74 Minutes or Less #2: Wesley Willis

welcome to the second installment of 74 Minutes or Less.

74 Minutes or Less is the weekly supergig playlist. the concept is simple: i pick a theme, i choose at most 74 minutes of music that fits the theme, and i discuss it here. if you, or i, or anyone else thinks the playlist is so awesome that it deserves to be compiled and burned to CD for posterity, it won't be a problem--because it's no longer than 74 minutes.

this week's theme is Wesley Willis. i love Wesley Willis. a lot. he is one of my favourite musicians. his songs interest, intrigue, and amuse me. his music is bizarre: it basically consists of his incoherent, schizophrenic rantings over a keyboard. he is a true Chicago original; he was originally a street musician, until Dale Meiners discovered him and encouraged him to record and sell his songs.

almost all of his songs follow a very simple format...although not all of them do. most of them are done over a clunky Casio keyboard, although he did record a few albums with the Wesley Willis Fiasco--the Fiasco songs had full rock band instrumentation. the topics of his songs run the gamut. Wesley himself said it best when he stated, "I write songs about people getting killed. I write songs about people getting beaten up. I write songs about people getting taken to jail by the police. But, I also write songs about love and happiness."

my goal is to collect all of his music. he was prolific...he released at least fifty albums. i doubt there exists even a comprehensive list of all of the albums he released; i have been looking for years, and not yet found one. many of his albums were self-released, and he would sell them on the street in Chicago.

i don't have all of his albums yet. i have seventeen of them...a good start, although not exhaustive. so, this may not be the best 74 minutes or less of Wesley's music...but the following songs are best of what i've found in my first seven years of being a Wesley Willis fan. it was almost impossible to whittle my favourite Wesley tunes down to that length, but somehow i managed to do it.

