The Unsolved Case of the Most Mysterious Song on the Internet
September 26, 2019 7:35 PM   Subscribe

From Rolling Stone: Twelve years ago, a catchy New Wave anthem appeared on the internet with no information about who wrote or recorded it. Amateur detectives have spent thousands of hours since trying to figure out where it came from — with little luck. Inside the question that’s been driving the internet crazy for years
“Mkll” says he devotes “three to four hours a day” to the hunt; Vieira says he has spent “many sleepless nights” on research, but now limits his time to “a few hours” every day. “I’m amazed at the energy devoted to this online,” says B. George of the Archive of Contemporary Music, a music library and research center in New York that was contacted by the Reddit group. “The posts read like the live commentary and betting strings that accompany bootleg sports sites.”
Also, if you don't want to have to click through, here's the song.
posted by hippybear (63 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
I always thought of myself as a SME on new wave, but I have to admit, I'm stumped. But as an aside, this doesn't have a true NW feel. But that's just me, one person.
posted by sundrop at 8:08 PM on September 26 [4 favorites]


Oh yeah, I remember this song. Wasn't it the theme song to that sitcom with the opening sequence where a guy ends up accidentally getting a paint roller to the face?
posted by webmutant at 8:31 PM on September 26 [92 favorites]


I'd almost swear that was Weird Al on vocals.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:34 PM on September 26 [1 favorite]


Should we just start a running total of people who never heard this? Seriously, I was on the internet and stuff in 2007. And it is very, very generic 80s rock--it's like the kind of song that gets used as filler when the old cartoon that you loved lost the rights to some of the music on its soundtrack.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:39 PM on September 26 [19 favorites]


The video has only about a half million views. It's not really that widely known. I hadn't heard of it before, but now I'm fascinated.
posted by hippybear at 8:42 PM on September 26 [1 favorite]


“There’s no need for my brother or me to create such a big hoax, which only takes plenty of time and efforts,” is exactly what I would expect someone who was, in fact, creating such a big hoax to say.
posted by hapticactionnetwork at 8:47 PM on September 26 [15 favorites]


I'd almost swear that was Weird Al on vocals.
Greg_Ace

This comment takes me back to the heady era of Napster/LimeWire/Kazaa where every unknown song was labeled Weird Al or They Might Be Giants.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:59 PM on September 26 [38 favorites]


It's the Craig Ferguson Memorial Men's Chorus singing "Ass Möde Emails And Tweets" in the original German.

Because it's a lifestyle.
posted by zaixfeep at 9:00 PM on September 26 [7 favorites]


It's interesting to me that people jumped to the iron curtain origin for it, when to me the singing was much more reminiscent of Joy Division. Not that this is Joy Division (obviously not) but it sounds like someone heavily influenced by them, probably from the U.K. But that's just a hunch, obviously. I also have my doubts about it being a hunch, just because decades-old production qualities are hard to reproduce now with that level of completeness. Put another way: if this is a hoax, kudos to the hoaxsters for a level of talent, effort, and attention to detail for purposes I can't understand.

The most amusing things about this to me, though, are 1.) how many people in this story are insisting on anonymity, again, for reasons beyond my comprehension, and 2.) how the only people on the entire internet who give a shit about Copyright are apparently also the ones trying to find the providence of this unknown song. Like, wouldn't a DMCA takedown notice be paydirt in this case?
posted by Navelgazer at 9:02 PM on September 26 [4 favorites]


Reading between the lines, I think most of the people interviewed in the article are digital pirates, and if they've been in the scene long enough to research this song for a dozen years they remember OiNK. Probably skittish for good reason.
posted by books for weapons at 9:10 PM on September 26 [4 favorites]


I find the meta-story interesting. Like, I'm much more interested in the people who devote their free time to research of this song's origins than I am in the song or its origins. Maybe it's because the song kind of sucks.
posted by sugar and confetti at 9:22 PM on September 26 [8 favorites]


"she posted a digitized snippet of the song — one minute and 14 seconds, thinking this would help avoid copyright hassles"

Wait, wait, wait. If you're trying to identify the source of a song then having someone step in and say "you can't post this, I own it" is a win. Because then you can say "Oh good, thank you, now I know who made it!". Or ask the copyright owner for those details.
posted by egypturnash at 9:28 PM on September 26 [28 favorites]


I reversed it in Audacity.

