[This is one post in a series about my music mixes. The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use. You may wish to read the introduction for more background.
Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—
I explained way back in the introduction that my mixes generally have one of 3 types of themes: emotional, musical, or lyrical. Oh, sure, there’s a bit of crossover sometimes—
When I first picked up Welcome to the Beautiful South, I was surprised at how much I liked it. Oh, sure, I’d liked the Housemartins, Paul Heaton’s previous band, and London 0 Hull 4 is a nifty little album. But Welcome to the Beautiful South is a marvel, a gem of unexpected beauty. After listening to it once, I put it on repeat and listened to it over and over for hours. Many of the songs on that album stick with me even now, a decade and a half later, but the one that wormed its way under my skin more than any other was “Woman in the Wall.” With its poppy air and casual demeanor belying its gruesome lyrics, it was an odd combination of creepy, poignant, and disturbing. And above all unforgettable. When I started pondering the modern mixes, I knew that one mix surely had to be centered around bizarrerie: songs with surreal lyrics and strange imagery, and that “Woman in the Wall” would be one of its centerpieces.
And here we have Bleeding Salvador. By “Salvador” I mean Salvador Dali. Picture any of his famous paintings—
Once the mood had been established, a lot of songs immediately started suggesting themselves. “Reptile” by the Church and “Killing Moon” by Echo and the Bunnymen have been the first two songs on this mix practically forever. Likewise, “Mad World” by Tears for Fears, with its line “the dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had,” seemed an obvious choice.2 And the ultra-classic “Goo Goo Muck,” which is probably my all-time favorite Cramps song, was never in question.
And of course there are artists who are a no-brainer for this mix. When it comes to Globe of Frogs by Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, you’d be hard-pressed to find a track that doesn’t belong here. But eventually I settled on “Tropical Flesh Mandala,” which handily also provides our volume title. In the same vein, Hooverphonic, whose tunes normally find their way to Smokelit Flashback, and the Dukes of Stratosphear (XTC’s alter ego), specialize in the strange and surreal. Here we have “Have You Seen Jackie?” and “Frosted Flake Wood,” which butt up against each other so perfectly it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the next begins.
When it came time to work on finalizing this volume, I thought to look around for any other artists who would be perfect for it but that somehow I’d overlooked. And two blazingly obvious candidates lept out at me: King Missile and They Might Be Giants. Both of these groups can be so lyrically bizarre that it almost starts to sound normal while you’re listening to entire albums from them. Once I started really looking for candidates from these two bands, I rapidly ended up with so many I didn’t know what to do with them all. I finally settled on one from King Missile (“The Boy Who Ate Lasagna and Could Jump Over a Church”) and two from TMBG: “Cage & Aquarium” as a bridge from the first half to the second, and “Everything Right Is Wrong Again” to help us wind down. I especially love how “Cage & Aquarium” is much funnier if you’ve ever heard “Aquarius.”
Then there are the bands who aren’t necessarily a shoe-in, but shouldn’t be that surprising either. Although you may remember Naomi from Smokelit Flashback, a lot of their tunes I used for that mix were instrumental. The ones that weren’t perhaps didn’t strike you as particularly surrealistic. On the other hand, their track that I used for Rose-Coloured Brainpan3 gave a hint of their proclivities in that direction. Here we have “King Kong Is Not Dead,” which is perhaps the pinnacle of “hunh?” for them.4 Suzanne Vega is another one, as equally well-known for her sweet ballads as her strange trips. But “Fat Man and Dancing Girl” has always been one of my favorites of hers, and it fits beautifully here.
And of course we need a few representatives from the completely unexpected. Pearl Jam, for instance, is generally a pretty straight-ahead grunge band, but, when they diverge from that, they diverge pretty hard. “Bugs,” from their somewhat difficult album Vitalogy, is an excellent example. It’s not just lyrically strange, but also musically odd, with an accordian providing nearly its complete accompaniment. I was also surprised to run across “Heaven, Hell or Houston” fairly recently when I finally decided to explore ZZ Top’s back catalog. It’s wonderfully bizarre and I knew immediately it had to wind up on this mix.
