Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Dr. Demento Show, RIP

So it seems The Dr. Demento Show, as we know it (that is, as a syndicated show broadcast over radio waves) no longer exists. It continues as some kind of web-based podcast do-hickey, and nobody really listens to the radio anymore anyway, so I guess this isn't much of a big deal, but it at least seems like a good chance to talk about how fucking awesome Dr. Demento is.

If you're a fan of "weird" music, chances are there was some point in your life when you made it a point to tune into The Dr. Demento Show with some regularity on whatever station was running it in your area. You probably had some cassette tapes filled with episodes of the show. In the event that you're not familiar at all with it, Dr. Demento played novelty records. You know, "funny" songs. And it's probably worth mentioning that a lot of those records--a LOT of them--were lame. I mean, when I first heard the show I was probably around 11 or 12, and I thought it was amazing, but it could be pretty difficult to get through a show once I got into my late teens. But there were some fucking GEMS buried in there. And the thing is, they weren't just "funny" "joke" "records"--there was some seriously WEIRD music on the playlist. I remember this one song called "Duckbutter." It wasn't all that funny, but damn, was it weird. Like, it had a reggae-ish beat, but it just didn't sound like anything else. That song seems to be lost to the ether, but I'm posting a few that I have managed to find.

Ivor Cutler - I Got No Common Sense
A.C. Ducey - Beer, Beer, Bottle o' Beer
Spike Milligan - The Q5 Piano Tune

Oh yeah, so one thing I should mention is that in high school, when I started hanging out with Jason Emmett, he had kept his tapes of the show (whereas mine had all kind of dissipated into thin air by that time). He had about 10 or 20 cassettes full of Dr. Demento shows recorded at various levels of sound quality, and we went through all of them finding the weirdest stuff. The three songs above are all songs that were on those tapes. And of course, Jason and Zane are currently hosting their own podcast of weird old records, so the beat goes on.

The Ivor Cutler song is my favorite. So concise, right? On Jason's tape, this song led into a song called "Foot Foot Foot (I am Stupid)." Who knows where that song came from? It might have just been a demo that some fan sent into the show. Went along quite well. Years later, Ivor Cutler died, and I found out all about who he was.

The A.C. Ducey song, one of the great beer drinking songs of all time, appears over the closing credits of The Drunken Hero. I always picture it being sung by Bluto.

And Spike Milligan is another great British eccentric whom I only learned about years later. He's like the Iggy Pop to Monty Python's Sex Pistols. Thanks to Jason for putting this mp3 on one of his mix CD's a few years ago, and WFMU's blog for posting the A.C. Ducey song, and some random guy on Napster for leaving "I Got No Common Sense" sitting around on his hard drive.

And now, a few videos (this always makes the blog hard to load, but fuck it, it needs to be done)...

The song that I most associate with Dr. Demento:

Spike Jones was one of the most frequently played artists on the show. A true genius whose work needs to be more widely recognized:

Tom Lehrer was another great one who got a lot of play from the Doctor:

Of course, the guy most associated with the show is "Weird" Al Yankovich. In a way, that's a little sad. I mean, I like "Weird" Al, but he just isn't on the same level of amazingnessity as some of the others. But on early recordings like "Another One Rides the Bus," he performs with enough manic, punk rock energy to really sell his dumb jokes. (Note to self--do a whole post on "Weird" Al soon!)

Frank Zappa got a lot of airplay on the show as well. I had this one on a tape I had made of the show, and it always cracked me up. This was years before I realized who Frank Zappa was.

And then there's Wildman Fischer, who's pretty annoying but still a hundred times cooler than Wesley Willis.

And how about some good ol' eefin'?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want The Truth, Part 3

I had a weird experience with this song during, if I remember correctly, the Christmas break from my first year of college. Someone at a party made a joke about Kajagoogoo. I thought about it for a few seconds, then asked "What was there song?" Suddenly, there was silence. Nobody could remember. For the better part of a week, we kept asking everyone we knew, and our lacuna spread like a virus to everyone we asked. We could all remember that there was a band called Kajagoogoo, that the singer had funny hair, that they sounded vaguely like Duran Duran. We could all picture their video in our heads. But none of us could remember the name of the song, or how it went. I can't remember who finally solved the mystery, but once we heard the name, it all came back to us.

