Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Countdown #35 - it's no game

Broadcast September-22-2012 - podcast available here.  All comments are from Philip Random's notes (with some editorial diligence).  Links are not necessarily to the exact same recordings we played on-air (but we tried).  Nor is every record represented here.  To hear them all, you've got to actually listen to the podcast.  

David Bowie - it's no game
David Bowie hits the 1980s in powerful form, blows fuses across all know dimensions ... and then that's pretty much it.  He'll sell piles of records through the decade, make the cover of TIME magazine, become a household name ... but he'll never be truly monstrous or scary again.  Which is either A. damned sad, or B. whatever.  I mean, it's not as if he hadn't already given us way more than enough through the 70s, from collapsing hippie dream to glam, cocaine bullshit, decadence, insanity.  And he kept his cool (if not his soul).  Did any other single artist come even close?  Definitely NO game. 

Pop Will Eat Itself - hit the hi-tech groove
Was I cool enough to be hip to this in 1987?  I'm pretty sure I was.  Or maybe it took until 1988.  Those were weird days, and really, I wasn't the cool one, it was the people I was hanging with.  By 1987-88, I was deep in a negative hole of my own making (though Ronald Reagan contributed), which was manifesting musically as NOISE and looking back, digging through cool old records, because I couldn't afford cool new ones.  Which by that point generally meant hip-hop if you were even half-way paying attention.  And I was, I guess, I just wasn't buying much, because I was so broke.  Which reflects now in how woefully misrepresented it is on this list – that and the robbery of early spring 1989.  Fuckers took all my most recent stuff, most of my punk as well.  And good luck ever finding either original hip-hop or punk used and cheap (and I'm definitely used and cheap).  Except I did find Box Frenzy, no doubt because Pop Will Eat Itself were white guys, and long-haired geeks at that.  Grebo was the name of their scene.  Just grab a beatbox and make a garage-racket, go BOX frenzy – says so on the record.

Guadalcanal Diary - Watusi rodeo
I definitely saw this movie.  The one about American cowboys going to the Congo (or wherever) killing natives, other fun stuff.  That was pretty standard in my days of early TV watching (the 1960s).  Shitty old Hollywood adventure movies where white men killed various non-white men, usually coming at them with spears and such, whooping and hollering -- served up as fun.  And I guess it was, at the time, from the ignorant perspective of my whitebread suburb.  But this Guadalcanal Diary track is way more fun, laughing at the evil absurdity of it, kicking shit on the dance floor.

Kinks -  this time tomorrow
I still get into this argument.  The Kinks are great, no question, but they're not really an album band.  And yet, the 1970 album Lola vs the Powerman + the Money-go-round Part 1 (now there's a mouthful) is the only place you're going to find This Time Tomorrow.  Which, if you're exactly the same as me, will save your life for a week or two in late winter 1996, give glue to a world that is otherwise not holding together.  I blame love.  Tearing me apart. 

The The -  this is the day
It's all in the first couple of lines:  Well you didn't wake up this morning 'cause you didn't go to bed - You were watching the whites of your eyes turn red.  Summer 1983, maybe 5AM, staring myself in the mirror after some mixed up hours of mixed up drugging.  It spoke directly to me, Matt Johnson and his burning blue soul joining me in my mixed up pain and ecstasy, telling me I wasn't alone, wherever the hell I was.  Melody was pretty much perfect, too.   

Roxy Music - Virginia Plain
More or less perfect pop from a more or less perfect moment in pop-time.  Which is to say 1972, glam eruption.  Except it's wrong to classify Virginia Plain as glam.  Virginia Plain defies genre.  It just is.  Maybe three minutes of pure, strange, deranged, driving fun. And thus a reason to live. 

