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The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent – 10 “Unlistenable” Albums

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If you've spent any significant time listening to music, you'll likely find that occasionally someone will tell you about an album that's so bad they can't even listen to it. You might even agree; but it's even odds that you're just as likely to express amazement at how anyone could be so far off in their judgment of what you think is a piece of musical brilliance.

Sometimes there's just no accounting for taste; but sometimes, an album comes along that garners near consensus when it comes to being defined as "unlistenable." And I don't mean necessarily that it's bad: sometimes it's so harmonically advanced or ahead of it's time that to actually sit and listen to it is simply very hard.

The following is a selection of ten albums I think the vast majority of regular people and casual music fans would hear and simply say, "What is this crap?" And they might even be right – maybe some of these really are crap, and some are maybe just so brilliant that they're above most people's ability to fathom them. In either case, I hope I'm not seen as trashing these albums – I actually like most of them. I simply figure these platters don't get spun often, if much at all, hence the term "unlistenable." I'll let the readers decide which are which, and you're all welcome to add to the list – but, of course, I won't blame anyone for not going out and tracking any of these down except as a curiosity.

In no particular order:

1) The Shaggs – Philosophy of the World – back in the 60s, a trio of sisters began to learn how to play drums and guitars. Their father decided after a few weeks they were ready for the studio, when in reality the were probably due for more music lessons. The resulting album is out of tune and out of sync, yet it possessed a peculiar charm and redefines the word "amateur."

2) Jimi Hendrix (with Jim Morrison) – Woke Up This Morning and Found Myself Dead (boot) – Jimi attempts an after hours jam while Jimbo yells profanities at the audience. Remember, Jim – when the music's over, turn out the light. I think Johnny Winter is onstage too somewhere.

3) Neil Young -Arc - for those who thought guitar feedback was the best part of Neil's electric set, Neil simply got rid of the set & kept the guitar squelch.

4) Lou Reed – Metal Machine Music – Lou one ups Neil: no set, no guitars – just the feedback.

5) The Velvet Underground – Squeeze – replacement player Doug Yule one ups both Neil and Lou by getting rid of Lou and having the nerve to still call it the Velvet Underground. Supposedly Ian Paice from Deep Purple somehow ended up playing drums, but I've never ever read or heard of him actually admitting it.

6) Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica – it's supposed to be brilliant, but I still have a hard time getting through it in one sitting. Maybe it's not supposed to be liked.

7) Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Sessions – a beautiful album actually, but I have to take it in small doses – it's so relaxing that I always fall asleep after the first two ro three songs.

8) John Coltrane – Ascension - free form jazz at its peak, but just a traffic jam of horns to the uninitiated (all votes for Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz are acceptable here too).

9) The Monkees – Changes ummm….. this is supposed to be so bad that I've never actually heard it – heck, I've never even seen a copy of it either, which makes it either truly terrible, or else a collectors' item.

10) Brian Eno – Ambient #1 – Music for Airports – OK, it's cheating a bit, but you're not supposed to listen to Eno's Ambient series; it's designed to be ignored and run as background. Actually listening to it is a chore, but if you're doing chores, it's rather soothing (especially if you happen to work at an airport).

So the next time you're listening to tunes at a big party and someone says, "I can't even listen to (insert name of once famous artist) anymore," pull out one of these priceless platters (if you have any of them) and keep an eye on your watch. It likely won't be long before many of your friends suddenly grab their coats and wave their goodbyes because they just all at this very moment thought they all had to go back home and check up on their babysitters. Or else dig up their Lou albums…..

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About Skeeter

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    heh! you fricken’ trouble maker!

    ok, i haven’t heard the Hendrix, VU, or monkees entries.

    other than those, i like everything else on the list. i guess i’m just wired funny.

  • The Schine

    Heard and have them all — but while “Changes”, “Arc”, “Metal Machine” and “Trout Mask” are difficult, they’re tame compared to Wildman Fischer, Mrs. Miller, Legendary Stardust Cowboy, and John and Yoko’s “scream therapy” stuff.

