26 Electronic Getting away with it
I don't know where Electronic went wrong, but I would have been immensely pleased if Sumner, Marr, Tennent et al had kept up the good work. Wonderful pop with a sound unique to these guys, plus Neil on vocals. An splendid pleasure, a pop song that should last longer than most.
27 ELO Telephone line
Aren't you tired of gay men's choruses only ever singing the same old tired specifically gay crap? Don't you think it's about time they went completely over the top and started singing songs that just plain really sound good when sung by a large all male chorus? Well, if you agree with me on this one, try singing along to this with a few of your closest, gayest friends, and feel the joy. Fuckin' A.
28 Erik Satin Follow me to San José
Yet another Atom™ (Uwe Schmidt) alias, here we have Herr Schmidt doing something like a digital Esquivel! Of course, the simple fact that it's about my adopted home town makes it that much more wonderful, but this is a brilliant fusion of software programming with Latin whatnot and fawning, adoring female backup singer magic. Oh, if only more music could be this satisfying. Makes me want to learn the tabla all over again, or at least head up to Sproul Plaza at the weekend and steal some shitty bongos from some stoned teenager attending the drum circle (shudder).
29 Fear of Pop I paid my money
And I'm going to see all the movie. God only knows what Ben Folds (@ Ben Folds Five) was thinking when he set out to do an album of completely oddball songs, but they're really, really good. William Shatner singing a love song of sorts, rubber sleds, tender instrumentals... and this thing, probably the tightest, most satisfying Talking Heads (Fear of Music years, probably) song that never was. Includes funky bass at no extra charge.
30 Flying Lizards Sex machine 12"
Another complete mystery, Flying Lizards were apparently an offshoot of late 1970s avant garde composing kerfuffles in the UK. David Cunningham is/was a good friend of Michael Nyman, and somehow he took it upon himself to create pop records, having a small hit with a deadpan delivery version of Money. In the early 1980s, he tried it again, this time even more deadpan and with every bit of emotion carefully deleted from his clumsy Linn drum programming, and with a vocalist even more blank than Patti Paladine. Result: high weirdness. Or is that high camp? He's somehow managed to make this an absolute cipher. Is it sexy? Well, no. Ironic? Not really? Anything, anything at all? Nope. Nothing here. But does it make you want to listen to it again? Oh yes. Absolutely.
31 Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel Hot horse
Although it's unthinkable that MTV would do anything like this these days, back in the early 1980s they'd fill up late night empty time with cut rate imports, usually Channel 4 or other UK programming with, ahem, alternative guests. Late one night, probably in ninth grade, there was a report that a stink was caused by a male guest asking a female interview to sit on his face. The name given for the band: Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel. I mean, how much more offensive could that possibly be? And when I saw a copy of a Foetus single at the Tower Records in Stockton, its overdone Constructivist (think El Lissitzky) artwork combined with the song titles (Finely Honed Machine, Sick Minutes, Unmutual) had me hooked immediately. It was great, but it was on the album Hole where he really hit his stride, at least to my ears. Starting with the obscene title (only four letters, but oh so much innuendo), and progressing to the ridiculous wordplay (North South Mae West / The boid gets the boid / I may be shaken but I ain't stoid / I mo carry on undertoid) and the dislocated inserts of completely incongruous music (snippets of Wipeout in the middle of a song about Hell or something similarly cheery)... whoa. Being a hormone-raging teenager, though, it was Hot Horse that really did a number on me. All of the wonderful things about the music, plus deeply offensive sexual innuendo...
You know something, Red? I like you. I like everything about you. I like the
way you fill out your clothes.
I'M GONNA STICK MY HEAD UNDER YOUR HOSE.
Ah, God bless Foetus.
32 Foetus In Your Bed Primordial Industry
It took me nearly twenty years to actually find a copy of this, which I'd previously had to laboriously borrow from a fellow high school student who was understandably loath to part with it. It's the strangest thing: a Philip Glass style piece, about ten minutes long, that if anything proved to me that you didn't have to be well connected or educated to create something that for all intents and purposes could be considered classical music. The cascading piano arpeggios are still breathtaking, and there's something about the obscurity of it that make it more satisfying than listening to Glassworks or whatever. PG for the great unwashed.
