Monday, June 25, 2012

Countdown #25 - peace + perfection

Broadcast June-23-2012 - 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.
Enigmas - windshield wiper
The Windshield Wiper is a dance.  The record actually comes with a diagram and everything.  And oh yeah, the Enigmas are the great Vancouver band of the early-mid 1980s that most folks seem to have forgotten about. They had the whole garage-psyche thing down.  Tighter than punk, and sexier, but every bit as tough.  If a recording existed of their umpteen minute live version of Psychotic Reaction, it would be way up near the top of this list.  Not that the Windshield Wiper doesn't deserve its spot.

David Bowie - boys keep swinging
Someone told me that quite a few people have heard this.  Not on my watch.  Not on any commercial radio station I ever tuned in.  Not in any car commercials I've seen.  But it should have been.  A great beat, and you can dance to it.  We should all be sick of it by now.  I guess the subject matter was just a bit much for late 70s – all those boys being boys, cutting their moves, striking their poses, looking good in uniforms.  

Wire - 2 people in a room
I missed Wire completely the first time around.  Three genre defying, future inventing albums culminating in 1979's 154 at which point they called it quits, went their separate ways for a long while.  Then came 1987's Ideal Copy which was way too good to not get curious about, which eventually led me back to 154 – arguably the album that invented the 1980s (the good part of it anyway).  Indeed I seem to recall being on the sidelines when that argument happened.  The New Order team ended up crying.

Taste - blister on the moon
I remember being about sixteen, on my way to see Rick Wakeman live at the Queen E, and damned excited about it.  My friend Keith's older brother Wes was driving, but he was going to a different show.  Some guy named Rory Gallagher, playing at a small club.  Who's Rory Gallagher, I asked?  Way the fuck better than that sequined idiot you're going to see, said Wes.  Maybe a decade later, I finally got around to hearing Mr. Gallagher (via Taste, his initial band).  Wes was right.

Jefferson Airplane - volunteers
They did this at Woodstock.  Calling for a revolution at a time when such actually seemed possible.  America the Great was teetering.  If your hair was long and your soul experienced, you were talking about it bringing it all down.  But few songs said it in so many words.  And it rocked.  

Joe Cocker - give peace a chance
The other Give Peace A Chance, the one that brings down the house toward the end of maybe the greatest hippie movie ever made (and its soundtrack album).  No, not Woodstock.  There was too much mud, way too many people.  Mad Dogs + Englishmen had a tighter focus, which was a useful thing in those rather deranged days.  Just one band (a big one mind you, two dozen plus beautiful people) and the wild and colourful tale of their one and only tour together.  That's Joe Cocker, of course, on the powerhouse lead vocal, and Leon Russell the maestro holding it all together.  

Badfinger - perfection
It's 1972 and there's this band I keep hearing on the radio who must be the Beatles, except the DJs keep calling them BAD something.  And then my friend Chris buys their latest single (Baby Blue), and it's official.  This band is called Badfinger.  But they are on the same label as the Beatles – the one with the apple on it.  Maybe three years later, I'm finally buying albums on a regular basis, and one that I'm always looking for is Badfinger's Straight Up (the one with Baby Blue on it).  "Good luck finding that," says a record store guy one day.  "It's impossible to find ever since Apple went under."  Which is not entirely accurate.  I found it a few times over the years, used and stupidly expensive.  But finally, mid-90s sometime, there it was at a flea market in Germany, the cover a bit hacked but the vinyl itself looked okay.  The weird thing is, the track that immediately grabbed me when I finally got it home wasn't Baby Blue but Perfection.  Just a solid song, both musically and lyrically.  There's no good  revolution – just power changing hands – There is no straight solution – Except to understand.  True enough and yet all too sad given Pete Ham, that the guy who wrote it, killed himself in the mid-70s sometime (right around when I was first looking for the album).  And then a few years later,  another guy from the band, Tom Evans, did the same.  Does this make the song somehow better?  No, it was already perfect.

Beatles - flying
How could the Beatles have been even better?  More of this kind of stuff.  Melotrons and backwards flutes, and melodies your grandma might hum.  More FLYING.  More George.  

Monsoon - ever so lonely
Somebody told me a while back that Ever So Lonely was the first official World Music hit, whatever that means.  I mean, it's all world music, right?  Which isn't to say Ever So Lonely wasn't one of the freshest things I'd ever heard when it first crossed my path in 1982.  Not just for the purity of the vocal and the melody, but it was also a darned fine production, good strong beat, a joy to dance to.  And it got a lot of play in the clubs for a while.  