    Really other than the Shaggs, most of this stuff is garden variety bad, step up to the plate and enjoy true terror in it’s purist form – Evel Knievel singing “Why?” or an Yma Sumac album? Or the classic “Muhammad Ali vs. Tooth decay” – there’s an album.

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Ah Precious Moments: As a record store employee at the time, unwittingly subjecting a store full of customers to sizeable shards o’ ‘Metal Machine Music’.

    But where’s ‘The Ethel Merman Disco Album’, Bing Crosby’s ‘Hey Bing/Hey Jude’, and the Del Rubio Triplets, ‘Three Gals, Three Guitars’?

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    Ethel Merman Disco Album? yow.

  • JC Mosquito

    Urk. Some of these additions sound practically unimaginable much less unlistenable.

    I assume Ali beat Tooth Decay by a knockout(!).

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Wheres “My Name is Larry” by Wild Man Fischer?

    -Glen

  • JANK

    Ahhh I disagree on the Eno and Capt Beefheart. Edge music, yes but that doesn’t make them unlistenable. Ascension I did try however and I will grant you that call. I tried but I couldn’t latch on to it at all.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    Philip Glass – Music With Changing Parts

    that’ll challenge yer attention span.

  • http://www.lookoutforhope.com Tom Johnson

    I guess I’m nuts. I dig Ascension as well as the Shaggs.

    I played Arc one day not too long ago to see how my wife would react. It took her 3 minutes and 30 seconds before she said, clearly a bit frustrated, “Okay, what are we listening to?!” I don’t know that most people would make it even that far.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    “Okay, what are we listening to?!”

    i’ll be damned, our wives say the exact same thing!

    ;-)

  • Catey

    Ok, so I went to amazon and listened to the Shaggs, on their nifty song sampler there, and it gave me vertigo.Thats indeed very hard to listen to, but I couldnt resist it.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I’m gonna say anything from The Grateful Dead & The cd that Billy Bob Thorton just released….

    Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you meant Avant/Noise. I personally could handle pretty much any of the stuff you listed because it is like art & they are just trying to explore but most of the sh!t that people value,usually, is the stuff I can’t stand.
    (The list would be way too long for an article, but maybe I will have a crack at a new series…lol)

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    *BTW* Adult Themes for Voice by Mike Patton is a pretty good album to piss people off with.

  • JC Mosquito

    I guess there’s a fine line between unlistenable good and unlistenable bad. Neil Young’s Arc is a hard listen, but good – I’ve been through it a few times. But his Journey Through the Past Soundtrack remains one of only two of his albums not available on CD – it’s unlistenable bad – once is enough.

    Don’t know why Time Fades Away isn’t available tho’ – it’s a a pretty decent album, somewhere in the top quarter of his work, I’ve always felt, and certainly listenable on all levels.

    Interesing story about Coltrane’s Ascension: they did two takes, and Coltrane chose one of them for release. When the album came out, he said it was the wrong take, so subsequent album pressings used the alternate instead. However, no one, including the players, really knew which was take one or take two, despite there being significant differences in the order of the soloists. Nowadays, both version are available on CD, labelled Ascension I and II, but most people can’t tell the difference anyway.

  • JC Mosquito

    Catey – If you listen to the Shaggs long enough, it makes perfectly good sense – but it’s a work of art that references only itself.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    Adult Themes for Voice by Mike Patton is a pretty good album to piss people off with.

    Pranzo Oltranzista is good for that too.

    now if you’ll excuse me, i’ve gotta go listen to Workingman’s Dead.

  • http://hxchristian.typepad.com/metal_dad john

    my wife would probably nominate any recording by Anthony Braxton

  • Catey

    I would have to chew some Bonine first.:P

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Hey Mark, you just go ahead and do that…
    Of course, I won’t excuse you. I won’t even give you a stay of execution…Bastard. *Smirk*

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    dang guppus…and i was about to finish my Terrapin Station/Killers mashup disc. ;-)

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Yea.. But would you really hear a difference when you did that!? It’s all the same crap anyways…lol;)

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    *oops* – Unless you’re referring to Maiden’s Killers.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    shoot, i guess i should have said Terrapin Station/The Number of the Beast.

