As of the writing of this article, “Weird Al” Yankovic is waiting to win his Grammy for Mandatory Fun, his record released in July of 2014. Like most of you, I adore “Weird Al” Yankovic, having been a fan of his since I was, oh, 8 years old. The man’s continued popularity, not to mention his canny ability to stay hilarious for decades, only makes me feel warm on the inside.
As of the publication of this article, he has won both the Grammy, and our hearts anew by singing “Yoda” with autistic children. But that’s not the point.
I have an odd – but very salient – criticism of “Weird Al”: For a man with bearing the word “weird” in his nickname, he is most certainly not the weirdest musician. Indeed, if one were to delve into the deeper recesses of pop music weirdness (as I have done from time to time, dear readers), one would find that “Weird Al” is perhaps one of the sanest and safest and cleanest musicians currently working. If you are truly a fan of the weird, the outr?, the outright bugnuts crazy, then you have miles of sticky strata to dig through to get to the honestly unusual souls who have worked in music.
The following list is a collection of the weirdest human beings to have touched musical instruments. Some of them are outsiders, some were hitmakers, but all of them sought to challenge you and bring something entirely new to the world of music. It’s time to put on our pith helmets and trek deep into the dark jungle of oddness. In no particular order…
27. The Residents
Although they have put out numerous records, The Residents might more accurately be described as an art collective rather than a pop act. Hailing from Shreveport, LA, The Residents began releasing records in 1979 (with their seminal Meet the Residents), and have since released nearly 50 follow-ups, sometimes releasing two or three records in any given year. This doesn’t include their dozen live records, EPs, and bizarro multimedia projects; The Residents were one of the first bands to release a CD-ROM-only computer musical art experiment.
No one knows the members of The Residents, as they have consistently hidden their identities since day one, typically by wearing their famous eyeball masks on stage and in their videos. Some have postulated that their management team, Cryptic Corporation, are the members of the band, but the team denies it. By hiding their identity, and by producing a huge spate of oblique music, one can posit that The Residents’ philosophical ethos is a celebration of obscurity. They are deliberately destroying notions of fame and accessibility, by being as non-famous and non-accessible as possible. Which is odd for any musical act who intends to have people watch them and listen.
Their biggest “hit,” if you could call it that, was “The Act of Being Polite,” which ran on MTV for time to time. The Residents have been celebrated by world-famous mutants like Matt Groening, and Penn & Teller.
Now get out there and make a no-name for yourself.
27. Sun Ra
Sun Ra was, according to his human biography, born in 1914 as Herman Poole Blount, but whose real full cosmic name is Le Sony’r Ra. Ra began his career as a prolific and talented jazz saxophonist and keyboardist, and would have perhaps still have been a noteworthy musician had he stayed that way. But some point in his career, he revealed his true self: that he was of an angelic race of beings from the planet Saturn, and that his increasingly bizarre and unorthodox music was the key to understanding the secrets of the cosmos. And he instantly went from noteworthy to legendary.
Leading an ever-mutating “arkestra” of talented musicians, Sun Ra’s music does indeed sound like something composed by an alien. Fast, hard to listen to, and often incorporating then-new electronic techniques Sun Ra’s aural solar flares gobsmacked most listeners, earning him fans from the mutant community and cult status from the world at large. Add to that his increasingly odd wardrobe of cosmic/Egyptian robes, and you have a genuine curio, friend. And a supreme mutant overlord that demands worship.
Watch his movie Space is the Place sometime. It’s maddening and amazing.
If you’ve ever wanted to know what would happen to Thelonius Monk if he was possessed by the aliens from Stargate, then perhaps you can see the wonders of Sun Ra.
27. Mr. Bungle
Tracing the career of one Mike Patton will reveal one of the most varied musical career in pop history. Patton formed Mr. Bungle in the 1980s, recording bizarre cassette-only tracks with a few buddies of his. Somehow, this underground act got Patton involved in the post-punk band Faith No More (then led by Chuck Mosley), and he took over as the band’s frontman in 1989 for the record The Real Thing. That record was a mainstream hit with fondly-remembered ’80s songs “Epic” and “Falling to Pieces.”
