The new issue of Uncut is out this Thursday, and features our capricious but hopefully mind-expanding list of 101 truly weird records. You’ll easily spot the cover – it’s the psychedelic rendering of Captain Beefheart, very much the patron saint of this sort of thing.
What, though, was the first weird record you owned? For me, it was probably Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”, an uncanny avant-garde performance piece that somehow landed at Number Two in the British charts of October 1981, only kept off the top spot by Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin’s version of “It’s My Party”. 1981, it transpires, was an unusual year for hit singles, with a proliferation of creepy, sometimes racist novelty records – “Shaddap You Face”, “Japanese Boy”, “The Birdie Song” – stealing at least some of the limelight from the insurgent forces of new romantics and post-punkers. Even in this quixotic climate, though, it may have been a mistake to take “O Superman” to the school disco.
Thirty-six years on, better schooled in the ways of minimalism and the downtown New York firmament, owner of a few Robert Ashley records, Anderson’s hit doesn’t sound nearly as odd to me. When trying to comprehend weirdness, context counts for a lot: how mindbending must Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band have sounded on June 1, 1967, compared with how it sounds today, part of the very fabric of our culture?
In this special issue of Uncut, our writers have dug deep into their collections to come up with a list of 101 albums that sound enduringly weird – that have the capacity to surprise, subvert and freak out in most any context. There is Trout Mask Replica, of course, alongside albums recorded clandestinely inside the Taj Majal, ones by the reincarnation of Pope Adrian, a Chilean with a singing nose, and a wide range of North American frogs, as well as many of Uncut’s more prominent artists at their most unhinged. The Beatles make an appearance, but not with an album that you might automatically think of…
Elsewhere, we have one of Greg Lake’s last interviews (as part of an Emerson, Lake & Palmer feature), chats with Ryan Adams, John Waters (no stranger to weirdness himself, of course), the reconstituted Grandaddy, and the Buzzcocks. There’s an extensive report on Paul Weller, Robert Wyatt and Danny Thompson’s supergroup, and Rhiannon Giddens, Son Volt, Strand Of Oaks, Dirty Projectors, New Order and Cream in the reviews section. On this month’s CD, we have Tinariwen, Lift To Experience (remixed!), The Feelies, Jens Lekman, Six Organs Of Admittance, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and, a proud moment for me, The Necks among the 15 key new tracks.
Finally, and maybe best of all, Tom Pinnock headed north, to within striking distance of Hadrian’s Wall, to visit Michael Chapman at home. The resulting piece includes some of the ripest yarns I’ve heard in a while: I’ll not spoil the John Martyn story here, but there’s a good bit where Chapman retires for three days, then finds himself, implausibly, supporting ELP. “There was nothing bigger,” he tells Tom. “Still didn’t get any fucking money. And every night they’d ask me, ‘Can you play five minutes less?’”