Music to Make You Scratch Your Head, Part II

Check out another list of songs that are so raw and peculiar, you’ll grow chest hair just listening to them. From the island of misfit toys itself come 20 more songs to make you rethink your sanity:

1) David Bowie – Life on Mars?

“Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man! Look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show
Take a look at the Lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man! Wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?”

A song for our times. Noted by Bowie himself to be about disillusionment and the “promise of a greater life elsewhere” that is unattainable. The lyrics themselves are enough to frown a brow, but check out the video too – Bowie with his womanly signature look that set the stage for a gender revolution in the U.S. and anisocoric pupils that add an extra depth of peculiarity.

2) Mannheim Steamroller – Night Party

Mannheim Steamroller is the brain child of New Age composer Chip Davis. His Christmas roster is heard every year; his songs are easily identifiable, notably for his prodigious use of synthesizers and electric instrumentation. Very similar to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. This cut makes the list because while every song of Chip Davis should be on here, this one had the most most thought-provoking title to accompany the dark, almost theatrical themes; it was very easy to imagine a night party of animals roaming around a foreboding, dark forest before the dawn spots them.

3) Frank Zappa – Jazz From Hell

Frank Zappa is almost synonymous with weird in the music world. Mentioned in my first list, he has been influenced by the likes of John Cage and Edgard Varese and has himself influenced too many artists to count. With a song title like “Jazz from Hell” (he himself not identifying as a jazz musician); the multiplicity of rhythm, dynamic, and volume changes; the squeaky timbre of his instruments; and the songwriting virtuosity akin to Chick Corea, this cut is a head scratcher for sure. Also, the thought alone of jazz coming from hell does it for me.

4) System of a Down – I-E-A-I-A-I-O

“Mine delusions acquainted,
Bubbles erotica,
Plutonium wedding rings,
Icicles stretching,
Bicycles, shoestrings,
One flag, flaggy but one,
Painting the paintings of the alive”

[NSFW] Serj Tankian’s System of a Down should not come as a surprise on this list. Since their eponymous debut album, they have helped to define (and push) the boundaries of nu-metal with strange, borderline delusional songwriting. Like Zappa, multiple tracks could have fit this list, but in my opinion this is one of SOADs most representative cuts. It always puzzles me when bands use sounds as song titles – makes it hard to request them at concerts.

5) Eminem – Insane

“If you could count the skeletons in my closet
Under my bed and up under my faucet
Then you would know I’ve completely lost it
Is he nuts? NO! He’s insane!”

[NSFW] Eminem openly admits that the album where this cut was pulled, Relapse, was a complete and utter disaster. He jumped in with both feet and realized that his whole shtick was TMI to virtually every person on the planet. Luckily, his follow-up Recovery was a huge hit with multiple singles that got near constant airplay. It also demonstrated the importance of moderation and appropriate self-disclosure. We could have all done without the sadistic graphic imagery.

6) Lil Wayne – I Feel Like Dying

“I can mingle with the stars, and throw a party on Mars
I am a prisoner, locked up behind Xanax bars
I have just boarded a plane, without a pilot
And violets are blue, roses are red
Daisies are yellow, the flowers are dead
Wish I can give you this feeling… I feel like buying
And if my dealer don’t have no more, then…
(I feel like dying)”

It is no secret that Lil Wayne struggles with substance abuse. Working as a registered nurse in a hospital, I am sensible to the immense struggle of dealing with opiate addiction, and I could spot this one a mile away. This cut makes the list because it invites the listener to dive deep into the psyche of a [very gifted and talented] rapper struggling with anxiety and/or depression. Ever want to know what it feels like to live in the spotlight with a mental illness? It feels like dying.

7) Yes – Yours Is No Disgrace

“Silly human race on a sailing ship to nowhere, leaving any place
If the summer changes to winter, yours is no disgrace
Battleships confide in me and tell me where you are
Shining, flying, purple wolfhound, show me where you are
Lost in summer, morning, winter, travel very far
Lost in losing circumstances, that’s just where you are”

Does anyone ever really know what Jon Anderson is talking about? Doesn’t matter – Yes made some of the best 70’s progressive rock music regardless of the absurd, unintelligible lyrics. Fragile is a masterpiece I highly recommend, especially for bass players. This cut was the bands first anti-war song and is directed specifically at the Vietnam War.

8) John Mayer – Bold As Love (Live)

“But all that means is that I’ve just somehow or another
Found a way to synthesize love, or synthesize soothing, or..
You can’t get that and what I’m saying is
I’ve invested with all the approaches except for one, and
It’s going to sound really corny but that’s just love

This cut makes the list because John Mayer has a habit of talking nonsense halfway through his concerts. I have seen him twice and have witnessed it first-hand; this performance is another example. I still don’t understand what he’s talking about in this cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Bold As Love, but at least this [recorded] instance is somewhat coherent. [Also, as an unrelated sidebar this version of Bold As Love is very, very good, if you don’t own it yet. Recommend.]

9) Red Hot Chili Peppers – Nobody Weird Like Me

“Riding down the path
On the back of a giraffe
Me and the giraffe laughed
Cause I passed some gas”

I don’t want to appear naive to the fact that many of the songs that sound most bizarre and abstract are drug-induced. However, Anthony Kiedis, I believe, is truly a weird individual, who is probably just as capable of writing strange lyrics sober as he is hooked on heroin. I would be remiss not to include him and his band in a list of songs that are supposed to rack your brain.

10) Mr. Bungle – Carry Stress in the Jaw

“And of Berenice I more seriously believed
That all her teeth were thoughts
The white and ghastly spectrum of the teeth
Meditations were never pleasurable
The phantasma of the teeth maintained its terrible ascendancy”

I’m not even going to attempt to dissect these guys. They were before their time in terms of incorporating multiple genres (metal, post-hardcore, funk, even pop). I have no idea what they’re singing about in this cut and will just leave it at that, as I don’t know that the band necessarily had a lyrical direction or an important message to drive home. Have a listen for yourself for an interesting story of barbaric proportions.

11) Axel F – Crazy Frog

“Bing bing bing ba-ba-ba-ba”

Why?

12) Ludwig Von Drake – The Spectrum Song

As a kid, my brothers and I got a double-CD Disney “greatest hits” of sorts and this track was late on the second disc. At the time, I never knew which Disney movie it came from or how it fit into Disney at all. It wasn’t until later that I learned it was an avenue for teaching kids about color (go figure). This addition to the list is probably more personal and less relatable, but try to imagine listening to it from my (10-year old) perspective.

13) Modest Mouse – Exit Does Not Exist

“‘Does not Exist, Take an Exit’
I hear voices insinuating
Feeds me lyrics to this song that I am saying
Sunlight 7:20 PM, early September
Standing looking at a photograph
That you do not remember being taken”

Every serious songwriter, I believe, has hit writer’s block at some point, where you sit down to write and nothing comes to you. No inspiration. I don’t even write regularly and I can relate to the third bar of this cut off the album This Is A Long Drive With Nothing to Think About. [The album is about rural life and how it can be exceptionally boring and uninteresting.] However, that’s about where Brock Isaac loses me (as he usually does about this far into a Modest Mouse song). For a good batch of songs that will make you question everything you think you know about everything, I recommend Modest Mouse.

14) The Ballad of Sweeney Todd – Opening Suite

“Inconspicuous, Sweeney was
Quick and quiet and clean, he was
Back of his smile, under his word
Sweeney heard music that nobody heard”

The premise of The Ballad of Sweeney Todd is that Sweeney Todd is a [demon] barber who kills his “customers” by either pulling a lever that propels them back through a deep revolving trap door or slitting their throats with his cutting tools. He conceals of the bodies by blending them up into “meat pies” and selling them at the bakery next door. I don’t know what makes me more creeped out: the plot, the cannibalism and disrespect for persons, or the fact that Sweeney Todd is a British urban legend who may or may not have be a real barber.

15) The Flaming Lips – The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine

“What
What does it mean
To dream what you dream
To believe what you’ve seen?”

Reminiscent of a particular George Orwell novel, this cut is about the oppressive nature of surveillance. The sparrow symbolizes freedom and the machine is, well, “Big Brother” if you will. A note of caution: if you end up really enjoying this song, know that the album was purposefully produced at full volume (I’m not certain why they chose to do this) – you need to turn down the volume for each song, including this one, or they will blow your ear drums out!

16) The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band – Mama’s Fried Potatoes

Because we all have that one dish Mom makes that we just can’t get enough of!

17) Vitas – Седьмой элемент

[All Russian, sorry.]

Probably the most bold of all of the additions to this list, this guy is actually a very popular Russian pop singer/tongue clicker. I believe he acts as the opera singer in the movie The Fifth Element, too. Despite the weird costume and rigid choreography, this video is oddly mesmerizing. No explanation needed as to why I included it.

18) Meshuggah – Rational Gaze

[Indiscernible]

Very similar to Animals as Leaders from the previous list. Too much syncopation, too much polyrhythm, too much counting for my little head. These guys are experts of their craft(s) for sure. If you were curious, yes – every single one of their songs sounds like this.

19) Geert Chatrou – Csardas

Have a Dad that likes to whistle in public? Don’t shush him – he might end up like this guy one day.

20) Tiffany Trump – Like A Bird

“Kinda like that drama that Madonna brings
Plan my escape in the drop top Cobra
No spoiler, we living it up
Shine like aluminum foil in the club
The moon and the stars ain’t got nothin’ on us”

DISCLAIMER: This is not actually in my collection. I stumbled across this on YouTube and thought it’d be a good closer to songs that make you scratch your head – no explanation needed.

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