Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Countdown #11 - things are getting worse

(Broadcast Feb-25-2012 - 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.  We also tried to link to things that don't have commercials attached to them, but that changes sometimes with YouTube.
Billy Preston - struttin'
Compared to much of the world, we Vancouver types never got to hear that much (so-called) Afro-American music back in 60s, 70s, early 80s – certainly not much cool stuff.  But something was always leaking through.  In the 70s, this often happened via TV – the various late night concert shows on the American stations out of Seattle like Don Kershner's Rock Concert and The Midnight Special, or even Soul Train on Saturday afternoons.  That's where I first caught the force of good nature that was Billy Preston.  Later, I'd discover he was key to the sound of the late period Beatles (earning the moniker of Fifth Beatle), but what hooked me was just the full-on spaced out FUNK of stuff like Struttin'.

Magazine - the light pours out of me
My first impression upon seeing a photo of Magazine main man Howard DeVoto was that he looked pretty much like I'd expected.  Not a handsome man.  More ratlike, or perhaps reptilian, which made sense given the manner in which he snarled out his venomous tales of torn up romance and confusion.  And yet, he was telling the truth.  The light just poured out of him.

Electric Light Orchestra - king of the universe
1973 was a weird year.  The 60s were finally definitely over, but what the hell was this new this new paradigm, this zeitgeist, this pre-disco, pre-punk phase?  And who was to define it?  Lots of (so-called) experts at the time were pointing at Electric Light Orchestra who were nothing if not truth in advertising.  They were electric, they had a cool light show, they had violins and cellos.  Hell, even John Lennon loved them, calling them Son-Of-Beatles.  Their third album, On The Third Day, covered all kinds of ground.  From full-on RAWK to the ethereal, to the deliriously, progressively out there.  

Laurie Anderson - from the air
In 1982, Laurie Anderson was very much a stunning new thing, leaving dropped jaws in her wake wherever she went with her one-woman-one-violin-various-tape-loops show.  I remember reading an interview where she mentioned a gig she'd recently played in Texas.  It was at a cowboy bar, one of those classic booking agent screw-ups.  Except she didn't do too badly, didn't get pelted with bottles or torn apart.  Afterward, one of the regulars just shrugged when she mentioned her concerns.  "What's not to like about a nice young lady playing her fiddle and telling stories?"   

Fairport Convention - si tu dois partir
Summer 1980.  I was living in a sort of hippie house -- low rent, full of holes, so it leaked a lot when it rained, and it rained a lot that summer.  But we had acreage, no immediate neighbours, so it ended up being party central for a certain crowd, one of whom was the amazing Andrea, who never failed to show up with the same party tape.  And it was a good one.  Some punk, some ska, some reggae, some good ole rock and roll, and this one crazy folk thing sung in French that I never remembered the name of, or who did it.  And then maybe fifteen years later, there it was on a compilation album put out by Island Records.  A Bob Dylan cover of all things, by Fairport Convention.  As raw and warm and heartfelt as I remembered it.     

Black Flag - TV Party
We've all done it, wasted precious hours of our lives smoking cheap dope, drinking shitty beer, watching STUPID shit on TV.  Somebody had to write a STUPID punk song about it.  Thank God it was Black Flag.   

Lindisfarne - fog on the Tyne
I know nothing about Lindisfarne other than the fact that they were on Charisma, the same label that Genesis got started on.  Which is why my friend Gord's big brother bought Lindisfarne Live.  He figured anything on Charisma couldn't be bad.  He listened to it once, and gave it to Gord, who didn't think much of it himself, so it ended up with me, buried in deep end of my collection, barely listened to for at least a decade before I dragged it out one sloppy, stoned 80s evening, and holy shit, it was FUN, it had edge, it had drunken British hippie folkies taking wets on the wall.  Radical shit.

George Dekker - time hard
Appropriately, I can't find a date for this (but I'm guessing early/mid 70s).  Because time is always hard, things are always getting worse.  I remember a work friend whose younger brother was dying of Leukemia.  She loved this song.  It became kind of a joke.  I'd ask her how things were.  She'd raise a triumphant fist and declare, "Things are getting worse."