441. Sonic Youth - total trash
The song's cool enough but Total Trash is mostly about escape velocity – what happens when the various rules of music break down and the NOISE takes over.  I remember seeing them do this live, having one of those profound and prolonged WOW moments that I can't help calling religious.  I remember thinking, they aren't really playing this music, they're just deflecting it, aiming it, wrestling with it.  It's like they punched a hole in a dike and now it's all just about containment.  But not even that.  Because this flood can't be contained.  All you can really do is ride with it, keep moving, keep playing, because if you don't, you'll get dragged under, and where's the fun in that?

Fleetwood Mac - searching for Madge
The Fleetwood Mac story is confusing if nothing else.  We all know the stuff that made them rich and cocaine famous (and it's mostly good), but there's an entire decade that precedes all that, and deep it goes, often with completely different players, except the rhythm section (always  Mr. Fleetwood and Mr. Mac).  You might even argue that the original line-up wasn't just the best Mac, it was one of the best damned bands EVER, with guitarist Peter Green the main man, taking the blues, amplifying and psychedelicizing them, and leaving us with stuff that barrels along nicely, neck and neck with what a guy called Jimi Hendrix was doing at the same time.  1969's Then Play On is the key album, capturing not just the breadth Mr. Green's genius, but also the psychosis that was tearing him apart.  Beautiful and gone.

Herb Alpert + the Tijuana Brass - it was a very good year
Shameless fragment of personal nostalgia, except it is damned good.  And it helps reinforce a point, which is the why of the Apocalypse part of this thing.  Because when I was six or seven years old and Herb Alpert's What Now My Love was the only half-way current pop album in my parents' collection, I had no interest in any future that didn't see me flourishing in just such lush and golden environs as this music suggested, particularly that part toward the end of It Was A Very Good Year where the strings came gushing in.  I mean, who needed the hippies down in the ravine and their weirdo long haired bullshit rock and roll?  I'd have short hair forever, and wear a suit.  But then something happened apparently.  Must've been the Apocalypse.  I believe it started down in that ravine.

Alice Cooper - second coming + ballad of Dwight Fry + sun arise
Alice and puberty found me at roughly the same moment, which means 1971's Love it to Death was at least a year old before I even knew about Alice not being a she, and all the other spectacular atrocities.  But the real shock, I guess, was just how good the music was. Yeah, it was sick and loud and freaky, no question, but it was also dramatic, melodic, and come the conclusion of side two, epic.  Three songs all tumbling into each other.  First a little ditty about Jesus apparently, stuck in hell, then family man Dwight Fry's descent into widescreen madness, and finally, incongruously, a heartfelt and hopeful cover of Rolf Harris's Sun Arise. 

Pink Floyd - astronomy domine (randoEDIT)
The early Floyd, which is to say, The Best Floyd, leaving footprints on Saturn and beyond years before NASA even made it to the bright side of the moon.  The secret ingredient, of course, was Syd Barrett, already tumbling irretrievably past the edge of the reality barrier as the original of Astronomy Domine was recorded.  And then the band just kept taking it further on stage.  

King Crimson - sailor's tale
Sailor's Tale is everything that's superlative about early-middle-period King Crimson – music that's just utterly strange and committed and assured from cool beginning to long and sustained conclusion.  It's an acid track, no question.  Wait till you're peaking, then crank the sound system and wait for that sucker punch explosion at around the 4-and-a- half minute point.  Not a sudden eruption from silence.  No this is far trickier than that.  Because the song's already revving along at that point.  And then it just goes WAY FURTHER.  The earth shakes.  The heavens open.  A gaping hole gets blown from the jigsaw of time. 

David Crosby - what are their names?
It just sort of creeps along at first but by the time it's done, it's delivered a defiantly, insurrectionary punch.  Like being a hippie in 1971, hanging out with your friends, getting high, enjoying the day, yet bemoaning the deep inequity of the world, how the rich keep on getting richer and the poor eaten.  And guess what?  The gentlemen and ladies behind it all – they live just over yonder hill.  Perhaps we should go pay them a visit, maybe pack a few Molotov cocktails.  Ah, the good ole days.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Countdown #34 - real life

Broadcast September-15-2012 - podcast available here.  All comments are from Philip Random's notes (with some editorial diligence).  Links are not necessarily to the exact same recordings we played on-air (but we tried).  Nor is every record represented here.  To hear them all, you've got to actually listen to the podcast.  

