We’re all weird people, and we love it

I was scrolling through Facebook recently, where my feed typically includes music-related posts based on my tendency toward music-related topics. Some random website came up with a playlist of “Weird Songs We Love,” which definitely piqued my interest. Most of the selections were from recent years by artists I didn’t know, but it got me thinking about compiling a list of weird songs I like from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, which readers know is the era I write about on “Hack’s Back Pages.”

Let’s define our terms. Historically, “weird” meant eerie or supernatural, but on this post, I’m talking about weird as in bizarre, strange, odd, eccentric, or off the wall. I don’t mean silly, which generally means foolish, idiotic or frivolous. I’m referring to music that is intentionally unusual, even uncategorizable. It might offer the use of quirky sound effects, or an unorthodox blend of instruments, or somewhat nonsensical lyrics. And yet, the result is music that some people might find strangely appealing.

You’ll notice that more than half of the songs on the playlist were released in the ’60s, a time when boundaries were being broken and conventional approaches were being questioned. For instance, some tracks are almost atonal in their strangeness. Some are rather shocking (or were, for their time). Most are merely outside the box, seriously different from what we’re used to hearing.

Conventional or narrow-minded listeners might consider these tunes to be “songs that make you say ‘WTF?'” The dozen songs I have included here, probably the most subjective list I’ve ever assembled, are for the more broadly receptive listeners who are willing to experience these artists’ experimental projects. No doubt many of you can come up with your own candidates for “weird songs we love.”

It might be tough to play this setlist in its entirety, but I hope you’re curious enough to put your expectations and preconceptions on the shelf for a spell and try to absorb what’s going on here. Perhaps you’ll be surprised by how compelling some of this stuff can be.

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“The Intro and The Outro,” Bonzo Dog Doodah Band, 1967

The Bonzos were British art school multi-instrumentalists and performers in the 1960s who creatively combined elements of music hall, jazz and psychedelia with surreal humor and avant-garde art. Their 1967 debut album “Gorilla” includes “Death Cab For Cutie,” a song heard in The Beatles’ surreal “Magical Mystery Tour” film (and also inspired the 1990s/2000s band of the same name). I’ve always been amused by “The Intro and The Outro,” on which droll member Viv Stanshall rattles off the names of people who ostensibly perform on the track (Quasimodo? Roy Rogers? Liberace? Adolph Hitler?) while a loose jazz jam plays in the background. Funny, and weird.

“Plastic People,” Mothers of Invention, 1967

It’s no surprise that California had its own avant-garde music scene, led by the brilliant, prickly maverick Frank Zappa and his erstwhile band, The Mothers of Invention. Zappa was heavily into sonic experimentation and outrageous lyrics with the band’s original lineup (1966-1970), and those first several albums broke barriers and had many listeners scratching their heads. The band brazenly debuted with a double album called “Freak Out” that inspired dozens of edgy bands in the coming decades. On their second album, the opening track, “Plastic People” offers a fine example of The Mothers’ singularly weird stew of rock, classical, jazz and atonal musical genres.

“Let X=X,” Laurie Anderson, 1982

A super-literate performance artist, composer and multi-instrumentalist, Anderson emerged from the New York arts scene in the mid-’70s with an arresting brand of avant-garde music, merging unusual vocalizing and instrumentation with the latest music technology. Her first album, “Big Science,” turned a lot of heads, and its uncommercial 8-minute single, “O Superman,” somehow reached #2 in the UK. Anderson’s virtuosity on violin was typically overshadowed by her fascination with innovations like vocal filters and talking sticks, creating weirdly compelling sounds like on “Let X=X” from the “Big Science” LP. She ended up marrying iconoclast Lou Reed later in life.

“You Know My Name (Look Up the Number),” The Beatles, 1970

This track, one of the weirdest in The Beatles’ catalog, was recorded over four separate sessions between 1967 and 1969. It wasn’t released until 1970 when it became the B-side of the “Let It Be” single. As Paul McCartney recalled, “John turned up at the studio and said, ‘I’ve got a new song’. I said, ‘What’s the words?’ and he replied, ‘You know my name, look up the number.’ I asked, ‘What’s the rest of it?’ ‘No, no other words, those are the words. And I want to do it like a mantra.” That’s exactly what they did, repeating the phrase in various affected voices over a plodding rock beat, a cocktail-lounge shuffle and a jazzy night-club groove with disruptive asides shouted intermittently. Don’t know why I love it. I just do.

