Sunday, January 27, 2013

Countdown #46 - step right up

Broadcast January-19-2013 - 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).  Nor is every record represented here.  To hear them all, you've got to actually listen to the podcast.

Pop Will Eat Itself- can u dig it?
In 1989, when Can U Dig It was fresh and utterly cool, it felt inconceivable that this particular Pop wouldn't just eat itself, it would eat the whole world.  Because they had it all.  Beatbox, samples, world eating smarts and guitars.  But it wasn't to be.  I guess they weren't cute enough.  And ultimately, who cares really?  It's the world's loss, not mine.  I've still got my Furry Freak Brothers, my Twilight Zone, my pumping disco beats.  And yeah, Alan Moore still knows the score.

Eddie Kendricks - keep on truckin'
I guess it's always weird being a kid of that certain age, just kicking into your teens, not that cute anymore, suddenly expected to have some kind of grasp on all the wild culture that's playing out around you, like getting tossed into the deep end of the pool, expected to swim.  For me, that would've been 1973.  And one thing that had me seriously confused was truckin'.  What the hell was all this truckin'?  The Grateful Dead had a song by that name that seemed to be a serious hippie anthem.  And then there were all those posters in the various head shops and incense joints (as my friend Carl called them), a JR Crumb thing, though that wouldn't have meant anything to me at the time – weird sort of bald guy in a tattered suit with oversized feet, leading him forward, like they knew where they were going way better than he did.  Keep on Truckin! said the posters, like it was the coolest thing imaginable.  And meanwhile, there was this song on the radio by a guy named Eddie Kendricks, ex of the Temptations, short version on AM, trippy long version on FM. In retrospect, I'd come to realize it was one of those rare and epic high water marks where artistic ambition and the zeitgeist fuse beautifully.  But at the time, I just sort of scratched my head and nodded along, wondering why I couldn't stop my feet from moving.

Robert Fripp (w/David Byrne) - under heavy manners
Lay down a hard, funky groove, set your world-splitting guitar on stun, step back and let the geeky singer enunciate, spit out complicated words.  It really does seem to mean something.  It's all credited to Robert Fripp and comes from his album God Save the Queen/Under Heavy Manners, but it's as much a David Byrne song, the main Talking Head in truly fierce form, pretty much at the peak of his powers.

Mothers of Invention - Money fragments [rando-EDIT] 
It's only 1968 and Frank Zappa's already had it with the hippies and their bullshit, but he hates the straights even more.  And we get it all in full-on genius form with We're Only In It For The Money.  As for this edit, it's just something I felt compelled to pull together one day back in the early 90s from various side one highlights, incorporating fragments of Are You Hung Up, Concentration Moon, What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body?  Which gets us to the lingering highlight of maybe Mr. Zappa's entire career – the answer to that last question.  The ugliest part of your body is your mind.  Genius, sharp as a razor, but way funnier.

My Bloody Valentine - soon [rando-EDIT]
The first thing I ever consciously heard of My Bloody Valentine was Andy Weatherall's 12-inch remix of Soon.  And it was good, immediately figuring in all the mixtapes I was making at the time, 1990 being a serious watershed year for me.  I'd taken the rage and angst of the 80s further than most, and loved it often as not.  But now it was time for a change, and here it was, often as not lyrically vague, musically expansive, like 60s psychedelia all over again, only bigger, richer, pumping cool light and amazing colours.  And then the album Loveless came out at the end of the year, and I finally heard the actual original version of Soon, and holy shit, it was everything I could've imagined, only more so.  So ultimately, you get this edit, because it had to be done.  The best of both worlds, only more so.

Lee Scratch Perry - bucky skank
It's hard to get a date on this, except sometime between 1969 and 1973.  Which feels apt.  Mr. Lee Scratch Perry and his Upsetters, wandering somewhere both in(and out)side of time.  The beat is odd, almost broken.  The song is mostly nonsensical, yet offered with all due passion.  And it's fun.

