Not liking any of the music on this list doesn't implicate you for anything bad. I chose the following performers because at some point in their careers either their music was considered "not music," or the piece of music I've chosen was considered completely unlistenable by a large sector of society. In some cases, I really like the people listed below. In other cases, I would rather be exploring my inner Sylvia Plath and cleaning my oven. Some could be considered novelty acts, but I tried to stick closer to artists who were attempting something beyond novelty.
Jandek: Now that he performs live, the mystique is over. But Jandek was once a true curiosity, releasing albums on his own Corwood Industries label at a rapid clip. His early albums are mostly untuned acoustic guitar playing with moaning vocals. He eventually moves to electric and to actual chords. The film Jandek On Corwood comes highly recommended.
24) Yoko Ono: I make my own share of Yoko Ono jokes. It's hard not to when you consider the idea that John Lennon once wheeled her bed into the studio where she rested while the band tried to record. Her own music ranges all over the place. She probably won't be remembered for her piano ballads. But her shrieks inspired New Wave and Punk and her tough, feedback-driven jams sound right at home with Sonic Youth.
Joanna Newsom: I know people who love Ms. Newsom (hello Dan!) and others who leave the room on contact (hello Tom!). I'm not sure her voice is an "acquired taste" since it evokes such a strong immediate reaction. I don't imagine people who dislike it spend much time trying to get to know it better. But for those who love it, her voice is merely the tip of a musical ambition that includes working with legendary musical director Van Dyke Parks and a new three CD album Have One On Me.
22) Liars: Not to be confused with the legendary Boston garage band The Lyres, Liars from Brooklyn are one of the only bands not named Nickelback that I've seen get completely terrible reviews in major music magazines in the past decade. Which means they must be better than most of the bands that routinely get three and a half stars, since Liars provoke a reaction.
Portsmouth Sinfonia: The idea for this orchestra was that no one could play an instrument they were good at and no one could deliberately play poorly. Brian Eno found the idea so enchanting he picked up a clarinet and produced two of their albums. Classical music fans might find this tedious. It's like classical music for punk rockers.
20) Captain Beefheart: The good Captain could never stay in one soothing time signature for long, always preferring to get away from the "mama heartbeat" that dominated nearly all rock n' roll music. I know many people who have tried to get into this music, only to turn away in frustration (hello Maria!). I found it most soothing after I worked a deskjob where people kept asking me the same frustratingly dumb questions over and over. I quit after three and a half weeks. The music has stayed with me forever.
Pussy Galore: Were they "post-punk"? Post-music? Or just a detuned mess, bred in the hallowed halls of Brown University where "semiotics" is just another word for nothing else to do? Their deconstruction of the Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street is one of those events where things are probably best left to theory. The packaging looked cool.
18) Albert Ayler: Albert Ayler is the Free Jazz guy who didn't wait to build a credible following with jazz audiences before going out on his own "Energy Music" way. Sure, he had the admiration of his peers, but "regular people" found his music quite grating and annoying. I used to use it to get my neighbors to shut their door. It worked everytime!
Bob Dylan: I had to throw Bob in here, since like Tom Waits, he rouses many ordinary people to get irrationally mad or to say things like "I like his songs. I just don't like when he sings them." Some people prefer people who sing a thousand notes a minute. Some people like the sound of their own farts.
16) Throbbing Gristle: Throbbing Gristle make their follow-up group Psychic TV sound like dinner music. Their use of "offensive" stage media made them controversial. But it always makes me wonder who goes to these sort of events to be offended? Sounds like someone's got an angle.
Wesley Willis: Much like Daniel Johnston, Wesley Willis (R.I.P.) is an individual with a diagnosed personality disorder who released an incredible amount of material that makes people mention Wild Man Fischer. I never know if this is a good thing or not.
14) The Beatles--"Revolution 9": Perhaps the only Beatles track that leads to people insulting one another. With CDs, you can easily program it out. But with vinyl and tape, it was as if the band wanted to challenge you to get to the final track, something called "Good Night" sung by Ringo and featuring The Mike Sammes Singers on back-ups (thank you Trivial Pursuit--Beatles Edition).
Lou Reed--Metal Machine Music: I have it on 8-track and CD. Sounds more interesting than many of his proper solo albums, but I could see where some people might find the melodies a bit hard to hear over all this noise.
12) Scott Walker--Tilt, The Drift: Ohio's Scott Walker became a British pop star and then eventually disappeared. When he decided to come back, he decided to make his music even weirder than it had already been. By the time of The Drift, he was recording himself pounding sides of beef.
Earth--Earth 2: Earth were this band formed by Dylan Carlson, who has the unfortunate footnote of being the guy who bought the shotgun that Kurt Cobain used to kill himself. His own musical legacy consists of many albums of slow sludgy guitars but nothing better than the album Earth 2 that sounds like when you mismatch electronic signals and create an amplifier hum. Goes great with lava lamp watching and as a musical alternative for the Yule Log.
10) Half Japanese: Jad and David Fair formed the group in their Maryland bedroom in the mid-'70s, never bothering to tune their guitars. Jad claimed not to know any chords anyhow, so what difference would it make?
John Coltrane--Ascension: Coltrane was already among the most respected names in Jazz when he decided to play for the dark side, the "Free Jazz" movement, where causing your eardrum to bleed and forcing you to increase your Diazepam dosage became the end game.
8) The Shaggs: Loved by people who enjoy inspired amateurism, The Shaggs were three sisters whose dad proved love is deaf as well as blind. The drum rolls give worry to musicians everywhere. You just want to help somehow.
6) Dirty Projectors: In recent years, I've read so much about how these young people are juxtaposing so many styles at once that it's more like an art project than a musical group. Didn't they say the same things about Frank Zappa? But then Zappa had a sense of humor.
Suicide: Any band that sets out to get bottles thrown at them must be doing something right. The idea that Bruce Springsteen enjoyed listening to them proves they could have widespread appeal if only people would listen. I advise putting on "Frankie Teardrop" really loud on headphones and then checking yourself into the psych ward for precautionary measures.
4) Einsturzende Neubauten: They banged on pipes. Before Industrial Music came to include Nine Inch Nails and other people who gave it a beat you could dance to, Einsturzende Neubaten cornered the market on angry German screaming and music to fix your boiler.
Ornette Coleman--Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation: I suppose I could list "Free Jazz" as its own category, like hip-hop, but I like the idea that perfectly respected musicians decided to try something new and got heavily criticized for it. Imagine, if Bruce Springsteen suddenly decided to record a death metal album. Or if Slayer suddenly went Freaky-Folk!
2) John Cage--4'33": Ssshhh! (And it's not a Ten Years After reference).
Igor Stravinsky--Rite Of Spring: To think this piece of music once sparked riots! It was like the Woodstock '99 of its day, except people weren't rebelling against overpriced water.