Thursday, June 13, 2013

Countdown #63 - the beautiful ones

Wherein Randophonic completes the All Vinyl Countdown + Apocalypse with the twenty-three greatest records records you probably haven't already heard.  Broadcast June-8-2013 - 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). 

Frankie Goes To Hollywood - relax [extended]
Because big gay disco never mattered more than it did in 1984, BIG disease with a little name ripping through the planet, absolutely everything to play for (and dance for).  And this big and astoundingly epic remix said it all.  It actually coached us all on the exquisite pleasure of delaying orgasm, of NOT firing all the guns at once ... which instantly made it political, because this was a moment in history when the overall consensus (among those who actually thought about things) was that some level of global nuclear cataclysm was no longer an "if" but a "when".  Mere minutes to midnight on the doomsday clock.  Yet Frankie seemed to be saying, we all just needed to Relax.  Yes, we have this climax in us, wanting out.  But the more we laid back, relaxed, focused on our breathing, the better it all started to feel.  Like maybe the point wasn't to climax, but to find that wonderful spot just short of the edge.  Or as Motron recently put it, "Basically, that weird tantric shit that Sting's into."

Prince - Mountains [extended]
Because by 1986, it was all getting proved on the dance floor, and nobody proved as often, with as much versatility, panache, invention, sheer gobsmacking talent as the skinny little mutherfucker called Prince, with the 12-inch extended take on Mountains a particularly propulsive offering.  The first few minutes are cool and expansive pop song with a big beat, and then it's all just exquisite groove and jamming.

Prince - the beautiful ones
Because it was the artist (known at the time as) Prince who finally set my head straight on the fact that the most necessary music almost never comes from where you're expecting it.  For instance, in 1984, it was a movie about some annoyingly talented guy all glammed up in various silks and purple, mixing up the soul funk pop rock (psychedelia even) with The Beautiful Ones the most necessary track of all for its evocation of a mad and PURPLE  love.  By which I mean not the colour of grape juice but ... affected, bloated, fancy-pants, grandiose, inflated, pompous, pretentious, stilted; excessive, flattering, fulsome; boastful, bombastic; elevated, eloquent, lofty. Because such is true love (the reason the Thesaurus was invented).  If it ain't worth taking to a Preacher right NOW, it ain't the really thing.  And then it all explodes anyway, atomizes the whole city.  Such is love.  Most devastating of all explosive devices.  

The Beautiful Ones 

Neil Young + The Band - helpless
Because we've all been there, that small town in North Ontario of the heart and soul, all solitude and yearning.  And learning.  Which feels kind of painful at the time, but in the end we come to realize it's about as good as life gets.  And nobody ever put it better than Mr. Neil Young, and he never sang it better than one evening in 1977, with the band called The Band and Joni Mitchell -- shit just doesn't get more Canadian than this.  Way better than hockey.

King Crimson - starless
Because it's the last truly great so-called "progressive rock" epic and thus the most essential -- what it was all aiming for, evolving to, the genre that was arguably invented by King Crimson (Robert Fripp in particular).  Which is to say, a starless and bible black night of the soul complete with free form saxophone freakout leading to full-on ecumenical epiphany in which all the passions of man (and woman) are reconciled.  The weird part is that the guy singing is John Wetton who would go on to front Asia (the band), which is the kind of transgression that can only lead to eternal hellfire.  But Based on Starless, maybe he's already been there.  Which gets us to my old friend, aka the philosopher, and his three essentials of any epic.  1. A hero.  2. A list. 3. A descent into hell.  What's up with the list?  Unless that's what I'm doing here.  But I'm no hero and I've only ever been half-way to hell.

Stevie Wonder - as
Because goddammit, it's the best god damned love song of them all (by which I probably mean God blessed, but who talks like that anymore?).  Starts out as a nice me-and-you-together-forever-babe thing, but then about halfway through, something happens.  The music pulls some sleight of hand, becomes more about the groove which somehow sets the melody soaring, and meanwhile the lyric (and the voice that's carrying it) have also mutated.  Now it's tearing up the atmosphere, singing of that higher love, the one beyond just me-and-you-babe, the one that truly comes from on high (even if you don't believe in such skyfairy nonsense – it doesn't mean it's not so), the kind of love that can lift a man, allow him to see past his suffering and frustration and grasp that the only wisdom is to accept where he is, right now, right here, to see that all these trials and travails and tribulations are precisely what his soul requires.  Because as my grandma used to say, if life was supposed to be all roses and perfume and puppy dogs, they would have called it something else.  Play this one at my funeral.  No question.  

Einsturzende Neubauten - seele brennt + feurio [randoEDIT]
Because when the enemy's at the gates and there's nothing left but to face it down with everything you've got, you can't leave any energy un-realized, even the dark stuff.  And nobody's ever had enemies at their gates like everyday Berliners of the Cold War world (1945-1989).  Hard not to be bleeding sparks from the friction of everyday life when you're sandwiched between the world's two great military powers, flexing their military and ideological bullshit for four and a half decades.  So we get this edit.  The Seele Brennt stuff because that's what first truly twigged me to the force of soul and nature that was Einsturzende Neubauten.  

