Five By Five—
15 Going On 20/Penthouse Pauper

Released 1970 on Paula
The Seth Man, April 2001ce
Squeaking right under/between/sideways the demarcation line of garage punk and outright proto-metal, Five By Five’s last single straddled the same De-Militarized Zone as The Bubble Puppy’s “Hot Smoke And Sassafras” or The Litter’s “Blue Ice” (Except, Five By Five never wasted everybody times with albums that try the patience by fleshing out an otherwise fine 45 of sludge with otherwise embarrassing dreck.)

Is it proto-metal?
Is it punk?
Is it a mental blow job?

It’s all three.

It’s also a warning to all the too fine looking mid-teen honeys with too much makeup that strut their stuff too bold amongst men of experience (read as: 30 year old males)...Or is it an invitation?

Forget trying to split hairs with this (although I’ll try my best) because Five By Five both warn yet try to sample the pleasures of ‘May-to-June’ romancing simultaneously in the most passive/aggressive manner ever laid down on vinyl. And they double dip all the way to the screeching, fuzz-drenched coda.

Don’t ask me how. Is it the weird, change in tone of every other verse? The mental quadtruple-entendres? The ultra-distorted fuzz guitar rhythm that drags everything down to grungy-ness? Yes, yes and yes but all in the manner of a watching and disapproving older brother with an uncontrollable hard-on who KNOWS it ain’t right and is gonna broadcast to the soon-to-be-deflowered-one warning missives in the most confused manner, ever. And the lyricist/vocalist sways between sweet and stentorian, all coy and then warning as though the sloppy seconds were his, like some well-meaning Muff Buzzard waiting for his shares of the spoils.

Yes, “15 Going On 20” is truly demented, and I’ve known it for years. It was the last cut on a treasured C-90 “Garage Punque” Cassette compilation an older rock’n’roll pal passed onto me in 1982. But since it was it was the last song on side two (and the cassette being a TDK C-90 -- a ‘Low Noise’ ”D”, no less) it cut off right before the drum break. Which was OK at the time, but always left me hanging, wondering how the narrator/vocalist was gonna go. Take advantage of said sweet young thing, or was he going to be all noble and quickly shoo her off to the nearest Christian Scientist Monitor bookstore -- or nunnery? I waited many years, until I finally found it (and it NEVER appeared on ANY compilation.)

It was well worth the wait. Although hearing it all the way through I still couldn’t tell.

Because by the way the guitars yowl way up in orgasm, like said (nere)-do-gooder is driving home L’il Miss Innocent until he ’suddenly’ runs outta gas and decides to take advantage of her decade-and-a-half sussing of the ways of the world light years from town and try to diddle her herself. Or: is he just getting more and more adamant about “saving” her from said bad Saturday Night scenario?

As I said, I couldn’t tell. But it doesn’t get in the way of the music, which is as equally brutish, loud, sloppy and distorted as a drunken come on, but not nearly as gross: because it propels into a weird headspace of go-for-broke primitivism that everybody else in Five By Five’s league had given up YEARS before.

Genuine psychedelic guitar leads? [Forget that -- get down and boogie with Canned Heat.]
Fuzz-punk? [Oh, sure: you’ll REALLY get signed to Atlantic that way...]
But it’s a good song...all the guys in the band like playing it...
[Forget it – stick a cover of CCR’s “Penthouse Pauper” on the B-side, so you can quickly be resigned to the trash heap. Next!]

Five By Five do cut a raging fire on the A-side. The title always reminded me of “Five Years Ahead Of My Time” by The Third Bardo, but this track is far more brutal, punk and utterly deranged. The fake “Eight Miles High” fumbling glissando against the spattering rhythm guitar being strummed with all the precision of an ape on downers with an outgrown bowl cut while the drums are too sloppy and slothful to have been preconceived beforehand to such finely moronic perfection. Meanwhile, the vocalist is doing the whole call and response hisself, shifting between growling hard-on and responsible Man of The World over a primate/primitive beat The Strangeloves would’ve used their real names for as the vocalist tries to shrug off both of his cartoon devils and angels from his shoulders simultaneously:

“…Green light thoughts in the back of my head...
Look out girl, that’s your mama callin’...
You better make it home, before you start bawlin’...”

Or is it ‘ballin’?” Yes. No. Maybe. (Oh, I give up…)

Oh, it’s so fucking perfect. If I could describe it, I’d be a therapist. But it does wind up into a swooping, whirlwind fuzz and distorto guitar complex already considered completely out of step with the times...but just a few years BEFORE its time, as well. Which makes it one of the coolest (and maybe chronologically the last) garage punker to be foisted onto an uncaring public. My copy was drilled as a remainder -- most of them probably were at that -- as it was 1970 by the time of its release. Oh, it didn’t have a chance...

This was Five By Five’s last of several singles before they ceased altogether, and I’ve never heard any other. I doubt the preceding ones could be equally as bold -- either in narrative or execution -- as this one.