Too Much Joy was part of the explosion of collegiate comedy rock in the late '80s, distinguishing themselves with a more mature side than the Dead Milkmen and a simpler, speedier punk-pop approach than the arty King Missile. Starting out via the independent route, the band spent several years on a major label before drifting from view. Although they never had the breakout MTV novelty hit that some of their peers managed, they had an amusing ride along the way -- they were sued by Bozo the Clown over a sample, arrested in Florida for performing a set of 2 Live Crew songs, and had a song briefly adopted by Newt Gingrich's congressional campaign.
Too Much Joy were formed by four high-school friends in Scarsdale, NY, a mostly upper-middle-class suburb north of New York City in Westchester County. Vocalist Tim Quirk, guitarist Jay Blumenfield, bassist Sandy Smallens, and drummer Tommy Vinton first started playing together in 1981, when they were all in tenth grade. Calling themselves the Rave, their repertoire initially consisted of Clash covers, but they began to work in original material when they realized that their audience wouldn't know any better. When the quartet graduated from high school in 1983, they split to attend separate colleges, but kept the band going during their breaks from school, occasionally making self-financed recordings in a small studio. Eventually they settled on the name Too Much Joy, allegedly taken from a phrase Quirk had scribbled on paper while tripping on mushrooms.
Too Much Joy reunited to give music a real shot in 1987, when all of them had graduated from college, and compiled their recordings of the past four years into a debut album. Green Eggs and Crack was released by the small Stonegarden label that year, and the smart-alecky humor of songs like "Drum Machine" helped earn them a small collegiate following and a deal with the southern California indie Alias. Their second album, the more consistent and musically accomplished Son of Sam I Am, appeared in 1988, and featured a cover of LL Cool J's "That's a Lie." It also introduced the song "Clowns" with an unintentionally suggestive soundbite from a Bozo the Clown record; when the band explained the source of the sample in interviews, Bozo caught wind, sued them, and forced its removal from subsequent pressings of the album.
Son of Sam I Am earned Too Much Joy a major-label contract with Warner subsidiary Giant, which re-released the band's sophomore album in 1990. While waiting for their major-label debut, Cereal Killers, to be mixed for release, the band caught a news report on the arrest of the 2 Live Crew by Broward County authorities for performing obscene material. As a protest against censorship, Too Much Joy flew to Florida and performed a highly publicized club show on August 10 that featured a generous selection of songs from the 2 Live Crew's As Nasty as They Wanna Be album. They were duly arrested, thrown in jail for a night, and charged with obscenity, giving a substantial boost to the release of Cereal Killers in 1991. The single "Crush Story" was a college radio hit, and songs like "Long Haired Guys from England," "Theme Song," "King of Beers," and "Thanksgiving in Reno" helped expand their cult significantly. A supporting EP, Besides, coupled the album's core ballad, "Nothing on My Mind," with outtakes like the infamous "Take a Lot of Drugs."
Too Much Joy returned in 1992 with Mutiny, which found both their lyrics and musicianship heading down a more mature path (albeit with slightly less polished production than its slick-sounding predecessor). The lead single, "Donna Everywhere," got some more attention from college radio, but on the whole, the band's cleverly ironic sense of humor was much less in evidence, and some of the following they'd won with Cereal Killers began to lose interest. Giant dropped them in 1993, and bassist Smallens decided to leave in 1994; he was replaced by Mutiny producer William Wittman. Also in 1994, a Too Much Joy fan who was working for Newt Gingrich convinced the Congressman to adopt TMJ's "Theme Song" as a campaign anthem; Gingrich agreed, but quickly backed off when he found that the band also recorded songs like "Take a Lot of Drugs."
After a long layoff, TMJ signed with Discovery and issued ...Finally in 1996, which continued on the path to musical and lyrical maturity, while returning them to the less polished punk attack of their earlier albums. The band subsequently went on an unofficial hiatus, as its members followed day jobs that took them to different parts of the country. They did manage another release in 1999's Gods & Sods, a collection of B-sides, rarities, outtakes, and the like that appeared on the small California indie Sugar Fix (which also reissued Green Eggs and Crack with three new tracks from 1993). Although TMJ seems to be defunct (or at least "on hiatus"), masterminds Quirk and Blumenfeld continue their musical explorations as the group Wonderlick who released their self-titled debut in 2002. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi