Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Night Relaxer: Obscure Favourites

The great thing about music is that because there is so much of it, unless you are an absolute maniac who works in Championship Vinyl you will never be able to know all of it.

Films are different. There’s only a finite amount of films that can get released in cinemas so even if it comes out and bombs, there’s a good chance you will have heard of it – and generally if they bomb (and I mean really bomb) it’s not because it couldn’t find an audience, it’s because it was no good. But music? even before iTunes there was a seemingly infinite number of albums released in such a range of genres that an overwhelming majority never see the warmth of the Top 1oo, but which has absolute zero reflection on their quality.

As such it means any good music listener can have an obscure favourite. A song that they like, but which most people have forgotten, never heard of, or just didn’t think much of it when it came out.

When I was younger my obscure favourite was Prefab Sprout’s “Cars and Girls”. It was a song that in 1988 got a bit of airplay, but didn’t chart. So by the early 90s I could mention it and my friends would give me a vague look of understanding, but also a query as to why I liked it. And that’s music: sure there are those who like films that are not all that good – heck I wrote a whole post on dumb-fun films but if I say – hey Sahara is on, let’s watch it. You might question my taste and/or sanity, but you won’t be asking “Sahara? Never heard of it”.

The key to a good “obscure favourite” is it can’t have charted – and if it did only very briefly, and only very minimally. One hit wonders cannot be obscure favourites. You get no points for saying, “Oh wow “Drops of Jupiter”, I love this song!”. But you could possibly pick say Jerry Harrison’s “Man With a Gun” – it only got to 17 on the charts, but pretty quickly disappeared. You can’t even download it on iTunes Australia (but you can from the US iTunes – geez I hate that about iTunes). But even still you’re on shaky ground, after all it was quite popular – a bit too popular to be obscure.

You also can’t pick an album track of a popular band – it doesn't matter whether or not Dylan, The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, U2, R.E.M or The Clash released a song as a single or not – they’re out. There may be exception if the song is better known by its cover – such as Bruce Springsteen’s version of “Blinded by the Light”. You possibly could also pick an obscure cover – such as Magnet and Jemma Hayes version of “Lay, Lady Lay” but it was on the soundtrack for Mr and Mrs Smith, so that pretty much kills it’s obscure status. Ditto the version of Buddy Holly’s Everyday by Rogue Wave, because that has been in a couple films now, and don;’ even try with the version of “Radiohead’s “Creep” by Scala and Kolacny Brothers that was on the trailer for The Social Network (soundtracks are murder for obscure favourites)

You also can’t pick a song which was popular to a sub-set of the population – especially uni students. So that pretty well rules out anything by Tism. And try not to be too “ooh look at me, I know music” about it – so saying you love “Yeh Jo Halka Halka Suroor Hai” by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is great, but it is a tiny bit wanky (there’s always that danger though with obscure favourites)

But you have to be careful not to go too obscure. You can’t for example pick “No New York” by 1980’s Japanese band Boowy, because unless you were an exchange student in Japan in the 1980s you’re unlikely to have come across it, so that’s kind of cheating. And besides it’;s 1980s Jpop so you’re unlikely to get anyone thinking, wow that is cool (and that is kind of the whole point of obscure favourites)

Similarly you can’t pick a band which put out a CD that was available in about three shops in Adelaide in 1995. Because while Aunty Raelene may have been a great uni band, unless you’re able to go back in time to Adelaide Uni Battle of the Bands circa 1991, you’re not going to be able to hear them belt out “World Bank” so it;s not much use having that as your pick.

I first heard my obscure favourite on Triple J (the home of obscure favourites) in a car one day in 1994. I didn’t catch the name of it, but it just clicked in the way that only songs can click. I didn’t hear it again for about three years but I could remember some of the lines, and the opening few bars. And then one day (I remember very clearly) I was driving back to my place in a mate’s car and we were flicking through the channel on the radio when once again Triple J were playing it. I stopped the flicking of channels told my mate “I love this song"!” and he listened all the while I know thinking, “umm yeah… it’s…great”.

And of course the DJ did not say the name of the song.

Fortunately by now the internet was around and so I was able to search for the lyrics (before Google so it was a bit trickier) and thus I discovered that my obscure favourite was “Screenwriter’s Blues” by Soul Coughing.

Soul Coughing’s music style is described on Wikipedia as “a willfully idiosyncratic mix of improvisational jazz grooves, oddball samples, hip-hop, electronics, and noisy experimentalism (described by Doughty as 'deep slacker jazz').”

So yeah, they have Top 50 written all over them.

“Screenwriter’s Blues “doesn’t have a video (a good tip that it is obscure enough) and tells a bizarre story about life in Hollywood/LA. I’ve only been to LA once – back in 2001 for a week. We stayed in a very dingy student hostel just off of Hollywood Bldv. I have to say walking around the fairly unglamorous part of Hollywood Blvd late at night felt like Screenwriter’s Blues was playing in my head. It perfectly captures the mood of late, late night seedy LA. It also has a great jazz rhythm.

It’s my obscure favourite.

Screenwriters blues


Fiona said...