Gordon Lightfoot - Don Quixote
My mom, who didn't have a clue about pop music, gave me this album for my thirteenth birthday.  Maybe she thought it had some literary merit being called Don Quixote.  It definitely had something, still does.  Canada's greatest ever upright (but never uptight) baritone folkie standing tall amid the wasteland of stoned hippies that defined the times, tilting at windmills as nobility demanded. 

Neil Young - the thrasher
A song about leaving home apparently, and finding yourself "… on an asphalt highway bending through libraries and museums, galaxies and stars."  From the dreamy acoustic side of the album where Mr. Young embraced the punk hurricane, found it relevant, and thus ensured that he would neither burn out nor fade away, but live forever.  So far, so good.

Leon Russell - a hard rain's a-gonna fall
As a still little kid in the early 70s, I kept bumping into this Leon Russell guy and not liking him at all.  Too funky, too soulful, too loose for my whitebread, suburban ears (and soul).  Twenty-five years later though, the same stuff suddenly he made all kinds of sense.  In the case of Bob Dylan's hymn to the Cuban Missile Apocalypse of 1962, that meant taking things to funky (almost fun) regions so distinctive that Dylan himself would be following soon enough … but first he'd have to find himself some Jesus.

Van Der Graaf Generator - killer
Dense is an understatement, and there's nothing understated about Van Der Graaf Generator EVER, the title of H to He Who Am The Only One (which gave us Killer) apparently having to do with the equation that represents the fusion of hydrogen atoms to make helium.  But Killer's far heavier than that high-grade dirigible fuel.  It seems to be about a white shark, friendless, feared, forever prowling the oceans of the world, hungry, never sated.  Keep moving, keep EATING … or oblivion.  

Kate Bush - breathing
A song about nuclear war apparently.  It even includes a profound eruption of heat and exterminating light toward the end.  Close your eyes so you won't go blind, then brace for the shock wave that removes you from time and space altogether.  That seemed to be the intent.  What happens on a metaphysical level when an entire planet's worth of souls are suddenly cut loose from the mortal coil?  What kind of turmoil is there in heaven, hell, all the other way stations?  At least that's how Latetia explained it to me one long night of tea and apocalyptic discussion.  She had these dreams you see, eerie and prophetic.  They were wrong.  So far.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Countdown #10 - big electric vegetables

(Broadcast Feb-18-2012 - 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.  We also tried to link to things that don't have commercials attached to them, but that changes sometimes with YouTube. 
Prince - computer blue + Darling Nikki
Before Purple Rain hit, I'd already made my mind up about Prince.  He was amazing … for a black guy making a kind of music I usually didn't pay that much attention to (funk, r+b, soul – whatever you were supposed to call it).  After Purple Rain, he was simply amazing, pop music artist of the decade.  I'd crossed over, drank the paisley purple koolaid, seen God (or something similar).  Every song on Purple Rain deserves to be hailed.  But you've probably already heard most of them.  Not so Computer Blue and Darling Nikki (the raunchy duo that brought Side One to a dramatic conclusion).  Needless to say, it really got decent folk hot and bothered all over.  

Ultravox - western promise
By 1980, so-called New Wave was working through about its ninth mutation.  In the case of Ultravox, this meant parting ways with original front man John Foxx, hooking up with new guy Midge Ure and going distinctly pompously Modern with a monster album called Vienna.  There really isn't a weak track on it.  Some dumb lyrics, for sure, but the feel of the thing, the sharp, pristine elegance of it took you to some fresh and beautiful places.  

Yes - astral traveller
Yes were still just wannabe contenders in 1970 (a guitar genius and a keyboard wizard short of achieving true escape velocity), like future teenagers drunk on stolen psychedelics, joyriding in dad's spaceship, failing to get the damned thing off the ground, but somehow beautiful anyway.

KC + the Sunshine Band - I get lifted
Disco didn't really SUCK until Saturday Night Fever came along.  Until then, it was just this sort of funk music that was easy to dance to, and girls seemed to like it.   But it was nothing to base a culture on, or even a night on the town.  Not that there weren't a few genuinely cool tracks, like this one from KC and the Sunshine Band's first album. 

