Thursday, April 26, 2012

Countdown #18 - what's happening!?!?

Broadcast April-21-2012 - podcast available here.  All comments are from Philip Random's notes (with some editorial diligence).  The full countdown list (so far) can be found here.  Links are not necessarily to the exact same recordings we played on-air, but we tried.
Dead Kennedys - we've got a bigger problem now
If you were even half paying attention in 1978-79, you knew the punk thing wasn't just confined to Britain anymore, but erupting all over.  And it wasn’t nice.  But even so, just hearing the name Dead Kennedys sort of took my breath away.  I mean, wasn't that going too far?  I didn't say it out loud or anything, but there it was – my lily-white, late teenage, small "l" liberal soul exposed.  Not that I even listened to the actual music.  It was just pure trash and exploitation, right?  With a name like Dead Kennedys, how could it not be?  1981's We've Got A Bigger Problem Now finally set me straight.  It was the jazzy bit at the beginning that hooked me, the stuff about happy hour being enforced by law, Hitler's brain juice in a jar, and Emperor Ronald Reagan born again with fascist cravings.  This shit was masterful satire.  Welcome to the 1980s.  Ready or not.

Queen - Modern Times Rock and Roll
Another of those punk-rock-before-there-was-punk-rock selections.  From Queen's first album where they proved they could do pretty anything any other so-called rock band could do, and better.  At least that was the argument in the Grade 9 ghetto down by the metal work room.  "Yeah but they're fags," was the predictable counterargument, which sadly, carried weight in those days.

Public Image Limited - this is not a love song
Call it an anthem for the Winter of Hate.  Because Ian Curtis had killed the love song with Love Will Tear Us Apart and his subsequent suicide.  Which didn't mean love didn't exist anymore.  It had just become a heavier, more dangerous thing.  So if you wanted some easy party fun and action, you just avoided it altogether, trusted in big business (very wise) and free enterprise.  

DOA - general strike
The history books prove otherwise, of course, but I could swear there was a general strike in the mid-80s sometime.  We the People just got so disgusted with the reptiles in charge, we all rose up simultaneously and shut the whole stupid system down.  The asylums were emptied, the schools burned, the banks blown to smithereens, the various politicians, bureaucrats and business leaders strangled with each others intestines.  But I guess it was just a dream.  Anyway, the dream definitely had a soundtrack and DOA's General Strike was the main theme.

Psychedelic Furs - Sister Europe
For some reason, this song always reminds me of a mildly upscale bar in downtown Vancouver (I've long forgotten the name) that had a live parrot in a cage right smack in the middle of the room.  And it was a loud parrot.  No, I don't think they actually played the Psychedelic Furs there.  I doubt they played any cool music.  But maybe we ended up there that night the Furs first played the Commodore, and yeah we'd all gotten good and psychedelicized for the experience.  But now, for whatever reason, all I really remember is the parrot … and the fact that the Psychedelic Furs only ever got worse after that first album.  Too much fur, as I heard it said, not enough psychedelic.  

The Jesus and Mary Chain - April Skies
Proof that underneath all the NOISE and provocation of their early releases, The Jesus And Mary Chain were first and foremost a damned good rock and roll band doing their bit to keep the western world from imploding – or more to the point, encouraging the right kind of implosion.  Stark and raw, bleak but beautiful, like those first hints of spring sunlight after a long, bitter winter.  And the Winter of Hate was definitely long, no question there.  Ended up lasting more than a decade.  

Byrds - What's Happening!?!?
In which David Crosby, the eternal hippie, lays it all out … for eternity.  It's 1966 and the 60s are happening, man.  And yeah he's profoundly confused as only an acid drenched young man can be, but it's not entirely a bad thing (note the question mark and the exclamation mark).  What it is, is a state of spiritual, philosophical and emotional critical mass, a sustained chain reaction of apparently conflicting beliefs, ideas, demands and feelings that challenge us to evolve an entirely fresh and conceivably radical new point of reference, man.  

Cure - Hanging Garden
Way earlier on in this list, I stated that I'd lost this album (Pornography) sometime in the late 80s, which was a pity because it was the best Cure album, and it was conceivable that every song on it belonged on the list.  Well, I've since found it, and in great shape (buried in among a bunch of K-tel compilations – go figure).  But it turns out I was wrong.  Every song doesn't belong on the list.  A little too much murk.  But Hanging Garden definitely belongs.  A bleak chunk of 1982 in all its dark splendor.  The rains of eternal winter were falling hard, but still we struggled for some light.

