The American Composer Series (also known as The American Composers Series) was a project undertaken by The Residents beginning with the release of George & James in 1984, and ending with the release of Stars & Hank Forever in 1986.
The series was originally conceived to continue for a total of ten releases, however, only two albums were completed and released before the project was abandoned by the group in 1986.
After the disastrous Mole Show tour almost brought the group to the point of breaking up entirely in 1983, The Residents decided that they needed a different sort of project to work on, outside of the Mole Trilogy concept, so they decided to take the idea of "music about music" to its logical extreme with a ambitious, long-term project called The American Composer Series.
The series was to be made up of explorations of the music of various American composers, one to each side of each album. The idea was to break down the mythologies surrounding the celebrated composers and to get straight to the ideas in the music - somewhat akin to imposing the Theory of Obscurity on famous musicians.
The Residents thus set themselves the goal of creating ten albums, each covering two composers (one per side of the album), to be released over a period of sixteen years, beginning in 1984 and ending after the end of the century (and millennium) in the year 2001.
Releases and abandonment
The first album, George & James, covered George Gershwin and James Brown. The band followed this with John Philip Sousa and Hank Williams, Sr. on Stars & Hank Forever. The third album was to be called The Trouble With Harrys, featuring the music of Harry Partch and Harry Nilsson, but The Residents abandoned the project in 1986.
The new CD technology was starting to catch on and with everyone buying up the CD rights to music, The Residents could no longer afford to play in this seller's market - especially with Ralph Records' financial troubles. The group also felt that CDs were unsuited to the whole project, since one of the composers would naturally have to come before the other on the disc, giving a false impression of priority.
The band had also planned to include Captain Beefheart, Sun Ra, Smokey Robinson, Bob Dylan, Charles Ives, Stevie Wonder, Barry White, and Scott Joplin in the series, and they had actually started work on some of Sun Ra's and Barry White's music. A medley of these preliminary attempts was later compiled and released on the UWEB Daydream B-Liver compilation.
The group briefly considered reviving the project in the CD-ROM format in the mid-to-late 1990s, however these plans did not formulate into any actual releases. Despite the early termination of the project, the concept of the series would inform the group's work throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s in the form of the Cube-E tour and The King & Eye album, among others.
pREServed box set
An American Composer Series box set was intended for release in the group's expansive pREServed series of reissues in 2019, at an unknown time after the release of the Mole Box in April. This release was delayed by the group however, as there were additional materials they wanted to include in the set which they had not yet been able to locate in the archives.
The set is now expected to be released at an unknown time in 2020.
- Volume 1 - George Gershwin / James Brown - George & James (1984)
- Volume 2 - Hank Williams / John Philip Sousa - Stars & Hank Forever (1986)
- Volume 3 - Harry Partch / Harry Nilsson - The Trouble With Harrys
- Volume ? - Bob Dylan / Barry White - Bob & The Blob