The author's signed copy of the Eraserheads' debut album, here in compact disc form. Courtesy of the author.
Culture Music

Ultraelectromagneticpop! is not the best Eraserheads album, but certainly the most important

On the occasion of the legendary album’s remastered release on vinyl, 26 years after it first rocked the world, an initially reluctant fan recalls the year “Ligaya” first came around
Vernon B. Sarne | Dec 08 2019

I can still remember the first time I heard Ultraelectromagneticpop! A friend in Baclaran was playing a cassette at the small sari-sari store right across our house. He particularly wanted me to hear a song that featured the most common cuss phrase in Tagalog. A couple of listens later, I was convinced this was merely some novelty band belting out novelty songs in the tradition of Bert Dominic’s “Bikining Itim.” The instruments sounded raw and somewhat discordant, and the lead vocalist reminded me of the loud barker at the nearby jeepney queue. I examined the album cover and saw four nondescript guys who would fit right in our tough neighborhood. They didn’t look like jeepney barkers—they were the jeepney drivers the barker was trying to dispatch.

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That, more or less, was my first impression of the Eraserheads and their maiden commercial album. Bear in mind that this was in 1993. Which meant that the recent Filipino bands my generation had been exposed to were the Dawn and Neocolours. The former had tried their best to sound as New Wave as their electronic keyboards allowed them to; the latter had decided to replace Air Supply as the country’s principal source of beerhouse love songs. And so, being introduced to a local rock band whose members could pass for the roving barangay marshals in our area—and whose songs had neither the polished refinement of studio musicians nor the easy appeal of pop tunes—was weird. Very weird.

Ultraelectromagneticpop! was clickbait in a time when the term didn’t even exist. The album’s name itself had been lifted from Voltes V—the target audience’s favorite giant robot from the late ’70s. The predominantly white cover included a ‘parental advisory’ that warned: “Some songs may not be suitable for children (but there isn’t anything in this album that your kids haven’t heard before).” Then scan the track list and you’d encounter such titles as “Ganjazz” and “Tindahan Ni Aling Nena.” Clearly, there was nothing “Enveloped Ideas” or “Say You’ll Never Go” about this album. And you just had to get a copy so you could listen to it in the quiet of your room (or through the worn-out earphones of your even more decrepit Walkman).

Ultraelectromagneticpop! was clickbait in a time when the term didn’t even exist. The album’s name itself had been lifted from Voltes V—the target audience’s favorite giant robot from the late ’70s.

I will say this: The album had a tendency to preach. “Easy Ka Lang” asked the mostly amused listener to keep his cool. “Maling Akala” told him to stop believing things before verifying them. And “Shake Yer Head” incited him to refuse “all the dog food” that the establishment made. And yet early and fast-multiplying fans felt empowered without feeling like a sermon was being drilled into their noggin. It was just like downing gin pomelo while your best friend did his best to knock much-needed sense into you. 

“They didn’t look like jeepney barkers—they were the jeepney drivers the barker was trying to dispatch.” The Eraserheads early in their career, aboard a UP Ikot Jeep, enroute to a gig. Photograph by Regiben Romana

These pep talks wrapped as rock numbers were also enough to let you know that the Eraserheads weren’t stupid punks who had recorded an LP all because they had nothing better to do. They were enough to make you go out of your way to read up on the band members and learn that they were from the University of the Philippines—that there was something special about this group, and you were actually witnessing the onset of a historic journey.

“Shirley” and “Combo On The Run,” meanwhile, showed the quartet could perform proper rock songs. Not unike the Beatles dishing out “Hey Bulldog” and “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” just to silence critics who accused them of being soft and soppy.

But the real gems in the album were those that tackled youthful, hopeless love. The romantic kind, of course. In fact, it would be these three songs that proved the most popular and most enduring of the lot. “Toyang” borrowed melodies from Nat King Cole and Paul McCartney, and kicked off with the now-iconic intro: “This-this-this song is all about love...” “Ligaya” used colloquial street words like “isaw” and “tansan” as lyrics while adorably whining about a girl’s indifference. But it was “Pare Ko” that made Ely Buendia, Raymund Marasigan, Buddy Zabala and Marcus Adoro household names. It quickly became the anthem for lovelorn souls who related to the ballad’s desperate cry for help in the face of unrequited romance. Shots of Tanduay had never tasted better.

It was “Pare Ko” that made Ely Buendia, Raymund Marasigan, Buddy Zabala and Marcus Adoro household names. It quickly became the anthem for lovelorn souls who related to the ballad’s desperate cry for help in the face of unrequited romance.

Any person with a modicum of appreciation for good music will—no, should—admit that Ultraelectromagneticpop! is a world-class work of art. It was exactly the seminal force the Philippine music industry needed at a time when Pinoy fans were starting to get hooked on boy bands and rappers. The funny thing is that it isn’t even the Eraserheads’ best album—that would be Cutterpillow—but it was definitely the most important. Without it, the Itchyworms, Sugarfree and Orange and Lemons probably didn’t happen. But they and many others did. Thanks to four regular dudes who dared to pick up guitars and drumsticks, and make magical (if raucous and irreverent) tunes with them.

More than a quarter of a century later, Ultraelectromagneticpop! remains fresh, inventive, optimistic and happy. You have no idea how many parents, teachers, politicians, journalists, even cops today survived adolescence (and even adulthood) because of this masterpiece. Never miss a chance to own a copy in whatever format you fancy whenever an opportunity presents itself. You will need it much later in life to make turmeric tea more palatable.