“They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha,” Napoleon XIV, 1966

I suppose this track would be considered offensive today to those with severe mental illnesses who require institutionalization, but in 1966, it qualified as a novelty hit that actually reached #3 on the US pop charts. A singer/songwriter/producer named Jerry Samuels adopted the stage name Napoleon XIV to record the track, randomly speeding up and slowing down the tempo to make the vocals sound crazier. It’s one of several he recorded that comically explored insanity (“Bats in My Belfry,” “The Nuts On My Family Tree,” “I Live in a Split-Level Head”). On the B-side of the “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” single was the same song recorded backwards (“”!aaaH-aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er’yehT”). Talk about WEIRD.

“Oscillations,” Silver Apples, 1968

On of the earliest influences on my rock music listening habits was my friend Paul and his brother Joe, who turned me on to boundary-pushing artists like Frank Zappa and also lesser-known ones like Silver Apples, a New York City synthesizers-and-drums duo. Simeon Coxe and Danny Taylor were among the first to make use of electronic music techniques in the rock/pop genre, employing pulsating rhythms and synthesized melodies from primitive equipment of Coxe’s own devising. These days, electronica is an accepted genre played by many dozens of bands worldwide, but in 1968, Silver Apples — and songs like “Oscillations” — were definitely at the vanguard of a new, weird genre.

“The Scarecrow,” Pink Floyd, 1967

There are those who think the bulk of Pink Floyd’s repertoire qualifies as weird, but in my view, only their earliest work (1967-1971) falls under that category. In particular, the group’s debut LP, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” largely written by their ill-fated founder Syd Barrett, was really out there, an enigmatic, perplexing batch of tracks the likes of which no one had heard before. I could’ve selected any of the “tunes” from this LP for this post’s playlist, but I settled on “The Scarecrow,” a strange, brief track, using primarily percussion and organ, which equates the scarecrow with society’s outcasts: “The black and green scarecrow, as everyone knows, stood with a bird on his hat and straw everywhere, /He didn’t care…”

“Pasties and a G-String,” Tom Waits, 1976

Waits arrived in 1973 with a remarkable debut album, “Closing Time,” which offered gorgeous melodies and poignant lyrics delivered with vocals so gravelly as to make Bob Dylan sound like a choir boy in comparison. Waits often wrote about outliers and sketchy characters from life’s dark underbelly, championing them as people who were merely dealt a bad hand. His material drifted into looser jazz arrangements as his career progressed, and by 1976, his LP “Loose Change” included quasi-improvisational tracks like “Pasties and a G-String,” with its strip-club lyrics and weird forms of scat singing/talking. Waits has dabbled in blues, rock and experimental genres well into the 2000s.

“The Dust Blows Forward and the Dust Blows Back,” Captain Beefheart, 1969

Right up there with the other iconoclasts of the avant-garde frontier of ’60s rock music was Don Van Vliet, who assumed the stage name Captain Beefheart. The California-based artist imposed dictatorial control over his rotating ensemble called His Magic Band, pumping out a dozen albums between 1967-1982 that offered idiosyncratic free jazz, blues rock and absurdist lyrics. His high-water mark, if you can call it that, came when he collaborated with Zappa on “Trout Mask Replica,” a favorite LP of many critics of that era. Beefheart’s recorded output was as influential as it was weird. Take a listen to “The Dust Blows Forward and the Dust Blows Back” for a quintessential sample.

“Zilch,” The Monkees, 1967

“Headquarters,” The Monkees’ third LP, was their first with songwriting and instrumental performances by members of the group. Michael Nesmith wrote three songs himself and five others were written or co-written by the other three Monkees. One of these was the zany tongue twister “Zilch,” in which each band member repeated a nonsensical line they had heard on film, in court or on loudspeakers: “Mr. Dobbaleena, Mr Bob Dobbaleena”; “China Clipper calling Alameda”; “Never mind the ‘furthermore,’ the plea is self-defense”; “It is of my opinion that the people are intending.” It’s a precisely timed vocal exercise until it eventually degenerates into chaos and laughter. To a 12-year-old like me, this was both weird and hilarious.

“Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family,” David Bowie, 1974

The late, great David Bowie has been likened to a chameleon for the way he would continually change his persona and musical approach, sometimes radically, throughout his six decades in the business. He thought nothing of giving his listeners figurative whiplash as he flip-flopped from accessible to dense, from sunny pop to weird industrial. Sometimes this happened on the same album; on 1974’s “Diamond Dogs,” Bowie gave us the commercial rock anthem “Rebel Rebel” as well as the head-scratching finale, “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family.” The full range of Bowie’s musical spectrum is on display in a new biopic called “Moonage Daydream,” to be released at IMAX theaters in mid-September.

