Thursday, November 29, 2012

Countdown #42 - gravity's pull

Broadcast November-24-2012 - 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.

Kraftwerk - numbers + computer world [part 2]
Michael, I think his name was.  Sort of slimy guy that we used to buy dope from back in the late 70s, early 80s.  He lived in a high rise near English Bay, always had the stereo on loud, usually playing shitty pop-disco or whatever.  Except this one time, a beautiful spring day, sun glowing in off the bay – it was this crazy sort of machine music.  Kraftwerk, I would've guessed, except Kraftwerk weren't around anymore, were they?  A couple of gimmicky records in the mid-70s and then back to Germany.  I was right.  It was Kraftwerk, their new album called Computer World.  I was wrong.  They were anything but a gimmick.  They'd never stopped cranking out the future.  Clearly, I had a pile of exploring to do.  I'm still at it.

Last Poets - wake up niggers
Performance (the movie) needs to be seen.  It's the one where Mick Jagger plays a sort of Satanic rockstar who's messing with the mind of gangster who's on the lamb.  Mainly out of boredom, it seems.  But that sells it way short.  Look no further than the soundtrack and a song like Wake Up Niggers by the Last Poets.  It has no particular reason to be in the movie.  Other than to be that cool, that on the mark of what was going down in 1970, the whiff of violent revolution still very much in the air. 

Kool + the Gang - funky stuff + more
One of those bands that had to change for the worst before they'd really rule the charts, which sucks, because their pre-disco stuff is James Brown level KOOL.  Which remains my major dig against disco (the initial surge 1975-76) – it just swept so much great stuff aside, all these incredible bands doing deep, weird, wonderfully funky stuff.  Suddenly it all had to be 4-4, boomp-boomp-boomp, with cheesy strings in the mix … and the clubs were full of assholes.

Tuxedomoon - incubus [blue suit]
I never really dove in and listened to these guys.  Maybe the records were just too hard to find.  Incubus found me via BEST OF RALPH, a compilation that went a long way toward turning essential parts of my brain and soul inside-out and sideways, all in the interest of driving home the point that the world wasn't just stranger than I imagined, it was stranger than I could even begin to imagine.  And this is a good thing.

Sonic Youth - silver rocket
This may be the perfect Sonic Youth nugget.  On one level, it's a ripping cool pop song.  On another, it's a metaphysical hand grenade that blows a gaping hole through the reality barrier into the next nineteen dimensions.  And it does it all in barely three minutes. 

Wire - map reference 41-N 93-W
I looked it up.  The map reference.  It's a placed called Centerville, Iowa, for no reason I can grasp … other than being the absolute center of Absolute Middle America (speaking of the psychic topography here).  But it's the sound that matters here anyway.  Cool hard power pop, all angles and fierce light.  The future c/o 1979 … and they got it mostly right.

Bob Dylan - tombstone blues
Lately it's been the geometry of innocent flesh on the bone causing Galileo's math book to get thrown.  But maybe six months ago, it was the king of the Philistines, his soldiers to save, putting jawbones on their tombstones and flattering their graves.  Back in 1993, I remember it being John the Baptist (after torturing a thief) looking up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief, saying, "Tell me great hero, but please make it brief.  Is there a hole for me to get sick in ?"  In other words, it's Tombstone Blues, the Dylan dada-machine, roaring down Highway 61 mercurial, eternal even.  Particularly if you're driving long haul, gobbling No-dose, smoothing the edges with cheap red wine, aim west and just go-go-go, hit the Pacific at sunset, northern California somewhere, take some pictures but for some reason all you've got is black + white film.  So the moment is captured in shades and grains, the ocean pure white, an atomic bomb.  Yes that's right.  The world ended in June 1989, just south of Oregon, and I have pictures to prove it.

Love + Rockets - no new tale to tell
Love + Rockets were definitely fresh when they first hit in 1985.  Ex-Bauhaus players laying down strong psychedelic pop at a time when pretty much nobody else was thinking that way.  But by the time their third album hit, Earth Sun Moon, I guess I was looking elsewhere, because I didn't really notice No New Tale To Tell until at least 1989.  A friend's car, bombing along the Coquilhalla at speed.  It was the flute solo that hooked me.  Not since Jethro Tull. 

Yes - perpetual change
As a friend once put it, Perpetual Change is the secret to everything that was great about Yes (up until 1975 anyway).  Because they were perpetual change.  Not just an ever evolving, ever changing sound, but often as not ever changing within the songs, which were, of course, ever-changing as this extended live version makes clear – taking a nine minute epic and pushing it even further, higher, deeper ... except for the drum solo.  Rave about 1970s live albums all you wish (I sure do) but the drum solos are pretty much all crap.  

