Music Monday: Weird Americans

by Scott Lydon

Happy Music Monday! In honor of the 4th Of July, our "Weird America" week is celebrating the freaks that make this nation great. As we all know, there are plenty of strange rock stars out there. But weird? To qualify as weird you've got to be a different sort! So Scott's made a nice little list of crazy musicians that he thinks should qualify. They might not be who you wanna listen to every day, but then again, maybe you're a little weird-at-heart too! Here's the grandaddy of American shock-rock to kick us off…

Screamin' Jay Hawkins

Classically trained musician wants to be an opera singer, and it doesn't work out. What's the other option? Well, before Screamin' Jay, very few people would have said "dress up like a voodoo priest and shriek out a stalky ballad." Look, genius finds a way. This weird American showed up at the dawn of rock and roll, when Elvis Presley was considered a little risky. It's safe to say that Screamin' Jay was the Marilyn Manson of his day, and that every star who ever offended someone through rock theatrics owes this particular weird American a debt.

Inside you'll have four more weirdos, plus a link to last week's playlist. See you after the jump!

Of course, you'll know about our weekly Spotify playlist, featuring a great selection from last week's Music Monday comments. The theme of the mix this time is Summertime Hits and it's perfect for tanning by the pool, or maybe for making you wish you were. But before you grab your water wings, let's kick off our Keep America Weird week with our current Music Monday below!


Captain Beefheart

I'd bet this might be the first time we've mentioned Captain Beefheart on our blog. The "Art-rock" genre is pretty well known, but "Art-blues" just isn't really a thing. And yet... can you think of a better way to classify a song like this? Or this? With a band that carried the raw blues power of John Lee Hooker, a voice growlin' like Howlin' Wolf, and an art-school sense of how to be strange, Captain Beefheart took over a zone that few people care to wander through. Not to mention, the guy grew up with our next choice, so how could he be anything but weird?

Frank Zappa NSFW lyrics

I debated if I should include Frank. Not because I dislike him, but because if I left him out, that would be a guaranteed comment! "Why did you leave out Zappa?" someone would ask, and I would have had to agree. Even if you can't stand to hear Zappa's music (and some people can't) you've just got to be aware that the man was a literal genius. Alice Cooper, Missing Persons, Steve Vai, Ringo Starr, John Belushi, Shelly Duvall, The Monkees, Al and Tipper Gore, Matt Groening and more all counted Zappa as either an influence, a collaborator, a friend, or a person worthy of their respect It's impossible to to cover all that Frank Zappa did or helped influence in a single paragraph, so why should I try? Pick almost any one of his records or interviews at random and you'll notice two things. The first is that he was a great composer. And the second was that he was pretty solidly weird.

John Zorn

I have to admit to being a serious John Zorn fan, but I can understand that he's not for everyone. For those who don't know, this saxophone player/composer/MacArthur Genius Grant winner has worked with some of the finest and/or most interesting musicians in the world, and produced everything from pretty soundtracks to an album made from duck calls to a musical history of the Holocaust. For the image link above I chose one of his more straight forward songs, but trust me, if you sniff around Zorn's catalog, you're gonna see some weiiiird ideas.

Sun Ra

He came from Saturn, and was one of the angels watching over the planet. Some people say he was born Herman Blount, but what do they know? They truth is that Sun Ra and his Arkestra mixed big band with soul and added costumes, theatrics, dancers and fire-eaters, helping to lay the groundwork for P-Funk and maybe even the idea of Lollapalooza. If you're talking about free jazz today, you're eventually going to end up mentioning Sun Ra (even though he didn't like the term), and his Arkestra still tours today. Face it, if you're a guy that jazz musicians call weird, you're a whole new kind of classification.

Who'd we miss? If you know some forgotten American weirdo musician, throw 'em in the comments below. But beware! Jason's got his own American Weirdos list in progress so your favorite freak-of-choice might already be on deck! As always, once you're done here, hit the room for othe regular weird Music Monday experience. And please don't judge us for playing it straight for a second: some images come from their corresponding Wikipedia page and are here under fair use.