Echo + the Bunnymen - the back of love
As the story goes, ECHO was a drum machine and the Bunnymen were a few guys from Liverpool that hung around with it, making weird, angular, dark, psychedelic music.  Eventually they got a real drummer, but they stuck with the weird, angular, dark, psychedelic stuff, even as they edged into pop realm.  Not unlike early U2, except there was no Jesus in sight. As for The Back of Love, well it just rocks in a particularly sharp sort of way.  No idea what it's about, but something tells me it's more rage, confusion and tearing apart than sweetness.  

Julian Cope - world shut your mouth
It says 1984 on the cover, but I remember this being more like 87 or 88, which diminishes it somehow.  Or maybe it's just my brain that's diminished.  Either way, we already knew by 1987-88.  Anger, bile, spite were all necessary virtues if you wanted to survive the Winter of Hate.  So everybody who was thinking was already shouting down the world, demanding it shut the fuck up.  Not that the world was listening.  But that just meant we could shout louder.  No limit, no boundary.  Made for all kinds of great music.

Yes [+ Buggles] - into the lens (I am a camera) – [randoEDIT]
I was wrong about this one, but I shouldn't have been.  The forced 1980 marriage of prog-rock dinosaurs Yes and earworm popsters The Buggles should not have worked.  And it didn't really.  But there was one song, Into The Lens (the most Bugglish melody on the album), that was kind of hard to dismiss.  And then the Buggles did it straight their way a year later on their second album, Adventures In Modern Recording, and that was hard to dismiss, too.  But neither was really superior to the other.  Hence one of my very first edits which now, getting on twenty years later, seems to speak to a 1980s that never happened – a musical decade that managed to both embrace the cool new synthetic future and the powerhouse progressive past, like a cool sci-fi movie that only I saw, late, late one night, coming down off some strong chemical mixture.  It was on one of those scrambled channels.  Remember Pay TV?  I think Tuesday Weld was in it.

Stranglers - no more heroes
This one goes out to all those earnest and ponderous hard left politicos who tried to convert me back in my formative days.  I was right all along, assholes.  The Revolution died with Stalin, the supreme asshole.  He killed all the real heroes, had icepicks rammed into their brains.  All hail the Stranglers for setting us straight on that.  

Brian Eno - seven deadly Finns
Holy, light years ahead of its time, Batman.  Punk rock in 1974, at least two years before it would even begin to stick.  And there's yodelling.

Van Morrison - St. Dominic's Preview
My aunt gave me this album for Christmas when I was thirteen.  I can only guess she walked into a random record store, asked the long-haired guy behind the counter for something suitable for a teenager, and he gave her his favourite album of the moment.  Which is to say, mature, exquisite Celtic soul -- not remotely suitable for a thirteen year old who was mostly into Alice Cooper with a touch of Jethro Tull and Cat Stevens around the edges.  So I listened to it a few times, didn't get it at all, filed it at the uncool end of my collection and forgot about it for at least a decade.  But then there it was one night when punk just wasn't cutting it, and I wasn't stoned enough for dub, and all my old prog rock faves were in serious retrograde.  What I needed was MUSIC pure and true, and big as my immortal soul.

Ultravox - the wild the beautiful + the damned
This was smart, prophetic stuff for 1977.  And thus it missed me by a few light years.  Guess I was too busy living its truth, being wild, beautiful, damned ... when I wasn't getting sucked the other way, being tame, ugly, saved.  Hell, I think I even had a chance to see Ultravox in 1977 or 78, and went to see Harry Chapin instead because that's what my girlfriend wanted.  Never trust anyone under twenty-one.

Stevie Wonder - we can work it out
I have no idea when I first heard this, maybe when it was brand new, percolating away in some clean-as-fresh-laundry 1970 AM-radio background.  But it would be the 1990s before it slotted into my  regular pop, summertime playlist – all buoyancy, light, HOPE, with children playing, burgers on the barbecue, peace on earth.

