A year's worth of audio oddities
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA — In January of 2003, the professionally pseudo-named Otis Fodder began a yearlong self-assignment to post one ... unique ... audio file per day - a clip of the sort not played by most radio stations. The audio would be selected for their potential to amuse, bemuse, and perhaps even mystify the online community. Files would range from industrial musical megaproductions to high-school bands, and include the long (and best) forgotten work of celebrities and the private creations of complete unknowns. They would cover subjects from early predictions about the exploration of outer space, to the Ten Commandments as interpreted by a musically inclined hamster, to tips on doing the perfect load of laundry. And each title, every day, would be made available as a free MP3 download for anyone who wanted to start their own collection. In December of 2003, the 365 Days Project was complete, and while the finished product can't compete with the iTunes Music Store for size, it easily wins in the fields of obscurity and, shall we say, eclecticism.
Ironically, this celebration of the obscure temporarily slipped into its own oblivion shortly after it was completed - vanishing from the Web entirely in 2004, but later reappearing as a part of UBUWEB (an online storehouse for unconventional visual, audio, and written materials). Complete and divided into 26 biweekly 'chapters,' visitors can now explore 365 Days at the original pace of a file every 24 hours, or as quickly as each new recording can be loaded. A compromise between these two extremes would probably be the best strategy.
So, specifically what kind of recordings are featured at 365 Days? Well, let's use the first and last files included in the collection as an introduction. On Jan. 1, Fodder posted a performance found at the Seattle Goodwill in 2000 - a 78 RPM vanity recording of Faye and Jeannie (that's all we know about them) having a ball as they attack (in every sense of the word) Irving Berlin's, "You're Just In Love." On Dec. 31, the webmaster celebrated New Year's Eve with a 1949 disc from the friendly folks at Green Giant, in which Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians tried to replace the traditional "Happy Birthday to You" with a new and improved, all-occasion tune that would have had your friends singing something a good deal more complex at your next surprise party. (In fact, you might have left before they had a chance to finish.)
And while these two examples are already a far cry from standard radio fare, they're positively conventional compared to much of the collection. Before the first week of the year is over, we have a peppy tune that sounds as if it could have come from an amateur production of Godspell, featuring testimonials about the benefits of getting in touch with your Communist side. ("Read Marx and Lenin it will really turn you loose!") The second week ends with a spectacular excerpt from that mid-'70s self-help classic, "Picking Up Girls Made Easy." Yes, you too can pick up hot chicks in women's clothing stores by simply lying through your teeth and buying them clothes! (Remember, "it's a woman's instinct to help a man, and make him happy....")
An entire sub-genre in the field of obscure audio is the celebrity recording, and probably the best-known of the unintentional novelty artists is William Shatner - both famous and infamous for his renditions of such classics as "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "Mr. Tambourine Man." 365 includes an example of Shatner's oeuvre, but bypasses the more commonly accessible tunes in favor of his interpretation of Elton John's "Rocket Man" (or as Bill puts it, "ROCK IT MAN!"). There are plenty of other ill-advised celebrity performances here as well, boasting such high-profile artists as Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Louis Farrakhan (recorded when he made his living as a calypso singer called The Charmer), and Dick Clark, with his late '60s "Open Letter to the Older Generation." ("The music that you're hearing, is the sound of the teens. It's uptight with pretense, 'cause it knows what it means.")
Other highlights include hockey great Guy Lafleur giving advice on scoring (not to be confused with "Picking Up Girls"), Pat Boone extolling the virtues of Amway, "Chips of Wisdom" (life lessons from a ventriloquist and his dummy), and "All Of Me" by The Singing Hypnotist. For listeners searching for that perfect marriage of Broadway and Wall Street, industrial musicals by such companies as American Standard and G.E.'s Silicone Products Division provide "My Bathroom Is a Private Kind Of Place" (from the 1969 hit, "The Bathrooms Are Coming"), and "Sand" ("Sand. It all starts with sand...") - a 1973 show-stopper complete, of course, with a little bit of sand-assisted softshoe dancing. (Though it doesn't say so on the website, I feel confident that the proper title of the latter tune was actually, "SAND!")
Religious recordings prove to be just as rich a source of the unexpected as pop and private recordings, and range from Christian Aerobics to the Rev. Glen Armstrong's, "Even Squeaky Fromme Loves Christmas." Ads are also well represented, though the best example in this category isn't an ad per se, but a famous collection of outtakes from a recording session with an ever-accommodating Orson Welles. ("What is it you want ... in your [sic] depths of your ignorance?")
Do a quick bit of math and you'll see that I haven't even touched upon 10 percent of the collection thus far, but it's enough to say that the rest of the project is more of the same (and yet no two alike). And if you're not interested in taking a chronological path through the entire anthology, 365 Days aids more discriminating visitors by adding background notes to almost every file. Featuring comments from a wide variety of curators, and even the occasional memories of featured performers and/or their friends and families, these notes not only provide additional bits of trivia (such as a direct connection between the Beatles' "Paul Is Dead" phenomenon and the Western music group, Riders in the Sky), but also help visitors decide which tracks to avoid - because as they say on TV, 'Some material may be offensive to certain audience members.'
But even if you do find yourself deliberately avoiding some content, there will still be plenty of the weird, the wonderful, and the 'what were they thinking?' left to explore. It could be reasonably argued that none of this material should ever have been recorded in the first place - but it was, and given that it was, it would have been a shame to lose it.
The 365 Days Project can be found at http://www.ubu.com/outsiders/365/.