No Ordinary Men: The Untold Story of the Swanky Modes


Swanky Modes Lobby Card

Swanky Modes Lobby Card

Three weeks ago I bought what I assume is one of the few remaining presskits for one of my top-five favorite films: TAPEHEADS (1988).

Swanky Modes Presskit

Swanky Modes Presskit

The outside was relatively nondescript (it came in a cheap, black, elementary-school-style folder with a yellow TAPEHEADS sticker plastered on the outside), but it contained 50 or 60 pages of press prepared by the now defunct Clein + Feldman Inc. public relations firm. The lobby card at the top of this post is one of four absolutely mint double-image cards that came in the presskit with their own transparent protective baggie.

But as great as the images and the other promotional material are, the clear gem from the presskit is a two-page “Swanky Modes Chronology,” which outlines a fascinating (but all too brief) backstory for the Swanky Modes, the fictional soul duo – featuring real life soul legends Sam Moore and Junior Walker – that Bill Fishman built TAPEHEADS around.

I recently ran a google search for “best fictional bands,” and – at least according to the top six results (hereherehereherehere, and here) – not everyone appreciates the greatness of the Modes as much as I do.

In fact, the Swanky Modes don’t appear on any of those “best of” lists (or even get mentioned in the comments), while lesser acts like The Beets (from the Doug cartoon) and The Wonders (from THAT THING YOU DO!) get mentioned over and over. I hope that the publication of what the Swanky Modes were up to before Josh and Ivan began idolizing them will – to some degree – begin to correct this massive oversight.

As far as I can tell, this information has never been published online, and I’m excited to share what is – in my mind at least – a massive addition to the online world’s collective TAPEHEADS/Swanky Modes knowledge.

Swanky Modes Chronology 1

Swanky Modes Chronology 1

Swanky Modes Chronology 2

Swanky Modes Chronology 2

1964 – Swanky Modes end record 72 week run at the Apollo Theater.
1965 – Signed to a major label and begin work on their debut album “Thumbs Up“.
1966 – “Thumbs Up” is released to critical acclaim. Modes sign a multi-record deal and travel to Hollywood to star in their first feature film, “High Noon Wake-Up“.
1967 – The “Brown Album” is released and goes instant gold. The Modes have their first of many re-occuring management disputes.
1968 – The Modes go on the Christmas USO tour with Bob Hope.
1970 – The Modes appear on the Ed Sullivan Show.
1971 – The Queen summons the Modes to perform at a Royal performance extravaganza.
1972 – “That’s Enough of This War Stuff” is released. Modes begin extended European tour.
1973 – Lester marries Olga Von Steistein in Oslo, Norway. Billy travels to India to study with Ravi Shankar.
1974 – “Black and White” album is unreleased due to the oil shortage.
1975 – Modes have their first reunion tour of the Midwest. Bus breaks down in Battle Creek, Michigan where Lester buys a farm and starts raising rhubarb.
1976 – Lester marries Sheena Brawn, a young farming neighbor.
1978 – Modes first album in six years is released, “Modes Fever,” the day after “Saturday Night Fever” hits the stores.
1979 – Billy moves to the Northwest and starts real estate brokering learned by Don Drussel’s Home Extension course.
1980 – Swanky Modes “Get Nasty” is banned from all radio play. Becomes instant collector’s item.
1981 – Billy’s yacht hits land mine in Persia. No one is hurt but he spends one year in an Iranian prison.
1982 – Lester is indicted for bigamy and is extradited to Norway.
1983 – The second Modes reunion tour kicks off in Yonkers, New York, but is cut short when Lester’s sax is stolen.
1984 – Billy and Lester move to California after landing a two year contract on Princess Cruises Oldies But Goodies nights. They anull contract when they find out they are also expected to bartend.
1985 – “New Wheels New Deals” album is released. Modes tour in Japan, sponsored by Tayota.
1986 – Modes third reunion tour of the Southwest is cut short when expected revenue does not meet continued expenses.
1987 – Swanky Modes are seen performing at the Manhattan Club in Santa Monica Mall by Billy Fishman, the soon to be director of “Tapeheads”.
1988 – Swanky Modes star in “Tapeheads”.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll enjoy TAPEHEADS even more knowing that Lester was married twice (at the same time), that Billy spent a year in an Iranian prison, that the Modes put out at least seven albums (Thumbs UpBrown AlbumThat’s Enough of This War StuffBlack and WhiteModes FeverGet Nasty, andNew Wheels New Deals), and that they starred in another film: HIGH NOON WAKE-UP (1966).

Man… I’d love to hear Modes Fever.

And while we’re on the subject of the Swanky Modes, here’s what I believe is the duo’s only late-night appearance, a performance of Ordinary Man (and follow-up interview) on Letterman.

If you want to discuss your favorite Swanky Modes revelation from the chronology, or the greatness of the Modes in general, feel free to do so in the comments.

- Micah :: Reel Distraction

7 thoughts on “No Ordinary Men: The Untold Story of the Swanky Modes

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Mondo Tees Blog » Blog Archive » No Ordinary Men: The Untold Story of the Swanky Modes [mondotees.com] on Topsy.com

  2. Pingback: Travel Mondo | TraveloAholic

  3. waffles are just pancakes with little squares on 'em

    Tapeheads rocks! I’m glad there are others out there who appreciate it. I’ve shown it to many friends and they just don’t get it. Not only does the movie feature the delectible Swanky Modes, but it also features one of the coolest handshakes to be performed on film courtesy of Messrs. Cusack and Robbins. Now when are we going to get a sweet Tapeheads poster up in here?

    Reply
  4. waffles are just pancakes with little squares on 'em

    Not only do the Swanky Modes rock, but Tapeheads in an incredibly underrated movie. I’ve shown it to many friends who just don’t seem to get it’s quirkyness. Plus, it’s got the best handshake ever recorded by film, courtesy of Messrs. Cusack and Robbins.

    Let’s get into trouble, baby!

    Reply
  5. Let's get in trouble, baby!

    Tapeheads is a supremely underrated movie and I’m glad the Modes have gotten a little love here on Mondo. Not only did Tapeheads rock, but it also has the greatest handshake ever captured on film, courtesy of Messrs. Cusack and Robbins.

    Reply
  6. Jim K.

    I remember watching a trailer for this movie on TV and immediately wanting to see this film. Believe it or not, I have not seen it since and the scene which made the most impact on me was not included in the movie, nor does it seem to exist anywhere else.

    John Cusack is in a smoky bar and walks up to some punk rocker with a shaved pate. “I’d like to spank your head and lick it,” he says, and then promptly does so! Even without that scene, what a great movie.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>