When played backwards it just says "Be sure to like and subscribe" in a bunch of different intonations and phrasings.
posted by glonous keming at 9:28 PM on September 26 [18 favorites]


This sounds like half of the things I make with GarageBand when I'm up too late and bored. Meaning: boring, uninspired, derivative, and too clean to be an old recording.
posted by davejay at 9:29 PM on September 26 [8 favorites]


It's interesting to me that people jumped to the iron curtain origin for it, when to me the singing was much more reminiscent of Joy Division

Its the accent, but it doesnt sound west german to me either. I'd have guessed Norwegian to be honest.
posted by fshgrl at 9:32 PM on September 26


I'd almost swear that was Weird Al on vocals.

Then maybe it's really early Devin Townsend. He has a similar voice.
posted by suetanvil at 9:57 PM on September 26 [1 favorite]


It's the audio version of the footage...
posted by Windopaene at 9:57 PM on September 26 [5 favorites]


The rather lovely Just a Star - was played in 2003 on a DJ Shadow mix (apparently with a busted 45 label so the song name was unknown) but not officially found until 2017 when somebody put it onto Discogs.

There are a couple of things about the case which are interesting:

- The songwriters are still alive (they recorded it while teenagers) but hadn't heard it for 40 years and didn't have any original copies themselves.
- It was not exceedingly rare by the standards of deep 45s - 100-odd copies sold at shows.
- Some people from Numero Group had apparently approached the songwriters about reissuing it but it didn't amount to anything for whatever reason; meaning it had been figured out by some people years before the internet at large was informed.

These things remind me while the internet can seem like the world, it is not the world. A few teenagers wrote some songs in 1970, got a 45 pressed with some money from a dad, and broke up a little while after. The song was known in a couple of circles; there was just no intersection with the people who wanted to know for quite some time. No amount of research will help you if there is simply No Information - you've just got to get lucky and find the record somewhere.
posted by solarion at 9:58 PM on September 26 [20 favorites]


Also: Mike Mills recorded a cover.
posted by suetanvil at 10:01 PM on September 26 [3 favorites]


I love this because it's a perfect mystery. There's no solving it half-way; either someone can pin it to concrete and non-falsifiable first party attribution (i.e. a band-member shows up with good evidence) or...it's a mystery! Maybe a half-solve if someone can find a radio show where a DJ names song and band but neither shows up documented anywhere even after all that. It's gonna be out of reach until and unless someone grasps it, there's no chipping away bit by bit.

And maybe it's a hoax! But probably not. But maybe it is! Or not. But it might be! But—

and too clean to be an old recording

See, this was the first thing that made me think, but then why do I think that? Because it's an old song that was opportunistically taped off the radio, and so: (a) old = time passed = vague sense of decay, (b) cassette tape = old = see previous, (c) radio = lofi noise, (d) radio = cross fades or DJ chatter on either end, (e) taping off radio = missing a clean start, (f) tape = lofi noise, (g) cassette deck = wow and flutter distortion. The part of my brain that's starting from the idea this was taped off the radio wants to see some or all of that reflected in the recording. But...a good deck, a clean tape, a DJ/station that doesn't step on song boundaries, a show-taping habit instead of scrambling to hit record, and a clean transfer to digital years later and there's no reason it couldn't be a very clean recording indeed.

I would still wonder (and I assume some of the folks into this have already put serious effort into this) what kind of ceiling on recording quality you could put on a radio + tape scenario and which specific sonic characteristics you could put error bars on, and see what a digital analysis of the recording would show vs. that. But then someone clever enough to manufacture a back-dated mystery song from whole cloth and dress it up as a taped-off-the-radio mystery could also be clever enough to feed their ersatz 80s tune through a radio transmitter and a tape deck, so...
posted by cortex at 10:13 PM on September 26 [11 favorites]


Mike Mills recorded a cover

461 subscribers, surely that's not the "real" Mike Mills?

and too clean to be an old recording
See, this was the first thing that made me think, but then why do I think that?


Good insight. For instance, one thing a 1980s native notices with "fake '80s" modern videos is how consistently noisy they are. Yes, sure, real VHS tapes could have tracking problems and color glitches. But a good videotape looked fine, as clean as anything else on a TV at the time. Retro fakery done in the 21st century invariably piles on the "bad video" effects, which makes young people think actual 1980s recordings looked and sounded worse than they did.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:38 PM on September 26 [13 favorites]


This comment takes me back to the heady era of Napster/LimeWire/Kazaa where every unknown song was labeled Weird Al or They Might Be Giants.

I don't know why this is such a big mystery. The song is obviously "Gin & Juice" by Phish.
posted by emelenjr at 2:00 AM on September 27 [21 favorites]


Doesn't this seem like at least some things can be answered, even from the recording as it stands?