Amon Duul 2 - Phallus Dei jamming [randoEDIT]
It's no surprise that German hippies were the most extreme (given what their dads and granddads had perpetrated across all Europe and most of the world barely three decades previous).  And no single musical crowd took it further than the original Amon Duul, hanging out with terrorists, taking the political so far they quickly ceased to be a band at all.  So they split.  Amon Duul 2 were the ones that kept making music, not that they'd lost must edge on 1969's Phallus Dei (Latin for God's Dick), a fierce and psychedelic cauldron of rhythm, wailing … and jamming.

Talking Heads - memories can't wait
Three albums in and I finally got Talking Heads.  Strangely, it was a radio commercial that hooked me, late 1979 as I recall.  No music, just a voice repeating (with various weird effects) "Talking Heads have a new album.  It's called Fear of Music."  But of course, the cool rock station that played the ad wasn't actually playing the album.  They couldn't.  Not unless the consultants told them to.  And how could the consultants recommend something as strange and good as Talking Heads?  No, you had to actually go out and buy Fear of Music, or borrow it from a friend, tape it to cassette, kill the whole stupid industry.  It was a huge task but somebody had to do it.

Rupert Hine - I hang onto my vertigo
The initial full-on bile and rage of punk was well past us by 1981, which didn't mean everything was suddenly nice again.  Just not as loud and violent.  Case in point, Rupert Hine's Immunity, an album of deep shadows, strange eruptions, queasy feelings of madness, suspicion, and vertigo which had to be hung onto.  For it was proof of life.    

Neil Young - danger bird
It's the mid-70s.  The high dreams of the 60s are just that – dreams fading fast or gone altogether.  If you're Neil Young, you're hanging out in sunny California, feeling a decade older than you were three years ago, but at least the drugs are good, and sometimes the smog ain't so bad, particularly when Crazy Horse drops by.  Just plug in and play so loud it actually cuts the haze, and mystical birds of great danger are seen soaring high, fierce and beautiful.

Brian Eno - the great pretender
It says 1974 on the cover but Taking Tiger Mountain will always be pure 1981 for me.  Weird and edgy pop that was not at all afraid to just fall apart at times, dissolve into full-on abstraction.  Which was fine by me given all the acid I was doing at the time.  I needed those dissolutions, like at the end of The Great Pretender when the crickets (or whatever they are) just take over, suck us into the insect realm, pristine and strange.

Todd Rundgren - healing
The genius of Todd Rundgren is he can do anything.  Pop, soul, rock, experimental.  The worst thing about Todd Rundgren is that's exactly what he does way too often.  Anything and everything, all at the same time.  But every now and then, he just lays back and just goes with something, like the second side of Healing (the title track).  It's 1981 and drum machines and synths are in, and, genius that he is, Todd knows exactly what to do with them. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Countdown #17 - Babylon Heart

Broadcast April-14-2012 - podcast available here.  All comments are lifted from Philip Random's notes (with some editorial diligence).  The full countdown list (so far) can be found here.  Links are not necessarily to the exact same recordings we played on-air, but we tried.

AC/DC - riff raff   
Never trust anyone under twenty.  Case in point, me when I was nineteen  and way too mature for the likes of AC/DC, yet capable of getting excited about shit like Styx, Foreigner, Kansas.  Fact is, it took me ten years before I was mature enough for AC/DC.  But it had to the old stuff – Bon Scott long dead but immortal, howling down the pure rock and roll truth.  Sheer Riff Raff all the way.

Led Zeppelin - the crunge 
Chuck McElveen was back-up goalie for my Midget-A hockey team, and he sucked.  Put him in net and we were sure to lose.  But I put up with him anyway, because he had his own car, with a proper stereo, and he always had good dope.  And he loved Led Zeppelin.  He's the one that clarified The Crunge to me.  A song without a bridge, a song in search of a bridge, and thus just a riff really, rock-steady and funky as hell.  And pure fun.  If this was Satan's own band, well hail Satan, man. 

Simple Minds - Premonition 
This song came to me via a mixtape.  I was arguing with a friend about so-called New Wave.  Simplistic and annoying (my opinion) versus the cool sound of the future (his opinion).  I was wrong.  Premonition helped seal the deal with its big, dark groove, though  I still have no idea what the simple minded guy's singing about.  

