The music industry doesn’t produce director’s commentary. Your average musician isn’t doing press tours, they’re doing three hours of phone interviews. Every album has a narrative, a set of circumstances that led up to its tenor and tone, but much of that is left by the wayside.
Music writing’s answer to bridge that divide is the oral history. A way to tribute an important record from years past with a personal candor, the best example might be Pitchfork’s oral history of Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights, an album that turned out to be a defining moment for modern indie-rock, but will also never get a segment on 60 Minutes. As it turns out, it’s pretty interesting to hear about the moment Paul Banks started singing from the people who were there. So with that in mind, we decided to pick a few albums that we’d love to read oral histories about. There’s a good chance none of these will ever happen, for one reason or another, and that only makes us more curious.
Happy Mondays – Yes Please!
This is perhaps one of the more underrated train wrecks in pop music history. Happy Mondays, a collection of Manchester druggies, were off to Barbados to record the follow-up to the excellent Pills ‘n Thrills and Bellyaches. They chose Barbados to get away from the heroin, but instead they just started smoking a heroic amount of crack cocaine. The record would go one to bankrupt Factory Records and serve as the final death rattle of the decaying Madchester scene. Mostly we’d just like to hear if Shaun Ryder says he’s sorry.
Sly & The Family Stone – There’s a Riot Goin’ On
Essentially the same story as Yes Please! but this one has a better ending because the music that resulted from the sad, frayed, life-ruining drug abuse was actually awesome. No word on whether Sly Stone is still capable of speech.
Rihanna – Loud
Really any Rihanna album would do, simply because we’re really curious to get some insight into how mechanical the process is to put out a big-budget pop record in the 21st century. Rihanna put out an album every year from 2009 to 2012, hundreds and hundreds of people had their hands on it during that process. Is there any underlying soul or is it simply the sausage-making of the music industry?
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Exiled in Hawaii, culturally ousted after the most memorable awards show moment of the last 20 years, and balled up into pure creative rage. MBDTF Kanye might be our most memorable Kanye, from the GOOD Friday series to the Twitter account. Yeezus might have captured him at his angriest, but we always prefer the stories where our heroes have their backs against the wall.
Swans – The Seer
Mostly we just want to know what it takes to make a Swans record. A laboratory? A preserved, Medieval-era cathedral? The deepest sewers of New York City? Nobody knows.
Radiohead – Kid A
If you’d excuse the yuppiness of this choice, we think you’d agree the story of Kid A is probably pretty fascinating. It’s supremely rare for a band to take a total creative about face, and even rarer when they’re coming off perhaps the most critically respected album of ’90s. Just how close did Radiohead come to breaking up during the Kid A sessions?
Scott Walker – Tilt
Perhaps the least likely to be given oral out of all of these selections, mostly because Tilt is a remarkably singular work and Scott Walker tends to keep to himself. Still, it would be fantastic to get some insight into the moment Walker truly went off the deep end. Tilt is the kind of record you only make when you’ve got something to prove, and nearly 20 years later it still holds its mystery.
Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
We’d all love to better understand the mixture of power and psychosis that brought Aeroplane into the world. It’s one of those albums that transcends its origins, aesthetically indie rock but spiritually something much older and weirder. Seriously why does he yell “I LOVE YOU JESUS CHRIIIIIIST?” Is it a potato or a drum? So much has been left unsaid about a record that’s gone on to influence an entire generation’s worth of melodrama. With Jeff Mangum slowly creeping back into pop culture, maybe we’ll get some answers.
Any One of Those American Idol Debut Albums
Don’t you just want to know how that works? Do they have all the songs pre-written? Are they recording throughout the season? Do the contestants have any creative input whatsoever? Does Fox immediately spit you out after sapping you of your few moments of relevance? Out of all of these selections, the American Idol machine might be the thing we’re most curious about.