It Came from the 80’s: The Most Mysterious Song on the Internet
*NOTE: This article is part of an ongoing saga and it will be updated as the story develops.
It all started when I watched a video created by YouTuber Justin Whang. I love his videos, especially his videos on strange, forgotten lore that, for whatever reason, is not talked about much in the present day. A good example of this would be Whang’s video on the guy who, in 1987, hacked a TV station so he could broadcast footage of his bare ass being spanked while wearing a mask of the popular TV character Max Hedroom. Why are we not talking about this incident in this day and age? That man is a hero and a legend, and he should always be remembered as such.
I digress. Without further ado, here is Justin Whang’s video on “The Most Mysterious Song on the Internet.”
If you don’t have the fifteen minutes to watch this (but somehow have the time for this long ass article) then let me sum up this story in as brief a description as I can:
On March 18th, 2007 a user named “bluuue” posted a clip of a song to the site http://spiritofradio.ca/, the fan site for 102.1 FM, a Canadian radio station. “bluuue” claimed that he had taped the excerpt of this song off of German radio circa 1982-1984. He liked the song but he couldn’t find the band that had recorded it, so he was enlisting the power of the internet in order to help find the people responsible for the track. That, in and of itself, would not be much of a story.
What does make this a compelling story is the eerie fact that, in the 12 years that have come and gone since this song was first posted to Spirit of Radio, no one was ever able to find who made it.
This wasn’t enough for a certain audio engineer named Gabriel Vieira, who came across the song on the internet and decided to do something about it. He posted the excerpt of the song repeatedly on Reddit hoping someone, anyone, would come forward so that this mystery could be laid to rest.
Reddit did prove to be a boon for Vieira. One redditor saw Gabriel’s post and was able to find other forums where bluuue was posting about the Mysterious Song. Apparently bluuue’s real name was Anton and he most likely lived in Bremen, Germany. Anton claimed to have taped the song off of NDR 2 (short for Norddeutscher Rundfunk, or North German Broadcasting) during a show called “Musik für Junge Leute (Music for Young People).” In the 1980’s this radio program was hosted by a DJ named Paul Baskerville. This radio program specialized in underground punk, new wave, and independent rock bands. That type of a show would certainly fit the bill in terms of the Mysterious Song (the song is posted below and it very much falls under the category of underground New Wave and Post Punk). Vieira was finally getting close to solving the mystery.
Also, thanks to Justin Whang’s video, interest in the Mysterious Song was heating up. All Gabriel Vieira had to go on at the time of Whang’s video was a tiny snippet of the song that Anton had posted on the 102.1 FM fan site. After Whang’s video was posted to YouTube another redditor named “johnnymetoo” came forward and posted that he had downloaded the complete song years ago when he, too, was searching for it in a Usenet group over a decade ago. Vieira now had the entire song to help aid his investigation.
Gabriel reached out to radio host Paul Baskerville to see if he remembered the song that he had supposedly played on air 35+ years ago. He didn’t. Baskerville proved to be a good sport and he played the mysterious song on the radio show that he currently hosts, “Nachtclub.” None of his listeners knew the song, and some people even called in to say that they thought it was a hoax.
Vieira’s best leads in over a decade all proved to be a dead end.
Whang posted an update to his previous video about the Mysterious Song, including all of the new information: Paul Baskerville being contacted, the playing of the Mysterious Song on Paul’s radio program, the complete song being unearthed for the first time in over a decade, etc.:
I imagine Whang would have just dropped this whole thing if it weren’t for the fact that this story is so compelling. He even posted the song in his videos, YouTube copyright strike be damned. As Justin states in the video “If someone came forward with a copyright claim it would basically solve this whole mystery.”
And what a mystery it is. Who recorded this song? When was it recorded? Where was it recorded? How did it get into the hands of Paul Baskerville? What has happened to the band’s members since this recording? Where are they now? Why did the band never achieve any sort of success, to the point that no one knows about them in the present day?