The rest is sheer Feurio from a few years later.  I don't know my German but I'm assuming that means fire, or perhaps fury.  The furious fire of a soul that won't bow down, that won't submit to all the higher political + economical bullshit.  Or as Neil Young commented at around the same time.  Keep On Rockin In The Free World, except Berlin was neither free nor un-free.  It was the line between.

Beatles - tomorrow never knows
Because it's 1966.  Let me say that one more time.  1966.  And so, short of the snare shot at the beginning of Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone, I'm arguing that it all really starts here – the psychedelic storm that all humanity had to navigate in order to not blow ourselves to smithereens.  Not that everybody had to actually do heroic doses of LSD, get lost down their beyond within, but we did all have to share in the discussion which has thus ensued (and it keeps on ensuing).  And this discussion has always sounded best, made the most sense, when delivered via music.  Bass, drums, guitars, maybe a few keyboards, tapeloops, backwards masking, whatever -- full-on raging from the very highest and deepest part of anything and everything.  It is shining, It is being, It is Knowing, It is Believing, Existence to the End, of the beginning.  Trust me, it really does matter even if it makes no sense at all.

Beatles - revolution 9
Because it's 1972.  I'm twelve years old,and because I'm sort of responsible, I guess, I've been assigned to help slightly bad kid Malcolm Mills make a dance tape for the end of year party; actually entrusted with the key to the school's downstairs music room.  Anyway, amongst other options, Malcolm's dragged along his big brother's copy of the Beatles White Album, intending to extract the obvious pop hits.  But we end up digging through all four sides, at some point wondering why there are two Revolutions listed.  The first one's just a slowed down version of the radio hit, and thus not near as cool.  The second one's called Revolution 9 and it's … Well, it's not really music.  It's just all this noise for almost ten minutes.  But then Malcolm gets it.  This is the one where it says Paul's dead, the secret track where all the Beatles mysteries are revealed.  So we listen to it again, louder, making sure we haven't missed anything.  Then we listen a third time, VERY LOUD, which is when Mr. Walton, the Gym teacher, barges in, and asks us what the hell we're doing.  We never did finish that party tape.  But I did get my little head turned around in a profound way – a question mark imposed upon all manner assumptions I had as to what music actually was.  Or more to the point, at what point does noise become music?  Or what happens when the two are indistinguishable?  And who's making the call?  The secret, of course, is just to enjoy.  Surf the chaos.  See where it takes you.

Van Morrison - astral weeks
Because there are three kinds of people in the world.  The first kind have no particular opinion of Van Morrison.  They just like it when Brown Eyed Girl gets played at weddings or wherever, and maybe Moondance, too.  The second kind think Van peaked with Them, howling out the Ulster punk blues circa 1965-66, and everything since has been indulgent shit.  And then there are those who hear something like Astral Weeks, and let's just say, they get chills, the good kind, the transformative kind.  The music humbles them, you might even say saves them (in some small way) from narrow belief in a narrow universe in which everything is known, and that which isn't will be soon enough.  Clearly, I'm a Type-Three.

Flying  Burrito Brothers - wild horses
Because of that middle verse when Gram Parsons gives voice to that dull aching pain, making this take on the Rolling Stones Wild Horses (released before the Stones version) the deepest kind of soul music -- infinitely powerful, yet also intimate, fragile, easily wounded.  The tragedy of Mick Jagger being that even though he co-wrote the song, he could never really own it the way Gram Parsons did.  On the other hand, unlike Gram Parsons, Mick's still around, annoying as hell, God Bless the pompous ass.

David Bowie - rock'n'roll suicide
Because this stuff they call rock'n'roll is nothing if not an anti-alienation device.  Final weapon of the disconnected, the lonely, the desperate.  Because even aliens are human, deep inside.  Or better put --  because we're all aliens from some angle or other, alone at the edge of the night, under pressure, and never more so than at some pivotal moment in our fucked up youth, hanging onto the edge of some abyss.  The memory here is James, of course, long gone now, because he let go of the ledge, became the rock and roll suicide.  Was he even aware of this song?  Probably.  He knew his music way better than I did.  But mostly, he knew his bullshit dreams, got swallowed by them.  That NEED to be adored, far outweighing his desire to give.  That'll kill you every time.  

Joy Division - transmission
Because, there's real joy in this thing.  Even if they did take their name from the prostitution wing of a Nazi concentration camp, and the singer would soon kill himself (to ever lasting immorality, if that makes any sense).  But Transmission transcends all that negativity.  Transmission is a love song that doesn't tear us apart, because its focus isn't on some imperfect "other", but just the right song at the right moment on the right radio station, and what it can do for a lonely human soul.  It can set it to dancing.

Velvet Underground - sweet Jane
Because hard hearted Lou Reed opens wide here, almost stops gravity when he gets to that part about the lies inherent in women never really fainting, villains always blinking, children being the only ones who blush, and life being just to die.  And, of course, it's the Velvets, so the record wastes no time, uses no artificial sweeteners, just goes straight for the heart and soul and brain.  Apparently the story is, the record company pleaded with Lou for a hit single, something they could actually get played on the radio.  And he delivered, except he had to throw in that line about evil mothers, so the culture more or less missed it completely.  Which is cool.  It never got overplayed.  I never grew allergic.  I get to include it on this list.   

