Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Countdown #7 - roll away the spikes

(Broadcast Jan-21-2012 -
podcast available here).   All comments are from Philip Random's notes.  The full countdown list (so far) can be found here.  Links are not necessarily to the exact same recordings that got played on-air, but we tried.  

Tupelo Chain Sex - the dream
It's a Sunday night, sometime in 1985. Tupelo Chain Sex, a band virtually nobody's heard of (let alone heard) are playing at the Luv Affair.  Which kind of sucks.  Sunday shows are always low energy, everybody too spent from the weekend.  But I go anyway, having heard a few cuts on the radio (CITR, of course – who else who would play them?) and seen the album cover. The live show kills – sort of punk meets old fashioned rock and roll, by way of ska and jazz, if that makes any sense.  English mohawk guy on vocals, big middleaged guy on BIG saxophone, crazy even older black guy called Sugar Cane on electrified fiddle.  Word spread fast.  Best band ever that nobody's heard of.  The promoter quickly books them for another show.  Next night, the club's packed.  Fights break out courtesy of big football morons who don't grasp the subtleties of mosh pit etiquette (same as it ever was).  It all spills into the street before it's over – riot on a Monday night.  I just hang out in the alley with my friend James and get high.  

Clash - street parade
If London Calling was the greatest rock and roll album of the 80s (even if it was released at the dead end of 1979), then Sandinista was simply (and significantly) bigger.  Not just three slabs of long playing vinyl to London Calling's two, but MUCH MORE SOUND – more tangents, more explorations, dubs, re-dubs, versions, visions.  As if these four guys (and their various studio compadres) somehow managed to digest the whole world – not World Music so much as what the world actually sounded like.  The arrival on the local scene of some genuinely strong and clean LSD definitely helped in allowing one to see things in this regard.  Someday I should write a book about it. 

Captain Beefheart - sugar + spikes
If you haven't heard the four sides of Trout Mask Replica, you need to.  The 60s were winding down.  The revolution wasn't coming any time soon.  The war was still raging in Vietnam.  Somebody had to try something entirely different.  Enter the Captain and his producer, one Frank Zappa.  The result is, as I once heard it put, music to listen to when you don't really want to hear music.  Sugar + Spikes is as close as any of gets to what one might have called a single.  

Boo Radleys - the finest kiss
It's hard to find a date on this one so call it 1992, the year the Boos achieved escape velocity – at least they did in my heart and soul.  Take the noise of My Bloody Valentine, the raw guitar epiphanies of Dinosaur Jr and fuse them to a sweet little pop song about that girl with the finest kiss going.  The resulting force of nature mixed nicely with all the feel good drugs that were proliferating at the time.  Not that you put on the Boos while you were flying on E – no, you saved them to help fill those gaps in between when your serotonin was depleted and you genuinely needed a reason to carry on … until the next time.  My liver still gives me shit about all that.

Yes - Remembering The Ancient [randoEDIT]
At the risk of opening up a very deep can of worms, I can't help but credit Yes's most difficult album, Tales From Topographic Oceans, with allowing me to set things straight with the Alien when it mattered most.  That is, when put the question of "what is this thing you keep calling reality?", I found myself reflecting on the album's liner notes wherein all aspects of human experience were reduced to four basic themes (like the four winds, the four seasons).  1. reality's the stuff that our senses reveal to us as we pass through day to day life.  2. reality's also the stuff we remember, not just our own memories, but all recorded history.  3. reality's also the ancient stuff that precedes all that memory but lives on in us regardless.  4. reality is all those rituals we enact to make sense of it all, bring it all together, give it communicable form.  I was pretty fucking sharp that night – might've just saved all of humanity. 