Bob Dylan - like a rolling stone [live]
It's true.  I would not be compiling this list if it wasn't for Like A Rolling Stone.  It's the single song I'd grab if the house was burning down.  No question.  Because it marks the moment at which the Apocalypse got interesting to me, when the big story I care about kicked into gear.  It's the snare shot to be specific, the one at the very beginning.  That's what did it – kicked the proverbial door wide open, and it's all been wild mercury ever since.  But everyone's already heard that record, so it doesn't qualify for this list.  However the live version does, from 1974, Dylan and the Band raving it up like the anthem it is, saving the world one night at a time.  Because that's the nature of apocalypse.  Shit just keeps on exploding.

Waterboys - the big music
I didn't really like this at time.  Felt too on the nose.  The BIG music.  And anyway, wasn't that U2's thing?  But a decade or so slips past and I listen to it again, and suddenly it serves a different purpose.  Now it's more like a souvenir of a moment we'll never see again, when such bigness could still be fresh.  And no U2 anthem can do the same, because there's no freshness left in any of them.  They're all played out.  Yeah, the Waterboys seemed to be on a God trip, too, but there's was not a definable Christian thing, bound by the scriptures.  Nah, this bigness was pagan, beautiful and wild.  Like the crash of surf on a northern shore, at sunset, everything turning blood red.

Rolling Stones - monkey man
1969 was a pivotal year in Rolling Stones land, good, ugly and bad.  It all went to hell in December with a free concert at a placed called Altamont, a man murdered by Hell's Angels directly in front of the stage while the band played Under My Thumb.  But that was only after Brian Jones got booted from the band, then killed himself in his swimming pool, or he died by drug-addled mistake, or maybe the construction guy murdered him.  And meanwhile, Keith Richard just kept slipping deeper and deeper into that lost kingdom called heroin.  And oh yeah, they also recorded Let It Bleed, maybe their greatest album, with Monkey Man, a track that has managed to not get played to death over the years.  A trifle too Satanic, I suppose.    

King Sunny Ade - Synchro System
It's summertime 1983 and we're way the hell up in the North Shore mountains.  The acid is kicking in nicely and Morgan decides to put some King Sunny Ade on the ghetto blaster – the now sound of Nigeria suddenly transported to the bleeding, lysergic edge of western civilization just as the gods had always intended.  Like strange tourist music, except we seemed to have got our continents confused.  Maybe a month later, we caught them live at the Commodore – an event of historic proportions, except somehow the ghetto blaster up the mountain felt more essential, appropriate. 

Talking Heads - heaven
As a younger man, I didn't get this song.  Not that I didn't like it.  I guess I just assumed  David Byrne was being ironic, imagining heaven to be a bar where nothing ever happened.  Where's the heaven in that?  But older me (I'm in my 40s now), well I can see it – the eternal bliss inherent in nothing at all.  Everything just is.  Merely being is enough for all eternity.  Because sometimes fun and games just get tiring.   

Cure - killing an Arab
No, it's not an encouragement to go commit a hate crime.  It's an examination of existentialism, as spare and unflinching as the French novel that inspired it, Camus' L'Etranger.  Nevertheless, we did play it a lot on radio during that first Gulf War.  Late winter, early spring 1991, tens of thousands of Arabs being killed for no particular reason, except maybe keeping down prices at the gas pumps.  Doesn't get much more existential than that.  I haven't owned a car since.    

Dr. John - Angola Anthem
Somebody actually called me up to say this song is evil once.  It was the late 80s sometime and I was playing it on my late night radio show.  I didn't take it off or anything, but it did get me thinking as its seventeen-plus minutes played out, dense and sinister, bereft of any light at all.  No, Angola Anthem isn't evil.  But it is about evil, Angola Prison, Louisiana (the Alcatraz of the South), the kind of place that hardened criminals would break down at the mere mention of, because doing time there was a journey to the past, the days of slavery.  I don't think Dr. John (aka "Mac" Rebennack) ever did time there himself, but he was locked up for a while in Texas, so the feeling is he must have caught a glimpse of something similar.  Welcome to that nightmare.  Because like a wise man once said, if we don't remember this kind of stuff, it will happen again.      

