“Yuppie Drone”: The Pheromones’ & the serious business of American-style free speech and satire

By on August 9, 2017

Night Flight’s “Take Off to Big Bucks” episode collected a variety of music videos that were focused, in one way or another, on the 1980s’ infatuation with wealth, excess and greed, including the Pheromones’ “Yuppie Drone,” which lampooned “greed-is-good” corporate drones and their empty careerism and materialist desires.

The episode — originally airing on April 15, 1988 — is now streaming on our Night Flight Plus channel, and don’t worry, be happy, we’re going to tell you how you can become a member of our exclusive club a little further down.

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Jimmy and Al Pheromone, photo by legendary Woodstock photographer Elliott Landy

According to their own bio, the Pheromones “took on the right wing, the arms industry, lawyers, yuppies and the makers of non-dairy coffee creamers, with hilarious songs, gaffs, jokes, and pink balloons.”

“Theirs was the serious business of American-style free speech and satire,” their bio also tells us.

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The Pheromones were a Bethesda, Maryland-based politically-tinged satirical folk-pop duo comprised of Jimmy Pheromone (James J. Patterson) and Alvis Pheromone (Alan “Al” Johnson), the latter typically playing straight man to his curly-locked and mustachioed “brother from another mother” who — much like the audiences at their shows — often found himself laughing along with Jimmy’s comic antics.

It was the short-haired former WHFS DJ Al Johnson, in fact, who directed the video for “Yuppie Drone,” which appears to have been shot in and around the Washington D.C. area (their own bio refers to D.C. as “the epicenter of chicanery and peccadillious depravity”).

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Read more about the ‘Mones and “Yuppie Drone” below.

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It used to be that calling a full-time male employee a “drone” was like calling them a worker bee: someone who works all day and then brings his hard-earned income home to a woman (and possibly their family too), fully understanding that he’s merely a “wage slave” who has just the one job to do, bring the money back to the beehive.

“Yuppie Drone,” however, seems to be specifically about yuppies — an ’80s term for “young, urban professional” — or someone typically fresh out of college with a high-paying job and an affluent, self-centered bachelor pad lifestyle and the purchasing power to go with it.

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More recently, yuppie seems to have just become a word describing the nouveau riche men who have recently acquired wealth, but also lack good taste, and they can’t wait to show off the new outlandish items they’ve bought not realizing what a fool they’re making of themselves by displaying it for everyone to see what shitty taste they have.

Ostentatiousness seems to have been at the heart of the lyrics for “Yuppie Drone,” too, the first verse comprised nearly entirely with a list of recent purchases made, including stereo equipment (a TEAC 4100, a Sansui 3660, etc.), a townhouse with pool and rec room, and a BMW with a personalized license plate (“Sparky”).

The song’s chorus says it all: “I love my car and house.”

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Subsequent other verses list other work and lifestyle-related choices, like carpooling in morning traffic, working for a large corporation (“that treats me like POOP”), wearing a suit and tie every day, and, finally, meeting up with his “lady-person,” with whom he shares a lot of common interests, including cocaine (“TOOT”), jogging and jacuzzis, margaritas and (egads!) Jimmy Buffett.

The lyrics also offer up a liberal political perspective that fits the Yuppie persona to a “T”:

“I trusted George in ’72, hated Tricky Dicky with a passion/Championed the poor down-trodden masses, don’t call me middle-class/What’s mine is mine, I don’t like war, but the bread is good/Ronnie’s not so bad as Fritz or Carter’s hicks/Right is new, left is out, twist and shout.”)

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That “Ronnie’s not so bad” reference is perfect, meaning that then-president Ronald Reagan — who was, at the time the song was first being performed, still in his first term — wasn’t turning out to be such a bad president after all, which was a very Yuppie thing to say in the mid-80s (pre-Iran Contra affair and Alzheimer’s, anyway).

The Pheromones had at least one other song about Ronald Reagan, “The Great Rondini,” in which Reagan was lampooned (“Who can lower taxes while spending more and more? / Who can send in troops without involving us in war?”).

“Yuppie Drone” was a single, first self-released by the ‘Mones in 1982, and it had a long run in heavy rotation on Dr. Demento’s radio show during the decade.

It was later the title track for their 7-track mini-album, released in 1985 on the PVC label (a now-defunct imprint of Passport Records, formed in 1978 and based out of New Jersey, and distributed by JEM).

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Some of their other song titles include: “L-L-Liberal,” “This Speech is Free,” “Shy Kidneys,” “(It Ain’t Easy Bein’) Green” (about “environmental correctness”), and “The Supreme Court.”

One critic once described their giggle-rock output by saying their “socially-conscious folk-pop and straightforwardly silly novelty songs” struck a balance somewhere between “Timbuk 3 and Weird Al Yankovic.”

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Between 1982 and 1994, the ‘Mones performed upwards of two hundred nights a year, and, according to their bio, criss-crossed North America on tours in the ’80s and ’90s “lampooning the local clergy and constabulary and anyone else who fell into their satirical cross-hairs.”

They recorded four “major” albums — Collateral Damage even offered up the sequel “Yuppie Drone II (The Final Chapter),” a pop song to usher out the I, Me, Mine decade — and, all total, made eight music videos.

Night Flight’s “Take Off to Big Bucks” collects a variety of music videos — by Talking Heads, Madonna, Pet Shop Boys, and more — which all focused, in one way or another, on the 80s decade’s infatuation with wealth, excess and greed, featuring videos. It’s now streaming on our Night Flight Plus channel.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.