Neutral Milk Hotel -in the aeroplane over the sea
Because what can I say?  It sends me.  It's the most recent record on this list, title track from an album I only even heard for the first time less than six months ago (it's late summer 2001 as I write this).  And the whole damned album's amazing, young guy, whatever his name is, finding an entirely new way to deliver the poetry of his soul.  And the band's right there with him the whole way.  If I die suddenly sometime reasonably soon, play this at my funeral.  And don't sweat the ashes.  Just dump them in a stream somewhere.  They'll get where they're going.

Bob Dylan + the Band - blowing in the wind [live]
Because Blowing In The Wind really does say it all.  Not that life and all of its suffering and frustration has no ultimate meaning –  it's just that if it does, it's impossible to grasp.  And this particular version, recorded at least a decade after the original, is just so road weary and yet committed.  And it rocks.  Because that's the thing about life – it ain't over until it's over, and thus the searching and the confusion and the rocking continue.  Because the answers are out there, pieces of them anyway.  I just caught a glimpse of one last night, but it was moving too fast for me.  I finally just drank more wine.  And so on until the stars fall from the sky.  Which I imagine they did in some small way the night this version of Blowing In The Wind was recorded, February sometime, 1974.  

Sex Pistols - anarchy in the UK
Because it's a quarter century now since 1976, and some perfectly decent people still haven't heard the greatest eruption of POP rage and negation ever pressed to whatever the hell it is they actually make vinyl records out of.  Plastics, like the said guy at the beginning of The Graduate, like that's all a young man needed to know about life and how to play it.  And he was right by which I mean, he was so wrong all he could be was right, like Jo Stalin and Adolph Hitler chasing their ideological extremes so far and hard they were bound to meet in Stalingrad in 1942.  Which is to say Hell.  On earth.  Yadda-yadda-yadda.  By which I mean, where do you go with such evil in air?  You don't go anywhere.  You make your stand wherever you happen to be on planet earth.  It's as much yours as anybody else's.  Just do take that stand, state your grievance, even if all you've got is eviscerating rage.  As long as it's true.  

My Bloody Valentine - only shallow
Because it actually begins to hint at what these guys conjured live, in a big room, with a big PA.  By which I mean, maybe My Bloody Valentine in the Commodore Ballroom 1992 wasn't the greatest show ever (that's still Yes, 1975, the Relayer tour, because I was fifteen, almost sixteen, and that's always gonna be the best), but My Bloody Valentine in the Commodore 1992 was definitely the last show I'll ever need to see (not that I haven't seen a pile since; they just haven't been necessary).  Because that Commodore show was proof that rock music (however you choose to define it) really can change reality, actually rearrange molecules or atoms or neutrons or whatever the subquantal stuff is we're actually made of.  Because handled correctly, it really is the stuff of the gods.  And those who deny it (for instance, the 500 or so folks who didn't stick around for the whole gig at the Commodore), well, they can have the so-called real world, the real estate, the mortgage payments, the lawyers and accountants.  It occurs to me, I have no conclusion for this thought.  I'm still confused, I guess.  Almost ten years later and I'm still lost for words. 

Can - yoo doo right
Because of that letter I got from my friend James who was traveling in Thailand at the time.  I'd made him a few mixtapes before he took off and one of them had Can's Yoo Doo Right on it, all twenty odd minutes of it.  Anyway, James dropped some acid one night at some particularly isolated beachfront spot, and spent many hours alone, just him and the moon, the waves, the sand, working through all manner of stuff, including his own desperate loneliness, as far away from home and family and friends as a young man could get without leaving the planet.  And the thought occurred to him at around midnight that he could just lie down and let the incoming tide take him, drown him, end all of his suffering and confusion ... except Yoo Doo Right was playing and it got to him, that quiet part in the middle, the singer muttering about whoever Yoo was and how they better-better Doo it right, with everything starting to rise again in groove and passion until at some point, James realized he was dancing, just him and the sand, the ocean and the moon, no longer alone, now fully engaged with the entire universe.  And yeah, I can't put it any better than that.  The power of Can, those hippie-freak communist-anarchist-nihilists beating the living drum of 1968, freedom for all mankind.  Gotta-gotta get it right.    

Bob Marley - redemption song
Because we all need redemption, we've all got slavery in us ... unless you're one of those grey alien types who've been lording it over ALL humanity since the days of Atlantis.  In which case, Fuck You.  To everybody else though, if you haven't heard Redemption Song, why not?  Because it's Bob Marley's last song, and his best.  And if you have heard it, then I suspect it requires no justification.  Because even if you're sick to death of all the white rastas out there and their tofu stir fries and their B.O. (because if you don't eat meat, you don't stink, man).  Even if.  You know that Redemption Song transcends all that.  Because we all need redemption.  We've all got slavery in us.  

Jimi Hendrix - wild thing [live]
Because even though Bob Dylan's 1965 Like A Rolling Stone snare shot immanetized the particular eschaton we're concerned about here, it took Jimi Hendrix's live set at the Monterrey Pop Festival almost two years later to bring it to ground, then launch it back out to all the nine known universes.  And Wild Thing was the climax of that set, the one with the guitar getting set on fire at the end.  Thus Wild Thing was the roar heard from every garage from every neighbourhood from every town.  You can still hear it.  Because like my good friend Simon Lamb once put it, and I had to write it down (or a reasonable facsimile anyway).  We need a secret weapon.  Something beyond reason and rationality that cuts through all the wilful blindness of the insane and ignorant and seduces them into seeing, or certainly feeling.  Some vast and astonishing noise.  I mean, if he wasn't talking about Jimi Hendrix, then who?  

