The “Listen Again” series went over well enough that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some TV executives and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums but the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) five-star albums. In this edition we revisit Sankefinger’s Chewing Hides The Sound.
Snakefinger, born Philip Charles Lithman, was an English singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist. He was most famous for his guitar-playing and numerous tuneful team-ups with the avant garde group The Residents. His first full-length LP, co-produced and largely co-written with The Residents, was Chewing Hides The Sound.
This premiere platter is rife with riffs that are just a twist or bend away from normal and both Snakefinger and The Residents utilize rather angular, mechanical rhythms. Snakefinger leads the way on a record that is musically bent and lyrically loaded with metaphoric images. The 12-track album opens on the first recorded cover version of the Kraftwerk song “The Model”. Released as a single, it remains memorably esoteric.
(View the list to read more about this five-star recording.)
“Kill the Great Raven” and “Jesus Was a Leprechaun”
The second song is titled “Kill the Great Raven”. This is the audience’s very first introduction to Snakefinger’s strange sense of humor. It’s followed by “Jesus Was a Leprechaun” which is an urgent, instrumentally excellent albeit slightly sacrilegious selection. This also introduces listeners to how Snakefinger’s music is influenced when working with The Residents.
“Here Come the Bums”
The hip “Here Come the Bums” comes in next. With bass work by Phil Culp, this twisted tune reveals Snakefinger’s what one critic notes as his “fear of vagrants” as he sings: “They’re gonna get me, gonna get me . . . “ (No one pushed being politically-correct in 1979, folks.)
“The Vivian Girls” and “Magic and Ecstasy”
“The Vivian Girls” follows here. It is a Captain Beefheart-influenced downward spiral into a musical sci-fi cut. His cover of Ennio Morricone’s “Magic and Ecstasy” from the film soundtrack Exorcist II: The Heretic enters with much more drive and just plain personality than the original. It includes Don Jackovich on percussion.
“Who Is the Culprit and Who Is the Victim?”, “What Wilbur?” and “Picnic in the Jungle”
The nearly neurotic number “Who Is the Culprit and Who Is the Victim?” is next featuring some feverish guitar, an element of punk rock and—as others have agreed–lyrics that might well have been culled from the cranium of Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle. The odd atonal rock tune “What Wilbur?” is also included; as is the apocalyptic piece “Picnic in the Jungle” which is a fan favorite.
“Friendly Warning” , “I Love Mary” and “The Vultures of Bombay”
“Friendly Warning” features some of his best guitar work on the project and “I Love Mary”—while yet another cover of a public domain ditty—remains unique. The closing cut is “The Vultures of Bombay” which features Steven Brown on sax. It’s a well-done track and makes for a most apropos ending to the album.
Release and Rerelease
Released by Ralph Records in 1979, with a running time of over 35 minutes, this project is a musical collage of tunes that were innovative and ahead of their time. The songs showcase Snakefinger’s sometimes surreal imagery and signature sound slide guitar playing. It would be released in other countries in years to follow including: New Zealand (1981), the Netherlands (1987) and would see rerelease on CD in such faraway places as Japan (1998). In 2004 it would be rereleased as a double CD backed with Snakefinger’s second album Greener Postures.
Back in 1979, your crusty chronicler was the first Penn State journalist to ever write about Snakefinger. So it is a happy surprise to see that decades later Snakefinger is still remembered. Indeed, it has stood the test of time. Sankefinger’s Chewing Hides The Sound/Ralph SNK 7909 remains one of the best experimental albums ever transcending both eras and genres.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.