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Countdown #24 - nothing is everything

Broadcast June-16-2012 - 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.
3 Teens Kill 4 - tell me something good
Sign of the times, early 1980s.  Some maniac shoots the President.  A year or two later, some crazy artist type takes the audio from the TV coverage, plants it over some beats, turns it into a cover of a funky Rufus song.  "Tell me something good."  And nobody complains really.  Homeland Security are not called.  Welcome to the early 80s when the underground was still actually underground.  It wasn't just a marketing term.  It was a dark, mysterious place where secrets were kept and decent folks simply didn't go.

Zombies - indication
The story on the Zombies is that they'd broken up before their stuff ever made it to the Americas.  Which is a pity, because as Indication indicates, these guys could rock it, with some killer keyboards at the heart of it all.  And all this in 1966, before the Beatles got to Pepperland.

Pete Townsend - nothing is everything
When the Who did it, they titled it Let's See Action, but Nothing is Everything was far cooler, more profound to my thirteen year old mind, which is when I first heard it.  I had it on one of my first cassettes, recorded direct from FM radio (microphone jammed up against the tinny speaker, my little brother and sister being told to shut up in the background).  It got a lot of play for a while, then a couple of decades intervened and I pretty much forgot all about it.  What eventually hooked me again was the lyrics and how eloquently they riffed on all the revolution everyone was amping for back in those barely post-60s days, how doomed it all was.  Rumour has it / minds are open / then you must fill them up with lies.

Tyrannosaurus Rex - King of the rumbling spires
Apparently this is the first time Marc Bolan really rocked out.  T-Rex was still called Tyrannosaurus Rex at the time, and despite the ferocious name, a pretty lightweight outfit – too much hippie, not enough thunder and rumbling.  But that was obviously changing.  The 70s were looming, the acid was wearing off, heaven on earth was much further away than it had seemed.  Maybe it wasn't there at all.  Just another storybook fantasy, like that king of the rumbling spires.

Strawbs - Benedictus
Who says a pop song can't be a prayer?  Nobody in the early 1970s, it seems.  Some guy quoted the Desiderata and hit #1.  Some woman did the same with a sing-along version of the Lord's prayer.  Benedictus, on the other hand, never even charted here in the Americas, but it was good.  Still is.  Cosmic and true without being lame.  And it's the lead off track from Grave New World, one of those lost albums that truly deserves to be found.  Strange and powerful from beginning to end, even if the main guy's voice is a little weird.

Loudon Wainwright III - swimming song
The song's about swimming, but it's really about freedom – leaping bravely into the river, the lake, the ocean that is all life, the universe, everything … and not sinking.  Or maybe it is just about tossing yourself into a chlorinated pool and working on your strokes.  I mean, this is the guy whose monster hit of the previous year was about a dead skunk in the middle of the road, and how bad it smelled.     

Joe Walsh - meadows
This is fourteen year old me running wild and free through fields and meadows, leaping old stone walls.  Dreaming about it anyway.  Nice melody, killer guitar riff, great shout at the beginning, but it's the drums that really sent me, the way they came crashing in like a waterfall.  One of those records that urged me to grow up, get on with my life, get as far from the suburbs as I possibly could.  It seems to have worked.  

U2  - the ocean + eleven o'clock tick tock
I grew tired of U2 just as they finally made it with Joshua Tree.  They just weren't as good anymore in those huge stadiums, fifty thousand screaming believers.  Nah, it was way better at the Commodore in 1981, three dollar tickets, a thousand curious punks, new wavers, artist types.  I'm pretty sure they did Eleven O'Clock Tick Tock as the encore, and the whole show actually began with the Ocean.  But either way, the place went mad.  As a friend said at the time, it's like they weren't playing songs, they were playing us, the audience.  The songs were just what we sounded like.  He'd dropped some acid before the show.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)
It had its big deal singles (in Britain anyway) but OMD's Architecture + Morality clicked best as a complete album.  Recurring themes, both lyrical and musical.  Lots of cool textures and noises, drones and buzzes, klings and klangs.  So good it almost lived up to the pretentiousness of its title.  In fact, with Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans) it does. 

Mott the Hoople - the golden age of rock and roll
I hated the so-called golden age of rock and roll when I was a young teen.  Not the song, the era.  The Buddy Hollys, Chubby Checkers, Bill Haleys, Big Boppers, Elvis – the whole big deal 50s-early-60s nostalgia thing that was going down in the wake of American Graffiti (the movie) and Happy Days (the TV show).  I was fifteen.  I didn't need a fucking  revival.  I had Bowie, T-Rex, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, Yes, the Stones, Black Sabbath.  But I didn't mind this song.  In fact, this song had everything I could’ve wanted from the old days – all that sock-hop fun and glitter.  And most important, the critical lyric that the golden age of rock and roll wasn't then, it was now.  And it still is.  Always now.  Believe otherwise and you might as well be dead. 

