Blog Archives

Weirdify Playlist 12: Whack Christmas

Whack Christmas

It’s been way too long since we did a new Weirdify playlist, but there’s no better occasion for getting into the back into the swing of things than Christmas. You either love holiday music or you hate it—and if you’re like us, your opinion on the subject probably swings wildly between those two extremes depending on what they’re playing while you’re picking up your Zoloft at CVS. (Please, baby Jesus, no more Mariah Carey.)

Fortunately, there are approximately five gazillion metric fuck-tons of holiday and Christmas-themed recordings to choose from, and many—most, even—don’t involve Grandmas getting run over by reindeers or old classics getting run over by the melisma of former American Idol contestants.

So with our patron saint, Frank Zappa*, as our guide, we dove into Spotify with all the shopping-cart-filling zeal of a Black Friday shopper at Wal-Mart to bring you our final Spotify mix of 2012: “Whack Christmas.” It’s what we’re dreaming of. Soon, it’s what you’ll be dreaming of, too. Especially when you get to “Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey.” That shit is catchy!

Giddy up, giddy up, let’s go! (That’s Christmas-speak for, “Launch your Spotify player.” Or use the embedded player below. Cuz Spotify finally lets you do that now.)

*There’s no Frank Zappa on Spotify and, to the best of our knowledge, he never recorded any Christmas music. But if one of you Frank-ophiles out there cares to correct us, we’ll happily link to whatever Santa-related sonic mayhem he may have concocted.

Some notes on your listening experience:

1. Capital Kings, “Carol of the Bells.” You didn’t think we’d ease you into this mix gently, did you? Fuck no. You’re gonna start with a dubstep version of the most melodramatic Christmas carol of all time. When the bass drop hits, try crushing a carton of eggnog on your forehead. You’re feelin’ it now, bro!

2. Ronnie James Dio, Tommy Iommi, Rudy Sarzo, Simon Wright, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” This is from an album called We Wish You a Metal Xmas…and a Headbanging New Year! Need we say more? R.I.P., Holy Diver. (P.S. There might be another track from this album later in the mix. But you’ll just have to stick around to find out.)

3. Wesley Willis, “Merry Christmas.” I bet Wesley Willis gave great Christmas gifts. Or at least great Christmas head butts. We like this holiday a lot, too, Wesley!

4. Johnny MacRae, “Here Comes Fatty Claus.” You can find this on a delightful collection—sadly, not available on Spotify—called A John Waters Christmas. It kinda does for Christmas what Pink Flamingos did for overweight transvestites.

5. Randall Reed with the Forerunners, “The Peppermint Stick Man.” This unintentionally (we hope) child molestery Xmas original is from another worthy compilation called The American Song-Poem Christmas, a collection of amateur one-off singles recorded by would-be singer-songwriters and (we presume) very, very depressed session musicians. Here’s a tip for all you aspiring writers of children’s songs: Never use the word “erect” in a lyric.

6. Bob Dylan, “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Did you know Dylan released a Christmas album a few years back? It’s true. He also apparently smoked a carton of unfiltered Camels right before the recording sessions.

7. Afroman, “Police Blow My Wad.” This early ’00s novelty rapper took all the royalties from his one and only hit, “Because I Got High,” and blew them on a holiday album called A Colt 45 Christmas. And weed. Probably mostly on weed. This one is set to the tune of “Feliz Navidad”…get it? No? Smoke a bowl first and it’s hilarious. Trust us.

8. Elf-Elf and Dok-Im, “My Christmas Bells (Elf Vocal).” This might be Jake’s favorite rap song ever. Mashed potatoes!

9. The Jingle Punx, “It’s What I Got in My Sack.” Is there any better cure for too much shitty Christmas music than some good old-fashioned snot-punk? Also, he said “sack.” Heh-heh.

10. The Vandals, “I Don’t Believe in Santa Claus.” Next time someone asks you, “Hey, what’d you get me for Christmas?”…just play them this song. Unless you actually got them something. In that case…you know what? Play it anyway. ‘Cuz The Vandals rule.

11. Nerf Herder, “I’ve Got a Boner for Christmas.” Who needs “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” when we’ve got this romantic Yuletide ditty to keep us warm? Did you know “stocking” rhymes with “cock in”? Well, it doesn’t, really, but who cares? Let’s all get laid for Christmas!

12. Edmund Welles, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Think of this as a little post-punk palette cleanser, courtesy of our favorite all-bass clarinet ensemble. Not weird, per se, but gosh-darned purty.