* How many tracks?
* What instruments/synths/whatever?
* How many musicians?
* Is any of it live or is it entirely an electronic creation?
* If it was on the radio, what format would it have arrived there in and does it have any characteristics of that?
* The lyrics are not amazing and are somewhat nonsensical, though many huge hits share that, of course. Does their construction have any pointers to the likely original language of the band?
* Ignoring quality, is there anything about the piece which is ahistorical, given its purported date?
* I assume a hundred people have taken this apart in a modern studio program. Are there any samples being used from other music?
* Is there evidence of how the original was laid down? Was it in a "real" studio, or someone's basement? What was miked?

Some of these questions must have answers. Then again, every garage has had a band in it, and as mentioned up-thread, someone may have spent their birthday money on a day at the studio, and we'll never know.

It's not a bad song, but it's not amazing. I'm not sure if I wish it was amazing or not.
posted by maxwelton at 2:33 AM on September 27


Reminds me of the old joke about boom-shucka-shucka-boom music:

Q: What porn movie is that from?
A: All of them.
posted by chavenet at 2:47 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]


Inside the question that’s been driving the internet crazy for years

Maybe it’s being half-awake but my initial reading of the FPP was as that of online hyperbole (you know: “The Internet is literally losing its mind over this new Kardashian outfit!!!!! 🤣😝🤣😝😜”). I groggily tried to think of a question posed in song. I thought that question was maybe, “Who let the dogs out?”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:16 AM on September 27 [3 favorites]


It's Jered Threatin.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 4:11 AM on September 27 [3 favorites]


But as an aside, this doesn't have a true NW feel. But that's just me, one person.

That was my first take, too. That's not New Wave. It's more like whatever you'd call "commercial studio pop trying to sound cool with a lot of treated synths and guitar effects" I tend to agree with those who sense an Eastern Bloc/Soviet aspect to it. Kind of like a really janky Soviet version of some second-tier Factory act.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:13 AM on September 27 [3 favorites]


It could be a hoax – I wouldn't be surprised. (There've been similar "unearthed old music" hoaxes on the internet before.)

But I also wouldn't be surprised if it's real. I've recently gotten semi-serious about collecting old vinyl – mostly electronic stuff from the 90s. And there's a surprising amount of stuff which has just never been digitized. Stuff which can't be found on YouTube, BitTorrent, any streaming service, or anywhere else online. Stuff which was released in small runs of a few hundred or a few thousand, and which now just moulders in the back rooms of flea markets and warehouses, unheard for years or decades.

If you want to listen to this stuff, your only option is to purchase a physical copy on the used market. (And you can't preview it beforehand. You just order it, wait a couple of weeks for it to arrive, and then find out whether it's any good or not.)

So I can totally believe that there's a mediocre 80s rock song – especially one with difficult-to-Google lyrics – which remains unknown to Shazam.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:20 AM on September 27 [8 favorites]


Ah yes, I remember listening to this at the arcade as I was playing Polybius before I went home to read my younger brother his Berenstein Bears books...

In all seriousness, I am the last person who should be discussing musical theory, but this just sounds a little too 'clean' to be recorded off the radio in the early 80's. I agree w/ the Eastern Bloc/Soviet element, but it almost sounds like they're trying too hard to impress that. Ah, what do I know.
posted by splen at 4:20 AM on September 27 [2 favorites]


Heard it for the first time just now, I will begrudgingly accept that it is 80s, but it is no Escalator of Life.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:27 AM on September 27 [5 favorites]


If you want to listen to this stuff, your only option is to purchase a physical copy on the used market. (And you can't preview it beforehand. You just order it, wait a couple of weeks for it to arrive, and then find out whether it's any good or not.)

Party Buy music like it’s 1999.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:51 AM on September 27 [2 favorites]


Other than the vocals it kind of reminds me of the Kinks' Think Visual period, just another step in the line of New Wave reaching its logical conclusion in World on Edge's self-titled album.

Anyway, this feels kind of hoaxy to me. I agree w/ splen that this does not sound like it was recorded off the radio.
posted by Fish Sauce at 6:04 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]


chavenet: boom-shucka-shucka-boom music

I think you mean brown-chicken-brown-cow music.
posted by emelenjr at 6:16 AM on September 27 [5 favorites]


Oh yeah, that's Darude, "Sandstorm."
posted by officer_fred at 6:57 AM on September 27 [3 favorites]


real VHS tapes could have tracking problems and color glitches.

Like this:
vhs tracking
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:33 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]


After extensive research (~5 minutes on the reddit thread) I'm leaning towards it being as presented - a very obscure recording from ~1984 (based on contemporary songs from the same tape), and the first reference is truly from 2007, so I'm guessing it's being played pretty straight here.
posted by splen at 7:50 AM on September 27


So I can totally believe that there's a mediocre 80s rock song – especially one with difficult-to-Google lyrics – which remains unknown to Shazam.

