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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Countdown #63 - the beautiful ones

Wherein Randophonic completes the All Vinyl Countdown + Apocalypse with the twenty-three greatest records records you probably haven't already heard.  Broadcast June-8-2013 - podcast available here.  All comments are from Philip Random's notes (with some editorial diligence). Links are not necessarily to the exact same recordings we played on-air (but we tried). 

Frankie Goes To Hollywood - relax [extended]
Because big gay disco never mattered more than it did in 1984, BIG disease with a little name ripping through the planet, absolutely everything to play for (and dance for).  And this big and astoundingly epic remix said it all.  It actually coached us all on the exquisite pleasure of delaying orgasm, of NOT firing all the guns at once ... which instantly made it political, because this was a moment in history when the overall consensus (among those who actually thought about things) was that some level of global nuclear cataclysm was no longer an "if" but a "when".  Mere minutes to midnight on the doomsday clock.  Yet Frankie seemed to be saying, we all just needed to Relax.  Yes, we have this climax in us, wanting out.  But the more we laid back, relaxed, focused on our breathing, the better it all started to feel.  Like maybe the point wasn't to climax, but to find that wonderful spot just short of the edge.  Or as Motron recently put it, "Basically, that weird tantric shit that Sting's into."

Prince - Mountains [extended]
Because by 1986, it was all getting proved on the dance floor, and nobody proved as often, with as much versatility, panache, invention, sheer gobsmacking talent as the skinny little mutherfucker called Prince, with the 12-inch extended take on Mountains a particularly propulsive offering.  The first few minutes are cool and expansive pop song with a big beat, and then it's all just exquisite groove and jamming.

Prince - the beautiful ones
Because it was the artist (known at the time as) Prince who finally set my head straight on the fact that the most necessary music almost never comes from where you're expecting it.  For instance, in 1984, it was a movie about some annoyingly talented guy all glammed up in various silks and purple, mixing up the soul funk pop rock (psychedelia even) with The Beautiful Ones the most necessary track of all for its evocation of a mad and PURPLE  love.  By which I mean not the colour of grape juice but ... affected, bloated, fancy-pants, grandiose, inflated, pompous, pretentious, stilted; excessive, flattering, fulsome; boastful, bombastic; elevated, eloquent, lofty. Because such is true love (the reason the Thesaurus was invented).  If it ain't worth taking to a Preacher right NOW, it ain't the really thing.  And then it all explodes anyway, atomizes the whole city.  Such is love.  Most devastating of all explosive devices.  

The Beautiful Ones 

Neil Young + The Band - helpless
Because we've all been there, that small town in North Ontario of the heart and soul, all solitude and yearning.  And learning.  Which feels kind of painful at the time, but in the end we come to realize it's about as good as life gets.  And nobody ever put it better than Mr. Neil Young, and he never sang it better than one evening in 1977, with the band called The Band and Joni Mitchell -- shit just doesn't get more Canadian than this.  Way better than hockey.

King Crimson - starless
Because it's the last truly great so-called "progressive rock" epic and thus the most essential -- what it was all aiming for, evolving to, the genre that was arguably invented by King Crimson (Robert Fripp in particular).  Which is to say, a starless and bible black night of the soul complete with free form saxophone freakout leading to full-on ecumenical epiphany in which all the passions of man (and woman) are reconciled.  The weird part is that the guy singing is John Wetton who would go on to front Asia (the band), which is the kind of transgression that can only lead to eternal hellfire.  But Based on Starless, maybe he's already been there.  Which gets us to my old friend, aka the philosopher, and his three essentials of any epic.  1. A hero.  2. A list. 3. A descent into hell.  What's up with the list?  Unless that's what I'm doing here.  But I'm no hero and I've only ever been half-way to hell.

Stevie Wonder - as
Because goddammit, it's the best god damned love song of them all (by which I probably mean God blessed, but who talks like that anymore?).  Starts out as a nice me-and-you-together-forever-babe thing, but then about halfway through, something happens.  The music pulls some sleight of hand, becomes more about the groove which somehow sets the melody soaring, and meanwhile the lyric (and the voice that's carrying it) have also mutated.  Now it's tearing up the atmosphere, singing of that higher love, the one beyond just me-and-you-babe, the one that truly comes from on high (even if you don't believe in such skyfairy nonsense – it doesn't mean it's not so), the kind of love that can lift a man, allow him to see past his suffering and frustration and grasp that the only wisdom is to accept where he is, right now, right here, to see that all these trials and travails and tribulations are precisely what his soul requires.  Because as my grandma used to say, if life was supposed to be all roses and perfume and puppy dogs, they would have called it something else.  Play this one at my funeral.  No question.  

