Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Rodd Keith
I Died Today

Released 1996 on Tzadik
Reviewed by MrNick, 27/05/2007ce

From around the 1950s to the 1970s there was a money making scheme known as the song poem industry. Basically, this industry would place ads in magazines and newspapers asking hopeful lyricists to send their lyrics and some money and they would transform the lyrics into songs, which they supposedly shopped around to people in the music industry. This industry produced some pretty lackluster music, as the lyricists were mostly amateurs who couldn't write lyrics that didn't sound stupid as hell and the songs were cranked out in very little time, almost always in one take, by musicians and recording engineers trying to make a quick buck. Rodd Keith, father of saxophonist Ellery Eskellin, was probably the most unique song poem composers/musicians. Rodd was apparently a very accomplished musician who could play any instrument handed to him. Rodd was also considered to be very strange and unable to normally function in society. Rodd died back in the 70s but in 94 Ellery and Tzadik Records decided it would be a great idea to release a compilation of some Rodd's recorded material, and what a great idea it was. The music present on this disc is bizarre and pretty hilarious, but nonetheless very enjoyable. All the songs are based in various forms of popular music ranging from tropical lounge sounds to country ballads to upbeat 60s pop rock. The sound of the music on the album is all directly influenced by various elements of both Rodd's life and the recording process. The combination of Rodd's LSD use, his habit to compose the songs at the last minute, his musical ability, and his hatred for the music he was creating (he always saw it as commercial crap) with the lo-fi recording, instrumentation, and recording time restraints makes this album very unique. One notable element of the of these recordings is the playing of the session musicians. You see, since the music was done in one take any mistakes made during a session were going to be on the final recording. Since mistakes were commonplace, the session players had to play off of mistakes and try to work around them on the spot. This factor lends the album an uneven, awkward feel that compliments the ridiculous lyrics perfectly. The songs present on this album, although strange, are very catchy and can be quite cheesy. Rodd's voice is typical easy listening fare but on a few cuts his voice sinks to a somewhat lazy, tuneless moan, that may be a result of either carelessness, drug use or exhaustion (he used to do about 30 songs in one day). The lyrics on this album are just priceless. My favorite song isthe pop/lounge with horn section type song "Our Senators", which is a song about the US beating Russia in the US and includes the lyric " I hovered down close over Mars and took a sample of Martian dirt, I circled her about 3 times and then I headed back for the Earth." The song is incredibly catchy but there's a surreal quality about it. Other notable songs on the disc are the title track, which is a jazzy spoken word about dying in a car crash, complete with tire screeches, "Hippy Happy Land", which is an upbeat pop rock ditty that has some lyrics physically describing hippies and some very obvious mistakes, "Space" where Rodd sings "Fly spaceman, fly on", "General Custer's Story Remains Legend" which has a country flavor and some historically innacurate praises for the general. That song is particularly notable for the worst lyric on the album, which was, "When General Custer lie very still, his faithful horse felt very sad." There's more gems on this CD to be heard, but those are the ones that stick out in my mind the most. Rodd's arrangements churn and sway with every mistake made, so the music is kind of a bastardization of typical pop structure. I recommend this album to anyone who enjoys outsider music or novelty music, people who have an interest in old pop music, anyone studying various aspects of the music industry, people interested in the songs of a reluctant artist, people who dig experimental music, and old people. This collection does Rodd the justice he deserves and I highly recommend it not only for the novelty, but for its ability to be interesting yet catchy.

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