The JBs -doing it to death
Because there had to be at least one James Brown thing on this list.  And because whatever it is we're doing, this ever expanding explosion of possibilities known as living, one thing is clear, we're doing it to death.  And yet, death is no end, because the groove goes on.  Which is to say, we are doomed to life eternal, not of our mortal stuff (that will always play itself out in time) but the immortal stuff, by which I mean the seeds we plant, and how they shall grow, and when I seeds, I'm thinking ideas and passions and sacrifices as much as I'm thinking anything physical.  Which is all just an approximation of a pile of thoughts I had just this past New Years (into 2001), whilst DJing across the island, monster sound system, throwing down the JBs Doing It To Death a little after midnight, slaying all, guaranteeing eternal life as it did so.  Call it a paradox.  I won't argue. 

Robert John - the lion sleeps tonight
Because it's been covered any number of times by everybody from Miriam Makeba to Brian Eno to Chet Atkins to Roger Whittaker, Sandra Bernhard, REM (sort of), but the essential version has to be Robert John's take from 1972 (a very good year).  Because it's a song from out of Africa, but it also includes yodeling from out of Switzerland and obvious doo-wop stylings, and there's definitely a tuba in there as well, and some pedal steel.  And because it's about peace and joy and freedom from worry, if only for one night, because the lion is asleep.  Which if you think about it, doesn't really makes sense.  If the lion's asleep, wouldn't a raucous party wake it up?  But maybe the lion has been drugged by one of Marlin Perkins tranquilizer darts.  Either way, it's a party because the Lion Sleeps Tonight by Robert John (who I know nothing about) sets even bankers free, because they were babies once, too.  The number one, single greatest record you probably haven't already heard.  And if you have, then you're at least as cool as I am.  And if you disagree, then make your own list.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Nardwuar vs Randophonic (Round 2)

Randophonic's All Vinyl Countdown + Apocalypse was again the focus of a Nardwuar The Human Serviette Interview.  Bill Mullan (Randophonic's host) fielded questions, played selections from the Countdown and otherwise filled in blanks as to the real story of Philip Random and his "sacred scrolls" (those 1,111 greatest records you probably haven't heard).  Download link available here

NOTE:  there is a ten minute gap in the middle of podcast (technical difficulties). 

Countdown #62 - turn on the news

Broadcast June-1-2013 - 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).

Sly + the Family Stone - stand + you can make it if you try
Because it's powerful evidence of one of those 1960s high water marks that Hunter S Thompson was talking about that psychedelic morning in Las Vegas 1972, when he looked to the west, toward San Francisco and saw just how far the great waves of love and evolution had reached before, sadly, tragically, inevitably, beginning their great retreat.  Because the 1960s were nothing if not a wild and unprecedented ocean storm –sustained, relentless, committed, one wave after another, ebbing and flowing, always creeping further inland, going for the heart of the beast.  Because we do need to remember this stuff, how free things can get, and it's seldom ever been as free as a Sly And The Family Stone rave-up, live or in the studio, women and men of all races, creeds, making their stand, not fighting the power so much as grooving right on through it ... until the drugs wore off anyway.

The Smiths - how soon is now?
Because there had to be at least one goddamned Smiths song on this list.  Because as much as I've generally found whatz-iz-name's histrionics annoying as only a fourteen year old's whining can be annoying, I'd be lying if I said I didn't think he was one of the all-time heavyweights (even with all that criminally vulgar shyness).  And the band's not half-bad either as How Soon Is Now aptly proves from initial gush of flanged Johnny Marr guitar onward.  Trust that it sounded like nothing else in 1984, like a lost acid fragment of 1967 had finally completed its tour of the universe and somehow returned to ground in the grim and baleful north of Maggie Thatcher's Britain, like a gem of ancient beauty and power.  And for those who may already have heard How Soon Is Now, cool, I say.  There's still not enough of us.

Clash - clampdown
Because it's true, a young man's gotta watch himself when it comes to simple explanations as to how the world really works – all that fascist bullshit being so easy to fall into, so easy to end up wearing blue and brown.  I think of Dennis here, fellow cab driver back when I got started, summer 1980, at least ten years older than me, recently arrived from England, always with a spliff rolled, ready to go.  We'd book off for a few minutes, crank the tunes in his cab, which often as not meant the Clash London Calling.  The Sgt. Pepper's of the 1980s, he called it, the world's greatest remaining punk band moving beyond punk, trying to embrace everything goddamned thing, succeeding for the most part.  

Clash - police + thieves
Because you're not really looking at the world with clear eyes as long as you think it's cops versus robbers, police versus thieves.  It's the two of them together, fascists and mobsters, working flipsides of the same greedy coin.  The trick is to stay the hell out their crossfire.  I would've been at least twenty-two before I had this even remotely figured out, with the Clash and their overall worldview a huge part of my education.  Police and Thieves is a cover of an old Junior Murvin reggae tune, which is cool itself, but it took the Clash to kick it into full-on anthem status, all the while keeping the reggae.  Which reminds me of young Ryan and his oft-heard claim that the Clash were the world's best white reggae band.  Amen to that.  And amen to the Clash in general, this being their highest song on the list, not even cracking the top thirty.  Yet in terms of total number of inclusions, I'm pretty sure they've got everybody else covered.  So yeah, here's to maybe not the greatest band ever, but definitely the only band that mattered ... for a while anyway.  

