Songs In The Key Of Z : The Curious Universe of Outsider Music

(Which Records WHI 2367)

I’ve had this for a while but wanted to live with it before reviewing it. It’s a compilation of what the compiler (Irwin Chusid) calls ‘Outsider Music.’ Check out the official website.

Now, the first problem is what does that mean? Does it mean loonies? Well, there’s certainly some people on this comp who are a few buns short of a trolley, but then there’s quite a few who are saner than me.

Does it mean people who are musically inept? Again, yes and no. If all you care about in music is how technically well something is played or sung, then you most probably will only like this album in a crap, kitsch student way.

But if you like to hear artists who, for whatever reason, *really mean it*, this is an essential album for your collection. I mean, there’s just some *beautiful* songs on here. I won’t go through each track (you can find the full listing at the website) but I’ll pick out some personal faves.

First, The Shagg’s ‘The Philosophy Of The World’ in which the Wiggin sisters lay out their world view. Namely that ‘the rich people want what the poor people got, the fat people want what the skinny people got’ etc. It’s a great song and melodically, there’s some crazy phrasing.

Next up is Daniel Johnston doing ‘Walking The Cow.’ A lot of ukmaers probably know about DJ already but if you don’t, this track just confirms then man’s melodic genius. He’s just hitting a little pump organ with all his might and wailing but it’s as haunting as Kraftwerk’s ‘Neon Lights.’ I honestly don’t know where it comes from – I only wish I could write songs one hundredth this brilliant.

I can say the same for Peter Grudzien’s ‘Star Spangled Banner.’ Apart from the fact that the bloke is carving out his own niche in the field of gay country, this is just a great paraphrasing of the WWII song.

Coming along, we have Shooby Taylor’s scat singing which sounds to me like someone travelling between shiny, thin universes. I honestly could never sing like this, never get this *free.* You may recognise this track from the Adam & Joe Show.

Wesley Willis track is ‘Rock’n’Roll McDonalds’, in which he explains that people go to McDonalds also for the ROCK. And they’ll make you fat. It inevitably reminds me of the Ramones’ ‘Rock’n’Roll High School’ only it’s not as slick as them. And I never thought I’d be typing that sentence…

Another high point for me is the demo of Joe Meek’s ‘Telstar.’ I admit I’m a bit of a Meekophile but you just *have to* have this track somewhere in your collection. At first it sounds like a mad drunk, but as that melody begins to appear, you realise Meek’s genius. Where the fuck is he getting it from?? Five million singles sold based on this amazing, liberated moment. I’m not ashamed to say that I wept after hearing this cos it freaked me out so intensely.

I suppose if you’re a Beefheart fan and never heard it before, then hearing Don whistling ‘Vampire Suite’ and then it being transmogrified by the Magic Band will have the same effect. Even though I’m not a Beefheart nut, I liked hearing this morphing.

Another standout is Arcesia’s ‘Butterfly Mind.’ This bloke can sing technically quite well so the strangeness comes from his lyrics and the emotion he crams into this acid-folk trip. It’s sort-of a madder Scott Walker meets William Shatner.

The mysterious Jandek appears with the track ‘They Told Me I Was A Fool.’ To me, this just sounds like Thurston Moore if somebody reigned him in a bit and got him to do a proper song.

The comp closes with Tiny Tim’s version of ‘True Love’, accompanied by his missus. Again, I know a lot of people like him in an annoying, ironic way but this is just a wonderful track. It cleaned my ears out. Susan’s Gardner’s vocal is also shimmeringly lovely. I put on the radio after listening to this and everything sounded like constipated, ball-less fucking puke in comparison.

I can’t honestly say if you’ll like this record. I guess a lot of people would like to have it to put on for their mates and laugh at, which is a fair enough reason, I guess. But for me, this CD is a blueprint for how music *should be made.* Where’s the fucking passion nowadays? Everyone seems so desperate to be on TOTP, in the shitty tabloids, gossip columns and music is just a means to get them there. Why should it matter how technically well a song is recorded? Why must everything be *machined* and conform before it gets airplay?

You can’t say that about the people on this record. Yes, some of them are provenly mentally unstable – so what? It doesn’t stop them from reaching into themselves and dragging stuff out that none of the gzillion Jeff Buckley clones on Lamaq can produce in their airbrushed angst.

Even the worst bits of this record are better than 99% of so-called ‘proper bands.’ I only wish there were more people round like the absolute bastard geniuses on this CD.

Buy this record if you believe that passion, honesty and emotion are more important than slick, FM-friendly recording.
Don’t buy this record if you like Toploader,
love and kisses,
Jyoti