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Sunday, 9 January 2011

Review: The Residents - The Third Reich 'n' Roll (Released in 1976 on the Ralph Records label)

First put online on the Head Heritage website in 2004

Side One: Swastikas On Parade. Side Two: Hitler Was A Vegetarian.

All Instruments, Vocals, Recording and Production by THE RESIDENTS

Guests: additional Vocals by Pamela Zeibak and Peggy Honeydew and "some fancy guitar" by Gary Philips.

Cover Art: An illustration depicting the celebrated 'American Banstand' clean cutter- Dick Clark, decked out as a stormtrooper and holding a carrot.

"'Third Reich and Roll' was an attempt to treat Top 40 rock and roll from the '60s as if it were avant-garde material as performed by early '70s Progressive German bands" - Jay Clem, The Cryptic Corporation 1978

This was the album that pushed The Residents to the surface, after being together for over six years.
It's also, to me, one of the greatest experimental albums ever made, more of that thought later...

Choosing a title that would reflect their disgust AND fascination for the "fascist music industry", the cherry was put on top of this marvellous and enthralling cake of sound.
Although it would appear as two long tracks (one on each side), the album was in fact made up of about thirty 'cover versions' of hits, curiosities and cult gems from the 1960s.

Using a Tascam 8-track recording machine, they would record the actual records by the artist onto 'track one', then using the remainder of the tracks to 'play along to', then erase the original song on the first track or keep it there to 'punch in' when needed.
In the late 1980s, this technique would be given the name 'Ghosting' by various people including the best 'techno' pedallers of the time- 808 State, but executed with far more advanced technology.

Their were two recording sessions, one in October 1974 and the next one in October 1975. In what would become one of their own traits as regarding melody and layers of sound, they ended up with some songs playing over others.

Via UK DJ John Peel (who else?) and the many fanzines (especially from the US West Coast) that swamped the more discerning record shops of the mid to late 1970s, The Residents awesome visions were slowly getting exposed and more importantly, their 'techniques' were starting to influence others.
Also, seeing as they had released works with titles like "Baby Sex" (apparently with very disturbing 'artwork') and "Santa Dog" in 1971/72, not to mention the sound/noise which was crafted with the manipulation of Tape Recorders, it goes without saying that they were ahead of the game and tipping a hat to the more adventurous material from the likes of Zappa and Faust.

Although released in 1976, "The Third Reich 'N' Roll" had started filtering into the UK and Europe but only with any real substance and wider recognition, in 1978.
Also in 1976, they had released a version of The Rolling Stones classic- "Satisfaction", but the great super-spuds Devo had managed to push their angular dance version into the UK chart in 1978.
The Residents' version would have cleared the dancefloor (!), eventhough it was re-released in the same year.
All this was before the infamous Eyeball image had emerged.

Starting off with a mutated version of "The Twist" (Chubby Checker) sung in german, you are derailed as this bite sized homage turns into distant, heart of the jungle rhythms- as they wade into "Land of a Thousand Dances" (Chris Kenner). This really was oddball stuff, as you half knew the tunes, but it was injected with hilarity through dissonance, not to mention the downright bizarre.

The only reference to a song that was released in the 70s, is when you hear what sounds like some cowled procession of an esoteric cult, half-singing half-humming the melody to "Horse With No Name" (America).
A downward spiralling airplane then crashes into town, then they launch into "The Letter" (The Box Tops), what makes it more eerie is that the opening line to the chart song is "...give me a ticket for an aeroplane...", this bit then mutates into what sounds like the Third Ear Band jamming with TG...........

"Psychotic Reaction" (The Count Five) blusters in with the slight distorto-Bass line and then what sounds amazingly like a sort of pre-Fall Guitar, only to give out to air sirens, gunfire Sax!!
It's hard to review this second by second (no shit!), as there is so much going on and some classic bits only come into view for mere seconds.
"Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" (James Brown) is delivered with a female operatic vocal (in german!), complete with a couple of 'punch in' brass stabs from the original disc.

The last four minutes of side one are started with a lone keyboard sound playing "Telstar" (The Tornados) which is quickly underpinned by "Wipe Out" (The Surfaris), then a hidden hint of "Heroes and Villains" (Beach Boys) which pops along into what sounds like Neu reduced to scuttling liquid microbes.

Side Two begins with our Louisiana loons whistling a controlled refrain which only reveals itself after a few listens......
It's "Judy In Disguise " (John Fred & His Playboy Band).
Mute Records boss Daniel Miller, was to form a 'group' called The Silicon Teens in 1978 which later recorded their version of this very song.

Composer, Musician and Sound Collage man Morgan Fisher would also be taken by The Residents. He released two albums (Hybrid Kids) which also crafted mutant versions of popular tunes to great effect, although it must be said that Fisher was also experimenting heavily with Tapes and mutation of sound in the first half of the 70s too (whilst later riding the charts with Mott The Hoople!).
A distorted hoedown cowpoke springs up with the version of "96 Tears" (? and The Mysterians) and it sounds like a young David Byrne on vocals, although trapped in an elevator-shaft.

"Light My Fire" (The Doors)- although only short, makes you think of 'that' Jimbo story, when he said that when he was young and travelling in the family car, he witnessed a horrific road accident where some Hopi native-americans met their fate, not before one of their souls entered his body - you get the picture.

"Yummy Yummy Yummy" (Ohio Express) is hilarious! It sounds like the vocalist has turned up to the studio but has really got a writhing snake in his stomach and NOT love! This track ends up sounding like an odd witch-doctor type chant you would see in a forgotten b-movie horror flick.

"Rock Around The Clock" (Bill Haley & The Comets) enters like a game of 'Pong' gone mad as the synths re-shape the tune (again The Silicon Teens backed the 'Judy' single with an electronic ditty by the name of "Chip 'n' Roll"), which then mutates into "Pushin' Too Hard" (The Seeds).
Cabaret Voltaire, big Residents fans, later recorded a version of The Seeds' "No Escape" on their first album in 1979, a 'tribute' via a 'tribute' perhaps ?

A short version of "Gloria" (Them) sounds like ol' Bob Dylan is on his last legs. You must realise, that these cover versions only bit like the originals, sometimes nothing at all.
A real treat unfolds with- "In A Gadda Da Vida" (Iron Butterfly) with it's pre-Death Metal vocals which have a strange ambient touch (!).

The grand finale is the melodic remnants of "Sunshine of Your Love" (Cream), which veer into "Hey Jude" (The Beatles) together with the 'fancy' Guitar from Gary Philips and some 'whoo whoos' and further hints of "Sympathy For The Devil" (Rolling Stones).

At just over 36 minutes, we've had a journey through dance crazes, surf greats, psyche stutters, hip sounds, naff toons, from love ins to altamont and all completely remade, remodelled, pressed, wrapped and thrown into the world by the most original, goofball, intelligent, clever and the down right caddish spirits we know as The Residents.
They made an experimental album that worked because it was hilarious AND disturbing at the same time. At the time, what a great way to get curious youths into more underground sounds.
They showed that experimental music could be made without pandering to the snobs.

I accidentally destroyed the cover to my vinyl copy. I'd placed it in a 'protective' plastic sleeve, which, after a very long time got stuck to the cover. I discovered this when I took it out of the sleeve and it ripped asunder.
Not to worry, Euro Ralph by now, had come up with a re-release on CD in a nice digipak, only this time it was the cartoon Furher instead of Clark on the cover.
Beside him stands Madonna holding up a Resident Top-Hatted Eyeball.
Ready and waiting for the odd non-conformist listeners from newer generations.

Things could only go ever forward for The Residents!

Written by Tim Jones in september 2004

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