Although the Dentists were arguably the first Brit-pop band, they never were able to capitalize when the style they'd perfected over the course of a decade suddenly became the Next Big Thing around 1994. Their signature sound, a combination of Mick Murphy's veddy British voice and Bob Collins' hyperactively jangly guitar, has been duplicated many times over, but it's never quite been equaled.
The Dentists formed in their native Chatham, a small town in rural Kent, in 1983; the original lineup comprised Murphy, Collins, bassist Mark Matthews, and drummer Ian Smith. Their first single, "Strawberries Are Growing in My Garden (And It's Wintertime)," was released on the tiny indie Spruck Records in 1985. A neo-freakbeat masterpiece that sounds like it could have been recorded in 1967, "Strawberries" remained the Dentists' best-known and most beloved song for the rest of their career. That early peak was quickly followed by the album Some People Are on the Pitch They Think It's All Over It Is Now (the title taken from the famous end of the 1966 World Cup final won by England) and the six-song EP You and Your Bloody Oranges, which have no overlapping tracks. The album titles, matched with songs like "One of Our Psychedelic Beakers is Missing" and "Where's My Chicken, You Bastard," made the group out to be a bunch of paisley-clad goofballs in some reviewers' eyes, a mistaken first impression that never entirely went away.
Smith left the group in early 1986, replaced by the equally anonymously named Alun Jones. In contrast to their exceptionally busy first year of recordings, the quartet only managed two EPs in 1986 and 1987, Down and Out in Paris and Chatham and Writhing on the Shagpile. In 1988, the Belgian label Antler released a CD compiling the best parts of all the previous releases minus Some People Are on the Pitch and Beer Bottle and Bannister Symphonies: A Collection of Some of the Finer Moments of Dentistry. The label followed this with an EP's worth of new material, The Fun Has Arrived.
Oddly, for a band that had been so productive in the early years of their career, the Dentists all but disappeared for over two years at this point, only contributing one new track, "Snapdragon," to the compilation Time Will Show the Wiser in 1989. However, when they reappeared in 1991 with the new album Heads and How to Read Them, the Dentists launched a new and even busier phase of their career. Besides a pair of singles extracted from the album, both with excellent and otherwise unavailable B-sides, the Dentists landed exclusive tracks on a number of compilations and finally began an attempt to introduce themselves to the American market, which they had so far ignored. A 10" EP, Naked, compiled seven rarities from 1986 and 1987, most of them previously unreleased. This was followed in 1992 by Dressed, a 22-track CD of other songs from the 1985-1987 era, containing nearly all of Some People Are on the Pitch and the best moments from the EPs. (There's a fair amount of overlap with the 1988 Belgian CD.)
Along with that spate of reissues, the Dentists released a series of three thematically linked singles on three different indie labels, each with a poem by John Hegley on the B-side. The songs (but unfortunately, not the poems) were compiled in 1993 on the U.S. release Powdered Lobster Fiasco, along with re-recorded versions of several other songs from the preceding five years. New drummer Rob Grigg replaced Jones starting with these singles. Later in 1993, the Dentists unexpectedly signed with a major American label, the East/West division of Atlantic. Although this proved to be as unlikely a pairing as it sounded (East/West was primarily an R&B imprint), the label immediately went to work on establishing its indie credibility by releasing a box set of three 7" singles, Bigbangredshiftblackholes, which included several tracks from their upcoming album and a clutch of demos, rehearsal versions, and otherwise unavailable songs.
That album, 1994's Behind the Door I Keep the Universe, turned out to be one of the Dentists' best, but it unfortunately stiffed completely despite East/West's best promotional efforts, which included a hard to find but extremely cool hour-long promo disc called Radio Novocaine, featuring the Dentists playing some of their favorite recent singles and interviewing each other. Apparently disillusioned, the Dentists made the unwise decision of having New York City noise rock maestro Wharton Tiers produce 1995's Deep Six. Tiers layers the songs with unnecessary guitar grunge and the tempos are uncharacteristically sluggish. It's a dispiriting record with an unfortunately accurate title. After its release and subsequent commercial failure, East/West dropped the Dentists. Collins called it a day, retiring from the music business; Murphy, Matthews, and Grigg found a new guitarist and formed the short-lived Coax. ~ Stewart Mason, Rovi