13. Tiny Tim, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Another track from A John Waters Christmas, starring the world’s greatest ukulele-strumming, falsetto-voiced, late-night TV cult hero. This old Christmas chestnut takes on new life when it’s sung by someone who sounds like he’s gargling with angels’ tears.

14. British Summer Time Ends, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” As we point out frequently on this blog: The ’80s were a weird decade. This track appears on a random 1987 compilation called Joyeux Noel that features John Zorn and a bunch of other bands we’d never heard of, including these British Summer Time Ends guys. We tried Googling them for like two hours and all we could come up with was this. If anyone knows more about them, share, please! ‘Cause this version of “I Saw Mommy” is pretty great.

15. Lou Monte, “Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey.” This 1960 novelty song regularly shows up on “Worst Christmas Songs Ever” lists. Which we think is pretty unfair, actually. When shit like our next song is still in circulation…

16. Bobby Boris Pickett, “Monster’s Holiday.” To be fair, it must have sucked being Bobby Boris Pickett. That dude was doomed to forever rehash his one and only hit. Still, can you imagine if today’s acts released Christmas-themed cash grabs this shameless? Oh, wait, they do. Don’t worry, we won’t taint this mix with any of that Bieber shit. We’ve got a much cooler child pop star…

17. Gayla Peevey, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” Little Gayla Peevey was only 10 years old when she recorded this novelty hit in 1953. By 18, she was a Lindsay Lohan-like coke whore running over valets outside Hollywood’s sleaziest nightclubs. Kidding! Actually, she changed her name to Jamie Horton and released a song called “Robot Man.” Beat that, Miley Cyrus.

18. RuPaul, “Santa Baby.” A drag queen singing a seduction song to Jolly Saint Nick? Sure, why the hell not? Much like RuPaul’s Drag Race (seriously, how is that thing on its fifth season?), it wears out its welcome pretty quickly, but hey, that’s what the skip button is for.

19. The Superions, “Crummy Christmas Tree.” So long as we’re in camp mode, let’s throw in a track by B-52’s frontman Fred Schneider’s Xmas-themed side project. If that sad tree from the Charlie Brown Christmas specials could sing…it would sound exactly like Fred Schneider. Who knew?

20. The Avalanches, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” There’s a whole, massive subgenre of surf-rock/beach-themed Christmas music, most of which is, frankly, kinda lame. But this instrumental version of the date-rapiest of holiday standards is kinda groovy, isn’t it?

21. The Klezmonauts, “Joy to the World.” Hey, all you “War on Christmas” conspiracy theorists, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: Most Jews actually love Christmas. Not the Jesusy, away-in-a-manger stuff so much. But Santa, the presents, the tree, the eggnog—they’re totally down. Neil Diamond didn’t record A Cherry Cherry Christmas because his Christian overlords at Columbia Records were holding a gun to his head. We’re sure the same holds true for The Klezmonauts, who recorded an entire album of klezmer-styled holiday standards under the obvious but genius title of Oy to the World. It’s like a delicious Hanukkah latke topped with figgy pudding instead of apple sauce.

22. Family Force 5, “Little Drummer Boy.” We interrupt this mix for a little Christian crunk rock. There’s actually an entire album of this shit, The Family Force 5 Christmas Pageant. But because we love you so much, we’re only gonna share with you this, the shortest track on the record. You’re welcome.

23. Soul Saints Orchestra, “Santa’s Got a Bag of Soul.” Let’s get the horrible sound of crunk rock out of our ears with a little funky ’70s soul, shall we? This is from an outstanding collection of rare-groove Christmas records called In the Christmas Groove. And we really can’t play it without playing the man it’s obviously cribbing from…

24. James Brown, “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto.” This isn’t even really the Godfather of Soul’s weirdest Christmas track…but we’re including it anyway, because it’s awesome.

25. Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, “Jingle Bells.” A reader named Trey suggested we check out Bela Fleck’s Jingle All the Way album. “Not the weirdest but definitely different,” he said. And honestly, we were skeptical—but then we stumbled across this banjo-and-throat-singing version of “Jingle Bells” and we were like, “Holy shit, Trey. You are a master of understatement.”

26. Alice Cooper, Billy Sheehan, John 5, Vinny Appice, “Santa Claus (Claws) Is Coming to Town.” OK, fine, we’ll throw in another track from We Wish You a Metal Xmas. Even though you’ve all been very naughty. We’ve got a list, too, y’know.

27. Psychostick, “Jingle Bell Metal.” You didn’t think we’d get through this whole mix without throwing in at least one metalcore freakout, did you? You know us better than that.

