Various Artists

The Makers of Smooth Music

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It often seems as if everybody wants to make a record and some will go to almost any lengths to achieve that goal. And there's always someone willing to take advantage of those folks. One of the longest-running of the fringe con games the recording industry has to offer has been those microscopic labels who run ads in assorted pulp and "men's" magazines, usually dime-sized ones imploring you to "set your poems to music." After the poor sap at home mails off their set of lyrics or poem to the company address, they'll always receive a glowing letter back, telling them this is prime material, a literal hit record in the making. All that's needed to get that poem worked up into a real song by our crack writing staff and get it actually pressed up on a record is a little seed money to get everything rolling. The con -- of course -- is that the seed money comes straight out of the poor starstruck sap's wallet or purse, and the results -- usually only pressed to a short run of a hundred copies or even less -- are musically in every way bizarre in the extreme. The "Motown" of these seedy little shakedown outfits was Rod Rogers' M.S.R. Records, based in Hollywood, California. A few years back NRBQ drummer and weird music collector Tom Ardolino released a vinyl-only compilation of M.S.R. sides entitled The Beat of the Traps, which raised more than a few eyebrows and earlobes in roots-music circles. The cover of this 28-track compilation proudly refers to this as MSR Madness, Vol. 2 while telling us that this compact disc contains "75% of the contents of Vol. 1!" All of which is great, because a true appreciation of this mutant musical sausage factory genre/art form would not be complete without such jewels off the original vinyl collection as "Beat of the Traps," "Jimmy Carter Says 'Yes'," and "Watch Johnny Carson," sitting alongside rustic gems like "Bongo, King of the Jungle," "That Martian Jubilee," and "The Watusi Whing Ding Girl." Because of the sheer uniqueness of song-poem music, the genre exists solely in a world of its own, alternately functioning as sincerely misguided songwriting spun to its lowest declination or the history of show business played out in an alternate universe. No matter what kind of music you like or listen to, you don't have anything in your collection that sounds even remotely like these records. File under comedy or perhaps even better, "only in America."

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