Saturday, August 06, 2011

List of the Month - wacky album titles

A little bit of fun this month....

I have tried to limit myself to albums which I actually own (although most of my collection is on vinyl, and stored in a friend's loft; I've endured many painful years of separation now), but there are a couple of 'cheats'. I was aiming for a nice round dozen, but... it's ended up being a Baker's Dozen.

It's notable, isn't it, that really amusing album titles tend to be the preserve of bands with amusing or at least at least strikingly unusual names? They are also - at least, amongst the stuff that I've bought - strongly associated with cleverer-than-average music and/or lyrics.

My Top 12 (er, 13) Amusing Album Titles

Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch  
(Frank Zappa, 1982)
Zappa's catalogue could furnish enough candidates to fill a list like this on its own: Hot Rats, Playground Psychotics,  One Size Fits All, Sheik Yerbouti, Weasels Ripped My Flesh, Zoot Allures, Bongo Fury, Imaginary Diseases, Jazz From Hell, Everything Is Healing Nicely.

Lick My Decals Off, Baby  
(Captain Beefheart, 1970)
Although the 1993 compilation A Carrot Is As Close As A Rabbit Gets To A Diamond is even better as an album title. (I made it a private rule for myself here only to include full albums rather than EPs and so on, and only 'original' albums rather than soundtracks or anthologies.)

Enema of the State  
(Blink-182, 1999)
I don't really know this band, but I've often been tempted to give them a try because of this album title (and the album cover). Recently, I have acquired this, and a little bit of their other stuff, from a friend on MP3.

(Attila The Stockbroker, 1988)
One of the highlights of my student days: other great '80s albums of this left-wing comedy 'ranter' (an occasional collaborator with my pub rock hero John Otway) were Libyan Students From Hell and 667 - Neighbour of the Beast.

From Beer To Eternity  
(The Macc Lads, 1989)
One of the guiltier pleasures of my students days, this northern working class comedy punk band were obnoxiously sexist and homophobic (but, one hoped, probably mistakenly, in a self-mocking kind of way), but their lyrics were often extremely funny, and they could play a bit as well. I saw them live a few times in the '80s (including in a tiny basement dive bar called The Dolly, one of Oxford's few live music venues, on the eve of the last of my final exams: my essay-writing performance the next day was impaired by chronic tinnitus, but it was worth it!): they had tremendous energy on stage - much of which comes across in their recorded material too. Beer consumption was a dominant theme: their debut album was Beer & Sex & Chips'n'Gravy; later releases included The Beer Necessities and Alehouse Rock; and they called their 1991 'Best of...' compilation Twenty Golden Crates.

(Tom Waits, 1983)
A less guilty pleasure from the same era - one of the great man's weirdest and least accessible albums, but worth taking the trouble to get into.

Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret  
(Soft Cell, 1981)
Marc Almond's Tainted Love seemed to be the inescapable soundtrack to most of my student days, continuing to dominate college bar jukeboxes for at least four or five years after its original release. I didn't buy the album it was from until some time in the '90s, and was pleasantly surprised to discover how consistently good the other songs are.

The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other  
(Van Der Graaf Generator, 1970)
I was not, in general, a huge fan of prog rock, but I discovered these guys by chance in the 'bargain bin' at one of my favourite record stores when I was a student, and slowly began collecting their albums. Their music is a lot more interesting, and their lyrics much smarter than you find in most other bands of that ilk. The second side of 1971's Pawn Hearts was a multi-part concept piece called A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers - that is perhaps my favourite title ever for a piece of music, but, alas, it doesn't qualify as an album title.

Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death  
(Dead Kennedys, 1987)
1982's Plastic Surgery Disasters would be a runner-up from this band. (Possible 'cheat' here: I believe this release was categorised as an anthology of unused tracks from earlier recording sessions, rather than a regular album.)

Aliens Ate My Buick!  
(Thomas Dolby & The Lost Toy People, 1988)
I learn from Wikipedia that Dolby may be about to release his first full studio album in nearly 20 years. I look forward to that. Apparently, one of the tracks on it is called Your Karma Hit My Dogma.