28. Insane Clown Posse, “Red Christmas.” Or an ICP song. There’s also gotta be an ICP song. Whether you like it or not. And we know that secretly, you kinda like it. It’s okay, we do, too. “I’m dreaming of a dead Christmas…”

29. Doctor Octoroc, “Have Yourself a Little Final Fantasy.” From the album 8-Bit Jesus. ‘Nuff said.

30. DEVO, “Merry Something to You.” When a Yuletide comes along, you must whip it. We spent about an hour throwing DEVO puns around and that was the best we could come up with. Sorry.

31. Heather Noel, “Santa Came on a Nuclear Missile.” We went back to the The American Song-Poem Christmas well for this bizarre little Cold War-era artifact. Ah, those were the days.

32. William Hung, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Among the many reasons American Idol sucks worse than ever these days, there’s this: That show has never produced another would-be contestant as delightfully terrible as William James Hung Hing Cheong. If it was nothing but tone-deaf wannabes with humorous foreign accents, we’d watch that shit all the time.

33. Eban Schletter, “Carol of the Bells.” When he’s not composing music for shows like Spongebob Squarepants, Eban Schletter records bizarre concept albums like Cosmic Christmas, which has something to do with a satellite that brings the spirit of Christmas to alien civilizations, but is mostly just an excuse for him to do theremin-and-analog-synth covers of old holiday warhorses like “Carol of the Bells.” Cosmic, man!

34. Angry Snowmans, “Drinkin’ Rum & Egg Nog.” A reader named David really wanted us to feature these guys. So here you go, David! Just remember to drink responsibly: After your fifth rum & eggnog, switch to brandy & eggnog.

35. MDC, “Black Christmas.” A little holiday nihilism, courtesy of the Bay Area punk band known alternately as Millions of Dead Cops or Multi-Death Corporation. On second thought, David, go ahead and drink yourself into oblivion. Damn, we’re all depressed now. But hey, I bet I know what would cheer us up…

36. Jingle Cats, “White Christmas.” Nope, that really didn’t help at all. Let’s try something else…

37. Sparks, “Thank God It’s Not Christmas.” Ah, much better. This is the venerable art-pop duo Sparks in full ’70s glam-rock mode. We’re not even sure what it really has to do with Christmas, but it’s just a great song.

38. The Polyphonic Spree, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Tim DeLaughter’s orchestral rock ensemble in full-on psych-rock mode, from their new Christmas collection, Holidaydream. If more Christmas carols were this creepy and minor-key, the holiday music at the mall might actually be bearable.

39. The Flaming Lips, “A Change at Christmas (Say It Isn’t So).” This isn’t really the Lips at their weirdest. But it’s certainly Wayne Coyne at his most awkwardly sincere. You’re not just a dreamer, Wayne. We believe it can all change! Even here at Weird Band HQ, we’re not above a little peace-on-earth sentimentality. In fact, after all the shitty Top 40 versions of “Frosty the Snowman” have faded, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

40. Barnes & Barnes, “I Had Sex With Santa.” Well, that and a few cheap laughs. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!

About these ads

Weirdify Playlist 10: Novel Steez

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Happy Friday, kids! What say we get the weekend started with a fresh Weirdify playlist? This week’s theme: novelty songs.

Now in a way, nearly everything we’ve ever posted on TWBITW is a novelty song. But more precisely, a novelty song is any tune that’s more about making the folks laugh than it is about making any lasting artistic impression. Whether it’s a one-off by an otherwise serious (or at least semi-serious) band, or one of many from a master of the form (Barnes & Barnes, we bow down), a good novelty song should exist in its own little universe, totally apart from any considerations of what’s hip or trendy or even in good taste.

Also—and this may be a totally arbitrary distinction, but it feels important to me—novelty songs and comedy songs are not quite the same thing. This goes back to the “own little universe” thing: Comedy songs are usually created in response to or in parody of something, but novelty songs stand on their own. Also, novelty is weirder than comedy, I think. So no Lonely Island, no “Weird Al,” no Flight of the Conchords, not even any Tom Lehrer, excellent though all those artists are. They just don’t quite fit with the rest of this playlist.

OK, Jake says I should shut up now and get on with the music. So fire up the ol’ Spotify and let’s get novel:

1. Lonzo and Oscar, “I’m My Own Grandpa.” I decided to class things up around here a little and start with one of the classics. Lonzo and Oscar were a jokey country duo who scored big in 1947 with this, their one and only hit. Side note: This song was performed on the first season of The Muppet Show in 1976. Even after the Civil Rights era, incest jokes and making fun of hillbillies were still considered good family entertainment.

