One of the potential hazards of being a music collector is that sometimes, if you’re feeling adventurous, you spring for an all-too-dangerous impulse buy. I’m guilty of this all the time, especially when the music in question is cheap. Put me within 25 yards of a garage sale or a cutout bin at a supermarket and I’m probably going to walk away having bought at least one disc.
Sometimes this strategy works out in my favor: a random purchase of Squeeze’s Singles 45 and Under from my local ShopRite grocery lit a fire of true fandom within. Other purchases…well, they’re not guilty pleasures (I can’t stand that term – if you like something you shouldn’t have guilt over it), but who honestly has a need for things like the soundtrack to Coneheads?
Fortunately, this almost never happens in the world of digital music. Well, it did for me, for a time. My college had utilized this (now-defunct) downloading service called Ruckus. It was kind of like a cut-rate iTunes (not quite as wide a selection), although it was was free (with limitations – the music couldn’t go onto an iPod without cracking digital rights management). It was good enough to enable me to test-drive catalogue purchases that I’m now glad I own. But it was also a breeding ground for finding the most out-there tunes I could imagine, and sharing them with whomever would listen (usually my forgiving roommates).
Such novelties almost never get remastered or even compiled for that matter (unless they have a lot of genuine love behind them, like from Dr. Demento or someone like that). But who’s to say they shouldn’t? The beauty of the reissue market is that it’s enough of a niche that you can find an audience for just about anything nowadays. And with a bit of time and attention, stuff even more out-there than these next two releases may see some sort of release.
Hit the jump to see the two LPs I’m referring to, and add your own unusual reissue suggestions if you’d like.
I’m not sure if it’s a sad or happy commentary on the music business that true novelty songs really don’t exist anymore. The ones that are – well, they’re mostly stupid. (Crazy Frog, anyone?) When culture moved slower in the pre-Internet days, it made perfect sense to churn out a song or two about a popular trend – and in some cases, the song might even take off itself!
That was the case for today’s first selection: Buckner & Garcia’s 1982 album Pac-Man Fever. When the song became a Top 10 hit, it led to an entire half-hour-plus LP of songs tangentially based off the biggest titles in arcades at the time. Totally ridiculous? Sure, but kids who genuinely loved music and gaming (or a combination thereof) weren’t going to gripe.
Of course, they might have in 2002, when the duo re-recorded and reissued the album on K-Tel. It might seem unwise to complain about a novelty record sounding ridiculous, but it was, namely because Sony (which owns the masters to the original album – that’s right, Pac-Man Fever was put out on a major label) wouldn’t let the group touch the originals.
So they essentially had to produce a knock-off of their own work. It sounds better in parts (the video game sound effects in each song, originally recorded in arcades, were replaced with higher-quality emulated sounds), but a lot worse in others (the guitar soloist in “Ode to a Centipede” essentially gives up halfway through the solo on the new version). Now, it’s not as though The Beatles lost the masters to Rubber Soul and had to re-record it for a new reissue. But memories and history are important, even to silly records; thus, perhaps someday Sony (or a label willing to pay the licensing) will put out something like this:
Buckner & Garcia, Pac-Man Fever (Columbia RC 37941, 1982)
- Pac-Man Fever
- Froggy’s Lament
- Ode to a Centipede
- Do the Donkey Kong
- The Defender
- Goin’ Berzerk
- Pac-Man Fever (Club Version) (12″ A-side, Columbia 44 02762)
- Pac-Man Fever (Instrumental) (7″ B-side, Columbia 18 02673)
The temptation would be high to at least add the higher-quality sound effects into the songs (in the title track, you can hear someone placing an order at the deli where the Pac-Man arcade cabinet was recorded), but why poke around with a (novelty) classic?
This next one is even weirder than Pac-Man Fever and that may be why I’m so fascinated by it. Actor Crispin Glover always intrigued me as a kid – his performance in Back to the Future is seriously top-notch – but as I got older he started piquing my interest for increasingly oddball reasons. His creepy performance in the 2003 remake of Willard was a sticking point, particularly the fact that he covered Michael Jackson’s “Ben” for the movie without a whole lot of irony.
And from there I would learn that he had a whole album to his credit – and, thanks to the aforementioned Ruckus service, I found out just how crazy it is. There are spoken-word pieces (based on crazy books that Glover himself created), a B-boy rap/Faith No More-lite pastiche about pleasuring oneself, covers of Nancy Sinatra, Charles Manson and “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze” and – perhaps most disturbingly – a goofy song called “Clowny Clown Clown” that was released as a single! With a video! And it was all produced by Barnes and Barnes, the novelty whizzes behind “Fish Heads.”
(Note to pop-culture fanatics: the video, shown above, pretty much proves that Glover’s bizarre 1986 appearance on Late Night with David Letterman was an ill-conceived act – Glover, as “Mr. Farr,” is seen in the video with the exact same wig and clothing. That character would later feature in the film Rubin and Ed, where Glover played Rubin Farr.)
Not surprisingly, Glover’s record is out of print. But it was a doozy, enough to make me think that in this crazy world we could someday see a reissue of it. No bonus tracks, far as I can tell, but maybe a DVD with that crazy video and maybe an interview/explanation from Glover.
Crispin Hellion Glover, The Big Problem ≠ The Solution. The Solution = Let It Be (Restless Records 7 72316-1, 1989)
- Selected Readings from “Rat Catching”
- The New Clean Song
- Clowny Clown Clown
- Getting Out of Bed
- These Boots Are Made for Walking
- The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze
- Never Say “Never” to Always
- Selected Readings from “Oak-Mot”*
* These readings were indexed differently between the vinyl and CD versions. One wouldn’t lose much by combining them all into one track.