I was lucky enough to grow up in a household that was very musically open-minded and that outlook has stayed with me since childhood; I'll try anything once, and some of the things that I've encountered because of that potentially masochistic willingness are truly mind-warping. From Wildman Fischer and the Legendary Stardust Cowboy to Flash Cooney and the Deans of Discipline and the Yeasty Girls, I will listen to absolutely anything and as a result I have amassed a staggeringly varied vinyl and CD collection. Probably the most bizarre vinyl item that I own — next to the excellent Fiddler On the Roof Goes Latin — is Fist Goodbody's Traveling Torture Show, a recording of ambient music for your home S/M sessions presided over by a shirtless, flaming queen in a blonde wig and a feather boa. Side one is simply eerie music to set the mood, but side two is the same as side one, only with the occasional whiplash sound effect and some guy going "Aaaagggh!" in reaction. It's hard to believe that someone would ever relegate such weirdness to the cut-out bin (where I found it for a dollar!), but what do I know?
I'll tell you what I do know: after making my way through countless individual recordings and full-length albums I have narrowed down the top ten albums that I simply could not live without. That was no easy task and after making a list that amounted to about thirty-two all-time favorites I nearly pulled my hair out trying to weed it all down to ten. Here's my list and I hope that it intrigues you enough to check out any of these that are unfamiliar to you. And please feel free to write back with your own list because who knows? I may find something new out of the deal!
DUTY NOW FOR THE FUTURE -DEVO
The first album — Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo (1978) — is justly recognized as a classic, but it was this second album that made me a Devo fan for life. Though the songs were deemed not strong enough for inclusion on the first album, Duty Now For the Future is rife with excellent minimalist rockers ("Clockout," "Wiggly World," "Strange Pursuit," "The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprise," "Pink Pussycat") and my vote for the best of many Devo-ized cover versions, "Secret Agent Man," which has a stompin' bass-heavy live version on the full-length Devo Live album which has to be heard to be appreciated. After this came the Freedom of Choice album, "Whipit" and top 40 fame, so this is really the last of the true Devo records before the inevitable loss of balls-out strangeness and creative stagnation slowly eroded much of the band's unique edge. You may enjoy the first album more, but check out this odd little slice of pre-MTV major-label-released mutation.
THE COMMERCIAL ALBUM -THE RESIDENTS
Sure, the Residents are a bunch of strange, anonymous, giant-eyeball-visaged art fucks, but this album can't be beat for sheer rapid-fire "what the fuck am I listening to?" quality. The title derives from the fact that each song featured is only one minute long, like the garden variety television commercial. And there are forty of them, which makes this a sort of soundtrack to impending madness. Eerie synthesizers creating an other-dimensional atmosphere, lyrics about being aware of being watched by a hungry ocean and having one's wife taken through an open doorway to the afterlife by "the Easter Woman," high-pitched voices drilling the dangerously infectious tunes into the mind of a mesmerized listener, and a pervasive sense of sadness and despair all gel to create the perfect guided tour of an aural asylum.
GET HAPPY! -ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS
Often overlooked in favor of his other albums such as Trust, Armed Forces and the inexplicably acclaimed Imperial Bedroom, this album is the perfect way to introduce the novice to the early works of the one and only Declan Patrick McManus (that's Elvis Costello to you). A lively sampler of many musical flavors, the CD version is much expanded from the original vinyl release and includes thirty tracks, probably the best known of which is his heart-broken cover of Sam & Dave's "I Can't Stand Up (For Falling Down)."
CITIZEN OF THE WORLD -DIDJWORKS
DON'T BREAK THE OATH -MERCYFUL FATE
This is without question the finest of the eleventy-jillion Norse Satanic metal opuses. Fronted by the over-the-top/all-over-the-place vocals of King Diamond, the musicianship on this is what separates it from the herd, and it rocks like nothing you ever experienced on AOR radio. Even if you hate this kind of stuff, please give it a chance because the music is seriously evocative and — for once in the metal genre — free of the hot-doggish guitar noodling that is not only irritating in a "look at me I'm so cool" way, but is also reminiscent of musical masturbation (are you listening, Yngwie Malmsteen?). No joke, when I bought this album I listened to it at least three or four times a day for six months, thereby relegating my soul to Satan.
A DATE WITH ELVIS -THE CRAMPS
Sure the Cramps had already put out a few albums-worth of their unique sludgy rockabilly/sleazy B-movie musical stylings but those were merely warmups for this, their masterpiece. Wearing its low-rent '50's rock 'n' roll influence on its leather-jacketed sleeve, A Date With Elvis is unpretentious, sex-obsessed (most notably on the track "What's Inside A Girl?"), completely insane and just as downright fun as a tequilaed-up, beehive-sporting truckstop waitress named Lurlene. I have had a lifelong love of obscure old rock that makes one feel like they are half-whiskeyed-out in a strip joint reeking of stale Marlboro smoke, spilled beer that has molecularly bonded with the Whorehouse Red shag carpet, and cheap bus station perfume, and I usually hate the bands who attempt to emulate that heady mixture, but the Cramps consistently got it right. You see, they weren't out to merely ape the sound and ambience of those dank, basement-level artifacts; the Cramps strove to keep the form alive and brought their own signature outlook to the proceedings, even when covering something as irredeemably ludicrous as the Spark Plugs' "Chicken" (Bawk bawk buhk-ACK!) or when transforming the Del Raney's Umbrellas chestnut "Can Your Hossie Do the Dog?" into the ultimate anthem to horniness "Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?" They still put out albums on an irregular basis (the last gap between Cramps albums amounted to around six years or more) but none have come close to this one, either before or since.