  • "It's the End of the Western" (3:14)
    • this song makes no sense whatsoever. i have no idea why he wrote it, or what he's trying to get at. it's absurd, even for him. all the verses follow the same theme, the end of certain Old West stereotypes.
  • "King of Fire" (3:03)
    • this song makes even less sense than "It's The End of the Western." the first two verses kind of tell a story...albeit one of a dragon flying around and eventually getting mad at Wesley for no reason. that would almost make sense...as a dragon can be seen as a king of fire. the third verse, however, abandons the dragon story altogether and talks about a guy shooting at a target...or Wesley...or something. this is another song that is great specifically because it is absurd.
  • "The Termites Ate My House Up" (3:11)
    • this song proposes the most unorthodox pest extermination method ever: shooting up a house with a BB gun. not very effective, but you can have an A for effort and creativity.
  • "My Mother Smokes Crack Rocks" (2:28)
    • this song provides one of the most absurdly humourous mental images of any Wesley Willis song. he claims, "my mother smokes that crack like a cigar." even though that's not exactly what it says, the line gives me a mental image of a cigar full of crack. it's stupid and wonderful.
  • "Firewall the Throttle" (2:48)
    • this is another song i like just for the random observations he makes. driving at fifty-five miles an hour? being a safe driver? those things are not really what i think of when i think of firewalling the throttle, but at least he advocates doing it responsibly. i also like his naming of random vehicles like gasoline trucks. it's like a musical rendition of Wesley Willis' urban art.
  • "Rick Sims" (2:22)
    • Wesley Willis likes writing songs about singers and bands. usually he sings about a specific show, although sometimes he just raves in the abstract about how good a singer is. this one falls in the latter category. he passes some very weird compliments in this song. my favourite? "i love the way you cuss the crowd. this means you are telling them something. i love the way you tell those stupid sons of a bitches to fuck off. right on, brother!" in other words, he loves how insulting this singer is to his fans? brilliant!
  • "Medley" (2:48)
    • most of the songs about shows focus on one show for the entire song. this song, however, contains several mini-songs of that variety--each song covers one band's show. fittingly, he called the song "Medley." it's...self-aware Wesley.
  • "I'm the Daddy of Rock and Roll" (2:54)
    • Wesley Willis occasionally wrote songs about how awesome he was. this is the best of that subset of songs. the final verse, in which he tells the story of his rise to stardom, is quintessential Wesley Willis stream of consciousness: "this is my rock and roll music career God gave me. God gave me this rock music career to keep me busy. back in 1991, i used to hit old people with folding chairs. suddenly i moved to the north side of Chicago in the summer of 1992. it made the rock star out of me at last." it's true...Wesley Willis is the daddy of rock and roll.
  • "I'm Going on a World Tour" (2:52)
    • this is another song Wesley wrote about his music career. it captures the unabashed joy of travelling around, playing music, and making music fans happy. it's such a simple song...but Wesley's best example of really happy mood music.
  • "Suck A Caribou's Ass" (2:50)
    • another one of the Wesley Willis archetypes are what he called bestiality songs. these are his schizophrenic rantings at their most...schizophrenic. "suck a cheetah's dick" is the one most people know...but this one is better. the keyboard accompaniment is cheesily futuristic, and he mentions llamas.
  • "Suck a Polar Bear's Dick" (2:07)
    • another bestiality song, of course. it's not lyrically as amusing as "Caribou"...but he sings it through some kind of processor that makes his voice sound like a robot! that's enough to get it played over and over.
  • "Beat My Ass" (2:51)
    • this song sounds expansive and majestic. that's hard to do with a clunky old Casio keyboard, a song formula, and a request to be beaten up...but he does it.
  • "Birdman Kicked My Ass" (2:59)
    • Wesley Willis sings a lot of songs about getting into fights with superheroes. in most of them, he beats the stuffing out of the superheroes. he beat Batman, Superman, Spiderman...but was no match for Birdman. [really, the only way it would be funnier is if he had been vanquished by Aquaman.] this song has it all: second-tier superheroes, O.J. Simpson references, trespassing, pistol-whipping...all the best elements of a funny story.
  • "Kris Kringle Was a Car Thief" (3:24)
    • this is up with "The Twelve Pains of Christmas" by Bob Rivers as one of my favourite holiday tunes. [can you tell i hate the holidays?] this is a song about Santa Claus doing some unsavory things: stealing a car, cruising West Fullerton Avenue for hookers, and eventually getting caught by the cops. merry christmas!
  • "Cut the Mullet" (2:55)
    • this is one of Wesley's most popular songs for good reason. it's just Wesley Willis telling it like it is: mullets are awful, awful hairstyles, and no one has any business wearing a mullet. it's true..."nobody wants to look at you with that mullet on your head." call it fashion advice for all people.
  • "Wrigley Field" (2:48)
    • the first two verses of this song are overly optimistic--just like every Cubs fan i've ever met. they sing about how the Cubs are on their way to victory. but, unlike most Cubs fans who make these proclamations with a sense of entitlement, Wesley Willis delivers the lines with an almost childish naivete. however, where this song really shines is the last verse. he sings about a game against the Phillies, and ends it with a hearty "Holy Cow!", á la Harry Caray.
  • "Ricky Gott" (2:44)
    • one of Wesley Willis' basic song types is the criminal song: he sings about a person committing a crime and then getting convicted and sentenced for the crime. this criminal song is notable because of the crime he sings about: robbing a grain elevator of $13,000. what a strange place to sing about robbing!
  • "Russell Chintell" (2:23)
    • this is another criminal song notable for the crime that he chooses. this one is about a guy hijacking an airplane. he refers to the hijacker as "an airplane troublemaker." oh, Wesley...you do have a way with understatement.
  • "He's Doing Time in Jail" (3:33)
    • this is another criminal song. it's a song Wesley Willis did with the Fiasco. this song is the best of his several pieces about the time he was slashed with a box cutter after he got off the #4 Cottage Grove bus. not only does he go through the details of the incident in remarkable detail, but he sounds so satisfied at the end when he sings that the perpetrator is doing time in jail.
  • "Jadroplov" (2:51)
    • this is another criminal song. however, it is one of only two criminal songs of his that i know in which the accused is found not guilty. the alleged crime in this song is rather bizarre, as well: robbing a pulpit of $9,000. his descriptions of the angry preacher are priceless: at the end of the song, he states that "Reverend Henry E. Miller was mad as a mother fucker." the way he over-enunciates that phrase makes it perfect.
  • "Larry Nevers/Walter Budzyn" (2:42)
    • most of the criminal songs are fictional...or, at least, refer to crimes so ill-documented that the best google-fu will reveal no information about the underlying crime. occasionally, however, he sings about real, well-documented crimes. this song is apt, lucid social commentary: it discusses a real incident of police brutality, when Nevers and Budzyn fatally beat a suspect outside a crack house, and takes the cops to task.
  • "Richard Speck" (2:26)
    • this is another nonfictional criminal song. it covers an infamous Chicago crime: when Richard Speck broke into a house full of nurses and killed eight of them. it's amazing--Wesley Willis gets his facts straight on this one. Like "Nevers/Budzyn", he did his research, distilled the story down to its most salient points, and sang about it. call it...an absurd permutation of the folk song.
  • "I Broke Out Your Windshield" (2:33)
    • this is almost a criminal song...but a very strange variant. this is one in which Wesley claims to have committed the crime. [of course, it's fictional.] this one is about breaking into a car and eventually setting it on fire and killing someone. that's the fundamental absurdity of the song--it's about committing all sorts of heinous crimes with reckless abandon, and yet he continues to brag about the lightest offense in the litany: breaking out the windshield of the car.
  • "Fuck You" (1:54)
    • call it "Take This Job and Shove It" for the next generation. if you've ever been overworked, underpaid, and subjected to a jerk of a boss, this is the song for you. it's a straightforward, angry string of insults...and i dare anyone who wants to quit a job in a blaze of glory to play this song for their boss and then storm out of the office.
  • "Move Your Ass" (2:57)
    • call it "Hit The Road, Jack" meets "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover." it's a string of angrily delivered commands for someone obnoxious to just go away. i love when he screams, "hit the Dan Ryan Expressway, jerk!" usually when telling someone to hit the road, you don't tell them which road to hit.
  • "You Better Find My Pistol" (2:49)
    • this is probably his angriest song. sure, he has far more violent songs and far more vulgarly insulting songs, but never does he scream and growl as angrily as he does in this song. it's enough to make you jump up and start rifling through your closet and your dresser drawer for his Smith and Wesson, just so he stops yelling at you. i also appreciate all of the references to a "karate stick." it's an endearing misnomer...i'm assuming he's referring to a bō, like Donatello of the Ninja Turtles used, but using the right name would violate the entire aesthetic of the song...and of Wesley Willis' music in general.
total time: 73:26.

that was 74 Minutes or Less #2: Wesley Willis. if you've got a thematic idea for a future playlist, comment or email me at superherogirl@gmail.com.

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