Yearly Archives: 1977

George! John! Help Me, Please! (The Beatles Play The Residents and The Residents Play the Beatles)

Ladies and gentlemen, the fabulous Bleeps!I am looking at the cover of the latest single from The Residents, and I am wondering what happened.  I thought the new management entity had straightened them out and ended their practice of using pop culture icons on their covers.  I also thought you couldn’t get more juvenile than drawing over the faces of The Beatles, but I was wrong: pasting their faces over nude photos of yourself is worse.  I check and double-check that Cryptic Corporation is still running the show; they are, despite this cover appearing to indicate the exact opposite.

The first track is entitled “Beyond The Valley Of A Day In The Life,” clearly a reference to the film Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, and that tells me this is going to be a perverted destruction of what came before.  It begins with another old Residents trick: use someone else’s recording.  A Beatles recording.  And then that’s mixed with another Beatles recording.  And another.  And another, and another.  In fact, this “song” is composed entirely of Beatles recordings cut up and reorganized.  It’s the musical equivalent of the collage technique.  However, despite it being a single trick done repeatedly, it doesn’t take long for me to respect what they’ve done here, and I listen to it several times to try and identify every source recording (I fail only with the spoken word sections; they must be from an interview, or one of the movies, or a fan club record – I’m not inclined to seek those out to confirm the source).

The Residents have taken their practice of using existing recordings to an illogical extreme: not a single sound is original, and yet somehow the result is something completely new.  This is well beyond the standard practice of taking an existing object and placing it inside a new context.  Here, the organization of the existing objects becomes the new context.  After listening to the song repeatedly over the last half hour, very little of it continues to jar me.  Against all expectations, it has ceased to be a random collection of pieces and has become a single, coherent unit.

This could not have occurred through mere luck and happenstance.  The Residents didn’t just load up a bunch of record players with Beatles songs, put a microphone in front of the speakers, and hit record to capture the resulting noise.  This was a deliberate process that must have involved transferring the original songs to tape, cutting up that tape, and reassembling it over many days.  This isn’t a bunch of kids goofing around in a studio, because if so they would have given up after a few hours’ work to find they’d only created  a minute-long piece; no, this was worked on, deliberately, for a very long time.  It may not be a traditionally composed piece – it may be “improvised” as much as that is possible with splicing tape over hours and hours – but there is clearly serious dedication here.

The flip side is The Residents’ take on an instrumental song, “Flying,” from Magical Mystery Tour.  With this single, The Residents are really showcasing their love of juxtaposition.  On Side A we have The Beatles “performing” a Residents song, and Side B is just the opposite.  Within Side B there is another juxtaposition.  The first half of the song is their modern Fingerprince sound, and the second half is their younger, Third Reich ‘n’ Roll sound.  This track maps where they are and where they’ve been, and it must be the case that The Residents are thinking about where they are going,

I am looking at the cover of the latest single from The Residents, and I am wondering what will happen next.  Here we see The Residents beginning to truly expose themselves to the world.  They are still partially hidden behind the undisputed champions of popular music, but what this image tells us is “we are getting ready to show you what we truly are and what we can really do.”

There Will Always Be More On The Other Side (Fingerprince)

In our country, this is the way we say Hello.I honestly never thought I’d hear from The Residents again.  I believed the demise of Residents, Uninc meant the band was no more, but it turns out that was merely the controlling business entity.  Given the name, it’s clear that the band was handling its own affairs, which explains a lot about the decisions that were made.  The Residents are pure artists, and I respect that, but they have poor business acumen.  The smartest move they could make would be to let someone else take over the business side.

According to the liner notes, The Residents are now managed by The Cryptic Corporation (which is not the fan club I thought it to be last year).  Apart from creating a mailing list of customers, their first order of business was to get the band back in the studio and put out a new record before everyone forgot about them.  The next order of business was to have artwork created that’s not going to get them sued.  These are very smart business decisions, so maybe The Residents will last a few years yet.

The cover is compelling, looking as it does like a surrealist daguerreotype.  Gone are the juvenile drawings poking fun at popular culture.  Here’s an attempt to create an original image (unless I’m mistaken and this is an authentic photograph from the 1920s – in any case it’s an improvement and as a result the band looks respectable).

The music matches the image in being far more mature than previous attempts, and has a definite ethereal and surrealist feel to it.  Once again The Residents have made a stark division between sides of the record.  The first side is a collection of eight songs, most under three minutes – The Residents’ version of pop music.  As before, they are simultaneously embracing and rejecting the received wisdom of the form

The second side is a single piece called “Six Things To A Cycle” which the liner notes state has been written for a ballet. It is heavily percussive in nature, and owes a lot to non-Western music and the unclassifiable music of composers like Harry Partch and Moondog.  Despite the sweeping differences of the two sides, the album feels unified, and all in all is an incredible improvement over their previous work.  I find myself wanting more, and hope the well from which Fingerprince was siphoned isn’t dry.

But once again The Residents have decided to remind us  of their unreleased second album.  I hope it remains unreleased, because sounding like Fingerprince is the direction they should be taking, not reverting back to their early days of amatuer performance and creating medleys of other people’s songs.