Jethro Tull - Passion Play [randoEDIT-1]
It seems insane now, but Jethro Tull conquered the world in 1972 with a 45 minute song called Thick as a Brick, a dense continuous album long piece that actually sort of made sense, both musically and lyrically.  So what did Ian Anderson (main Tull man) and his crew do for a follow-up?  Another forty-five minute song, this one called Passion Play, which was magnitudes more dense as it examined such heady stuff as God, the afterlife, hares who'd lost their spectacles.  Hell, I'm still trying to figure it all out.  Actually, that's a lie.  I gave up a long time ago, because as a friend counseled, "Man, you've gotta be Ian Anderson's fucking brain to know what any of it's about."  Which doesn't mean I ever stopped listening to it –  just thinking about it.  

Passion - edit-1

Captain Beefheart - click clack
More of them blues so authentic, hearing them come from a white man can only be surreal.  Of course, he did go to high school with Frank Zappa.  Which raises the question, who the hell else went to Antelope Valley High?  And what was in the water?

Flying  Burrito Brothers - hot burrito #1 + hot burrito #2
It's been said many times before but it bears repeating.  The Flying Burrito Brothers' debut album Gilded Palace of Sin set drugged out hippie rock stars free to wear nifty cowboy duds, and mix whiskey with their heroin and broken hearts.  But more important, they could now stop ripping off black soul music, start focusing on the white kind (ie: the country and the western).  And the key thing is, it worked.  It changed everything.  As for the burritos (one and two), I'm thinking they were girls, and they both broke poor Gram Parsons' heart, one right after the other.  Maybe even stole his clothes.

Guadalcanal Diary - Kumbayah
Take a campfire spiritual, apply rock and roll thunder and voila!  A glimpse of what might just be heaven.  From 1984's Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man, which is the first thing I ever heard from Guadalcanal Diary, and the last thing I ever needed to.  The whole thing's a gem.  Even the cover.  

Yazoo - in my room
One of the cooler things about the early days of synth-pop was that the albums invariably had an experimental track or two, neat little side-trips where the artists got to just mess around with the studio and their various sonic devices.  But in the case of Yazoo's In My Room, it ended up being more than just an experiment.  It was smart, soulful examination of angst, loneliness, confusion – all the things that go on when you're alone in your room.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Countdown #23 - get a grip on yourself

Broadcast June-2-2012 - 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.

Plugz - reel ten
If I haven't seen Repo Man twenty times, I've definitely seen it ten.  But I still couldn't tell you how it ends exactly.  Something to do with Otto getting into the car with Miller (the weirdo) and going for a ride.  But is the car nuclear powered, or something altogether more alien?  And then what happens after that?  Anything?  Does the movie just end?  Clearly, it doesn't matter.  Repo Man is a movie of scenes and moments, with more superlative ones than any random ten Oscar winners put together.  One of which is that scene with the flying car, mainly because of the music.  Reel Ten by a band called the Plugz.

Stranglers - get a grip on yourself
It's Britain, 1977, and if you're not punk, you're not worth knowing.  Unless you're the Stranglers, who never were really punk.  More like punk's older brother, more sophisticated, and more dangerous in a streetfighting sort of way.  Also, they had a cool existential edge as a song like Get A Grip On Yourself  makes clear.  Yeah, society's fucked, the world's going up in apocalyptic flames.  No reason to lose your cool, man.   

Kool + The Gang - spirit of the boogie
It would've been the late 70s when I first noticed Kool and the Gang, and I hated them.  Too easy and smooth – the wrong kind of radio friendly.  But come the early 90s, I was moving backward, getting archaeological as I dug through the stacks upon stacks of old vinyl that everybody was dumping because CDs were the future, man.  Which inevitably got me to 1975's Spirit of the Boogie and one of those, Oh Yeah! moments.  Apparently, even James Brown was afraid of them at time.  Too dangerous, he said, to have on while he was driving.

Dub Syndicate - the show is coming
I listened to a lot of dub in the 1980s.  It just seemed the thing to do –  gave all that  societal corrosion and apocalyptic immanence a relevant soundtrack.  Often as not, I never really noticed particular cuts, just threw on mixtapes, got lost in the timeless beats and echoes.  But every now and then, something stood out, like the Dub Syndicate's The Show is Coming, because it had a pile of smart samples and it was one tough, rock-steady groove. 

