Thursday, May 31, 2012

Countdown #22 - pleasure + sand

Broadcast May-26-2012 - 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.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Welcome to the Pleasuredome [randoEDIT]
1984 was Frankie's year.  The root of it, I figure, was a line from Two Tribes (which won't be on this list because I'm assuming you've heard it).  "Are we living in a land where sex and horror are the new gods?"  The land they were from was England, but given the degree of international success they had, it's safe to say they were speaking of the whole mad Cold War world.  Which would have put the Pleasuredome everywhere apparently, with the bombs about to fall, the shit about to hit -- decreed by no less than Kubla Khan if you know your Coleridge (but no, knowing your Rush lyrics doesn't count).

Trouble Funk - drop the bomb
Recorded Live in London but their hometown was Washington, DC, where a friend of mine found himself on business more than once in the late 80s.  I remember him trying to describe a Trouble Funk show to me.  Like rap, except not at all really because they weren't rapping, and there was a full-on band.  But man did people go wild to it. 

Led Zeppelin - nobody's fault but mine
This one comes from Presence, the good heroin album (as my friend Mark used to put it), the shitty one being In Through The Out Door (Jimmy Page so fucked up he just left most of it to John Paul Jones).  Either way, the Zep's days of full-on Satanic world dominance and glory were slipping past them by 1976, which didn't stop them from laying down some of the evilest blues mankind has ever known.  Even if, in this case, it was a song about taking responsibility for the mess you're in, which, when you think about it, is very un-Satanic behaviour. 

Pogues - Turkish Song of the Damned
If I Should Fall from Grace with God is the album where the Pogues made it clear.  They were way more than just a rowdy gang of ex-punks who figured their parents folk music went well with too much alcohol and drugs.  They were worldbeaters now, with a raw handle on their roots-based instrumentation that let them go pretty much anywhere they cared musically, slay any dragon.  Only the aforementioned alcohol and drugs (and more alcohol) could stop them, which it did.  

Slow - Bad Man
Let's be clear about it.  Slow invented so-called Grunge a good half decade before most of the world ever heard of Nirvana.  Four dysfunctional boys from the mean streets of Vancouver's plush west side making it clear you could love punk rock and the classic rawk likes of Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, ACDC, The Rolling Stones (a truly radical concept at the time), and better yet, the two went beautifully, raucously, dangerously well together.  I remember seeing Slow one night at the Arts Club on Seymour (long gone now) at their atom smashing peak.  They opened with a Temptations cover, but the crowd quickly got over that shock once the singer guy hopped up onto all the front row tables and kicked everybody's beers into their laps.  A very bad man indeed, even if he was just a teenager at the time.  

Sally Oldfield - water bearer
Smooth, ethereal, fresh as the waters of Rivendell itself, Water Bearer (the album and the song) isn't just redolent of the Elven music you were likely to hear at Elrond's joint, it purports to be the real thing.  Which would be laughable if it wasn't just so NICE (and I mean that in the nicest possible way).  Or like I previously noted about Abba being the musical equivalent of taking a hot bath, then going to bed with clean sheets, except here the sheets are woven from some mystical silk that's not just lighter than any feather, it actually transports you to a dream realm where all the secrets of eternity are revealed, and everything is proven to be gold, with touches of mithril around the edges.  

Brothers Johnson - strawberry letter #23
From one of those mystery albums that just seemed to end up in my pile sometime in the mid-90s (I probably grabbed it at a yard sale).  And it's all very nice, groovy and smooth, but then Strawberry Letter #23 comes along and takes things to a whole other level of invention.  Music you can taste as well as feel. 

T-Rex - the slider
It seems that Motron and I are still arguing.  Electric Warrior versus The Slider.  And he's still winning, here with the title track from The Slider which, as with pretty much all T-Rexian gems, makes no particular sense until you decide it's like those warnings you used to get on porn-films:  "completely concerned with sex".  In other words, way over my head when it was new, even as my head was completely concerned with sex – I just couldn't see past it.  Glam was definitely a strange thing to have erupting all around you in the pubertal suburbs of the early 70s.  Thank all gods for that.  