Tom Waits - step right up
I've already laid out my concerns about Tom Waits.  His stuff (particularly the early albums) has always felt more like he's acting, playing a part, than genuine boosey, bluesy decadence and decay.  But it's a hell of fine act, and Step Right Up, from 1976's Small Change, steps aside from all that and works perfectly well as a sort of Beat-skewering of everything that was phoney, skin deep and ultimately ugly about the consumer culture of the moment, and the past, and the future.  Always some asshole trying to sell you something you don't need, trailing an oil slick wherever he goes.  

David Bowie - wild is the wind
Pay your dues before you pay the rent, finally catch a few breaks, rise to mega-supernova status, then crash hard into an oblivion of ego, drugs, madness.  Hardly an original scenario.  But it takes a special talent indeed to pull off the crash part without messing up creatively.  Which is what David Bowie managed in 1976 with Station to Station, his thin white duke phase, the album he'd later claim he had no memory of making.  To which I say, here's to madness and oblivion, particularly if it includes a cover as epic as Wild is the Wind, which I'm pretty sure was originally done by Nina Simone, but Lorena, my lawyer, insists it's from a 1950s Anthony Quinn movie.  Either way, it gets to feeling like life itself once it starts soaring.

Hollies - King Midas in Reverse
King Midas is the guy who, everything he touched turned to gold, except you can't eat gold, so it was his doom.  The reverse of that would be touching gold and turning it to something you can actually use, I guess.  Except I don't think that's the point here, from sunny 1967, a dark and edgy bit of pop-psychedelia that suggests all is not necessarily glittering.  One of those songs I'm guilty of having had for decades (via the Hollies Greatest Hits comp) before I actually realized how good it was.  And that was only because of the movie, the Limey -- Peter Fonda being the slimy King Midas type, but Terrence Stamp was onto him.  He'd get his.

Guess Who - no time [original version]
Yeah, you've heard it a million times before on oldies radio, Canada's own Beatles getting it all just right, rocking nice and hard, melody as big as a prairie sky.  But not this version.  This is the original, from 1969's Canned Wheat, rawer, longer, more psychedelicized.  Like the band just didn't realize what they had, how truly world class they were.  And thus, they were at their peak. 

Gong - allez Ali Baba blacksheep have you any bullshit?
Because what value anarchy if it doesn't float?  Seriously.  Psychedelic meandering meets punk power.  Aerie-faerie bullshit meets No Future and somehow serves to keep the world on its axis, doing its revolutionary thing around the sun, which is itself swerving its own cycles through the known limits of infinity.  And so on.  By which I mean, if you ever find yourself tripping on strong LSD and feel you need something both intense and smooth, seek no further than the anarchy that floats, the allez Ali Baba blacksheep have you any bullshit mama maya mantram of Gong.  Trust me.  It makes perfect sense once you're there.  All fifteen minutes of it.

Love + Rockets - haunted when the minutes drag
This was so fresh in 1985, big music that dared to be colourful, epic, BIG.  Yet it knew it's time.  It was stuck in the Winter of Hate, and haunted at that, so it also kept its cool.

Mick Jagger - memo from Turner
Memo From Turner is still the best solo thing Mick Jagger's ever done, by far. From a 1970 Nicholas Roeg movie called Performance, which if you haven't seen it, why not?  It's almost as good as its soundtrack, or maybe it's the other way around.  A dark gem either way – something to do with the only true performance ending in madness, and gangsters, an illusive rock star who's bored with it all, edging into nihilism, drugs, psychedelic and otherwise. Not to mention sex and violence.  It's as if the Summer of Love was over, never even happened.  

Big Audio Dynamite - E=MC2
The only thing wrong with Big Audio Dynamite was they didn't have a Joe Strummer involved to give things more sandpaper, edge, keep Mick Jones honest.  As is, their first album's as good as they ever got with E=MC2 the only truly essential track, riffing on various Nicholas Roeg movies, having fun with a sampler.  It goes without saying, the melody's a killer, because that was always Mr. Jones's special genius.  If Strummer was the Clash's Lennon, he was most definitely McCartney, but at least he never laid a Yesterday on us.  Some crimes are beyond remorse and/or reconciliation.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Countdown #45 - silence + entertainment

Broadcast January-12-2013 - 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).  Nor is every record represented here.  To hear them all, you've got to actually listen to the podcast.