PENTHOUSE & PAVEMENT -HEAVEN 17
Simply put: this is the definitive British synth/fag-rock dance album. With not one bad track on this mother, put it on and you will be shaking your ass like you're trying to dislodge a jalapeño buttplug. In fact, this is one of a handful of albums that I discovered because they happened to be playing it in the record store and I fell instantly in love. Since first hearing this at Bleeker Bob's in early 1981 I have gone through three vinyl copies and now own it on CD. It includes such classics as "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang," "Geisha Boys and Temple Girls," "The Height of the Fighting" and one of my all-time favorite '80's dance floor classics, "Let's All Make A Bomb," so with a lineup like that you could be dancing right now instead of reading this!
IT'S ALIVE -RAMONES
Recorded at a live New Year's show in England in the late 1970's, this is a catalog of pretty much most of the material from the first three Ramones studio albums, only the versions here have the energy of the boys' live performances and all of the songs actually rock harder than their studio counterparts. In short, this is the only Ramones album you really need.
SHEIK YERBOUTI -FRANK ZAPPA
Remember when Frank Zappa had a minor Top 40 hit in 1979 with "Dancin' Fool?" Well this is the album that it sprang from and thanks to those pussies at the FCC none of the other far superior tracks ever made it onto the airwaves. Sure Frankie was notorious for his irreverent and often outrageously filthy lyrics, but he and his band were possibly the most skilled American musicians ever to grace the rock genre. These guys were so tight that most of the Zappa albums from that time were simply recordings of their live performances; in fact most of the songs from the period never had studio versions. Sheik Yerbouti includes such treasures as Frank's take on Peter Frampton's sappy "I'm In You," reworked into the far more honest "I Have Been In You," "Flakes" (a diatribe against the fucking idiots who infest the world), "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes" (lessons on how to get over a bad breakup by frequenting drag queens and getting heavily into homosexual anal sex and fisting with Crisco), "Bobby Brown" (the heartwarming tale of one man's instant conversion to anything-goes homosexuality after having sex with an extremely aggressive dyke named Freddy — yes, I know that makes no sense but the song is still pretty funny), "Baby Snakes" and the infamous "Jewish Princess," for which Zappa caught a lot of heat; it rhapsodizes about the rather explicit pleasures to be had with Semitic women. Sample lyrics:
I want a nasty little Jewish princess
With overworked gums
Who squeaks when she cums!
The controversy over that song was soon eclipsed by the much more vehement reaction to "Catholic Girls" from his next album, the classic Joe's Garage Act 1. I first got my hands on this album when I was in the ninth grade and it is definitely one of the experiences that shaped my mindset from that moment on. Come to think of it, this is the album that really launched my search for quality obscene music (but not the most obscene song ever recorded, which is a matter for another post).
REMAIN IN LIGHT -TALKING HEADS
After three albums that were good yet screamed "Look at us! We're art students! Ain't we clever?," the Heads got down to some serious ass-kicking funk and consequently came up with their best album. Every track on this owns the listener completely and if you enjoy the classic "Once In A Lifetime," you will be floored by the rest of the record. Sadly, nothing they have done since comes close to this one and David Byrne fully metamorphosed into a whiny, pretentious douchebag.
The kings of surf/instrumental rock attempted to cash in on the 1966 Batman television series craze with this collection of original instrumentals and covers of spy/adventure TV themes, and while it didn't rake in many ducats it scores big with folks like me who love good instrumentals. Their version of the Batman theme is easily the best of many that were recorded that year, but the real gems here are the original composition "Hotline" (later well covered by Man...Or Astroman?) and the drop-dead excellent covers of the themes from Get Smart and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
MACHINE GUN ETIQUETTE, GRAVE DISORDER and THE BEST OF THE DAMNED-THE DAMNED
It was impossible for me to choose a favorite album by my much-beloved Damned, but you can't go wrong with these three. The best of compilation is exactly what it claims to be — with a few notable omissions that can't be helped since they were recorded after this album was released — and the two studio albums are hands-down the best overall full-length records in their catalog (although there is a very good case to be made in favor of their classic debut album, DAMNED, DAMNED, DAMNED). The only thing you need to watch out for are the numbers that are pretty much designed to feature vocalist Dave Vanian's penchant for the over-the-top theatrical, but hey, everybody's got their own idiosyncracies! As long as we have "New Rose," "Melody Lee" and the exquisite "Plan 9 Channel 7" all is right in the world.