Mott the Hoople - roll away the stone
The lyrics have something to do with Jesus, I think.  The old rise from your alleged death trick – roll away the stone, exit your tomb and embrace life everlasting, set all humanity free forever and ever, amen, then party, rejoice, shake a leg, maybe dance some rockabilly.  Not bad for a little 3 minute pop song.
Three Dog Night - family of man
Because there had to be at least one Three Dog Night song on this list.  And also because of whatzizname – quiet kid in Grade 8 or 9 English with long black hair that was always in his eyes.  We were supposed to choose a poem we liked and illustrate its meaning with some kind of drawing or collage.  He chose Family of Man, which was apparently about how humanity was destroying the planet.  He didn't say much, just planted his collage of ecological ruin on the rim of the blackboard (oil spills, smokestacks, millions of dead fish), then played the 45 on the tinny little record player he'd checked out of the Resource Centre.  I'm pretty sure he got an A.   

Mark Stewart + Maffia - liberty city
It was a bad period – late 1988, the Winter of Hate in full effect.  I was broke, working hard long hours because I had mouths to feed.  Mark Stewart's Liberty City pretty much said it all.  "Trying to pay the rent, the main worry's job security.  The busier you are, the less you see."  I've never felt less free.  And yet there was good herb to be had, BC Bud really starting to prove itself, which went damned well with these dubbed out dirges of struggle and resilience.  "Be strong," they said.  "Resist."

My Bloody Valentine - when you sleep
The problem with any My Bloody Valentine record is, inspired as it might be, it doesn't exist in the same universe of astonishing sonic WONDER as the My Bloody Valentine live experience.  Case in point – When You Sleep from Loveless, a richly textured, nicely driving pop song, with a strong, dreamy edge … on record.  Whereas live, in the Commodore, 1992, it was a gauntlet thrown down by the gods.  Swoon in our psychedelic complexity, they demanded.  And maybe half the crowd did.  The other half were gone before show's end.  Those are the ones who all have mortgages now. 

David Bowie - speed of life
To clarify.  You know that big ass DRUM sound that came to define the 1980s, which everybody says Phil Collins and/or Peter Gabriel invented in around 1980?  Well, everybody's wrong, because here it is in 1977 on the first of David Bowie's post cocaine psychosis Berlin albums.  One side was mostly ambient, the other had the beats, big and otherwise.  Speed Of Life stands out because it's instrumental with even Mr. Bowie standing back in awe, realizing that this is what it sounds like:  that unique moment when the future comes crashing into play, loud and clear.

Einsturzende Neubauten - sand
Speaking of Berlin, when Einsturzende Neubauten recorded Sand, the wall was still up and seemed like it would be forever, a fact of geo-political nature.  And thus the pressure wasn't just tense but unrelenting.  Of course, I had no idea it was a Lee Hazelwood cover until a certain backyard BBQ maybe a decade later.  The wall was gone by then and you could feel it even eight thousand miles away –  croquet, powerful marijuana, way too much tequila.  At some point, I was lying in a hammock and there was Nancy Sinatra doing an Einsturzende cover.  It made perfect sense.  More evidence that the Alien had messed with the space-time continuum.

African Head Charge - depth charge
African Head Charge weren't exactly dub.  They were too weird (and wired) for that, too deep into the pure sounds that Adrian Sherwood's mixboard meddlings were conjuring.  "It's like Africa on acid," said a friend one night, on acid, but at least ten thousand miles from Africa. As for Mr. Sherwood himself, he just said he was having fun, experimenting with frequencies, noise, rhythm and razor blades.

Collectors - what love suite
The Collectors came from Chilliwack (the town) and eventually, they became Chilliwack (the band).  Listen to side A of their debut album you hear a band doing a pretty damned good job of pulling off a Mamas + Papas vibe.  But put on Side B and shit gets way more serious and intense.  It's all one big suite called What Love? and what it is, is an epic eruption of quietLOUDquietLOUD musings and rants on love's many colours, some of them quite strange and violent indeed.  A pompous, overblown Doors rip off?  Maybe.  But I didn't hear it until almost thirty years after the fact and even then it kind of freaked me out.  Love has always torn us apart.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Countdown #6 - some brimstone morning

The Randophonic All Vinyl Countdown + Apocalypse (the 1,111 Greatest Records You Probably Haven't Already Heard) cracked the 1,000 mark this week, so it's as good a time as any to point out a few of the so-called rules and clarify who this Philip Random guy was (still is?).  As always, the latest podcast can be found here (originally broadcast Jan-14-2012), and all the old ones as well (special thanks to CiTR.FM.101.9).

