The Young Fresh Fellows

Young Fresh Fellows ThemeThe Fabulous Sounds ...
This Little MysteryThe Fabulous Sounds ...
Hang Out RightTopsy Turvy
Sharing Patrol ThemeTopsy Turvy
When The Girls Get HereThe Men Who Loved Music
Still There's HopeThis One's For The Ladies
Miss LonelyheartsThis One's For The Ladies
She Sees ColorIt's Low Beat Time
Go Blue Angels GoI Think This Is
Never Had It BadToxic Youth

Young Fresh Fellows photo 1



YFF playlist


Contributor: Marc Fagel

Seattle’s Young Fresh Fellows have been recording on and off since the mid-1980s. The feel-good party band blends 60s-styled garage rock with power pop and jangle pop, all infused with a heavy dose of humor and clever whimsy. In recent years, the frequency of their output has been captive to the schedule of primary singer and songwriter Scott McCaughey, arguably the busiest man in indie rock—in addition to the Fellows, he also leads the slightly-more-straight indie pop act The Minus 5, as well as countless other musical collaborations (which include The Baseball Project, Filthy Friends, and The No Ones). McCaughey was also a de facto member of R.E.M. in their later years, and R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck is a frequent member of McCaughey’s various bands.

But McCaughey still returns to his original quartet from time to time (most recently in 2020), and the line-up has remained relatively consistent over the decades, including bassist Jim Sangster, hyperkinetic drummer Tad Hutchison, and guitarist Kurt Bloch, who took over from original guitarist Chuck Carroll after the Fellows’ first few records and has served double-duty with the more pop-punk Fastbacks.

The band’s 1984 debut, The Fabulous Sounds Of The Pacific Northwest, remains an absolute hoot. The cover art looks like a circa-1950s tourism brochure for undiscovered pre-grunge Seattle, with the songs broken up by spoken-word tour-guide interludes. Musically, it’s a little raw, more lo-fi and garage-like than later work (indeed, the bass guitar is all but entirely absent from the recording, leaving listeners to close their eyes and imagine how it might have sounded if properly recorded). And lyrically, it’s often joke-oriented, something the band would gradually ease back on over subsequent albums. But it’s silly in a relentlessly fun and disarming way. The Young Fresh Fellows Theme is a tongue-in-cheek introduction to the band (“they don’t act so cool, they’re just regular Joes”), incongruously tacked on at the end. Tunes like This Little Mystery and Think Better Of Me are perfectly crafted pop nuggets, #1 AM radio hits from a cooler universe; while the no less poppy Big House and A Humble Guy have a few laugh-out-loud moments and clever lyrical turns. It’s a more rough and ragged affair than what followed, but holds up as a winning Nuggets-indebted debut.


They took a big leap forward with 1985’s Topsy Turvy, my personal favorite (helpfully paired with the debut on a single CD). Yes, there’s audible bass this time, but beyond the improved sound quality, the music is simply better and much more varied – still deeply indebted to the 60s, but with more sophisticated pop and psychedelic touches than found on the debut. The humor is intact – Hang Out Right offers faux Dylan folk, taking a light-hearted dig at collegiate apathy, while the Who-like rocker How Much About Last Night Do You Remember peers through the hangover at last night’s break-up. Searching USA mixes light touches with more ambitious lyrical sweep, while Sharing Patrol Theme is particularly striking, a brief suite that moves from a trippy, psychedelic introduction into a whistle-along pop anthem. It’s an almost absurdly accomplished record for a young band, and in a just world would be recognized as one of the most interesting indie albums of the 80s.


1987’s The Men Who Loved Music falls somewhere between the first two records, a blend of straightforward retro-rock and the more sophisticated, lyrically cunning pop of Topsy Turvy. They got a bit of airplay with the rollicking Amy Grant, a somewhat pointed mockery of the then-popular pop-gospel singer; it’s wickedly funny, not to mention insanely catchy, but in hindsight feels a bit too mean-spirited. When The Girls Get Here revives the joyous silliness of the first album, a modest little geek anthem, while My Friend Ringo, written by the late Charlie Chesterman (of fellow college radio heroes Scruffy the Cat), is a surprisingly poignant (yet still rocking) tune. The CD release appends some EP tracks and B-sides, including the cheeky Beer Money, which makes some jabs at indie bands accepting commercial sponsorships (an almost quaint concept these days). “Touring’s a breeze since you became our sponsor, it’s those corporate dollars that help us to get it on sir!”

The next record, 1988’s Totally Lost, loses some of the band’s whimsy, the songs largely played straight. It’s still got its winning pop flourishes, most notably the heartfelt Failure and slower songs like Take My Brain Away, but the garage band vibe is a little less impactful this time around.

