The Residents – Meet the Residents (1974) and The Third Reich ‘N Roll (1976): 2018 pREServed Editions

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The recent expanded reissues of the first two proper releases by the Residents opened their ample vault of tapes and allows us to peer inside the earliest mad musical manifestations of possibly America’s most enigmatic musical troupe. The 2018 pREServed Editions of Meet Tthe Residents and The Third Reich ‘N Roll come remastered courtesy of the Cryptic Corporation and Cherry Red Records, with gobs of previously unreleased material, some demos and other songs that hadn’t seen the light of day until now.

Reportedly raised in Shreveport, Louisiana but demented in San Francisco, the Residents have been pop subversives since this ragtag group of avanteer artists started making music in the late 60s/early 70s. Still going strong more than sixty albums and 45 years later, the quartet remains an enigma with the true individual identities of the members a long running mystery, though Hardy Fox had recently come forward as the group’s primary composer and producer. But that hadn’t kept them from performing captivating live shows, where they would typically don tuxedos topped by eyeball helmets. That the ever-esoteric Residents attained a significant cult status and remained productive over four and a half decades is a far cry from the forty copies sold in the first year of the 1974 release of its debut LP, Meet The Residents, the first salvo in a multi-platform anti-pop musical crusade that’s had few if any parallels.

Precociously lo-fi in the early days, the Residents lacked the musical proficiency of their outsider peers such as Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention or Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, but made up the deficit with going — arguably — even further outside established norms for music with a mixture of wit, innovative ideas and pure fearlessness. The ambitions of this ragtag collective were pretty lofty from the get-go; many of the tracks for Meet the Residents were formulated during downtime while they were making a movie, since shelved.

The mono recorded Meet the Residents is weird in a uniquely weird way: it’s pastiche that’s connected by some repeating figure or beat, and muddled to the point the it’s sometimes hard to discern the instruments played aside from a slightly out of tune barroom piano (a prominent feature on their earliest releases). Resembling organically cultivated musique concrète, the music didn’t veer from baroque pop to avant-garde jazz; instead styles along the entire array were casually thrown together to form a rough blend that seemed best suited as a soundtrack for a low budget horror film. It starts out contorting a Nancy Sinatra hit (“Boots”) and later trades in short but connected tunes for longer forms but most of the time, formal track intervals don’t mark when one act of this demented musical play ends and another one begins.

Meet the Residents eventually did get noticed by music critics and adventurous listeners, and that initial pressing ran out. But before printing up a second batch, they edited down the tracks and remastered them in a new studio that was a little less primitive than the one they started with. This 1977 stereo version is consequentially a little less primitive (or at least, seems that way) but that’s all relative: none of the blunt impact of hearing something so left field is diminished.

The first musical project of the loose collective that eventually coalesced into the Residents was the Santa Dog EP, released at the end of 1972. The four sides it contained was all that was needed to set the whole idea of the Residents into motion, beginning with “Fire.” With instrumental backing lifted from a 1965 instructional guitar album by The Ventures, they — whoever ‘they’ might have been — immediately went about perverting pop music in their own cheery, sinister way, and revisited this song with new permutations over the years. The loopy “Kick A Cat Today” theme on “Aircraft Damage” gets reprised on 1992’s “Kick a Picnic,”
another example of the continuity of ideas first presented at the start.

A handful of other pre-Meet the Residents recordings show up on this expanded release, too, including dry runs for tracks that ended up on the full-length debut, complete with prominent tape hiss. “Spotted Pinto Queen,” is an even more psychotic precursor to “Spotted Pinto Bean” with the operatic voice of Pamela Zeiback replaced by the barely discernible grumbling of a man. Artifacts such as the “1-10” series were even more formless and primitive than the Meet demos, getting to the very core of Residents weirdness.

It took another couple of years before the Residents would re-emerge with Album #2, but The Third Reich ‘N Roll (1976) went even further in Frankensteining eminently listenable radio hits. They overdubbed on dozens of sixties hits and then pulled out the original hit recordings, leaving behind just their macabre embellishments. It was innovative genius. Back when we ran a weekly feature called WTF?! Wednesdays, it was impossible for me to think that we could highlight songs that were way beyond the norm for music and not include something from the Eye Guys, so I had to oblige with the entirety of Third Reich being featured.

The proper album is followed by a couple of singles that were issued around the same time as the album; their satanic version of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” boasting a vocal that approximates Captain Beefheart in a particularly threatening mood, something that didn’t catch on as a limited, 200 copy release in 1976 but was perfect for punk-crazy audiences a couple of years later, and 30,000 more 45’s were printed up then. “Beyond the Valley of a Day in the Life” is essentially a Beatles mashup imbued with the Residents’ own freaky overdubs, anticipating the Fab Four’s Love album by some thirty years and way more adventurous. On the flip side, the rare Beatles instrumental “Flying” gets covered with — what else? — a colorless vocal chorus, transitioning into demented circus music.

“German Slide Music,” with that ever present dinky piano, was a long and winding instrumental recorded in between the two Reich sessions. No theme, no vocals to speak of, and yet still impossible to place within the realm of music outside of which the Residents resided.

The bulk of the extra stuff consists of alternate recordings of the pop songs tortured on Reich done either live or remixed, as well as a gonzo, half-hour stage performance of the “O Mummy” show from around the time of the album’s release that sounds like an undisciplined Mothers of Invention. A live 1983 version of “Satisfaction” is even more mind-blowing than that 1976 single, done over a backing track that vaguely seems lifted from Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That.” And there’s more!

Sure, the music of the Residents sits way outside the accepted world of music, but outsiders like them play a very important role but challenging us to rethink our notions about music and shake it at its foundations. Much like astronomers look well beyond our Earth and solar system to get a better sense of how we fit in the whole scheme of things, these fearless sonic explorers puts the music we’ve grown too comfortable with into better perspective. A few of these rabble-rousers like Charlie Parker and the Ramones became hugely famous and influential. That was never going to be quite the fate that awaited the Residents but in the first few years of their existence when they were fooling around in a shitty studio playing shitty instruments, they stumbled upon a notion of art made in opposition of accepted art and damned if they didn’t master it from the start while having fun doing it. The extra tracks unveiled in these pREServed Editions uncover more of that fun.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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