A lifelong “favorite band” seems an impossible thing to me. Instead, I’ve had several “favorite bands” over the years, one band that I’ve chosen that I either listen to more than any other, or that I feel best represents me at that point in my life. At no point did I call the band I want to talk about my “favorite.” Yet as time goes on, my tastes change, one band has stood as a constant above all others. A band that I immediately associate with my best times, and upon closer inspection, find to be an essential building block of several aspects of my life. That band is Ozma.
When I first heard the opening lines of Weezer’s In the Garage, which are references to Dungeons & Dragons and the X-Men, it was something of a wake up call. In the pre-Avengers 1990s, the concept of owning up to the nerdy stuff I loved was a new one. Here was a rock band, a really cool rock band putting out there that they liked this dumb stuff. It was a rallying point, I wanted to be like these guys because they made me feel like I was free to be myself. In the days before their return with “The Green Album,” I couldn’t get enough Weezer. And so an internet search for “bands like Weezer” brought me to Ozma.
It would be easy to call Ozma a Weezer sound-alike, but that would be unfair and inaccurate. The guitars have a similar sound, and Ozma certainly had no qualms about dropping references to Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and most of all, Back To the Future. Their lyrics can be quirky, perhaps awkward at times, but carry a more youthful urgency, their compositions are more intricate, and the inclusion of keyboards gives the 90s power pop sound a nostalgic 80s touch, appropriate as In Search of 1988 is about the desire to go back. Yes, Ozma is where that idea starts for me.
Assembling a list of songs to start with would be impossible for me. Instead I offer five songs that serve as personal milestones for me and why I love this criminally underrated band.
1. Domino Effect
The first song off of their debut, Rock and Roll Part Three, Domino Effect was probably the first Ozma song I’d heard and is an excellent introduction. It’s up, it rocks, the keys (as always) make it unique and it shows how these kids would not be confined to simple four-chord arrangements.
There’s a reason why I don’t go for the majority of pop culture references in any medium, and that’s because Lorraine does it so well. Yeah, it’s a song about Lea Thompson’s character in Back To the Future, but it uses the reference as a framework to do its own thing in. That’s the first time I saw anything like that, and I much prefer it than the geeky reference made that winks at the audience as if to say, “See how geeky we are?” And for a song that mentions partying like it’s 1955, the chord progression is perfect.
3. Game Over
Another song framed in references, Game Over is like a song of heartbreak set in the NES era. I’m including the acoustic version here, but there was also a full band version on their second album, and my favorite, Spending Time on the Borderline. This video was included on Kung Fu Records version of Rock and Roll Part Three (yeah, didn’t mention it, but Rock and Roll Part Three was funded and distributed by the band themselves, and Lorraine was released on cassette tape).
So I was going to include a different song here, but man, the other day while I was driving home and this came on and it just hit me like a ton of bricks. Which is how it first hit me 17 or so years ago. Not many songs have that kind of staying power with me, so it seemed an obvious choice. Tell me the beginning and end doesn’t sound like something out of Final Fantasy. And I love…love the callback to Domino Effect at the end. Just a tremendous song from start to finish.
5. Light Years Will Burn
Did I mention narrowing down five Ozma songs was impossible? I could just keep going, but I’ll wrap it up with this one. The last song on Spending Time on the Borderline has some killer lyrics with a science fiction bent (“It seals my fate in the great figure eight” is so cool). Musically, I want to watch a Tron movie that looks like how this sounds…if that makes any sense. This is only song from Spending Time that I put on this list, but really, it is my favorite Ozma record and this song wraps it up perfectly. That bit on the end does just go on and on, but this is a song that talks an awful lot about time after all.
This list doesn’t cover anything from The Double Donkey Disc, Pasadena, or Boomtown, but those are really great, too, and as I said, I could go on. I’m also really fond of bass player Daniel Brummel’s band, Sanglorians, who I desperately hope puts out another album. Ozma has been a constant cornerstone in my life for almost 20 years now. They’re usually present in the best times of my life, they kept my foot tapping during some of my lowest points, and they’ve been like a secret club for just my brother and I, as out here in Connecticut, Ozma fans are hard to find. Not that that matters to me, since if the last 17-some-odd years are any indication, I’m probably going to come back to these songs for the rest of my days. Picking a favorite band seems a herculean task, too big of a concept for me to settle on, but Ozma could be as close to one as I’d be willing to make.