Sunday Shout-Out: BizarreRecords.com

[Every Sunday, we give a little hype to a fellow blog, website or other source for all things related to weird music and the people who love it. Check the tag “Sunday Shout-Out” for other recommendations.]

bizarre-wenchin

Here at TWBITW, we try to keep the focus squarely on the music. Well, and on the videos, and OK, sometimes the outfits, but mostly on the music. Rarely do we address the subject of album cover art, which of course can often be just as weird or weirder than the contents of the album itself. So thank the Internet Gods for BizarreRecords.com, which since 1996 has lovingly cataloged the cover art of hundreds (thousands?) of bargain-bin gems and garage-sale treasures. Most of the covers speak for themselves, but site creator Nick DiFonzo is also kind enough to upload liner notes, post sample tracks, and even hunt down publicity photos or links to the collectors’ site GEMM.com, in case you absolutely have to obtain your very own copy of Tell It Like It Is: A Folk Musical About God.

bizarre-jimpost

oscarzamora

bizarre-jimkeeling

DiFonzo’s most famous discovery is probably Joyce Drake, whose 1983 country/gospel album Joyce has become a kind of Internet shorthand for ridiculous album art. Jeff Bridges even went on Ellen and showed Joyce as part of his own collection of bad album art—but we’re pretty sure Bizarre Records gets credit for unearthing her first.

bizarre-joyce

If you can’t get enough of this stuff, DiFonzo has compiled over 200 of the best/worst album covers into a book, Seriously Bad Album Covers!, which is sadly out of print but still available (last we checked) via the BizarreRecords.com website. You can also keep tabs on the latest Bizarre album covers on Facebook. Like all good curators, DiFonzo doesn’t post new finds often, but when he does, they’re always pure gold.

Advertisements

Frank Zappa

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

This week marks the third anniversary of the launch of TWBITW. The traditional third anniversary gift, in case you’re wondering, is leather. Thanks in advance.

Actually, we like to celebrate anniversaries around here with two things: The consumption of booze (although let’s face it, we celebrate everything with the consumption of booze) and the addition to The Weird List of a classic artist. Last year, it was Primus; the year before that, it was Parliament-Funkadelic. This year, we’d like to finally make a whole shit-ton of you readers happy by belatedly inducting one Frank Vincent Zappa into our hallowed halls of weirdness. Welcome, Frank! Your arrival is long overdue, we know.

Full disclosure: Although I’ve come to appreciate him in small doses, I never was much of a Frank Zappa fan. Way back in high school, I knew a kid who owned a copy of Joe’s Garage, and he would occasionally play it for us with all the usual Zappa-head exhortations: “The guitar on this track will blow your mind,” “The rhythm changes on this part are nuts,” “Check it out—this whole song is about sausage!” I wish I could say he eventually won the rest of us over, but honestly, we all just shrugged and went back to our U2 records.

So despite being the keeper of a weird band blog, I’m not really the best person to expound on the weirdness of Zappa’s colossal ouevre, which encompasses more than 60 albums and a mind-bending mishmash of rock, jazz, funk, doo-wop, classical and avant-garde tape loop and sound collage experiments, sometimes all of the same album and always shot through with a surreal sense of humor that made it hard to tell when he was trying to make a point and when he was just fucking around.

Still, I will endeavor to enumerate just a few of the many, many reasons why Frank Zappa not only deserves to be on The Weird List—he should probably be the patron saint of this whole damn blog:

