The year is 1974, imagine you’re in a record shop browsing the records and this record somehow comes into view. As you pass by quickly you think it’s the 1964 classic Meet the Beatles, but as you take a closer look you realize it is something else. The cover is like Meet the Beatles, but each of the four lads’ faces has been painted in a very childlike manner. Each of the Beatles is somewhat unrecognizable under the artwork but, you know it’s the Beatles from the start. As you pick up this record and bring it home to play it, a slurry of harsh sounds, arduous noise, and cacophonous music comes out of the speakers in the next 45 minutes leaving you dazed and wondering where you even heard it from. Well, take this experience to heart because this is more likely to happen now than ever before as the album originally sold 40 copies back in 1974. But who is the group known as The Residents and why are they doing this?
The Residents are completely anonymous. Never showing their face or identity, they released their first EP in 1972, and up to today have been recording music, playing live shows, and making tons of multimedia projects. They have put out 46 studio albums, 34 live albums, 64 compilation albums, 10 box sets, 4 movies, and 2 video games throughout the years. But let’s turn back the clock to 1972.
The Residents were working on a movie in 1972, deciding that this venture was not the only thing to be doing at the time they decided to release an EP of a few songs they wanted to feature in this movie for a Christmas release. This EP entitled Santa Dog was one of the first projects around this time to use samples, which was not common practice until the 80s. Although each song on the EP was credited to a different artist, they were all made by The Residents. 300 copies of this EP were sent out to friends and family, including Richard Nixon. It wasn’t until 1974 that the group used the name The Residents for the 1974 album. Released in 1974 and only coming out in mono, it only sold 40 copies outside of the group’s friends at the time. Repressed into an (inferior) stereo mix in 1977 with a different cover, it solidified The Residents as an avant-garde underground group that would go on to influence the likes of Primus, Ween, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, and Devo.
To get to the actual album, it is about 44 minutes long, comprising 12 songs, each with its brand of different haunting sounds. At the start of the album, there’s radio noise that goes into the first song “Boots”. The first 6 songs on the album all flow together and form a suite.
Coming up next on the album is the song “Skratz”. This is probably one of the most unnerving songs ever. The song screams with a saxophone pattern while a monotone voice drolls over the instrumental about his body and what is happening with it as it gets older. The song is so short yet effective. “Spotted Pinto Bean” is one of the best songs on the album, and one of the best songs ever. Reeling in the music we get an opera song on the piano with The Residents slowly getting their grubby little hands on the instrumental, adding out-of-tune sax and giant noises. The Captain Beefheart-like drawl of “Infant Tango” plays over a wah-wah-like instrumental that builds over the next six minutes. This funk jam is dissonant, and most surprisingly catchy all at the same time. Infant Tango has a 70s funk style to it which gives it this sort of character that slowly pokes its head throughout. The low-quality style makes the bass line pop out of the mix much more and gives it much more of a low end. It feels very earthy and deserving of its funky roots.
The final two songs are doozies and completely Christmas-related for some reason. “Seasoned Greetings” is very nostalgic, which is something that this album does well. Beautiful horns simulate a Christmas melody broadcast over an old-timey radio, then the song becomes vandalized by the residents wherein it becomes a scary psych-funk jam. This builds and becomes louder until the finale where you hear someone declaring their love for family over loud squealing saxes. It reminds you of nostalgia for Christmas of old until we get into the big, teenage grand finale. “N-R-GEE (Crisis Blues)” is the last song on the album, and it is the most extreme. It starts with a low rumbling, with a voice declaring that nobody cares about Christmas anymore. Then suddenly a dissonant piano starts being played while a loud drum gets beat. It beats out to the name of the song. You then hear a record getting played, while the same singing voice dances along to the record, then the record gets stuck on the word “BOOGALOO” and it keeps on repeating while a gigantic wall of noise gets built up over the song. Everything becomes quiet except for a drum and the pattern repeats and it builds up over time until everything stops. A quiet distant line “Go Home America, 55 will do” A reference to the Vietnam War gets repeated, showing a shade of beauty at the end of all the madness.
I think this record is very important. It shows what you can do with a few friends and a small budget, and it shows that you don’t need to have musical knowledge to make an interesting record. The influence of this record can be felt today, with many popular artists being inspired by it and the artists trying to be more obscure and outward with their art. Many albums with this aesthetic have been released since, and while I don’t think that all of them were inspired by this album directly, the spirit of it can be felt in many of them. All in all, this is a very monumental record and I would give it a 10/10.
Brennan Feeny is a Sophomore Exploratory major whose top artist on Spotify has been The Residents for a solid 10 years. He can be reached at [email protected]