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Revenge of the weirdo records

Thrift store regulars know there’s a world of music entirely separate from what you’ll find in your local CD emporium. But a cruise around the Web might save you some time pawing through a dusty box of old records at the nearest yard sale.

Thrift store regulars know there’s a world of music entirely separate from what you’ll find in your local CD emporium. Places like Goodwill or Salvation Army yield the forgotten refuse from 50 years of vinyl records: amateurish religious music, instructional records, do-it-yourself vanity recordings, and mildly ribald “party” records, showing that for every LP that topped the charts, there are thousands of others that were doomed for the scrap heap from Day One.

It’s only in the past decade that collectors have started to pay these sorry specimens any attention. A cruise around the Web might save you some time pawing through a dusty box of old records at the nearest yard sale.

Otis F. Odder’s 365 Days Project collected and posted a new oddball track every day in 2003. Highlights (?) of this ambitious undertaking included Myron Floren’s “Disco Accordion,” primitive electronic music from an IBM 7090 computer (made in 1962), and a home recording of an unknown family singing Christmas carols in 1947-and 362 others in a similarly demented vein. Unfortunately, the project’s MP3 files were taken offline at the end of last year, but amusing information and photos related to each posting is still on the site.

A taste of what the 365 Project was about is still available at a number of sites that do offer downloads, including The Oddball Auditorium, Basic Hip Digital Oddio, Frank’s Vinyl Museum, Sharpeworld, 78s, Acetates, and Weird Records and Weirdo Music. Also, be sure to visit the site for Incorrect Music, a radio show (on New Jersey’s WFMU-FM) devoted to this stuff.

One particularly fertile source of strange music is the sound-poem industry. Sound-poems were the records that resulted from those tacky come-ons in the back of comic books, offering budding songwriters the chance to have a real record made from their lyrics-for a fee, of course. The American Song-Poem Music Archives takes a scholarly approach to these bizarre artifacts, pointing out “stars” of the genre such as Rodd Keith, who apparently recorded hundreds of song-poems in his career as a session singer. There’s even a series of honest-to-goodness CD releases, that chronicle the most memorable sound-poems.

In the case of many oddball records, you can judge a book by its cover. In many cases, the covers of these records are more enlightening than the music within, and Show and Tell Music contains several galleries of cover art that will save you the trouble of buying some of these tragic LPs.

Alas, the world of oddball music is not all whimsy. Some collectors go for the virulently racist 1960s recordings on the Reb Rebel label. Others prefer to look at America’s lunatic fringe through the lens of religious fundamentalism; the Rosetta Stone among these collectors is a 1970s album by Lil’ Markie, a singer whose voice was altered to make him/her sound like an innocent tot. The album’s centerpiece is the anti-abortion tearjerker “Diary of an Unborn Child.” Available for download, it simply must be heard to be believed, regardless of where you stand on the issue in question.

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