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Music / The Commercial Album

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"Easter woman came today and took away my wife... Took her through an open doorway to the afterlife..."

Commercial Album is one of the most iconic albums by The Residents, released in 1980. A Concept Album built around the premise that mainstream pop songs should be combined with advertising radio jingles, which would result in total commercial success. Each song on Commercial Album is therefore only about a minute long, much like a radio advertising spot. Listeners are instructed to play them three times in a row to get the feeling of a typical pop song, if they want that experience.


Side One

  1. "Easter Woman" – 1:03
  2. "Perfect Love" – 1:03
  3. "Picnic Boy" – 1:03
  4. "End of Home" – 1:03
  5. "Amber" – 1:03
  6. "Japanese Watercolor" – 1:03
  7. "Secrets" – 1:03
  8. "Die in Terror" – 1:03
  9. "Red Rider" – 1:03
  10. "My Second Wife" – 1:03
  11. "Floyd" – 1:03
  12. "Suburban Bathers" – 1:03
  13. "Dimples and Toes" – 1:03
  14. "The Nameless Souls" – 1:03
  15. "Love Leaks Out" – 1:03
  16. "Act of Being Polite" – 1:03
  17. "Medicine Man" – 1:03
  18. "Tragic Bells" – 1:03
  19. "Loss of Innocence" – 1:03
  20. "The Simple Song" – 1:03

Side Two

  1. "Ups and Downs" – 1:03
  2. "Possessions" – 1:03
  3. "Give It to Someone Else" – 1:03
  4. "Phantom" – 1:03
  5. "Less Not More" – 1:03
  6. "My Work Is So Behind" – 1:03
  7. "Birds in the Trees" – 1:03
  8. "Handful of Desire" – 1:03
  9. "Moisture" – 1:03
  10. "Love Is..." – 1:03
  11. "Troubled Man" – 1:03
  12. "La La" – 1:03
  13. "Loneliness" – 1:03
  14. "Nice Old Man" – 1:03
  15. "The Talk of Creatures" – 1:03
  16. "Fingertips" – 1:03
  17. "In Between Dreams" – 1:03
  18. "Margaret Freeman" – 1:03
  19. "The Coming of the Crow" – 1:03
  20. "When We Were Young" – 1:03

Commercial Tropes:

  • A Day in the Limelight: Hardy's role as a singer is more pronounced here than even the group's first few albums.
    • Snakefinger arguably gets an even bigger one. He's all over this album as usual, but on top of that he duets with Andy Partridge on "Margaret Freeman", an uncredited Brian Eno on "The Coming of the Crow," and Fred Frith on "Ups and Downs", in which he also sings lead.
  • Age-Progression Song: "Troubled Man".
    His wife had left him long ago
    For someone without skin,
    And now he faced the mirror
    And he saw a doubled chin
    He was having trouble
    And he'd had it for awhile,
    His daughter died a year ago
    She was his only child
  • Alternative Rock: How much more alternative can you get?
  • Alliterative Title: "Love Leaks Out", "The Simple Song", "The Coming of the Crow", "Medicine Man", "Red Rider", "When We Were Young".
  • All There in the Manual: The concept is explained in the liner notes.
  • Anti-Love Song: "Perfect Love". Could count as a Break-Up Song too.
  • Beach Episode: "Suburban Bathers"
    Suburban bathers own the sea
    But just between you and me
    The sun has never fully set
    That's seen the bathers fully wet
  • Claustrophobia: "The Nameless Souls"
    We were just the nameless souls that sit inside
    Wishing that we were someone on the outside
    Wishing that we were the ones on the outside
    Wishing that we weren't the ones who were stuck
  • Concept Album: This might be the most rigorously executed concept album ever. Not only did they record 40 "pop" songs, each exactly a minute in length, but also bought up 40 one minute ad spaces on San Francisco radio, effectively creating their own payola Top 40!
  • Dead Partner: "Easter Woman":
    Easter Woman came today and took away my wife
    Took her through an open doorway to the afterlife
  • Death Song: "Easter Woman", "My Work Is So Behind", and perhaps "Die in Terror".
  • Driven to Suicide: The speaker of "My Work Is So Behind" burns himself to death in his own home to escape his backlog.
  • Face on the Cover: The band is shown upside down, as the eyes to a pair of faces.
  • Grief Song: A surprisingly large portion of the album is about failed relationships or the death of a loved one.
  • Harsh Vocals: Sort of a given, with Randy behind the mic.
  • Innocence Lost: "The Loss of Innocence", where a man visits a sideshow carnival. When he leaves "the waves of people drown the sounds of loss of innocence".
  • Inverted Portrait: On the album cover, where the eyeballs of The Residents (who are standing upside down) are the eyes of two giant people.
  • "I Want" Song: "Give It to Someone Else".
    I wanted to give it to someone else
    And hear what they would say
    I wanted to give it to someone else
    And watch them as they played
  • Lyrical Dissonance: A few, but by far the biggest example, of this album and maybe their whole career, is "Amber", which is upbeat almost to the point of glurgeinvoked:
    Life is just a situation, life is just a game
    Life is just a whirlpool and it's calling out my name
  • Miniscule Rocking: 40 tracks, all lasting a minute long.
  • Mood Whiplash: Every track will genuinely change your mood. Sometimes in-between the songs themselves.
  • Non-Appearing Title: Nowhere does the words "Commercial Album" appear on the album.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: One shows up on "Phantom".
  • One-Man Song: "Picnic Boy", "Floyd", "Medicine Man", "Troubled Man", "Nice Old Man".
  • One-Woman Song: "Easter Woman", "My Second Wife" and "Margaret Freeman".
  • One-Word Title: "Possessions", "Phantom", "Moisture", "Loneliness", "Fingertips".
  • The One That Got Away and One True Love: "Perfect Love"
    The only ever perfect love is one that gets away
  • Parody Commercial: The length of the songs is intended to mimic those of radio commercials, hence the album title.
  • Punny Name: "Commercial" as in both "commercially viable," and "advertisement," which all of the songs were the length of. To illustrate the latter point, they bought 40 ad slots on KFRC, each consisting of one song from the album.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Some of these songs are a test to your endurance. Luckily they only take up a minute each.
  • Repurposed Pop Song: Pop songs are transformed in to advertising jingles.
  • Shout-Out: The couple on the album cover are John Travolta and Barbra Streisand.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Hardy Fox sings lead on "Suburban Bathers", "Loneliness", "The Talk of Creatures", and "Fingertips", duets with the Singing Resident on "Birds in the Trees" and "My Work Is So Behind", and sings backing on "Dimples and Toes".
  • The Something Song: "The Simple Song"
  • Special Guest: Lene Lovich, Snakefinger, Fred Frith, Chris Cutler, Andy Partridge, and two Special Secret Appearances, later revealed to be David Byrne and Brian Eno.
  • Top Ten Jingle: Several songs mimic or parody this style.