Rolling Stones - can't you hear me knocking?
Because it marks that moment at which I realized Punk Rock was dead.  Which is bullshit, of course, it was just going into remission for a while.  It would've been summer 1988, a party at the joint we called the Sewer View.  I distinctly remember I was sitting on the stairs, swigging from my ever trusty bottle of cheap red wine, no doubt stoned as well.  Suddenly, in the main room, somebody yanked off the hardcore record that was playing, mid-song.  A few seconds of party noise and then ... pure riff magic, the Rolling Stones at their most elegantly gritty, tearing everything up, the whole party starting to move.  Even Mick Jagger didn't sound that annoying.  How was that possible?  And then, the last two-thirds of the track, he wasn't heard anyway, just a full-on Latin groove and some hot soloing.  How the hell had I not heard this song before?  Can't You Hear Me Knocking, from Sticky Fingers, the one with the zipper on the cover.  

Curtis Mayfield - right on for the darkness
Because even if it took a good decade and a half for it to find me, it was at precisely the right moment, just emerging from one of my more profound crash and burns.  Bruised and hurting and this smooth, sorrowful, beautiful song rises up on the radio (CiTR, of course, or was it Co-Op? -- couldn't have been anywhere else), guy singing like a earthbound angel.  By which I mean, it sounded like he had one foot in heaven, the other in the ghetto, which is to say, the world.  So yeah, right on to that.  I could relate, even if I was stuck in the suburbs at the time.  They're just a different kind of ghetto.  Nobody starves.  They just suffocate.

Television - marquee moon
Because I've always been a sucker for an epic, and Marquee Moon was particularly delightful in its epic-ness because it made such a mockery of the almost Stalinist edge you were feeling from certain aspects of the punk scene in the late 70s, early 80s -- all these hard and fast rules getting laid down about what drugs could be taken, what colour your leather jacket could be, how long your hair could be, how long a song could be.  Yet here was this band that may not have been punk, but they certainly came from punk, and they were just saying fuck it, riding a riff unto eternity, because they were taking their orders from the music, not some tiresome Machiavellian assholes whose idea of beauty was some kind of international workers revolution, with them calling the shots, deciding who should be disappeared. 

Laurie Anderson - O Superman
Because truly, it's one of those records that stopped time.  Everybody I know, the first time they heard it.  A double-take.  A what is this? moment.  To which the answer was simple enough – just some New York artist/poet type playing her magic fiddle, messing with tape loops and stuff.  And that line near the beginning, the bit about "Hello, I'm not home right now" – pretty much everybody I knew had that as their answering machine message for at least a few days somewhere between 1982 and 1984 as O Superman swept through the world, like a virus from outer space.  Yet I doubt it ever got a single play on commercial radio.  Almost makes you think there was some kind of huge conspiracy afoot.

Brian Eno - baby's on fire
Because it doesn't play by any of the rules, yet it absolutely slays as pop song, rock song, whatever you want to call it – the Eno genius in full eruption.  And there's a pile of Robert Fripp genius too, guitar solo erupting through the middle of things like a demon from future antiquity.  By which I mean, holy shit, Baby's On Fire was at least five years old when I first heard it in the early 80s, and still too hot to touch.  

Pere Ubu - final solution
Because it equates unrequited lust and thermonuclear holocaust, and all this in 1976 before punk rock had even officially erupted.  Also, it's basically a cover of Summertime Blues, one of rock and roll's seminal protest songs, except these weirdoes from Ohio have exploded it into something far bigger, ravenous even.  In my idea of a perfect world, it would replace Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl at all weddings.  And hell, play it at funerals too.  

Husker Du - turn on the news
Because it's one of those "you must hear this" records.  It would've been 1984, a radio night, Bostock shoving everyone else aside and demanding we pay attention to the first track on Side Four of Husker Du's Zen Arcade, punk rock's first truly epic album.  Which, of course, meant Zen Arcade wasn't really punk rock.  It was too big, too beyond, and no question, Turn On The News was its most essential few minutes.  A song of pain, a song of despair, and yet hope as well, because it's a song of consciousness, of not turning away from the pain of the world.  And thus ultimately a useful turn of phrase when some old friend would be boring you to death with his tax issues, or the mortgage on his new condo.  You just shake your head and spit it out.  "Turn on the news, man.  You don't have problems."

Husker Du - eight miles high
Because it always had to follow Turn On The News in the playlist.  What else could?  And it's maybe the greatest cover version of all time,  taking on the Byrds' original using it to capture that pivotal early-mid-80s moment when the hard core rage monster caught a glimpse of itself in the psychedelic mirror, and it paused, saw both tragedy and beauty.  Which is to say, truth.  But a truth that's beyond words, a truth that can only be conveyed via amplified musical weaponry, and ultimately vocals that must leave articulation behind because there were hellhounds on the rampage.  Definitely lots of hellhounds in the early-mid-80s. 