    ;-)

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I’ve actually got a promo copy of “Arc – The Single”. It’s a three minute edit. All ya need right there.

    -Glen

  • http://draven99.blogspot.com Chris Beaumont

    Primitive Enema by The Butt Trumpets. If you can sit through that, you can sit through anything. Plus any album by The Locust, though I have only seen them live, I cannot imagine a CD being better.

  • Bitch White

    Hey, you forgot to mention the debut album from the Scissor Sisters, and what about that crap album from Mika. The UK has a lot to answer for. Regarding Metal Machine Music, the last laugh’s on you pal. Reed has teamed up with the German chamber music ensemble, Zeitkratzer, and will release a live CD entitled “Lou Reed Metal Machine Music Live performed by Zeitkratzer” on September 4th, via Asphodel Records. The 2-disc set will also include a DVD of the entire gig mixed in 5.1 Surround Sound.

    But don’t take my word for it…

  • John

    All the terrible metal records from the 80’s and you claim Trout Mask and Ascension as unlistenable. There’s more to American music than 4/4.

  • http://daslob.blogspot.com/ Pico

    I love me some room clearin’ music. I think Saleski does, too ;&)

  • JC Mosquito

    Unlistenable in this case doesn’t imply any value, good or bad – for the longest time classics like Plastic Ono Band, Joy Division’s Closer and Lou Reed’s Berlin were unlistenable to me because they were so so far above what I had expected from yer basic rock music – of course, they’re all considered by many to be milestone albums for those artists. But I couldn’t sit and listen to them – they creeped me out.

    And Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All – gave me a headache the first time I heard it playing in the record shop – bought a copy right there and then.

  • http://culturesalad.blogspot.com Ray Ellis

    “Unlistenable” is subjective, anyway. Ziggy, my cat at the time, literally climbed walls when he heard Gang of Four. Tigger, my current cat, adores Gorillaz. Go fig.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    My cat Smokey hates all music. Whenever I put virtually anything on, he runs into the bedroom and leaps on the bed. Definitely not a Boss cat, but I love the little grey bastard just the same.

    -Glen

  • http://culturesalad.blogspot.com Ray Ellis

    Well, Glen–Tigger (and I did not saddle him with that name) is Siamese. I’m guessing his Asian ways make him appreciate a good mix.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Smokey is Russian Blue – although he “talks” so much you’d swear he had some Siamese in him. Smartest damn cat I’ve ever had too. Unfortunately, there is just no accounting for his lack of musical taste.

    -Glen

  • http://culturesalad.blogspot.com Ray Ellis

    If he has blue eyes, he’s definitely part Siamese. But I know what you mean about the talking. Tigger has trouble with consonants, and his accent is decidedly Asian. But I have noticed how dogs and cats react to different music. I think Tigger wants to check out a rave.

  • Catey

    Nice pic there Glen ;)

  • JC Mosquito

    Ooooh – cats! I had a part Siamese for fourteen years – she was ornery, but kept the yard free of intruders! Have a pair of Russian Blues right now – one of them is quite talky, but not much use in a catfight.

    The Blues don’t give a hoot about music one way or the other, but the Siamese liked Sinatra.

  • http://culturesalad.blogspot.com Ray Ellis

    Music and Cats–a new series? Kidding, of course. . . or am I. . ?

  • The Schine

    Whose that cat that threw the tea into the Boston sea? “ALI!” – The best is Howard Cosell on that album. His musical work is truely underappreciated.

    I think something that is truely bad needs to be forced upon you unwillingly – the next time I hear frickin Bette Midler or James Taylor while I’m eating in a restaurant… If the music is designed for pleasant digestion It’s not bad GOOD, but bad BAD. I’d rather the Shaggs

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “All the terrible metal records from the 80’s”

    If any of that panzy-ass shite like Poison comes from those lips, then you’ve lost all credibility with me…pal.

    Mark, it doesn’t really matter because The Dead didn’t have a real distinguishable rythymn section,so,their music would get lost accept for that annoying twang that people call singing…lol!! ;) I’m just grateful that they are dead.