2. Ween, “Piss Up a Rope.” Gene and Dean Ween mostly played it straight on their Nashville album, 12 Golden Country Greats, but fortunately they decided to have a little fun with this boot-scootin’ kiss-off to a woman who “takes all my money and leaves me no smokes.” Who needs that kind of ag?

3. The Tiger Lillies, “Piss on Your Grave.” While we’re on the subject of pissing…

4. Evelyn Evelyn, “Elephant Elephant.” Amanda Palmer, one half of this fake-Siamese-twin duo, just raised a million bucks on Kickstarter. That’ll buy a lot of elephant feed. Is there such a thing as elephant feed? Anyway, Palmer definitely ain’t singin’ the…

5. The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, “Credit Card Blues.” It’s an anthem for our times, really.

6. Red Shadow, the Economics Rock n Roll Band, “Gone, Gone, Gone.” As is this. Actually, this song is from the 1970s, when ripping off the Beach Boys was probably seen as “edgy.” Speaking truth to power was so much more adorable back then.

7. Wild Man Fischer, “Flaming Carrot Theme Song.” Did you know Frank Zappa’s semi-homeless protege once wrote a theme song for the Flaming Carrot comic book? Us neither, till we started researching this playlist. But we’re glad he did.

8. Klaus Nomi, “Rubber Band Laser.” Even by the bizarre standards of New Wave’s greatest counter-tenor, this track from his unfinished opera, Za Bakdaz, is pretty out there.

9. The Zambonis, “Zamboni Race in Outer Space.” It’s about drag racing ice-resurfacing machines—in space. Any questions? Too bad, we’re moving on anyway…

10. The Emotron, “Drink a Beer for Me.” A heartwarming song about one man’s love affair with beer.

11. Fred Schneider, “Monster.” Every time B-52’s frontman Schneider opens his mouth, it’s a novelty song. This one is especially silly though. Spoiler alert: It’s not actually about his penis.

12. Barnes & Barnes, “Boogie Woogie Amputee.” This duo is deservedly famous for their classic novelty tune, “Fish Heads.” But did you know they also recorded this totally awesome and slightly offensive ode to a girl who likes to go out dancing and “shake her stump”? Well, now you do. You’re welcome.

13. Twink, “Tiny Footsteps.” Toy pianos and squeeze toys gettin’ down with their bad selves. Fact: If you play this for dogs and/or babies, they will totally lose their shit.

14. Tiny Tim, “I Got You Babe.” If you hear the words “novelty song” and don’t immediately think of Tiny Tim, there might be something wrong with you.

15. Crispin Glover, “Clowny Clown Clown.” Yes, this creepiest actor this side of Gary Busey released an album in 1989—produced by Barnes & Barnes, no less. It’s called—let me make sure I’ve got this right—The Big Problem ≠ The Solution. The Solution = Let It Be. There was even once a phone number you could call if you thought you had figured out The Solution, but sadly, it’s been disconnected, along with Glover’s career. These things happen.

16. Jim’s Big Ego, “Bite Me (Hard).” Back when I lived in Boston, Jim Infantino and his band Jim’s Big Ego were one of the city’s most entertaining local acts. Most of his stuff is more clever than this, but for some reason that “Should I change my whole way of being?” line gets me every time.

17. The Upper Crust, “Little Lord Fauntleroy.” An AC/DC-style tribute to that really stupid children’s book your grandmother gave you for your eighth birthday. No? Just me? OK, moving on…

18. Schwarzenator, “Conan: The Destroyer.” An Iron Maiden-style tribute to the least necessary sequel of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career. More unnecessary than Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, you ask? I say yes and I stand by that opinion. Bring it, film nerds.

19. Rasputina, “My Captivity by Savages.” A dramatic reading of a 19th century bodice ripper about a poor blonde settler girl enslaved by Injuns. See, kids? Your local library can be fun.

20. Slim Galliard, “Fuck Off (The Dirty Rooster).” A classic novelty platter from the man best-known for “Flat Foot Floogie (With the Floy-Floy)” and for making up a fake language called “vout” that mostly seems to have been a way to get dirty words past the radio censors. Another version of this song called “Chicken Rhythm” actually turned up on a compilation called Jazz for Kids. So yes, parents who play Jazz for Kids, you are subliminally telling your children to fuck off. Just thought you should know.

21. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, “Constipation Blues.” Screamin’ Jay is, of course, the man behind “I Put a Spell on You.” But his other crowning gift to popular culture has to be this epic 1970 ode to taking a long, slow, painful dump. Stay with it till about the three-minute mark…that’s when he really start squeezing out greatness. (Shout-out to Bobo Golem Soylent-Greenberg for reminding us about this track and about the existence of Slim Galliard. You, Bobo, are a gentleman and a scholar!)

Hope you enjoyed this week’s playlist.

Weirdify Playlist 8: Covers for Kooks

[Note: The above image was, er, borrowed from Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine's excellent greatest-hits compilation of loungified rap and rock classics, Sunny Side of the Moon. If you're not familiar with Richard's stuff, you should go to www.richardcheese.com right now and check it out. Especially because if you do, there's still a chance he won't take us to court and/or steal our wives for using his album art without permission. Thanks.]

Nothing announces your weirdness to the world better than a really demented version of a familiar song. It’s like saying, “You know how this song sounded in its original form? We’re the total opposite of that. Or we might just be YouTube whores hoping to score a few extra views with our medley of Lady Gaga songs played on bassoons.* Either way, are we wacky or what?”

Here, then, is a brief Spotify playlist of some of our favorite weird cover songs, from bands that rank high on the Weird List, bands that probably should be on the Weird List, and a few bands that are by no stretch of the imagination weird, but cool enough to include, anyway (you’re welcome, Ben Folds). Obviously, this list only scratches the surface of the vast universe of weird covers, and we’ll probably revisit it at some point. Probably with less Led Zeppelin. Although we make no promises on that.

(*Sadly, The Breaking Winds’ Lady Gaga medley is not available on Spotify and thus, not on this playlist. We’re not made of magic, people!)

1. Laibach, “Sympathy for the Devil.” Taking a familiar song from the classic rock canon and declaiming it like some pretentious dorkwad at a poetry slam is the oldest trick in the weird-cover-tune book (I was tempted to include William Shatner’s “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” arguably the definitive example, but I’m pretty you’ve all heard it). But something about Laibach’s gravelly, Teutonic spin on the Rolling Stones’ old pseudo-Satanic jam makes it sound like the most original idea in the world.

2. Ben Folds, “Bitches Ain’t Shit.” Another well-worn cover trick is the painfully white version of a familiar hip-hop/R&B song (see also: The Gourds’ “Gin and Juice,” Jonathan Coulton’s “Baby Got Back,” etc.). In this case, Ben Folds’ version of Snoop and Dr. Dre’s misogynistic anthem stands out for me, mostly because it finds an unexpected core of heartache and melancholy underneath all the posturing. It’s the softer side of gangsta rap.

3. Hurra Torpedo, “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Norway’s favorite kitchen appliance rockers give Bonnie Tyler’s ridiculous ’80s power ballad the beating it so richly deserves.

4. Tragedy, “More Than a Woman.” Tragedy do one thing, and they do it well: Hair metal covers of Bee Gees songs. Any questions? Moving on…

5. Metalachi, “Immigrant Song.” Another high-concept cover band, Metalachi do mariachi versions of metal songs. Most of it works better than you might expect—but even when it doesn’t quite work, as on this hilarious Hindenburg of a Led Zeppelin cover, the results are still pretty fantastic.

6. Nouvelle Vague, “God Save the Queen.” If you’ve ever heard one of your favorite ’80s songs transformed into a lilting bossa nova ballad, you’ve heard Nouvelle Vague, a French/English cover band whose versions of  Gen X oldies like “Melt With You” and “Dancing With Myself” have been licensed to death. Their catalog tends to be a little too hipster-wedding-soundtrack for our purposes, but this pretty acoustic Sex Pistols cover is just left-field enough to make Johnny Rotten hurl in his grave. Which, in a way, makes it possibly the most punk-rock Sex Pistols cover of all time.

7. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, “Fire and Rain.” The flipside to the pretty Sex Pistols cover is, of course, a punk-rock cover of a James Taylor song. Me First, a “supergroup” side project featuring members of NOFX, Foo Fighters and the Swingin’ Utters, have run the unexpected-punk-cover concept so far into the ground that they’re now covering Japanese bands, but something about a rockin’ “Fire and Rain” still makes us giggle like Beavis and Butt-Head.

8. Edmund Welles, “Big Bottom.” Yes, this is a Spinal Tap cover played entirely on bass clarinets. And yes, it goes to 11.

9. The Bad Plus, “Barracuda.” We should hasten to point out that The Bad Plus, a power-jazz trio from Minnesota, have done killer instrumental versions of several familiar pop and classic rock tunes. This track, however, is not one of them. Have you lost the singer yet, guys? You have? The jazz gods be praised.