Midnight Oil - sometimes
London, 1989.  I'm a long way from home, out of money, lonely as hell, but it's a nice day so I'm out walking the Strand, my Sony Walkman booming in my ears (a mixtape c/o DJ Rockin' Patrick) and what should pop up but Midnight Oil's "Sometimes", not even a favourite really, but holy shit, it's the right thing right now, a rousing anthem to resistance.  Let the powers-that-be unleash their violence, push us to the wall, beat us to pulp, we WON'T give in.  And then I'm looking up at all these centuries old monuments, statues of respected gentlemen who no doubt did their bit to crush the poor, the meek, the hungry, the foreign, all for the greater greed of EMPIRE, and then I'm laughing because I realize they're all covered in pigeon shit.  

Midnight Oil - best of both worlds
Midnight Oil didn't just wear their progressive politics on their sleeve in the mid-80s.  Their front man Peter Garrett actually ran for the Australian Senate, almost won.  Red Sails At Sunset was their album of the moment (telling big scary, ugly truths about racism, nuclear apocalypse, environmental catastrophe), with Best Of Both World slotting in as alternative national anthem for the great south land.  I'd stand for it.

Donovan - hey gyp (dig the slowness)
The image is of a back country Scottish dude trying to do an early-Dylan-beat-vagabond thing in mid-60s Britain, then stumbling into swinging London just in time to catch things going all hip and psychedelic.  He tries to make sense of it, ends up digging the slowness.  

John Kongos - he's gonna step on you again
Another trip to Britain, mid-90s this time.  I end up in the town of Nottingham like a chunk of some lost century that got swallowed by the industrial revolution and never fully digested, everything dim with smoke and grime and wreaking despair.  Or maybe it was just shitty weather.  Eventually, I'm getting drunk at a pub that feels at least five hundred years old, hooking up with some cool young strangers, and suddenly I'm in love with life all over again, particularly once the DJ drops this beauty on.  From 1971, a guy from South Africa apparently. 

Sonic Youth - kissability
If you've been paying attention to these notes, you've probably got it figured out that the late 80s were a low point for me.  Health, finances, love, everything crashing and burning in prolonged slow motion.  Call it the Winter of Hate.  The lowest point would've been around Christmas, 1988.  I'm sick, back at my parents, flat on my back in my room for at least a week, with barely enough energy to get up once every twenty minutes to play another side of Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation, THE GREATEST ALBUM EVER.  It certainly was at the time.  

Mothers of Invention - trouble comin' every day
Los Angeles, August, 1965.  The Watts Neighbourhood.  A riot breaks out that lasts for five days, kills thirty-four people.  A year later, young Frank Zappa files his report in straight up garage blues form on 1966's Freak Out!  Still shockingly ahead of its time.

Sir Douglas Quintet + 2 - can you dig my vibrations?
Take a 60s Texas bad boy who really just wanted to be a Beatle, dump him into Summer of Love Haight-Ashbury while on the run from a marijuana bust and you've got a recipe for some pretty serious vibrations.  Man.  Serious enough to percolate through the decades and finally find me in fall 1999, stoned, on some un-named isolated island.  Seriously wondering if the world was going to end at midnight, New Years Eve.  Half-seriously anyway.  It settled me.  The song that is.

Arthur Louis - knockin' on heaven's door
Bob Dylan's all-time greatest dying cowboy song goes to Jamaica and makes perfect sense (with Eric Clapton filling in a few gaps).  Does anything more need to be said?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Countdown #9 - I hear the rain

(Broadcast Feb-11-2012 - 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.  We also tried to link to things that don't have commercials attached to them, but that changes sometimes with YouTube.

Jerry Harrison - worlds in collision
Even Adolph Hitler gets his two cents worth in this one – not that I'm up on the translation.  Worlds in collision indeed.  That's what the 1980s felt like – one long build-up to yet another war-to-end-all-wars, except it never really came, because the last one left us with split atoms and the gates of hell opened wide.  And enough people in seats of great power seemed to remember.  So we just hung around at the edge for a while, didn't like the view, stepped carefully back.  But what about next time when maybe there are no old men left who remember?  There's fuel for your nightmares.   

