The Weirdest Records of All Time
Featuring earthquake recordings, records pressed with diarrhea, and breastfeeding soundtracks.
There’s certainly no shortage of weird music being made these days—Japan’s fear-inducingly popular Babymetal will allay any fears of that. But with the eighth Record Store Day happening today, we decided to take a look at some of most the offbeat, eccentric, unearthly, and at times grotesque records that have come and gone over time. And we’re not even including The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” pressed at 1rpm, the founder of Scientology’s jazz-synth soundtrack, or National Geographic’s recordings of humpback whales that sold over 10 million copies. So afterwards, you may want to heed Bill Hicks’ advice: “If you don't think drugs have done good things for us, then take all of your records, tapes, and CDs and burn them.”
Ann Chase - A Chant for your Plants (1976)
Harmless, perhaps. A bit too much acid, definitely. But you can’t help thinking there’s something sinister about this record. It’s a rendition of Erik Satie's Gymnopédie No.1 on acoustic guitar and flute while Ann Chase speaks about unconditional cosmic love for her plants. Here’s a taste: “I want to be a quivering cell in your sensitive root tips, so I can probe into your well of truth. At this moment, I feel myself there, surrounded by millions of your cells, moist and wet with your sap, vibrating with your rhythm.” The liner notes describe Chase as an artist, author, lecturer, researcher in Noetic Science, and graduate of the Cosmic University. Aha! A connection to Edgar D. Mitchell, founder of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and the man who dreamed of being the next L. Ron Hubbard.
You’ve probably heard of Wayne Coyne’s idea to infuse The Flaming Lips’ album The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends with blood from collaborators like Ke$ha and Neon Indian. That was for Record Store Day 2012. But, a level above this (or perhaps several below, depending on your sanity) was Dutchman Vincent Koreman aka RA-X’s idea to add small amounts of hemorrhoid-infected diarrhea to the vinyl mix for The Opium Den (Parts I-IV) before pressing. It gave the vinyl—released on Mighty Robot Recordings—a brownish purple shade, and reportedly gave off a subtle, but detectable, odor of human feces when played. An old colleague of RA-X said he no idea why the DJ decided to add this scratch-and-sniff feature.
Christian Marclay - Record Without a Cover (1985)
Released two years before the equally bizarre Record Without Grooves, turntablist Christian Marclay created an album—using a 4-track in New York City, March 1985—composed of other records. All seems pretty normal, but the thing is, Recycled Records’ Record Without a Cover was sold without a jacket or cover, and it even came with the instructions “Do not store in a protective package.” Marclay’s concept was to let the natural ageing process make each individual record unique. Through scratches, and dust caught in the grooves, the record’s deterioration make it constantly evolve. If it could be described, think: a warped history of the universe.
Locked grooves—as all you record connoisseurs out there will know—are found in lots of records. Some even have looping audio within them, which should theoretically play to infinity (See: Godspeed You Black Emperor’s F# A# Infinity, Abba’s Super Trouper, and famously, the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). RRRecords took that idea, and went, well, ad infinitum with it. Their release RRR 500, features 500 bands, and—you guessed it—500 locked grooves. That means the needle must be manually placed on each groove to hear it, making it practically impossible to pick out a song you want. It includes artists ranging from Miles Davis to Sonic Youth to the Teletubbies.
Be warned: Unless you own a record player with a built-in barcode reader, this record will be of little use to you. This Is Pop Records’ double B side 7” has no grooves in it—the sides are smooth, fitting into its transparent PVC sleeve nicely. Just to mix things up, the top side's label area indicates that it should be played at 45 bpm, with the flip suggesting 90 bpm. Artist Laurence Lane didn’t stop at one pointless project, he also took to the shops of Manchester, and recorded the noises of their public address systems.
M.G. Morgan and Hugo Benioff - Out of this World (1953)
“This is a record of actual earthquakes…” begins the narration of Out of this World. In the 1950s, Dr Hugo Benioff of CalTech University devised a seismograph that recorded its data on to analog tape at a speed of 0.02 inches per second. But "Earthquakes" is not an audio recording of the actual sounds that would be heard by someone on an earthquake site - it’s more cerebral than that. The original LP contains a very strange track in which an earthquake recording is reproduced "to within two or three times original speed" and at a high amplitude. The result is a tumbling, elemental noise. Effectively, the tonearm’s movements are dictated by the needle of the original seismograph.
There’s silence, and then there’s silence that is named art. Jonty Semper’s idea to make a field recording of the one-minute silence on 6th September 1997, during the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales seems a little dubious. It’s mawkish, and money-making. He’s done it more than once as well, with recordings of the silence on Armistice Day. Strangely enough, people actually bought it. His label Charm’s pressing of 250 black and clear vinyls sold out in no time. It’s like selling air.
Not many albums have the power to make you doubt your own existence, but ten seconds of listening to these nomadic Norwegian reindeer herders will do that. Only a single voice is ever used, with the occasional bit of percussion, but even that gets your mind swirling. From the Northern tundra region of Scandinavia, these Lapps sing nonsense words (recorded by Dieter Christensen for Folkways Records), and everything loses meaning. Approach this 58-track LP with caution.
Janek Schaefer - Recorded Delivery (1995)
Naming the project after a specific type of postal service, London-based Schaefer actually recorded the sound of a package travelling through the UK postal system. Using a voice-activated Dictaphone taped to the inside of a parcel, he recorded its journey overnight, taking in the noises of whistling postmen, sliding van doors, various clunks, and—best of all—early morning male workers talking dirty about their sex lives (including an unexpected shout of “anus”). Brian Eno wished he’d “thought of it first.” Hot Air Records pressed an edition of 500, colored red like the Royal Mail.
Stressed out and need to feed your new-born baby? You don’t want a farmer tugging on your breasts, but a hand-pump is a bit technical? The most recent of our choices, and yet one that definitely belongs in the past, this record aims to help mothers who need to get the juices flowing, and quickly. Luckily, you’ve got a number of choices, including “Finicky Feeder” and “Serene Feeder,” for any mood the baby is in. The fact that the soundtrack resembles the ambient backtrack to a Hollywood sex scene from the '80s just adds to the weirdness. It brings a whole new meaning to the word “earmilk.”
Peter Yeung only buys music if it comes as 180g clear vinyl pressings. He's on Twitter - @pierrotlejeune
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