In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Randophonic is a radio program that airs pretty much every Saturday night starting at 11pm (Pacific time) on CiTR.FM.101.9. You can read more about all that here.
Randophonic radio is currently in hiatus, sort of. We’re still broadcasting most weeks, but most of our energies are focused behind the scenes right now on what’s going to happen next.
If you’re worried about what’s going on with The Final Countdown* (498 down, 799 to go) – that’s part of what happens next.
“The #1 greatest record you probably haven’t already heard is Robert John‘s take on The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Which is immediately kind of a lie. All kinds of people heard it back in the day. It was the #21 biggest selling single of 1972 in the USA, #45 in Canada. Yet somehow or other the world seems to have mostly forgotten about it. It’s also not the greatest song you probably haven’t already heard. It just isn’t. But what is then? I don’t know. I’m just some guy sitting on a porch, making a list. What I do know is The Lion Sleeps Tonight isn’t just any song. Written in 1922 by a man named Solomon Linda, a South African of Zulu origin, finally released almost twenty years later under the title Mbube, a 78-rpm record that was mostly marketed to black audiences in South Africa.
But something clearly happened along the way, not all of it good. In fact the song’s back story includes one of the more notorious copyright crimes of all time. The upside of all that being the myriad cover versions that flooded forth– everybody from Miriam Makeba to Brian Eno to Chet Atkins to Roger Whittaker, Yma Sumac, The Weavers, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Sandra Bernhard, the Stylistics, even REM (sort of). But Robert John’s take is the one for me, and not just for nailing the yodeling, but also the doo-wop stylings, and there’s a tuba involved, some pedal steel as well. And so it captures the peace and joy and freedom from worry (if only for one night) that it’s all about. Because the lion is asleep. Which if you think about it, doesn’t really makes sense. If the lion’s asleep, isn’t a raucous party going to wake it up? Not if it’s been drugged. So whatever. It’s a party! We’re alive and we’re singing, and tomorrow and all of its troubles – that’s just a rumour. Tonight the LionSleeps.
“Because there had to be at least one James Brown track on this list — Godfather of Soul, Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Soul Brother No. 1 and a bunch more, I’m sure. Including I hope some reference to funk. He did invent funk, didn’t he? What do I know? I’m just some white guy from the suburbs. I’ll tell you what I know. I know that whatever it is we’re all doing here, this being alive, this ever expanding sustained chain reaction of possibilities that comes with breathing, moving, growing, learning, dreaming, DANCING — we’re doing it to death. And even death is no end, because trust that whatever happens (or doesn’t) after we die — the groove goes on, the song doesn’t end, we’re fated to life eternal. Not any of our mortal stuff obviously. That all plays itself out in time even if you go vegan, pump iron, take your vitamins – you are gonna die, your flesh is gonna rot. No it’s the immortal stuff I’m thinking about, the noise we make, the light we shine and reflect, the seeds we plant, and how they grow. By which I mean ideas, passions, commitments, sacrifices, songs – the grooves in particular. None of that stuff ever dies.
Which is all just an approximation of a pile of thoughts I had this past New Years (into 2001), while DJing on some unnamed island, monster sound system, high on some of the local shrooms — not hallucinating or anything, just elevated enough to see (and feel) that the crowd were finally at the point where they’d dance to anything. But what the DJ wants at such a moment, is to give them exactly the right thing. And there it was: The JBs’ Doing It To Death. Not even a James Brown album per say. He gave this one to his band, because who was he really without his JBs? The album itself kind of a rarity, my copy pressed in Germany, 1973, one of those records you spend a long time looking for. And yeah, the title track‘s the treasure that makes it all worth the trouble. Like the intro says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, there are seven acknowledged wonders of the world. You are about to witness the eighth’. No clever DJ tricks required, just drop the needle, slay everyone in the room, give them eternal life. Call it a paradox. I won’t argue. We need more paradoxes.” (Philip Random)
“Because somebody had to do it, set the atmosphere itself on fire, and 1967 was the time for it. Even though it was the 1965 snare shot at the beginning of Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone that really started things, immanetized the particular eschaton we’re concerned with here – punched a hole in the reality barrier, set all the strangeness loose. But it took Jimi Hendrix‘s live set at the Monterrey Pop Festival almost two years later to bring it all back to ground, soak it in lighter fluid, put a match to it, and launch it back out to the edges of all nine universes. And an incendiary cover of Wild Thing (the Troggs’ hit from the previous year) was the climax of that set, the one with all the fire and apocalypse at the end, which even though it would be many years before it ever got a proper release, the roar would be heard regardless, like a thunder from over the horizon, like a rumour from some unnamed war, a secret whispered by your most dangerous friend …
Speaking of which, I suppose I should quote my good friend Simon Lamb here, words so eloquent I had to jot them 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 – some vast and astonishing noise that simultaneously pile drives and seduces them into seeing. I don’t think he was talking about Hendrix per say. More noise itself. But without him and his Experience (and let’s be honest, a few gallons of LSD) that noise would never have been made, never sent kerrranging out of a billion garages out of a million neighbourhoods in every town every country every planet, because you have to believe this stuff went extraterrestrial long ago and far away, probably that very night in Monterey. I can still hear it ringing in my ears. And I wasn’t even there.” (Philip Random)
“It’s true. There are still people out there who haven’t heard Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, not even a cover version. And that’s a problem. Because we all need redemption, because we’ve all got slavery in us one way or another. 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, F*** You. To everybody else though, if you haven’t heard Redemption Song, why not? Because it’s Bob Marley’s last song, and it’s his best (assuming this list is accurate).