Triple J, home of the slack back-announce



Leanne Shingles said...

Good choice. I love Soul Coughing. This track is good. I could listen to Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago every day of the week though. Killer bass.

Anonymous said...

Screen Writer's Blues... American Tabloid... Inside Man... Grog, your taste is as always impeccable. And Leanne is right CINC rips.

Anonymous said...

My favourite obscure song: March of the Swivelheads.

Moderately obscure band, using a remix of an album track with a different name, and which only ever was available on the soundtrack of one movie.

BUT, it's a relatively famous movie for people of a certain age, and a terrific piece of music. So lots of people are familiar with it, but can't quite place it.

Hillbilly Skeleton said...

When someone on You Tube says, 'Her voice is like sex with my ears', 26 years after the band broke up but on the reformation of the group again to perform at a festival, but they have never been a household word, you know you are in the presence of obscure greatness. I agree with this assessment of 'Young Marble Giants', and my favourite song of theirs from their seminal late 70s album 'Colossal Youth', 'Choci Loni'. Enjoy:

Unknown said...

This totally has a video clip. Used to see it all the time on Rage back in the 90's. Great song!

Trung said...

Sometimes I say I like a song from a band that contains an artist that would later on would be famous.

So I'll say the song "Coldsweat' by The Sugarcubes would be a great song. Yet Bjork who is the lead singer of that band would later on become famous as a solo artist. I'll also love the song "What?" by The Move. However Jeff Lynne who sings that song would end up becoming famous as Electric Light Orchestra. I also love Graham Coxon solo career and yet he was the guitarist of Blur.

So would those choices count?

I also listen to alot of 60's and 70s music. However in the demographics of people I hang out with (I'm in my 20's), there will be quite obscure choice even though there were major bands back then (like the Zombies, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Yardbirds).

Also I mention Graham Coxon, he probably wouldn't be obscure in the UK. However in Australia I have never met a single person who is a fan of him or ever heard any of his songs (unless I show the songs to them).

In any case some obscure songs I like "Mechanical World" by Spirit. "Time is a diamond" by Low. "Colour Me Grey" by Family Cat. "The American Metaphysical Circus" by The United States Of America". Great songs there.

By the way, great blog here. First comment although I have been reading your material for a while. It's good to see you continue after the Australian expose

Trung said...

I might as well post some links to the songs I've listed
The Move – What
The Sugarcubes – Coldsweat
Spirit - Mechanical World
The Family Cat – Colour Me Grey
The United States Of America - The American Metaphysical Circus

Also other good obscure songs I missed out before
The Nice - Flower King Of Flies
Family – Peace Of Mind
The Left Banke – Pretty Ballerina
Renaissance – Can You Understand

Anonymous said...

Good song Grog.

How about the Gadflys, some of the ACTs' finest, tho they did have a regular spot on The Big Gig on Aunty. Or The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, tho they had that show Do Not Adjust your set with a few luminaries.

Ok 'hbout Wooden Horse, a band Noosha Fox was in, back in the early seventies, i think their single 'Trees' made the high thirties for a week int eh UK.

Dylan agh

Greg Jericho said...

Yep Trung, they would definately count.

Derek - will have to hunt around for it - would be agreat song to do a clip for.

Hillbilly - love the Choci Loni track, cheers.

benski said...

This was a great song. My brother put this on a compilation tape for me around the time I started driving. How cool did I feel cruising around Brisbane with this banging out on my tinny little speakers.

Another obscure favourite I also got into at the time is a similar acid-jazzy-hip-hop tune, The City Sleeps by MC 900ft Jesus. A bit dark but really reminds me of the early-mid 90s.

Unknown said...

Triple J is neither the home of the obscure favourite nor the slack back-announce. That honour definitely goes to 4zzz in the 80's and I have the crappy old cassettes to prove it. It's how I only recently found out the name of one of my obscure favourites "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel". I might also point out that many former 4zzz announcers taught Triple J all they know.

Trung said...

Just wondering, do B-sides or other rarities of famous bands count?
My favorite Split Enz song is a B-side (Carried Away). I think Radiohead writes fantastic B-sides?

Greg Jericho said...

Problem is Trung, B-Sides are more for die-hard fans. If it is a B-side by a well known band the song has to not sound like them so that people say, "That's Split Enz?"

That is easier with Radiohead than with most bands though!

stephenwho said...

Thanks for the post - It was an "I know that song!" moment"! For me, the one I always say I love but nobody around me remembers is "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)" from Us3 - early 1990s I think. Funky, Funky ;-)

The other is NoKTuRNL's version of "100 Fresh Disciples", which is suppose works into the obscure cover versions kind. Both bought to me first by Triple J of course.

David Irving (no relation) said...

For obscure, you probably couldn't go past "Red Angel Panic", an Adelaide band from the late 60s who were strongly influenced by "The Fugs" ...

The bass player (Chris Bailey - no, not that one) later went on to be part of "The Angels" briefly, and "Gangajang".

benski said...

same here, stephenwho. It was a great tune.

Dip trip, flip fantasia...

Although I thought they got sued for not paying herbie hancock for the rights to use the tune or something.

haveachat said...

