The MacPaint years: ‘George & James,’ Volume One of the Residents’ American Composer Series
It’s starting to look like the Residents are probably not going to finish that American Composers Series they abandoned back in 1986. The first volume, George & James, was a promising beginning: one side of George Gershwin tunes played in the style of the Mole Trilogy, one side of James Brown classics bellowed in a monstrous voice that made the Godfather of Soul sound like he was 100 feet tall and in danger of crushing the Apollo Theater beneath his feet. The Residents set out their ambitions in the liner notes:
THIS SERIES IS TO BE RECORDED DURING THE FINAL SIXTEEN YEARS OF THE 20TH CENTURY (1984-2000). WHILE EACH RECORD WILL BE RELEASED UPON COMPLETION, THE WORK, AS A WHOLE, WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE UNTIL 2001 AND WILL CONTAIN THE WORKS OF NOT LESS THAN TWENTY COMPOSERS.
Volume Two, ‘Stars & Hank Forever!’
But the American Composers Series ended abruptly after the second installment, an interpretation of the music of John Philip Sousa and Hank Williams called Stars & Hank Forever (with an excellent mash-up avant la lettre of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Williams’ “Kaw-Liga”). Posterity was robbed of projected volumes such as The Trouble with Harrys, devoted to the work of Harry Partch and Harry Nilsson, and Bob and the Blob, a celebration of Bob Dylan and Barry White.
Other composers the Residents planned to include were Captain Beefheart, Smokey Robinson, Charles Ives, Stevie Wonder, Moondog, Scott Joplin, Brian Wilson, and Ray Charles.
The ‘Hit the Road Jack’ single
Residents discographer Uncle Willie says Sun Ra and Ray Charles would have shared a disc in the series:
“Hit the Road Jack” was considered by The Residents as the single from an album in the American Composers Series that was never finished. It would have combined the compositions of Ray Charles with Sun Ra.
It’s too bad Ra and the Residents appeared on different episodes of David Sanborn’s Night Music in 1989, or perhaps they might have jammed. But this taste of the Residents playing Sun Ra turned up on the 1991 fan club compilation Daydream B-Liver. “Daydream in Space,” a collage of leftover music from the American Composers Series, combines the Residents’ take on “Space Is the Place” with elements of the unfinished tribute to Barry White. A shorter edit of the track appeared on the posthumous Sun Ra tribute album Wavelength Infinity.