Sunday, July 10, 2016

Fossils: Ralph Records – Musick For Weirdos (1978)

Ralph Records' Musick for Weirdos
[click to embiggen]
Ralph Records' Musick For Weirdos

Not so much an advertisement for a single album release but rather a clever slab o’ bloato-hype from avant-garde indie label Ralph Records for a slew of their releases. Formed in 1972 in San Francisco by cult rockers the Residents when they realized that no corporate label would come anywhere near the band without a hazmat suit and ten-foot-pole, Ralph’s first album release came in 1974 with the extraordinary Meet The Residents, as bizarre-o a chunk of PVC as one would ever slap on a turntable. After their acclaimed debut, Residents’ albums fell like acid rain on the fringes of American rock ‘n’ roll, beginning with 1976’s The Third Reich ‘n Roll and following with 1977’s Fingerprince, 1978’s Not Available and the oddball Duck Stab!/Buster & Glen, a compilation of  the band’s seven-song Duck Stab! EP on the A-side and Buster & Glen holding down the B-side of the album.

The Residents evidently attracted a lot of like-minded fellow-travelers, and Ralph Records began releasing 45rpm singles and full-length albums by a number of, ah…shall we say ‘unique’ artists who fell into orbit around the label. The first was guitarist Philip “Snakefinger” Lithman, whose 7” single “The Spot” was release by Ralph in 1978, followed by a wonderful full-length album the next year, Chewing Hides The Sound featuring songwriting and musical contributions by the Residents as well as covers of Kraftwerk’s “The Model” and composer Ennio Morricone’s “Magic and Ecstasy,” from the soundtrack of the movie Exorcist II: The Heretic. Of Snakefinger’s debut LP, the All Music Guide’s Tom Schulte says “this is the peculiar and unique material of a cult guitarist extraordinaire. Each song is a quirky island in a sea of sonic oddity.”

Snakefinger would record five albums total for Ralph Records, as well as a number of singles and appearances on several of the Residents’ albums. The label would go on to release and promote music from a number of original, singular artists during the 1980s and ‘90s, including Fred Frith, Voice Farm, Tuxedomoon, MX-80 Sound, Renaldo and the Loaf, and the ‘King’ of the American underground, Eugene Chadbourne. This advertisement, culled from an old issue of Trouser Press – perhaps the only music zine to pay attention to Ralph Records and its bastard children at the time – is a striking and effective way to promote the label’s releases, displaying cover shots of several singles/EPs along with the label’s recognizable logo. An almost subliminal phrase “you will buy lots of Ralph Records” is repeated in the background, and the label’s address on the side encourages the curious to send off for a catalog…an important bit of marketing that seems quaint in the Internet era...

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