The following are highlights from our latest show.  All comments are excerpted from Philip Random's rather copious notes.  Youtube links are not necessarily to the same exact recordings that got played on-air, but we tried.

Singing Fools - Apocalypso
It was the mid 1980s and the doomsday clock kept ticking closer and closer to midnight.  The ice caps were melting.  Chemical plants were breaking down, wiping out entire towns.  Nuclear reactors were melting down, shutting down entire regions.  The President was a born again Christian with a firm belief in end times theology.  It was the mid 1980s and everybody was dancing the Apocalypto.

Sly + the Family Stone - spaced cowboy
You didn't get to hear much of Sly Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On when it was new, certainly not if you were stuck out in suburbia.  But what little did you hear was enough to make it clear:  the 60s were over, with only crushed and dying flowers left in their wake.  A darker, meaner time was on us, even if we were all still getting HIGH and SPACED.

Sweeny Todd - if wishes were horses
Truth is, I wasn't cool in 1977.  Because if I was, I would've been helping invent punk rock, not lining up for Supertramp tickets.  But you know who else wasn't cool?  Bryan Adams, who I'm pretty sure went to my high school, for a while anyway.  He was the rock and roll looking guy, with the feathered hair and the sort of duds that might have had a place on stage but walking down the hall to Chemistry with Mr. Faulkner –  they just looked dumb.  But you did notice him.  Later we found out he was already in a big deal band, with an album out and everything.  They were called Sweeny Todd and he was their replacement lead singer, the original guy Nick Gilder having split in search of bigger deal solo status, which he never really got.  But Mr. Adams would, of course, but only once he'd dropped the glam for a second rate Bruce Springsteen look and sound that only really fooled people who didn't like music anyway.  Which is a pity, because If Wishes Were Horses really had something – a bubblegum glam epic erupting with magical pixie dust. 

David Bowie - time
The actor is starting to crack here:  Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie, David Jones – whoever he was.  We all were in retrospect.  Even if you were some thickheaded suburban kid barely into puberty – the whole 60s thing just wasn't playing out as anticipated.  Revolution in our time?  Maybe.  But by 1973, it was clear it wouldn't be a political revolution.  No, it was going to be much weirder than that.  Or as my old friend Anna used to say, "If you want to be really cool, you better learn how to kiss boys."

Stone Roses – made of stone
The 1980s ended very well, in Britain anyway, not that we heard much of it in the Americas until at least 1990.  Case in point, The Stone Roses and their first album.  Here was a sound that was utterly different from all the tired tricks of the 80s, and fresh.  Here was powerful pop that was also ethereal, expansive, exploding with astonishing colours.  The future looked good.

Vanilla Fudge - some velvet morning
The Pixies didn't invent loud/QUIET/loud.  Vanilla Fudge beat them to it by a good twenty years.  And they invented the HEAVY part of heavy metal.  Sort of.  They certainly helped.  Not that we called it that at the time.  Nah, it was just the heavy long stuff that only got played on radio way after our bedtimes.  Which is where we heard it – in the middle of the night.  You'd wake up from a weird dream and there it was, on the radio you kept by your bed, always on, deep into the FM dial.  Little did we realize it was a cover of a Lee Hazelwood tune.

Badfinger - name of the game
They were supposed to be the next Beatles.  Hell, most people thought they were the Beatles.  Name of the Game would have been one of Paul's songs – sad, beautiful, pretending to be meaningful.   Later, after two of the guys had killed themselves including Pete Ham (the guy who wrote and sang it), we realized there was no pretending going on.