Perhaps the mainstream success was just not his cup of tea, because Patton would, in 1991, come out with the first official (and eponymous) Mr. Bungle record, operating under the name Vlad Dracul. Mr. Bungle were… pop metal, I guess, might be their overriding sound, although they seemed determined to include at least four different genres of music in every single track, none of which were shorter than 5 ? minutes in length. On their second record, California, they turned into a vaguely dreamy lounge rock act. And on their third record, Disco Volante, Mr. Bungle became… I don’t even know what. They were deliberately chimerical, playfully undercutting your ears with unexpected genre shifts.
Patton would found several other experimental rock bands, including Fant?mas, Tomahawk, and others. But for the true weirdness of Mr. Bungle, I recommend sitting through their entire 1991 record in one sitting. Try not to go cross-eyed.
27. Lucia Pamela
Like Sun Ra, Lucia Pamela claims to have received her musical inspiration from space. Pamela, who perhaps worked as a stripper, who was certainly a beauty queen (she was voted Miss St. Louis in 1926), who perhaps was a space explorer, and who may be lying – or simply confused – about her real life origins, recorded a record in 1969. In the few interviews she conducted in her life, Pamela holds that the songs on the record are a 100% true story. They tell the tale of going to the moon, meeting animal friends, and having a wonderful time.
Lucia Pamela is what you might call an outsider musician. She has no talent, she has no yearning for fame, and the most notable thing about her is her sincerity. One can’t help but be emotionally disarmed by Pamela’s off-the-wall, terribly-recorded musical odysseys. When I was walking on the moon, I met a little cah-ow-ow, and here’s what she’s said to me. Moo moo moo moo moo moo moo moo moo moo. Honesty.
Lucia Pamela also published a coloring book in her heyday. The coloring book is available in PDF format, and her record has been reissued on CD. Keep her dream alive.
There was a magical time in the 1990s – when MTV ruled the planet, irony was at a high ebb, and pop diversity was the word of the day – when bands like Ween could become something of a legitimate hit. Ween is a pair of guys (going by Dean and Gene Ween, but really Mickey Melchiondo, Jr. and Aaron Freeman ) from Pennsylvania who got together in 1984 and found they were just talented enough to start strumming out bizarro records together. Their first record was released in 1990 (GodWeenSatan: The Oneness) and they were off to the races.
Through the ’90s, Ween were rising stars of the alterna-circuit, playing alongside bands like GWAR and They Might Be Giants. They had a playfully snarky and thumb-in-your-eye attitude, infusing their records with songs you couldn’t tell were pranks or directly within their circle of interests. What, for instance would possess them to record “Pollo Asado,” a dreamy reading of a Mexican food order?
Most of Ween’s music sounds like it was recorded underwater, and many tracks feature distorted vocals. They are deliberately annoying in a strangely listenable way. Ween eventually broke up in 2012, but not before blessing the world with 11 “professional” studio albums and six live albums.
Want some chips?
“I’m not going to help you, Beavis. Oderus Urungus would have wanted it that way.”
Heavy Metal has long been associated with blood, filth, Satan, and noisy monstrosities calling for destruction, but the founders of GWAR clearly felt that most metal wasn’t going quite far enough. As such, they formed a bad of actual monsters (seriously, check out those costumes!) who sang bigger, louder, more aggressively, and more ostentatious than any other band before or since. GWAR is the logical conclusion of pop thrash metal. And, wow, are they amazing.
GWAR is not really notable for their music – their playing is serviceable at best, just like most thrash metal bands – but their lyrics and personalities and mythology are more than enough to make up for it. They would stomp out on stage, claiming to be demonic interplanetary warriors, and sing songs about toilets and proceed to murder celebrities in effigy. Then then would spray (fake) blood and urine on the audience. Here’s what we need to say about GWAR: They were oddly devoted to their selected mythos, making them some of the best showmen in all of pop music.
The band’s frontman, Oderus Urungus (nee Dave Brockie) died in March of 2014, but the Scumdogs of the Universe are keeping the sweat-scented torch alive.
27. Green Jell?
Green Jell?, originally called Green Jell? until a lawsuit from the Jell-O people put the kibosh on it, might most accurately be described as GWAR Jr. Formed in the early ’80s as a four-piece punk band, but not gaining national recognition for a decade, Green Jell? was an enormous pop metal-ish/comedy band that frequently appeared on stage with giant foam rubber heads and special cartoon character names, all pertaining to a very GWAR-like mythos.
