To make it a little more interesting, I set a few rules: First, no remixes or extended mixes of songs. It just seemed a little cheap to say “Well, ‘Flying North’ is a really great song, so the 6-minute long remix will work, even though the real one’s only 3!”. Anyway, a lot of extended mixes are kind of lame, when they just splice in the chorus a few extra times and slicing and dicing lines from verses.
On a similar idea, live tracks were also out — there’re a lot of songs where they’ll be short on the record, but extended out during a live performance. (Ween‘s really good at that; everyone probably knows about their 22 minute version of “Poopship Destroyer”, originally about 2 minutes of the Pure Guava album; but unfortunately, this meant, too, that there aren’t any of the really awesome versions of “Voodoo Lady” that they’ve done, either.)
Lastly, no medleys or song segues — the only thing worse than pretending an extended mix counts is jamming two songs together, claiming it’s just a long track. Anyway, it’s common for songs segued together on a record to have been written at wholly different times — for example, the suite that makes up the B-side of Abbey Road. (In fact, “Her Majesty”, the bonus track from that album was originally intended to be in that medley, right after “Mean Mr. Mustard” — and there’s also different versions of “Mean Mr. Mustard” where his sister has a different name, from before they decided that “Polythene Pam” was going to be part of the medley.)
Unfortunately, this set has the potential to be a less satisfying listen — if someone didn’t like, say, two of the tracks on each disc of the original, that was only about 5 minutes out of 80; here, it’ll be 10 minutes of dislike minimum. This one actually went through a lot more changes than the first set did — the second disc, especially, but I think this line up is pretty good, and hopefully turn folks on to some cool music they haven’t heard before. There are some bands that appeared before, but I tried to get new and different bands on this compilation, The Opposite of Smoke is Egg Whites.
So, anyway, here are my notes on each of these songs. I hope you enjoy them!
- The Guitar (Outer Planet Mix) – Coldcut (featuring They Might Be Giants) [From The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)]
And with the first track, I break my own rules! This is technically a remix of the They Might Be Giants song “The Guitar” from The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight), however Coldcut ended up building their own unconnected song and dropping in some samples from the original. (On the EP this comes from, the last track is the “Even Further Outer Planet Mix”, which is the “Outer Planet Mix” with the They Might Be Giants samples removed.) Strangely, on the CD release, Coldcut were uncredited; they were only credited on the UK 12″ release.
- Squance – Plaid [From Double Figure]
Plaid is a band I don’t actually know a whole lot about, despite having a bunch of the records. This is on the album Double Figure from Warp Records. They’ve also done a remix of “All Is Full Of Love” by Björk, which is also very good, although contains a sound that sounds exactly like my cel phone vibrating against my desk. (I know it wasn’t the cel phone because the last time I listened to their mix of “All Is Full Of Love”, I kept touching my phone to make sure, and it was silent except for the one time it turned out I actually was receiving a call, when it sounded like that particular noise had moved into the foreground.)
- Hambu Hodo – Renaldo & The Loaf [From The Elbow Is Taboo]
This song comes from Renaldo & The Loaf‘s last album, The Elbow Is Taboo. On their first three albums, Renaldo & The Loaf refused to use synthesizers, making all of their sounds through tape manipulation, though on this record, they finally relented and used a keyboard… sparingly. The bulk of the sounds are still created through tape processing, they’ve just been joined by the keyboard and a drum machine (programmed through dice rolls). The Elbow Is Taboo is my favorite album of theirs; the first two, …Play Struve & Sneff
and Songs for Swinging Larvae contain a lot of really great sounds, though they hadn’t quite combined the sounds into wall-to-wall great songs yet — Arabic Yodelling is the first of these, though their sound had matured on Elbow. The lyrics aren’t in a foreign language — the words are English, however, they’re missing letters. The inspiration for the song was an old dilapidated sign on a building that used to serve HAMBUrgers and HOtDOgs. Renaldo Malpractice (a/k/a Brian Poole) and Ted the Loaf (a/k/a David Janssen) then wrote lyrics and applied a similar treatment to them. How many words can you hear, indeed?