10. Richard Cheese, “Baby Got Back.” With all due respect to Jonathan Coulton’s delightful version of this same Sir Mix-a-Lot classic, we highly prefer Richard Cheese’s lounge lizard take (also, the cover of his best-of album, The Sunny Side of the Moon, was too good not steal for our playlist artwork). And in case you’re noticing a theme between this and “Big Bottom”: Yes, we do like big butts and we cannot lie.

11. Señor Coconut, “Smoke on the Water.” This dude has worked his cha-cha magic on everything from Kraftwerk to Prince. But since we decided to take this playlist in more of a classic-rock direction, nothing says “geriatric DJs spinning classic-rock steez” more than a little Deep Purple.

12. The Moog Cookbook, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.” Van Halen played on vintage synths! OK, Van Halen themselves did this on 1984, but there’s still something pretty unsettling about hearing a programmed robot voice intoning, “If you want it, got to plead for it, baby.”

13. Dread Zeppelin, “Whole Lotta Love.” Possibly the most high-concept tribute band of all time (and yes, we have dropped the ball by not adding them to the Weird List yet), Dread Zeppelin play reggae versions of Led Zeppelin songs, as sung by an Elvis impersonator. Mercy.

14. Tiny Tim, “I Love Rock and Roll.” At the height of his popularity, Tiny Tim turned his quivering falsetto loose on any number of popular songs, from “On the Good Ship Lollipop” to “I Got You, Babe.” And while his falsetto is indeed a marvel, it sounds downright quaint compared to the Tom Jones-like bray he unleashed on Chameleon, an overlooked 1980 oddity that features this amazing version of the song made famous by Joan Jett. Honestly, you don’t have to listen to the whole thing, unless you really want to hear what it sounds like when an aging eccentric bludgeons a song to death as though it’s solely responsible for the decline of his career.

Hope you enjoyed this week’s mix.

Tiny Tim

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Forgive me if this week’s post is even more rambling and incoherent than usual. I just completed a very early morning transcontinental flight and I’m so jetlagged, I’m starting to talk like Sean Penn in I Am Sam. Then again, being delirious with jetlag might be the perfect mindset for exploring the bizarre pop music footnote that is Tiny Tim.

Born Herbert Khaury in 1932, Tiny Tim became, very briefly, the most celebrated oddball in all of music, thanks to some memorable appearances on the comedy/variety show Laugh-In in 1968. With his gawky stage presence, comically miniscule ukulele (contrary to his stage name, he was rather a hulking fellow), and warbling falsetto, Tiny was an unlikely star—but something about his guileless interpretations of old American songbook warhorses like “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” and his signature tune, “Tip-Toe Thru the Tulips,” struck a chord with middle America. He became a regular fixture not only on Laugh-In but also The Tonight Show, where Johnny Carson teased out enough personal details (five showers a day, wore ladies’ cosmetics, openly had a thing for pretty underage girls, which he referred to as “classics”) to finally convince viewers that he was not some elaborate put-on, but a genuine weirdo.

On his first Laugh-In appearance, Tiny was introduced by the show’s droll, chain-smoking hosts, Rowan and Martin, as both an undiscovered diamond in the rough and “the toast of Greenwich Village.” Both things were true, in a way. After years of taking any gig he could in every New York dive under a variety of stage names (including Darry Dover, Emmett Swink, Judas K. Foxglove and “Larry Love, The Human Canary,” when he briefly appeared as part of a freak show), Tim finally hit the big time when he was “discovered” at a hip nightclub called The Scene. By the time he made his first Laugh-In appearance, he had already released his first album, God Bless Tiny Tim, on Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records label. It contained his signature “Tip-Toe Thru the Tulips,” but the album’s most memorable moment is probably a cover of “I Got You, Babe,” on which Tiny sings both Sonny and Cher’s parts in a performance that’s simultaneously virtuosic and ridiculous.

Like all true outsiders, Tiny Tim was not destined for lasting stardom. He and his music were just too “far out” for the mainstream squares and too old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy for the hippie rock ‘n’ roll types. His jump-the-shark moment came in December of 1969, when he married his 17-year-old sweetheart, Victoria Mae Budinger, aka “Miss Vicki,” on an episode of The Tonight Show that is reputed to be the second most-watched TV program of the ’60s (21.4 million viewers) after the moon landing. Apart from the bride’s age, the ceremony is actually kinda boring by today’s Springer/Kardashian standards, but there was still a certain freak-show aspect to the whole thing that eclipsed Tiny’s music—especially when the couple revealed that they planned to sleep in separate rooms and even dine apart because of the groom’s phobia of eating in the presence of others.

