs that were previously performed by their original artists.
Top 10 Songs By The Lemonheads
#10 – Big Gay Heart
On the Official UK Singles Chart, “Big Gay Heart” became a number fifty-five hit after it was released as a single in 1993. Coming from the album, Come on Feel the Lemonheads, it was the third of four hits that justified the studio recording to become certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry and the Recording Industry Association of America. As a song performed from the perspective of a homosexual, it pointed out the horrors of discrimination against a person’s lifestyle choice. For Evan Dando, the inspiration behind the song came from visiting a friend’s home that housed an impressive collection of LGBT-related artwork.
#9 – It’s About Time
In the UK, “It’s About Time” became a number fifty-seven hit. It was the second of four singles released from the album, Come on Feel the Lemonheads. Released in 1993, the narrator shared a lyrical gripe that ended with the threat of his lawyer kept handy when the time came to talk further about something that gave him reason to speak up. The song’s gripe was about Juliana Hatfield, which was written by Evan Dando while he was under the influence of drugs. It was during this time Hatfield still worked with The Lemonheads as a backing vocalist but was no longer playing bass for them. She had moved on to pursue a musical career of her own but maintained close relations with Dando at that time.
#8 – Plaster Caster
In 1994, The Lemonheads covered Kiss’s 1977 recording of “Plaster Caster.” It was their contribution to the compilation album, Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Regrooved. The performance quality of one of Kiss’s classic hits by The Lemonheads illustrated how talented the band really was while they were in their prime. The lineup of The Lemonheads changed often but Evan Dando remained at the helm the entire time. The musical influence of the 1970s was evident in most of the material The Lemonheads produced. It shouldn’t come as a surprise their version of “Plaster Caster” was enough to become a favorite among their fan base.
#7 – Alison’s Starting to Happen
In 1992’s It’s a Shame About Ray, “Alison’s Starting to Happen” was a song about Smudge’s Australian drummer named Alison Galloway. She was also the girlfriend of Nic Dalton, a new recruit with The Lemonheads. At the time, Galloway was taking a drug known as ecstasy that put her into a mode that spawned the inspiration to write a love song about it. It came at a time when Dando was visiting Australia, looking for enough material to work with to give his band, The Lemonheads, the jolt it needed to become a commercially successful band. “Alison’s Starting to Happen” was one of many songs that provided exactly that.
#6 – My Drug Buddy
When “Drug Buddy” was released as a single in 1993, Evan Dando shared the tale of his friend, Nicole, whom he met while he spent time in Australia. The two were drug buddies that spent a night together. In the song, Juliana Hatfield sang as the female backup. Although the song failed to make an impression on the music charts, it played its role in the album’s certified gold achievement with BPI, RIAA, and the Australia Recording Industry Association (ARIA).
The song was Dando’s lyrical suggestion music and drugs went well together. As popular as the song was among the fans, it left a distaste in Dando’s mouth several years later. Instead of taking home a prestigious award he received in 2008 for It’s a Shame About Ray, he threw it in a trash bin. It suggested at that time he wanted nothing to do with an era where The Lemonheads may have been at its peak as a band but Evan Dando was reaching the lowest point of his life on a personal level.
#5 – The Great Big No
On the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart, “The Great Big No” was a number fifteen hit after it was released as a single in 1994. It was the fourth and final single released from the album, Come on Feel the Lemonheads. The 1970-style song about disappointment portrayed a relationship that had run its course. Juliana Hatfield was the female vocalist that sang with Evan Dando.
#4 – If I Could Talk I’d Tell You
After spending time in rehab to conquer his drug addiction, Evan Dando reformed The Lemonheads with a brand new lineup in 1996. “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” was a jangly guitar gem that came from the album, Car Button Cloth. This song shared similar characteristics to a time when Dando encountered speech problems due to the damage done to his voice after smoking crack cocaine.
Instead of talking, Dando would write his words on paper instead. As it turned out, he and Eugene Kelly discovered they had this song recorded on a cassette and never even knew they did it. On the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart, “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” became a number fifteen hit. In the UK, it peaked as high as number thirty-nine.
# 3 – It’s a Shame About Ray
As an album and as its title track, the wistful “It’s a Shame About Ray” became the first big taste of commercial success for The Lemonheads. This song also earned Evan Dando enough recognition to be considered one of People magazine’s fifty most beautiful people for its 1992-1993 publication. The inspiration behind the song came after reading a headline in an Australian newspaper about a boy named Ray that kept kicking out of every school he was enrolled in.
For Evan Dando and his fellow songwriter, Tom Morgan, the comment “It’s a Shame About Ray” was enough to trigger to sing a tale about a person’s life story before he went missing. On the US Billboard Alternative Airplay chart, it became a number five hit. In the UK, “It’s a Shame About Ray” charted as high as number thirty-one. The song peaked at number sixty-eight in Australia. This was the first of many singles released by The Lemonheads that would appear on the music charts.
#2 – Mrs. Robinson
In 1992, The Lemonheads covered the Simon & Garfunkel classic, “Mrs. Robinson.” The song was recorded and released as a single to promote the video release of The Graduate‘s twenty-fifth anniversary. This song was also featured in 1993’s Wayne’s World 2 and 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street. “Mrs. Robinson” gave the Lemonheads the exposure they needed to finally break through to the mainstream audience.
The infusion of punk gave “Mrs. Robinson” a special new meaning that had this song peak as high as number eight on the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. Despite Evan Dando personally admitting he hated the song and only did it to promote the twenty-fifth anniversary of The Graduate as a home video release. Like Dando, Paul Simon didn’t care for the cover as well. Art Garfunkel, however, did. So did the scores of fans worldwide.
In Australia, this version of “Mrs. Robinson” became a number one hit on its Alternative chart. On the US Billboard Alternative Airplay chart, it peaked as high as number eight. In Ireland, New Zealand, and the UK, “Mrs. Robinson” charted inside the top twenty among their official music charts.
#1 – Into Your Arms
On the US Billboard Hot 100, “Into Your Arms” peaked at number sixty-seven. This became the first and only single recorded and released by The Lemonheads that would make an appearance on the US Billboard’s best-recognized chart. On its Modern Rock Tracks chart, “Into Your Arms” became a number one hit. On a global scale, it also appeared on the music charts belonging to Australia, Canada, and the UK. Released in 1993, it was the lead single to the group’s sixth studio album, Come on Feel the Lemonheads.
Previously released in 1989 by Love Positions, “Into Your Arms” was a Nic Dalton tune he brought over to The Lemonheads while he was part of the band’s lineup. This song has since become an alternative rock staple that’s been covered by a number of musical artists performing in the same genre. “Into Your Arms” has become a cult classic, thanks to The Lemonheads. It also paved the way for grunge rock to dominate the music scene as Evan Dando took his band’s direction down a path it needed to go in order to achieve the level of success it deserved.
Top 10 Songs By The Lemonheads article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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