Suspicious Minds

Sometimes I think that my ongoing obsession with pop songs has less to do with a feel for sound and more to do with the way that I cannot sustain happiness for longer than three minutes at a time. Which is why sitting Indian style before a turntable and putting on one single after another can be such a pleasant way to spend an evening. Maybe it's the ritual joy of getting out that bundt-cake-shaped piece of plastic and feeling the 45's big round void embrace its sides. Maybe it's that way you feel sort of useful and archival when you blow a clump of cat hair out of the record's grooves. Or maybe it's the lowered expectations of a short-term experience, the way that having coffee with friends is always more fun than visiting them for the weekend. It's best when no one else is around, because then you can obsess to your heart's content, playing the same beloved track over and over, like I did as a child with my favorite 7-inch of all time: a scary recording called "History Repeats Itself" listing all the numerological similarities between the lives, presidencies, and assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and JFK. The best singles these days aren't the ones climbing any Billboard charts, but one-off projects accomplished by obscure bands or weirdo documents you'd never put up with in long-play form. Here are three:

The Budget Girls, Get in Your Ear (Planet Pimp) Discovered the all-time best way to find a record: by calling a DJ (in this case, at KUSF) and asking, "What was that?" "Pop-a-Wheelie Cop-a-Feelie" is the funniest mess I've heard on radio in ages. One could call these swerving giggle-screams garage rock, but that would give the erroneous impression that these Indiana girlie girls had actually wandered down to the garage to practice. And the B side delivers the Budgettes' roaring admonition of technological man, "Go Away Geek!" -- a phrase they chant continually at a male who stammers, "But I found a really cool home page ...."

Sounds of the American Fast Food Restaurants: 10 Authentic Field Recordings (Planet Pimp) Surveying the ambience of 10 Bay Area chain restaurants is a little like sitting through the introductions to as many NPR on-the-scene stories. Orders are taken, change is made, hamburgers sizzle. Experience "Hot Dog on a Stick (Stonestown Mall)" while eating tofu on your very own couch. But if those empty calories don't fill you up, look forward to future installments in the series, including Sounds of Hawaiian Car Rental Agencies and Sounds of International Airport Restrooms.

Million Sellers, "You Don't Have to Worry About Affection" b/w "Wake Up! Wake Up!" (Wanda Records) Anyone who's ever been part of a small-time, small-town music scene knows all the words to three or four songs that have never seen the national light of day, but should have. If you were lucky enough to live in Bozeman, Mont., circa 1986, you couldn't help falling for one of the best Elvis Costello songs never written by Elvis Costello -- the Beat Nothings' "You Don't Have to Worry About Affection." Singer/songwriter Kels Koch (a Billings boy with big hair and bigger dreams) performs the catchy sexual harassment number from the boss' point of view: "Each rung you climb up the ladder of success/ I'll be looking up your dress." Ten years later, "Affection" resurfaces out of Austin, courtesy of Koch's current band. They're called the Million Sellers; I told you he had big dreams.

By Sarah Vowell
svowell@aol.com

Planet Pimp, 1800 Market St. #45, San Francisco, CA 94102
Wanda Records, PO Box 4399, Austin,

 
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