Graded on a Curve:
The One Way Street, “We All Love Peanut Butter” b/w “Jack The Ripper”

Everybody has her favorite one-hit wonder. Mine is Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra’s “Song Sung Blue.” I cried, no kidding, every single time I heard it as a child. But let’s take it one step further. What about a band that appears from out of nowhere, records only one great 45, and then disappears forever into the mists of obscurity? Such bands are much cooler yet. They make one mysterious visionary statement, and then vanish. Such bands are the D.B. Coopers of rock, leaving us to wonder who they were and where they came from, and where they went. And most of all, what other great tunes might they have had up their sleeves?

At least we don’t have to wonder, as in Cooper’s case, if their chute never opened or they hit a tree or drowned in the Columbia River. But it’s just as agonizing. Is one song all they had in them? Or did they have more, but hit rock’s equivalent of a tree, and break up soon after recording their tantalizing 45?

A while back I wrote an article on The Barons, a D.C. band who in 1966 recorded but one single, “Time and Time Again” b/w the sublime “Now You’re Mine.” The B-side is a classic slice of garage rock, and if The Barons aren’t as obscure as plenty of other one 45 wonders it’s for the simple reason that only several copies of their 45 are known to exist. Each is worth a small fortune—so be on the lookout—thanks in part to the lead guitarist’s mom, who tossed out 100 copies because she grew tired of them taking up needed space in her house.

The sole 45 recorded by The One Way Street (incorrectly listed on the single as The One Way Streets) is not esteemed for its rarity, but for its sheer strange coolness. The One Way Street was a quartet (actually a quintet, but one member couldn’t make the session) of Zanesville and Cambridge Ohio teens who showed up at Sunrise Studios in Hamilton, Ohio out of the blue and recorded a 45 (A-side “We All Love Peanut Butter,” which Kid Congo Powers turned me on to, and B-side “Jack The Ripper”) while the mother of guitarist/vocalist Sonny Dickens waited outside in her car. (I owe my information on the band to a piece writer by Mark Baker for Buckeye Beat.) Neither song would be known, of course, if “We All Love Peanut Butter” hadn’t appeared on Crypt Records’ 1996 Back From The Grave: Vol. 1.

Other members of the band included Rick Yarnell (lead guitar), Bill Malcom (bass), Mike Zimmerman (drums), and Terry Mace (the guitarist who had to work that fateful day, and hence wasn’t present during the recording). While in the studio the lads evidently boosted a microphone, but karma is real; during one of The One Way Street’s rare opening slots for an established act, The Blue Magoos, somebody snatched one of their microphones in an act of cosmic payback.

Contrary to popular belief, A-side “We All Love Peanut Butter” is not a LSD cautionary tale. More intriguingly, it’s a satiric tale (evidently based on a true story) about a “teen craze” involving shooting up peanut butter. As such, it makes a great companion piece to The Angry Samoans’ “Lights Out,” about a teen fad involving poking out your own eyes with a fork. Once you know this, the lyrics make a lot more sense, but they’re no less fun.

The B-side is a cover of “Jack The Ripper” by English musician/madman Screaming Lord Sutch, founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. But the boys in The One Way Street claim “Jack The Ripper” as an original, because Dickens (good poets borrow, great poets steal) approached the band with the song and claimed he’d written it, and they didn’t know any better. I did the same thing with my first band and “Stairway to Heaven.”

A band that records one single is like a writer that pens only one short story or poem. There’s no way to get a true appraisal of its talent, but you go on what you have and wish there was more. And based on what we have of The One Way Street, they were one promising band. “We All Love Peanut Butter” is sui generis; it doesn’t sound anything like any of the other tunes on Back From The Grave: Vol. 1. Nor for that matter does it sound much like anybody else from that period, period. Less a garage tune than a happy pop/punk sing-along, it doesn’t sound anything like the Stones/Beatles/Animals/Kinks rips most garage bands of the time were producing. It sounds utterly unique, and for a band on its first trip into a recording studio, that’s downright eerie. “We All Love Peanut Butter” is funnier, prettier, deeper, and downright goofier than almost anything else written during its time. The thought that it was recorded as a debut single by a bunch of Ohio teens is nothing less than flabbergasting.

A mid-tempo bang-shang-a-lang song with one great sing-along chorus, “We All Love Peanut Butter” features Dickens, who is all urgency on the B-side, singing the darkest lyrics (“People on Earth they’re gonna die/Boys just die and the girls they die”) matter of factly while some backing vocals sing happily, “We all love peanut butter.” “We’ll take a feather and fly it for a loop,” sings Dickens while the guitarists play a simple riff, “Maybe do a swan dive from a roof” (pronouncing it like “hoof”). Not until the band reaches the final chorus do they get excited, throwing everything into “We all love peanut butter” while Dickens sings, “I said goodbye peanut butter/Goodbye peanut butter/Goodbye peanut butter.”

Interestingly enough, Dickens got the lyrics wrong, both because he was forgetful and he liked to ad lib. That bleak opening line, for instance, was written, “People on Earth they’re gonna know/Boys just die and girls they cry.” Similarly, in the last verse he throws in a wonderful “With your butt on hands that’s written on the page” when the actual lines were, “With pen in hand it’s written on the page.” I’ve done the same thing myself in recording studios, and in the end you get what the singer sings. So butt on hands it is, and I think it’s an improvement.

B-side “Jack The Ripper” opens with a few bass notes then a howl, then it’s all tambourine, one raucous lead singer (“Every now and then my mother calls”/(in normal voice) “Junior get home”) and a crowd of wild backing voices. There’s a guitar solo in the middle and I’ve never heard a guitar solo like it, and though I strongly suspect it’s probably one of the more awful guitar solos ever recorded, I think it’s great. From then on things get wilder, until at the end Dickens cries, “Jack The Ripper/Jack The Ripper/Jack The Ripper/Ahhhaaahha/That’s me!/Yaaahaa!”

As for The One Way Street, they gradually went from a quintet to a quartet, and were written up as such in an article in Zanesville’s Times Recorder, which reported they played soul and psychedelic music and practiced in a rundown building. Vocalist Dixon left the band, and Mace traded in his guitar to be manager. Replacement John Smith landed the band an endorsement with Goya guitars, and they appeared in 1967-8 catalogues. In the meantime, their sets included covers by all the big acts of the day, including The Beatles and Stones, the Kinks, and Poochy Tooth. But by the far the most enticing—for the record collector looking to make the greatest discovery since Mormon Joseph Smith first espied the buried Golden Arches (“Behold!” said the Angel Maroni, “Crispy Hash Browns!”)—news about The One Way Street is that they entered a recording studio in Columbus, Ohio at some point and laid down nine originals and one cover. It’s not said what happened to the demo recording, except that it was sent to labels but none were interested.

Does it still exist? Are there more classics like “We All Love Peanut Butter” on it? The One Way Street disbanded in 1969, as members left to be shot in Vietnam or Kent State. I’ve done some research and bassist Bill Malcom passed away in 2010. What about the others? Somebody should jump on this! The full-length One Way Street demo could be sitting at this very moment in a Zanesville garage. And it could be the greatest musical find since Art Garfunkel was discovered being used as a human bong at a group house at Hampshire College!

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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  • Dudley Morris

    Sounds a bit like “The Little Black Egg” by the Night Crawlers.  Still a great song, I love the severely fuzzed guitar that kicks in near the end.

  • Taylor

    Do you mean “love is blue” by Paul Mauriat?

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