Jello Biafra + DOA - full metal jackoff
Because it's maybe the greatest thing ever recorded in the Terminal City, Jello Biafra and DOA together, if only for one short album, Last Scream of the Missing Neighbours.  And no question, Full Metal Jackoff is its reason to exist.  Because it uses its almost fourteen minutes to put it all together:  the epic evil of Ronald Reagan's America in all its complexity, conspiracy and cynical malevolence.  Because it really would be a little obvious to fence off all the slums, hand machine guns to the poor and just let them kill each other off.  No, you need to be more subtle than that.  You need a plan that involves cocaine from Colombia, funnelled through the (so-called) freedom fighting Contras of Nicaragua, who trade it straight up for CIA guns ... until at some point there's a black van with no windows cruising the various mean streets of the great US of A, sealing the deal, disappearing a few of your neighbours on the side.  But nobody even hears their screams.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

Countdown #61 - radioactivity

Broadcast May-25-2013 - 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). 

Kraftwerk - radio-activity
Because radio is maybe the best thing I've ever done with my time – the creative non-abuse and/or perversion of the airwaves I've had access to, the freedom taken and the activities pursued.  Not that Radioactivity's about that kind of radio.  It's about the other kind, discovered Madame Curie.  But the one, of course, informs the other, all those mysterious and invisible waves permeating our various spheres, beaming off into space, alerting who knows what alien entities of our existence ... maybe a million light years from now, when they finally get the message.  And the amusing thing, of course, would be if the first stuff they heard was Kraftwerk's 1975 masterpiece – the geniuses from Dusseldorf doing their damnedest to sound like machines, releasing great depths of humanity in the process.   

Roxy Music - Ladytron
Because the first Roxy Music album is still mostly ahead of its time even now decades later (and the next four or five are pretty sharp as well).  But it's the first one that lays it all out – the rock the glamour, the romance, the noise, the pop, The Future.  And the one track that delivers it all in less than four and a half minutes, the one single Roxy artifact I'd grab if the world was burning down (and it probably is), is Ladytron.  Which, it occurs to me as I jot this down, I don't even know what it's about.  A lady apparently, and beautiful at that, though she may be a robot.  But maybe my kiss can make her human.  Or more to the point, Bryan Ferry's kiss.

Mothers of Invention - brown shoes don't make it
Because it's late spring 1967, and all the pop world is getting its mind blown by The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band – the album that would change everything forever.  Except Frank Zappa and The Mothers had already been there, done that twice, with Freak Out and then Absolutely Free, which is absolute truth in advertising.  Forty plus continuous minutes of full-on everything, by which I mean jazz, doo-wop, rock and roll, pop, avant-noise, fun.  And Brown Shoes Don't Make It is the seven-and-a-half minute mini-epic where it all gets thrown together – rude and crude and sharp as a diamond, yet smothered in chocolate syrup.

Captain Beefheart - I'm gonna booglarize you, baby
Because this is what white men should do with the blues.  Not just ape what they've heard from the old records, but take them somewhere deeper, weirder, more complex, and yeah, probably inappropriate.  Because seriously, I don't think booglarize just means to compel someone to get out on the dance floor.  Though I did have the exquisite experience of watching a couple dance to this, all wild hair and hippie beads, while I was still just a kid, maybe fourteen, hanging out at my friend Carl's place during one his older brother's parties.  One of those legendary wild and wasted mid-70s affairs, before disco hit and made a mess of all things groovy.  Indeed, it was the first time I'd ever heard the good Captain.  So I guess it's true what they say.  The first cut is the deepest.

The Who - my generation + young man blues
Because it really is the invention of punk -- teenage rage, power, angst, frustration, horniness, confusion, apocalypse all erupting as a sustained declaration of ... something that's impossible to really put into words.  So guitar, bass, drums, distortion, a few explosives are utilized and it all just thunders on from there to the edges of the nine known universes, such that maybe a decade later, an eternally frustrating late teenage night, nothing to do, nowhere to go, just me and my friend Doug, a 26er of Tequila and his dad's Camaro, and an 8-Track of The Who Live At Leeds.  It's snowed recently, so we take it down to the back of an empty mall parking lot and cut loose with power slides, fishtails, spinouts.  True heavy metal thunder.  Although it would've been truer if the Camaro didn't have an automatic transmission.  Which we fried eventually.  So we ditched the car, hiked home and let his dad report it stolen the next morning.  We never did get caught.  Although maybe fifteen years later Doug got busted for some kind of insider trading.  One of these days, I'll get the full story. 

Sonic Youth - the wonder + hyperstation + Eliminator Jr.
Because Daydream Nation is crucial.  Both for the culture as a whole, and for me in particular.  Because there it was, late 1988, when things had all fallen apart, and all other music had abandoned me (it's a long story ).  I'm flat on my back, bedroom floor, my parents place, grown man doing yet another season in hell.  Recovering from various injuries and afflictions, too spent for anything but the sprawl of this one album.  Which was perfect really.  If you're only going to have one album, it may as well be four sides of music and noise inseparable, reminding you that the biggest truths have no boundaries, the most important stories never quite add up, the best songs never quite hold together, always yearning for, grasping for, gunning for more ... and are thus defined as much by the chaos at their edges as the order at their centres (or is the other way around?)   The trilogy from Side Four gets nod here because it's the highpoint of the album (not that there's any real low points).   Guy wanders the sprawl, gets high by the sounds of things, likely something lysergic because he's truly seeing the wonder in things.  But then comes the long slow comedown.  He runs into some jocks at 3AM, gets his shit kicked.  But he makes it home, barely.  And there's his girl waiting, his angel, his saviour.  She fucks his brains, his soul, his bones to heaven and beyond, like a god damned top alcohol dragster tearing up the quarter mile, fumes so intense they cause a rare local breed of starling to go extinct.  The Lord works in mysterious ways.  The daydream never ends. 

