weird stuff weird year

20 Weird Records for a Weird 2020

I started the year in January getting a basal cell carcinoma about the size of a quarter hacked off my nose. The doctor let me listen to Alice Coltrane’s Journey in Satchidananda in the operating room, so it was appropriately chill. After two days of getting sliced and sewn back together (and using the doctor-mandated downtime to troll approximately 35,000 Discogs entries looking for improperly listed Archer Record pressings), I thought, “OK … I got the bad shit out of the way early, the rest of 2020 is going to be great.”

So instead of that happening, this year seems like as good a marker as ever to just throw a rundown of 20 truly weird records your way. By no means comprehensive or even necessarily consistent, these oddities run the gamut from legit art pieces to middle fingers and everything in between. Packaging, process, content … there are many ways to be weird.

This is the album that initially inspired this list. I have to say, I was legitimately eyes-bugged-out-freaked when I read the description (below) about this record:

This recording is an “unauthorized experiment” that was made in the year 2058 C.D.S. (Carbon Dating System), a “blue verbal data feed” sent backwards in time to “retro A.D.” by Decker, T. L., index J-3, CMR 00965 of T-Group Roaring Vectors 252, a human cyborg who suffers from a malfunctioning number nine electrode in his head which causes him to have an emotional breakdown as he records this message. It’s a secret message to a past world he has trouble imagining, a world of foreign substances like metal, plastic, animals, soldiers… a world all physical and “impossibly slow.”

An 8½” 20RPM disc containing this recording was found on the elevator at 205 W. 57th Street in New York City on February 11, 1969.

The recording, approximately 24 minutes in length, has been reproduced on this 10″ record, in a stickered blank sleeve with blue insert.

What in the hell was going on here? After a little bit of digging, it turned out that everything written above is complete bullshit, along the lines of the Safety Not Guaranteed classified ad that was later turned into a film of the same name. In that same vein, the fake story was so well done that I don’t even seem to care (nor does it matter) that the real story seems to just be a stunt by Gesner, better known for his work with Charles Schultz and Peanuts-related musicals.

The most famous song-poem ever isa shot in the dark by then-teenaged John Trubee thinking, “What the heck, why not?” in sending the most outrageous lyrics he could think of to a classified ad promising to “put your words to music.” While the original title of “Stevie Wonder’s Penis” was changed by the powers-that-be on the recording end of things, everything else is true in a surreal, unbelievable fever dream.

The entire Hear How series is just chock-full of hard-to-fathom releases that I still can’t seem to wrap my head around — why hearing is the way that you’d improve your bowling, be a better fisherman, or achieve sexual harmony in marriage. However, the fact that Lloyd Bridges is the expert on skin diving here makes it the most remarkable entry in a series filled with head-scratchers.

Cult leaders gonna cult. Vinyl on these seemed to be available for nary an instant before it was sold out in the early 2000s. Elizabeth Clare Prophet rambles on here in an incredibly droning pitter-patter vocal annoyance with stellar titling such as “Invocation for Judgement Against and Destruction of Rock Music.” The Aum Shinrikyo record from the same bootleg Faithways International imprint is slightly more musical, but the idea of that cult being behind the Tokyo Sarin Gas attacks of 1995 makes it much harder to stomach.

The spot where Wilco lifted their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot title is the shortwave radio broadcasts used to surreptitiously communicate with covert spies the world over. I remember reading about these in William Poundstone’s revelatory 1985 tome Big Secrets and to actually hear them decades later was creepy and intriguing all at the same time.

This is an undeniably brilliant prank pulled by the anarchist collective Crass (that’s the Creative Recording and Sound Services credited with copyright here). The group hoodwinked the schmaltzy UK teen girl magazine Loving to run a promotion where readers would send in a coupon and in return get a copy of this flexi-disc. Lyrics dripping with sarcasm and insincerity (but the audio totally passing for the schlock you’d imagine in such an instance), the ruse was eventually uncovered and made the front page of the NME.

I could just as easily pick the Lazaretto Ultra LP or Triple-Decker or flexi-disc balloon launch records I’d been a part of, but if I’m limiting myself to just one title I worked on here, the Upholsterers’ second single takes the cake. Soon after I’d started my Cass Records imprint, I started getting motivated to make records that were not available for sale. The first, Tin Knocker’s Wind-Up Action 7-inch, worked pretty well (it was a giveaway, trade, or hidden at Lewis Cass’ grave in Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit). In hopes of upping the ante and celebrating Brian Muldoon’s 25th year of upholstery in the city of Detroit, I suggested to the band that we should press a record and only dispatch it secretly hidden in the next 100 pieces of furniture that Brian would upholster through his Muldoon Studio. Matching vintage recordings of both “Riot In Cell Block #10” and “Marantette Blues No. 3” (which pre-date their “Makers of High Grade Suites” single) and a then-recent (2004-ish) cover of “Shakin’ All Over” — legendary Cass Corridor artist Gordon Newton was enlisted to do the artwork. Utilizing transparencies, clear vinyl, and rubber stamps, the idea was that even if one were to X-ray a piece of furniture, you still wouldn’t be able to detect its appearance. I recall four major goof-ups on this one:

