The 16 Most Gloriously Nerdy Musical Acts of All Time

By Chris Cummins in Daily Lists, Nerdery
Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 8:05 am
8) The Apples in Stereo
Post-Lord of the Rings, Elijah Wood used some of his hobbit cash to start Simian Records. The first album that was released on the label was by literate rockers The Apples in Stereo. Being friends with Frodo is reason enough to land the group on this list, but that's not why they are here. You see, awesomely bearded frontman Robert Schneider is a math whiz whose love for numbers and music theory resulted in his creation of something called the Non-Pythagorean scale. I can barely long-divide, so if I tried to explain to you what this means I would start to whimper. So let's hear what Schneider has to say about it:
That's some impressive smart talk right there folks, even if you didn't understand a word of it.

7) MC Chris
The second MC to appear on this list, musician/voice artist/hoodie ninja Chris Ward gets the slight edge over Frontalot thanks to his frequent Adult Swim work and the song "Fett's Vette," arguably the most popular nerdcore song released to date. Ward gets all the attention for his comedy and rap work, but in my opinion his greatest achievement is co-writing the Rex Manning classic "Say No More (Mon Amour)" from Empire Records. Hey, Gwar was in that movie too. Coincidence? Yes, yes it is.

6) Michael Jackson
Around the time of his death last year, an auction catalog of Michael Jackson's arcade games and film memorabilia from Neverland Ranch hit the Internet and cemented the fact that the King of Pop was a gigantic nerd. Amongst his possessions were life-sized replicas E.T and Boba Fett, endless Disney merchandise and more 8-bit games then what you could find in Starport circa-1985. MJ's geekiness wasn't too much of a shock given that he once turned himself into a giant-ass robot on film, although the magnitude of his collection makes him seem oddly human to those of us who spend our days -- and a considerable amount of our income -- gathering up this sort of junk.

5) Gorillaz
While technically not a real group, Gorillaz earn their inclusion on this list thanks to the pop culture references that pepper their music and videos. Adding to the virtual band's very real appeal, Blur's Damon Albarn and Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett constructed elaborate personal histories for Murdoc, et al that are just as fascinating (if not more so) than the biographies of actual musicians. The group's recent Plastic Beach album further builds upon the Gorillaz saga by creating a mystery about why the guitarist Noodle has been replaced by a cyborg double. Of course the beauty of the band is you can just ignore the mythology and enjoy the music. But that's not nearly as fun.

4) Man... or Astro-Man?

Surf punk music wasn't quite niche enough for Man... or Astro-Man? No, instead they had to make surf music almost exclusively devoted to and inspired by crappy sci-fi movies and TV shows of the '40s and '50s, using clips of bad dialogue (if you think that sounds like Mystery Science Theater 3000, MST3K was MoA's favorite show -- they did a killer version of the MST theme song). The bandmembers -- Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard, Star Crunch, Birdstuff and a variety of others -- wore jumpsuits on stage, electrocuted beers with Tesla coils, and occasionally set TVs on fire (which were on their heads). They produced more than a dozen albums between 1992 and 2001, did one of the Space Ghost: Coast to Coast theme songs, wrote one song that was a text file being printed by an old dot-matrix printer, and sent out to groups of "Astro-clones" to tour in their stead after their 2001 hiatus (one group of clones was female). Basically, there was nothing that Man... or Astro-man? ever did that wasn't insanely, awesomely nerdy.

3) Daft Punk
For fans of sci-fi and electronic music, there is no bigger event this year than the release of Tron Legacy. The film will feature a soundtrack by Daft Punk, the French duo with a penchant for dressing up as robots. Huge deal that their involvement with the sequel may be (they even have a cameo in some sort of awesome cyber disco), this isn't the group's first foray into motion pictures. In 2003, they collaborated with Star Blazers and Captain Harlock mastermind Leiji Matsumoto on Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, an anime companion to their Discovery album. Band members Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo also directed Daft Punk's Electroma, an insane quasi-biopic from 2007. Careful image manufacturing like the shenanigans Daft Punk are involved with often means that the music lacks substance. Not the case here. Their songs are unforgettable earworms that get even the most rhythm-challenged person bee-lining to the dance floor. That they are clearly huge nerds too just makes their appeal even broader.

2) "Weird Al" Yankovic
Yes, yes, "Weird Al" is a lovable mensch who is the most successful nerd in musical history. That said, there is something deeply sad about any iPod that features "Stuck in a Closet with Vanna White" on it. Again, Al = awesome. Listening to some of his lesser works once you've past the age of 16? Not so much.

1) They Might be Giants
Even though they once covered Devo's "Through Being Cool," seeking hipness was never on They Might Be Giants' radar. Such issues are unimportant when you are devoting your time to writing songs about guys who fall in love with angels or women who don't want the world, just your half. First gaining attention for their low-budget videos, the guys soon became college radio darlings and cult sensations. They have since gone on to become a full band and reinvent themselves as children's performers and theme song/jingle writers. Fortunately, their skewed perspective hasn't changed with success. The music the Johns are putting out today -- both for kids and adults alike -- remains as literate and fun as ever. And if that's not good enough reason to earn them the top spot here, check out the above clip to hear the nerdiest songs ever recorded.
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