- The Great Pretender – Brian Eno [From Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy]
“The Great Pretender” comes from the album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). Most people might know Eno either through his production work (having produced well-regarded albums by Talking Heads, David Bowie and DEVO, among others) or his ambient music. This, however, comes from one of his rock albums. The lyrics on Eno’s rock albums typically didn’t have much meaning at all — Eno’s said that he would do nonsense syllables for the vocal lines when recording demos, and then he’d convert them into real words based on the sound, rather than the meaning. The albums also didn’t come with lyric sheets, and Eno claims to forget the lyrics to some of the songs. In fact, from his comments on the lyrics, it’s often seems that he’s not entirely sure what the songs are “about”. In this song, he’s said that either Monica, as referred to in the lyrics is robotic herself or is disturbed by a robot creature.
- Time Is A Passerby (In Tokyo) – Frank Chickens [From Underfloor World]
Frank Chickens is not a guy; rather, it’s a band featuring no one named “Frank”. Frank Chickens’ leader is Kazuko Hohki, a Japanese expatriate living in London. The line-up has changed over the years; Steve Beresford and David Toop, who worked with the Flying Lizards, collaborated with her on the first album. This is from their last album, Underfloor World, which was produced by Clive Bell. Frank Chickens seems to be all-but-disbanded, although Hohki’s had success writing for a Japanese audience about living in England, as well as writing and acting in many stage performances and having a television show, Do The Karaoke.
- Papa Was A Rodeo – The Magnetic Fields [From 69 Love Songs]
This comes from the second disc of the three-disc set 69 Love Songs, which is, well, basically what it sounds like. Stephin Merritt had the idea of writing an cabaret type show with the title (although he originally thought of doing 100, but then pruned it down to be a little bit more reasonably lengthed); the show itself never materialized, but the album did. To be expected, it’s rather uneven, but 69 is a lot of songs to write, and the bulk of them are actually pretty good. They actually sell all the discs individually, but the box set is reasonably cheap and comes with a booklet containing an interview between Stephin Merritt and accordionist/author Daniel Handler about all the songs, which is interesting mainly because they mention David Lynch’s On The Air, a TV show I thought that only I watched and enjoyed.
- Mountain Trip To Japan, 1959 – Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players [From Vintage Slide Collections From Seattle, Vol. 1]
This is from the first Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players album, and unfortunately, is missing the visual component. If you’ve never heard of them, they buy slides from estate sales and then write songs about them. In fact, every word in their name is based in truth: Their last name is Trachtenburg, they’re a Family (Jason: The Dad, on guitar, vocals and keys; Tina: The Mom, on slide projector; Rachel: Their 10-or-thereabouts-year-old daughter, on drums, chimes, vocals and occasionally bass.), their shows are slideshows and, um, they play. The thing is, though, Jason’s a great songwriter — the slideshow might be the hook, but it’s not a crutch. The songs are enhanced by seeing what they’re singing about but can also stand alone. The reissue of their first album on Bar/None records includes a CD-Rom component featuring the slideshow portion of many of the songs. They used to be based out of Seattle, but moved to New York City a few years ago, and have since played on Late Night With Conan O’Brien and the hilariously misguided CNBC talk show McEnroe, where they played a song, and a punch-drunk-seeming John McEnroe (perhaps too many tennis balls to the head?) stumbled through some questions. A great example of Local Band Makes Good, especially since they deserve it.
- The World Inside – Sgt. Major [From Rich, Creamery Butter]
Another local band, Sgt. Major features Kurt Bloch from the Fastbacks and the Young Fresh Fellows and Jim Sangster from the Fellows, along with Carmella on vocals and Rusty Willoughby (among others) on drums. This is from their first and currently only album, Rich, Creamery Butter. The LP version comes with a bonus 45 featuring “Two-Way Mirror” which I almost used instead. They’re very, very good; if you’re in the Seattle area, check them out live! If you’re not, well, once in a while they’ve gone down to California or Oregon to play… At least you can get the record, which is excellent.