  • We should’ve pressed it without a paper label so it was truly 100% transparent.
  • It was supposed to be catalog number ØØØ but the mastering engineer instead made it sequential with the rest of my Cass Records catalog.
  • The lock groove was supposed to repeat the ringing of a phone and Brian saying, “Can you pick that up?” but I was too ignorant of the process to actually request that the engineer make it happen. I assumed they would just “know.”
  • We weren’t supposed to talk about it. Seriously. I thought I’d be taking this one to the grave. But Jack Whiteedid a huge interview with the Observer in the UK in November 2004 and off-handedly spilled the beans there before we’d even pressed the records! If anyone with half a brain was on top of it, they could’ve just sent a chair to Brian to be reupholstered and it would’ve come back with this badass single inside.

Anyway, it took approximately 10 years for word to finally get back to us that, not one, but two copies had been found in the wild. As far as I can tell, no copies have ever been sold. If one did turn up for sale … I can’t even imagine how much crazy folks would spend trying to obtain it. I might know where a grip of these is hidden … but you’ll never get me to divulge.

As a manner of fundraising for the school that his son John Carter was enrolled in at the time, Johnny Cash re-recorded some of his best-known gospel standards and then had students from the school overdub vocals and instrumentation. I just find it so…odd. Admirable? Yes. Selfless? No doubt. Generous? Like you wouldn’t believe. I’m just genuinely unaware of any other star of Cash’s stature doing something so unpretentious and ripe for pillory. If I’m mistaken, please do not hesitate to let me know.

Heady Fwends has it all: celebrities, lucite encapsulation, the Oklahoma Humane Society, suggested refrigeration, and, best of all, blood. I gotta say, when Wayne Coyne reached out and asked “permission” from Third Man Records to do a blood-filled record inspired-by and utilizing the techniques we’d engaged for our Sixteen Saltines liquid-filled 12-inch single, it was flattering. The fact that I was able to convince Wayne to trade one of his blood-filled double LPs (prior to their lawyer-mandated sealing in lucite cases) for two of our liquid-filled singles feels like the deal of the century. And any commercially available object that comes with a warning sticker that reads as follows is legitimately crazy:

Warning: This package is for display purposes only and is not to be opened, nor are the contents to be used in any way, as they may contain dangerous, harmful, or hazardous materials. Accordingly, proceed at your own risk!

I kept my copy in the Third Man office refrigerator for some time, but it rightfully creeped out a few coworkers so it now lives in my office, all coagulated and nasty looking. Whenever I give a lecture to the school-aged kids as part of our School Choirs and Bands at Third Man series, I ask them if they wanna see something gross (the answer is always “yes”) and then pull out this bad boy. The sounds of their horrified reactions, befuddlement, and excitement never fail to put a smile on my face.

The inverted zen therapeutics imbued upon me with Chang’s script-flipping We Buy White Albums record store art installation still inspires here regularly. The fact that he turned the project into an actual release is all the more motivational. The drony, tilted, off-kilter result of 100 different copies of the White Album playing at once is perfectly one-of-a-kind in just about every way.

A genuinely befuddling record. An outsider recording to the extreme — as if Chris Crown was totally ignorant as to how her voice sounded to anyone besides herself. It was meant as a part of a stage production that seemingly never happened. There’s still more info being dug up on this one by folks hot on the case in trying to explain what in the hell is the story behind it all, and I wait with bated breath.

Blurring the line between parody and décollage intellectualism, Black Flag roadie Joe Cole ran a board tape of a Venom gig in ‘86 and edited it to remove all music except for a second or so of musical intros and outros of each song, instead highlighting the between-song banter from frontman Cronos. Devoid of music, the material takes on an otherworldly elevation, beyond beguiling, but in this man’s opinion, bordering on high art.

While there’s no shortage of unplayable records out there, something about this one, having gone through the process to cut a vinyl master only to completely destroy said master by carving a pentagram and the album title into the grooves and then pressing up the thing and having the balls to sell it to fans … I cannot help but have the utmost respect for the process. Every last detail drips with commitment and that’s more than you can say than 99% of the records out there.

I forever thought this was just a myth, but only just now have I tracked down the pertinent info. As discerned from this link, Anders, who ran the Releasing Eskimo label that put out Merzbow’s Noisembryo album, rigged a copy of the CD in the stereo of his beat up Mercedes 230. He made it so that it could not be turned off or removed … and then tried to sell the car as a limited-edition of one. When no one bought it, Anders removed the CD player and got rid of the car. Simply beautiful.

