Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Countdown #4 - never give up

(podcast available here – originally broadcast Dec-10-2011)  All comments are from Philip Random's notes.  The full countdown list (so far) can be found here.

Nocturnal Emissions - never give up
By the time we hit 1985, everyone knew someone who was dying of the big disease with a little name (as Prince called it), even if we didn't actually know they had it.  People tended to keep that a secret if they could.  Maybe it was an uncle, or a guy we went to school with, a friend, a brother.  It was almost always a guy.  Anyway, where there's sickness, there's songs of hope, even if there is no hope, which seemed to be the case with AIDS in 1985.  A death sentence all the way.  And yet we're human, so we never give up.  Some of us anyway.  

Pop Will Eat Itself - not now James, we're busy
Decades tend to end well, musically speaking, except the 90s.  That was a mess.  In the 80s, we had hip-hop colliding with everything that had become boring (even punk rock), setting music free in all kinds of unimaginably cool ways.  As Pop Will Eat Itself said in an early song, "Bring a beatbox and make a garage racket."  This one seems to concern James Brown, whose beats everyone was stealing at the time.  Meanwhile he was having a bit of a midlife crisis, assaulting cops, going on high speed chases, ending up in jail.

Emerson Lake + Palmer - tiger in a spotlight
ELP blew it big time in 1977.  While the cool world went punk and the smooth world went disco, they just went DUMB, dumped a massive double album on the world that nobody wanted, then took a symphony orchestra on tour with them and lost millions.  By the time they hit Vancouver, they'd dumped the orchestra, so it was mostly just prolonged wanking with occasional explosions – bass, drums, enough keyboards and synthesizers to change the world (assuming they were in the right hands – they weren't).  And yet, in the midst of it all, there were these crazy, freaked out sort of barrelhouse boogies going down, suggesting a whole other possible history for mankind.

Rich Wakeman - White Rock
From a soundtrack album for a movie concerning the 1976 Winter Olympics that nobody ever saw.  Rick Wakeman (wearer of shimmering capes, former keyboard God from prog rock superheroes Yes) never played a bum note, which unfortunately didn't guarantee ego-free genius, except occasionally, like White Rock (the song) which was required listening whenever the parents were out and you could finally crank the stereo as the gods intended, test those woofers.  Blow the f***ers!  Then blame your little brother who got so drunk he doesn't remember anything anyway.

Dr John - Babylon
Babylon being a city-state in Ancient Mesopotamia that lasted more than 2000 years before finally dissolving into the sands of time, just as the great powers of NOW inevitably shall … if you believe your Rastafarianism.  So yeah, there's all kinds of apocalypse tied up in Babylon, including the name, root of babble (a state in language acquisition, during which an infant appears to be experimenting with uttering sounds of language, but not yet producing any recognizable words).  Chaos in a word, except it might mean something … kind of like this song.

Keith Richard - the harder they come
Keith Richard's so cool he can stumble into a studio in a heroin haze, fumble through a reggae classic that no white man has any business even touching – and actually deliver something worth listening to many years later.  I have no idea how this 1978 single ended up in my collection.  I'm guessing I grabbed it from a freebie pile in early 90s (there were a lot of those at the time).  A few years later, it got stuck on a fave mixtape -- after midnight stuff, for when the hard lines are all blurring but you still need something genuinely human to hang on to.  

Boo Radleys - Barney ... and me
What's the word for that strange place where unbounded joy crashes into the reality of gravity, and profound dimensions of what can only be called beauty get released?  The Boo Radleys music was full of it.  Case in point Barney and Me -- great weeping melodies, charging guitars, spiraling keyboards … flutes.  From the aptly named Giant Steps, as good an album as 1993 laid on the world.  So good I had to get it on vinyl, which was a serious rarity by then.  

Manfred Mann's Earth Band - joybringer
Want an irresistibly affirming melody?  Rip off one of the classics.  In this case, it's Manfred Mann (between Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen fixations) having his way Gustav Holst's Jupiter Bringer of Jollity.  Who says there was nothing to smile about in 1973? 

Dexy's Midnight Runners - tell me when my light turns green
I was eyeballing this album for a long time before I actually heard it.  Nerdy teenage schoolboy looking straight into the camera while behind him, younger kids get hustled out of the way – everybody visibly shaken by something bad.  A terror bomb in Northern Ireland?  Probably.  And then there was the title: Searching for the Young Soul Rebels.  What exactly was a young soul rebel?  In my mind, I guess I was.  I was certainly young, maybe twenty at time, and I wasn't exactly a punk (didn't go in for the extreme fashion), definitely wasn't a hippie (they'd all gotten sloppy and embarrassing by 1980), and the so-called New Wave stuff was always a bit too … something.  But I definitely had my grievances with the way of the world.  So yeah, maybe I was this other thing – a young soul rebel.  Only later did I discover that it was a term associated with the British Northern Soul scene of the 1960s (hence the Dexy's part of the band's name – popping Dexedrine to keep going all night).  But I was past my rebel phase by then anyway. Rebellion was a 60s thing.  I was a Resister now, because that's what the 80s were about really.  Resisting all the bullshit.  

Steppenwolf - monster [RandoEDIT]
I would've been eleven or twelve.  My friend Peter's older brother had joined one of those record clubs, got ten albums for a dollar and he hated this one, so he passed it down.  The lead off track was an epic about a monster called America that was eating its children.  Shove it up next to the Vietnam War (ongoing), all the riots and protests on TV, what had just gone down in Kent State … and a picture started to present itself to my puny little mind. 

Red Guitars - good technology
This comes from my early radio days (1983).  Just a good, solid song singing the praises of technology (with tongue firmly in cheek).  In a better world, it would've been a huge hit and we'd all be sick to death of it by now.  The secret of course is in the band's name.  The RED guitars.  They were serious about their left-side politics and not about to cut any deals with the sly cannibals who ran the music biz.

Queen - drowse
Queen wasn't all fantasy even as they were going mid-70s megaHUGE.  Case in point, Drowse – a song about being young, depressed, going nowhere but the darkest depths of your room.  Like something Brian Wilson and David Bowie would've come up with if they'd ever managed to write a song together.  

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