Depeche Mode - enjoy the silence [quad-final-mix]
The surest bet in 1981/82 was that Depeche Mode were going nowhere, a squad of way too pretty boys with annoying haircuts who could barely muster the musicality to program a drum machine, let alone actually play an instrument, and none of them could sing worth shit.  And yet, there they were better part of a decade later, still in the game, and in the case of Enjoy The Silence, rewriting a few key rules.  Yeah, you've probably heard the original radio single, or the mix that backed the video, but have you heard The Quad: Final Mix, the one that seamlessly mixes four separate Silences into one big, epic, beautiful monster? What did 1990 sound like, you may ask?  Some of the silences were amazing.

Gun Club - for the love of Ivey
All dressed up like Elvis from hell.  Has there ever been a better line?  And it's not as if the rest of the song doesn't deliver either – the Gun Club kicking out the sort of murky, raw, dangerous LOUD-quiet-LOUD that would have shifted bucketloads of units to the checked shirt hordes if they'd only released it ten years later than they did.  But in 1981, the world just wasn't ready.  Not the nimrods who programmed radio anyway, ran the major record labels, shifted the units.  Which in the end has got to be a good thing, because the Gun Club are still fresh, still beautiful in their ugliness, at least as scary as Elvis from hell.

Pogues - sick bed of old Cuchulainn
From that mid-80s Irish folk revival moment that none of us realized we needed until we heard it.  And then, holy shit, how had we ever lived without it?  The Pogues were from London actually, though they all had ample Guinness and Jameson's in their blood.  Not to mention all manner of other substances, particularly the front man, Shane McGowan.  But he made it all work, found the raw punk heart of all those jigs and reels and shanties and faerie songs, set them on fire.  

Jam - that's entertainment
One of those songs that pre-dated my taking of punk/new wave seriously and thus, once I finally did finally commit, it was already there, and always had been, a necessary part of the situation – that scene in the movie where the sort of mod punk new wave guy put down the electric guitar, grabbed his acoustic and just strummed hard, spat out his disgust at all the ugliness getting passed off as beauty, all the villains getting sold as heroes, all the nightmares with laugh tracks.  Just call it all entertainment, folks, smile, don't mind the rotating knives. 

Public Image Ltd. - swan lake (death disco)
There's no shortage of rage in Johnny Rotten's discography, but nowhere else does so much sorrow force itself in as Swan Lake (aka Death Disco), a song apparently about the death of his mother, and recorded immediately afterward.  It actually hurts to listen to it, but in a good way.  The punk is revealed as utterly human, just in case there was any doubt.

Rolling Stones - have you see your mother, baby, standing in the shadows
In which the Stones make it clear.  They've been messing with the lysergic and listening to their Dylan, and figuring a way to make it all their own – dirty, punk and true.  The Summer of Love may be pending, but beware those shadows, long and deep.  And your mother.  Not just a little Freudian. 

Mothers of Invention - plastic people
I discovered this toward the end of the high school, the perfect ditty for all those transparent, incomplete, pre-fab zombies I used to think of as friends.  But now, they were just hard-wired for boredom, insistent on becoming just like their parents, only worse.  But it is in fact about everyone, the good people of Los Angeles circa 1967 in particular, even the hippies, all plastic where their souls should have been.  It was just that kind of town, I guess.  Still is, from what I hear.

Roky Erickson - burn the flames
More evidence that the mid-80s were actually one of the coolest times ever on planet earth.  It just didn't make the papers much.  You had to do a little digging, listen to the right radio stations, go the right movies.  And few movies have ever got it more right than
Return of the Living Dead – the one that doesn't take anything seriously and ends up being fiercer, wilder, more world endingly apocalyptic than pretty much every other zombie movie ever made put together.  Split dogs anyone?  And then there's the soundtrack.  Where else but in the deepest, darkest, bloodiest Hollywood b-movie do you find Roky Erickson, certifiably mad, fresh out of some Texas insane asylum, luxuriating in the very flames of hell.  