- The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter – Laura Cantrell [From Not the Tremblin’ Kind]
I didn’t think of this when I was putting the track-order together, but this is another segue; from two Seattle bands to two bands that were both on the previous set. Laura Cantrell is one of my favorite singers of all time — I just love her stuff. If I had my druthers, they’d play her stuff on country radio instead of, say, Shania “Pro-Tools!” Twain.
- Screenwriter’s Blues – Soul Coughing [From Ruby Vroom]
I think most people probably know who Soul Coughing is, and quite possibly even know that Mike Doughty, the lead singer, has some solo stuff out and everything. This is one of my favorite Soul Coughing songs and it’s on their first record, Ruby Vroom. One interesting thing, though — the intro to this was sampled and looped for Chris Morris‘ “Bishopslips” Blue Jam sketch; the sketch that ended up being the last sketch of episode six of the first series, despite airing only 15 minutes in to the normally one-hour program. As the story goes, Chris Morris was told not to put the sketch, a razor-tape of the Princess Diana Funeral Speech, on the air; he agreed, but at the last minute swapped the tape of the show from the edited version to the complete version. Thus, the sketch was transmitted because the engineer working that night waited until it was almost over to fade the show down and put on alternate programming. (The edited version of that episode aired as the second season premiere.) The interesting thing, though, is that I’m pretty sure the main loop of “Screenwriter’s Blues” is itself a sample. It’s sort of like how Negativland sampled the “More Music!” liner from The Who Sell Out, which they, in turn, sampled from Radio London. (Unless Negativland themselves got it from Radio London as well, which is possible, since they’ve got billions of tapes, or one would assume.)
- Kylie Said To Jason – The KLF [From Kylie Said To Jason 12″ single]
The KLF, a/k/a The Timelords, a/k/a The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, a/k/a The JAMS, a/k/a The K Foundation, a/k/a The One World Orchestra, a/k/a 2K among others have had one of the more interesting histories of pop music, especially one spanning over such a short time. Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty started as the JAMS in 1987 with 1987: What The Fuck Is Going On?, which was promptly sued-and-then-burned out of existence because of the uncleared samples on it. They reissued it as an EP minus all the samples with instructions on how to recreate the original album. After that, they had a number one single with “Doctorin’ The Tardis”, a combination of the Dr. Who theme and Gary Glitter’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Part II”, then proceeded to write a book, called The Manual (in print until recently), telling the reader how to record a #1 single. As the KLF, they recorded a series of hit singles while working on a film, The White Room. This song, was the teaser single for The White Room Soundtrack, but unfortunately, the single tanked (unfairly, in my eyes; it seems to have been later plundered by many more successful artists who had hit singles ripping it off), and the album was never released. (The album The White Room, which was released is entirely different than the Soundtrack.) After that, they put out Chill Out, credited with basically starting the ’90s Ambient movement. In 1992, they quit the music industry in a different way than most people: They played an awards show, where a noise metal band played a version of one of their hits, while Bill Drummond fired a machine gun (filled with blanks) into the audience. After the performance, a recording played over the PA: “The KLF Have Now Left the Music Industry” — and folks leaving the awards show came upon a dead sheep on the steps of the building. (The metal band, Extreme Noise Terror, were not amused; they weren’t told of this part of the plan and were all vegetarians with strong feelings about animal rights.) The next day, the KLF deleted all of their albums in the UK (still selling strongly, and one would suspect that their sales would have gone up due to the events of the night before had the albums remained in print) to show they weren’t kidding. Since, they’ve done the occasional single under different names, but they’re possibly most famous for burning one million pounds of their own money and making a film of it. (Later, a book came out with transcripts of the question-and-answer periods from when they toured the film; though, it was a bit different than most Q-&-A sessions; it was the K Foundation asking the questions for the audience to answer.) There’s much, much more to their story, though, so you might want to check around online for more info — it’s really, really interesting. And they made some great records, too. (Luckily, they were unable to have the records deleted in the US, so some of them are still available.)