I have so many questions. And yes, I have tried looking for this song. Think you can just use Shazam to find this track? Think again. Think you can just search for it in an advanced search on discogs or by googling the lyrics? Yeah, right. No one can find this damn song, and everything that looks like it’s a lead turns out to be a dead end. All I know is that I will look for this goddamn song until it is found or until I am dead, whichever comes first. Nothing about this song sits well with me, and here’s why:
The Most Mysterious Song on the Internet
Right off the bat I can tell you that I love this song. It’s rad af. I was born in the late 70’s and I grew up in the 80’s so shit like this really speaks to the kid in me. This is what music sounded like when I was young, back when you could pop on the radio and bands like Depeche Mode and Tears for Fears were literally changing how music sounded and how it was made. They were using new technology and new compositional techniques that came with that new technology. It was a magical time for music, filled with cutting edge synthesizers, drum machines, and gated reverb. It all sounds dated now, but at the time it was new and exciting.
I like whatever band made The Most Mysterious Song (for brevity’s sake from now on I will be referring to this track as TMMS).I love its post punk sound that makes me think of bands like The Smiths, The Cure, New Order, and Joy Division. I love the palm muted riffs and distorted guitars. I love the lush synth pads in the verse and the cool synth sound in the chorus, which sounds like they cranked the resonance knob to make a nasal chirp coming from whatever frequency the cutoff knob was turned to.
I love the chord riff that plays around 11 seconds into the song. It’s a D/A going to A, with a low A note being the pedal point that the bass hits underneath both chords. What a cool rock riff!
I love the accent of the singer. English is clearly not this man’s native language. Someone even isolated the vocals:
This person did not grow up speaking English. There’s just no way. I’m not an expert on accents so I have no idea where the fuck he’s from. The only accent I know well is the Italian-American accent because of my family (I’m fourth generation Italian-American but many members of my family still live in Italy). So there’s one country we can rule out: The singer isn’t Italian. One country down, I guess? So many more to go… Oof, I’m not helping.
In my opinion the singer sounds like he’s from northern Europe, but that’s just my (possibly ill-informed) opinion. The song was played on German radio but there’s just no reason to believe that the singer is from Germany. Throw in the possibility that this dude may be an immigrant living in another country and you quickly learn why the country of origin for this song just can not be pinned down solely from the vocals alone. That being said I would love it if a linguistics expert or a dialect coach broke down this isolated vocal track. It wouldn’t tell us everything but maybe, just maybe, it would narrow down the area of the search.
Here’s another reason why we can’t say, with any certainty, that this song comes from Germany: This isn’t the first time that this has happened.
The Mysterious Songs of Paul Lindell: “On the Roof”
Some years back (circa 2004) another song was stumping the minds of music listeners on the internet. Much like TMMS the song had been taped off of German radio. The cassette was digitized, uploaded to the internet, and, once again, no one had any idea where it came from:
This song was also supposedly written and recorded in the 80’s and, much like TMMS, it had some rather amazing vintage synthesizer riffs on it that most certainly sounded like they came from that era.
People searched and searched but came up empty. Some even suggested it was a hoax, a song recorded by someone who gave the tune a vintage sound hoping that it would fool people online.
Then one day a Swedish radio host stumbled across the reddit post and decided to play the song live on Sverige radio. Some listeners heard it, they knew the singer of the song, the singer was contacted, and the nearly decade old mystery was finally laid to rest.
The song, titled “On the Roof” (originally titled “Stay (Second Time Around)” by reddit because of the lyrics in the chorus) was actually the work of a Swedish artist named Johan Lindell. By 2004 Lindell had long since put down the mic in favor of a paintbrush. Lindell barely ever used a computer, so he had absolutely no online presence whatsoever. He didn’t know about the massive internet search for his music. Oddly enough, though, the mysterious song was hiding in plain sight since it was available on Johan Lindell’s personal website the entire time that people were looking for it.