Alice Cooper - dead babies
I'm twelve years old.  It's early 1972 and I'm starting to hear stuff about this guy named Alice Cooper, who's some kind of reincarnated witch that murders chickens on stage and hacks baby dolls to pieces with an axe, and later on gets hanged from his neck.  But he worships the devil, so he never really dies.  But what was truly amazing was finally hearing an Alice Cooper album and realizing just how good it was.  Not trashy, ugly, noise like you'd expect from a crazed, murdering maniac, but actually kind of nice in places, melodic even, which made the evil stuff that much more frightening, twisted, and yeah, funny.  The album in question was Killer and now some decades later, it's still song-for-song one of the best ever, by anyone, regardless of their allegiances or intentions.

Donovan - legend of a girl child Linda
More proof that when it came to a certain kind of elegiac, sunlit psychedelic splendour (which was only ever achieved by anybody in and around 1966-67) the man named Donovan Leitch had no peer.  Yeah, Dylan accorded him little respect, and for whatever reason, the historians seem to overlook him whenever the topic of the Summer of Love comes up.  But the proof is in a song like Legend of a Girl Child Linda, like slowly waking from a very good dream to a beautiful morning in the first few hours of summer.  

Stranglers - nice + sleazy
Strange thing about punk, though I didn't really notice it at the time, was how progressive its sexual politics were – certainly for the late 70s.  Women had real power in the various scenes and bands.  And if you were gay, you were just another weirdo, as welcome in the moshpit as anyone else.  But then a band like the Stranglers would confuse things.  Rude, crude, total throwbacks.  Except they were so damned good, and in the case of Nice and Sleazy, just telling the truth.  Good, honest rock and roll has always been as sleazy as it needed to be.

T-Rex - ride a white swan
If you're British, you've likely heard this.  But over here in the Americas, Ride A White Swan still retains the kind of freshness that turns heads, gets people smiling, wondering, "Who is this?" And that's a good thing, I think, still so many quality gems buried in that slag pile known as the 20th Century, awaiting discovery.

Can - halleluwah
It's 1971, Koln, West Germany, and a certain Communist-Anarchist-Nihilist combo known as Can are deep into a pretty much infinite groove, laying down the foundation for a very cool future.  Halleluwah it's called, and yeah, Jaki Leibezeit is the best drummer ever.  No doubt.  Beats and howls and passing rips of noise that still sound fresh and strong and way ahead of time even now, decades later.   

Neil Young - tired eyes
The album Tonight's the Night is all about death.  Stark cover, mostly black.  Stark songs, pulling no punches about various dead friends, and in the case of Tired Eyes, a friend who killed.  The sad tale of a guy who got into the drug thing too deep, found himself dealing with some heavy company, so he armed himself accordingly.  And then one shitty night, push came to shove and that weaponry got used.  Except it's not a TV show, not some action movie, it's lives forever changed, for killer and killed.  The damage done.

Neil Young - barstool blues
Sometimes you've just got to sit all night and drink, reconcile all the stupid shit you've perpetrated, and it's fallout, and how it all got you here, sitting, drinking, reconciling all your stupid shit, doing the barstool blues. 

Elton John - love song
It's 1970 and Elton John still isn’t a superstar.  Which doesn't mean he hasn't already recorded the best album of his career.  It's called Tumbleweed Connection and yeah, it's a slightly silly concept thing about the old west, but it all works.  Love Song stands out for its understated, almost ambient lushness, and soulful yearning.  Almost too beautiful.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Countdown #44 - only everything

Broadcast January-5-2013 - 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). Nor is every record represented here. To hear them all, you've got to actually listen to the podcast.