The pop-punk chops of Fastbacks guitarist Kurt Bloch, who joined the band for 1989’s This One’s For The Ladies, gives the Fellows a fresh jolt. It’s not much of a departure musically, the merger of power-pop and 60s garage rock feeling pretty second nature by now, but the band feels engaged. The Bloch-penned Still There’s Hope, which unsurprisingly sounds a lot like a Fastbacks tune, is terrific, a straightforward rocker but with a killer pop hook in the chorus. McCaughey rises to the occasion as well, the power-chord-driven Miss Lonelyhearts balancing his humor with some surprisingly sweet touches. A faithful cover of the Kinks’ Picture Book is a nice touch as well.


Ladies was followed in quick succession by 1991’s Electric Bird Digest and 1992’s It’s Low Beat Time. They stay largely in the same lane, with Bloch’s punkish electricity woven through McCaughey’s relentlessly catchy power pop tracks. Plenty of joyously fun tunes to be found, though Low Beat’s She Sees Color, with its driving, distorted guitars backing an infectious pop tune, is particularly winning.

The band then disappeared for an extended sabbatical, as McCaughey devoted more time to The Minus 5 and other projects, not to mention touring with R.E.M. They returned for 2001’s Because We Hate You, which was paired with a new Minus 5 release (Let The War Against Music Begin) as a sort of split-CD battle-of-the-bands. The stylistic differences between the two aren’t exactly huge; the Minus 5 tracks are arguably a little more sophisticated than the Fellows’ more stripped-down rock, though a pretty good number of tunes could’ve easily been exchanged. Indeed, McCaughey’s time with his other bands shows through on Hate You, the music much more varied and toned down than the harder-rocking 90s records. It’s one of the band’s finest works (whether heard alone or in tandem with the Minus 5 disc), songs like the keyboard-driven Fuselage and the lighthearted riff-rocker Barky’s Spiritual Store showing the Fellows stretching out a bit. The record doesn’t stream, and I’ve omitted any entries from my Top 10, but is absolutely worth checking out.

Since their 2001 return, the Young Fresh Fellows have been much more of an on-again/off-again project for McCaughey, appearing every few years (it would be another eight years until the next one) with a reliably solid record – maybe nothing quite as consistent and colorful as Topsy Turvy or Hate You, but always including a couple stand-out tracks perfect for your next mixtape. If you’re looking for a quick hit of cheesy fun, you can do a lot of worse than, say, Go Blue Angels Go off 2009’s I Think This Is.

McCaughey suffered a serious stroke in 2017 and spent over a week in intensive care. Any suggestion that this might slow him down was short-lived; since then, the almost comically productive musician has managed not just another Young Fresh Fellows record (2020’s Toxic Youth being the most recent, highlighted by the hooky Never Had It Bad), but at least a half dozen releases. These including the Minus 5’s Stroke Manor (written in the hospital!), a couple solo records (as Scott the Hoople), a second Filthy Friends record (fronted by Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker), and an excellent LP with The No Ones (McCaughey, Peter Buck, and members of Norwegian jangle pop band I Was A King).

The Fellows have a number of semi-official releases in their discography as well (we’ve been promised a box set) and some live albums, but, incongruously, have yet to release any sort of retrospective compilation.



Young Fresh Fellows poster 2




Young Fresh Fellows official website

Young Fresh Fellows (Wikipedia)

Young Fresh Fellows discography at Faded Flannel

YFF albums – Trouser Press overview

2020 article on YFF at
“Young Fresh Fellows paved the way for Seattle music scene 35 years ago”

The Minus 5 official website

Scott the Hoople bandcamp

Young Fresh Fellows biography (AllMusic)

Marc Fagel is a semi-retired securities lawyer living outside San Francisco with his wife and his obscenely oversized music collection. He is the author of the rock lover’s memoir “Jittery White Guy Music”. His daily ruminations on random albums in his collection can be seen on his blog of the same name, or by following him on twitter.

Marc’s previous posts include Josh Ritter, The Hold Steady, Game Theory, The Reivers, The Shazam, Guided by Voices, The Connells, Big Audio Dynamite, Sleater-Kinney, Liz Phair, Elephant 6, Apples in Stereo, Sweet, The Bats, Matthew Sweet, Badfinger, New Pornographers, Bettie Serveert, Flaming Lips, Neil Young, My Morning Jacket, Raveonettes, Phish, Luna, Jesus and Mary Chain, Feelies, Genesis, Wilco, King Crimson, Brian Eno

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