Lo-fi production has a special resonance with music nerds like me. Whether it’s Ariel Pink’s early material (recently re-mastered and re-released), or an obscure gem like Otis G. Johnson’s God Is Love ’78, various genres achieve a special luster when they sound like they’re recorded in a trash can.
Timex Social Club never really made it big. Formed in Berkeley, California in the early 80s, they reached an apex in 1986 opening for Run-DMC while simultaneously hitting #8 on the Billboard Charts with their single “Rumors”. “Rumors” is a glossy, goofy song in the vein of New Edition or Alexander O’Neal. It’s good, but not remarkable amidst a swarm of similar 80s R&B singles. Plagued by infighting and a suit from Timex watches, the group broke up shortly after their hit. Member Michael Marshall would go on to sing the hook for Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It” and have his own solo career. Founder Marcus Thompson currently operates as a DJ and performer under the Timex Social Club name.
In 2019, Thompson released The Lost Tapes, Vol. 1. These songs were recorded in the mid-80s and sound drastically different from “Rumors”. Recorded on a 4-track and truly lo-fi, these Lost Tapes are gritty, weird, minimal R&B jams. The killer, unfinished “Coke Life” envisions a world of beepers, plastic baggies and pistols, while “Driving With Dee-Dee’s” employs sounds of screeching tires and laughter over an anxious beat.
As far as I can tell, Thompson as bandleader sings every song here. Of the bizarre ballad “Green Tears” he writes, “Michael [Marshall] was supposed to come and lay vocals, but he never showed. I thought he might not come because he never liked the song” (How Do Rumors Get Started: The True Story of Timex Social Club, 74). The desperation heard in synth-laden ballads like this and “Heart Like Mine” recalls the outsider romantics of Lewis Baloue. “Heart Like Mine” has a little bit of “Betcha By Golly, Wow” in its noodling background synth melody, but none of the lush nature of classic R&B is shared here. These songs are stark and strange.
It’s not all great. “I’m In Love” is the misstep: it’s simply way too long. But things end on a cute note with “Loving Angelina”. This tale of puppy love is full of fake handclaps and a humming Kurzweil K250 synth.
It’s unclear how much other unreleased Timex material Mr. Thompson has in his possession (I assume much more if the Vol. 1 is any indication). For now we have a worthwhile curio that, at its weirdest, is more Night Dolls With Hairspray than Michael Jackson.
Listen to The Lost Tapes, Vol. 1 on Spotify.