By the late ’70s, Tiny Tim was divorced (though he later remarried, twice), dropped from his label, and reduced to releasing novelty tunes like “Tip-Toe to the Gas Pumps.” In the ’80s and ’90s, he occasionally collaborated with younger artists who admired his work, like (no, really) Camper Van Beethoven—but for the most part, he was remembered (dimly) as a tulip-sniffing, one-hit wonder. In 1996, shortly after the release of his final studio album, Girl (recorded with the aptly named Texas polka-rockers Brave Combo), he suffered a massive heart attack during a performance in Minneapolis and died that same day. He was 64.

Even though it’s probably true that most Laugh-In and Tonight Show viewers were laughing at, not with, Tiny Tim, it would be unfair to dismiss him as the Rebecca Black of his era. There was nothing manufactured or phony about him. His talents were outlandish, but they were genuine; take this amazing, Tom Jones-like version of “Stayin’ Alive,” which starts out a little shaky but eventually turns into a tour de force of vocal elasticity. Not many humans have ever been able to sing in a hairy-chested baritone and a choir-boy falsetto in the same breath. At least not with this much chutzpah.

I could go on defending Tiny Tim’s legacy, but I know I’m preaching to the choir; several readers over the years have suggested we add him to the Weird List, and since he would have turned 80 this week, we figured this was a good time to do it. We’ll leave you with perhaps his most famous performance. If you’ve never seen it before, you’re in for a treat.

Links:

Weirdify Playlist 6: When You’re Strange

The only thing weirder than a weird band is a weird loner armed with a guitar, ukulele or thrift store keyboard. This week’s playlist celebrates some of the best, greatest and (to use a clinical term) craziest of those loners, along with a few other slightly more socialized purveyors of what’s come to be known as outsider music.

What is outsider music? Usually (though not always) it’s music created by someone with no formal training and often rudimentary technical abilities. To the untrained ear, it nearly all sounds terrible, but if you listen to enough it, you start to find some diamonds in the rough.

For more on the subject of outsider music, I highly recommend seeking out a copy of Songs in the Key of Z, an authoritative book on the subject by the great Irwin Chusid. That book informed much of this playlist—and, to be honest, much of this entire blog. Chusid’s the guru, we are but his lowly disciples.

Ready to take a walk on the weird side? Fire up your Spotify and make sure your headphones aren’t strapped on too tight.

1. Daniel Johnston, “Walking the Cow.” Maybe the most famous outsider singer/songwriter of his generation, Johnston is a diagnosed schizophrenic from Texas who writes surprisingly beautiful, simple little pop songs and sings them in an achingly childlike voice. Throughout the ’80s, he gained a sizable cult following for his homemade cassette tape albums, all illustrated with his own bizarre cartoon creatures like the one we swiped for this playlist’s artwork. There’s a documentary about him called The Devil and Daniel Johnston, and if you haven’t seen it, you should.

2. B.J. Snowden, “School Teacher.” Maybe the best way to describe this Massachusetts native is that she’s a female, less crazy version of Wesley Willis (see below). She claims to be a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, and works as a music teacher, but her songs mostly feature very rudimentary piano playing and cheesy, pre-programmed keyboard backbeats, a la Willis. Still, her stuff undeniably brings to mind words like “jaunty.” Fred Schneider of the B-52’s is a big fan.

3. Tiny Tim, “People Are Strange.” You’re probably too young to remember this, but this totally untiny performer, with his ukulele and unmistakable warble of a voice, was once one of the most famous musicians in the world. Bizarre, but true. Tiny Tim’s version of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” which he performed on Laugh-In in 1968, became a huge hit, making him a regular guest on that SNL precursor as well as The Tonight Show (he even got married on Johnny Carson’s set in late 1969, in what was at the time one of the most watched events in television history). As mind-blowingly ridiculous as his version of “Tulips” is, I thought this Doors cover was more apropos to this week’s theme.

4. Lucia Pamela, “Hap-Hap-Happy Heart.” Like many outsiders, the biographical details of this Missouri native are a bit hazy. She claims to have been crowned Miss St. Louis in 1926, which sounds plausible, and to have performed in the Ziegfeld Follies, which we’ll also buy—but then, she also claims to have been the first person on television, so who knows? What we can confirm is that, in her mid-sixties, she recorded an album in 1969 called Into Outer Space with Lucia Pamela and it’s kind of amazing. She’s one of Irwin Chusid’s favorites.