If you have heard Redemption Song, then I suspect it requires no justification. Because even if you’re sick of all the white rastas out there, all their tofu stir fries and b.o. (because if you don’t eat meat, man, you don’t stink). Even if (and a million other ifs, because let’s face it, the Bob Marley legacy is hardly a secret anymore, anywhere – bigger than the Beatles once you get outside the Euro-western empires). Even F***ing If – well, you know that Redemption Song transcends all that. Because we all need redemption. We’ve all got slavery in us one way or another. Am I allowed to say that? I just did. Twice.” (Philip Random)
“Call Can the best band that most people probably still haven’t heard. Can being an acronym for Communism-Anarchism-Nihilism, if you believe everything you read. I tend to reject that because it feels too political. These guys were beyond politics. Or maybe I should say, they inspired revolution, not the other way around. Though they did form in 1968 out of the virulent insurrections that were tearing through Europe at the time. Four Germans (all children of the ruins of World War Two) working with two vocalists in particular. The second one, Damo Suzuki (straight outa the Japanese ruins) tends to get the most notice. But it’s Malcolm Mooney (on the run from the Vietnam draft) fronting things on Yoo Doo Right, the monster that filled all of side two of their debut album, Monster Movie. Though the original take was apparently magnitudes longer, a six hour improv that only really stopped because they ran out of audio tape. Can being the sort of outfit that absolutely gave itself over to the music. Call them shamans, I guess, holy weirdos in tune with the gods. Which in the case of Yoo Doo Right meant the groove, and the noise from which it grew.
A letter from my friend JR comes to mind. He was traveling in Thailand at the time. I’d made him a few mixtapes before he took off, one of which contained Yoo Doo Right. Anyway, he dropped some acid one night at a particularly beautiful beachfront spot, and eventually got to wandering and wondering, just him and the moon, the waves, the sand, working through all manner of stuff, including his own desperate loneliness, about as far away from home and family and friends as a young man could get without leaving the planet altogether. And the thought occurred to him right around midnight that he could just lie down, let the tide take him, solve all his problems and confusions … but the music got to him first, the quiet part in the middle, the singer muttering about whoever Yoo was and how they better-better doo it right, over and over, an incantation, everything starting to rise in groove and passion until at some point, JR realized he was dancing, just him and the moon and the ocean, the entirety of the universe somehow graspable, very much in tune and in time. And yeah, I can’t put it any better than that. The power of Can, hippie-freak weirdos beating the living drum of revolution-evolution-whatever it is that finally sets us all free. Gotta-gotta get it right.” (Philip Random)
“Unlike pretty much everything else found on the My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless (which don’t get me wrong, I truly love), Only Shallow actually begins to hint at what this outfit conjured live, in a big room, with a big PA. By which I mean, maybe My Bloody Valentine in Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom, July-7, 1992 wasn’t the greatest f***ing show ever (that’s still probably Yes, 1975, the Relayer tour, because whatever blows your mind when you’re fifteen is always going to be the The Best). But My Bloody Valentine in the Commodore, 1992 was definitely the last show I’ll ever need to see. And hear.
Because that Commodore situation was proof of concept — that so-called rock music (or whatever you want to call it) really can rearrange molecules or atoms or neutrons or whatever the stuff of so-called reality actually is. Because handled correctly, these vibrations, this organized sound, this music 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 that night), 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. Years after the fact and I’m still looking for words to describe what happened that night, and I wasn’t even that high. Just a few tokes before the band came on, and then I guess I forgot. I got teleported, I got rearranged. In the meantime, there’s the album known as Loveless, the lead-off track known as Only Shallow which, on the right sound system, at the right volume, you maybe just begin to understand.” (Philip Random)
“It’s been how long now since 1976, and some perfectly decent people still haven’t heard Anarchy in the UK, the greatest eruption of pop rage and negation ever pressed to whatever the hell it is vinyl records are actually made of!?! Plastics, like the man said at the beginning of The Graduate, like that’s all a young man needed to know about the game called 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. Which is to say Hell. On earth. Yadda-yadda-yadda. By which I mean, where do you go with such evil in the air? Evil that came from humans, not even driven by organized religion anymore by the time WW2 hit its malevolent peak. What the f*** am I even talking about? Which is the wrong question, because I’m not talking, I’m ranting, and rule #1 of rants is you don’t have to explain. The noise is enough, its own justification.
