The Mosquitos: Rescuing Their Liverpool-via-Long Island Sound

The Mosquitos should have gone all the way. In the ‘80s they were part of the same ‘60s-influenced crowd as The Smithereens and had just as convincing a combo of contemporary power-pop appeal and British Invasion influences. One of their songs even beat that band to the Top 40, but they broke up without ever releasing an album.

Nearly four decades later, that wrong has finally been righted. The double album this then are The Mosquitos! presents pretty much the band’s entire repertoire in previously unreleased live and studio settings. “Our fans thought there was a great Mosquitos album to be made,” says singer/organist Tony Million$. “So, they hounded us for the last 37 years to release something! And when I say fans, I mean in particular the two guys I worked on this project with—Blair Buscareno and Bill Jones.”

From the remains of two Long Island bands—Quisp and The Fabians—came the lads (some still teens at the time) who formed The Mosquitos in late summer 1981. From Huntington and Northport, variously, came prime mover Vance Brescia (vocals, guitar), Steven Prisco (guitar), Iain Morrison (bass), Pat Bishow (drums), and Million$ on Farfisa and vocals. Except for Mitch Towse replacing Bishow in late ‘83, the lineup would remain unchanged for the duration of the band.

The Mosquitos shared a set of influences from the start. “Vance, myself, Steve, and Iain all liked British invasion and power pop,” says Million$. Besides the obligatory Fabs influence, they were inspired by The Big Three, The Monkees, Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, The Merseybeats, The Standells, The Kinks, The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, and more.

Even their choice of name was in keeping with their mid-’60s influences. “Vance was a fan of Gilligan’s Island,” reports Million$, “and there was a shipwrecked band on one of the shows called The Mosquitoes, with an “e” at the end. Since they were fictitious, we thought it would be okay.”

At the time, the mainstream didn’t show much interest in the sounds of the ‘60s, but there was a movement swelling up from the underground that embraced the values of Merseybeat, psychedelia, and all the things beloved by The Mosquitos. The band eventually found itself at the center of a NY/NJ scene that included the likes of the aforementioned Smithereens, The Cheepskates, The Vipers, The Tryfles, The Fuzztones, The Raunch Hands, The Secret Service, and many more.

“The scene was pretty tight,” recalls Million$. “We played with and had a pretty close relationship with The Tryfles, Vipers—some members came from Northport as well—Smithereens, among others. In the beginning, our sound was a little more raw-sounding and so we kind of got lumped into the ‘garage scene,’ which I never felt was a problem.”

The Mosquitos put on a powerhouse live show and developed a loyal regional following. But prime placement on a national compilation helped give the band a boost. Music journalist Jeff Tamarkin was editing record collectors’ bible Goldmine when he oversaw the magazine’s 1985 Garage Sale compilation, which featured The Mosquitos amid similarly minded acts from across the country.

“In the mid-’80s I was getting bored with the whole post-punk/new wave thing,” remembers Tamarkin, “and I heard a song on WFMU radio that made my brain jump into my lap. It sounded just like the classic Nuggets-style garage-band rock that I loved when I was growing up in the ’60s. I called the station to find out who it was by and they said, ‘A Long Island band called the Mosquitos.’ I happened to be putting together a compilation cassette tape of new ’60s-style garage bands and I knew right away that that track would have to lead it off. It was exactly what I was looking for. And besides, I had once been the drummer in a Long Island garage band myself—we actually rehearsed in my garage! So ‘Darn Well’ by the Mosquitos became the first track on the tape.”

Things were looking up for The Mosquitos. The release led to a show at NYC’s renowned, 1,200-capacity Irving Plaza. And that same year they released a five-song EP, That Was Then, This Is Now, which showed the band’s evolution from Merseybeat/garage stylings to a more timeless power-pop approach. “As we morphed from ‘garage’ into power pop,” reckons Million$, “it kind of fit right in with other indie bands of the time like The Bangles, The Three O’Clock, XTC, etc.”