Jimi Hendrix - pali gap
On a bad night, with the wrong kind of ears, this just sounds like more Hendrix noodling.  The band locks into a groove.  The great man proceeds to wank.  But on a good night, with the right kind of lightning, maybe a little smoke, it's a side trip to one of the Lord's own mansions.  Or as old friend Chris once put it, "With Hendrix sometimes, it's not the notes he's playing, it's what they're suggesting, except he plays so many fucking notes, it's impossible to grasp even a remote fraction of what he's suggesting."

Frank Zappa - the torture never stops
Apparently, this was Frank Zappa's response to Donna Summer's monster disco hit Love To Love You Baby.  "You want an orgasm on record?  Here's a proper orgasm."  Which doesn't really explain the sado-masochism of the lyrics.  But what does explain a Frank Zappa lyric past about 1969?  The music on the other hand is its own justification -- a trip down some foul-smelling, ill-lit zone where the pleasure and pain seem indivisible, and we're all consenting adults, right?  Except for the teenage boys who are getting off on the lyrics.

Tones on Tail - real life
Bauhaus have broken up, but Daniel Ash (guitar guy) still has some shadows to explore.      And it's very much worth the trouble on Real Life, a song that goes all kinds of cool places that mid-80s music generally didn't.  Acoustic, expansive, dynamic -- the right kind of psychedelic.  Bauhaus drummer Kevin Haskins was also along for the ride.  Eventually, bass player David J would be back in the picture, too, but they'd call that outfit Love + Rockets.

Gentle Giant - knots
I first stumbled onto Gentle Giant via late night TV, maybe 1974.  My first thought was, "strange".  Like something out of medieval times, with occasional rock-like eruptions.  Kind of like Jethro Tull, but with way more emphasis on the strange.  Knots (from 1972's Octopus) is based on the writings of famed psychiatrist RD Laing and is completely concerned with conjuring a musical and lyrical experience of madness.  It succeeds. 

Bob Dylan - the man in the long black coat
Atypical Dylan, given its lack of words, the great man holding back, letting the atmosphere take you places. saving the words for just a few dark, delicious hints.  In the end, it's like a grim dream that never resolves, just leaves you with a couple of questions.  Who is he anyway, the man in the long black coat?  And why does the mere thought of him fill me with dread?

Van Der Graaf Generator - pioneers over C
I probably use the word harrowing too much. But if Pioneers over C isn't harrowing, and epically so, then what the hell is?  It's about space travel apparently.  Left the earth in 1983, fingers groping for the galaxies.  Which was the initial hook for me, because that's the year I first heard this version: 1983.  It's the live take from 1978's Vital and it's darker, harder, fiercer than the 1970 original, which was written in the safterglow of the first moon landing.  But here we now were getting closer to lift-off, space and its oblivions looming larger, deeper, beyond any conceivable measure.  Which, for me, is really what the song's really about.  Not the cosmos but existence itself.  Doomed to vanish in a living death, living anti-matter, anti-breath.  No wonder the guy's howling.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Countdown #33 - into the groovy

Broadcast September-1-2012 - podcast available here.  All comments are from Philip Random's notes (with some editorial diligence).  Links are not necessarily to the exact same recordings we played on-air (but we tried).  Nor is every record represented here.  To hear them all, you've got to actually listen to the podcast.  The full countdown list (so far).  

Keith Leblanc - technology works [edit]
This is exactly what 1986 felt like – the good part anyway. Big beats (bigger than man had ever heard before), cool noise, strange new technologies alchemizing, boiling over, eager to smash the planet, change everything forever. And they did. Planet smashing was definitely what it was all about in the 80s. The planet needed smashing. Still does, always will, as long as we keep splitting atoms, and I can't see that stopping any time remotely soon. 