By the time they released their biggest hit, “Three Little Pigs” in 1995, Green Jell? had evolved into an enormous (and enormously sarcastic) metal collective of about 13 members. They originally intended to transform into a video-only band, thriving on down-and-dirty music videos that repurposed pop culture icons like Toucan Sam and The Flintstones into something twisted and unraveled. They got their name from actual green Jell-O, which they thought to be the worst flavor. Their aim was to be the worst bad of all time – the green Jell-O of music.
Green Jell? is not the worst band of all time, but you have to admire that ambition.
Hatebeak is based on a very simple principle: Since half of death metal singers sounded like screeching parrots anyway (the other half sounded like Cookie Monster), why not just replace the lead singer with an actual parrot. Hence the formation of Hatebeak, a death metal band made up of two human musicians from Baltimore, and a parrot named Waldo.
The band formed in 2003, broke up in 2009, and they put out three actual records, which were split in half with other animal-based death metal groups like Caninus (which had a dog a lead singer), Birdflesh (a human-only band), and Longmont Potion Castle, a surrealist prank caller. You wouldn’t think death metal and humor could ever mix, and Hatebeak may be the one time where Death Metal seems to be poking fun at itself. Usually it’s all entrails and hate and decay. This time around, it’s a cut li’l parrot.
That notion makes Hatebeak easily the 27th weirdest band of all time.
27. Winny Puhh
I’m still not exactly sure what to make of Winny Puhh, an Estonian punk metal band that formed back in 1993, and only captured my attention very recently. They are a costumed band like a few of the bands already mentioned, they operate under aliases, and they sing about… actually I don’t know what they sing about, because I don’t speak Estonian. But, given the way they look, I can only assure myself that they’re not singing about the usual fits of anarchy, dissatisfaction, and lost love. In my mind, they are singling about how hard it is to be a horny werewolf.
The lead singer wears Teen Wolf makeup. In their audition piece for the EuroVision Song Contest (they didn’t get in), they dangled a pair of drummers from the ceiling. I know they wan an award in 2006 for their song “Nuudlid ja hapupiim” (Noodles and Sour Milk).
I can share nothing else. Only that I kind of love them.
If you don’t think bands like Mayhem and Cradle of Filth go quite far enough in the pain-and-nihilism department, do we have a band for you. :GULAGGH: (which is now called :STALAGGH:) is not so much a band as an experimental audio collective that wants to strip music of, well, the music, and get straight to the pain, futility, and horror underneath existence. And what better way to do that than to gather together inmates at a mental health asylum, and record them actually screaming in real agony?
Yup, we have a band that is essentially trying to create the soundtrack to every single nightmare you’re going to have from now on. This is anti-music. There is no beat, no lyrics, no thinking, no instruments. There is just the heart-destroying nihilistic howl of the insane. No one can listen to an entire album without being marked. Unhappy mutants the world over rejoice. You now have something something to listen to while you watch your Faces of Death videos, use your cutting kit, and pore over your volumes of skin disease photography.
Would you believe that this band has entire cycles of albums? The one mentioned above is the third part in a trilogy that includes Projekt Nihil, Projekt Terror, and Projekt Misanthropia.
27. The Rudy Schwartz Project
If anyone is carrying the torch for Frank Zappa, it would be Joe Newman, the man behind The Rudy Schwartz Project. Equal parts humor, political outrage, celebration of Hollywood obscurity (he has songs devoted to Olan Soule and Rondo Hatton), and just straightforward bugnuttery, The Rudy Schwartz Project will make you laugh until your guts bleed. This is the only band on this list that has been officially sanctioned by The Church of the SubGenius.
When they’re not singing about the politics of the day (Newman skewers right wing politics, money, and mainstream religion with the best of them), The Rudy Schwartz Project is singing about magical rabbits that are always there for your sheet rock needs, sad clowns, pumpkins, boogers, the movie Blood Freak, and God knows what else. If you’ve been missing Frank Zappa, but were always put off by Zappa’s forcefully oblique music-writing style, The Rudy Schwartz Project’s relatively more playful and tinkly humor will be just right for you.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go listen their latest record, Winter Dance of the Koala Sperm Harvest.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum
The Mothers of Invention
Wild Man Fischer
Previously by Witney Seibold:
TR’s Worst Nerd Films of 2014
12 Reasons Why I Should Direct the Next Star Trek Movie
10 Reasons Why VCRs Are Better Than What We Have Now