Most great bands are considered revolutionary in some sense: You wouldn't expect anyone in the 60s to sound like Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails, just like you wouldn't expect anyone in the '30s to sound like The Beatles. That's why the songs on this list are so bizarre to listen to; they were so far ahead of the curve that their genres weren't even invented yet.
In fact, we're going to say that only time travel can explain songs like ...
Few things have scandalized more parents than the mainstream debut of Nine Inch Nails in the mid-1990s. "Is this what music has come to?" was the reaction of anyone over 40 after listening to the distorted, chaotic industrial noises Trent Reznor had forced into our living rooms. Sure, Hendrix and others could get pretty noisy back in the day, but nothing in the golden days of the '60s sounded like this:
Meanwhile, music critics fawned over NIN's second album, The Downward Spiral; even The New York Times praised Reznor for having "perfected the use of noise as both atmosphere and weapon." NIN brought industrial music to the mainstream, a genre that had existed since, what, the early 80s at most?
We always assumed "industrial music" was the inevitable reaction of snorting cocaine off a sound mixer.
But, decades before ...
Loud, pounding drums; harsh, whispered vocals; unusual instrumentation; and a somewhat catchy tune buried underneath. That old-timey bit at the beginning? That's sampling. Caledonia by Cromagnon has all the staples of modern industrial music (minus the angsty lyrics), and it came out way back in 1969.
What makes this even eerier is that the band released that one album and then simply vanished. As the legend goes, Brian Elliot and Austin Grasmere were two average pop musicians who got tired of writing non-insane music and decided to try something a little different (meaning, something completely insane). Calling themselves Cromagnon, they hooked up with a hippie commune called the Connecticut Tribe and recorded an album titled Orgasm.
But you could probably tell that from their cover art.
The album never really made any headway, and no one paid attention to the damn thing until 2000, when it was reissued as Cave Rock, which is probably the biggest step down in titles since Puff Daddy became whatever the hell he's called now.
If Gary Larson did the cover art for a prog rock album, this would be it.
Caledonia is pretty much the only song in the album that has any real structure to it: Yes, the rest is even crazier. Also, those guttural drum sounds weren't generated by a guy tapping on a drum machine -- they used actual sticks and stones.
"I'd do the same thing, but I don't wanna hurt my delicate hands."
When Radiohead's Kid A came out in 2000, its weird electronic sounds blew the minds of critics and listeners alike. By the end of the decade, it was consistently rated as one of the most revolutionary albums ever. In 2009, both Pitchfork and Rolling Stone ranked Kid A as the best album of the '00s, calling it "that exceptional artifact of modern culture" and "a next development in rock music that was both logical and surprising."
Some fans hated it, of course, but that's because their brains weren't yet prepared to understand the future of music.
It was a different time, with lower standards for album covers.
But, decades before ...
That's Love Without Sound from 1968, over 30 years before Kid A.
In 1968, American classical bassist David Vorhaus got together with two composers from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and formed the band White Noise. Their first album, An Electric Storm, flew pretty much completely under the radar. It didn't sell well, no one reviewed it -- it's almost like people weren't eager to listen to a band named after the annoying noise your TV makes when something's broken. So, they were relegated to obscurity.
Along with other bands like "Nails on a Chalkboard" and "That Sound Your Dog Makes When He's Choking on a Ball of Hair."
But listen carefully to Love Without Sound: ethereal, jumpy vocals; synths and loops as the lead instruments; almost no percussion -- shit, all you need is an indecipherable video with a skinny guy dancing like he's having a seizure and it's practically a modern electronica track.
The secret of Radiohead's success, apparently.
If that type of music was hard to digest as recently as 2000, no wonder White Noise never found an audience: Their heads were too busy exploding. After their first album didn't do so well, most of the band moved on to other projects, with only one member, Delia Derbyshire, ever really making any kind of name for herself. Derbyshire is mainly known for composing the trippy Dr. Who theme song -- a gig she probably got thanks to the fact that she was obviously a time traveler herself.
"The controls are set, gentleman -- we're off to kill Hitler."
Everyone knows bands like Daft Punk are retro -- that's half their charm. What makes them special, however, is the combination of those funky, smooth sounds with modern synthesizers and techno beats. Daft Punk's 2001 album Discovery took the world by surprise and became a multi-million-selling classic. Pitchfork said: "Daft Punk's first album had helped refresh house music in the mid 1990s; the second went further, rewriting electronic pop's pleasure principles to such a degree that when it came out a lot of people thought Discovery must be a put-on."
But, decades before ...
Check out this track from 1970:
If that sounds like it was made with the same instruments Daft Punk uses, that's because it was created by one of the pioneers of electronic music, Jean-Jacques Perrey, using the predecessors of today's synthesizers.
That synthesizer gained sentience and evolved into a member of Daft Punk.
That's Perrey himself in a mask, much like the members of Daft Punk; apparently, in France being an electronic musician is shameful and sneer-worthy. After hooking up with Robert Moog, the inventor of the first commercially available (but still incredibly expensive) synthesizer, Perrey began releasing albums that were basically demo reels featuring Moog sounds. One of those was his 1970 album Moog Indigo, which contained the song above, E.V.A.
Above: Robert Moog and his terrible robot children.
"I was being post-ironic before irony existed."
Don't think the Moog synthesizer was the first electronic instrument ever, though: Way back in 1957, researchers at Philips began experimenting with prototype instruments, producing stuff like this:
Slap some creepy visuals on that and it's almost an Aphex Twin track.
Of course, "creepy" is a pretty key part of Aphex Twin's style.