Friday, September 05, 2008

Morgan Fisher/Hybrid Kids are killing the classic oldies

The whole idea of a covers album seems like a waste- it's lazy way for an artist to recycle old, familiar hits without having to come up with any new material of their own and rely on connections that an audience has already made to oldies. Plenty of artists have come up with their own acceptable cover versions but maintaining the concept over a whole album is a tricky prospect. Ray Charles did it with some audacity with his favorite country songs plus Bryan Ferry adding his own hilariously campy touch to 50's and 60's oldies on his first solo record. Hell, even the last Guns N' Roses record, "The Spaghetti Incident?" from '93, was a good one.

One of my all-time favorite cover albums is the Residents' The Third Reich N' Roll (reissued by Mute in 2005). What was so unique and audacious about the album was that the eyeball boys dealt with oldies as both serious music deserving scrutiny and at the same time, trashy music that was worthy of ridicule.

At around the same time that he did the wonderfully bonkers Miniatures compilation (one of my all-time faves), ex-Mott the Hoople keysman Morgan Fisher also put out an album called Hybrid Kids in 1979. Supposedly a bunch of bands from Peabody, Kansas were included there with names like Punky & Porky, U.S. Nerds, Malcolm Galaxy, British Standard Unit, R.W. Atom and the Incestors. If the names sound kind of Brit, they should- they were really all Mr. Fisher in various (dis)guises.

The end result was an obsessive, bizarre series of experiments that by all rights should have remained dusty old work tapes. But there's something beyond novelty about Fisher's work. It's such an extensive put-on and off-the-wall concept that it works in its own weird way as a fascinating reconfiguring of the material.

Fisher started with songs by Richard Harris ("MacArthur Park"), the Sex Pistols, Kate Bush, Perry Como, Peggy Lee, Brotherhood of Man, Rod Stewart, Sun Ra, the Beatles, the Stranglers, the Righteous Brothers and Squeeze (with Mott thrown in) and then covered respectively them in the styles of Two tone ska, the Chipmunks, Jah Wobble, the Pistols (not on their own song though), Lee (on her own song), Devo, techno, Ra (on his own song), Eno/Byrne, the Residents (appropriately enough), Suicide and early Pink Floyd. It doesn't always work in the funny way that it wants to but it does more often than not, in the mad way that Miniatures does. "D'Ya Think I'm Sexy" done by robots (and then answered by "NO!"), the Pistols as kiddie music, Como as 'speed punk,' "You've Lost that Loving Feeling" channeling a German officer and Tim Buckley as well as the influence of the Residents everywhere make it not just enjoyable but also the kind of covers album that both honors and dismantles the originals. Even when he gets a little too reverential (as on the Beatles' "Get Back"), he breaks it up with tapes and spacy interludes and alien transmissions to keep up the nutsy atmosphere.

Fisher likes to think of it as an early DIY mash-up and in a way it is but it's also its own unique creation. It's perfect for Dr. Demento but beyond a mere novelty, it's also a brilliant concept album. And funny as hell too.

Hybrid Kids was just reissued by Cherry Red in England, paired with the Hybrid Kids' 1980 album of Christmas tunes called Claws.


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