The band was touring up and down the East Coast, increasing their profile, but they got perhaps their biggest leg up in a completely unexpected way. The Monkees had reunited (sans Mike Nesmith) to capitalize on a revival of interest, and Arista Records was assembling a greatest-hits collection with a few new tracks. Somehow, a copy of That Was Then, This Is Now made its way to Arista Records, and its title track was chosen, reportedly by Clive Davis himself, to become the centerpiece of the 1986 Monkees release Then & Now… The Best of The Monkees. The song also gave The Monkees their first Top 40 hit since the ‘60s.

The next step ought to have been The Mosquitos’ full-length debut, maybe even on Arista. A number of different record deals were reportedly floated but none materialized, and in a classic example of rock ‘n’ roll unpredictability, The Mosquitos fell apart. The members would all go on to other bands, including Herman’s Hermits (Brescia), The Blue Beats (Prisco), The Fabulous Custodians (Million$), The House Pets (Bishow), The Hideaways (Towse), and The 1-4-5’s (Morrison). But the fans who’d been electrified by the band’s live shows never let go of the dream: a proper Mosquitos album.

At last, with the tireless efforts of super fans Blair Buscareno and Bill Jones, the dream has become a reality. This Then Are The Mosquitos is dominated by scrappy live recordings, but that turns out to be the ideal format for experiencing the band’s cannon-blast energy. “There was some surgery involved,” explains musician Mike Fornatale, who was drafted as co-producer and mastering engineer. And it’s no wonder—the 43 tracks were recorded all across the band’s career, everywhere from NYC music hubs like CBGB, The Ritz, and Irving Plaza to small Long Island clubs, a host of studios, and guitarist Steven Prisco’s house. “The source materials varied tremendously in quality,” confirms Fornatale. “A couple of songs had half of a second of the ending missing, and those had to be fixed. My self-imposed brief was to make every track sound like it ‘belonged’ with every other track.”

Mission accomplished. On the opening cut, The Mosquitos explode into earshot with a sweaty teardown of Bobby Comstock’s 1963 Feldman/Gottehrer/Goldstein-penned rocker “Let’s Stomp” (one of the very few covers here).

Amid such bursts of garage-rock glory, they spend a good portion of this collection suggesting what it might have sounded like if The Beatles were already hitting their songwriting stride while they were playing The Cavern Club or Hamburg’s Star Club. Such is The Mosquitos’ combination of unbridled energy, tunesmith savvy, and close, flawless vocal harmony.

Once songs like “You Don’t Give a Hang (About Me),” “I Know a Secret,” and “Put Your Foot Down” enter your head, they never depart, and you’re glad for the company. Where other bands might create expert ‘60s pastiche or homage, The Mosquitos were a bunch of ‘80s kids inexplicably blessed with the uncanny ability to turn out tunes that could easily have been mid-’60s beat classics.

But The Mosquitos were together long enough to grow as well, and tunes like “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,” “Christine,” and the band’s own version of “That Was Then, This Is Now” transcend the ‘60s influences to create pure power pop unbeholden to any one era. And an unplugged Folk City recording of the heartbreaking ballad “Stephanie Says” shows they were just as capable of turning acoustic and dreamy when the mood struck.

It would have been great for the band and their audience if The Mosquitos could have stuck around long enough to achieve the kind of renown some other ‘80s power poppers enjoyed, or even just to release an album. Alas, as the old maxim informs us, you can’t rewrite history. But this then are The Mosquitos! is the exception proving that once in a great while, you can.

 -Jim Allen

Fair Use image of this then are The Mosquitos

PS — While we’re on the topic of Rock History, you might enjoy our YouTube series of daily one-minute nuggets of memorable moments…

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Jim Allen's night job is fronting country band The Ramblin' Kind, rock band Lazy Lions, and working as a solo singer/songwriter. His day job is writing about other people's music. He has contributed to NPR, Billboard, RollingStone.com, and many more, and written liner notes for reissues of everyone from OMD to Bob Seger, but his proudest achievement is crafting a completely acceptable egg cream armed only with milk, Bosco, and a SodaStream seltzer maker.

1 comment on “The Mosquitos: Rescuing Their Liverpool-via-Long Island Sound

  1. Yay Vance! Now you really made it!

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