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The Residents, Chrome & Tuxedomoon covering ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco.’ Sort of
11.30.2016
09:36 am
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While discussion of the rock music of San Francisco tends to revolve around It’s a Beautiful Dead Airplane and the Holding Messenger Service, all us really good weirdos who read and/or work for Dangerous Minds know that the truly insane stuff landed after the hippie era. The moment in 1972 when The Residents moved to S.F. and established Ralph Records to release their work and the music of other like minded head cases was a bellwether event in freakmusic; Ralph would go on to release underground classics by fellow San Franciscans like Tuxedomoon, Rhythm & Noise, MX-80 Sound, and Voice Farm, all innovators who were too weird to quite fit the mold of the city’s storied punk and hardcore scenes. (They released much excellent non-S.F.-based music too, it merits mentioning, including Art Bears, Snakefinger and Yello.)

Ralph label compilations were always worth picking up—they were doorways to a distinct kind of weirdness no other American label would touch. Releases like Frank Johnson’s Favorites, Potatoes, and the Buy or Die 7” series introduced a much younger me to excellent art-rock oddities well beyond my imagining. But the one that’s stuck with me most is 1979’s Subterranean Modern—which apart from a Schwump 7” in 1976 was the first Ralph release to include artists other than The Residents or Snakefinger—a four-band V/A release that introduced me to Chrome. Their three songs on that comp constituted the total of all music Chrome released on Ralph, and it included a warped, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it “cover” of Tony Bennett’s signature song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Indeed, all four bands on the comp covered that tune in some fashion, the other three being The Residents (naturally), art-punk guitar terrorists MX-80 Sound, and gloomy experimenters Tuxedomoon. Bonus: cool Gary Panter cover art.

Chrome’s version of the song is a noisy psych swirl all of 27 seconds long, fading out as quickly as it fades in, and you can hear someone saying the title if you listen closely enough. The track would eventually resurface on Cleopatra Records’ Chrome Box. MX-80’s is an instrumental that I expect few listeners could peg it for a cover were it not for the title. The Residents’ version is a typically Residentsy transformation, perfectly in step with that band’s many, many, other cover songs, warping the original to the edge of recognizability and drenching it in synthesized menace. Along with the other 3 Residents tracks on this comp, it appeared on the CD reissue of their album Eskimo. Tuxedomoon’s offering is another quickie, a minute-long harmonica rendition of the original underneath a recorded phone call in which a man tries to prove residence in guess which city in order to collect welfare from the state of California. That track eventually re-surfaced on the band’s Pinheads on the Move collection.

Despite the fact that every band pretty much completely jettisoned the actual song they were supposedly covering, the album notes credit the remakes to original composers George Cory and Douglass Cross. It really couldn’t be more obvious that that Chrome, Tuxedomoon and MX-80 bristled against the stipulation of covering that song and contributed piss-takes. In fact, a contemporary NME article explicitly spells it out:

The most controversial aspect of the album is the inclusion of “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” a rather sickening piece of hackwork popularized by Tony Bennett. None of the groups, with the exception of the Residents, were thrilled about recording the song. Chrome sarcastically included less than a minutes’ worth of white noise as their “interpretation.” Tuxedomoon recorded a one minute conversation between an unemployed transient attempting to qualify for welfare and a welfare office bureaucrat, while the melody to “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” is played on harmonica in the background. MX-80 Sound cut the song as an instrumental, giving it a full force heavy metal reading.

“It’s not that great a song,” says [Residents spokesman Hardy] Fox, “Who wants to do something that you don’t think is too great? It was a challenge. But it is the official San Francisco song. Sanctioned by the city. So we had no choice.”

More after the jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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11.30.2016
09:36 am
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‘Satisfaction’ shootout: DEVO VS the Residents VS the Rolling Stones (spoiler: the Stones don’t win)
02.26.2015
10:19 am
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The news release heralding Superior Viaduct’s reissue of the Residents’ deeply messed-up “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” b/w “Loser = Weed” single contains a quotation that rang oddly familiar to me:

The Residents’ 1976 version of The Stones’ Satisfaction is nearly everything the better known version by Devo from a year later is not: Loose, belligerant, violent, truly fucked up. A real stick in the eye of everything conventionally tasteful in 1976 America. Delightfully painful to listen to thanks to Philip “Snakefinger” Lithman’s completely unhinged lead guitar and mystery Resident member’s menacing vocal, this is a timeless piece of yellow plastic.

