by David T. Lindsay
Recondite recordings, audible ersatz, demented discs, schlock - these are all terms describing a musical artform that has been deprived of recognition for too long. Manifesting itself in every musical genre from rock to jazz, and even Euphonic Polish Bluegrass; the time is right for schlock to take its deserved place as "the new music". Not new in the sense of trendy or current, but as an acceptable outlet for the non-talented.
You are probably asking yourself if this is a paid advertisement by the Libertarian Party of Georgia or the dream sequence in a Tony Paris review. It is neither, I am only trying to bring to your attention some of the worst records ever made. Most of these songs were written and performed by people who consider their records to be the pinnacle of their life; while most of these records end up in the trash.
It all started about 11 years ago for me. I was totally unable to relate to the (then) current trends in music. Jazz was headed towards fusion, rock was either laid-back or glitter, and folk was dead. There just wasn't anything to listen to - and then it happened! I ran across a record in a thrift store entitled, "Boy Wonder, I Love You" by Burt Ward and Frank Zappa. I like Zappa and bought the record. Was this a joke; Frank Zappa played guitar while Batman's TV sidekick sang about a fan letter he'd received. The record was awful, but my interest was aroused. For the first time in my life I started buying records by their titles rather than the performing artist.
Schlock can't be defined in absolute terms. It is best for us to let the records speak for themselves through a few representative titles: "Portable Deerstand", "Whose (sic) Been Putting Flowers on My Husband's Grave", "I Am a Ginseng Digger", "I Never Hit a Lady More Than Twice (Unless She Needs It)". Bizarre, useless, sick, depraved, in poor taste; schlock is all this.
Take for example, a song on Peak Records, "Sputnik Hires a Band". The Sputnik here refers to the legendary professional wrestler and bleach user, Sputnik Monroe, who tries unsuccessfully to hire a band that can play music to dance by -not music to "read comic books by". At this point let me note that all too often a record is termed schlock on the merits of its esoteric qualities. As the listener you are given absolutely no hint of what's on the artist's mind during the course of the record. I once heard a story about noted Brazilian jazz pop singer, Astrud Gilberta. It seems she was unable to understand English, so the record people had her mouth meaningless (to her at least) words for English-speaking records. This gave her singing a sort of eerie, mystical feel when in reality the poor girl was just confused. I am reminded of this whenever I hear a record called "The Swamp Guinea Legend", in which a young girl relates the story of how her grandfather steps in quicksand while ringing a chicken's neck and dies when a catfish lodges into his mouth. Because of all this she erects a restaurant on the spot where he died and names it in his honor (the actual restaurant is supposedly still standing in, of all places, Athens, Georgia).
Utter banality is productive when making schlock. In a song by Oxbow called "Wai Pout (Wipeout)", a lounge band plays twelve variations on a theme of the Venture's classic. The record label says it even better than the record -"Neutron Records, our music will kill you, but will leave your property undamaged". And speaking of undamaged property, while visiting a "Goose Ranch", Dick Kent is chased by a gander and he gets inspired enough to write a song of his exploits at a farm for geese. Insipid, pointless, and depraved, but I like it.
Marshall McLuhan once wrote that everything we do is music. Schlock is exemplified in almost everything we do, so it is only natural that music display some schlock. Are the songs I've pointed out that much different from past hit records like "Don't Sleep In the Subway'', "Where's the Playground, Susie", Walking My Cat, Named Dog" and "Another One Bites the Dust''?
In future articles I'll delve into specific songs in more detail, the personal lives of the bizarre people who make such records, and the unusual record labels that they record for. So the next time you spend An Evening with Hugh Downs or listen to Wally Butterworth's Kosher Food Blackmail, remember, there's nothing easy about easy listening.
If you just can't get enough of life's little vulgarities and unpleasantries, if standing in line at the Post Office has lost its appeal, if having cigarette smoke blown in your face no longer upsets you, if you actually think, "Wow, I wish they'd play that Gino Vannelli song one more time," and can't find it on the airwaves, you just might want to listen to "The King of Schlock Hour" every Wednesday night at 11 on WRFC-FM, 89.3, which features none other than the demented David Lindsay as host. You may even live to regret it.