Them - I can only give you everything
I honestly can't hear much difference between Them and the early Rolling Stones -- both putting electricity to the blues, kicking great and necessary holes into the everyday peace and quiet.  The weird part is that it's Van Morrison doing the howling here, offering nothing short of everything, yet everything is clearly not enough.  You just can't please some people. 

David Bowie - Queen Bitch
A song called Queen Bitch in 1971?  It wasn't done.  And from my end, it wasn't heard ... until at least 1973.  Just one more element of that tidal wave of brilliant and seductive threat that kept coming our way with Mr. David Bowie's name attached.  Who was this stranger, this alien, this queen, this bitch?  I was still fumbling around with puberty.  I believe it was exactly what I needed to hear.

Sons of Freedom - Alice Henderson
As I heard it (and I knew somebody who knew somebody close to the band), Alice Henderson was actually a guy, and his name wasn't actually Alice or Henderson.  But he did die well before his time – yet another talented young life ended by heroin.  Should it be some solace that a great song came from it, powerful in its sorrow and its undercurrents of rage?  No.  Art is never more important than a life.  But it's still a great song.

Wayne County + the Electric Chairs - man enough to be a woman
This would've hit in 1978, first heard by me at a Halloween party that I didn't want to go to, because it was a punk thing and I wasn't into punk.  The music just wasn't sophisticated enough for nineteen year old me.  But the party was kickass anyway.  The punk parties were always kickass.  So here's a hint, kids.  If the parties are good, the music is too, in spite of what you're so called "taste" is telling you.  Because if you're anything like me, your taste is shit until at least your twenty-second year.  But all that said, I did immediately like Man Enough To Be A Woman, because of course, it wasn't really punk rock.  Except in terms of attitude.  Wayne County had bigger balls than any dozen shitkicking football players.  Which is how that Halloween party ended – a bunch of football gronks showing up with an old high school score to settle, pounding a bunch of the wrong people.  One more reason to get the hell out of the suburbs.

John Zorn - The Big Gundown
Wherein John Zorn, avant jazz genius type, takes on a few of Ennio Morricone's Spaghetti Western epics and succeeds in rearranging the molecules in my mid-80s psychedelicized brain, to entirely positive effect.  Because the world of the mid-80s definitely needed fracturing, eviscerating, disassembling, reinventing.  The Big Gundown indeed.  

Clash - Spanish guns
I liked Spanish Guns from first listen, which would've been summer, 1980.  But it took a campfire party ten years later for me to really fall in love with it.  Actually, it was Margite I fell for, the way she grabbed her acoustic guitar and nailed it.  It was love at first sight, sort of.  Because not much came of it really, except it did send a glow through me that I still reconnect with whenever I hear the song, all love and revolution.   

T-Bone Burnett - Hefner + Disney
It's probably an old surrealist trick for telling the truth about a cultureTake two of its primary architects, definers of its fantasies, switch their names around and voila!  From a 1983 album that really should have been heard by the whole world.  But it wasn't.  Almost as if some corrupt old man in a magical mansion was pulling evil strings.   

Young Marble Giants - searching for Mr. Right   
Cal Friar was a friend of a friend, and ultimately an exception that proved a rule.  Because drugs really did fuck him up just like all those scare stories they fed us back in elementary school said they would.  From straight normal guy on a fast track through business school to dilated scenester in mere months.  And dangerously so.  I remember him stepping into a busy Seymour Street one night outside the Luv Affair, throwing his arms wide, declaring "I Am A Young Marble Giant".  Horns honked.  Tires squealed.  But nothing hit him.  His parents eventually got concerned and he disappeared from the scene even quicker than he arrived.  Maybe fifteen years later, I discovered he'd become an investment banker, moved to New York and gotten stupidly rich.  Meanwhile, I'd gotten around to picking up the Young Marble Giants only album.  Monolithic in its subtlety, but not worth dying for. 

Human League - dreams of leaving
Before they had their mostly annoying pop successes, Human League were a damned cool outfit working the edges of the electro-underground, mucking around with synthesizers, drum machines, exploring all manner of cool sounds, with Dreams of Leaving a prime example.   