Arthur Brown - nightmare
We all know that I-am-the-God-of-HELLFIRE song -- crazy guy wailing over a kickass band, bringing a little heat to all that 1968 flowers-in-your-hair psychedelia.  But what was the rest of Arthur Brown's stuff like?  It took me a good thirty years to hear the rest of the album and find an answer:  more of the same, except more so.

New York Dolls - private world
Note the date on this album.  1973.  Lots of talk (in these notes among other places) about punk-BEFORE-punk, but in terms of that raw mix of decadence, sleeze, lo-fi grime and give-a-fuck directness, I'm arguing it all starts here with the glam punks from NYC who didn't just put on a little makeup, they wore dresses.  And they rawked.  Of course, it was better part of a decade after the fact before I finally heard them properly, put the whole thing together.  It's not like they were getting heard much in the suburbs.  

Frijid Pink - house of the rising sun
I would've been ten, maybe eleven when this version of House of the Rising Sun first caught my ear via a jukebox up on Grouse Mountain.  The word HEAVY comes to mind.  HEAVIEST thing I'd ever heard, except maybe Jimi Hendrix, which is who I thought it was for a few years.  Because no way was I going near that jukebox to find out, surrounded by surly teenagers with long, greasy hair, blood dripping from their mouths.

David Bowie - look back in anger
A ripping bit of genius from 1979's Lodger, that mostly overlooked Bowie album that came between Heroes and Scary Monsters (the one where he's dead on the cover).  Disco was dying.  Punk and new wave were erupting.  Mr. Jones was still hanging out in Berlin (actually Switzerland, it turns out) with Brian Eno, Tony Visconti, Adrian Belew, Carlos Alomar, etc inventing a future for that thing called rock and roll, sounding very much alive.

Toots + the Maytals - pressure drop
Toots + the Maytals were the first reggae band I ever consciously heard.  It would've been maybe 1976, their cover of John Denver's Take Me Home Country Roads.  I HATED IT.  The guy couldn't sing.  The band was just weird.  But then I grew up.  Hell, by 1983, a decade after its release, I was naming Funky Kingston as one of my ten or so all time FAVE albums.  Which gets us back to teenagers.  THEY'RE WRONG ABOUT EVERYTHING.  But we still love them, because they're cute, some of them anyway.

Poppy Family - where evil grows
Sometimes nothing's darker than the soft stuff.  My friend Joseph was big on this spiked bit of candy when we were about twelve.  He said it was about vampires and what happened when they bit you.  "Evil grew, it's part of you.  And now it seems to be, that every time I look at you, Evil grows in me."

Alice Cooper - I love the dead
This would've been my favourite song for a few weeks when I was thirteen, almost fourteen.  A rousing anthem about loving the dead from a guy that murdered babies on stage, killed chickens, then got hung, guillotined, otherwise pulverized for his heinous sins.  It never actually occurred to me that it was about necrophilia – actually luvvving the dead.  Because it never occurred to me that people would do such things to get their rocks off.  I guess, I just didn't know people yet.      

Synergy - disruption in world communication
Synergy was one man – a guy named Larry Fast who, among other adventures, toured with Peter Gabriel, who gets credit for helping with the titles on 1978's Cords.  And none are better than this one, because yeah, this is exactly what it sounds like when we humans cease communicating with each other, let our worries, paranoias get the best of us, only see the worst in others' actions, intentions.  Armies mobilize, missile silos open.  Cords may have been released in 1978 but it was all about the 1980s.

Moody Blues - Melancholy Man
Summer 1975.  I'm a post-puberty, pre-driver's license teenager spending the summer with relatives in a mostly beautiful rural location.  Not that I was playing it much attention.  I was reading Lord of the Rings for the first time and listening to the only even remotely decent album in the vicinity – This Is The Moody Blues (who knows how my great aunt ended up with it?).  I still think of Bilbo Baggins finally getting old whenever I hear Melancholy Man, and I didn't even know what melancholy meant at the time – just felt the deep sorrow and regret and resilience inherent in the song, particularly once the mellotron sweeps in about half-way through.  