“Surfin’ Bird,” The Trashmen, 1963

In 1962, a talented vocal doo-wop trio from Los Angeles called The Rivingtons came up with a gritty soul classic called “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” that, while memorable, stalled at #48 on the charts. They tried again the following year with the similar sounding “The Bird’s the Word,” which also failed to connect with listeners. Then came The Trashmen, a Minneapolis band that billed itself as “the premier landlocked Midwestern surf group of the ’60s,” who took elements of both Rivingtons tracks and came up with “Surfin’ Bird,” which has a more garage-band feel and the outrageously abrasive vocals of drummer Steve Wahrer. Nowhere near as good as The Rivingtons, but it reached #3 on the charts. How weird is that?

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Honorable mention:

C.I.A. Man,” The Fugs, 1967; “Baby’s On Fire,” Brian Eno, 1974; “Heinz Baked Beans,” The Who, 1968; “Hocus Pocus,” Focus, 1973; “The Lantern,” The Rolling Stones, 1967; Do the Strand,” Roxy Music, 1972; “Alley Oop,” The Hollywood Argyles, 1960; “Coconut,” Harry Nilsson, 1972; “Ahab the Arab,” Ray Stevens, 1962.

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Have you got the information??

Here at Hack’s Back Pages,” I’m continually providing bits of what I hope you find interesting music trivia, and now and then, I like to share these facts in the form of a quiz to test my readers’ knowledge.

Go ahead, give Rock Music Trivia Quiz #4 a shot! You might know more than you think you do.

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1. Who was the first of these female artists to have a #1 single in the U.S.?

Petula Clark

Dusty Springfield

Lesley Gore

Dionne Warwick

2. Which David Bowie album features Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar work on most tracks?

“Scary Monsters” (1980)

“Let’s Dance” (1983)

“Heroes” (1977)

“Tonight” (1984)

3. Which of these four songwriters did NOT have one of their songs turned into a Three Dog Night hit single?

Randy Newman

Laura Nyro

Harry Nilsson

Carole King

4. Who was Neil Young singing about in his hit “Old Man”?

His grandfather

The caretaker of his ranch

His high school music teacher

B.B. King

5. Which major songwriter wrote this iconic line of lyric: “I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now”?

Paul Simon

Joni Mitchell

Bob Dylan

John Lennon

6. Which of these fine guitarists did NOT made a guest appearance on a Steely Dan record?

Rick Derringer

Eric Clapton

Mark Knopfler

Larry Carlton

7. Who had the most Top Ten singles on U.S. charts during the disco era (1974-1980)?

The Bee Gees

Donna Summer

K.C. & The Sunshine Band

Kool and The Gang

8. What album from 1973 is the only solo Beatles album to feature all four Beatles on it?

“Mind Games,” John Lennon

“Ringo,” Ringo Starr

“Band on the Run,” Paul McCartney

“Living in the Material World,” George Harrison

9. In the 1980s, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was far and away the most popular album, holding on to the #1 spot on Billboard’s Top Albums an incredible 37 weeks in 1983-84. What album ranked second behind “Thriller” for most weeks at #1 in the 1980s?

“Synchronicity,” The Police

“Hi Infidelity,” REO Speedwagon

“Purple Rain,” Prince

“Whitney Houston,” Whitney Houston

10. Which hit single by Creedence Clearwater Revival was NOT written by singer John Fogerty?

“Lookin’ Out My Back Door”

“Fortunate Son”

“Suzie-Q”

“Proud Mary”

Extra credit question!

There are several examples of different Top Ten songs that share the same title. Which song title below has been used on more Top Ten hits than the others?

“Magic”

“Venus”

“Lady”

“Fire”

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1 Lesley Gore

Gore was only 17 when “It’s My Party” rocketed to #1 in June 1963. Petula Clark’s #1 hit “Downtown” didn’t come until January 1965. Dionne Warwick’s early hits failed to reach #1, and she didn’t reach the top spot until 1974 with “Then Came You.” Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” was #1 in England in 1966 but peaked at #4 in the U.S.; she never had a #1 hit here.

Stevie Ray Vaughan and David Bowie, 1983

2 “Let’s Dance”

In 1982 at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, Bowie first heard Austin, Texas-based blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, then mostly unknown, and when the time came to record “Let’s Dance,” Bowie tracked Vaughan down and enlisted him to overdub lead guitar solos on six of the album’s eight tracks, most notably on “Criminal World,” “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” and the title track. It was the only time Vaughan appeared on a Bowie album.

Carole King and Gerry Goffin

3 Carole King

King, usually with her then-husband Gerry Goffin, wrote many hits for other artists (“I’m Into Something good” for Herman’s Hermits, “Don’t Bring Me Down” for The Animals and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” for The Monkees, among others). But Three Dog Night never recorded one of her tunes. The vocal trio did record Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not To Come,” Laura Nyro’s “Eli’s Comin'” and Harry Nilsson’s “One.”