Pop Will Eat Itself - shoot it up
No, as a matter of fact, there's no intended significance in this being the 6-6-6 number on the countdown.  It just worked out that way.  Garage psyche-rock punk malcontents (with a beatbox) take on an annoying Sigue Sigue Sputnik hit, remove all the bullshit sheen and polish and deliver a raucous few minutes of delirious popNOISE.  No Satan involved.

Negativland - escape from noise
Album of the year 1988, assuming you'd pretty much had it with music by that point, which I had.  Not that there weren't cool songs continuing to percolate.  NOISE just seemed more relevant.  And there was no escaping it (still isn't), except by diving full-on into it, which is really what this whole album's about.  And it's hilarious.

The Jesus + Mary Chain - kill surf city
I have no memory of when I first heard this.  One of those songs that just sort of percolated into my conscious in that aforementioned noisy year 1988, not unlike a terrorist bomb in reverse.  All nasty up front and around the edges but get to the heart of it and you realize there's a beautiful little song humming along.  

John Lennon - well [baby please don't go]
Lennon and Zappa together at last, tearing through the history of rock and roll with all due savagery and respect.  Even Yoko's bleating can't hold the thing down.   

Frank Zappa - I'm the slime
In which Mr. Zappa ditches the Junior High humor for a few minutes and spits out the necessary truth about all that slime that was oozing out of TV sets back in the early 70s (and it still is).  Not just gross, perverted, vile, pernicious, obsessed and deranged, but a tool of government (and industry too) destined to rule and regulate.  And yet we keep watching.  Wouldn't want to miss anything. 

Alice Cooper - muscle of love
Alice Cooper (the group) was one of the great rock and roll outfits to ever rock a stage, outrage a parent, drive a young boy (or girl) wild.  But by late 1973, that was ending.  Alice Cooper (the guy) was about to part ways with his band and become just not that interesting anymore (the commodified showbiz version of the genuine threat he'd once been).   But they all still had one album left in them, rude and strong.  And as was pointed out to me at the time by an older guy on my hockey team, your muscle of love is NOT your heart.  

Jimi Hendrix - nine to the universe
Quoting my good friend Mark (who was stoned at the time):  "The only essential Hendrix albums are the ones he recorded while he was still alive."  By which I'm pretty sure he meant, the ones that were released while he was still alive.  But Mark did allow that 1980s Nine To The Universe rated at least half an exception, "Because, man, some of that stuff just tears your head off."

King Crimson - Asbury Park
To clarify.  King Crimson formed in 1969, quickly knocked the world onto its side by more or less inventing so-called progressive rock, then proceeded to do just that for the next five years.  They progressed.  The line-up was ever mutating.  The sounds were always challenging.  Only one thing remained unchanged.  Robert Fripp remained seated as he played his planet fracturing guitar.  Asbury Park comes from the last King Crimson tour after which Mr. Fripp shut the whole outfit down because he'd come to despise the music industry.  Not that he and the King Crimson brand wouldn't return half a decade later.  But that is another strange story.     

Aphrodite's Child - the end of the world
Strange dollop of Greek POP psychedelia that's creepy in all the right ways.  No, child, the end of world is not all fire and brimstone, plagues and pestilence.  It's just a quiet little place I know about, far, far away from your parents and your friends.  I promise we won't do anything you don't want to.   

Woodentops - move me
It's maybe 1986 and the Commodore is packed – some big deal band about to play.  But first there's the warm up act.  Some outfit nobody's ever heard of called Wood-something.  They open with a pumped acoustic thing that proceeds, over its three or four minutes, to amp up into something so extraordinary that we all knew who they were by the time it was done.  The Woodentops, and holy shit what a drummer!  I have no memory anymore of who the headliners  were.   

Barclay James Harvest - suicide
From my lame, late teenage phase of doing everything I could to avoid punk rock (for various lame, late teenage reasons).  This tendency led me down a lot of stupid roads, but as is always the case with music, there was still gold to be found.  In the case of Suicide, there's not just the song itself (all sorrowful and epic) but also the coda, the suicide, wherein binaural recording techniques are employed to impart to the listener a visceral feel for what it's like to hurl yourself off the edge of a building, achieve terminal velocity then SMACK.  Actually, it's more of a thunk.