  • JC Mosquito

    The Dead had at least a few good records – really, having so darn many, there’s got to be a couple of gems. I like the first couple of albums, and a few compilations, but Terrapin Station didn’t do it for me, and Blues for Allah especially irked me after I paid double for it while it was temporarily out of print.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    because The Dead didn’t have a real distinguishable rythymn section

    further proof that all of that metal has flattened your hearing.

    gotta run…have Open Up And Say…Ahhh cued up…

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Ya know I’m Just messin’ with ya, right, Mark? You can definitely tell when The Dead are playing. No punchline… I’m being serious.

    J.C.,I haven’t given their first albums a shot. Maybe I will… But I think they are way too mellow for me.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    i really love Blues For Allah.

    guppus, too mellow. do you like the early, non-heavy Michael Manring stuff. i can’t remember.

  • http://www.moviesteve.blogspot.com Steve C.

    A lot of additions sprung to mind after reading this, but the one that seems to warrant inclusion above all others… no Merzbow?

    Also, I recently had a run-in with Twin Infinitives by Royal Trux, which might be a brilliant document of excess and waste or just a bunch of strung-out skanks too high to play their instruments, I can’t tell yet.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Mark, Are you talking about his Windham Hill days w/Will Ackerman,Michael Hedges & George Winston? His own band Montreaux?

    I personally love all of his work, well, except for At War With Self. I was never big into African Rythmns or similar stuff.(If I remember correctly) *Oh well* Just didn’t groove with it. BUT, Manring is THE exception because he is just so versatile & has worked with so many people. He can be mellow & he can blow the f*cking doors off your house. (Don’t get me started about the Bass God..lol!!)

    My biggest problem with The Dead is the hippy jam thang..I don’t know how to explain it. The sound they created made me squimish.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    yes, i was thinking of all the pre-Thonk records, all on Windham Hill.

  • JC Mosquito

    Jazz pianist Cecil Taylor had a multi album vinyl set called The Great Concert of Cecil Taylor which consisted of one performance of one song by piano, two saxes & drums. There were many passages that sounded pretty… atonal.

  • http://thismeaneveryone.blogspot.com James A. Gardner

    That’s an interesting premise and article, JC. As someone who *had* to play music at a parent’s insistence, I always reflexively defend the Shaggs, but also appreciate their album in a “Plan Nine From Outer Space” sense. I’d rather listen to their sincere best effort than to the tossed-off product of more-talented artists. (And I’d rather watch “Plan Nine…” than most of what’s in theaters today.)
    I have to take exception with the inclusion of the Monkees’ “Changes.” It’s simply not in the same league, as either difficult or painful listening, with most of the rest of these. It’s innocuous, disposable pop, not up to the standards of any of their early albums, but not remarkable in its awfulness. If anything, “Changes” is uncharacteristically bland. (And used copies aren’t pricey, so it’s probably not much of a collector’s item . . . pick one up!)
    I hope you do more installments like this.

  • JC Mosquito

    The Shaggs’ big ‘hits’ (for lack of a better word),”It’s Halloween” and “My Pal’s Name is Foot Foot” would be staples on my jukebox, if I had one (hey, Glen – you could lend me the single edit of “Arc” – whazzupwi’dat?).

    Thanx for your kind words Mr. Gardner – the writing process returns to me but slowly, if at all – but at least I think I’m past my “anyone can sound intelligent on about a half dozen personal hot topics” stage, although there might be those who think otherwise.

  • Catey

    I have a friend with some hound dogs who will give you their best effort..I would even beat on some pots and pans, tie it all in, (makes some sense out of it all).From an artistic perspective, of course….

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Ya know what… I’m going to submit my own work that I did with a guitarist @ Jamspot in Cambridge,MA. Unfortunately, he thought that I was exploiting our jam sessions..somehow, I don’t know.

    Anyways, take alisten and feel free to tell me what you think(anything).

