In Essential Albums, our favourite artists dig up a handful of records that they consider “essential” by any definition they choose. This week, singer/songwriter/comedian Tim Heidecker talks seriously (yes, seriously) about his 5 favourite singer/songwriter albums from the 1970s.
Tim Heidecker probably spends a good chunk of his life convincing people he's not joking. The absurdist comedic sensibility he's created with Tim & Eric and carried through projects like On Cinema, Decker, and his standup relies on people "getting it." It's just off-kilter enough that you get that this isn't quite serious, but so deadpan that you sometimes don't get that it's comedy. And since he uses his own name, it's easy to think he actually is the asshole he plays onstage.
So when Heidecker announced the release of In Glendale, the first full solo album he's put out under his real name and a record he bills as "semi-earnest," some people were naturally sceptical. He says it's about him, but which him?
"I think it's the real me, whatever that means," he says on the phone from the office of his production company Abso Lutely. "There's all these different Tims out there, and this is a different Tim, connected to some real things in my life."
The songs are funny, don't get him wrong, but the joke isn't that they exist: "There's humour in it because there's humour in life."
Tim Heidecker's love of 1970's rock is very, very real (whatever that means). It's served as the basis for some very ridiculous novelty songs, no doubt, but this is the place where he applies his hilariously period-accurate songwriting skills to songs he really cares about. These are just well-made, well-played bits of Americana that can appeal to anyone, whether you have a Chippy tattoo on your leg or you just know him as the wordless groom from Bridesmaids.
I'll admit, I spent the beginning of my interview with Heidecker wondering if he was fucking with me, but after nearly an hour of talking through his five favourite albums (all, not coincidentally, singer/songwriters from the '70s) it was clear his obsession with this music is no joke.
"Thanks, I could talk about this stuff all day," he said before we hung up. And you know what? I believed him.
Tim Heidecker's In Glendale is out tomorrow, May 20, via Jagjaguwar's new imprint Rado Records.
Randy Newman, Good Old Boys (1974)
Tim Heidecker: Good Old Boys, first of all, to me, is one of the greatest records ever made. The arrangements are beautiful, it has a really warm quality to the music. The songs are funny, and then heartbreaking. The record's clearly about something: it's about America, it's about original sin, it's about love.
You don't get a sense that his experiences are forming the songs, necessarily. He's sort of a short story writer, and he's singing those stories. Yeah, he uses the first person often, but he's the unreliable narrator, as they say.
He's interesting to me in context of my work because there's so much confusion about him. If I tell somebody who doesn't really know those early records that Randy Newman's one of my favourite artists, they'll be like, "the Toy Story guy? He writes kid songs, I thought." I'll be like, "no, he doesn't."
I think I have a similar experience when it comes to [In Glendale], where people are like "but, where's the joke?" Well, not everything I do is going to have a joke all the time. It's not always going to be that way.
Warren Zevon, Warren Zevon (1976)
For Warren Zevon it seems like a little less of the Randy Newman storytelling thing. It's more like you're getting a sense of this guy, and if you read a biography about Warren Zevon you find out that he's actually a nasty guy. He got in a lot of trouble, he had a lot of problems. He was this insane, alcoholic, drug abuser, womanizer — he had a terrible personal life. That comes out in the songs.
His first two records are just filled with imagery placing you in this specific '70s Los Angeles, which is not a very pretty world. But he gets you because the music is so pretty and so catchy. The quality of the playing and the care and the production is such a great bed for the weirdness that sits on top of it.
Chart Attack: I hear that in your other music projects like The Yellow River Boys or Dekkar. The music is almost straightforward genre pastiche, and it seems like the directness just heightens the joke.
There should always be quality in what you're doing, the right kind of quality. To do satire you have to present the thing you're satirizing accurately. That's one strategy. But this record is less about satire and matching a genre than just making music and arrangements that compliment the songs. It's making them pretty or groovy, not in the '60s sense of the word, but you know, having a good rhythm section. Just having it played well.
Joni Mitchell, Blue (1971)
Blue is a record that makes me feel warm and comfortable. There's not a bad track on it. I could listen to it all the time. Lyrically, it's always interesting. I think there's a little bit of humour in it. It's like nothing else, it's just her on this great, crisp sounding record. It's clearly about California, it feels very autobiographical and very connected to the experience she was having at that time.
You've said In Glendale is "somewhat earnest" and it's the first full solo record under your own name. How autobiographical should we take it?