As it turns out there was a reason that the synthesizer riffs were so good: They were the work of Clarence Öfwerman, who went on to produce the band Roxette. Wow! No wonder this mysterious New Wave song slaps. Seasoned professionals worked on it.
This entire incident is worth bringing up because it links to TMMS in a number of ways:
- Both songs were recorded on casette tape off of German radio during the 1980’s.
- Nobody had any clue where they came from.
- Both songs feature non-native English speakers singing in English.
- Both songs are fucking awesome and, at the end of the day, I surmise that that is what fueled their search.
We can learn from this past incident of unknown song hunting in a variety of ways:
- We can’t assume that the band is from Germany just because it was played on German radio.
- The internet only goes so far in searching for the song. Johan Lindell had no online presence when people were frantically searching for his tune, so he never knew that people were dedicating hundreds, maybe even thousands, of man hours into the hunt for it.
- It’s going to take time. People were searching for “On the Roof” on the internet back in 2004. It didn’t get found until 2013.
- Radio may have a role to play in the search. Perhaps 80’s problems need an old school, analog, 80’s solution: Asking around on old media like a radio station might be a good way to go about solving the riddle.
- The original recording of TMMS is likely faster and higher pitched than the recording we have, since there was an issue with the tape speed of Johan Lindell’s “On the Roof.” The taped recording was slightly slower and flatter in pitch compared to the original recording. Apparently this can happen as some tapes age. I can tell you that TMMS is not in the standard A=440 hZ tuning. It’s slightly flat, so the original is possibly higher pitched and faster.
I Have A Theory
The reddit page dedicated to finding this song has a million theories. Some of them are ridiculous while others might have some truth to them. I could write a book on all of these so I’m just going to have a sampling of what people think here:
Anton Made the Song
Some redditors believe that this song is the creation of Anton, the person who posted first posted the song on Spirit of Radio. Why would he do this? Who knows, but as you’ll see later on people love to cook up a good hoax on the internet. My gut tells me that it would not be worth the effort, but who knows? Only Anton does, and no one can find him. This speculation led to the next theory, which is a sub-theory of the belief that Anton made the song.
It’s All an Elaborate Ruse Created by Dolf Smolenaers
This theory is an interesting one but ultimately I think it’s a dead end. That being said, someone on reddit has theorized that this recording was created in the 2000’s by a musician named Dolf Smolenaers, who may or may not be the original poster, Anton. This is backed up by how similar his band, Silent Runners, sounds to the mysterious song in question:
I have to say, this person might be on to something. The recording might be a “mystery recording” hoax meant to promote a band. That being said, there are a number of problems I have with this theory:
- Dolf does not live in the shadows. He actively promotes himself across social media platforms and all of his music is readily available on a variety of streaming services. Silent Runners isn’t his first professional music project, either. You can stream most, if not all, of his various music projects that he’s had over the years with no problem. I could see why he would create a viral hoax but, unless I’m missing something, he’s never conducted himself in such a manner throughout his professional music career.
- Silent Runners sounds the way it does because the band is very much trying to capture a sound that was prevalent in the 1980’s. Dolf’s singing style is very reminiscent of post-punk bands like Joy Division and Depeche Mode. These bands were very influential at the time and they are still influential today. If you accused every singer that was going for an Ian Curtis type sound of being the author of TMMS then the number of people that could have produced TMMS would be endless (actually, the list is nearly endless. More on that later).
