Saturday, January 21, 2017

In Praise of Weird Records

The new uncut magazine has a list of 101 Weird Records. It includes a few of the normal suspects - "The Philosophy of the World" by the Shaggs for instance, but at #1 is an album that is so familiar to me, and such a beautiful listening experience, that it seems no more of a weird record than "Sgt. Pepper" or "The Who Sell Out", namely "A Wizard, a True Star" by Todd Rundgren. I've been listening to the CD its coupled with in a recent reissue, "Todd", and that's a weird is "A capella" where Todd just uses his own voice for all the instruments. Their list surprisingly includes no Robert Wyatt, and seems uncertain about whether to include oddities such as Metallica/Lou Reed's "Lulu" which are only odd in the idea, and not really in the listening.

Anyway, I've been a connoisseur of odd records all my life - this list - not in any order other than first come first served - sees oddness in different ways; the nearly unlistenable; the strange concept; even just odd pairings.

1. Leichenschrei - SPK. An industrial album that I bought in the early eighties, its still unlike anything I've ever heard. I think I hated it for ages, and then briefly it became a compelling favourite. A sonic collage - what is going on here? Voices come through the mist. "He tried to give me syphillis by wiping his cock on my sandwich," indeed.

2. The Point - Harry Nilsson. This is such a celebrated oddity that its very strange that it never makes the Uncut mix. At the height of his fame, wilful genius Nilsson came up with "The Point", a primetime American children's TV cartoon.

3. The F*** C*** Treat Us Like P*** - Flux of Pink Indians. Amongst all the CRASS-affiliated anarcho punks, Flux were amongst the most experimental. This is a near unlistenable collage piece - highly charged and political, from the title onwards. Facinating stuff.

4. End of an Ear - Robert Wyatt. There's a term "Wyatting" for putting something unlistenable on a pub jukebox. Unfair of course, for Wyatt is one of our national treasures, but he's an acquired taste - and his first solo album was an uncompromising free jazz melange - half spoken vocals, odd time signatures, you name it. Other Wyatt - from his Matching Mole albums, to "Dondestan" and "Old Rottenhat", are odd listens, but this one remains enigmatically difficult.

5. A Capella - Todd Rundgren. Giles Smith, in Lost in Music, says there's nothing so risky when going into a record shop as asking for the new Todd Rundgren album. In the 1970s and 1980s his wilfulness was legendary. A Capella takes some topping however - every sound made by Todd's voice and fed through an early sampler.

6. The Moon and the Melodies - Harold Budd/Cocteau Twins. Being a big Cocteau Twins fan in the early eighties I loved everything they did. Bit of a surprise when they did this album with ambient pianist Harold Budd.

7. Over the Rainbow - Virgin Prunes. Everything the Virgin Prunes did is odd, including their masterpiece "If I die, I die" - but this compilation of odds and sods is peculiarly so. I only have a copy because a friend bought it and hated it so much she gave it to me. The odd bits of an odd band.

8. NY Scum Haters - Psychic TV. Before they released a cavalcade of live albums came this one. Just after their wonderful "Dreams Less Sweet" - this was the unvarnished Psychic TV. PTV/Throbbing Gristle could probably fill a whole weird records list.

9. Thank You - Duran Duran. Covers albums can be things of wonder or disasters. Few manage to do both so often as this one from Duran Duran. Amongst the expected somewhat pedestrian retools of glam icons, they give us their take on Public Enemy's "911 is a joke" and Grandmaster Flash "White Lines." Wonderful/ludicrous in equal measures.

10. Peter and the Wolf - David Bowie. Forget The Laughing Gnome, Tin Machine or that godawful cover of God Only Knows, this is David Bowie's oddest release - a narration of the story of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. Of course it is.

11. Ear Candy - Helen Reddy. Actually not as odd as it should be - and a pretty decent album of late seventies soulful power pop. The oddity is that this is produced by Kim Fowley. Yes, Runaways svengali Fowley. With Helen Reddy.

12. Earth - Neil Young. Neil Young makes the Uncut list with "Trans" - odd only in that he uses vocoder - on what is one of his stronger eighties albums. "Greendale" is an odd concept album for instance, and what about "Arc" the feedback drenched companion to live album "Weld"? But I think his last live album "Earth" deserves inclusion. Pulling together songs from across his career with a "green" perspective he decides - oddly, perversely, in a way that sometimes works and sometimes is hilarious to add in sound effects to the live album e.g. crickets chirping.

13. Sympathy for the Devil - Laibach. There's a small number of albums that consist of only one song in multiple versions. This Laibach album covering the Rolling Stones album is one such. Brilliant but quixotic.

14. Beach Boys Love You - Beach Boys. There are other Beach Boys oddities - "Party" for instance with its party sound effects, or their transcendental M.I.U. Album, but Beach Boys Love You saw Brian Wilson return to the fold, virtually a solo album, and as a "where Brian's mind was at" as odd as it comes. Brilliant but if you wanted to know what he'd been up to - it had been watching Johnny Carson.

15. Johnny Yes/No Soundtrack - Cabaret Voltaire. When I was a big Cabs fan in the early eighties I did my best to buy all their new stuff - that included this mesmeric, monotonous soundtrack album.  

16. Tricks of the Shade - The Goats. A concept album about how America was going to pot and becoming a theme park for authoritarian Uncle Sam. Madcap and malevolent. 

17. Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants - Stevie Wonder. At his seventies height he recorded this mostly instrumental album. What was going on? Who knows? A near career threatening double album.

18. Gling Glo - Bjork. Before KUKL, before the Sugarcubes, before "Debut", there was "Gling Glo" - an Icelandic language jazz album sung by the young Bjork. A curiosity.

19. He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper - DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Their second album was a rap first - a double album. Given how thin most rap albums were at the time this was an impressive achievement - but filled out with scratch tracks and other less than essential pieces and never reissued in full on CD. 

20. Pander! Panda! Panzer! - Mark E. Smith. The Fall are of course highly quixotic and with the one constant of Mark E. Smith - surely a solo album should have been great? Except this and its predecessor were both "spoken word" albums, made up of text, cut ups etc. Strange even by Fall standards. 

21. A Trip to Marineville - Swell Maps. In the 80s Swell Maps, one of the more arty punk bands, had disappeared from sight, so it was years before I heard them - but what a greatly inventive band, never more so than on their debut, an avant garde post-punk mix thats well worth seeking out.

22.Préliminaires - Iggy Pop. There are many oddities in Iggy Pop's back catalogue but this album of French chanteuse songs inspired by Michel Houllebecq, is particularly odd.

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