Top 10 Musical Oddities

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I can make a bold statement that I firmly believe to be true – not a single track from any of the albums on this list is being played right at this moment on a radio station. Anywhere. But that is what makes this sorta music so irresistible – it serves as a much-needed antidote to mainstream muck.

Similar to another list I assembled a while back for the Alternative Nation site (Top 10 Underrated 90’s Alternative Rock Albums), I have put together these 10 peculiar selections from an earlier book by yours truly, Overlooked/Underappreciated: 354 Recordings That Demand Your Attention, which like the title suggests, just may help introduce you to a few artists and/or recordings that you missed the first time around. Ready? Let’s get started…

10. Khabarta – Khabarta [1998]

Ween and Beck were not the only rock artists reaching a bit outside the mainstream realm during the late ’90s/early 21st century (while also managing to pen instantly memorable tunes with melodies that stuck in your head). Case in point, Khabarta by Khabarta. How the heck do you classify a tune like “Molasses Swamps”? Horror electro-rock meets James Brown? Or what about the inclusion of several nonsensical “interludes” interspersed throughout (“Tiny Tot,” “Nightshade,” etc.)? Khabarta gets my vote for the weirdest yet wonderful recording of the era, and I’m quite sure you will agree.

9. Blotto – Collected Works [1992, selections compiled from early ’80s]

There was a time when videos played on MTV were low-budget, charming, and didn’t take themselves too seriously (in other words, before artists such as Pat Benatar, Duran Duran, and Michael Jackson enlisted directors who thought they were Steven Speilberg and tried making mega-buck “mini-movies”). And Blotto certainly fits in the former category. Admittedly, you really need to see the video clips of such tracks as “Metalhead” and “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard” to get the full effect, but even on their own, they are fun little ditties.

8. Fantômas – Fantômas [1999]

If you’re expecting traditional song structures and singing, this is certainly not the album for you. But what sounds like largely freeform music is actually composed – entirely by Mike Patton, which once you find out that little tidbit, makes this album more enjoyable (at least it did for me). Supposedly, the album was constructed as a soundtrack to an imaginary comic book. Sounds good to me, Mr. Patton.

7. Silver Apples – Silver Apples [1968]

Has there ever been an era more ground-breaking for rock music than the mid to late ’60s? Perhaps not, as evidenced by landmark releases by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, the Velvet Underground, Sly & the Family Stone, etc. And there were quite a few lesser-known releases that were also incredibly original sounding, such as the New York electro-rock duo, Silver Apples. Think a cross between VU and Can, and you’re close to the type of enjoyable racket that the Silver App chaps specialized in – as heard throughout their obscure self-titled debut recording.

6. The Monks – Black Monk Time [1966]

What happens when you take a group of US soldiers stationed in Germany during the mid ’60s and have them shave bald spots a top their heads and wear robes? The answer is they inadvertently help create punk rock – as evidenced by the obscure band, The Monks, and their lone studio album, Black Monk Time.

5. Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica [1969]

I’ll put it right out there – Trout Mask Replica is one darn hard listen in one sitting. It seems like it’s a band doing freeform jams at various points, but from articles/interviews I have read over the years, the material was actually all rehearsed beforehand, which makes the recording extremely impressive. Picture a more abstract Tom Waits…and you’re still probably not even close to what the heck the music sounds like here!

4. Crispin Hellion Glover – The Big Problem ≠ The Solution. The Solution = Let It Be [1989]

Quite often, when an already-established actor or actress tries their hand at music, it stinks to high heaven (Corey Feldman and Jennifer Love Hewitt being golden examples). But then, there are the select few that have composed music completely unlike the horrible mainstream schlock you’d expect – case in point, Crispin Glover (who goes by his full name, Crispin Hellion Glover), and his 1989 recording, The Big Problem ≠ The Solution. The Solution = Let It Be. Both unpredictable and odd, this wonderful piece of audio art never fails to baffle and/or agitate new listeners I have attempted “introducing” it to over the years.

3. Harvey Sid Fisher – Astrology Songs [1993]

With what sounds like a cheap Casio keyboard providing the music and a chap who likes to sing (sometimes off-key) about the wonders of astrology, this oddball mixture equals one of the most captivating novelty records I have ever subjected my eardrums to. Of course, I’m talking about Harvey Sid Fisher’s Astrology Songs. Sample lyric – “Talkin’ ’bout the Taurus, Talkin’ ’bout the bully bull bull.” If that doesn’t win you over, I don’t know what will.

2. Morton Downey Jr. – Morton Downey Jr. Sings [1989]

You can’t help but wonder while listening to Morton Downey Jr. Sings if ol’ Mort really believed that he was going to score a pop hit that was going to do battle with the Milli Vanillis and Bon Jovis of the world. Regardless, I’m glad he decided to try and capture his absurd television show on a music CD, which, as expected, lyrically includes topics that would have been right at home being discussed on his show – pollution (“Solution to Pollution”), dishonest doctors (“Operate, Operate”), drugs (“Hey Mr. Dealer”), not showing proper respect to the elderly (“Old Man”), and of course, his notorious catch phrase (“Zip It”).

1. William Shatner – The Transformed Man [1968]

In the popular 2001 comedy, Ghost World, the character Rebecca says about a school dance, “This is so bad it’s almost good,” before her friend, Enid, retorts, “This is so bad it’s gone past good and back to bad again.” When it comes to describing William Shatner’s spoken word/musical tour de force, The Transformed Man, I don’t know which of the Ghost World statements sums up my true feelings of this recording. Nevertheless, everyone should experience Mr. Shatner’s (mis)interpretations of “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” at least once in their lifetime.

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Bio: After having his articles posted from other outlets on Alternative Nation (and before that, Grunge Report) for years - heck, he was even interviewed by GR back in 2009! - Greg Prato finally began contributing articles to the site in 2014. He has written for various sites/mags over the years (Rolling Stone, All Music Guide, etc.), and is the author of quite a few books. And as evidenced by such titles as Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon, and Too High to Die: Meet the Meat Puppets, he also has a deep fondness for alternative rock n' roll music. You can check out info on all of Greg's books here, see what he's up to on his Twitter page here.
  • Felonious Punk

    How did I know that Mike Patton would have at least one album somewhere on this list..

  • Brett Todd

    What about Patton’s Adult Themes for Voice?

  • dakotablue

    How about the Swamp Zombies? And Andy Kaufman channeling Elvis.