- Cloudburst On Shingle Street – Thomas Dolby [From The Golden Age of Wireless]
This is the last track from Thomas Dolby‘s first album, The Golden Age of Wireless. Thomas Dolby’s actually had a lot of great long songs; I knew I wanted to include one of his, and I narrowed it down to either this one, “Budapest By Blimp” or “I Love You Goodbye”. Dolby’s biggest hit was “She Blinded Me With Science”, although he had a few minor hits as well; “Hyperactive!” was one of the sources for “Weird Al” Yankovic’s style parody of Dolby, “Slime Creatures From Outer Space” from Dare to Be Stupid. I love Dolby’s lyrics; the first verse of “I Love You Goodbye” is “I would never normally go bowling/On a friday morning in New Orleans/But I like to come here to remember/The kind of places you took me/Like the time we stole a Datsun/And drove all night to the everglades/Until we crashed it in a big electric storm/And stood there listening to the bayou rain”. My favorite part of this song is the strikingly beautiful bridge. The outro, “When I was young, I was in love/In love with everything/Now there’s only you,” is great as well, especially the almost sad, wistful way he sings it. Just a really, really great track all around.
- Calling Occupants Of Interstellar Craft – The Carpenters [From Passage]
This might be the only chart single (#32 in the US; top 10 in the UK), on here, though it’s also one of the more obscure songs; few people seem to remember it. It’s a cover of the Klaatu song, and appeared on the Carpenters’ Passage. I always thought that the Carpenters were rather unfairly maligned — they really did have some great songs. In fact, one of the things I liked about Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story was how it treated the Carpenters like real people, and talented ones at that. (The fact that it had a bunch of Carpenters music in it was pretty keen, too. Also the Barbie Doll thing.) In a way, I hope people listen to the disc before checking the tracklisting, just to avoid the baggage that the name “Carpenters” carries of Square Pop For Then People — I hope people give this song a fair shake.
- Ring Of Fire – Wall Of Voodoo [From The Index Masters]
I love the way Wall Of Voodoo did their cover of this song. The harsh, electronic soundscape perfectly compliments Stan Ridgway‘s vocals. It’s also about twice the length of the original (most of the added length is in the outro guitar solo), and can support its added duration — not something you can say for a lot of songs. This is from their first, self-titled EP, later re-issued on the CD Index Masters.
- M.E. – Gary Numan [From The Pleasure Principle]
The main riff to this song is probably really recognizable, even to people who’ve never heard The Pleasure Principle; Basement Jaxx sampled it for “Where’s Your Head At?”, which was a decent sized hit in its own right and later used for all sorts of commercials. I’m very pro-sampling, though I have to admit feeling a little weird in cases like this where it seems that they’re pretty obviously relying on someone else’s hook to sell their song, considering they didn’t really bring a whole lot to their version. I think my basic feeling on it is that they should be allowed to do it, although I think it’s pretty lame that they did, considering that their own creative input was pretty low, and ended up dragging the Numan song down a bit (I enjoy “M.E.” quite a bit; I tend to find “Where’s Your Head At?” grates after a while).