- If TMMS is a forgery then it is the most clever forgery that has ever been made. It even fooled the redditor that is responsible for the newfound interest in the finding the tune, Gabriel Viera. Viera is a professional sound engineer that has worked on restoring a number of recordings, including TMMS. Think for a moment about what it would take: First, you have to make your recording on a multitrack cassette recorder. You can still get those on eBay, so sure. Or maybe you can use a very advanced (and possibly expensive) VST plugin to simulate a tape recording digitally. Then you have to mix the song down to mono because any analysis of the digital file that was originally posted to Spirit of Radio reveals that the recording is not in stereo. You could do that, sure. Here comes the tricky part: Now that you have done all of that you need to find a ratty ass old cassette tape to transfer it onto. One that has been slightly demagnetized from years of age, because that is what the recording we have sounds like. It becomes muddled and then not so muddled in random spots. Better hope that cassette you bought is old enough to sound like the real deal. Maybe you could do that digitally? I’m not sure. Now, for the finishing touch, have a radio DJ inhale deeply at the very end of it, and of course you need that to sound loudest in the mix to make it extra convincing. Think of what that would take: First you have to write compelling music (which is hard enough. It’s not easy to write a good song), then get ancient gear and an ancient tape and have everything mixed down perfectly or, barring that, complex software that can simulate those sounds. Don’t get me wrong, as you’ll read later people will definitely go out of the way for a good hoax, but the people that have done so have been instantly caught by redittors who are good an analyzing everything down to the last detail. Gabriel is a sound engineer with an ear for nuance. If Dolf pulled a fast one on us all then he deserves all the accolades in the world. He fooled people whose job is literally to have an ear for this sort of thing.
That being said, when you listen to Silent Runners, a lot of things line up. Accented English? Check. Synths, guitars, drums, and bass? Check. Baritone Ian Curtis crooning? Check. At the very least the one good thing to come out of this theory is the fact that I am now a huge Silent Runners fan. That band is absolutely fantastic, and I had never heard of them prior to searching for TMMS.
This Band Sounds Similar/I Swear I’ve Heard this Before…
The running list of bands that people believe may be responsible for TMMS is endless. The truth is TMMS is very much a product of the time that it was allegedly produced in. Naturally that means a lot of bands with a similar sound to TMMS will get accused of producing TMMS as some sort of demo that never got officially released.
For example, there was a mysterious song on the Boards of Canada that featured a singer that kind-of-sort-of-not-really sounded like the singer on TMMS. Again, that was a singing style back in the day, so that’s why you can’t really narrow down the search too much by going by vocal style alone. I listened to it and I instantly knew it was unrelated: The guitar was way less complex, centering around the same four chords over and over. Contrast that with the complex intro, interludes, and palm muted guitar riffs of TMMS. There’s no keyboard in the supposedly related song, so that also didn’t lineup. In addition, the singer of the supposedly related song was definitely a native English speaker, so that didn’t check out. This song was eventually identified as a song called “Strangers” by The Sinking Ships. I find it very curious that this song, a relatively obscure song by an obscure band that even Boards of Canada could not find identity, was found in a week by reddit. TMMS, one the other hand, continues to be a mystery.
The list of bands that reddit believes could be responsible for TMMS continues. There was one redditor who was told or somehow suspected that a French artist called Jenny Cochrane was responsible and TMMS could be located on their album First Test. The redditor ordered the album off of discogs and this is what it sounded like. It was yet another dead end.
As I write this there is yet another band that someone swears is responsible. Once again, their recordings aren’t really on the internet, so the recordings they produced have to be found on physical media and painstakingly sifted through. That being said, I have listened to the supposed singer of this mysterious band, Roy Montgomery. Similar singing style? Sure, but where’s his non-native English speaking accent? Again, things are not lining up, and people are speculating on vocal style alone. Every time this method has been used to narrow down the search people have come back empty handed. This will be a dead end at some point as well, of that I am sure.
The search for TMMS is complicated by the fact that so many recordings have yet to make the leap from an analog audio format to a digital audio format. It’s absolutely astounding how many albums, EP’s, and singles never got transferred to any sort of online music store or online streaming platform. I think this highlights how important physical media still is in terms of archiving music history. How many recordings from bands that were good but never made it into the pop culture consciousness still languish in a basement, on cassette or vinyl somewhere, buried by the sands of time?