Funny that you should mention Shazam, because it was on the soundtrack album.
posted by acb at 8:03 AM on September 27 [7 favorites]


it was me. i did it.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 8:08 AM on September 27 [4 favorites]


oh yeah if you're such a fan of *checks notes* unidentified possibly fictional 80s band then name your favorite *checks notes again* one song
posted by cortex at 8:32 AM on September 27 [3 favorites]


Citation please.
posted by Mrs Potato at 8:32 AM on September 27


Internet : 'Hey, look at this great [song|cosmetic|drug] I just found!'

1999 : map to 127.0.0.1 in /etc/hosts, report to hosting company if in bad mood

2019 : like, click, buy, propagate
posted by Cardinal Fang at 8:33 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]


Why is it surprising that there are unknown recordings of mediocre new wave from the 1980s? There are zillions; as maxwelton says "every garage has had a band in it". The only thing that makes this song remarkable is that people are talking about it now. But then, they are only talking about it because they were told it was remarkable. I guess the origin story of a 1980s radio broadcast gives it a tiny bit of notability ("Music for Young People", what a hip name.) But really, why this song?
posted by Nelson at 9:15 AM on September 27 [3 favorites]


But really, why this song?

The song, I think, is immaterial. This isn't about the song. It's about the mystery.

And that mystery might be real, or it might be manufactured. But it's the mystery that people are responding to.

You might as well ask: "But really, why Geedis?" (The Geedis mystery; the solution to the mystery.)

It's just a dumb bit of 70s ephemera. But the mere fact that – upon its rediscovery – Geedis was un-Googleable gave it a certain mythical status. As I said about Geedis elsewhere:
As dumb and trivial as this is, it just gave me a feeling that I haven't often had since the early days of the web: of discovering some random artifact, of not knowing where it came from or what it's about, and not being able to do anything about that state of affairs. Having to be with it as it is, without any context or interpretation. These days, there's an exhaustive wiki for every third-rate 70s TV show, a fan site for every obscure interest, a crowdsourced database of every imaginable category of thing. And yet here is Geedis, apparently born inexplicably from the ether. Just like everything used to be. For now, at least, Geedis belongs to this guy, and this guy alone. Whatever it means to him is what it means. I don't know if I'm making sense.
The internet has connected the world. The unforeseen consequence of that is that there are no more exotic frontiers.

(But, yeah. This meme could just as easily have been centered on any other obscure 80s pop song.)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:28 AM on September 27 [10 favorites]


This story reminds me of the documentary Searching for Sugar Man (2012). Sixto Rodriguez, an obscure musician from Detroit, recorded two albums in the early 1970s. Sales were almost non-existent, and he didn't pursue a career in music. Unbeknownst to him (at least, until much later), his music became wildly popular in South Africa. His fans there didn't know anything about him, and many people assumed that he had died. Then in 1997, when the Internet was still relatively young, his daughter discovered a website dedicated to him, and Rodriguez learned of his superstar status in South Africa. He then embarked on a series of successful tours in that country.
posted by alex1965 at 9:47 AM on September 27 [9 favorites]


Reminds me of when Klaatu released 'Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft' and everyone thought it was The Beatles.
posted by MrKellyBlah at 10:06 AM on September 27 [2 favorites]


I feel like more than one German music nerd would've taped this off the radio if it weren't a hoax
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:13 AM on September 27


Maybe they did. How would you know if they did, though? Not everyone keeps up with obscure internet phenomena.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:20 AM on September 27 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of when Klaatu released 'Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft' and everyone thought it was The Beatles.

Exacerbated both by the "Paul is dead" hoax/urban legend, and by McCartney's own idea (not sure when this became public knowledge) that the Beatles should go on the road and play pubs wearing disguises. (This is hinted at in Magical Mystery Tour, with the animal costumes.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:29 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]


Sounds like a couple amateurs recorded it in a decent studio a long time ago, then never went further in the music biz. Maybe one or more of them died since then. Or just got older and aren't plugged-in online these past couple decades for any one of a thousand reasons. It's not great, it's not terrible. But I can see how there could be a LOT of stuff similar from different eras floating around out there, or on tape in a box in an attic. Not sure why people are so caught up in this.

I'd guess that some aspect of this story or the "mystery" part is a hoax. But the original music was "real" in the sense that some people recorded it in earnest and forgot about it.
posted by SoberHighland at 11:17 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]


Not sure why people are so caught up in this.

I don't think people care much about the song itself. People care that it is a community-based challenge that hasn't been solved yet.

