Chain Gang's indie classic out on vinyl 30 years later

Rick Olivares

Posted at Mar 30 2023 11:18 AM

Chain Gang back in the '90s
Chain Gang back in the '90s

“You want to rerelease what?”

Chain Gang, that all-female indie pop rock band from back in the early 1990s, couldn’t believe their ears.

“You want to release 'Smelly Smiley Stinky Dinkies' on vinyl?”

Uh huh.

Most bands would jump in glee at the mere suggestion of putting out their music in today’s hottest musical format.

Not these girls – Mae Reyes (guitars), Dorcas Mallare (drums), Aye Ubaldo (bass), and Naomi Villa (vocals) – who collectively wondered, “But why?”

“Who would want to buy our music?”

“Are you sure it is not the Manila heat that has gotten to you?”

Too late.

Thirty years after the release of 100 copies of "Smelly Smiley Stinky Dinkies" on cassette, the music of Chain Gang – that made the Top 10 Charts of both 99.5 RT and Kiss-FM as well as NU107 – is now available on glorious white vinyl courtesy of Backspacer Records.

“Mae Reyes (guitar) is pleased that Rick Olivares even came up with the idea of releasing it on vinyl for the first time and for a new generation of fans to discover them,” related Aye Ubaldo

“Dorcas (drums) thinks it’s wild. It never occurred to her to have the album resurfacing in classic vinyl form. She says it’s genius. And though she is a little skeptical about reintroducing the songs to today’s audience, as every generation leans towards its own “stamp” in music with only time to tell us whether or not folks take to it, she looks forward to being proven wrong.” 

This was pre-Eraserheads’ explosion when the band became “the house band” of the old Red Rocks in Timog. 

Regarding how the band forme: Mae blames Maia, a good friend since high school. In college, Maia, Aye (bass) and Naomi (vocals) were in the same classes. Then there was Aye’s friend Kat Palasi (who was one of the founder of the old Red Rocks club) who introduced her to Dorcas from Baguio, studying Fine Arts in UP Diliman. Dorcas was looking for musicians to form an all-girl rock band. The good old word-of-mouth networking, among friends of friends, may have taken a while, but Naomi wouldn’t have been able to say how long the search was on for because she was the last one to join the group. 

By sheer luck, Kat was residing in the house of Naomi’s friend, Paul, a dancer and theater director, who introduced her as a singer. “How would you like to sing for a rock band?” Kat asked. Well, as it was only Naomi’s dream in life at the time, why not?

Added Reyes, “Our first bass player was Chinky Sanga, who had some experience playing in other bands. Dorcas was already notorious for her drumming. We all met that first time at the occult section of National Bookstore. We played mostly Fridays/Saturdays at Red Rocks along Scout Tobias in the Timog area of Quezon City, and other gigs, and a live radio gig via NU 107, I remember.”

Chain Gang initially covered the Pretenders, Jefferson Airplane, Joan Jett, Nicolette Larson, as well as Dire Straits, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Rolling Stones and the Beatles.

The girls came up with a version of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” that started off grindingly slowly, then settled to its original driving pace. The audience seemed to like it., and as a result, Chain Gang included that rock and roll classic into their live repertoire. 

Speaking of repertoire, added Ubaldo, “And what’s a respectable rock band if they didn’t have in their repertoire Black Sabbath, Krokus, AC/DC and Led Zeppelin?” 

Not long after that, Chain Gang began writing original songs that were recorded on a demo cassette and sent to a couple of radio stations. 

“We were surprised (but grateful and excited) that they played ‘What’s Ahead,’ bared Reyes. “People seemed to like the song (as it made the station countdowns) but could not find a physical copy to buy. This made us come up with this crazy idea of recording an album since we already had a bunch of songs.”

Reyes took care of the recording expenses, recording schedules, choice of studio, mixing—all the fun stuff – although she admits though that coming up with the cassettes, the printing, and the management of the project was intimidating. 

Aye took care of logistics. And because she was with Warner Philippines at the time, she was able to access one of the suppliers for cassettes. 

Dorcas, the visual artist of the group and taking up advertising for her day job, was in charge of the art work, the concept and the title of the album. The girls wanted the lyrics in there, so she had them scribbled in magnifying-glass sized words. The lyrics were so tiny that they looked strung together even though they weren’t. 

Chain Gang

The first batch of "Smelly Smiley Stinky Dinkies" on cassette came out in 1993, and it promptly sold out. 

Now, the album, a certified underground classic, is out on vinyl, after two years of discussing, hedging, and finally charging full steam ahead. 

And the girls are happy that Smelly Smiley Stinky Dinkies is given another chance to be heard. A gift to both the band and its fans – a 30th anniversary edition. 

Summed up Ubaldo, “Vinyl lives forever, baby.”