Neil Young - vampire blues
On The Beach came out in 1974 but it took until 1991 before I realized that Vampire Blues was about oil as blood, and we who NEEDED it as vampires, which is to say, junkies, willing to kill for a fix.  And kill we did in 1991.  The first Gulf War.  At least 150,000 killed in Kuwait and Iraq, not counting the few dozen on our side.  "No Blood For Oil" said all the anti-War posters and placards, but they were missing the point.  The oil was blood.  It still is.  And we're still killing for it. 

Jimmy Castor Bunch - LTD (life truth + death)
I had no idea how rare this was when I grabbed it at a garage sale in Tacoma (just passing through).  For me Jimmy Castor was just a one-hit summer of 1972 novelty (remember Troglodyte).  But man, what a blast!  Like the 60s had never ended, just gotten better, funkier, more full-on psychedelic ELECTRIC, and serious, because nothing's more serious than life truth and death.

Culturcide - they aren't the world
Maybe you had to be there.  Mid-80s, Ronald Raygun's America, the rich getting richer, their piss trickling down to all the miserable assholes at sidewalk level, on their knees, licking it up, lining up to see Tom Cruise and Michael J. Fox movies.  There is an alternate history of the past twenty-five years where the REVOLUTION did happen.  The masses did rise in unanimous self-disgust, got hungry and ate the rich.  And it all started with this album ("Tacky Souvenirs of Pre-Revolutionary America") where Culturcide took a bunch of the more loathsome hits of the day and didn't even bother re-recording them, just smeared their shit all over the original tracks.  Never has ugly been so beautiful, or visa versa.

Klaatu - little neutrino
It's 1976 and there's rumour spreading fast that the Beatles had secretly reunited and recorded an album under an assumed name – the cryptic Klaatu It was all bullshit, of course, and thank God, because it really wasn't that.  Kind of like what you’d get if Paul McCartney rediscovered LSD and tried to do another Sergeant Pepper's, but all alone this time, and maybe drinking copious amounts of vodka spiked Cream Soda on the side.  But the last track was a keeper, something to do with split atoms, I think, and the wrath of gods thus unleashed.  The ongoing subtext of our times.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Countdown #8 - Fresh Garbage

(Broadcast Feb-4-2012 - 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.

Wall of Voodoo - call of the west
The thing I remember about Wall of Voodoo live at the Luv Affair in 1982 was front man Stanard Ridgway making fun of all the weird haircuts in the crowd (it was the early 80s and the Luv Affair was definitely Vancouver's ground zero for fashion weirdness and extremity).  Needless to say, there was tension in the room.  Someone (probably venue staff) even started tossing ice cubes at the band.  But Wall of Voodoo rose to it with their sharp, raw, sort of film noir infected gothic industrial west coast surf RAWK sound (with a cowboy edge).  As I recall, the show ended with an epic charge through Call of the West, which forever diminished the album version for me.  Still pretty damned good, but nothing like actually being there. 

Public Image Limited – warrior [randoEDIT]
Pumped up remix of a track from a less than stellar latter day Johnny Rotten album. The sample from Little Big Man (the greatest movie ever of all time when I was eleven) definitely helps.  Old Lodge Skins, the old blind Cheyenne chief, just lays it all out for us:  "Thank you for making me a human being – Thank you for helping me to become a warrior – Thank you for my victories and my defeats – It is a good day to die".  I still haven't found a better prayer.

warrior [randoEDIT]

Jean-Michel Jarre - zoolookologie
In the early/mid 1980s, it seemed there were only two samplers in the world – the Fairlight and the Synclavier.  But they weren't called samplers then, they were just these hugely expensive digital synthesizers ($50,000 bucks sounds about right) that could feed a sound into, say the hum from your fridge or a baby crying, and then muck with it, play it back as music.  Strangely, when new age synth-noodler/sleep-inducer Jean-Michel Jarre got his hands on one, the results ended up being quite funky.