Van Morrison - Cypress Avenue
I saw Van Morrison once.  I think it was 1986.  Underwhelmed would describe my response.  Not that I was that surprised.  The man had a rep for not being capable of faking it.  If he wasn't feeling the gods own light in his soul, he wasn't even going to try.  But on a good night, well, words don't suffice.  You've got to just shut up and listen.  Like what happened with Cypress Avenue in Europe somewhere, 1973.

Jethro Tull - Dharma for One [live]
From Living in the Past, a 1972 double album of various unreleased Tull gems, which really underlines just how strong they were at that point in time, overflowing with quality stuff.  Dharma For One is a live take of a track from Tull's first album.  Longer, harder, wilder, yet insanely tight and precise when it needs to be.  The term gobsmacking comes to mind.  

Dinosaur Jr. - freak scene
Dinosaur Jr were one of those bands I kept hearing about in the late 1980s but never consciously heard.  Apparently, they were a bit of a throwback to the pre-punk days of big wild guitar solos, epic intentions, but in a good way.  Then I finally did hear some and hell yeah, truth in advertising.  Except this stuff was anything but a throwback – electric guitar so sheer and beaming with fractal light, it was carving weird tunnels into the future ... or at least that's what it felt like in the Commodore, the top of my head lysergically removed from the rest of my body.  But in a good way. 

Bob Dylan - final theme
There are bests, and there are favourites.  Pat Garrett + Billy The Kid is not one of the best movies of all time.  But it is one of my favourites.  Because of all the whiskey, I guess, and the cigars, and all the dying, the whole movie like an epic tone poem of doom and inevitability -- hard men looking oblivion in the eye, taking another drag, another swig, killing or being killed.  And a big part of what holds it all together is Bob Dylan's soundtrack.  Yeah, there's a few proper songs, but it's the mood of the instrumental stuff that sells it.  As for the Final Theme – go ahead, play it at my funeral.  

Prince - the cross
It's easy now to smirk at Prince, make fun of his extremes, the artist formerly known as quite amazingly good.  And the thing is, he was – even his whacked out God stuff.   Case in point, the Lovesexy concert that hit the Terminal City in 1988.  The stage was round.  The sound was astonishing.  The action was non stop.  It was everything a rock and roll show was ever supposed to be, and more.  And the musical highlight of the evening, the song that pinned all fifteen thousand of us to the wall, was a power anthem about a certain cross and the guy that had to carry it, and how we've all gotta do the same, one way or another, up that lonely hill to eternity.

Live in 88

Stone Roses - I am the resurrection
Must've pretty good drugs this guy was taking, offering up enough mystical insight and balls out punk bravura to declare himself the resurrection and the son. And the thing is, with his band behind him, he wasn't lying.  They were perfect, had all the answers, were showing us all The Way – the entire debut album.  But then the drugs wore off, I guess. 

Gram Parsons + Emmylou Harris - love hurts
No, Nazareth didn't write this.  It was a guy named Boudleaux Bryant, who most definitely knew a thing or two about love and how it carves raw chunks out of your soul.  But the essential version has to be this one – Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris being quiet about it, heartfelt, grievous and true.  He'd be dead before the world ever heard it.  

Harold Melvin + the Bluenotes - don't leave me this way
Fuck I hated Disco.  How dare it erupt as I was finishing high school?  How dare it pollute all the available radio stations, transform all the nightclubs, now that I finally had good, foolproof fake ID?  Sure it probably served some greater service to the culture as a whole, let all those strung out former hippie freaks and rebels come back in from the cold of their failed revolutions, evolutions, insurrections, and just fuck it, snort coke, shake their booties, get laid, lay the groundwork for their execrable 1980s yuppiedom, Reaganomics, Tom Cruise – yup, I blame disco for all of that.  But I always liked Don't Leave Me This Way.  Thelma Houston had the big hit, but nothing touches what Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes did with it, particularly the long version.