Queen - march of the black queen
Say what you want about Queen and their crimes of pomp, excess, absurdity; when their second album hit in 1974, it was unlike anything the world had ever heard, unless you'd heard the first one, but this one was even more so.  The full metal raunch of Led Zeppelin, the camp 19th Century operatics of Gilbert and Sullivan, the heartfelt harmonic longing of the Beach Boys, the brash pop adventuring of the Beatles, Phil Spector's Wall of Sound.  And glam.  And it worked.  And if you were fourteen, fifteen years old getting by on five bucks allowance a week, what better album was there to buy with your meagre funds, but one that had EVERYTHING on it.  In the case of March Of The Black Queen, it was all in the same song.

Nancy Sinatra + Lee Hazelwood - sand
It's 1968 and even Frank Sinatra's little girl is getting into the weird stuff, with a lot of help from Lee Hazelwood, who (as the story goes) earned himself a talking-to from a couple of Frank's hefty friends from the old neighbourhood for songs such as Sand.  Which, it's worth noting, I didn't hear until after I'd encountered Einsturzende Neubauten's rather bleak mid-80s cover version.  Strangely, the original feels even darker.  

Black Oak Arkansas - Uncle Lijah
I remember seeing these guys on late night TV when I was maybe fourteen, and being impressed by A. the singer's snarling vocals, and B. the band smashing all their gear at the climax of the set.  Imagine my surprise maybe twenty-five years later when I discovered they were actually a great, kick ass southern-fried rock and roll band – where the redneck howl of Lynyrd Skynyrd met the deep, evil swamp blues of Captain Beefheart (or perhaps Howling Wolf).  And, it's worth noting, David Lee Roth pretty much stole his entire look from front man Jim Dandy.  

Tall Dwarfs - crush
My friend Carl brought Slugbucket Hairybreath Monster (the EP) back from New Zealand in the mid-80s.  He dragged a whole pile of vinyl back actually, but this is the only slab that mattered enough to me to eventually own.  Garage-psychedelia by way of lo-fi bedroom recording that was as sharp, as grimy, as fresh, as messy as anything anyone else in the world was offering.  Crush gets chosen for the list for the sheer urgency of its groove, the cardboard box sounding drum sound, and the lyric.  What do you do when you find out that everyone loathes you?

Pink Floyd - careful with that axe, Eugene
It would've been summer 1972.  I'm almost thirteen and trying to convince some other kid how cool Alice Cooper is, simply because the songs are so evil.  He turns up his nose and says, "But he could never be as cool as Careful With That Axe, Eugene.  That crazy scream when he just murders everybody."  Of course, being in the middle of nowhere, he couldn't actually play it for me.  No, I'd have to wait a good ten years before I finally stumbled onto the right version, the one where he screams so loud and eldritch it can't help but shake you up – the live one from the late 60s that ended up on Umma-Gumma.

Can - future days
It's 1973 and Can (probably the greatest band that most people have never heard) are touching both the peak and the end of their glory days.  Not that they don't still have some great music in them – it just won't ever get back to this soft, strange almost subliminal power.  Because vocalist, front man Damo Suzuki is slowly fading away, not to return.  Which, in a way, makes for their best (certainly their most consistent) album.  Like a sweet dream of a future that actually came true, because there I was, a good ten or twelve years after the fact, hearing it for the first time and it was perfect, it was exactly what the mid-80s felt like when the drugs were just right and the nuclear winter rains stopped falling.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Countdown #21 - wheels of confusion

Broadcast May-12-2012 - 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.

David Byrne + Brian Eno - mea culpa
Pivotal, seminal, pioneering – My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts is more than just an album without a weak link. It changed music. Like a soundtrack for all your favourite fever dreams. Which meant it was great for epic doses of LSD, assuming you're up to it. I wasn't always. I recall once hearing Mea Culpa at gloomy, January dusk, a riverbank, a cold breeze blowing. We were in the flight path of the local airport. I was convinced an incoming plane was crashing. Then I realized, it wasn't the plane. It was me.