Talking Heads - I Zimbra
The whole Fear of Music album's a killer, but I Zimbra stands out for the door it kicks open – the first solid hint of what would happen if the Talking Heads (and producer Brian Eno) were to maybe leave the whole punk/new wave thing behind, take a wild dive into the whole weird, wild world. 

Led Zeppelin - trampled underfoot
Funky Zeppelin.  Sort of.  It's still a bugger to dance to.  From Physical Graffiti, their last truly great album, which went a long way toward saving my life in 1988, thirteen years after it was released.

Roxy Music - bogus man
Brian Eno only did two albums with Roxy Music but that was enough to change everything forever, with Bogus Man as weird and funky as things ever got.  And weird is definitely the word for 1973 – the gutters still littered with confused hippies coming down from that long strange trip known as the 1960s.  And here were these glammed up sophistos strutting down Main Street, aiming for the future.  It must've made no sense at all.

Clash - Sandinista
The genius of the Clash circa 1980.  Take a line from Apocalypse Now, build a worldview around it, then tear it all apart.  Meanwhile, the music's just fine, easy even, interpolating helicopters and fever-visions.  I remember a friend telling me heard it on the radio while hanging out in a beach side bar in Jamaica.  It made so much sense, it didn't even register until a few hours later.  The Clash getting played on Jamaican radio?  Didn't they have enough of their own reggae in Jamaica?  They did invent the stuff.  Were the Clash really that good at it?  Apparently so.

REM - gravity's pull
It had to be 1984.  REM finally made it town and a sold out Commodore was waiting for them, no doubt including at least one member from every even half-cool band in town.  They opened with Radio Free Europe as I recall, which killed, but equally notable was Michael Stipe's hair.  It was long.  Not art-weird long.  Just long, uncut for at least a year, hippie long.  Which just wasn't done in those days.  Punk had accomplished that much, hadn't it?  Long hair and cool no longer belonged in the same sentence.  Jump a head a year to 1985 and REM were back, playing to another sold out Commodore, and now there was all manner of hair in the audience, hippie wild and free.  Except now Michael Stipe's had his cut short.  People were confused.  Until the band kicked into their first song, Gravity's Pull from the new album – strong, dark and heavy without being obvious about it.  People quickly forgot about the hair.

Pink Floyd - dogs
I almost didn't include this in the Countdown, post-1971 Pink Floyd being hardly unrepresented out there in the normal world.  But then I asked Motron and he said, go for it, Dogs is essential, Dogs is punk rock on bad acid and then slowed way down … but in a good way.  In other words, Dogs was the epic Pink Floyd track that you couldn't put on when you and your high school friends all got high.  You'd get maybe three minutes in and some idiot would say, "Ah, come on, let's hear Dark Side of the Moon instead.  It's so cool when all those clocks go off."  I came to HATE Dark Side of the Moon.  Still do (sort of), or maybe I'm just allergic to it – way too much exposure.  None of that kind trouble with Dogs and its withering 17 minute rip into all things corporate, capitalist, evil.  And the thing is, it found eighteen year old me a very pivotal moment, forced a consciousness that I'd been flirting with anyway.  Something to do with just saying NO to every greed and conformist based assumption I'd been fed by every parent, teacher, coach, priest, expert I'd ever encountered.  They're all wrong, it shouted.  Do what they say and you're already dead, dragged down by a stone.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

Countdown #41 - buzz the savage

Broadcast November-3-2012 - 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.

Pretty Things - buzz the jerk
Right back to the beginning of the pop apocalypse.  It's 1965 and whatever's going down in London, whatever mix of drugs, fashion, overall youth discontent is erupting -- it's good, it's working, it's immortal ... for slightly less than two minutes anyway in the case of Buzz The Jerk.

Small Faces - whatcha gonna do about it?
It's the noise that hooked me on this one.  Only 1966 and it was already way out of control, yet the Small Faces grasped it long enough to deliver a shard of sheer fun and spite. 

Eurythmics - savage
The Eurythmics were actually quite cool at first, a real breath of fresh and soulful air in amongst all the synth-pop of the early-mid 80s.  But by 1987, I'd lost interest … except for Savage, the song.  It was just so strong, bitter, yet vulnerable, too, like some 1950s hard-as-nails movie beauty losing her looks, maybe resorting to murder, but you couldn't stop feeling for her.  Joan Crawford would have played her.  And you would have cried at the end. 

Bill Laswell - upright man
Lay down a hot, funky groove, set some of the top musicians in the world loose over it, but tell them not to get too busy.  Then drop in a few mysterious samples from the old testament, and 1982 suddenly sounds eternal. 

Paul McCartney - too many people
I believe I've been over this ground already.  Paul McCartney has only ever really mattered as a solo artist when he's, to some degree, doing a John Lennon.  In the case of Too Many People, that means lobbing a vaguely pissed off open letter at his former band mate and song writing partner, in which he takes him to task for his dubious Power-to-the-People sympathies of the moment.  Because, ummm, well there's too many of them –  people that is.  But what matters most is that it rocks, Paul the nice Beatle having not yet forgotten how to do that.  But he would soon.