Einsturzende Neubauten - seele brennt + feurio [randoEDIT]
Because when the enemy's at the gates and there's nothing left but to face it down with everything you've got, you can't leave any energy un-realized, even the dark stuff.  And nobody's ever had enemies at their gates like everyday Berliners of the Cold War world (1945-1989).  Hard not to be bleeding sparks from the friction of everyday life when you're sandwiched between the world's two great military powers, flexing their military and ideological bullshit for four and a half decades.  So we get this edit.  The Seele Brennt stuff because that's what first truly twigged me to the force of soul and nature that was Einsturzende Neubauten.  

The rest is sheer Feurio from a few years later.  I don't know my German but I'm assuming that means fire, or perhaps fury.  The furious fire of a soul that won't bow down, that won't submit to all the higher political + economical bullshit.  Or as Neil Young commented at around the same time.  Keep On Rockin In The Free World, except Berlin was neither free nor un-free.  It was the line between.

Beatles - tomorrow never knows
Because it's 1966.  Let me say that one more time.  1966.  And so, short of the snare shot at the beginning of Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone, I'm arguing that it all really starts here – the psychedelic storm that all humanity had to navigate in order to not blow ourselves to smithereens.  Not that everybody had to actually do heroic doses of LSD, get lost down their beyond within, but we did all have to share in the discussion which has thus ensued (and it keeps on ensuing).  And this discussion has always sounded best, made the most sense, when delivered via music.  Bass, drums, guitars, maybe a few keyboards, tapeloops, backwards masking, whatever -- full-on raging from the very highest and deepest part of anything and everything.  It is shining, It is being, It is Knowing, It is Believing, Existence to the End, of the beginning.  Trust me, it really does matter even if it makes no sense at all.

Beatles - revolution 9
Because it's 1972.  I'm twelve years old,and because I'm sort of responsible, I guess, I've been assigned to help slightly bad kid Malcolm Mills make a dance tape for the end of year party; actually entrusted with the key to the school's downstairs music room.  Anyway, amongst other options, Malcolm's dragged along his big brother's copy of the Beatles White Album, intending to extract the obvious pop hits.  But we end up digging through all four sides, at some point wondering why there are two Revolutions listed.  The first one's just a slowed down version of the radio hit, and thus not near as cool.  The second one's called Revolution 9 and it's … Well, it's not really music.  It's just all this noise for almost ten minutes.  But then Malcolm gets it.  This is the one where it says Paul's dead, the secret track where all the Beatles mysteries are revealed.  So we listen to it again, louder, making sure we haven't missed anything.  Then we listen a third time, VERY LOUD, which is when Mr. Walton, the Gym teacher, barges in, and asks us what the hell we're doing.  We never did finish that party tape.  But I did get my little head turned around in a profound way – a question mark imposed upon all manner assumptions I had as to what music actually was.  Or more to the point, at what point does noise become music?  Or what happens when the two are indistinguishable?  And who's making the call?  The secret, of course, is just to enjoy.  Surf the chaos.  See where it takes you.

Van Morrison - astral weeks
Because there are three kinds of people in the world.  The first kind have no particular opinion of Van Morrison.  They just like it when Brown Eyed Girl gets played at weddings or wherever, and maybe Moondance, too.  The second kind think Van peaked with Them, howling out the Ulster punk blues circa 1965-66, and everything since has been indulgent shit.  And then there are those who hear something like Astral Weeks, and let's just say, they get chills, the good kind, the transformative kind.  The music humbles them, you might even say saves them (in some small way) from narrow belief in a narrow universe in which everything is known, and that which isn't will be soon enough.  Clearly, I'm a Type-Three.

Flying  Burrito Brothers - wild horses
Because of that middle verse when Gram Parsons gives voice to that dull aching pain, making this take on the Rolling Stones Wild Horses (released before the Stones version) the deepest kind of soul music -- infinitely powerful, yet also intimate, fragile, easily wounded.  The tragedy of Mick Jagger being that even though he co-wrote the song, he could never really own it the way Gram Parsons did.  On the other hand, unlike Gram Parsons, Mick's still around, annoying as hell, God Bless the pompous ass.