Nancy Sinatra + Lee Hazelwood - some velvet morning
Because it's just so heavy, even if it is extremely easy to listen to, guy so wasted he can't even open his girl's gate, but some velvet morning he'll be up to it.  Maybe he'll even tell her about Phaedra.  Which I always just figured was heroin, yet suburban somehow.  Because nothing feels more desperate than a junkie in a bungalow with a fine trim lawn, the utilities paid, the appearances kept -- the split level dream going all rotten from within.  Feeling no pain, but burning up anyway.

Yes - close to the edge + wurm
Because it's true, the edge isn't the place, the edge doesn't exist.  You've either gone too far and you're falling the long fall into oblivion, or you've found that sweet spot just short of it where everything opens up.  All those BIG unifying ideas that have been floating around in you since before puberty even – the idea of indivisibility, of Jehovah and Allah and Jesus and Mohammed and Krishna ... all one big happy, and thunderous at that.  Bigger than any cathedral that's for sure.  Because (and here's the key point) every church gets it all wrong the instant it claims to have gotten it all right.  Because even if you have vast chunks of the truth, you can't have it all.  It's the nature of it, beyond human comprehension.  So the very claim of Truth divides us, sets loose corrosive elements, brings the fucking roof down.  Which is what's going on in the middle of Close To The Edge, when the church organ kicks in.  That's the capital T Truth failing, discrete-noun-thing.  That's the cathedrals all collapsing, and the mosques, the temples, the synagogues.  That's the outside gushing in, the inside gushing out.  Now that you're saved, now that you're whole.  It's all so clear once you stop trying to make sense of it.  

Like Yes themselves, who really were the best damned band in the world in 1972, even better than Led Zeppelin.  Because they had a secret weapon, they had Rick Wakeman and his mountainous stacks of keyboards, conjuring choirs and orchestras and all manner of big and mysterious colours and textures and … well, it's all there in Wurm (the live version found on Yessongs, the 1972 triple live extravaganza) which is to say, part three of Starship Trooper, and nothing against the first two parts, they're cool, but it's Wurm where it all truly transcends, gets heavenly even, definitely heavy.  

Johnny Cash - another song to sing
Because Johnny Cash is right.  There's always another song.  The world's always bigger than you thought it was.  There's always a reason to crawl out of whatever hole you're in, get up, try one more time.  It occurs to me that I don't really know Johnny Cash's story.  I know he had some hard times.  I know he got himself saved by the Lord Jesus.  I know he gobbled a lot of pills for a while, mixed them up with moonshine or whatever.  I know he managed to burn down a forest in California with a carelessly tossed cigarette.  A thick and complex volume, that man in black.  Thank the Lord he found so many songs to sing.  

Residents - Eskimo [the edit]
Because if you're not at some point listening to music that has turned into noise, or perhaps noticing that noise has turned into music, you're not trying hard enough.  And damn it all, I've tried.  I've listened to a pile of The Residents over the years, and loved it.  Most of it anyway.  Though they annoyed me when I finally saw them live.  Not that there was anything wrong with the show.  It was just too human somehow, all my secret notions that they were in fact not human beings, but aliens or spirit entities or maybe some kind of future post-humans come back to check up on us – all those notions were dashed.  And it hurt.  Because an album like Eskimo just doesn't feel something from this world.  It feels beyond us somehow, and sublimely, enticingly, alluringly, noisily so.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Countdown #60 - the night train

Broadcast May-18-2013 - 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). 

Lee "Scratch" Perry + the Dub Syndicate - music + science lovers [night train]
Because it's the high water mark of the album Time Boom X De Devil Dead, one the great three way musical collisions that ever happened.  Lee "Scratch" Perry (having burned his famous Black Ark studio to the ground and split Jamaica), the Dub Syndicate (absolute truth in advertising), and Adrian Sherwood (mix magician extraordinaire) all taking the Night Train together, feeling no pain, while the Cold War world kept burning hotter and hotter, the Doomsday Clock kept ticking closer and closer to midnight.  So the only conceivable response was to keep moving, keep grooving, keep spitting out the mad truth.

Talking Heads - psycho killer
Because no way is 1977 their best album, but Psycho Killer's probably their best song.  Which gets us to the argument I had recently with Lorena, my lawyer, she claiming to have heard Psycho Killer before.  It's in the movie, Stop Making Sense, the very first song, David Byrne stepping out solo on stage, just acoustic guitar and beatbox.  But Lorena, the essential recording remains the original, which clearly not enough folks have heard, because I've yet to see it show up as the theme song for some eighth rate cop show.  Which is a good thing.  But I was at a wedding recently where it brought the house down, which was weird and also beautiful, all these ex-punks hitting their forties, showing scar tissue, but still moving, liable to explode at any instant, taking everybody with them.   