Executive Slacks - the bus
Another of those seminal industrial thrash outfits who did their bit for the greater evolution of all mankind in the mid-1980s, then disappeared (from my view anyway).  Specifically, they gave us this nasty little ditty about the horrors of riding a packed bus.  "Oh no – our legs are touching."

Aerosmith - toys in the attic
From way the hell back when they were still a properly dangerous rawk band, with needles in their veins, sleaze up to their eyeballs and no talk of Betty Ford or her clinic.  The title track from Toys in the Attic is about as raw as rawk got in 1975 – punk before punk.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I heard it for the first time while wandering through some girl's living room, drunk, a house-destroying partying going on all around me, shards of glass everywhere, amazed that somehow the record was still playing.

Alan Parsons Project - I Robot
Alan Parsons hadn't gone horribly wrong yet in 1977.  In fact, if you were halfway cool (but still not cool enough for punk) you were probably listening to I Robot, digging the smooth and spacey future it was suggesting.  Apparently it was a concept album, derived from the Isaac Asimov book.  I just dug it as a better than average stoner option.  But it never got better than the lead off, title track. 

Neutral Milk Hotel - Holland 1945
In case you haven't noticed, though the cut-off date for this thing is officially August 2000, there's very little in the way of 1990s stuff on the list.  This is because it's an all vinyl apocalypse we're exploring here and I pretty much stopped buying new vinyl in 1989 (for various reasons, mostly related to the advent of CDs).  One album I did have to buy on vinyl was 1998's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel.  Because the cover's a damned fine work of art and because it just HAD to be heard in analogue form, with hisses and crackles, and other great fat imprecisions thundering up my ear canals.  And all that semen staining the mountaintops.

Peter Gabriel - [start] I don't remember
If I was putting together a list such as this in 1983, Peter Gabriel would've been all over it.  In Genesis, out of Genesis.  Obscure b-sides.  Anything and everything.  I was a FAN.  Which is short for fanatic, which is "… one who believes or behaves with uncritical zeal, particularly with regard to an extreme religious or political cause or in some cases sports, or some other obsessive enthusiasm."  This is not healthy.  I was not healthy.  I honestly half-believed that he (Peter Gabriel) was going to single-handedly save all humanity with his cool music and unblemished political and moral consciousness, and he'd do it without ever releasing a crap record, or otherwise being uncool in my fawning eyes.  But then he hooked up with Rosanna Arquette and started releasing preposterously popular songs that even horrible people loved – people who also loved Duran Duran, Power Station, Huey Lewis + The News.  I Don't Remember pre-dates all that.  

Residents - beyond the valley of a day in the life
Sampling, stealing, pirating, mashing the Beatles a good three decades before such things were hip.  The crazy thing is, I actually heard this when it was new, in 1976.   A friend's big brother heard me talking loud about how great progressive rock was, because it was so inventive, so ambitious, so strange.  So he got me high and set me straight that there were far, far stranger things out there, including this anti-group from California somewhere who were so mysterious nobody even knew who they were, maybe they weren't even human, they certainly didn't look human when they played live, with huge eyeballs on their heads.  And they didn't really sound human either.    

Kinks - celluoid heroes
I remember hearing  this as a kid and almost crying.  And that was before I'd seen any number of friends (and friends of friends) throw everything they had into some kind of showbiz career, and not just for the art of it, but also the glory, the big dream of being loved by everyone everywhere forever.  And none of them ever achieved it.  Nobody ever does really.  Those famous faces you do see – they're not really real, just hallucination monsters created by the great and hungry beast that runs the spectacle and needs to eat human souls to stay alive.    

Nektar - remember the future  [randoEDIT]
From the cover of Nektar Live, which is not the album this comes from:  "To produce for the eye what the ear heard, Brocket utilized six projectors, two strobelights, slides and liquid lights.  He has since added three screens supported by 64 sections of scaffolding and illuminated by eight slide projectors and a 16mm projector, with the entire visual show being housed in four giant lighting and control towers."  Yeah, that's exactly what Nektar sounded like to my cosmically deprived ears in the mid-70s.  This EDIT tidies up the first half of Remember The Future, a full album concept about a blind boy and an alien and how we should never forget the future, which is kind of paradoxical if you really think about it.