Embryo - Strasse Nach Asien [randoEDIT]
It's 1979. The 60s are over, gone, get over it. Or, if you're a crowd of German hippies with hot musical chops, pile into a bus with a film crew and a load of recording gear and go further, go east, across Persia, Afghanistan, down the sub-continent into India, mix it up with masters and untouchables, deliver something timeless. 

T-Rex - Buick MacKane
We were arguing just the other night, Motron and myself. What's the essential T-Rex album? I was on the side of 1971's Electric Warrior. He wasn't budging from the next one, 1972's Slider. My argument was simple enough. NOTHING could ever top Bang A Gong, heard by my ears a million times, yet my ears still weren't tired. He countered with Buick MacKane, heavy and wild. And more to the point, "A girl named Buick. Did her parents call her that? Was it a nick-name? Did she actually legally change her name? But I don't want to know the real answer. The song is answer enough." We stopped arguing, drank more Scotch. 

Black Sabbath - of confusion
The official history lesson would be something like, " … after three albums inventing and defining what would eventually come to be the CORE of heavy metal – it was time for Black Sabbath to expand, roll with the progressive changes of the moment, but still stay HEAVY." But for me, twelve or thirteen, catching random pieces on late night radio, it was just this unimaginably DEEP stuff that seemed to be about everything that was weird and wrong with the world. Wheels of Confusion indeed, crushing anything that got in their way. And so cool. 

Robert Fripp + Peter Gabriel - exposure [randoEDIT]
Exposure's a song (for lack of a better word) that Peter Gabriel and Robert Fripp put together for Gabriel's second album … with PUNK erupting in the background. Bleak, abrasive, creepy – it was determined (it seems) to drive some kind of a wedge. Then, to drive the point home, Fripp made it the title track of his 1979 solo album (his first release after five years in the wilderness, laying low, hanging with various mystics and disciplinarians). Attached now was a different singer (a woman named Terre Roche) who took things even further than Mr. Gabriel to the point of HURTING. Because, to quote Mr. Fripp, " … the old world, characterized by large, unwieldy and vampiric organizations, was dead." And what did the new one sound like? Small, independent, mobile, intelligent. And definitely up for a fight. 

Dave Davies - death of a clown
A darned fine single from the English version of the Summer Of Love, which I wouldn't hear until at least the mid-90s -- my post-grunge phase where I'd listen to pretty much anything that wasn't heavy, angry, and in need of a shave and a haircut. Reminds me of former roommate Dale who had it on one of his all-time fave mixtapes, right next to some John Coltrane as I recall. The mid-90s were like that. 

Eric Clapton - lonesome and a long way from home
Every life has its earworms. This is definitely one of mine. Always just hanging there, ready to slip into consciousness when I'm feeling sorry for myself. Not that I've ever been a huge Eric Clapton fan (Hendrix was always more relevant, and Jimi Page, Steve Howe, Neil Young, Duane Allman). Nor have I been perpetually lonely, and where the hell is home anyway? "It's over there somewhere," as my friend Steve used to say, "Always over there."

Captain Beefheart - Dachau blues
It's 1969 and, with the likes of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin stomping the terra, the blues just keep getting heavier and heavier. But the Captain's way beyond all that. He knows there's no blues heavier than those Final Solution Blues – as lowdown evil as it ever got. From an album where everything else is full-on DADA to the point of utter mayhem, there's no doubt what this one's about. 

Einsturzende Neubauten - morning dew
It's hard to even imagine now what it must've been like to be living in Berlin (east or west) in the mid-1980s. Cold War on steroids, nuclear Armageddon more imminent than at any time since the early 1960s, and you're right there, where the two opposing worlds meet. Yeah, the Wall's doomed to come down in a couple or three years, but you don't know that. As far as you're concerned, it's an eternal fact, obscene and blazing hot with friction. So what do you do about it? You dig deep, sing the blues, maybe smash a few chunks of genuine heavy metal. 
Al Kooper + Stephen Stills - season of the witch
It's called Super Session (Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield + Stephen Stills) but read the fine print and you'll discover they all never actually play together on the same song. But so what? It's hot stuff anyway and the Stephen Stills extended jam on Donovan's creepy Halloween hit goes all kinds of cool places. 