Cat Stevens - miles from nowhere
Miles From Nowhere, a song about being profoundly somewhere, is a genuine rarity:  a great Cat Stevens song that I never grew allergic to.  It never made it to Top 40 radio.  It wasn't on the Greatest Hits album.  So to hear it, you had to actually play the Tea For The Tillerman album, or find a movie theatre that was cool enough to be showing Harold + Maude.  

John Miles - you have it all
John Miles is another one of those guys whose timing sucked.  Because he really did have it all on his 1976 debut album Rebel.  Great songs, kickass band and arrangements, world class production c/o Alan Parsons (so damned big he had his own Project going).  Meanwhile across town, punk was breaking out, eating small children, destroying entire civilizations.  Even cutting your hair redneck short and trim and posing with a rifle on your album cover wasn't going to slow that shit down.

Danielle Dax - brimstone in a barren land
Child opera star turned pop experimentalist, Ms. Dax's textured approach to all things rhythmic, melodic, strange sounded very right as the 1980s progressed.  Yeah, yeah, yeah – we know, it's the apocalypse already, stop shouting about it.  Just give us a soundtrack – equal parts impending doom and strange, possibly hopeful light as the brimstone settles on this barren land.

Copernicus - atomic nevermore
Copernicus (avant poet weirdo who I'm still kind of afraid to listen to) genuinely creeped me out with this free rant from the end of his Nothing Exists album.  And everybody else who heard it, I'm guessing.  Like Catholic Church on acid, like Satan's confused younger brother who hasn't quite made his mind up yet.  Or more to the point, he's on that knife's edge of impenetrable science (or is it philosophy?) that seems to argue that nothing exists anyway, so go ahead, humanity, blow yourself the fuck away.  Nothing gets lost if it never was in the first place.  

Monday, January 9, 2012

Countdown #5 - hots on for nowhere

(podcast available here – originally broadcast Jan-7-2012)  All comments are from Philip Random's notes.  The full countdown list (so far) can be found here.

Clash - Radio Clash [randoEDIT]
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  The worst because it was 1980-fucking-One and THEY (the gangsters in charge) had EVERYTHING in music tied down.  RADIO SUCKED ABSOLUTELY and MTV and the like were barely getting started, so short of live shows and word of mouth, there was no way to find cool new stuff.  It was the best of times because we had the Clash at their most prolific.  Between London Calling and Sandinista, they'd just released ten sides of superlative vinyl in barely more than a year.  So when Radio Clash (the single) appeared in four different versions, all dubbed up and dance floor ready, there was no reason to doubt what it was promising.  Hell yeah!  Just launch a pirate satellite and leave the gangsters light years behind.  All cool radio All The Time, direct from outer space.  If you'd dropped enough of the ole lysergic, it felt very possible, maybe even inevitable.

U2 - another time another place
Who cares if they were hope fiends who worshipped Jesus Christ?  In late 1980, in the wake of John Lennon's murder and Ronald Reagan's ascendancy, the world needed hope fiends – any kind would do.  Particularly if there was nothing tired about the sounds they were conjuring – rhythm like a herd of runaway horses, guitar like great sheets of illuminating light, BIG VOICE, climaxes by the minute.  

Simple Minds - the American
To quote one of those geniuses you can't help but meet as you stumble through life, "Simple Minds are best understood as perhaps the most aptly named band of all time."  They meant well.  Hell, they even delivered for a while (up until say, 1982).  But in the end, they were just a little too simple between the ears.  Like in 1981, when they released two solid albums in Britain but jammed them into one for North American consumers, then took one of the hottest live shows on earth to the road – except why was the lead singer dude jackbooting around in too much make-up, looking eerily like those evil little Hitler clones from The Boys From Brazil? 

Devo - it's a beautiful world
The beauty of 1981's It's A Beautiful World is how succinctly it lays down the Devo worldview.  Yes, it's a beautiful world.  Too bad it sucks.  Because if you were young, smart, raised on the free market ideals of the ever expanding western world only to see them turn viciously on themselves as they did in the wake of the hippie 60s and the Vietnam War – well, it was the only sane way to see things. 