5. The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, “Someone Took the Yellow From My Egg.” A little a cappella interlude from Lubbock, Texas’ greatest proto-psychobilly lunatic.

6. Charles Manson, “People Say I’m No Good.” Yes, that Charles Manson. One of the world’s most notorious cult leaders and mass murderers is on Spotify. Yeah, we’re not sure how we feel about it, either.

7. Wesley Willis, “Mojo Nixon.” Chicago’s late, great purveyor of “Harmony Joy Music” (and our playlist’s second schizophrenic), Willis wrote bouncy tribute songs to everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Kurt Cobain. This, as far as I know, is the only song of his about another artist we’d already added to The Weird List.

8. Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper, “I’m Gonna Dig Up Howlin’ Wolf.” And here he is, Mr. Mojo himself, singing about digging up famous dead bluesmen and affixing their skulls to his guitar. We’re sure he’s just speaking metaphorically.

9. Bob Log III, “I Want Your Shit on My Leg.” For 20 years, Bob Log III has been persuading sweet young things the world over to put their “shit” (read: ass) on his leg so he can bounce them around while playing kick drum and high-hat with his feet. Yes, he’s a one-man Delta blues wrecking crew. In an Evel Knieval jumpsuit, no less.

10. Roky Erickson, “Don’t Slander Me.” Our playlist’s third schizophrenic, Roky (pronounced “Rocky”) was a psych-rock pioneer with his ’60s band, the 13th Floor Elevators, before  a trip to the loony bin sidelined him in 1968. He’s since made something of a comeback and is now a celebrated cult hero of psychedelic rock and outsider music. This track isn’t his nuttiest by a long shot—it kinda sounds like Creedence Clearwater Revival, which make sense given that he worked a lot with former CCR bassist Stu Cook in the late ’70s and early ’80s—but something about the sentiment makes it a perfect outsider anthem.

11. GG Allin, “I Live to Be Hated.” The original rock ‘n’ roll outsider—angry, obscene and unrepentant. This is actually one of his moodier, more introspective numbers.

12. The Mad Daddy, “Record Acid Test.” Just decided to throw in a wacky little transition from Cleveland’s Pete “Mad Daddy” Myers, one of the original lunatics of rock ‘n’ roll radio. Alan Freed may have “invented” rock DJing, but The Mad Daddy made it shake, rattle and roll, one wavy gravy platter at a time. (For more on Myers, this post is pretty excellent.)

13. Mission Man, “Gotta Work Hard.” If Mad Daddy had lived (sadly, he took his own life in 1968) to hear his fellow Ohioan Mission Man doing his stoned-Lou-Reed-rapping routine, we’re sure he would have approved. Or he might have said, “What the hell is this shit?” and put on another Elvis record.

14. Gonken, “Rockin’ Robots.” Another modern outsider for the electronic age, this time from Seattle. He’s making fun of pop music, sort of. But on another level, he’s just making so-bad-it’s-actually-kinda-good pop music.

15. Deerhoof, “My Pal Foot Foot.” One of our favorite current weird bands pays tribute to one of our favorite weird bands of yore, The Shaggs, by covering their immortal song about looking for a lost cat named Foot Foot. Magic ensues.

16. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, “Grown So Ugly.” In many ways, Don Van Vliet doesn’t actually fit the classic mold of the outsider musician. The dude could actually play, as could his band, all of whom had deep roots in blues, jazz and the psychedelic rock scene of the late ’60s. But somehow, they managed to never let those skills or influences get in the way of creating records so original they were sometimes kinda frightening.

17. Arcesia, “Butterfly Mind.” Another discovery courtesy of the bottomless fount of weirdness that is Songs in the Key of Z, Arcesia was actually the work of a veteran big band crooner from Rhode Island named Johnny Arcessi who moved to California and became an acid casualty in the late ’60s. In 1970, at the age of 52, he released his one and only album as Arcesia, Reachin’, and it’s an amazing relic of that strange time in American history, an acid folk freakout delivered by a guy who clearly had lost all interest in phrasing, pitch or lyrical comprehensibility. Needless to say, it’s now a highly prized collector’s item—the fact that it’s on Spotify is almost as mind-blowing as Arcessi’s adenoidal bray.

18. Syd Barrett, “No Good Trying.” No self-respecting mix of outsider music would be complete without an appearance from that most famous acid casualty of all, Uncle Syd. R.I.P., gentle sir.

Hope you enjoyed this week’s mix.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 238 other followers