Published on November 5th, 2017 | by Brent Chittenden1
52 Albums That Changed My Life, Chapter 45: Songs in the Key of X
Earlier, I wrote how one of the best snapshots of the 90s music scene was the soundtrack to film The Crow. But there is another soundtrack that is a good follow up to that one that digs in a little deeper. A soundtrack that also embraced a little bit more of what was going on as well as being just a little weird. It was called Songs in the Key of X.
The full title of the album is Songs in the Key of X: Music From and Inspired by The X-Files. Sometimes it’s hard to remember how absolutely huge The X-Files was. It was must-see television for many of us and 1996 was arguably the biggest year for the franchise. In terms of Songs in the Key of X, this timed out perfectly with the teenage years of my friends and I. It tied in with a few of our outside interests, it made for another great soundtrack to late night conversations, roleplaying games, and video games.
The album has an interesting cast of musicians. “Unmarked Helicopters” from Soul Coughing fit the theme of the TV series. This was followed by Sheryl Crow, which at first sound really weird, like inviting the popular girl at school to come over and play D&D. To her credit, “On The Outside” is Sheryl showing up with her 13th level fighter and her own bag of dice. “On the Outside” is definitely a Sheryl Crow song but it’s got a little bit of weird to it that just sounds perfect.
Crow is followed by the Foo Fighters with what I honestly believe is the best cover the Foos have ever done in “Down in the Park.” It is just a fantastic cover of the Gary Numan track, just loud and triumphant sounding. In my particular case, this cover inspired me to go in a dig deeper into Numan’s discography and ended up with me becoming a big fan of Numan’s later work.
R.E.M. makes an appearance with a redone version of “Star Me Kitten” from their Automatic For The People album. This particular version features William Burroughs reading the lyrics. This would be right around the time a few of my friends and I were discovering Burroughs work. I think a bunch of us had either just finished Naked Lunch or were just picking it up around the release of this album. (a little anecdote, I never truly got into Burroughs beyond Naked Lunch but I do have a number of musical recordings featuring him in my collection including a version of Ministry’s “Just One Fix” with Burroughs adding narration.)
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are on here with “Red Right Hand,” which is one of my earliest run-ins with the Bad Seeds. Filter adds a quite number called “Thanks Bro,” which to this day is my second favorite Filter song. Frank Black brings in “Man of Steel” which I always felt sounded like a song Mulder would have on his mixtape. Followed by the Meat Puppets who’s “Unexplained” comes in and is the one track I always felt was kind of a last minute decision. The subject matter fit the album but the song itself feels like a part that just barely fits in the overall scheme of things.
And then we have Danzig.
“Deep” is a track during a weird part of Danzig’s career. Danzig had released Danzig 4 a few years earlier which was the most experimental of the Danzig albums to that date. He had experimented with some sounds and textures that were outside of the Danzig norm but you still had those metal grooves that fit all together. “Deep,” however, was a signal that Danzig was going a little deeper down that path which we would definitely here in his next album Blackaciddevil. For me, “Deep” is the song for the monsters and supernatural creatures of the show.
You then have an old Screamin’ Jay Hawkins track, “Frenzy,” and what, as an adult, I would describe as a highlight of this album, “My Dark Life,” by Elvis Costello and Brian Eno. It is the absolute perfect melding of the sensibilities of both musicians. It’s just an amazing small song that should get more attention then it ever has. Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper come in with a great rocking number that is one of the better solo Zombie tracks from that period and kind of showed the world that Cooper could still keep up with the kids.
The album ends with P.M. Dawn. Younger readers probably have no idea who P.M. Dawn was. P.M. Dawn was a band that was kind of a hip-hop, urban R&B band… maybe? It’s hard to describe them and a lot of people will point to their inclusion on Songs in the Key of X as being weird or the band that doesn’t fit but in my mind, they ended up being perfect. P.M. Dawn may not have been in the “alternative rock” genre but they were definitely the misfits when it came to hip-hop and R&B. They were just… kind of weird. Their track, “Never Say Goodbye,” fits as this weird ray of light at the end of the tunnel. It’s the type of song that should pay during the credits of an X-Files movie just as Mulder and Scully walk out of the darkness and the sun has started shining.
Then, I even got an additional track… although it was hard to get to. Nick Cave and The Dirty 3 have two songs buried in the negative space before the album starts. Now, back in the old days, you would hold on the reverse button, hard enough to rewind the first song (the X-Files theme song) and go into “negative” time BUT not hard enough that you just started song 1 over again. In that negative space lurked two hidden tracks, one was a reworking of The X-Files theme and the second was a song called “Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum.”
The sad part about this album is that it’s a little lost in time in a few different ways. While you can still find the album with relative ease, as far as I can tell, it’s out of print. And if you do find a physical copy, there is a very solid chance you won’t be able to access those hidden tracks I mentioned as many CD players got rid of that function and a lot of computers have dispensed with optical drives altogether. While I can’t be sure of it, I also believe that there might be some rights issues associated with it as I can’t find Songs in the Key of X in the iTunes store or in Spotify.
But at the same time, it kind of makes me a little happy about these things. Sure, you readers might have a hard time getting a copy or finding the secret tracks but a small part of me thinks it’s kind of neat that I have one and I know exactly how to get to them. Like owning a small historical artifact. Regardless, I do encourage you to track this album down and give it a listen, even if it means assembling it for yourself.