Beatles - everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey
Patrick Gallagher lived across the street me until I was ten. He was a year older and definitely had hipper parents than me, because every Christmas he'd get a new Beatles album. In 1968, it was the White Album, two records exploring all kinds of extremes, most of them miles over both our heads. But we liked the monkey song. What kid wouldn't? Even if later on, it turned out to have nothing to do with monkeys at all, but was John Lennon's cynical take on the great Maharishi being a bit of a horndog, trying to get his hands on Mia Farrow's ass, and how this didn't seem to fit with the great man's higher wisdom and philosophies.

Ciccone Youth - into the groovy
Sonic Youth muck around with drum machines, take the piss out of a Madonna song, turn it into a zeitgeist-defining masterpiece. At least, that's what my friend Martin thought. And he was a loud guy, persuasive. Indeed, there was a brief period, 1989 into 1990 where Into The Groovy really was the greatest record ever. Why argue? 

Kris Kristofferson - Jesus was a Capricorn
How do you tell if there's a hippie in the room? Say, "Jesus was a Capricorn." Hippies must immediately follow with, "He ate organic food". It's in their training. But that's okay, because it's a darned fine song. In which Kris Kristofferson likens our great lord and saviour to the hippies of the day, and suggests that were he to wander down Main Street, he'd likely suffer the same old brutal fate as 1,972 years previous.

Spacemen 3 - big city
Somewhere in the shadows of the 1990s, I lost the 12-inch single version of Big City, which was way longer than the album version, but not much different. It just kept on cruising, hypnotic and kind of sad, never really getting anywhere, like being alone in a great big city. Nothing to do but drive.

Visage - fade to grey
Fashion victims, we called them – Sophistos, HAIRCUTS. But the proper term was New Romantic. And we could make all the fun we wanted, they still had some great tunes, with Fade To Grey particularly notable, because it was Visage, which is to say Steve Strange, and he was the guy that started it all, shrugged off the ugly extremes of punk and replaced them with a more androgynous glam aesthetic – equal parts extreme, absurd and beautiful. And Fade To Grey was definitely beautiful. 

Cat Stevens - sitting
Every generation has its pluses and minuses. Born in 1959 means you pretty much the missed the 60s entirely, except from an outside-looking-in little kid's perspective. Turn eleven and you had the Beatles breaking up, Bob Dylan going into hiding, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin – all dead. On the other hand, turn thirteen and you had Cat Stevens riding high not just in the charts but also in terms of serious artistic cred. And with Sitting, he was laying it all out for you -- the nebulous and paradoxical truth about this, that, life in general. Yes indeed, life is just a maze of doors, and they all open from the side you're on. I still believe that. Just keep pushing hard, boy, try as you may, you'll end up where you started from. Not sure about that part. 

Minutemen - king of the hill
King of the Hill was the Minutemen's version of consciously selling out. It even said so on the record cover, (Project: Mersh). Record company big-wigs, pouring over all available data, having a eureka moment. "I got it," says one, "We'll have them write hit songs." Good for a belly-laugh. Until the word hit. D. Boon, the big guy that played guitar and sang and wrote most of the Minutemen's songs, was dead, killed when the band's van crashed. A sudden, brutal end to what had been a damned fine story. 

Love + Rockets - yin and yang + the flowerpot man
They were Bauhaus basically, without the singer, which, of course, made all the difference. They still conjured cool moods, worked powerful dynamics, but it wasn't all so gothic any more. They'd bailed from Dracula's castle, gone for a brighter, sweeter, more psychedelic scene. Look no further than a title like Yin and Yang and The Flowerpot Man, a song that seemed to be about the virtues of alcohol, strangely enough.

NoMeansNo - dad
It would've been 1986. Husker Du were playing the York Theatre and it was the hot ticket. The place was packed and wild. I'm pretty sure that's the night that somebody actually dove off the balcony. It's unclear if he ever landed. Or maybe that's just how the drugs remember it. I was definitely quite high that night. LSD. Anyway, the evening ended up being like high school sex. It was a blast but it peaked way early. Because NoMeansNo were the warm-up act and they destroyed the headliners. It was the first time I ever heard Dad. I remember it moving me to tears. I remember thinking, punk rock isn't supposed to do this. I remember throwing myself off the balcony. Well, maybe not that part.