David Bowie - rock'n'roll suicide
Because this stuff they call rock'n'roll is nothing if not an anti-alienation device.  Final weapon of the disconnected, the lonely, the desperate.  Because even aliens are human, deep inside.  Or better put --  because we're all aliens from some angle or other, alone at the edge of the night, under pressure, and never more so than at some pivotal moment in our fucked up youth, hanging onto the edge of some abyss.  The memory here is James, of course, long gone now, because he let go of the ledge, became the rock and roll suicide.  Was he even aware of this song?  Probably.  He knew his music way better than I did.  But mostly, he knew his bullshit dreams, got swallowed by them.  That NEED to be adored, far outweighing his desire to give.  That'll kill you every time.  

Joy Division - transmission
Because, there's real joy in this thing.  Even if they did take their name from the prostitution wing of a Nazi concentration camp, and the singer would soon kill himself (to ever lasting immorality, if that makes any sense).  But Transmission transcends all that negativity.  Transmission is a love song that doesn't tear us apart, because its focus isn't on some imperfect "other", but just the right song at the right moment on the right radio station, and what it can do for a lonely human soul.  It can set it to dancing.

Velvet Underground - sweet Jane
Because hard hearted Lou Reed opens wide here, almost stops gravity when he gets to that part about the lies inherent in women never really fainting, villains always blinking, children being the only ones who blush, and life being just to die.  And, of course, it's the Velvets, so the record wastes no time, uses no artificial sweeteners, just goes straight for the heart and soul and brain.  Apparently the story is, the record company pleaded with Lou for a hit single, something they could actually get played on the radio.  And he delivered, except he had to throw in that line about evil mothers, so the culture more or less missed it completely.  Which is cool.  It never got overplayed.  I never grew allergic.  I get to include it on this list.   

Neutral Milk Hotel -in the aeroplane over the sea
Because what can I say?  It sends me.  It's the most recent record on this list, title track from an album I only even heard for the first time less than six months ago (it's late summer 2001 as I write this).  And the whole damned album's amazing, young guy, whatever his name is, finding an entirely new way to deliver the poetry of his soul.  And the band's right there with him the whole way.  If I die suddenly sometime reasonably soon, play this at my funeral.  And don't sweat the ashes.  Just dump them in a stream somewhere.  They'll get where they're going.

Bob Dylan + the Band - blowing in the wind [live]
Because Blowing In The Wind really does say it all.  Not that life and all of its suffering and frustration has no ultimate meaning –  it's just that if it does, it's impossible to grasp.  And this particular version, recorded at least a decade after the original, is just so road weary and yet committed.  And it rocks.  Because that's the thing about life – it ain't over until it's over, and thus the searching and the confusion and the rocking continue.  Because the answers are out there, pieces of them anyway.  I just caught a glimpse of one last night, but it was moving too fast for me.  I finally just drank more wine.  And so on until the stars fall from the sky.  Which I imagine they did in some small way the night this version of Blowing In The Wind was recorded, February sometime, 1974.  

Sex Pistols - anarchy in the UK
Because it's a quarter century now since 1976, and some perfectly decent people still haven't heard the greatest eruption of POP rage and negation ever pressed to whatever the hell it is they actually make vinyl records out of.  Plastics, like the said guy at the beginning of The Graduate, like that's all a young man needed to know about life and how to play it.  And he was right by which I mean, he was so wrong all he could be was right, like Jo Stalin and Adolph Hitler chasing their ideological extremes so far and hard they were bound to meet in Stalingrad in 1942.  Which is to say Hell.  On earth.  Yadda-yadda-yadda.  By which I mean, where do you go with such evil in air?  You don't go anywhere.  You make your stand wherever you happen to be on planet earth.  It's as much yours as anybody else's.  Just do take that stand, state your grievance, even if all you've got is eviscerating rage.  As long as it's true.  

My Bloody Valentine - only shallow
Because it actually begins to hint at what these guys conjured live, in a big room, with a big PA.  By which I mean, maybe My Bloody Valentine in the Commodore Ballroom 1992 wasn't the greatest show ever (that's still Yes, 1975, the Relayer tour, because I was fifteen, almost sixteen, and that's always gonna be the best), but My Bloody Valentine in the Commodore 1992 was definitely the last show I'll ever need to see (not that I haven't seen a pile since; they just haven't been necessary).  Because that Commodore show was proof that rock music (however you choose to define it) really can change reality, actually rearrange molecules or atoms or neutrons or whatever the subquantal stuff is we're actually made of.  Because handled correctly, it really is the stuff of the gods.  And those who deny it (for instance, the 500 or so folks who didn't stick around for the whole gig at the Commodore), well, they can have the so-called real world, the real estate, the mortgage payments, the lawyers and accountants.  It occurs to me, I have no conclusion for this thought.  I'm still confused, I guess.  Almost ten years later and I'm still lost for words. 

