Monday, February 20, 2006

The strangest R&B song ever recorded...

Can be found on this double-disc Sun Ra singles collection. It’s called–and I swear I’m not making this up–“I’m Gonna Unmask the Batman”. There are two versions of it. The first, featuring none other than living blues legend Buddy Guy on rhythm guitar, features Sun Ra’s band working up a groove that sounds like James Brown after several dozen whiskey shots while some guy named Lacy Gibson shouts “I’m gonna unmask the Batman! I’m gonna unmask the Batman! I’m gonna unmask the Batman!” Eventually, he begins to threaten Robin with a similar unmasking and then makes several semi-coherent statements about “sneaking up in that Batman cage” before the song fades out in a blur of honking saxophones. The next version is like a sort of demented musak version of the first, with Sun Ra jamming out on his Mini-Moog organ as some no-name singer mumbles the lyrics as though he’s reading them for the first time right there in the recording studio.

Oddly enough, these are two of the most “normal” moments on the whole compilation. There’s also an unspeakably bizarre doo-wop number, complete with a baritone voiced narrator intoning some nonsense about “a teenager’s letter of promises” and a jaunty ditty that wishes “a happy new year to you!” over and over and over again. And I would be remiss if I failed to mention the special guest vocal appearances by some character named “Yocahanon”, who bellows with Little-Richard-on-bad-psychedelic-mushrooms abandon about being “The One! From the Sun!” and his love for a certain “Hot Skillet Mama!” with lips just like a hippopotamus, a nose like an elephant’s snout and jaws hanging down by her knees. On another song (entitled “Message to Earthman”, by the way), he gamely sidesteps the problem of not having enough of a recording budget to put a cool echo effect on his vocals by simply repeating the last word of every line as though he was shouting at us from the furthest depths of space. That Yochanon, he’s a curious one. The mind reels to think of what he could have done had Sun Ra decided to turn him loose on “I’m Gonna Unmask the Batman”.

I love Sun Ra, by the way. He’s one of the greatest unsung geniuses of twentieth century music. I’ll have to write a longer appreciation of him one of these days.