Clash - the call up
Have I raved enough yet about how indispensably, imperfectly essential Sandinista is? Three slabs of vinyl, thirty-six songs, jams, dubs, meltdowns, whatever you want to call them. Not World Music but what the world actually sounded like in 1980 (everything as always happening at once). Including war, here-there-everywhere, young men being called up for duty, all too often heeding it. Which is what the Call-Up's about. Don't fall for it, young man. Remember, there's a rose you want to live for.

Camel - Nimrodel
It must've made perfect sense at the time (the early-mid 70s). Let's write rock songs about Lord Of The Rings stuff. Of course, most of what the world ended up hearing was pretty dumb (even Led Zeppelin fell into that hole). But there's something about Nimrodel (by Camel) that still works. Maybe it's the lack of vocals, and the tendency of the singer to mumble what little he does sing, so you don't really focus on how silly it is. Or maybe it's just the smooth and beautiful sweep of it all, like great winds blowing in off the desert, which isn't really Middle-Earthian at all. More Eastern. One thing is clear. It was great stuff to listen to you when you were high. Still is.

Public Image Ltd - ease
Nobody saw this coming in the mid-80s – Johnny Rotten hooking up with Bill Laswell, Ginger Baker, Riuchi Sakamoto, Stevie Vai, and cranking out the closest thing to Led Zeppelin HEAVY anybody had heard in better part of a decade. Loud, hard, epic even, with Ease being the track that takes things the furthest. Hell, I'm still trying to catch it. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Countdown #20 - I must not think bad thoughts

Broadcast May-5-2012 - 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.
Propaganda - dream within a dream
They say you finally know what a decade sounds like by its middle year.  So for the 1980s, I'm choosing Propaganda, mostly forgotten now, but trust me, this is what 1985 sounded like.  Big, majestic, mysterious, definitely with a dark side – a dream within a dream indeed.  All credit to the band themselves who I know nothing about except I think the woman doing the singing was German (maybe they all were).  But don't overlook the guy in the control room, twiddling the dials, pulling it all together – one Trevor Horn whose previous credits included the likes of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, ABC, Grace Jones, Malcolm McLaren's Duck Rock, not to forget Yes and The Buggles (he was in both of them).  Pop sonic artist of the decade?  It's an interesting argument. 

Eric Burdon + War - paint it black
The album title (the Black-Man's Burdon) says it all.  Eric Burdon takes his whiteman-slumming-in-the-blackman's-world thing all the way to the edge (and beyond) and, among other things, delivers an epic take on one of the great Rolling Stones songs.  Released in 1971, but I didn't hear until 1994.  A moment I remember all too well.  Kurt Cobain had just offed himself, everybody was fumbling around in shock at Steven's place.  Some guy whose name I forget said something like, "Fuck you, Cobain.  There's always something to live for.  I bet you never even heard this."  And then he put this on.    

Malcolm McLaren - double dutch
Young Tim (my little brother's friend) turned me onto this.  Or more to the point, he forced it on me, because I wasn't biting at first.  Sex Pistols ex-manager trying to sing, high school girls skipping rope, sampling before we even had a name for it – I could not see it adding up.  Until one night, a little wasted, dancing to it, I got it.  It was fun.   Cultural boundaries were eroding, great Jericho like walls were crumbling, and I was smiling.

Jello Biafra + DOA - we gotta get out of this place
In which Jello Biafra hooks up with Vancouver's own DOA and utterly nails a cover of one of the essential rock anthems.   Maybe the essential rock anthem.  I think I heard Bruce Springsteen say that once.  This situation's killing me.  Might be school, might be a job, might be prison, a bad relationship, your family.  Doesn't matter where you are, there's only one direction to go, and that's OUT.  With a vengeance.

Nina Simone - revolution
It's 1969 and Nina Simone, one of the great voices (and souls) to ever descend upon music, delivers an album of mostly brilliant pop covers, including this rousing riff on the Beatles Revolution.  Music to change the world by.  Or as a friend once put it, if this is what Church sounded like, I'd go every night.