The Fall - the man whose head expanded
Because in spite of all my scepticism toward the cult of Fall main man Mark E. Smith (which I found particularly annoying toward the middle end of the 1980s), there's no arguing that the guy had something genuine mixed in with all the bile he was spewing.  And to my ears, he never spewed it so well as The Man Whose Head Expanded (just like Hitler), a single that crossed my path in 1983 or thereabouts.  Did I actually buy it?  Or did Martin Q force it on me after one too many arguments, late night and accelerated, our heads no doubt well expanded.   

Undertones - teenage kicks
Because even though it hit the year I officially ceased to be teenaged (1979), I was still young enough to get the point.  Still am, I hope.  Which is, The Who were right all those years ago, the kids are alright, they always are, they always will be, such is the life force itself, all those eternal teenage hormones, hardons, heartbreaks, total havoc.  The kicks must continue or else seriously, why bother?

Spacemen Three - revolution
Because I couldn't really justify forcing the Beatles Revolution onto this list, and anyway this latter Revolution pays it beautiful and eviscerating homage, all flesh eating distortion and simple message.  Just five seconds -- that's all it would take for all the fucked up children of the world to rise up and tear everything down.  The weird thing is, I was actually in Britain when this was new.  I even saw the t-shirts (the ones concerning all those fucked up children of the world).  But I didn't get around to hearing any of it for at least a year, by which point grunge was breaking (or about to anyway), which is really what's going on here, I think.  Grunge before they had a name for it.  And I mean that in the best possible way.

Patti Smith - rock'n'roll nigger
Because she's not black, she's no lady, she's not even a punk really (more proto than anything in that regard), but if she says she's a nigger of the rock'n'roll variety, I'm not going to argue.  From a 1978 album called Easter that's actually kind of restrained otherwise, boring even, though it does have Because The Night, the big deal hit that Bruce Springsteen wrote for her.  Which is hilarious -- all those Boss fans buying it, getting spat on by Rock'n'Roll Nigger.  Such were the punk wars of the late seventies.  No prisoners taken, confusion everywhere ... and it was good.

Pogues - thousands are sailing
Because the Pogues really take you there here, the Irish Potato Famine of the 1830s – the kind of desperation that would drive a man to pile his family into a cramped sailing ship, heading in the general of the Americas with no prospect of anything save that it beat the certainty of death by starvation.  And then maybe half way across, assuming you'd survived that far, some shady guy in religious garb might pull you aside and suggest that a snap renunciation of the Pope and conversion to the Church of England might save you and yours from getting kicked off the ship onto one of the plague islands in the St. Lawrence, the ones that hardly anyone ever left, alive or dead.  So yeah, here's to that stout and pragmatic Irish blood that still pumps through at least three-eighths of me, and to the Pogues for singing its bitter, drunken, resilient truth.  

Can - oh yeah
Because of that moment at Lollapalooza, 1994, Cloverdale BC, long hot day, traffic jams, shitty food, not enough water, too much dope, way too many big deal bands not really delivering, failing to send me anywhere I hadn't been before.  Except suddenly at sunset, in the run-up to the Beastie Boys' set, the DJ drops a little old school Can into the mix and it's perfect.  It's Oh Yeah from Tago Mago, seven or so minutes of pulsing groove, eerie drones, backwards vocals and jagged rips of sideways guitar ... and it owns the day, almost makes it worth the trouble.  Yeah, I could have just listened to it on the patio at home with a beer and a joint, but that would be like taking a helicopter to the peak of some notable mountain.  Sometimes the trouble is the point.  Such is life.

Echo + the Bunnymen - the killing moon [all night long]
Because this 12-inch extended mix is the Bunnypeople's masterpiece.  And yeah, it may have hit in the mid-80s (and served well in many a DJ-set when something dark, beautiful and long was required), but it took the Gulf War, 1991, to really bring out the epic truth in it – the horrors that were going down a world away in the name of oil and bullshit, the rumours that the moon had turned blood red in accordance with some prophecy to be found in the Holy Bible (the Book of Revelations or wherever).  Props to Chris the Christer for setting me straight on that.  And then he no doubt rolled another joint.  All praise to Lord Jesus the party animal, for he did turn the water to wine.  

Jethro Tull - thick as a brick
Because it's 43 plus minutes long and it shouldn't be one second shorter, even if it's ultimately not really about anything, just an in-joke within an in-joke.  Which is to say, the alleged epic poetry of a pre-teen kid (one Gerald Bostock) taking on all the hypocrisy and absurdity of his world and society and God ... and never really coming to any conclusion short of the wiser you are, the less thick you are, and something to do with all the superheroes taking early retirement, writing their memoirs down in Cornwall.  Or something like that.  Barely teenage me ate it up, of course, which is a pretty useless justification, because I was also seriously digging April Wine at the time, and I'm not still raving about them, am I?  Maybe the answer's more in the music itself, the epic mix of folk and rock and classical and pop tangents, the ebb and flow that really is all one big whole, themes and counter-themes, coming, going, kicking up, burning down.  And the cover wasn't bad either – essentially an entire small town newspaper complete with scandals, missing experimental non-rabbits, art crimes, even a review of the album itself, which probably says it best.  "One doubts at times the validity of what appears to be an expanding theme throughout the two continuous sides of this record but the result is at worst entertaining and at least aesthetically palatable."