The story of Kent, Ohio’s Human Switchboard would make a great screenplay — a trio of Velvet Underground devotees start a band, get signed, release one critically acclaimed, but low-selling LP … after splitting, the founder/lead singer works his way up through the record industry to become president of a major label … only to be charged and sent to jail for hiring a detective to tap his girlfriend’s telephone.
Okay, maybe a slightly diverting Lifetime movie.
Human Switchboard formed in the mid-’70s and released a single mixed by Pere Ubu’s David Thomas that caught the attention of IRS Records, whose Faulty Products division put out the band’s debut album, Who’s Landing In My Hangar? Driven by the Lou Reed-isms of vocalist/guitarist Robert Pfeifer and the farfisa of singer Myrna Marcarian, Hangar is a modernized New Wave salute to the Velvets without falling into the trap of being solely derivative. In fact, songs like “(Say No To) Saturday’s Girl” (download) laid the groundwork for bands like 10,000 Maniacs — it’s tough to hear this without suspecting Natalie Merchant once owned a copy as well.
Pfeifer’s angular guitar work and tense, twitchy vocals give songs like the title track “Who’s Landing In My Hangar” (download) a slightly Elvis Costello feel and a punk aggression the Velvets never quite approached, while the expansive art rock of “Refrigerator Door” (download) recall that band’s spacier moments (complete with a section sung in Slavic tongue!).
Here’s the band performing “Who’s Landing In My Hangar” at NYC’s Peppermint Lounge in 1981 (note to the people who jump onstage to dance: we’re not here to see you, thanks):
After Human Switchboard broke up, Pfiefer went into A&R, eventually working his way to President of Hollywood Records, where he’s credited with bringing the Queen catalog to that label with great success. Unfortunately, that was nearly his only success there, and he was fired after three or so years. Years later, Pfeifer was implicated in the seemingly never-ending trial of Hollywood “Detective of the Star” Anthony Pellicano, accused of hiring Pellicano to wiretap his girlfriend’s phone. Here’s a crazy LA Times story that sums up the whole bizarre case.
Marcarian has had a far less dramatic journey since Human Switchboard’s split, fronting NYC band Ruby on the Vine alongside Switchboard drummer Ron Metz (who has since left the band).
None of the songs charted.