Bob Marley + the Wailers - Babylon System 
I was just starting to take Bob Marley seriously when he died in 1981.  So an obscure album cut like Babylon System didn't even find me until the 90s sometime.  Which was as good a time as any for an outside opinion on the evils inherent in the vampiric (and crumbling) empire I was inextricably part of, by the very nature of where and when I was born, not to mention the pale shade of my skin.  Sucking the blood of the children and the sufferers day by day.  Too true.

Rolling Stones - jigsaw puzzle  
In which the Stones, barely post-psychedelic (already falling into harder stuff yet nevertheless at the absolute peak of their form), wax artful, poetic, philosophical even as to the nature of life, the universe, everything – find it all just a jigsaw puzzle of confusion.  But not before twenty-thousand grandmas are seen waving hankies, burning pension checks, shouting it's not fair.  

Love - Seven + Seven is 
Love were already on their second album by 1966, and definitely hitting their timeless stride.  Of course, being seven at the time, I was more into the Monkees, Herb Alpert and Peter Paul + Mary.  So I'd have to wait thirty years before I could pronounce 7+7 as a near perfect a chunk of garage psychedelia – short, sharp, and not afraid to explode at the end.  

Temptations - psychedelic shack 
No Motown act nailed the psychedelic part of the 60s as effectively as the Temptations, with 1970's Psychedelic Shack (song and album) as that particular highwater mark.   And the thing is, there were psychedelic shacks in all three of the suburbs I did my childhood time in (late 60s, early 70s).  Absolute no-go zones where long-haired freaky people hung out and sacrificed small children unto Satan if they could get their acid drenched hands on them.  Later, I realized they were just teenagers and my parents were full of shit.  

MC5 - ramblin' starship [randoEDIT] 
In which the legendary MC5 kick things so hard loud and superlative that the very rules of physics break down, all known boundaries dissolve,  music and noise fuse as a higher sonic form, Sun Ra's starship is encountered roughly halfway to Jupiter, and entire galaxies are set blissfully free … 

Pretty Things - sickle clowns 
My English friend June always said this reminded her of the youth riots of the late 60s, early 70s, even though she was too young to remember them.  It never made sense to me either.  

Boo Radleys - at the sound of speed 
You'll notice that even though this list allows for recordings from as late as 2000, there isn't much post-80s stuff at all.  That's because I more or less stopped buying new vinyl in around 1989.  So why not just place the cut-off point at 1990?  Because then I'd have to NOT include the likes of the Boo Radleys whose godlike and powerful pop was known to cause actual changes in the weather in those turbulent early 90s.  And anyway, this list was never meant to be definitive, or even accurate.  But it is a list, and as my philosopher friend Samuel has been known to say – no proper epic is complete without a hero, a descent unto hell, and a list. 

Echo + The Bunnymen - all you need is love
This one saved my psychedelic soul one hot summer day, well into the 1990s.  What the hell was I even doing tripping well past my thirty-fifth birthday?  Why was I alone in that dank hole of an apartment?  What was the fucking point of anything in my misplaced life beyond mere survival, which is the ultimate losing game anyway?  And so on.  I was on the slippery slope, pitching fast into a darkstar.  But then there was Echo + the Bunnymen in the background, from a random mixtape, their rather half-assed, definitely at least half-cynical take on the Beatles summer of love classic … nevertheless reminding me.  You're never really alone, never truly beaten, or doomed.  All you've got to do is give.

Python Lee Jackson - in a broken dream 
Yes, that is Rod Stewart singing the blues back when he still remembered how.  Otherwise, I know nothing about this track, or Python Lee Jackson.  I'm guessing it was just a session Rod the Mod did back before he got famous.  And it probably went nowhere, got put on a shelf and forgotten about.  Until Rod was suddenly too big to ignore, and cool.  That's the hard part.  To realize that Rod Stewart was once genuinely cool, hard drinking, hard rocking, always smiling.  But then he had to split from the Faces, go the Americas.

Pixies - caribou 
Track one, side one, from Come On Pilgrim, the first Pixies record.  I even heard it at the time and, genius that I was, decided it was pretty good, then put it aside and forgot about it, because I was more into noise in those days.  I needed things falling apart, a soundtrack for the corrosion inherent in my worldview.  Then maybe eight years later, couch-surfing in Berlin, a half-condemned building east of where the wall had been, a grey day threatening rain, I was finally ready.

Savoy Brown - I'm Tired 
If you were cool in 1969, you had very long hair, smoked a lot of dope, and didn't mince words when it came to your opinion on the fucked up state of the world, MAN.  "I'm tired," said Savoy Brown.  Definitely cool.   