- Change – Boingo [From Boingo]
For their last studio album, Oingo Boingo changed their name to just Boingo (though they had been thinking about doing that for a while; the Boi-ngo album was so named because that album was planned as the first Boingo album, but they released it as an Oingo Boingo album to avoid confusion. Post Boi-Ngo albums ( Dark At The End Of The Tunnel, Boingo Alive and Best O’ Boingo) all were officially by Oingo Boingo, though the cover art all put “Boingo” on the cover, while relegating the “Oingo” to the spine or back cover, but the change was complete with the newly self-titled Boingo. (Oddly enough, the last album, the live record of their last concert, Farewell: Live from the Universal Amphitheatre, they went back to being Oingo Boingo, with the “Oingo” being the same size as the “Boingo” on the front cover and everything.) The Boingo album was a bit of a departure; Danny Elfman mentioned in interviews that while writing Boingo, he’d been listening to a lot of Primus, and the influence does show a bit in some of the song structure and bass work. Boingo also featured longer songs (aside from “Tender Lumplings”, the coda to their cover of “I Am The Walrus”, the shortest track is 4:04, though most of the songs are between 5.5-9 minutes long. “Change”, however, is the longest song on the album (and also this compilation) at not-quite 16 minutes long. It’s also one of my favorite songs on the album (I’m also very fond of “Can’t See (Useless)”, “Lost Like This” and “Mary”). Like a lot of longer pop songs, there are “movements”, for lack of a better term, sort of like “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” by the Mothers of Invention, but not nearly as jarring. The song has a bit of a dream-like quality to the different parts and the use of found sound.
- The Biggest Ball Of Twine In Minnesota – “Weird Al” Yankovic [From UHF: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]
This is one of Weird Al‘s longest songs (his longest is “Albuquerque” from Running with Scissors, and I think only “Genius In France” from Poodle Hat or maybe “Trapped In The Drive-Thru” from Straight Outta Lynwood might be longer than this one), and one of his most-beloved by Al fans. It’s on the UHF Official Soundtrack And Other Stuff (so named, according to Al, because if it were merely a soundtrack album, it wouldn’t be nearly long enough as there wasn’t enough music in the movie; at least he went the honest route instead of the standard “Music From And Inspired By…” that you find on most soundtracks; especially since I wonder how many of the tracks were actually “inspired by” the movie they’re on the soundtrack to, and not merely some random B-side or cast-off track the band had lying around that was thrown on the CD to help sell copies by promising an exclusive track by some big band). All of the attractions mentioned in the song are (or at least, were) real, and could be found in the book and website Roadside America. I think that might be a worthy road trip at some point.
- The Perfect Fit – The Dresden Dolls [From The Dresden Dolls]
The Dresden Dolls are a duo out of Boston. I believe they’re currently on hiatus, but they’ve played live a few times — though Amanda Palmer is on tour now for her first solo record, Who Killed Amanda Palmer. I’m very fond of their albums, and they’re great live — maybe even better than in the studio. A fun atmosphere and really pretty laid back and cool. Most of their songs are dark and deal with themes of alienation, loneliness, insanity, self-image and some of the seedier aspects of our culture (like “Slide” or “Missed Me”, for example). For a fuller grasp on the band’s style, check out their videos, especially the one for “Girl Anachronism”.
- Duty Free – Cracker [From Countrysides]
Cracker used to be on Virgin records. They’re not anymore. Why? It’s because of Countrysides, the album “Duty Free” comes from. Cracker wanted their next album to be a collection of covers of country songs that they loved; Virgin didn’t get it, didn’t like it, and dropped them (rather surprisingly, after the push behind Forever and Garage d’Or, they seemed to think of the band as one of their prestige acts). They shopped the record around and released it on iMusic, and later Cooking Vinyl. (On one hand, though, this turned out to be a decent thing; had Virgin not dropped them, we wouldn’t have gotten the last (and only original) track on Countrysides, “Ain’t Gonna Suck Itself”. This song was originally by Ike Reilly from his album Salesmen & Racists; the original is fine, but I prefer the Cracker version, which has completely different lyrics. Even though it sounds like it’d be a side project or a cast-off, this is actually one of my favorite Cracker albums; they even do a good version of a Hank Williams, Jr. song (“Family Tradition”). Of course, Cracker’s got a surprisingly good hold on the country tradition anyway; of special note is the album they did with Leftover Salmon O Cracker, Where Art Thou? — bluegrass versions of their old songs. Another item that might be written off as a novelty… until you actually hear it.