I think it downright genius when you engage the user to actually make the record. A mold, some distilled water, and once you follow the directions, you’ve got a record made of ice. Bravo, slow-clap, super-impressive, and I am absolutely jealous I did not come up with this one.

The catalog of Die Tödliche Doris is full of smart, insightful innovations and artful ideas, but the most impressive has to be the fact that their Unser Debut and Sechs albums were originally released separately, but actually exist as complementary pieces and, in turn, create an “Invisible” LP when played together. Each corresponding track on both records has the same length and is composed to accompany the counterpart, thus forming fitting new tracks. The band managed to keep this a secret while dropping clues across both discs. While seemingly not that crazy of an idea, to actually execute it and have it work is much more difficult than you’d imagine. The 1993 CD takes the idea even further by isolating the individual songs each to left or right channels, so panning your balance hard left or right will give you the individual songs while not panning at all gets you the “Invisible” song. Impeccably precise.

Seemingly only rediscovered in the past decade, this LP claims to be the first-ever recording of musicians under the influence of LSD. Stylistically, it’s all over the place, and I’m guessing that’s kinda the point? Interestingly enough, there seems to be no information available in regards to who these musicians were or how the recording came to be. Other than a couple of advertisements in the LA Free Press in 1966 listing the record available for mail-order, any other specifics behind this project have evaporated into the hazy purple-spotted ether much like the recollection of an LSD trip.

While the long-term effects of this release might not revolutionize the industry or shake the Earth, the fact that a relatively popular band literally just gave away an album and told folks to do whatever they wanted with it is truly remarkable. Was this the impetus behind a clutch of folks starting their own labels? If so, man, “A” for effort and chalk this one up next to Desperate Bicycles’ The Medium Was Tedium and Scritti Politti’s Skank Bloc Bologna for inspiring people to go out and do it themselves. At the moment, there are a solid 287 versions of Polygondwanaland existing on cassette, vinyl, CD, digital files, reel-to-reel, and 8-track. No microcassette or minidiscs yet, but I imagine they’re on the way?

Gotta admit, this one burns a little bit. Third Man was working on a prototype of the exact same idea of an LED-filled record at seemingly the exact same time as the geniuses over at Romanus were plotting theirs. Parallel thinking, no doubt. TMR had big targets in sight, multiple levels of management, parent record labels, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted kind of sights. We even met up with the company that custom programmed LEDs in balloons for shit like Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime show. And then, somewhat unceremoniously, it just kinda drifted away, on our end clearly deflated when we became aware of those dreaded words: “It’s already been done.” So kudos to the cats at Romanus, who do an ace job of filling their records with anything/everything and, in my opinion, keep pushing the envelope in the custom, hand-made vinyl novelty world that will always hold a place near-and-dear to my heart.

While their names are lost to history, the Six Boys in Trouble credited here laid down one of the most standalone badass art brut LPs of all time. With nothing but their voices and percussion accompaniment, these 11- and 12-year-old African-American boys living in New York City public housing in 1955 might as well exist in a vacuum. While seemingly untrained, it hardly comes off as amateur and I can’t say I’ve ever heard anything quite like it before or since. The play-by-play of imagined gang fights between the Vikings and Alligator Lords, with talk of switchblades, zip guns, and mau mau machetes is priceless and gives the greatest taste of pre-teen, braggadocious, chest-puffed posturing.  As presented by the estimable Folkways label, the academic approach applied here does nothing to lessen the soulfully chilling punch that lands straight to one’s core.

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Ben Blackwell
Ben Blackwell has spent the last 22 years of his life doing all he can to weasel his nose into as much music-related trouble he can rustle up. In 1998, he was interning for Detroit-based independent label Italy Records and selling merchandise for the White Stripes. By 1999, he would join the ranks of garage rock mediocrity as the drummer in the Dirtbombs. In 2003, Blackwell would start his own vinyl-focused imprint Cass Records, run from his high school bedroom. Right after he dropped out of journalism school, Rolling Stone magazine bestowed upon Blackwell their 2004 College Journalism award. By 2009, Blackwell had moved to Nashville to help start Third Man Records, a label, venue, storefront, and stadium soccer chant royalty laundering operation. Since then, he's overseen the release of nearly 700 titles at Third Man, from Billboard chart-toppers to sellers of 20 copies. In 2017, Blackwell was instrumental in the opening of Third Man Pressing, a brand new vinyl pressing plant in the city of his birth, Detroit. He's lucky to be married to his, wife, Malissa and they live in a (metaphorical) yurt amidst the chaos of their three (literal) daughters, Violet, Mabel, and Navy.