Pink Floyd - atom heart groovin' [randoEDIT] 
The title's cool.  Atom Heart Mother.  Shit doesn't get much heavier than that.  But it's the cow that grabbed me.  I first saw it as a poster in a record store when I was maybe twelve.  No group or album name.  Just this cow gazing cowlike from its green field.  

I didn't get it.  Later, a friend told me it was Pink Floyd, who I'd heard of but never actually heard (this was a good two or three years before Dark Side of the Moon would become as common as allergies in springtime).  "What do they sound like?" I said.  "Acid rock," said my friend, with extreme emphasis on the ACID part.  Because acid could eat metal, right?  But then I actually heard some and it was … kind of nice for a while, then a bit weird, then nice again, like an orchestra or something, but with space ships in the distance.  But where was the metal eating?  Then I finally started doing acid, 1980 by now and Pink Floyd were ubiquitous.  The Wall was HUGE, and annoying, and I was fast growing allergic to it.  Eventually, maybe my seventh trip, I found myself out in the country (we were searching for magic mushrooms).  I noticed a cow in the next field, looking at me – cowlike, calm, significant, like a Hindu god.  Not like.  It was.  And fierce to boot.  A god that could calmly eat metal, but it preferred grass.   

Pink Floyd - pigs (three different kinds) 
In which the supreme dinosaurs of 70s mainstream album rock confuse everybody and unleash a work such uncompromising bile and rage, it would be confused with punk rock if the songs weren't so long.  Pigs rates for the pure sonic violence of its instrumental parts, like the worst of dreams.  You wake up to air raid sirens and a strange squealing sound.  You look fearfully skyward, catch a hint of something floating high above the clouds.  It's a pig the size of a football field, with red laser eyes, and they're fixed on you.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Countdown #16 - everything that rises

Broadcast March-31-2012 - podcast available here.  All comments are lifted from Philip Random's notes.  The full countdown list (so far) can be found here.  Links are not necessarily to the exact same recordings we played on-air, but we tried.
The The - sweet bird of truth
It's 1986 and, in case there's any doubt, we're all gonna die.  The Cold War's as hot as it's ever been with enough nuclear weaponry to kill everybody on earth at least nine times (or is it ninety?).  And if that's not keeping you at night, there's all those angry folks in the Middle East and beyond (you've seen them often enough on TV), tens of thousands of them shaking their fists, howling their rage – Death To The Infidel and all that.  Sweet Bird of Truth captures all of this rather nicely (not that there's anything nice about any of it).

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - radio waves
1983's Dazzle Ships was the last OMD album that felt essential.  Radio Waves stood out because I was just getting started on my own radio adventures at the time.  From the transmitter to the receiver.  Sounds simple until you get profoundly high and you realize it's not just the machines that are transmitting and receiving, it's the human beings that connect from either end (human hearts, human souls).  And you dance to it. 

Pop Will Eat Itself - everything that rises
On one level Pop Will Eat Itself  were just dumbshit grebos, getting wasted, kerranging away in the garage with guitars and beatbox.  On another, they were pop geniuses fully owning their name, who could take an obscure Shriekback groover, and turn it into two-and-a-half minutes of full-on psychedelic revelation.  Because it's true, everything that rises DOES converge … if you're watching from sufficient altitude. 

Bauhaus - Lagartija Nick
Bauhaus were so solid in the songwriting and performing category they could casually release a single as tough and nasty and good as Lagartija Nick and never bother to include it on album.  Which isn't to say it didn't make it onto my obligatory Bauhaus mixtape, essential soundtrack to many an mid-early 80s trip to the fun part of the dark side (or was it the dark part of the fun side).  Swallowing flames - Sinking in the snow - He enjoys feeling pain - He enjoys peeling slow.

Cat Stevens - bitterblue
Being barely twelve at the time, it was always somebody's big sister that would own Teaser and the Firecat.  She would have it for the nice songs, of course, the Moonshadows and Peace Trains that the radio was playing the hell out of (and it still does).  But Bitterblue had something else going on, still mostly acoustic, but it rocked.  And that thing the guitars do near the beginning, where they kick from sort of normal strumming into a sudden almost mystical overdrive -- holy shit!  That still feels like a view into a future we humans haven't achieved yet.

