Singer and songwriter Billy Hough estimates that, since his stage show Scream Along With Billy began its run in 2006, he and bassist Sue Goldberg have covered around 300 records. Among them: every album by the Velvet Underground, the Rolling Stones, Patti Smith, and Nirvana.
The Friday night show, which began at the Grotta Bar at Enzo Guest House but recently moved to Bubala’s by the Bay, runs 22 weeks a year, from April to Halloween. The band performs whole albums because, when they were starting out, “people were already just listening to singles or playlists,” Hough says. “We wanted to give everybody a chance to sit down and focus for an hour on this carefully crafted thing.”
The first album they performed was Pink Floyd’s The Wall. The choice was tongue in cheek: “That was the music that belonged to our tormentors,” says Hough. “The Pink Floyd kids bullied us.” Over the following years, the pair built up a devoted following, performing albums by Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, the Beatles, and others.
Hough is not just a crowd pleaser, though. The provocateur performed a “full-on satanic ritual” to David Bowie’s Station to Station. But smartphones have changed his relationship to the audience: “As soon as I started to do anything to push the envelope, people’s cameras came out,” he says.
During the pandemic, Scream Along became Stream Along. Hough and Goldberg performed more singles. “I think I view my job to be a little bit more in commiseration with people in this moment,” says Hough. “But if we move back to a period of time where we’re all lucky enough to feel pretty good about our lives, then I’ll start fuckin’ with people again.”
The following albums were named by Hough as particularly formative, memorable, or influential during his life. Listen at tinyurl.com/5sz9zdhc.
Soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever (1977)
“This was the very first album that I bought with my dad. It was $7. We got it at Zody’s in Bakersfield, Calif., which was kind of a proto-Walmart. My dad loved music. There was always music playing in the house. He and I went halfsies on the record. Unfortunately, I destroyed it because I was six years old, but that was a moment where I was defining my own tastes. I had a Saturday Night Fever birthday cake. I didn’t see the movie until many years later. Have you ever seen that movie? It is really dark.”
Prince, 1999 (1982)
“Nobody sounds like Prince. He probably prepared me for Brian Eno and Talking Heads, musicians who have such an insular personality. I moved through the double album side by side. Side one was the singles; side two was so dirty I had to make sure my folks weren’t home; side three was ponderous; and side four was weird, with the great ‘International Lover’ closing the game. When the movie Purple Rain came out in 1984, I saw it every weekend for a month with two of my friends. We begged our folks to take us to the Purple Rain tour in Birmingham, Ala., which was four hours away.”
Tina Turner, Private Dancer (1984)
“In 1984, I was really unhappy. I had enjoyed growing up in California and was less enamored of central Mississippi. I would have been bullied if my mother weren’t the principal. I didn’t like my body, and puberty is such a weird time. This record was about someone who had been abused, neglected, and unfairly treated, who had made this huge comeback from a dark place. There are three or four songs about demanding respect from people. I think that’s what I was tuned into. The idea that there’s a happy ending if you wait around for it.”
David Bowie, Hunky Dory (1971)
“Rykodisc, a company at the time, reissued all of Bowie’s records with bonus tracks in 1989. I heard Space Oddity and Jean Genie and Changes again in a very different way. All of a sudden, it just sounded perfect. I went to buy my first album of his and the only one they had was Hunky Dory. I just loved it. From there, I went record to record and became kind of obsessed — a lot obsessed.
“I think the reason Bowie appealed to so many of us was this need for acceptance. He did the Ziggy Stardust persona about the alien trying to find love. He changed his look and his vibe constantly. I think he was the patron saint of the not cool. The other amazing thing about Bowie is that he started just a year after the Velvet Underground but was one of the most groundbreaking artists of 2016. He released Blackstar and died the next day, on his birthday, which was obviously orchestrated. He gave us more honesty about death in a rock ’n’ roll record than anybody else because he knew he was dying and didn’t tell anybody.”
Beyoncé, Lemonade (2016)
“The experience of hearing a new record and getting excited about it is relatively rare. However, I remember Beyonce’s Lemonade as just a knockout. It is as good as Bob Dylan’s Highway 61. It may resonate as much as Joni Mitchell’s Blue someday. It is such a beautifully crafted piece of work. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I was 17 years old again. We performed it. We had to. Four powerhouse women and myself hanging on for dear life. We did the show in P’town to a riotous response, and then played Joe’s Pub in New York City on Halloween.”
Billie Eilish, Happier Than Ever (2021)
“I’m kind of falling in love with this record, song by song. The first time I heard it, nothing stuck with me except the last song, ‘Happier Than Ever.’ It reminds me of one of The Who songs where they would almost do an album in one song. This record is post-first love, first heartbreak. The thing about Billie Eilish that’s so cool is that she’s a legitimate teenager. I don’t know that Bob Dylan’s or Joni Mitchell’s or my teenage poetry would have been very good. We often make fun of how terrible we all are because we rhyme pain with rain, you know? But her songwriting, she’s just got it.”