Roxy Music - editions of you
Tight, hard, fast, and looking very good. Nobody else sounded or looked or felt remotely like Roxy Music in 1973. That would have to wait five or so years. Then all kinds of people were sounding, looking, feeling like Roxy Music … in 1973. Unfortunately, Roxy weren't. They were getting all smooth and white-boy soulful, turning into a creature I was fast finding it hard to love anymore. But that's another story. 1973 was all for my pleasure ... in 1983, which was when I finally got around to discovering it all.  It all makes sense if you're looking in the right kind of rear view mirror.

Peter Gabriel - intruder
Peter Gabriel's first three solo albums were all called Peter Gabriel, so we fans (and I was definitely a fan) tended to refer to them as The Weird Eyes (the first), Nails On The Blackboard (the second), and Melting Face (his third). Melting Face was the one that mattered most, both then and now -- the one where he finally figured out how to refine the best of his so-called prog-rock tendencies, fuse them with punk and new wave's rawer, sharper edges, and thus kick things way into the future. And it all started with Intruder, a creepy hit of atonal menace that really was like nothing anyone had ever heard. Still is.

Jeff Wayne etc - Horsell Common + the heat ray [edit]
Just because punk hit in 1976-77 and changed EVERYTHING in its nasty, ugly-beautiful, inarticulate way, doesn't mean it all happened overnight. No, culture is nothing if not a very big ship which can hardly turn on a dime. Which means that come 1978, many of us were still finding the time to light up a doob, put on the headphones and trip out to various big deal concept albums. Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds would have been one of the last of these. A rock opera interpretation of H.G. Welles' sci-fi epic, featuring the incongruous talents of David Essex, Phil Lynott, Justin Hayward, Chris Spedding, and oh yeah, Richard Burton. What's amazing is how hot the band is on Horsell Common + The Heat Ray. 

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - statues
I remember seeing this live. Commodore, 1981. Statues comes across nice and moody on record, but in that big room, packed with every serious art-weirdo-scenester in town, it was powerful stuff, shut everybody up, put us all in a trance that was both beautiful and foreboding. The 80s were always going to be that kind of movie.

Rolling Stones - time waits for no one
This got a bit of radio play back in the day, just enough to make an impression, and it was all good. Arguably the Rolling Stones' most beautiful song, epic and tragic, and only a bit nasty (because it wouldn't be the Stones without the nasty). Later, I'd discover it was mostly Mick Taylor's song. He didn't write it, but he did everything else, fought for it in the studio, played that superb guitar solo. And then, as the story goes, he was done. He quit the band, did a good job of becoming completely obscure. Apparently, heroin was involved.

Laurie Anderson - Sharkey's Day
I'm guessing that the Sharkey here is a reference to a Burt Reynolds movie called Sharky's Machine that I know I saw, but I can't say I remember it. He was a cop, I guess I remember that, and there was corruption involved, probably some wiretapping, and ugly sex, and women no doubt getting treated like shit. This was the downside of the gritty 70s movie. Sometimes the grit was less raw truth, more just an excuse for sleaze and nihilism. Or maybe Sharkey's Day has nothing to do with any of that. Maybe Laurie Anderson just saw the poster at some point, and something about it spoke to her – Burt Reynolds and his moustache riding high at the box office, and everything that said about a culture. Where do you go from there?

Bob Marley + the Wailers - war
It sounds a little absurd on paper. Take a speech from recently deceased Haile Selassie (Emperor of Ethiopia, living incarnation of God if you happened to be Rastafarian) and turn it into a song. Except being Bob Marley, it works to powerful effect – goes beyond mere tribute, gets close to sounding like the stuff of an actual saviour whose guidance transcends all borders, all boundaries, all negation.