Here Come the Hoaxers
As with any search for unknown information on the internet there will be people willing to go out of their way to deceive people. I personally don’t understand why people do this. Perhaps they are unable to achieve orgasm unless they are personally responsible for making people believe in a lie, perhaps their parents ignored them in their youth and now they are desperate for attention, or perhaps they think that somehow this is what constitutes a solid prank and it will somehow jettison them in the annals of prankster history. Whatever the reason, there are people out there that get off on pulling a prank on the people searching for TMMS.
Here’s one solid example of a shitty prank that someone tried to pull. Someone on Reddit claimed that their Uncle had a copy of the album that contained TMMS. You can check out the fake images they posted of said album here.
Their supposed Uncle’s story, which has since been deleted, was somewhat clever. The story claimed that the song was put out by Rock-O-Rama, a now defunct underground German music label infamous for shady business practices on top of being the world’s leading purveyor of Neo-Nazi punk music. The above images were dissected by the reddit community and exposed as being well made forgeries. Someone with a fair amount of artistic talent spent hours concocting this fake album, but unfortunately for their hoax the “PC” or “promotional copy” sticker stuck out like a sore thumb when examined in Photoshop. Then there’s the band’s name, Süßigkeiten Jungs (which roughly translates to “Candy Men,” but more accurately translates to “I don’t know how to speak German”). which doesn’t make any sense to a native German speaker. Couple that with the laughable track title “Loves Wind (Retrograde Remix)” and you’re left with a shitty hoax that was debunked rather quickly. Still, it proves that there are some mentally deranged weirdos willing to go out of their way to try to obfuscate the search for TMMS. As interest for finding TMMS builds there will be more hoaxers, so I don’t think that this is the last red herring that will be intentionally thrown onto Reddit.
UPDATE: ANTON SPEAKS!
Well, this is a rather exciting development that popped up all of a sudden. Apparently the user bluuue, AKA Anton, the original poster of TMMS, has come forward… And his name is not Anton. Actually, her name is Lydia, and her brother was the person who originally taped TMMS off of German radio. People are, of course, speculating that this, too, is a hoax. Given the shenanigans that have been going on (see the photoshopped images above) I don’t blame them. And yet I am 99.99% sure that Lydia is legit. For starters, she has the tape.
The other tracks on this mixtape were all released around 1982-1984, so the timeline checks out. She also released a link to a digitally transferred version of the song, further proving that this is the original tape. I can’t post the link to the digital rip of the tape here because it has expired, but I can confirm that it is yet another version of the song we’re looking for, and it is perhaps a little clearer than the one that was originally posted.
Lydia reached out to Gabriel Vieira to pass on this information, but sadly she has had little in the way of new information to help aid in the investigation. Her brother is following up on some leads at the moment but, as she as pointed out, they don’t look very promising.
So that solves the mystery of who posted the song in the first place, and it most likely debunks all of the “Anton is actually ______” theories, but sadly none of this new information is getting anyone much closer to finding the band that made TMMS. If anything Lydia and her brother are just as stumped as everyone else.
I Come from the Dark Ages
The search for TMMS is a stark reminder that I grew up in the dark ages. I was born in the late 70’s and came of age in the 80’s and 90’s. There is a great divide in my life that I have written about several times on this blog—a great digital divide that has impacted both my life and the entire world in profound ways. I am, of course, talking about the digital revolution and the invention of the internet.
The internet didn’t come to the house I grew up in until 1996 or so. When my family finally got the internet it was text-based and, in 1996, it arrived as I was at the very tail end of high school and the beginning of college. Some people call me a Xennial, a person who had an analog childhood and a digital adulthood. I was born at the tail end of Generation X so I, personally, identify as Generation X, but I suppose that the term Xennial is just as good of a marker for what my life has been like.
