American Composers Series
OverviewUncle Willie

Feeling burned out on underground epics after the disastrous Mole Show tour, The Residents decided to postpone work on Part Three of the Mole Trilogy. But they needed a project, and Ralph Records said they had to make some money, an all but foreign concept for a band both lauded and dismissed for its doggedly uncommercial approach to the music business. Typically, after a brief period of reflection, the group decided to go in two directions, both familiar, but in different ways. In retrospect, it was no surprise that The Residents moved back toward the comfort and success they had achieved reinterpreting the music of other composers but, unexpectedly, the new project was in some ways even more extravagant than the overly ambitious Mole Trilogy. Taking the Residential concept of "music about music" to its logical extreme, the band threw itself into a serious, long-term project grandiosely titled The American Composers Series.

Essentially, the concept was a musical exploration of various American composers, two at a time, juxtaposing one against the other, with each featured on opposite sides of an LP. The band would first deconstruct the music then rebuild it around the Residential values of naivete, atonal innocence and playful pretense. By breaking break down the mythology surrounding the celebrated composers and reducing the music to its essence, The Residents purposefully created the lofty goal of imposing their own Theory of Obscurity on other famous musicians. Satisfied with their new direction, the group then announced a goal of interpreting twenty different composers on ten albums over a period of sixteen years, from 1984 to 2001.

The first album, George & James, interpreted the music of George Gershwin and James Brown. The band followed this with John Philip Sousa and Hank Williams on Stars & Hank Forever. Audaciously appropriating the intro of Michael Jackson's Billie Jean, the band released a single based on Williams's 'Kaw-Liga," which shockingly sold in the six figures, making The American Composers Series a huge financial success for The Residents.

The third album in the series was tentatively titled The Trouble with Harrys, featuring the music of Harry Partch and Harry Nilsson, but The Residents unexpectedly abandoned the project in 1986. As LPs lost sales to CDs, the music business was changing; in addition, despite the success of Kaw-Liga, music publishing rights - the fees paid to composers - were getting more expensive. Meanwhile it took longer to record CDs, which held 50-75% more music than LPs, and finally, part of the charm of series was its juxtaposition of one composer against another, a non-existent feature on one sided CDs. In addition the sales of Ralph's other groups were poor. Consequently, the answer to this losing equation was touring so The Residents reluctantly ended the American Composers series and turned their efforts to Cube-E, arguably, their most successful tour.

Quite a few ideas were bounced around during the planning of the abandoned series. The band wanted to include Captain Beefheart, Sun Ra, Smokey Robinson, Bob Dylan, Charles Ives, Stevie Wonder, Moondog, Barry White, Scott Joplin and Brian Wilson in the series, and actually started work on several compositions by Bob Dylan and Barry White for a volume tentatively titled Bob & the Blob. Some of these preliminary attempts were later compiled and released on UWEB's Daydream B-Liver collection.

While critics complained that the series was nothing new for the band, referring to it as "modest," "lacking ambition" and "predictable," the Cryptic Corporation has insisted the series, by design, was never intended to break new ground. Furthermore, they claimed the concept should primarily be viewed as an educational experience for the band; in addition, by binding the work with the Theory of Obscurity, the only needs to be gratified in the project were those of the artist. Regardless, with only two of the ten projected albums completed, the question of the artists' satisfaction relative to The American Composers Series remains unanswered.

George & James(1984)
OverviewTracksLiner Notes

George & James consists of covers of works by George Gershwin (1898-1937) and James Brown (1933-2006). The album notes include a brief introduction to the American Composers Series concept followed by brief biographies of the two artists and of The Residents, describing them as "a group of pseudo-artists who freely indulge themselves in the Great American Culture". It was also the first Residents album to use computer-created art on the cover and in the promotional video, It's a Man's Man's Man's World.
The James Brown side is based on Brown's Live at the Apollo, one of the first live albums and the most successful R&B album ever. The Resident's version simulates the live sound of the Apollo concert with crowd noises taken from the Mole Show performance in Utrech, Holland (the same show used for the The Mole Show: Live in Holland recording). James Brown's part is taken by The Residents' lead singer, who transforms the Godfather of Soul into a growling voice reminiscent of the Angakok from Eskimo.

It's a Man's Man's Man's World(1984)

Man's World was considered by The Residents as the single from the album, GEORGE & JAMES although it does not appear on that album.

Note: 4000 copies of this release were pressed on white vinyl with a blue "iris" label and clear sleeve with red veins printed on it to achieve an eyeball effect. 300 of these had the labels for the A and B sides switched. 5000 copies were also pressed on black vinyl and referred to as "The Black Single" with no accompanying artwork. The Korova release is on black vinyl with simple white computer type on a black background on the sleeve.

Stars & Hank Forever!(1986)
OverviewTracksLiner Notes

In the notes to this album the band describes themselves as being interested in making music about music because of their respect for music as content as well as form. Here, they cover works by Hank Williams, Sr. (1923-1953), and John Philip Sousa (1854-1932).
Sousaside, the Sousa side of the album, is a simulated marching-band parade. One band approaches, fading in, then fades out as the next fades in. The music is surrounded by crowd noises, airplanes flying over, and the like. The album ends with an anticlimactic fade-out as the last band marches off, just like a real parade. Sousaside combines the trademark Residents covering style with the soundscaping ideas the band first developed for Eskimo.

The Hank Williams songs are handled in a very different manner than James Brown's had been on George & James. The Residents' Brown had been completely unintelligible, sounding much like the shaman character on Eskimo. Hank Williams, on the other hand, comes through very clearly on this album and the songs are much more accessible, more like what most people expect in a cover rather than the extreme deconstruction The Residents usually do. The version of Jambalaya is downright understated. Stars & Hank Forever did much better than George & James had due to a large part to accessibility of the Hank Williams side. Stars & Hank did so well, in fact, that Torso Records in Europe remixed the Kaw-liga track into a couple of singles. The Sousa music, while well done, was not so well received by the critics, probably due to the extreme contrast in style with the Hank Williams side.


Kaw-Liga is a cover of the song by Hank Williams, Sr. which originally appeared on Stars & Hank Forever. It was first released as a single, then in various editions of remixes, with most being collected on CD in 1994.

Hit The Road Jack(1987)

Hit the Road Jack was considered by The Residents as the single from an album in the American Composers Series that was never finished. It would have combined the compositions of Ray Charles with Sun Ra.

Sun Ra sketches made it into "Daydream in Space" from the CD, Daydream B-Liver.