NoMeansNo - self pity
The memory is of getting pinned to the wall by this one at the Arts Club on Seymour, 1986 sometime, taking respite from the Expo 86 atrocities that were currently underway  maybe half a K away in False Creek, the whole world having come to town to show off its ugliness.  But none of it was cutting through as effectively as these three guys from Victoria who could rock their punk as hard and bloodthirsty as any band on the planet, but they also had this whole other universe of depth and invention going on.  Call it epic and I wouldn't argue.

Van Morrison - summertime in England
Of course, I discovered this in springtime in Ireland, on cassette to begin with (though I'd later buy the vinyl, of course), one of a small handful of them that I had with me as I wandered around the so-called Emerald Isle, drank Guinness, wondered what the hell I was actually doing there.  Hint:  it had something to do with a trip to London gone wrong, turned into a soap opera that I'll not get into here, except to say I had to escape and a friend-of-a-friend tipped me that Ireland was the place, pretty much in a depression at the time and thus dead cheap.  Anyway, my rent-a-car eventually got me to a place at the northwest of Donegal known as the Bloody Foreland, so called because every now and then, at sunset, everything turned a fiery, almost unearthly red.  And I saw one of them.  With Summertime In England playing, of course, the last half particularly memorable, where ole Van really goes to Church.  One of those moments that makes you shut up and know.  God does exist and he's Van Morrison fan.

Daevid Allen - poet for sale
It doesn't get much hippier or dippier than Daevid Allen plucking away on an acoustic guitar, waxing loose and cosmic on various things relevant to the plight of the poet in modern times.  Except he suddenly starts to bite at the end.  Like he's been doing a Rip-Van-Winkle for the past decade, but he's suddenly snapped awake, and holy shit, it's 1977, punk rock's erupting off in the distance, and this anger stuff, it feels good, it feels like life itself.

Richie Havens - no opportunity necessary, no experience required
Yes covered this on one of their first albums, had some pompous fun with it.  But Mr. Havens' original is much rawer, tougher, cooler.  And it sounded more or less perfectly in sync with the times when I finally found it, 1998, a freebie at the dog end of a yard sale.  Decades may pass us but there's still no opportunity necessary, no experience required.  Whatever that even means.

Bob Marley - Mr. Brown
Definitely the most garage I've ever heard Bob Marley sound, which probably means Lee Scratch Perry was behind the mixing board, conjuring his special magic.  Not that the liner notes help much in this regard.  Just Rasta Revolution, a compilation of various pre-fame Marley and the Wailers odds and ends.  But they're good ones, raw and full of grit.

Fleetwood Mac - albatross
The melody's nice but it's more the overall mournful mood that sets Albatross free.  But, of course, the early Mac being a blues band, it's not really that kind of albatross, is it?  It's the kind that you carry as a curse, hung around your neck, weighing you down, reminding you and all the world that you blew it, you killed a beautiful thing.  Which is sort of what happened to Peter Green, the man who wrote it, his career pretty much over within the year, psychedelic drugs and mental illness finding each other in yet another tortured genius as the 1960s ran down.

Laurie Anderson - big science
It's 1982 and Laurie Anderson (who no one I know has ever heard of) has suddenly painted a picture of the future.  Equal parts beautiful, yet strangely, already haunted.  The whole album's a gem but the title track deserves special mention for the way it delivers this future – all shopping malls, drive-in banks, every man for himself, and yodeling.  And then there's the big science itself, those cooling towers off the edge of town, higher than any church steeple ever reached, hissing and droning, liable to melt down and explode at any moment.  Hallelujah to that.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band - father of night, father of day
In which a sub two minute Bob Dylan acoustic ditty about the glory of God etc gets amplified, extended, expanded, glorified.  I remember hearing it on late night radio when it was new, maybe 1973, getting all excited, then discovering the serious Dylan-heads hated it.  They thought it was a horrible thing to do with a Bob Dylan song.  And anyway, this Bob Dylan song was dumb.  It was like he believed in God or something.  How uncool was that?  Little did anyone realize ...

Grateful Dead - Blues for Allah
What did one Deadhead say to the other when the drugs wore off?  "These guys suck."  Funny but wrong.  Because I really tried to dismiss these guys, and even pulled it off for a while as long as I focused on their more normal stuff.  But then something like Blues For Allah sneaks in at the end of the album of the same name, and you don't even need acid or peyote or shrooms (though they do help), it takes you to a high, deep place. You have no clear compass on where you are, but there's Allah himself sitting next to you, his feet dangling over the edge ... of all eternity.