I remember distinctly when my favourite artist appeared in my life. A sunday night in Jan 1982 sitting on the steps of a demountable building at the School of Military Survey, Bonegila. I was listening to an album show from a station in Canberra when I heard music that just captured me like no other ever had or has since. They were playing Tom Waits - Small Change, the sounds and the words just rang so true for me. Since I have managed to acquire all Tom's music. Other's wonder what I get from him, I can never explain and say just listen to him and you will understand. Sadly few do.
I guess that is what they mean when they say that music is a matter of taste, and we all have our own personal tastes.
But listen to Tom Waits you will never regret it or forget it.

David Irving (no relation) said...

haveachat, who are you?

I was first at the School of Military Survey in 1977, again in (about) 1980, and in 1984.

If you were at the Regiment or 4 Field, we'd probably have run into each other.

(And who said the internet wasn't useful? Gotta agree about Tom Waits too.)

2353 said...

Anything by Railroad Gin - a Brisbane Band of the 70's. The lead singer Carol Lloyd still performs.

Their "best known" hit - A Matter of Time.

Have to agree with ewe2 - from memory the Music Director from 4ZZZ became an early Music Director for Triple J

haveAchat said...

G'day Dave,
Still drinking too much coffee.

Name Terry Purdey ring any bells.

Anonymous said...

Anything by Baterz. But if you're ruling out Aunty Raelene, I guess he's ineligible too. I suspect we were in Adelaide at the same time. Some of the Raelenes played at The Front in Canberra a few weeks back, and there was definitely a distant echo from those days at the Exeter.
Enjoy your blog, but hard to leave comments as I read it late at night on an e-reader, which is not really set up for typing.

Helen said...

I wrote about The Slits and Ari Up the other day partly, unfortunately, to mark Ari Up's Death. Typical Girls is my obscure pick as it was very popular amongst musicians and music tragics here in the early 80s, never received much airplay and of course no commercial airplay. I heard it in early October on JJJ crossing the West Gate, turned it up and said "Listen to this kids". 13 y.o. thinks it's pretty cool.
Another suggestion is My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style, by the Dream Warriors. It pops up every so often on public radio and to me, it's the perfect balance of great lyrics, infectious beat and well chosen samples.

Greg Jericho said...

great suggestions everyone. Helen, The Slits has to be one of the all-time great band names

David Irving (no relation) said...

Sorry for the thread hijack, Greg. When you encounter long-lost friends, etc.

Terry! How are you? You can contact me at dirving at box dot net dot au.

Anonymous said...

"anything by baterz" I have been lost in Watson, and once when making some calls for work, Rachel Cooper answered the phone.

Terangeree said...

Jackson Zumdisch, 1980.

L said...

Screenwriter's Blues... great song. I love when the brass comes in high.

I was going to give my favourite obscure song, but it fails your "you can’t pick a band which put out a CD that was available in about three shops in Adelaide in 1995" test so no luck there. How about music from 1980s video games?

Anonymous said...

Obscure song that was a bit of a hit on JJJ was by the Brisbane band Gorgeous with The Number Song (or Numbers?). I had it downloaded from their website and lost it due to a computer crash and have never found it again - the band broke up, their website went away and trying to Google a band named Gorgeous is not easy. Came out in about 2003/4. If anyone can help, I'd be eternally grateful...

And have to say I preferred Appetite by Prefab Sprout :)

benski said...

godarkness you got me thinking because I remember hearing a tune of theirs around that time on the Js and really liking it. Anyway, a bit of searching led me to Fi Claus who was in the band but is now solo. Perhaps you could email her directly and ask how to get the tune.

Unless you're talking about the other band that was around a similar time called Gourdeous. They were a hippy folk band I think, using gourds to make instruments.

MassiveSpray said...

Mine has to be Slow Motion by Rhubarb.

So obscure I can't even find it on YouTube...

Anonymous said...

And we're all still waiting for those UFOs to come, dylan.

qodarkness said...


Thanks for that :). I managed to track down the song through Gorgeous' MySpace website - thankfully they put a page up for their (now-defunct) band. It's called The Do Do Do Song. I listened to the song last night and was very happy :). I also know how to track down Fi Claus and Emma Heeney and see if I can catch a few of their gigs as well.

I do have Love Is All (Butterfly Ball) by Gourdeous (sp?), but I'm trying to track down the Ronnie Dio version (and reverting to childhood ABC viewing everytime I re-watch the psychedelic frog clip on YouTube).

Anonymous said...

I'm gunna run from all those troubles david

Greg Jericho said...

No worries David, Grog's Gamut becomes Facebook! I like it. (Now where's my bilion dollars and the movie of my life?)

David Irving (no relation) said...

Soul Coughing was a wonderful gift, Greg. I'm sure I've heard it before, without knowing what it was.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I always loved 'Cars and Girls' too. I'm also one of the those few people who have a CD copy of Aunty Raelene's 'New Dork Nation'. If you are interesting in reliving your uni days Derek Schild now lives in Canberrs and Super Raelene Brothers are playing here on December 3.