33 Frank Zappa Rubber shirt
Although I own all of Frank Zappa's output (thanks to Sean A for help with some of it!), I suppose the pivotal moment came for me in early 1986. In Germany, as in most of Central Northern Europe, Zappa had a huge hit with Bobby Brown, which meant that copies of Sheik Yerbouti are fairly common (believe it or not!). This was one of a handful of albums available to me when I was spending 11th grade in Germany (others being, for example, Cabaret Voltaire's Drinking gasoline, Einstürzende Neubauten's Als Hitler das rosarote Kaninchen stahl, Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel's Nail, etc.) After listening to it a few dozen times, this one track always stood out because it was unintentional: two separate tracks synced up with each other to produce something entirely new. I guess I was always interested in rearranging or juxtaposing things that previously existed separately in order to make a new, also interesting, sometimes even more interesting, whole. And with Zappa, it was all downhill from here. :)
34 Frankie Goes to Hollywood San José
Dude! D'you remember when all the kids in high school had Frankie Say! T-shirts? Remember buying import picture discs of Relax just because you thought the sperm were so very outré? Well, the weirdest thing is that I figure out that Frankie suck early on. I mean, really, really suck. Boring, vacuous tripe. But... this one song kept grabbing me. Of course, I didn't know I'd move to San José twelve years later, but I liked this song for other reasons. Why the Frankie version? Because it proved that you can take a bunch of nothing and produce it in such a way that it sounds great. I can't remember who produced this - I'm thinking Trevor Horn - but wow, what a bang-up job. More than anything else, though, it's the original song that shines through so well. If you've never listened to this song carefully, now would be a good time to do so. Dionne Warwick's version is actually better, though, it's just that I didn't know it at the time (I first heard it in 2000).
35 Fun Boy Three Our lips are sealed (Urdu version)
Another of my great lost records, one I haven't heard since the 1980s. It's a great song, this is, regardless of whether or not you prefered The Go-Go's or the Fun Boy Three. But there was something wonderful in hearing a completely fucked up version of it sung in Urdu - it takes a special sense of humor to intentionally release a nearly unplayable version of your Top 10 hit as the B-side. If ever there were a compilation of such things, this is a must (as is the On-U Sound remix of People are people entitled Are people people? - again, completely unrecognizable). Any other suggestions?
36 The Grid Figure of eight
Not much to say about this other than it's a wonderful little bit of bubblegum techno something or other. The Grid are Dave Ball and Richard Norris; I'm not sure where Norris came from, but it was Ball who made Soft Cell sound... so Soft Cell. This is a simple tune, with a groovy bass line and a compelling sort of vocoded saxophone solo, I think; but it works well. Mindless pop music for a sunny Southern California day.
37 Haza, Ofra Im nin'alu
In the summer of 1988, all kinds of world music exotica slightly remixed and set to a more typically Eurotrash disco beat was on the airwaves. Eventually, people seemed to settle on Haza as the number one oddity, and not, say, Mory Kante (@ Yeke Yeke). It's not hard to see why - it's a beautiful song, she's got a wonderful voice, and we all feel better if it's set to a Eurodisco beat. Don't we?
38 Helmet Clean
Helmet never were really one of the great bands, but they seemed to get it right briefly on Betty, which was presumably made possible by having a fairly decent selling major label debut before they recorded this. This time, though, they did it more specifically their way, releasing it as a double 10" vinyl set, with off-putting colors and strange 1950s imagery (the woman water-skiing on the cover looks like she belongs in a grade B Florida theme park show of some kind). But the beauty here is that there are a couple of songs that are as clean and as precise as you could ever imagine anything remotely "heavy metal" to be. Lots of crisp, clean spaces between notes and beats, nothing wasted, nothing out of place. The overall affect is one of sadness to me, which may or may not have been intended, but I find it beautiful.
39 Hüsker Dü Could you be the one?
From their last album, one presumes that Grant and Bob were on the outs at this point, but it didn't stop them from producing at least one undeniably beautiful, incomparable song before giving it all up. The kind of thing that in retrospect seems all the more poignant because of the collapse that came afterwards.
40 Itch-E and Scratch-E Bastards
Dull soulless dance music. No, seriously, just a better than average dancefloor kind of thing, albeit more obscure than most. The band isn't even called that any more, and it was pretty much an on again off again Sydney kind of thing, with sporadic releases with never more than a few tracks, but this is as thumping a hallraker as you could hope for. Nice samples of angry people as well - kind of like Ballistic Guy, the Claris technical support customer of legend, known for screaming things like I hate you Claris, I fucking hate you and Motherfucking sons of bitches to unsuspecting tech support agents, but I digress.
41 kid606 straight outta compton
Who'd've thunk that some geekboy Californian with a couple of laptops could actually improve on NWA? Well, here ya go. I'm tempted to describe it more as a gloss on the original song, but it's actually more like an aural retreatment that makes the non-vocal sounds sound as aggressive as the vocals themselves - no mean feat. I'm guessing this was largely facilitated by recent audio software developments, but then again, it just might be genius instead.
42 Kraftwerk Computer love / Computerliebe
It must have been Camp Kennolyn (oooh, high-end summer camp near Santa Cruz) where I first heard Kraftwerk. One of the older kids had copies of Radioactivity and Computerworld, and we'd listen to them out sailing on the bay near SC. I don't know why it spoke to me, but it certainly did. I remember being fascinated by the idea of a music created entirely without instruments, on computers. I'd already had something like ten years of piano lessons at that point, and I remember hating them because I could never get my body to reproduce what I wanted to hear. Perhaps the attraction was that you could use the machinery to get the sound your body couldn't produce; perhaps it simply the novelty of it, the percussive bits that didn't sound like a drum kit. In any case, I managed to score a copy of Computerworld and proceeded to wear it out on the living room stereo (embedded in a giant cabinet along with a TV that had a remote control that worked via tiny bellows that would produce inaudible whistles that would tell the set what to do... pretty strange). To this day, my favorite song is still Computerlove, which is funny because it's every bit as relevant twenty years later as it was then, although we don't use teletext, we use the Internet.