Bob Dylan - I wanna be your lover
Bootleg straight up rocker with surrealism applied like a seven year old with free reign on the ketchup -- a throwaway single that never found a spot on album until the 1985 Biograph boxset.  And yet entire sub-cultures have found fecundity in its Rasputin dignity. 

The Undead - somebody super like you
Take the Faust legend, mix it up with the Phantom of the Opera (before Broadway got its hands on it), throw in a healthy dollop of glam rock sleaze and you've got the best rock and roll movie ever released in 1974.  Somebody Super Like You comes from the big deal concert moment wherein
Swann, the satanic producer, unleashes BEEF, his perfect rockstar, upon the world.

Butthole Surfers - moving to Florida
The special beauty of the Butthole Surfers comes from the fact that they were the manifestation of everything any decent, god-fearing parent ever feared about rock and roll.  They were impossibly loud, and ugly, and committed unspeakable crimes onstage and off.  The story out of Vancouver in around 1987 was that main man Gibby Haynes was actually killed onstage amid a firestorm of raging feedback and strobelights.  Later, it was revealed he'd just fallen over and cut up his arm while very high on some of the local mushrooms.  The next time they came to town, the posters said, "See Them Before They Die."
Minutemen - maybe partying will help
1984 was supposed to be the year that we all finally found ourselves in George Orwell's living hell, betrayers of love, subjects of Big Brother.  Instead, if you were paying attention, digging deep, steering clear of the godawful bilge that was flooding the mainstream, you had punk rock (hardcore – whatever you wanted to call it) spreading its wings, getting ambitious, swinging hard for the fences in all kinds of cool ways.  The Minutemen did it way better than most with Double Nickels on the Dime, a double album featuring 43 mostly hard, mostly fast, mostly abrupt nuggets that managed to be smart, angry, political, and really, really good.

Sex Pistols - problems
Limey Len was an English ex-pat asshole on the fringes of the local Terminal City punk scene back in the 80s who is remembered by me for chiefly two things.  1. the dope he sold was always underweight.  2. he'd never shut up about how the only band that ever really mattered was the Sex Pistols and how they only had one real album, Never Mind The Bollocks, and unless you'd stolen your copy, you didn't really own it.  So one night, at the dog end of some shitty New Years party when he was passed out on his kitchen floor, I stole his copy.  Sorry, Len. 

Roxy Music - all I want is you
I wish I was cool enough to have been up on the early Roxy Music stuff while it was current.  But I wasn't.  Hell, in 1974, I was only beginning to realize that Deep Purple was mostly dumb.  But as they say, it doesn't matter when the good stuff finds you, as long as it does.  For Roxy's cool and far superior early stuff (everything up until say, 1975), that would be around 1982, via the memorable Margaret, who, when she got really drunk would reveal to you her secret of secrets.  She and Bryan Ferry were destined to be together for eternity.  All she had to do was wait and be true.  Later, I realized that was basically the plot of Sleeping Beauty.  

King Crimson - easy money
By the time, 1973's Larks Tongue In Aspic came along, King Crimson (under Robert Fripp's fierce tutelage) were the kind of force that could overthrow a small country.  My personal memory is of buying this album in around 1978 and still finding it way over my head.  Easy Money, being organized like an actual song (at the beginning at least), was sort of my way in.  But it was still a few years (and lots of the right kind of drugs) before I really got it.

David Bowie - memory of a free festival
Nobody actually heard the album Space Oddity in 1969.  The single didn't even hit the Americas until 1972.  As for the album and the riches therein – well I didn't finally stumble onto the whole thing until at least 1985, by which point Memory of a Free Festival (a fond and epic remembrance of a blissful 60s hippie moment) was pure nostalgia … but the good kind.  Because if you were a kid in 60s (not a raging youth, a little kid), you probably had stumbled across some kind of hippie festival, freaky people with flowers in hair, peace signs in the air, and the sun machine comin' down.