Now, just as Salsatic Vibrato has an emotional component as well as a musical one, so Bleeding Salvador is not just any old song with weird lyrics. These tracks are pretty much all solidly mid-tempo, not music that makes you want to get up and dance, but not melodies that fade into the background either. So there are genres, such as gothic or darkwave, that give us lots of great, surreal lyrics, but emotionally they’re going to end up more in Smokelit Flashback or other mixes.5 But “Gun,” Siouxsie and the Banshees’ cover of a John Cale tune from 1974, actually works wonderfully here. Not as sonically difficult as Cale’s original, Siouxsie stays on-tempo, and her rich vocals are clearer than the muddy, echoey work from the Velvet Underground co-founder. But the words retain all the disturbing imagery that Cale imbued them with, and the song has always fascinated me. It’s one of my favorites off Siouxsie’s Through the Looking Glass.6 A sample view into Cale’s mindscape:
Blood on the windows and blood on the walls
Blood on the ceiling and down in the halls
And the papers keep downing on everything I burned
And the people getting restless but they’ll never learn
Although I’m not afraid to pick up the tempo as well. Another cover, PJ Harvey doing Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” from way back in 1965, demonstrates that very well. Like pretty much all of Rid of Me, it’s got a seething, not-quite-thrashy edge to it. I decided to preface that with the Presidents of the United States of America, certainly no strangers to surrealism, and definitely not afraid to kick it up a notch. “Lump” is my number one choice for best PotUSA song ever, and the lyrics certainly qualify it for this mix.
In the category of wacky recreation of bizarre childhood memories, there are two cinematic musical sequences from my own childhood which I clearly remember as being creepy and crazy and bizarre. I didn’t understand the feeling at the time, but I would later recognize it as the mental disconnection that makes one feel as if they were on drugs even when they’re not.7 The first is “Wondrous Boat Ride” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The second is “Pink Elephants on Parade” from Dumbo. If anyone’s done a modern take on the former, I haven’t heard about it.8 But imagine how weirded out (and yet pleased) I was to find a version of “Pink Elephants” on El Bando en Fuego! by Lee Press-On and the Nails. You may recall LPN from Salsatic Vibrato, and it’s true that this tune is brassy and upbeat. But it’s just as weird as I remember, even without the trippy visuals.
Bleeding Salvador I
[The Night the Creature Came Ashore]
[The Night the Creature Came Ashore]
“Reptile” by The Church, off Starfish
“The Killing Moon” by Echo & The Bunnymen, off Ocean Rain
“Tropical Flesh Mandala” by Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, off Globe of Frogs
“Woman in the Wall” by The Beautiful South, off Welcome to the Beautiful South
“King Kong Is Not Dead” by Naomi, off Pappelallee
“Have You Seen Jackie?” by The Dukes of Stratosphear, off Chips from the Chocolate Fireball [Compilation]
“Frosted Flake Wood” by Hooverphonic, off The Magnificent Tree
“Pink Elephants on Parade” by Lee Press-On and the Nails, off El Bando en Fuego!
“Heaven, Hell or Houston” by ZZ Top, off El Loco
“The Boy Who Ate Lasagna and Could Jump Over a Church” by King Missile, off The Way to Salvation
“Gun” by Siouxsie and the Banshees, off Through the Looking Glass [Covers]
“Bugs” by Pearl Jam, off Vitalogy
“Cage & Aquarium” by They Might Be Giants, off Lincoln
“Mad World” by Tears for Fears, off The Hurting
“Lump” by The Presidents of the United States of America, off The Presidents of the United States of America
“Highway '61 Revisited” by PJ Harvey, off Rid of Me
“Fat Man & Dancing Girl” by Suzanne Vega, off 99.9 F°
“Goo Goo Muck” by The Cramps, off Bad Music for Bad People [Compilation]
“Blood and Roses” by The Smithereens, off Especially for You
“Mad Hatter” by The Stranglers, off Aural Sculpture
“Everything Right Is Wrong Again” by They Might Be Giants, off They Might Be Giants
“Beautiful Freak” by EELS, off Beautiful Freak
“Earth to Doris” by Was (Not Was), off What Up, Dog?
Total: 23 tracks, 76:47
For the remainder, there’s nothing too surprising or too predictable. The Smithereens’ “Blood and Roses” just barely qualifies for this mix, but it has some nice imagery and it’s just a great song. “Mad Hatter” is uncharacteristcally a bit wacky for the Stranglers, while “Beautiful Freak” is fairly typical for the Eels. Finally, to close out this volume, we have a very strange bit of sonic poetry: “Earth to Doris” by Was (Not Was). You may recall that when last we encountered WNW9 I noted that they were “hard to pin down.” This track is one which exemplifies that perfectly. The music is strange, the spoken-word vocals are even stranger, and overall it paints a picture that you can’t help but try to visualize even while your brain is telling you that you really don’t want to. A fitting way to tie this up.
Next time, we’ll circle back around to another round of gaming inspiration.
1 And possibly NSFW.
2 Lately the version by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules from Donnie Darko gets more attention. But I still prefer the original.
3 Which was “October.”
4 Although there’s also much to be said for “Butter Worker.”
5 Which we shall come to in the fullness of time.
6 Which is itself probably my favorite Siouxsie album, for all that it’s a cover album.
7 Simplest way to experience this for yourself: go watch David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch.
8 Actually, while researching this post, I discovered that Marilyn Manson did a version called “The Family Trip” for his first album.
9 Back on Moonside by Riverlight.