I think there's always going to be murkiness about it and what my intentions are. But for this one, I felt the songs were strong enough and the subject matter was a little more autobiographical, a little less tongue-in-cheek.
I would say, like, at least half the records are drawn from experiences in my recent life. The title song's clearly about taking stock of where I'm living, where I'm at, what I want to be doing.
And then those are my real thoughts about cleaning up the dog shit in "Cleaning Up The Dog Shit." To me, it's a funny song because it's coming at fatherhood from a very analytical point of view, of like, why do I love this kid? What is that about? Well, I love her because biologically she's using me to stay alive. The concept of our DNA and genes, their prime function is continue on. It's so manipulative how they do that.
It's like literal dad rock.
Yeah, and the banality of my life. [laughs]
George Harrison, All Things Must Pass (1970)
It's so massive, so sprawling, so many different genres on it. This idea of all these songs being bottled up, you really do feel like it's this explosion of creativity that's like a volcanic explosion because it's been suppressed by John and Paul for so many years. Apple Music recently put out this early takes version of a lot of the songs. I'm really digging that right now because you take away all of that Phil Spector stuff and you hear these songs are very small folk songs.
It's so funny to put this in my list. I love this record, it's one of my favourite records, and I still never listen to the last third of it because it's like 40-minutes of horrible jam rock. The worst music ever put out is on this record, which is kind of funny. That's the problem with vinyl. It's like, "we have enough for 3-sides and not enough for that last side." So they're like, "let's just jam on 'Johnny B. Goode' for 18 minutes."
Bob Dylan, Blood On The Tracks (1975)
Growing up there was always classic rock playing in the car. "Tangled Up In Blue" was always on. I can remember that being in my ears form a very young age. That was always this neverending song. You always feel like you're coming in the middle of it. Then I remember listening to it in my twenties on a Discman taking the train to New York to Philly or vice versa. Getting to an age where the more adult themes of that record were connecting with me and the complications of relationships really made more sense to me.
One of the things I was trying to do on my record was make if feel consistent from song to song so that it feels like the same band is in the room. [Blood On The Tracks] is a great example of that. It feels like it could've been made in less than a day with the right players. You can hear mistakes on the record, you hear people miss notes, it's very raw and clearly very personal. It's well known that it's a divorce record, and so it's a great record to listen to when you're breaking up with someone. It has a distinct purpose.
It's also just some of his best songs I think. It's really straightforward and probably ushered in a bunch of these other records that I've been talking about. It seems like the '70s singer/songwriter template.
You've done a couple of different Dylan parodies, but it's clear you're coming at it from a place of reverence.
Oh yeah, I'm a huge, huge fan and admirer of Dylan's career. He's one of those guys that I'll be really fucking crushed when he dies because I feel like, despite the Sinatra period which isn't my personal favourite period of his, I'll still be interested in what he's got to say forever. When he goes it'll be too soon. You can't say that about a lot of guys. You know, where you're like, you've said everything you're going to say? He still feels vital every year.
He inspires me in many ways, ways that might not be apparent. Mainly, it's this idea of restlessness and changing perceptions and changing my style and the way I'm perceived by my audience. Challenging my audience to accept different things that I do. That's all from knowing his career and studying how he can just be like "I'm going left now, see ya. If you want to follow me this is where I'll be." That's inspiring to me.
That takes a lot of trust in your audience to know that they'll follow you.
Well, I don't know that they will, and I don't necessarily expect them to. I'm not very strategic about it or conniving or anything, I just always do what I do and what I feel like doing. It might be like my song "When The Cash Runs Out." I do always have that feeling that I don't really know what I'm doing and it could lead to financial ruin for all I know. I think that a lot of people take those risks and there's evidence that it pays off in the end, but there's no guarantees.
Part of my idea with this record was that, well, I'm not really making this record for my fans. I wanted to work with a bigger record label because I wanted to present this record out into the world without necessarily caring or needing to know about me. It didn't have to come with a bunch of baggage. It's fine if you are a fan, and I hope my fans support it. But even if they don't like it, I hope they support it because it's just another thing I'm doing that keeps me making stuff. I'm hoping some dude that likes this kind of music that might hate our show can hear it on the radio and want to hear it again.
So it doesn't matter if they even know what Tim and Eric is?
No, I don't think so. That's not my intent. There's a few things I make that require some investment to get. If you come into the On Cinema world late you're going to miss some jokes. But generally, you should be able to drop in at any point and either dig it or not. This record was not necessarily trying to expand my audience, but not relying just on my fans.