- Ruckzuck – Kraftwerk [From Kraftwerk]
This is from the very first Kraftwerk album, which is long, long out of print. There’re rumors that official versions will be released sometime soon, although we’ll have to see. At least for the time being, Kraftwerk’s always distanced themselves from their first three records as they’re rather different from the stuff they’re more known for, from Autobahn and on. The earlier records were more experimental and often featured live instruments along with the various synthesizers and drum machines. “Ruckzuck” is probably the most famous of the songs from the first three albums — it was also used as the theme song to Newton’s Apple, a (really great) science show on PBS from the late 1980s-1990s. The first seasons used the album version; later they commissioned a more orchestral version of the song.
- Stay At Home – The Fastbacks [From New Mansions in Sound]
The Fastbacks were Kurt Bloch’s other band (or, well, I suppose, technically, the Young Fresh Fellows’d be his other band, since he formed the Fastbacks in 1979 and joined the Fellows in 1990 after they’d been going for quite a while). Kurt wrote all the songs and played lead guitar, and Kim Warnick (later of Visqueen, but now retired from Rock) sang and played bass, and Lulu Gargiulo sang and played guitars. They always had a bit of a revolving-door drummer; on this song (from New Mansions In Sound), it’s Mike Musburger. The Fastbacks broke up in 2002, when Kim left the band, and Kurt went on to Sgt. Major (though I think they’d been together a little bit during the time the Fastbacks were still technically together), and I think Lulu went back to photography, though I’m not sure.
- Feel No Shame – Neil Innes [From How Sweet To Be An Idiot/Re-Cycled Vinyl Blues]
Neil Innes was one of the principle songwriters (along with Vivian Stanshall) of the Bonzo Dog (Doo-Dah) Band, though he’s probably most known for his work with Monty Python (he’s the minstrel in How Sweet To Be An Idiot/Re-Cycled Vinyl Blues and he performs “How Sweet To Be An Idiot” in Monty Python Live At The Hollywood Bowl; he also popped up from time to time in other Python projects) and The Rutles (he was Ron Nasty, and wrote all the songs). This is from the How Sweet To Be An Idiot album (released in its entirety along with a bunch of bonus tracks on CD as Recycled Vinyl Blues). Neil Innes’ solo work wasn’t typically quite as silly as the Bonzos and a bit more poppy — though, that’s not to say that his solo stuff is wholly serious, nor that the Bonzos didn’t have exquisite examples of pop songcrafting, either. It’s just that he’s moved the “Funny/Pop” slider farther to the right.
- Your Cover’s Blown – Belle & Sebastian [From Books]
“Your Cover’s Blown” is actually quite different than most everything else Belle & Sebastian‘ve done (aside from some of the tracks on Tigermilk like “Electronic Renaissance”, and it’s not even terribly like that one). The lyrics are a rough story, and my favorite verse is the one about the party that ends up going into a bit that sounds like “Paint It Black”. Musically, it’s all over the map, going from a more funk/disco type sound, to 60s psychedelica and to the standard B&S sound. It’s long, but it doesn’t get boring. And there’s even a little bit of a false ending!
- The Big Country – Talking Heads [From More Songs About Buildings and Food]
This is from one of Talking Heads‘ best albums. (And their best album title, More Songs About Buildings And Food, though Fear Of Music is a very good title, too. And, also “Fear of Music” was a suggested title for More Songs About Buildings And Food, so there you go. More album-title trivia: Andy Partridge of XTC claims to have thought of the album title, but most Talking Heads lore credits it to a comment from Tina, “What are we going to call an album where all the songs are about buildings and food?”) This was the first Talking Heads album produced by Brian Eno, and his production is excellent as always. This song is notable lyrically, as it’s one of David Byrne’s most negative songs of the early era (“I wouldn’t live there if you paid me”), but even at the end of the song, he feels bad about what he said in the earlier verses and softens it to pointing out the merits of living in middle America and merely saying that while it’s great for some people, it’s just not for him. Like “People Like Us”, this is one of the more country of Talking Heads songs, and I love the guitar on the song’s outro. This is a great ending for More Songs About Buildings And Food, and I figure I might as well steal the idea to end this with it as well.