43 Laibach I've got a feeling
A feeling deep inside! *crowd roars* Laibach, who really have no reason to exist, are a Slovenian outfit that seem to specialize in crypto-neo-fascist imagery, possible Tito appreciation, severely inappropriate cover versions, and the like. At their best, they make crap sound good (cf. covers of One Vision, Live is Life, and the entirety of Let it Be). But when they're really cooking, you get something like this. It's basically a harmless Beatles song, but here it sounds like Leni Riefenstahl is filming a Laibach concert just outside Nuremburg. The presentation is quasi-divorced from the content here, so you can experience all of the pleasure of a totalitarian youth rally without any of the guilt. It's definitely a new experience.
44 lang, k.d. Wash me clean
A road-trip-to-Texas favorite bought on cutout from a gas station in Utah, somewhere. One of my favorite song lyric tactics has always been that of washing, cleaning, freeing yourself of your obligations and sorrows, and k. d. does it much more beautifully than most. OK, Nyman comes close with the kitchen boy's oratorio from The cook the thief etc. etc. but for simplicity and beauty, ms. lang has it all over Nyman. However, the word 'hyssop' is not used here, and that's a definite drawback. Hyssop is a word I'm sure we'd all be very glad to hear sung by ms. lang, but I suppose we'll just have to wait for that one.
45 lb Angie
When I first heard this, I didn't really get it, because I'm not familiar with the Rolling Stones. However, a Swiss review of the album on which this appears, pop artificielle, kind of Explained It All For Me. In short, the article said, Angie is one of those songs that has always already been there, that is emblematic of a time and place in history. And what lb (Lassigue Bendthaus, another Uwe Schmidt alias) does to it here is more interesting the more you reflect upon it. Somehow, he manages to make it touching, even though it's lyrically cretinous. Go figure.
46 LFO Tied up
No, not the Lyte Funky Ones or whatever the fuck that awful boy band was called. LFO is presumably short for 'low frequency oscillation', and it's overtly preoccupied with 'Can you feel the bass?' style low-end histrionics. Thing is, though, when it works, it's pretty cool. Their first album is largely marred by insipid lyrics, and their second album is largely marred by a total lack of quality control, but this one track still works reasonably well. Another one for the imaginary giant dance party I'll never throw.
47 Max Tundra Cakes
Describing this one is impossible for me. It's the best song I heard in 2000, without a doubt. Stylistically it's a real hodgepodge, juxtapositions of styles, genres, and decades layered over each other at angles you'd rather not see in a bone fracture, but which Max makes sound good. It's got a fucking trumpet solo, for God's sake, and it works. Really works. Works so well that your heart will be suddenly weighed down, so well you'll start crying at about the same time you break into a gargantuan smile. Sad, funny, beautiful, everything.
48 MC 900 Ft Jesus with DJ Zero Real black angel
Basically some Texan with a weird sense of humor, he managed to release a lot of shit, but occasionally it did work as intended, and you could rock out to what I suppose is your basic white boy Texan rap funk odyssey kind of thing. Out of print, and deservedly so, but not without its charms, especially the reuse of jazz loops alongside fuzzed out menacing low-octave vocals.
49 Melvins Lysol
Also known as the Melvins album with the Indian on the front, the first few copies had black stickers stuck over the word Lysol. This is absolute perfection, as close as an early 1990s Melvins concert as you're ever going to hear. The first time I saw Melvins play live, I was shocked. This was at the Kennel Club in the City; it took about twenty minutes for them to actually break into a groove of any kind, although the first twenty minutes had, I felt, a very strong rhythm as well. Quite a number of folks walked out of the hall before things really got going, but those who stayed got the full-on Melvins experience. ... This album is remarkable in that the A side is a single twenty minute song that takes about seven minutes for any kind of a regular drumbeat to get going. It's majestic, absolutely beautiful. Guitar, bass, drums, something that approaches singing, nothing else. I never really liked "rock" or whatever until I heard this. There's a stately power that you just can't get any other way.
49.1 Melvins Hag me
Yeah, I know, I'm cheating here. A second Melvins song. So sue me.
50 Mike Watt Against the 70s
I had to have some Watt in here if only because this is from one of the best packaged CDs of all times, Ball-hog or Tugboat? I can barely listen to the thing because it sounds like a bunch of random shit thrown together - the band isn't the same on any two tracks, I think, but it works great in dribs and drabs. This song has Eddie Vedder of all people wailing away on it, and he pulls it off with panache. I'm no Pearl Jam fan, largely because I hate their lyrics, but when he's doing Watt's spiel, it FUCKING RAWKS. Dude.