Widely acclaimed as the best rock album to come out in 2002, Songs for the Deaf, is the third studio record from Queens Of The Stone Age. The album, which turns twenty today, is studded with superstars and features contributions from a multitude of musicians such as Alain Johannes Mociulski, (an often collaborator with the late Chris Cornell, Them Crooked Vultures, and Mark Lanegan), who played the theremin and flamenco-style guitar. Mociulski is also credited with writing the track “No One Knows,” the first single from Songs for the Deaf and a huge hit. Also on the album is Ween founder and guitarist Dean Ween (Michael Melchiondo Jr.), and goth god, the late Lux Interior of the Cramps who provided one of the many DJ “breaks” used on the record to help cultivate its cruising through the Palm Desert in a Fiat 124 Sport Spider (the dashboard of which is featured in the interior album art), radio blasting.
Mark Lanegan (RIP) also joined the fold after appearing on QOTSA‘s previous record Rated R (2000 which also featured Rob Halford) as did Dave Grohl and Kyuss bassist and former bandmate of Queens Of The Stone Age vocalist Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri. Songs for the Deaf was a sonic boom that further weaponized the already dangerously stoney Palm Desert sound but in a new and innovative way that connected with fans instantly. This fact is not only indisputable but it is also backed up by this amusing letter from Queens Of The Stone Age super fan, Simon P Ward posted on the now defunct Queens Of The Stone Age fan site The Fade two days after the release of Songs for the Deaf on August 29th, 2002:
“Dear Queens Of The Stone Age,
“I am writing to you in the hope that I might be able to join your band. I’ve just got your new album, Songs For The Deaf, and I see you’ve got a new drummer, that bloke who used to be in the hairy band – Dave Grohl. Very loud, isn’t he? And you’ve also got that grumpy fellow, Mark Lanegan, singing on some of the tracks. Cool.
“I love the fact that the album is meant to be like a radio station. Very cool. And the way the first track, ‘You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar But I Feel Like A Millionaire’, just fades in then WHAM it hits you in the face like a sonic missile. You’re a bit of a nutter, aren’t you, Mr. Oliveri? It’s the way you scream those words.
“I know just what you mean on ‘No One Knows’ when you say ‘We get these pills to swallow/How they stick in your throat.’ Great imagery. And I love the riff on ‘First It Giveth’, like a kind of corkscrew drilling into your brain. And then grumpy bloke Lanegan does that sighing thing on the chorus like he used to do with Screaming Trees.
“‘The Sky Is Fallin’ is a beast, with that deserty ‘We’re all on acid’ vibe that I can really relate to and those riffs, man, those riffs. Meaty. And what can I say about ‘Hangin’ Tree’, it’s got Mark Lanegan singing on it, it sounds like a great Screaming Trees song and it’s got the word ‘Tree’ in the title. These. Are. All. Good. Things.
“Sometimes you sound a bit more unhappy, like on ‘Gonna Leave You’ – ‘It’s raining in my room’ – I dig that. What about those drums on ‘Go With The Flow’ – man, that guy can play, can’t he? I expect that’s why you had him in the band. And ‘God Is In The Radio’ has got just such an awesome riff, like the Lord himself hotwired to a Marshall amp. Amen to that. And Mr. Homme, your singing sounds so nonchalant, so nonchalant.
“It sounds like you guys have such fun when you’re making albums. And you make such great albums. And I love that Spanish DJ, oh yes. So, I was just wondering…could I be your new drummer? I’m thinking of getting a tattoo soon, if it helps.
“Yours in rock, Simon P Ward.”
Well, Simon‘s timing was actually a bit off as Grohl, as we mentioned, would depart Queens Of The Stone Age following the band’s show on July 28 at the Fuji Rock Festival in Niigata, Japan. But let’s get back to the beginning of Songs for the Deaf, a record that would propel the band, already touted as the “new Nirvana” when they hit the scene in 1998, to new heights. Here’s Josh Homme on the concept behind the groundbreaking concept-like record:
“It’s not to be taken literally (the title of the record) unless you’re deaf or stupid. It’s all about the drive from Los Angeles to the Joshua Tree and switching stations along the way and listening to the radio. It’s what our version of the radio would sound like. And with three singers and all the different guests and stuff like that, the music is so varied, all over the place, it seemed like it needed something to bring it all together to make it sound whole, like one piece. The idea was to have a lot of different instrumentation.”
What Homme is discussing here is the inventive inclusion of radio DJ “breaks” used on the record to help complete the concept that Songs for the Deaf was screaming at you directly from your car’s dashboard radio. And they don’t wait to get that vibe going as the first song on Songs for the Deaf, “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire” written by a man known as “The Godfather of Desert Rock” bassist and musician Mario Lalli of Palm Desert pioneers, Yawning Man. The song begins with the sound of someone flipping through the radio dial finally settling on fictional Los Angeles station KLONE Radio, and “DJ Kip Kasper” voiced by Blag Dahlia the vocalist for punk icons Dwarfs. The material on Songs for the Deaf is as ambitious as it is compelling and the band was already performing some of the tracks from Songs as early as 2001. Specifically during their appearance at the Bizarre Festival in Flughafen Niederrhein, Weeze, Germany on Sunday, August 19 when they played an early version of “A Song for the Dead” with Mark Lanegan on vocals sounding at the absolute top of his game. Check it out:
“A Song for the Dead” wasn’t the only track the band was pulling together back in 2001 that would end up on Songs for the Deaf. Queens Of The Stone Age was also performing a version of “Go With the Flow” around this time. Other jams from Songs for the Deaf and the pounding riff from “No One Knows” show up on Volume 5: Poetry for the Masses (1999) by The Desert Sessions, a group comprised of Palm Desert players including Homme, Blag Dahlia, Nick Oliveri, Lalli, and others. “Hanging Tree” was another track to make its way to Songs for the Deaf, originally appearing on Volume 7: Gypsy Marches, the 2001 release from The Desert Sessions put out jointly by Southern Lord and Homme’s record label Rekords Rekords. This once again reinforces the power of Songs for the Deaf’s collaborative foundation, one that had been brewing for a bit before it came to a boil in 2002.
As far as the release itself, there are a few floating around out there that contain additional tracks not found on the 2002 release. The Japanese CD release includes a cover of “Everybody Gonna Be Happy” originally recorded by The Kinks in 1965 and two additional bonus tracks; “Gonna Leave You” (recorded in Spanish), and a live version of “Keeping a Secret.” As far as vinyl releases of the record, this is where things get a little murky. It’s been said that as few as 3,000 authentic copies of Songs for the Deaf were pressed during 2002/2003 and the album has been constantly bootlegged since its release. Ipecac Records released Songs for the Dead on red-colored vinyl in 2003. Various other colored-vinyl editions were put out by Queens Of The Stone Age Record (based in Italy) in 2016. Then in 2019 Songs for the Deaf was reissued along with the first three Queens Of The Stone Age albums, Rated R, Lullabies to Paralyze, and Era Vulgaris.
Original vinyl pressings of Songs for the Deaf are scarce, perhaps supporting the idea that not many were pressed back in the day. It’s also important to consider that vinyl wasn’t nearly as popular as it has become, even though record sales in 2002 reflect that was changing for the first time since the advent of the CD. Tracking down an original copy of Songs will tap your wallet as the rarity sells for $200 to more than $400 bucks for a mint or near mint copy. So if this deep-fried classic from 2002 isn’t currently a part of your music collection, we recommend picking up a copy of the official reissue and taking it on your next road trip.