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Areala's Retro Music Picks - Slumlord Toilet et al

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This is not your typical Areala blog entry, as will readily become apparent when you keep reading. I know that normally my writings deal with video games of some kind, and occasionally books, but today I decided that I have neglected music long enough, and it was time to fix that. And what better kind of music to write about than the kind that has been relegated to the clearance bins of history but that is still deserving of your attention. There's certainly plenty of it out there, especially for those of you who were not alive in the 70s to understand the genius of artists like "The Phantom" or his release of the vaguely Doors-esque album, "The Phantom's Divine Comedy, Part 1" from 1974. Alas, there was never a part 2 which is a shame because the album is seriously one of the best in my collection. The Amazon Page for the album has samples you can listen to and enjoy. If you're at all into 70s rock with a fantasy twist, you pretty much need to know about The Phantom, especially now that this album has been released on CD (for the longest time, you could only get it on vinyl). Capitol Records certainly did nothing to discourage the rumours that "The Phantom" was actually Jim Morrison, despite the fact that Morrison was already dead, and milked it for all it was worth.

Post Phantom comes the equally obscure Klaatu, a Canadian band comprised of two guys who left their biographical data off the album. Despite the fact that it was 1976, their music certainly sounded like something the Beatles might have recorded in their later years. One reviewer postulated that Klaatu actually was the Beatles releasing new material, and voila, instant success despite the fact that the Beatles never titled any of their compositions anything close to "Anus of Uranus" which was track three on their first album.

Is this as far as it goes? Absolutely not. For while Klaatu never intended themselves to be mistaken for a reunited Beatles, another group had made all sorts of waves almost a decade before within the hallowed halls of Rolling Stone magazine itself. "The Masked Marauders" were a super-group composed of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger, who all got together to record a record full of goodness. Recorded in secret up in Canada, the album was released in 1969 after a rave review praising its virtues was published in Rolling Stone magazine. Except that, in this case, the joke was on the people who bought the album. The Masked Marauders were not celebrities, they were a bunch of impersonators, and the album review was nothing more than a joke by one of Rolling Stone's own editors. In this case, the singers and players were actually another group, the Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band, who were local to California. The liner notes of the album offered some clues to its inauthenticity, and as if that wasn't obvious enough, the last track on the album flat-out announced that the record was nothing more than a sham. This didn't stop it from selling over 100,000 copies and spending some twelve weeks on the Billboard charts, topping out at #14. The CD itself was released in 2003, though in a limited supply, so those of you interested in hearing the weirdness for yourselves can check it out at Amazon and decide if it's worth pursuing.

One final group deserves mention in this blog for their contributions to the 70s prog rock scene that are now virtually forgotten, and that is "Slumlord Toilet". Originally conceived as a one-shot song performed to antagonize a particularly crummy landlord and his seeming inability to fix the plumbing problems plaguing his apartment, Timothy McFadden (listed in the album credits as "Studs Crapper") performed the guitarwork while Ed Regis helped with synthesizer programming. After recording several varieties of the song to their satisfaction, McFadden and Regis released the 12" single under the joking moniker of "Stool Sampler" and sent it to a variety of record companies in the hopes of getting noticed. It took two years, but "Slumlord Toilet" was finally picked up by Deity Records, who were intrigued by the possibility of a concept album as a "me-too" answer to the likes of Pink Floyd, and five months later, Slumlord Toilet released their first, self-titled album. Sales were favourable, and Deity asked for more.

Long months passed as Regis and McFadden wrote more music, and enlisted the assistance of a third member, Kyle Anderson, who could do drum programming. With Anderson lending his talents, Slumlord Toilet returned to the studio and emerged with their second album, "Same Sh*t, Different Toilet", the title taken from the first track, which received considerable play on the west coast and became a hit among college students and pirate radio jockeys. The B-side of this LP also contained a hidden track of sorts, as the record was double-grooved. Putting the needle down in the proper place revealed the secret song, "Me Toilet, You Jane".

April of the following year saw their third album, entitled "...And The Toilet You Rode In On". This work produced two singles: "Life Sucks, Get A Plunger", " and "Corncobs and Assh*les." While the second single (for obvious reasons) never received mainstream radio play, "Life Sucks, Get A Plunger" became the overall best-selling single by the group, with sales in excess of 25,000 copies. Spurned on by their success, their next album contained no new material, but was instead an eight-song exclusive cover album. "Cheap Seats" featured the first actual photograph of the band members on an album cover, all of them wearing obviously-shoddy white plastic toilet seats around their necks, with Regis sporting a particularly large (unlit) cigar protruding from the corner of his mouth. Unfortunately, "Cheap Seats" did not sell particularly well, failing to chart anywhere, and is the band's worst-selling record. Ultimately, this lead to Deity dropping their support for the band, and contract disputes forced Slumlord Toilet from the scene for almost five years.

Fools though the managers as Deity might have been, they were not entirely to blame. Anderson by this time had discovered heroin. Regis and McFadden fired him from the band and brought on Paul Gramm as a replacement. After another year of searching for a label, Slumlord Toilet found a home with Handmade Records. One of the things Gramm brought with him to the band in addition to his ability with a drum was an enjoyment of Gregorian-style chant, and working with the St. Ann Choir released their final studio album, "Toilet Lo Volt!" (Latin for "The Toilet Wills It!"). Much of this album is free of lyrics, including the first track, "Frequency and Urgency," but the band did manage to chart another single (with the rather disturbing title "Dump of Death") on the "Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles" area of the Billboard charts. Unfortunately, Handmade Records was not pleased with this performance, and dropped the band from their lineup. Rather than attempt to find a new label, McFadden, Regis and Gramm decided to all go their separate ways and in the summer of 1986, Slumlord Toilet disbanded after nearly a decade of performance. Their music is now all but impossible to find except in the vaults of LP collectors, and has never been distributed on CD.

Joke all you want about the afore-mentioned bands, but they are some of the most enjoyable, fun, amusing and downright trendsetting talents of the 1970s. Anyone with even a mild interest in obscure 70s music of the prog rock genre owes it to himself or herself to track down some of these gems and give a listen. I guarantee, it's an experience that will open your eyes once and for all. In fact, I've even decided to emulate the 70s music scene and included a hidden message in this blog post. If you find it, PM me and don't spoil it for others, please. :)

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