Sunday, December 14, 2003

One of my daily must-visit sites on the information superhighway (or InfSupe, as those of us who like to use outdated catch phrases from 1997 and abbreviate things for no particular reason call it) is 365 Days. It’s a site that provides a new MP3 each day during the year 2003. The selections are odd, marginal audio arcana ranging from old industrial records to incredibly misbegotten celebrity records to outsider music to random recorded bits found on old tapes purchased at flea markets. It’s an incredibly fascinating tour through the soft underbelly of the recording industry - a place of dashed dreams, bad ideas and eccentric brilliance. (Unfortunately, after the year is over, the MP3s will no longer be available at the site. However, they are still plentiful on various filesharing services, and it’s unlikely that the RIAA will sue people for downloading Chris Palestis or Central High School Cafeteria Band mp3s.) Here’s a look back at a few of the most interesting tracks that have been dredged up by the curators of this site:

The Goldwaters, "It's Over Now/Win in '64." Bizarro world folk music by early 60s John Birch Society followers. Imagine a world, if you will, where young conservatives flock around coffeehouses to disseminate the new National Review and organize sit-ins in support of states’ rights. A world where Joan Baez sang the stirring ballad “I Dreamt I Saw John Stennis Last Night” and Pete Seeger was banned from national TV for protesting open-housing laws. Before Bob Roberts and the rise of the hip rebel campus conservative, the Goldwaters paved the way with their earnest diatribes against the Great Society.

Guy Lafleur, "Scoring." Yes, that’s Montreal Canadien great Guy Lafleur talk-singing over a disco beat in this combination hockey instructional record/dance song. Learn to play hockey AND impress the chicks down at the roller rink with your stylin’, French-Canadian-by-way-of-dumbed-down-Eurodisco moves. (And yes, the hockey terminology/sexual innuendo is purely intentional. On another song on the album, Lafleur sings “If it ever came down to it, baby, I’d get my way with my power play.” Two minutes for highsticking and a game misconduct for illegal use of Rohypnol.)

IBM 7090, "Music for Mathematics." Incredibly primitive, repetitive, yet somehow oddly compelling electronic music created by scientists to show off the capabilities of the then-state-of-the-art IBM 7090. Take away Kraftwerk’s synthesizers and force them to play using nothing but old Simon memory games, and…well, it still wouldn’t sound like this, but you’d be in the ballpark. In a similar vein, the "Computer Speech" cut from the same project is worth hearing for the pure weightless, inhuman creepiness of the computerized speech produced by that now-primitive technology. (It’s also where Kubrick got the idea for HAL to sing “Daisy” during 2001: A Space Odyssey.)

Frugal Gormets, "Satan's Blood." Holy fuck, this is disturbing. Two 14 year old kids from the Midwest, infused with a mixture of media violence and fundamentalist anti-Satanic dogma, vomit it all back up in this chilling minute and a half audio collage. The Gormets apparently grew up to be productive members of society, which is almost hard to believe after listening to this demented (and very angry) piece. The concept of “shock” is almost meaningless in this day and age, but this recording manages to at least make the listener draw back a little.

Unknown, "Up Up and Away." A home recording by an unknown girl of the Jimmy Webb/Fifth Dimension song. It’s quite a touching performance, even if her pitch rarely if ever hits any of the intended notes. The whole thing threatens to fall apart during the bridge, but bravely she soldiers on through the atonality. Her wobbly voice evokes an unmistakable vulnerability and sadness that makes the saccharine sentiments of the lyrics that much more poignant.

Leland W. Sprinkle, "The Great Stalacpipe Organ." I can speak firsthand about this one, sort of - I have actually been in Luray Caverns in Virginia and heard the famous, unbelievable stalacpipe organ what’s made from a cavern. It’s a very surreal experience - the sound bounces around the cavern in bizarre and seemingly irrational ways, making you feel like you’re in a horror movie except you can actually hear the soundtrack. White trash guignol. This recording doesn’t quite capture this feeling - unless you had several different microphones at various locations, it probably couldn’t - but it is a moody, creepy bit of organ playing.

(To be continued. In part II - way-way-outsiders, archaic views on sexuality, zany foreigners, and lots and lots of God.)

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