Also, I think there is a certain mystique, especially among younger folks, of something that the internet can't immediately provide an answer for, no matter how mundane the question may be.
posted by FakeFreyja at 11:37 AM on September 27 [2 favorites]


The people who think this "sounds too good to have been taped off the radio in the '80s" must have had terrible gear. There's a real lack of highs and audible wow/flutter on this recording. I have cassette recordings from the '80s taped off FM radio which sound much better than this, and I was using a mid grade cassette deck (Akai) and stereo receiver.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 12:24 PM on September 27 [6 favorites]


I've been following this for a while -- I like the song, and it would be nice for the mystery to be solved. I think it's likely that this was recorded by a regional band which never became successful.

Regarding Rodriguez: the story we know in South Africa is somewhat simplified -- before the famous South African revival he was aware to some degree of his popularity in Australia and went on tour there in 79 and 81. There's more info about the exact timeline on his Wikipedia page.

I can confirm that Rodriguez is a Very Famous Old-timey Musician down here, and knowing his story has really highlighted to me just how arbitrary and fickle the music industry can be. Sometimes bands don't succeed because they're just not very original or good -- but sometimes who makes it big and who does not, out of a range of similar-sounding contemporaries, comes down to dumb luck.
posted by confluency at 1:19 PM on September 27 [1 favorite]


It sounds a bit like the Fontanelles (the "Fishpicker" band from MST3K #907, Hobgoblins). Which is to say, probably, that the Fontanelles were trying to sound like whomever this band was trying to sound like.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 1:46 PM on September 27


OK-OK, I read about this song earlier, and it's now stuck in my head - not the song, but the idea that people can spend multiple hours A DAY researching the source of this song. What are they doing? Are they looking under their potted plants? Doing Google searches? Calling random people in the phone book? I'm at a loss here.
posted by Dmenet at 2:50 PM on September 27 [7 favorites]


I think it means "I spend multiple hours a day hanging out on the forum boards where people talk about this."
posted by straight at 4:54 PM on September 27 [6 favorites]


Sounds to me like anime theme music that is played opening over clips of the hero. Too many wind-based characters (if that's the thing) in anime for a non-obsessive like me to sort out. Also sounds like a German band singing in English. So, maybe some lost alternative intro for an anime Euro-import? (Probably not Nausicaa.)
posted by CCBC at 5:16 PM on September 27


It sounds a bit like the Fontanelles (the "Fishpicker" band from MST3K #907, Hobgoblins). Which is to say, probably, that the Fontanelles were trying to sound like whomever this band was trying to sound like.

That would be Joy Division.

I dont understand why the guy saying it's a Romanian song called Check It Out and he was friends with the singer has been dismissed as a hoax. That seems perfectly plausible. Pls explain Rolling Stone writer, thx.
posted by fshgrl at 5:29 PM on September 27


Sounds like a submission in a Songfight from 2005.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:26 PM on September 27 [2 favorites]


It just seems too perfect to me, it's got great power-pop guitar riffs, the Bauhaus vocals, the brilliant synth tones that come in at just the right place, it seems like a fantastic pastiche of a forgettable mid-80s german new wave single.

The only thing is that the drums are clear and punchy without having the gated reverb sound or handclaps that almost all the other NDW songs have, and they're tight, complex, and consistent in their sound that make me think it's a modern sampler, as the roland and linndrum machines at the time just couldn't produce something like this.
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:22 PM on September 27 [1 favorite]


okay so i’m not all that big on calling the present day gibsonian but the existence of communities devoted to tracking down a mysterious but ephemeral cultural artifact is so gibsonian
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:54 AM on September 28 [7 favorites]


I'm on the side of this does not sound like an old song recorded on cassette off the radio.
It's not so much that it's too "clean" it's that it's so uncompressed. Recorded to tape, played on the radio and recorded on cassette? Should be super compressed. And yeah, those sound like modern drums. It all sounds like someone's idea of 80's to me.

Anything is possible, but if I was betting I'd say no.
posted by bongo_x at 3:23 AM on September 28


Guys, I can't believe nobody thought of this, but I just ran Shazam on it and it came up as Like The Wind by Antwon01, so mystery solved.

The fact that searching youtube for that turns up only the mystery song with a description saying in all caps "ATTENTION: IT'S NOT 'LIKE THE WIND' BY 'ANTWON 01'" probably doesn't mean anything.
posted by ckape at 7:48 PM on September 29


"I'm sure it's a post-war piece. It's not British, the syntax is wrong. I have a hunch it might be regional."
posted by Chrysostom at 11:36 PM on September 29


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