Eric Burdon + the Animals - ring of fire
I discovered this psychedelic 60s take on Johnny Clash's classic at least thirty years after the fact.  But the timing was perfect.  Drinking too much, drugging too much, stumbling through some mid-life blues, I was very much falling into my own ring of non-heavenly fire.  And here was Mr. Burdon to welcome me, sounding as always like the Tom Jones that was actually cool and experienced enough to get what the whole mad 60s thing was about – something to do with saving the entire universe by letting one's freak flag fly, even if it meant going personally to hell in process.

Kraftwerk - radioland
The mid-90s were definitely a time for discovery of classic sounds missed the first time around.  Case in point, Kraftwerk's Radioland which found me via a cassette mix that happened to be running in the background during a particularly sublime acid trip.  It was a clear summer night and we were trespassing a West Vancouver mountainside construction site – a mansion to be.  The view from the roof (the whole lower mainland shimmering in the easy breeze) was like something only gods are supposed to see, which meant the music in question had to be soul, even if it had been coaxed from the cold heart of machines. 

Fad Gadget - collapsing new people
Same as it ever was.  Those beautiful new people – they just keep collapsing.  And thus 1984's Collapsing New People has achieved pop timelessness.  Of course, at the time, with all the extreme early 80s fashions and hairstyles finally getting co-opted and neutered by the mainstream, it carried a particular significance.  Just stand there (only slightly lysergic), downtown street corner on a Friday night, and watch the strange parade corrode before your eyes, the whole devolving culture eating itself from within.

Frank Zappa - Wille the Pimp
Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart in full-on freak mode.  Dare a freak ask for more?  No but maybe a bit LESS of the noodly jamming that goes on for most of 9-plus minutes running time.  But still, Zappa and the Captain!  Who's complaining?

Holger Czukay - ode to perfume [randoEDIT]
The whole On The Way To The Peak Of Normal album's a unique piece of genius.  Holger Czukay (Can's bass player and primary sonic organizer), goes deep into the outer realms of improv, overdubs and sampling-before-they-called-it-sampling (yes as a matter of fact, he did do it first).  Ode to Perfume is particularly notable for me because of that haunting melody at the beginning – actual chunks of somebody else's song that I vaguely recognized but could never place.  And then almost twenty years later, I finally caught it it, but only because the mp3 shuffle threw the two of them on one after another – it's Suspicion made famous by Elvis and Terry Stafford among others, a genius piece of paranoid pop if there ever was one.  

Brian Eno - energy fools the magician + king's lead hat
These two have always belonged together for me, from Side A of the first Brian Eno album I ever gave a proper listen to (Before and After Science).  Being the early 80s, I was, of course, rather high at the time, so energy really was fooling the magician, luring him to some place strange and exotic, only to slip suddenly away as the King's Lead Hat came charging in from somewhere only slightly south of punk rock.  That's an anagram for Talking Heads by the way, who Mr. Eno was working with at the time.  It all makes sense now, from a distance, but at the time, I was just confused – joyously, deliriously.    

Leonard Cohen - avalanche
Speaking of the early 1980s and my young adult tendency to recklessly set the controls for the heart of the sun whenever possible (ie: gobble LSD), I finally went way too far one cold night in a vague suburban netherworld known as Burquitlam.  Long story made short (and it was indeed very, very long) -- having destroyed my ego, reduced myself to my composite neutrons, merged with aliens from the dogstar Sirius who were in fact guiding my every thought and motion, I eventually found myself in a cluttered rec-room with a big brick fireplace (not working), which turned into a face and began singing to me in a voice that sounded eerily like Leonard Cohen. 

Bruce Springsteen - incident on 57th street
I would've been fourteen, maybe fifteen.  It's 1974, a weekday night, and I'm deep in my room, doing my homework or something equally forgettable, except suddenly there's this song on the radio I can't ignore.  Sort of Bob Dylan meets Van Morrison … but different.  The singer feels younger, more hopeful, even if he is telling a tragic tale, love and violence, despair and romance.  And then the DJ says the guy's name but it's kind of weird, and I promptly forget it.  Which is no big deal, it's a great song, I'll get to hear it again soon enough.  Except I didn't.  Because FM radio was turning to shit in those days, getting programmed not by music loving DJs anymore, but cold hearted consultants who know neither love nor grace.  So it took maybe three years before I finally heard it again, first song on side two of Bruce Springsteen's The Wild The Innocent And The E-Street Shuffle, a friend having picked it up after the breakthrough success of Born To Run (yup, even the shitty commercial radio stations were playing it).