  • http://127.0.0.1/ Dave

    I can listen to Trout Mask when I’m in a certain frame of mind and I like Arc, but let me nominate a few:

    1. The Sign Of Four – Bailey/Metheny/Bendian/Wertico
    2. Sounds of a Distant Episode – Frith/Ribot
    3. insert title of any top-40 CD here
  • http://daslob.blogspot.com/ Pico

    Sez Steve:
    “A lot of additions sprung to mind after reading this, but the one that seems to warrant inclusion above all others… no Merzbow?”

    Merzbow: the last word on this topic (and while we’re talking about Japanese noise music, The Boredoms are up there, too).

  • The Schine

    Merzbow — I actually think Massona is more difficult to get through in the “noise music” realm. Boredoms are in the “Shaggs” realm of bad GOOD. Saw them live a few times years ago – could reproduce everything just like on the record. Impressive. “Superfrake 89″ is classic!

  • JC Mosquito

    Guppus – sorry – couldn’t get my compy to run it. I’ll give it a go again when it’s feeling not so temperamental.

  • James A. Gardner

    Catey: You said: “I have a friend with some hound dogs who will give you their best effort..”

    Cool! What instruments do they play?
    If she were really trying her best, I think my dog could make an album I’d rather hear than, say, the Eagles’ “Long Run,” for instance!
    Unlike the Shaggs, though, I don’t force anyone in my household to play music.

  • http://rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    I don’t have the whole story on the making of Squeeze, but Doug Yule, a late addition to the Velvets, didn’t “get rid” of Lou Reed — of that much I’m sure. The band broke up, and I suspect the record came out because the record company still nominally owned the name and they had Doug Yule. Most Velvet Underground discographies don’t even list it, since it’s not a Velvet Underground record.

    When the Velvets were induicted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Yule wasn’t even invited.

  • Catey

    James: I, Catey, would be the only instrumental accompaniment.

    I agree about that song, it’s annoying, lol.(Long Run)

  • JC Mosquito

    Yes, RW – that’s the story of VU’s Squeeze as I understand it, too. I suppose it was meant to be taken figuratively that Doug Yule “got rid” of Lou – just like in the RNRHOF episode where Lou returned the favor and figuratively “got rid” of Yule. I mean Doug Yule did play on two legit studio albums and some also legit posthumous live & studio releases and toured with the band until they finally broke up. Even though many people believe his tenure with the Velvet’s was only a sort of pseudo-membership, I think he could’ve been invited to the RNRHOF ceremony as a courtesy.

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Yeah, it was a cruel blow, I’ll agree — and anyone who played on 1969 deserves induction. I think that’s the greatest live LP ever made.

    A side note: Lester Bangs noted in his review of Loaded that the back cover — of Doug Yule alone in the studio, playing the piano — was a travesty, because it made it look like Yule is the band: the lone member staying up after closing hours perfecting the sound. It does kind of look like the desperate ploy of a record company that was going to continue to milk the VU name, and only had Yule in its pocket.

  • http://emmetmatheson.blogspot.com Emmet

    I remember someone once recommended I listen to Metal Machine Music after I had been going on about Transformer. Same person later gave me some dubbed Velvets albums on tape, but left “Sister Ray” off the White Light/White Heat!

  • JC Mosquito

    1969 – I’ll agree – an excellent live album!

    Emmet – sorry to hear you miss Sister Ray. Recently, I heard the legendary “Sweet Sister Ray” – a live 40 minute long variation of or intro to Sister Ray played only once as far as I know – it’s hard to tell if it’s an intro, but if it is, other live versions of SR I’ve heard run over 20 minutes apiece, meaning it would’ve been an hour long all told.

  • http://emmetmatheson.blogspot.com Emmet

    That’s okay, JC, I eventually heard “Sister Ray” (but not before I heard Jonathan Richman play “Velvet Underground”) a few years later (WL/WH was the last VU album I acquired) when I was more emotionally mature.
    Steve C.: If you think Royal Trux’s Twin Infinitive’s is Unlistenable, check out (or don’t) Hand of Glory, released a couple of years back, but recorded around the same time. I guess it’s the stuff they didn’t think was whatever enough for T.I.