Can - yoo doo right
Because of that letter I got from my friend James who was traveling in Thailand at the time.  I'd made him a few mixtapes before he took off and one of them had Can's Yoo Doo Right on it, all twenty odd minutes of it.  Anyway, James dropped some acid one night at some particularly isolated beachfront spot, and spent many hours alone, just him and the moon, the waves, the sand, working through all manner of stuff, including his own desperate loneliness, as far away from home and family and friends as a young man could get without leaving the planet.  And the thought occurred to him at around midnight that he could just lie down and let the incoming tide take him, drown him, end all of his suffering and confusion ... except Yoo Doo Right was playing and it got to him, that quiet part in the middle, the singer muttering about whoever Yoo was and how they better-better Doo it right, with everything starting to rise again in groove and passion until at some point, James realized he was dancing, just him and the sand, the ocean and the moon, no longer alone, now fully engaged with the entire universe.  And yeah, I can't put it any better than that.  The power of Can, those hippie-freak communist-anarchist-nihilists beating the living drum of 1968, freedom for all mankind.  Gotta-gotta get it right.    

Bob Marley - redemption song
Because we all need redemption, we've all got slavery in us ... unless you're one of those grey alien types who've been lording it over ALL humanity since the days of Atlantis.  In which case, Fuck You.  To everybody else though, if you haven't heard Redemption Song, why not?  Because it's Bob Marley's last song, and his best.  And if you have heard it, then I suspect it requires no justification.  Because even if you're sick to death of all the white rastas out there and their tofu stir fries and their B.O. (because if you don't eat meat, you don't stink, man).  Even if.  You know that Redemption Song transcends all that.  Because we all need redemption.  We've all got slavery in us.  

Jimi Hendrix - wild thing [live]
Because even though Bob Dylan's 1965 Like A Rolling Stone snare shot immanetized the particular eschaton we're concerned about here, it took Jimi Hendrix's live set at the Monterrey Pop Festival almost two years later to bring it to ground, then launch it back out to all the nine known universes.  And Wild Thing was the climax of that set, the one with the guitar getting set on fire at the end.  Thus Wild Thing was the roar heard from every garage from every neighbourhood from every town.  You can still hear it.  Because like my good friend Simon Lamb once put it, and I had to write it down (or a reasonable facsimile anyway).  We need a secret weapon.  Something beyond reason and rationality that cuts through all the wilful blindness of the insane and ignorant and seduces them into seeing, or certainly feeling.  Some vast and astonishing noise.  I mean, if he wasn't talking about Jimi Hendrix, then who?  

The JBs -doing it to death
Because there had to be at least one James Brown thing on this list.  And because whatever it is we're doing, this ever expanding explosion of possibilities known as living, one thing is clear, we're doing it to death.  And yet, death is no end, because the groove goes on.  Which is to say, we are doomed to life eternal, not of our mortal stuff (that will always play itself out in time) but the immortal stuff, by which I mean the seeds we plant, and how they shall grow, and when I seeds, I'm thinking ideas and passions and sacrifices as much as I'm thinking anything physical.  Which is all just an approximation of a pile of thoughts I had just this past New Years (into 2001), whilst DJing across the island, monster sound system, throwing down the JBs Doing It To Death a little after midnight, slaying all, guaranteeing eternal life as it did so.  Call it a paradox.  I won't argue. 

Robert John - the lion sleeps tonight
Because it's been covered any number of times by everybody from Miriam Makeba to Brian Eno to Chet Atkins to Roger Whittaker, Sandra Bernhard, REM (sort of), but the essential version has to be Robert John's take from 1972 (a very good year).  Because it's a song from out of Africa, but it also includes yodeling from out of Switzerland and obvious doo-wop stylings, and there's definitely a tuba in there as well, and some pedal steel.  And because it's about peace and joy and freedom from worry, if only for one night, because the lion is asleep.  Which if you think about it, doesn't really makes sense.  If the lion's asleep, wouldn't a raucous party wake it up?  But maybe the lion has been drugged by one of Marlin Perkins tranquilizer darts.  Either way, it's a party because the Lion Sleeps Tonight by Robert John (who I know nothing about) sets even bankers free, because they were babies once, too.  The number one, single greatest record you probably haven't already heard.  And if you have, then you're at least as cool as I am.  And if you disagree, then make your own list.