Like the debut albums from Mrs Miller and Madame St Onge, The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits is a bit of a misnomer as titles go: the lady in question has never had a ‘hit’ in the real sense of the word. However she has proved a bit of a hit with the public in her own particular part of the world, and last year embarked on her first ever world tour – even appearing in my home town.
Her peculiar. echo drenched covers of pop classics (Ballroom Blitz, Shakin’ All Over, Born to be Wild), show tunes (Puttin’ on the Ritz) and frankly bizarre originals won’t be to everyone’s taste but I quite like her. There’s a minimalist, Flying Lizards quality to what she’s doing, and the whole album is well worth checking out (You can listen to if for free on Spotify or if you go to Mr Weird andWacky (one of my favourite blogs) you can pick up the whole album.
According to a short piece I found in The Guardian, the Space Lady - also known as Suzy Soundz but more correctly Susan Dietrich Schneider - was a regular sight on the streets and subways of Boston in the early 80s. Playing an accordion her husband had found in a junkshop – which she couldn’t play at first but, as she says: “(On) my first time out, I made both decent music and decent money.” Unfortunately an encounter with a drunk on the subway left the accordion in pieces and her hopes of a career as a ‘street level superstar’ in tatters.
Joel encouraged Susan to continue, using a mic, amp and battery-powered reverb to sing acapella. As it was close to Christmas Susan sang carols and the money came in: on Christmas Eve she made $200 busking, enough to purchase the cheap Casio keyboard she uses on her only album (to date anyway). Back on the streets and in the subways of Boston, she mixed songs written by her husband with a perverse selection of covers, many of which appear on The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits.
Joel, The Guardian reports: ‘had played with a string of 60s rock bands and knew all about making an impression, so they plugged the Casio into a phase-shifter, ran Susan's voice through a full-on echo unit and created a light show by pimping her tip box with a pile of twinkling lights. A winged helmet topped with a blinking red ball was placed on Susan's head and off she'd go’. Although still only busking, Susan was able to earn enough to support her family. In early 1990 Susan recorded some of the songs she had been singing on the streets for her album.
Championed by Irwin Chusid (who featured her cover of the Electric Prunes’ I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night on the second of his Songs In The Key Of Z collections) sadly Joel died in 2000 and Susan abandoned music and moved back home to Colorado. However her story doesn't end there: in 2014, seemingly out of the blue, she embarked on a huge world tour, playing art house cafés and small venues around the US and Europe. She’s on Facebook: go say hello.
Here are a couple of brilliantly odd tracks from The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits for you: Born to be Wild and Radar Love. You know what to do if you want to hear more.