4 “Old Man” was written about the caretaker on Neil Young’s ranch

In 2006, Young explained the origin of “Old Man”: “Being a rich hippie for the first time, I had purchased a ranch, and there was a couple living on it who were the caretakers, an old gentleman named Louis Avila and his wife Clara. Louis took me for a ride in his blue Jeep, and he gets me up there on the top side of the place, and there’s this lake up there that fed all the pastures, and he says, ‘Well, tell me, how does a young man like yourself have enough money to buy a place like this?’ And I said, ‘Well, just lucky, Louis, just real lucky.’ And he said, ‘Well, that’s the darnedest thing I ever heard.’ And I wrote this song for him.”

5 Bob Dylan wrote “I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now” in “My Back Pages”

By the time of his fourth album, appropriately titled “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” he had begun to veer away from what he called “finger-pointing songs” that took issue with political leaders. Music critic Tim Riley said the new material “constituted a decisive act of non-commitment… in which he renounced his over-serious messianic perch and disowned false insights.” Dylan would occasionally return to so-called protest songs in his career, but at that point, he was eager to show a sense of humor and idealism, as shown in the song “My Back Pages.”

6 Eric Clapton

Rick Derringer played on three Steely Dan songs — “Show Biz Kids,” “Chain Lightning” and “My Rival.” Mark Knopfler guested on the single “Time Out of Mind.” Larry Carlton was almost a regular member, playing on “Daddy Don’t Live in New York City No More,” “Kid Charlemagne,” “Don’t Take Me Alive,” “Everything You Did,” “The Royal Scam,” “Third World Man” and five out of seven tunes on the “Aja” album. Eric Clapton was either never asked or declined to participate in any Steely Dan session.

7 Donna Summer

“The Queen of Disco” compiled 10 Top Ten disco hits between 1974-1980: “Love to Love You Baby,” “I Feel Love,” “Last Dance,” “MacArthur Park,” “Heaven Knows,” “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls,” “No More Tears,” “On the Radio,” “The Wanderer.” KC & The Sunshine Band accumulated seven hits in the Top Ten in those years; and The Bee Gees and Kool and The Gang both had five Top Ten disco hits (they had more hits before and after the era in question, of course).

8 “Ringo”

As the album’s back cover indicates, the “Ringo” album includes songs written by each of Starr’s former bandmates. Lennon wrote, played piano and sang on “I’m the Greatest”; McCartney wrote, played keyboards and sang on “Six O’Clock”; and Harrison wrote or co-wrote, played guitar and sang on “Photograph,” “Sunshine Life For Me” and “You and Me Babe,” although the four of them never played together on the same track. Ringo played drums on George’s “Living in the Material World” LP, but no other ex-Beatle played on John’s “Mind Games” nor Paul’s “Band on the Run.”

9 “Purple Rain,” Prince and the Revolution

A few months after “Thriller” completed its amazing reign at #1, Prince’s soundtrack album to his “Purple Rain” feature film began its own remarkable run as the #1 album, lasting 24 weeks. REO Speedwagon’s “Hi Infidelity” cornered the market as the #1 album for 21 weeks in 1981; The Police’s final album “Synchronicity” held the top spot for 17 weeks in 1983; and Whitney Houston’s debut album was #1 for 14 weeks in 1985.

10 “Suzie-Q”

Virtually every song Creedence Clearwater Revival ever recorded was written by their singer/guitarist, John Fogerty. There were exceptions — they did some fine cover versions of songs like “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “The Night Time is the Right Time,” “Before You Accuse Me” and even an 11-minute jam on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” but these were all deep album tracks. The only bonafide hit single Creedence had that Fogerty didn’t write was “Suzie-Q,” written by Dale Hawkins in 1957, which reached #11 in 1968 as the band’s first chart appearance.

Extra credit: “Lady”

There have been four different hit songs entitled “Lady” — Styx in 1975 (#6); Little River Band in 1979 (#10); Kenny Rogers in 1980 (#1); and The Commodores in 1981 (#8).

Three hit songs use the title “Magic” — Pilot in 1975 (#5); Olivia Newton-John in 1980 (#1); and The Cars in 1984 (#12).

Three hit tunes have the title “Fire” — Crazy World of Arthur Brown in 1968 (#2); Ohio Players in 1975 (#1); and The Pointer Sisters in 1979 (#2). (Jimi Hendrix had a ferocious rocker called “Fire,” but it wasn’t a single.)

As for the title “Venus,” it was a #1 hit for Frankie Avalon in 1959, and then a different “Venus” was a #1 hit for Shocking Blue in 1970, and a cover of Shocking Blue’s tune by Banamarama also reached #1 in 1986.