Things ain’t what they used to be. When I was a kid if you missed a program airing live on TV then there was a decent chance that you would never see it again. At least, not until it was released on physical media or on a streaming platform like Netflix decades down the road. Likewise, if you missed the airing of a song on the radio, and that radio program was dedicated to indie, alternative, or otherwise unknown bands, then there was a good possibility that you would never hear that song ever again in your life (I used to tape songs off of college radio for this very reason). If you wanted to identify a song you just heard on the radio your best bet was to frantically call the radio station and beg the DJ for the title of the song and the name of the band. That is what you did if the DJ didn’t have the sense to announce the name of the band live on air, or if you had missed that announcement. The flow of information was so much more restricted than it is now. There was no Shazam. There was no Wikipedia. You had to go to libraries or talk to people to get information.
Sure, it was the dark ages, but I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything. It was a magical time full of wonder. You couldn’t just stream every episode of Alf to your flatscreen like you can today. You watched it live. If you missed a broadcast you had to ask around to see if anyone had a VHS of the show. If someone did then you would have to pop on over to their house to either borrow said VHS or to watch it with them. Oddly enough these restrictions brought people together since you had to rely on real life interaction with other people to get what you wanted. You couldn’t just be a dick to people anonymously like you can on the internet nowadays. Was it better than the age we live in now? I can’t say for certain. All I can say is that, as much as the current generation would view the world I grew up in as massively inconvenient, I miss those days with all of my heart.
This is a cassette tape of a highschool friend of mine’s band that was released around 1995:
I swear I’m going somewhere with this. They were called Saturn9. If you google them you will come up with several bands of the same name, and none of them are the band on this tape. Recently the singer/guitarist of Saturn9 passed away and their bassist reached out to me because he knew that I still had a copy of their album. He asked me to rip it to digital since he wanted to hear the music that he used to make with our recently departed friend.
I ripped it, sent the tracks in an email to my highschool buddy, and then listened to the tracks that I had just converted to MP3. They were very much a product of their time. That is to say that this album was very 90’s. Grunge was huge back then, and this album was very much a grunge album. The album on a whole sounds like high school kids that were very much influenced by the music that was on the radio in the 90’s. The music production could stand to have been a little better but, back then, if you didn’t have the money for a big studio then you just had to deal with whatever you got.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, think about it. Saturn9 had a bit of radio play back in the 90’s on local radio stations around central Massachusetts and in southern New Hampshire. What if, say, some kid taped one of those songs off the radio and then, in 2019, suddenly went looking for the band on the internet? I guarantee you that, if they didn’t know the name of the band, they wouldn’t get very far. Hell, even if they did have their name they wouldn’t get very far since several bands share their name in 2019. Saturn9’s one album isn’t on discogs. Their lone recording didn’t make the transition from an analog to a digital audio format until I went and personally ripped their cassette tape to digital for their bassist. The members of the band didn’t even have a copy of their own album. If I didn’t save a copy of their tape for the last 20 years then there would be no audio record that that band even existed. The only way you would even know about Saturn9 is if you went to highschool in Fitchburg, Massachusetts sometime in the mid 90’s.
If Saturn9 was the band we were looking for then we would be facing all of the same difficulties that we are facing with TMMS. What does Saturn9 sound like? Grunge. They made their one and only album in the 90’s. So that narrows it down, right? Wrong. There were a ton of grunge bands in the 90’s. The same stuff is happening with TMMS. People on the hunt for TMMS are asking themselves, “Which bands put out post-punk albums in the early 80’s?” It’s the wrong question. That’s akin to asking, “Were there bands in the 80’s?” Yes. A lot of them. That’s not going to help.
We are, most likely, looking for a small group of people that know who made TMMS. As I mentioned previously, to solve this very 80’s, pre-internet problem we’re probably going to need a very 80’s, pre-internet solution. That doesn’t mean the internet isn’t going to play a role in the search for TMMS. It already has played a very significant role in finding TMMS, but to truly solve this mystery the community looking for TMMS has to go beyond the internet (at least in my opinion). They’re going to have to convince radio stations in Europe to play TMMS. They’re going to have to ask around. Someone knows. Someone remembers. Until those people are found then TMMS will remain what it is: A Mystery.