With so many late-’70s musicians possessing a strong sense of rock’n’roll history in addition to their overriding interest in style, the emergence of groups like the instrumental Raybeats was inevitable. Pat Irwin, Jody Harris and Don Christensen, refugees from the New York City no wave avant-garde, had been in such outfits as the Contortions and 8 Eyed Spy. Together (with a procession of bassists including, on Guitar Beat, Minneapolis’ Danny Amis), they made frothy rock dance pieces, recalling the tightly structured formats of the Ventures, Duane Eddy and the Shadows. The simple melodies are defined by sparkling guitars, junky organ and wailing sax — a golden opportunity for most educated bands to condescend. But the Raybeats never did. They obviously enjoyed what they were playing, and that made their records absolutely lovable.
The Wild Bears EP offers four songs (including the Shadows’ “Rise and Fall of Flingel Bunt”) on a 12-inch. The UK and US versions of the peppy Guitar Beat, ably produced by Martin Rushent, differ by two tracks. It’s Only a Movie! introduces electronic instruments (and ceramic destruction on “Doin’ the Dishes”) to remind listeners of the band’s actual time frame, but also includes appropriately dated covers: Henry Mancini’s “Banzai Pipeline” and Booker T’s “Jelly Bread.”
Amis’ Overtones made one wonderful surf-rock single (“Red Checker Wagon”) for TwinTone before he headed out East to join the Raybeats. After leaving the group, Amis continued to explore ’60s guitar instrumentals on his own, recording the five evocative Mitch Easter-produced twangers that comprise the 12-inch Whiplash!.