This album is the first published example of two things which The Residents became experts at: the concept album and music about music. Considered by some to be the cornerstone of The Residents' reputation, The Third Reich 'N' Roll consists of two tracks, one on each side, each track a medley of deconstructed (dismembered?) covers of popular songs from the 60s. It is another expression of the Theory of Obscurity: where Not Available is a demonstration of what can be accomplished by removing the audience, The Third Reich 'N' Roll tackles music which was overly influenced by the potential audience and the high sales figures demanded by the "fascist music industry", represented on the album's cover by Dick Clark dressed in a Nazi uniform and holding a tempting carrot. Rumour has it that Clark thought the cover was hilarious, and has a copy framed in his office.
In the original album liner notes, The Cryptic Corporation calls The Third Reich 'N' Roll The Residents' "tribute to the thousands of little power-mad minds in the music industry who have helped make us what we are today, with an open eye on what we can make them tomorrow." The Classic Series CD liner notes call the album a "scathingly satirical look at '60's bubble-gum rock somehow twisted into shocking '70's bubble-gum avant-guard". Various other people have called it "pop meets dada", "the 60's as done by the 70's German avant-garde", and (as Uncle Willie put it), "taking all your favourite bubble gum riffs from the sixties, dress them up in avant-guard drag, and send them into the streets to break windows".
The album was recorded (for the most part) over two one-week sessions, the first in October, 1974, and the second one year later. The Residents would take a recording of the original song to be covered on one track with their band-new Tascam 8-track, then lay their own tracks over top, one by one. When the cover was complete, they erased the original track. For the most part, the songs appear one after the other, in a simple medley format, though there are some overlapping numbers. The whole thing ends with a quodlibet (multiple songs played simultaneously and harmonising) of Inna Gadda Da Vida, Hey Jude, and Sympathy for the Devil. They were joined on the album by Gary Phillips, as well as their favourite guitarist, Snakefinger.
The Residents put a lot of effort into the packaging and promotion of the album but, unfortunately, most of their ideas backfired. In keeping with the "Third Reich" theme, the promotional photos featured men with giant swastikas around their necks, sometimes at large board meeting type tables. One photo also features the first appearance of a giant skull, which would one day replace a Resident's eyeball head. The Nazi references and swastikas were a problem all through the album's history (which isn't really all that surprising). In fact, the album couldn't be released in Germany at all because the swastikas in the cover art are banned there. The band put out a "censored" version of the album cover in responce, and eventually Ralph Records designed a completely new cover using the figures of Adolph Hitler and Madonna in place of Dick Clark. 2500 copies of that release were printed.
The Residents also made a film to promote the album -- one of the very first music videos. It started with The Residents in newspaper costumes, dancing around to the album's version of Land of 1000 Dances in a newspaper world they created in their studio. The second half of the film consists of pixelated animation of a newspaper man, an Atomic Shopping Cart, and various other props. The newspaper costumes caused more problems, though, since the tall, conical hoods led some of people to think that the band was promoting the Klu Klux Klan. In actual fact, the costumes were made that way because that was the simplest way to make a head-covering out of newspaper.
In spite of the difficulties with the promotional material (the photos weren't used, and the KKK speculation didn't hit until later), the album did fairly well, selling out the 1000 copies printed. This was a big improvement over Meet the Residents, the last album which The Residents had marketed (the album before The Third Reich 'N' Roll, Not Available, hadn't been released yet), and the success of the new album helped revive sales of the older one.
The band performed several parts from the album at the 5th Anniversary celebration concert for Rather Ripped Records, called Oh Mummy! Oh Daddy! Can't You See That It's True; What the Beatles Did to Me, "I Love Lucy" Did to You. As a further promotion, Ralph Records released a special twenty-five copy The Third Reich 'N' Roll Collector's Box in 1980. The packaging was very elaborate: the disk was hand pressed in red marbled vinyl with a silk-screened sleeve and labels, in a velvet-lined black wooden box. The box opened by a sliding panel which was hand silk-screened with the cover art, and contained two signed and numbered lithographs. The whole thing was bundled up in a draw-string bag.
The Classics re-issue of the album also includes four tracks from two singles, Satisfaction / Loser=Weed and The Beatles Play The Residents and The Residents Play The Beatles.
Satisfaction was another promotional piece for The Third Reich 'N' Roll, and applied the album's deconstructive approach to the Rolling Stones' famous song. The Beatles Play The Residents and The Residents Play The Beatles took a slightly different approach: the first side consists of cuts and segments from various Beatles songs, strung together to make a huge mess of sound (The Beatles playing The Residents). Side two is a Reich-esque cover of Flying, chosen for the treatment because it was the only song which the band could find which cites all four Beatles as writers.
Each side of the original album was one track -- making the program listing very short. I've padded it out here with lists of the songs which appear on each side. Thanks to Keith Roberts for improving on my version of the list, and to Larry Brown for filling in some of the remaining gaps. If you can add anything to the list, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!