That blurb is from Brad Laner, a member of not one but two of my favorite bands and a former Dangerous Minds contributor, and in fact, it was a DM post about five years ago—a post I happen to agree with. The Residents’ “Satisfaction” IS pretty admirably unhinged, genuinely frightening, and a righteous fuck-you to a rock canon classic that, in some circles, remains beyond sacrosanct. Contemporary with their second album, the unfuckwithable Third Reich ‘n’ Roll, which, like the single, is an unsparing deconstruction of classic radio hits, many of which were still fairly new songs at the time. “Satisfaction” isn’t on the album—the Rolling Stones are represented there by a half-reverent, half-funereal take on “Sympathy for the Devil” in the album’s coda. While it did appear on the 1988 CD reissue as an extra, along with “Loser=Weed” and a couple of Beatles travesties, the wax itself is a rare collectible, fetching in the neighborhood of $35. Superior Viaduct’s colored vinyl repress, at $9, still feels a tad spendy for a 7”, but that’s way more manageable than procuring an original. It can also be had as part of a five-record bundle with reissues by Flipper, X, the Dils and the Germs, at $40 for the whole set. (I totally want the Flipper one, too, but that’s another post.)
 

The Residents, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction)”
 

 
Of course, DEVO’s version of the song is the one that most aggressively vies with the Rolling Stones’ original for definitive status, and how could it not? Obviously, the original is indisputably classic in every sense of the word, and after five decades, it’s still one of the most widely covered ‘60s songs this side of “Stepping Stone.” But who can really believe that song from Mick Jagger? By the song’s mid-1965 single release, he was already a gazillionaire rockstar heartthrob who probably had illegitimate children in all 48 contiguous US states, so did anyone seriously believe there was anything unsatisfying about that man’s life? For all its musical timelessness—good LORD, that riff!—the Stones’ version edges out Britney Spears’ cover for plausibility (neither singer was particularly “on a losing streak” at the time their version was released), but that’s about it. None of that does all that much to dull its effectiveness as an anthem, but I buy a song about sexual frustration and contempt for commercialism much more readily in the anxiety-ridden version by the brainy midwestern dorks in DEVO. Unlike the Residents, DEVO aren’t shooting for a takedown or a deconstruction; their version feels more like a successful effort to finally put the song in a proper context. Alan Myers’ freakishly asymmetric drum beat and Gerald Casale’s rubber-band bass line are every bit as capable of inducing existential dread in a socially insecure geek as Keith Richards’ ingenious three-note intro riff is of inducing “fuck yeahs” in a classicist, and doesn’t that speak more closely to the intent of the lyrics—not a single word of which DEVO changed?

More after the jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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02.26.2015
10:19 am
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TV Eye: The Residents speak (well, sort of) in vintage ‘interview’ from New Zealand television
01.16.2014
09:02 am
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residents
 
The Residents, if you didn’t know, are a long running cross-media band who are pretty much the yardstick by which high quality avant-pop weirdness is measured. Last time DM checked up on them, they were delivering the single most jaw-dropping trove of band merch ever to a superfan in Indiana who had fat cash to burn and priorities with which we cannot argue.

Since then, The Residents have successfully reached the crowd-sourced fundraising goal for the completion of their film The Theory of Obscurity, a history of the band by filmmaker Don Hardy (no relation to the tattoo artist/douchebag t-shirt guy). The latest trailer is the longest, most generous taste yet of the doc’s contents, and features members of Residents-influenced bands like Devo, Primus, Ween and Talking Heads chiming in on the band’s history, innovations, and legacy.
 

 
On Tuesday, the band posted this long lost interview on their Facebook page. In it, Hardy Fox, then and still one of the band’s longtime spokesmen, discusses on a New Zealand TV program the then-recent theft of one of the band’s trademark eyeball masks, their musical influences, and the concepts behind the band’s ongoing commitment to anonymity, and some of anonymity’s consequences. But one of the best moments comes within the first half-second of the thing, when the interviewer’s accent makes Fox’s first name sound like “hottie.” Rrrowwwwrrr.
 

 
The Residents’ latest release is Mush-room, though at the rate they put stuff out, it’s probable that that album will effectively be an oldie within a couple of months.

Posted by Ron Kretsch
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01.16.2014
09:02 am
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The Residents deconstructed Satisfaction before Devo
10.04.2010
05:54 pm
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image
 

The Residents’ 1976 version of The Stones’ Satisfaction is nearly everything the better known version by Devo from a year later is not: Loose, belligerant, violent, truly fucked up. A real stick in the eye of everything conventionally tasteful in 1976 America. Delightfully painful to listen to thanks to Philip “Snakefinger” Lithman’s completely unhinged lead guitar and mystery Resident member’s menacing vocal, this is a timeless piece of yellow plastic.
 

 
Check the B-side and a demented live version after the jump…

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Posted by Brad Laner
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10.04.2010
05:54 pm
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