Lee Perry + The Dub Syndicate - kiss the champion
No argument. Time Boom X De Devil Dead is one of the greatest (mostly) forgotten albums of them all.  Wherein reggae-dub ORIGINATOR Lee Scratch Perry finds his way to the confines of Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound, hooks up with one of the hottest bands on the planet (The Dub Syndicate) and unleashes an apocalypse of mad rants, boasts, insights that only make sense once you stop trying … to make sense that is.  Needless to say, we listened to this a lot whilst tripping the old lysergic, not trying at all.  Who says reggae isn't psychedelic?

Godfathers - when am I coming down?
My friend Gary likened it to losing control of your car.  You're bombing along at speed and everything's perfect, superlative even.  Until you're halfway around a bend, going maybe eighty mph and you lose traction, with various trees, a ditch, a fence, all coming up fast.  You ARE going to crash.  The question is, how will you crash?  And what will you crash into?  Losing it on psychedelics is much the same.  It’s just a much longer crash, in much slower motion.  

Marianne Faithfull - guilt
This song made no sense to me at first.  I thought she was saying she felt GOOD.  So why so gloomy then?  Was this some twisted junkie thing I needed heroin in my veins to figure out?  But then maybe five years later, I finally bought the album and read the title, and there it was:  Guilt.  Which suddenly made all kinds of sense.  And reminds me of sage wisdom c/o the Amazing Jillian.  Guilt's so easy to avoid.  Just don't do that thing that you'll end up feeling guilty about.  Words to live by.  

Gram Parsons - in my hour of darkness
Who says there aren't ghosts?  Gram Parsons was dead of a heroin overdose before the world ever heard this album.  Which made the final song In My Hour Of Darkness way too creepy, particularly the part where he delivers his own eulogy:  Another young man safely strummed his silver string guitar - and he played to people everywhere - some say he was a star - but he was just a country boy his simple songs confess - and the music he had in him so very few possess.  

George Harrison - beware of darkness
I would've been eleven when the Beatles broke up, and then George Harrison's All Things Must Pass hit the world (and hit it did).  The big singles were My Sweet Lord and What Is Life, but I got to hear the whole thing because my cousin had it, all six sides.   Not that I understood a song like Beware of Darkness, but I got it anyway.  I mean, who cares what the worlds were saying?  The title and mournful tone were speaking volumes about the nature of the world, all the dark spirits floating around, wanting a piece of me.

David Bowie - Panic in Detroit
As I remember it, David Bowie HIT as follows.  First came Space Oddity (radio hit in late 1972), then Ziggy Stardust (various album tracks heard on FM radio which I was just starting to discover).  Then I actually saw pictures of the guy (beyond weird), and heard the rumours (that he actually was an alien, that he and Elton John were secretly married).  But by 1973, things were settling a bit.  Yeah, the guy remained supremely weird, but it was the music I was really noticing.  How fucking good it all was! 

Bobby Blue Bland - somewhere over the rainbow
I first heard this wafting over backyard barbeque sometime in the early 90s.  And it was good.  I believe I was actually playing croquet at the time, taking it very seriously, understanding that it was far more than just a game, that it was in fact an analogue for the great and imponderable complexity of the universe, and man's place in it – the "games" we all must play.  I'm sure the LSD and Tequila helped.

Severed Heads - Alaskan polar bear heater
There's joy in repetition, or maybe just madness.  And truth in the notion that way too many of the so-called Industrial Musicians of the 80s only got worse as they got better at figuring out how to play their instruments and related technology.  In Severed Heads case, that means they'd peaked long before I ever heard them.  But fortunately, that truth eventually found me via Clifford Darling, Please Don't Live In The Past, a double album full of delightfully strange excursions into what can only be called NOISE.

Steve Hackett - Icarus Ascending
As the story goes, Peter Gabriel split Genesis in 1975 and everything went to shit.  But actually listen to some of their immediately post-Gabriel stuff and a different truth emerges.  It was guitarist Steve Hackett's departure that really triggered the ugly slide into POP-oblivion.  And look no further than Please Don't Touch (Hackett's 1978 solo outing) to see how things might have been.  Icarus Ascending is the BIG ending, and yes, that is Richie Havens (the hippie black folk guy that brought down the house at Woodstock) laying down the heavy vocal gravity.