Recently, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a surprising number of those rarest of musical jewels: stuff I'd never heard before. Obviously, this isn't to say they've never alighted upon the ears of another human in history - were that the case, how would I have found 'em? But let's be honest, someone else passing you some tunes is never as satisfying as excavating something yourself.
The great danger of crate-digging is that a record would be valued strictly because of its obscurity. This (along with its equally-evil twin, Popism) replaces any aesthetic considerations with cut-throat market ideology. There's a Sophie's Choice in approaching music strictly as a consumer: either the log-hollow pretension of the DJ who announces (to no one in particular) the "first UK spin!" of some forgetabbly muddy funk 45, or Girl Talk.
It's hardly controversial to note that some pop music is popular for good reason, and much obscure music is obscure for good reason. Less baffling than when something good goes unnoticed, though, is when something without popular appeal is popular nonetheless. I'm not talking about Timbaland's continued ubiquity despite the series of gold-leafed turds he's been handing his audience; booty-shakers three bottles of "woooo!" into their Saturday night are hardly going to care whether it's Madonna, Nicole Sherzinger, or Aaliyah cooing at 120dB. No, I'm talking about Jandek becoming standard on student pub jukeboxes; about Les Rallizes Denudes' swampy second-rate psychedelia getting glowing reviews on Pitchfork; about any band in the Nuggets collections singled out as geniuses despite the stylistic anonymity that earned their inclusion in the boxset in the first place.
In some cases, like Wesley Willis or Daniel Johnston, the story is too good to ignore. In others, a ridiculous name that goes viral as a punchline (!!!) is all the PR a band needs - or, for an unlucky few like Holy Fuck, all the PR a band doesn't need. Or (adopting squirrely Robert Downey Jr. voice) here's a theory, I'm just gonna throw it out there... maybe people are lot more sophisticated than the RIAA and Clear Channel give them credit for; maybe there's a reason Revolver, not A Hard Day's Night, is routinely cited as the greatest rock album ever; maybe something broader than rotation on 120 Minutes put Sonic Youth in arenas during the '90s.
Of course, the Smithsonian Institute ain't big enough to archive all the music that is, en fin, fucking ridiculous. Some white-label singles aren't worth spinning, and not every Italian horror soundtrack is worth sampling. But the sick joy to be found in dead-baby jokes and episodes of COPS is also in listening to people that should never have been sat in front of a microphone. (Hello, Liam Gallagher!) People stop more often to study a dead bird than to smell the roses.
Accordingly, here's a hodge-podge of some of the more peculiar curios in my collection; some of them are fresh discoveries, but most have been just weird enough to be worth hauling halfway around the world with me. A couple of tracks have been edited, 'cuz seriously, you don't need a quarter-hour of Gracious! quoting Beethoven and relating some thuggish reverie. Click on the mix title to download.
Less Allegro More Retardo
1. T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo - "Intro" (00:00)
2. Jackie Wilson & LaVern Baker - "Think Twice" (Alt. take; 00:11)
3. Klaus Doldinger - "Sitar Beat" (02:40)
4. The Bangers - "Baby Let Me Bang Your Box" (04:04)
5. Chinga Chavin - "Asshole From El Paso" (06:37)
6. Merv Griffin - "Have a Nice Trip" (11:19)
7. Cookie Monster - "Cookie Disco" (13:31)
8. Ray Sanders & Friends - "Karate" (15:35)
9. Alex Chilton - "Girl After Girl" (17:48)
10. Unknown - "Big Al's Country Bus" (20:06)
11. Boredoms - "Which Doo Yoo Like?" (22:15)
12. Machida Machizo - "心臓賭博" (24:09)
13. Plywood 3/4 - "Travailler Dans l'Beurre" (25:48)
14. Brainticket - "The Space Between" (27:46)
15. Les Baxter - "The Devil's Witchcraft" (30:43)
16. Ging Nang Boyz - "あの娘に１ミリでもちょっかいかけたら殺す" (32:39)
17. Tony Lowry - "Screw On the Loose" (36:44)
18. Marvin Pontiac - "Bring Me Rocks" (37:43)
19. Sex - "I Had to Rape Her" (41:13)
20. The Brainbombs - "Lipstick On My Dick" (45:23)
21. William Trytel - "Saw Theme" (49:55)
22. Apryl Fool - "The Lost Mother Land (Part 1)" (50:33)
23. Gracious! - "Dream" (55:55)
24. Dark - "R.C. 8" (57:51)
25. Aphrodite's Child - "Infinity Symbol" (59:47)