I had an even weirder experience wtih this song when I was 18. I had heard the Buzzcocks' collection Singles Going Steady plenty of times, although I didn't own a copy. Some of the songs stuck in my mind, some didn't. I guess this one didn't, but at some point the melody appeared in my head. It was like a fuzzy memory, and I couldn't identify the song. Mostly, I could hear the one part where he says "I know that it's OK, OK." The way he clenches his voice on that line reminded me of Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes, so I went back and listened to every track on every Violent Femmes album (there were only three at the time), but couldn't find it. Then I thought it might be The Cure's "Close to You" (same beat, pretty much). Listened to it, nope, that's not it. It was starting to fade in my memory. The chorus was getting mixed up with Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." Eventually, I just gave up. Then, last year, I was listening to some Buzzcocks CD's from the library, and there it was! The song that had been stuck in my head for 20 years!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want The Truth, Part 2

On at least two occassions in my life, I have heard this song referenced as one of the worst things The Clash ever recorded. But it's one of my favorite Clash songs. Can't you just picture a Fleischer cartoon of anthropomorphic cars, their tires transformed into rubbery legs on which they rhumba down the street in time to that beat?

Combat Rock has kind of a middlin' reputation among Clash fans, despite containing their two biggest hits. A lot of the songs sound, at first listen, like throwaway filler tracks. But listening to it from 2010, it sounds like an album ahead of it's time, and in need of a reevaluation.

Combat Rock is the expression of Joe Strummer's vision of global urban music and a unified ghetto culture. Like Jim Kelly says, ghettoes are the same all over the world: poverty, crime, police brutality, daily strife, and always, a creative escape through music. Disco and hip hop spun at block parties in the Bronx housing projects, punk rock blasting out of London squat houses, dub sound systems shaking the Kingston slums, defiant Afrobeat jams in dirt floor huts in Lagos--in Strummer's ears, these are all one thing, and you can hear that combination on every Clash album going back at least to London Calling. One great example is the opening line of "Straight to Hell." The music is reggae, but the song is sung by a British street busker: "If you can play a fiddle, how's about an English jig and riddle?" No surprise that M.I.A. sampled the song for "Paper Planes"--she's basically just reiterating Strummer's musical concepts. Alan Ginsberg seems to intuit this vision on the poem he contributes to "Ghetto Defendent." Ginsberg connects slamdancing with The Worm, and sees both as means by which to "Enlighten the populace."

Songs like "Ghetto Defendent," "Red Angel Dragnet" and "Know Your Rights" seem at first like non-songs to fill up space, but listen to them as parts of a whole, with their texture being more important than their hooks. This is one of the most successful concept albums I've ever heard (although, I should say, I'm generally somewhere between uninterested and annoyed at the idea of concept albums, so maybe I'm not the best person to judge such things).

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want The Truth?

Man, I downloaded Bow Wow Wow's greatest hits collection from eMusic. So fucking good! Perfect summer music. I liked "I Want Candy" back when it was on MTV, but I never really explored the band. At one point, my friend Dan got a mixtape from someone that had this AMAZING song called "Wild in the Country." Check out how Annabella goes from orgasm howl to gutteral growl in the space of two words!

Then, early in the last decade, I came across an even BETTER song, "C30 C60 C90 Go!", an enthusiastic endorsement of taping songs off the radio instead of buying albums. It's a song about filesharing before such a thing existed!

So the album--and OK, their greatest hits album has 20 songs, and they only have three albums, and then they throw in two songs from Annabella Lwin's solo album on top of it, and I've never heard anything beyond the aforementioned hits and "Baby Oh No" (Actually, "Do You Wanna Hold Me?" sounds kinda familiar), but almost every song seems like it could be a single (I suppose they were all huge hits in England or Japan or something), and the lyrics are weirdly radical. "Wild in the Country" is all Rouseauxianesque "let's get back to nature and go naked without fast food" shit, and then there's "W.O.R.K. (No No My Baby Don't)," a radical Abolition of Work text ("W" is pronounced "Wuh" and "K" as "Kuh," if you were wondering). But the song that's really been fucking with me is "Louis Quatorze," which seems to be a 14 year old girl's love song to her rapist. (On first listen, I thought it might be a song from the point of view of Marie Antoinette, but then I looked it up and she was married to Louis XVI, not XIV.) I've looked all over the web for an interview that might shed some light on these lyrics, but can't find anything (help me out if you can). Even more fucked up, as it seems Annabella was 14 when she recorded it!