  • At the age of 22, he played a bicycle as a musical instrument on the Steve Allen Show. Yes, video of this exists.
  • In 1968, at the height of the Flower Power era, he and his band the Mothers of Invention released an album called We’re Only in It for the Money that was basically a giant fuck-you to hippie culture.
  • He is the inventor of a recording technique called “xenochrony,” in which two different studio takes done in entirely different tempos, keys and/or time signatures are merged together to jarring effect. You can hear a good example of it in this track. (Reader Waffenspiel referred us to this later track, which is actually a better example.)
  • He ran a pair of independent record labels called Bizarre and Straight. Among the artists signed to them was this guy. Also this guy. Oh, and Alice Cooper.
  • At a time when most people were too chickenshit to openly criticize Scientology, he openly mocked it with his made-up religion, Appliantology, led by a con artist named L. Ron Hoover, on Joe’s Garage. Had I known all this back in high school, I might have been more inclined to dig Joe’s Garage.
  • This was his only Top 40 hit in America.
  • He helped give the world Steve Vai.
  • His most controversial work was a 1984 rock musical called Thing-Fish, which has been variously condemned as being racist, sexist, homophobic and just in general bad taste. Here, judge for yourself. When he couldn’t get the musical produced on Broadway as he originally intended, Zappa instead partially staged the whole thing for a photo shoot for Hustler magazine. (All of this helped set the stage for Zappa’s anti-censorship campaign against the Parents Music Resource Center, Tipper Gore’s lobbying group that prompted the advent of parental advisory stickers. Zappa’s Senate testimony against the PMRC ranks among the most entertaining performances of his career.)
  • For much of the last decade of his life, he composed and recorded almost entirely on the Synclavier.
  • The same year he released Joe’s Garage (1979), he also released albums called Orchestral Favorites and Sheik Yerbouti. Yes, Orchestral Favorites featured a full orchestra. No, Sheik Yerbouti was not a disco record.

I could go on, but you get the idea. No one colored outside the lines like Frank Zappa.

“I never set out to be weird,” Zappa told his hometown paper, The Baltimore Sun, in 1986. “It was always other people who called me weird.” Don’t all the best weirdos say that? (And in case we haven’t made this clear by now: Around these parts, we consider “weird” to be a high form of praise. “Weird” means you’re doing something original and exciting that changes people’s perceptions of what music or art can be. “Weird” should be a badge of fucking honor, not something used to belittle or trivialize an artist’s work. Can someone place explain that to this guy? Thanks.)

I’ll leave you, selfishly, with a song that’s not Zappa’s weirdest by a longshot. It just happens to be my favorite. After all, it’s our anniversary! Crank it up, and don’t forget to air out those python-skin boots.

P.S. As of Aug. 14th, Frank Zappa’s entire catalog is now available on iTunes. Frank would’ve been totally down with it.

Links:

New Frank Zappa doc featuring Captain Beefheart and Wild Man Fischer: “From Straight to Bizarre”

In 1968, Frank Zappa decided to launch his own record labels, Bizarre and Straight, to release not only the music of his band, the Mothers of Invention (and yeah, someday we’ll get around to officially adding them to the Weird A-Z List), but also some of the crazy music he was hearing around L.A. in those heady days of Free Love and plentiful psychedelics: records by TWBITW mainstays like Captain Beefheart and Wild Man Fischer as well as less celebrated but still pretty strange acts like The GTO’s, a band made up entirely of groupies. They also put out records by Alice Cooper, Lenny Bruce and Tim Buckley, among many others.

Now a new film is coming out Feb. 21 that revisits the Bizarre and Straight legacies. From Straight to Bizarre:  Zappa, Beefheart, Alice Cooper and LA’s Lunatic Fringe features archival footage and interviews with former GTO member Pamela Des Barres, Beefheart sideman John French, and some of the other folks involved in Bizarre and Straight’s brief existences (both labels folded in 1973). We haven’t seen it yet, so we can’t whole-heartedly recommend it, but we’re really hoping it’s more interesting than the first minute or so of this trailer (be patient, it does eventually get good):

You can pre-order From Straight to Bizarre on DVD from SeeOfSound.com. No word yet on whether it’ll be available via Netflix or iTunes or any of the other usual sources, but we’re betting it’ll pop up somewhere on basic cable (the Documentary Channel? VH1?) soon enough.

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