Too Fat To Run, Too Stupid To Hide  
(Creaming Jesus, 1990)
OK, this is the one outright 'cheat' in the list. I do not own this, nor, to my knowledge, have I ever even heard the band. I gather they were a British goth metal (or thrash metal??) outfit of the early '90s - not my kind of thing. However, I saw this album in a CD shop some time about 12 or 15 years ago and was mighty tempted to get it for the name alone.

Trouble Over Bridgewater  
(Half Man, Half Biscuit, 2000)
This magnificent British comedy band were another of the great joys of my student days. My favourite of their song titles - all absolutely inspired! - was All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit (although 99% Of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd would be running it a close second). I think that was from their first album, Back In The D.H.S.S. (i.e., the dole office - maintained by a division of the government named at that time the Department of Health and Social Security). Their lyrics and song/album titles are crammed full of these sly cultural references that only a Brit - and probably, for the most part, only a Brit who was growing up in the 1970s - would get.

Please Enlarge My Cousin's Photograph  
(Glorious Pharmacy, 2005)
This intermittent 'experimental folk' collective, based around the core members of virtuoso saxophonist Li Tieqiao, percussionist Guo Long, and guitarist/vocalist Xiao He, is the most technically accomplished and musically interesting band I've seen in China - though they are rather too determinedly weird for some tastes, and tend to disappear for long spells on exploratory trips up their own bottoms. This album, though, is well worth downloading.

Feel free to add your own favourites in the comments.


JES said...

Sorry, I have nothing really to add at this time... Talking Heads' Sand in the Vaseline seems to be about the apex (or nadir) of wackiness for me. After that it's a long way down (or up) to Nilsson Schmilsson. I feel so ashamed!

That lead-off Zappa title of yours is actually an old joke by a guy named Roger Price: the caption to a so-called "Droodle," which is reproduced on the cover of Zappa's album. (I have no idea if the album makes any mention of Price or his Droodles, and didn't even know that the album existed until you mentioned it. But there's (of course) a Wikipedia article on Droodles, and the album cover is one example it uses as illustration. (Here's a Droodle Archive!)

Gary said...

Haha - great list.

Earl Zinger produced an album called Put Your Phasers On Stun And Throw Your Health Food Skyward. Zinger is a character invented by a Brit called Rob Gallagher. Do you know him?

Think I'll have to download some of that Half Man Half Biscuit - can't resist an album title like that.

Anonymous said...

eh, I'm gonna cheat a 'lil. Not an album title... but my favorite 'wacky' song title...

Froog said...

How could I have omitted C'est Cheese by Canadian comedy band The Arrogant Worms, or Great Trucking Songs Of The Renaissance by Australia's finest, TISM?

I might need to return to this topic another time.

KingTubby said...

I can't compete with this weirdness, so will make a straight recommendation.

John Hammond's Wicked Grin is the most perfect coverage of Mr Croaky Waits songs turned into pure Southern Gothic.

Killer stuff from A to Z.

King Tubby

Froog said...

Thanks for the tip, KT - previously unknown to me.

I was recently introduced to a band called The Famous, who have a similar Waitsian delivery (and Nick Cave-ish murder/suicide hang-up) and Southern Gothic vibe, at least on their song Come Home To Me. I gather they're actually from the West coast, though - and have been described as "The Pixies in a cowboy hat". I should check out more of their stuff.

I hope you're not being disrespectful of the great TW. I'd describe his vocal style as husky or growly, but not a croak; and it is a consciously cultivated technique that he can tune up or down at will. And it's not as if he's the only person to sing that way; though he may perhaps have been one of the first, and has become the most famous.

He has made that sound kind of a trademark, I guess. In fact, he won a landmark 'passing off' case - Waits v. Frito-Lay - about 20 years ago, suing the snack manufacturer for having used an actor to impersonate his voice in a series of TV ads (however, it helped a lot to establish the identification that he had evidence they'd earlier approached him to do the voiceover himself and he'd refused).

Even Paul Heaton of The Beautiful South - whose natural range is much higher - has managed a pretty decent impression of him, on Liar's Bar (from the Blue Is The Colour album). The song itself is a Waits parody, and quite a good one.

Froog said...

I see The Buzzcocks a few years ago did an album called Flatpack Philosophy.

That's a great album name. But I never did much like The Buzzcocks. And I saw them when they played in Beijing a year or so ago - thought it was one of the worst gigs I've seen in my life.