By which I mean, Anarchy in the UK is sheer zeitgeist – 1976 alive and bleeding, more than three decades after WW2 (still the worst f***ing thing we humans have ever done collectively) finally wrapped up. Meanwhile, it’s 2001 where I’m currently sitting, a further twenty-five years down the line from the Sex Pistols first and best and most glorious eruption – so fierce, it’s like I said already, way too many people still haven’t been allowed to hear it. Which is true. The Man remains terrified of Anarchy in the UK and what it suggests — that the answer to that earlier question (Where Do You Go?) is simple. The answer is nowhere. You make your stand now, you make your stand here – wherever you happen to be on planet earth. Main Street, back alley, bank lobby, some faraway beach – it’s as much yours as anybody else’s, f*** all kings and generals and presidents and bosses. But you do have to make that stand, state your grievance, make your noise, save your soul, save the universe, save the world, save yourself, anihilate the passerby (figuratively, of course) Because if we don’t, THEY will, and it won’t be figurative.” (Philip Random)
“I remember hating Bob Dylan’s take on Blowing in the Wind the first time I heard it. It was Grade Two, 1967 or thereabouts, Miss Horton’s class. We all loved the Peter Paul and Mary version which was sweet and wistful and fun to sing along to. But then one day Miss Horton (who was obviously at least a part-time hippie) played us the original and … well, what do you expect from a bunch of seven year olds? Over time, of course, I’d grow to like, even love, the man’s voice, like sand and glue as David Bowie put it. But Blowing In The Wind, I found it easy to remain ambivalent about. He just had so much better, more interesting stuff. Why even have an opinion about some dated hippie campfire sing-along? But then I heard the live version from 1974’s Before The Flood. The last track on the album, so the encore, I guess, of what at the time was a big deal tour indeed, Mr. Dylan reunited with The Band, re-conquering a world he’d more or less shrugged off for almost a decade in the wake of his still mysterious motorcycle accident.
The man who’d become a myth having chosen the way of invisibility for a while, then slowly, over a series of consistently inconsistent albums, reasserting himself as just a man again, a singer, a songwriter, a wanderer. Which I guess is what I love about this Blowing In The Wind, electrified now, growling shambolically along, speaking of way too many miles over too many roads, with many more still to come. Because that’s life – it ain’t over until it’s over, and thus the searching and the confusion and the reaching, never quite grasping continue. Because the answers are out there, pieces of them anyway, caught up in the weather, metaphysical and otherwise. In fact, I caught a glimpse of one just last night, but it was moving too fast for me. I finally just drank more wine, took a few notes — and so on until the stars fall from the sky. Which I imagine they did in some small way those other nights way back when, winter sometime, early 1974, the tour that came to be known simply as Tour 74. And then, in the darkness, a lot of people lit a lot of matches and candles.” (Philip Random)
“If there’s one track that I’m probably going to regret putting in the top ten of this thing, it’s this one, care of the outfit known as Neutral Milk Hotel, which seems to be concerned with dying and death and whatever happens (or doesn’t) afterwards, which of course throws light back on before, life itself, the whole mad aeroplane journey across the wide open ocean of eternity. But it’s too recent, I fear, too close. The song hasn’t had time to flip through its half-life, get overplayed or whatever, die a death and then re-emerge as … well, who knows? Because that’s what music does, for me anyway. The stuff I truly love. And right now, right here, June sometime, calendar year 2001, I’m f***ing in love with In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, the album and the song, and the band, about whom I know pretty much nothing beyond what the album cover tells me … and it’s a great f***ing album cover, the kind of thing you have to have on vinyl if only to maximize the size of the imagery.
Which honestly is why I bought it. I liked what I was hearing in the record store but it was the cover that sealed the deal. The whole thing throws me back to a time when the whole package mattered absolutely, you wouldn’t think of not listening to it all in one go, headphones on, the cover in your lap. And then there’s the voice, the way it wraps itself around the delirious gush of words, young man by name of Jeff Mangum finding an entirely new way to deliver the poetry of his soul. And the band‘s right there with him the whole way, your basic bass-drums-guitar core, but also organ trumpet flugelhorn trombone saxophone zanzithophone banjo – whatever it takes to punch a hole through to a whole new sonic universe. Or not. Because I could be wrong. It could be too soon to lay so much praise on any record. It is too soon. But what can I do? I’m in love. I’m a fool.” (Philip Random)