“I remember hearing Gates of Delirium get played on commercial radio when it was new, all twenty-two minutes of it. I remember my fifteen year old jaw dropping. It would’ve been late 1974, maybe 1975. Little did I realize that an era was fast ending – that very soon the culture would have little use for bands like Yes spreading their vast and cosmic wings, unleashing dense and intense and impossibly beautiful side long epics about mystical warriors in mythical lands busting through great gates of delirium. Or whatever it was actually about. It was definitely about war, burning children’s laughter on to hell. I remember a few years later, a musician friend saying, ‘But it’s really about everything. That’s the problem with Yes. Their songs aren’t really about anything. Just everything. But f***, those guys can play.'” (Philip Random)
“I saw Blurt warm up New Order way back when, just a two piece as I recall. Saxophone and drums, and driven by a nasty sort of good humour. They were way more fun than the headliners, and better. Which is worth considering when you hear Gravespit (a track that only ever showed up on an obscure compilation album as far as I know) — poisonous as it seems, there’s a smile underneath it all.” (Philip Random)
“1986, I think. I finally got to see Bob Dylan in concert. Which was hardly a high point career wise. And the venue didn’t help. Football stadium, bad sound, mid summer hot. Fortunately, he had Tom Petty and his crowd keeping things rock solid, and four powerful women singing gospel style back up. But even so, the life tended to suck out of things whenever Bob opened his mouth. Sad but true. Until one of the encores. A song called In The Garden that I’d never heard before, obviously from his Christian phase, because it was clearly about Christ and his betrayal. And every word rang true, and glowed like burning coal. I guess he still believed. That night anyway. And I guess I did, too. In the music anyway. ” (Philip Random)
“It’s Christmas 1972, a party at family friends. I’m thirteen and barely old enough to be hanging with the big kids. Just shut up and sit in the corner. And then they all go outside to smoke a joint. They even invite me along, but no way, not with my parents barely fifty feet away. Which leaves me alone with the record that’s playing – Aqualung by Jethro Tull, getting to the end of Side Two, a song about all the religious bullshit they push on you when you’re a kid, which I had no problem agreeing with, particularly the part about God not being a simple toy. You didn’t just wind Him up once a week, say few stupid prayers and then get on with your everyday lying, cheating, stealing. Nah, if there was a God worth giving a shit about, He or She or It had to be magnitudes more complex and wise than that. I don’t believe you — you’ve got the whole damned thing all wrong.” (Philip Random)
If you were halfway cool in 1983, you were hip to the Violent Femmes first album. None of the commercial radio stations were playing it, but you’d long ago given up on them anyway — cesspools of bad sound, populated by liars. Unlike the Femmes who couldn’t not be fresh, horny, mad, honest – sometimes annoyingly so. But not with Kiss Off. Kiss Off hit it all just right, particularly the part where he counts them all down, his ten points of rage, frustration, spite, EVERYTHING. A punk that required no amplifiers, that could be delivered from a street corner, which is how the band got discovered in the first place.
“I gave up trying to figure out what Michael Stipe was on about very early on. The first few REM albums, he was mumbling, which made it easy. But then, come Life’s Rich Pageant, he was suddenly enunciating, you could now decipher words – they just weren’t adding up. Except maybe Cuyahoga. Because I’d read about the Cuyahoga as a little kid. The river that was so polluted with man made chemicals and whatever that it actually caught fire, Cleveland, Ohio, 1969. That’s the kind of fact that’s all too meaningful.” (Philip Random)
“Gram Parsons’ Grievous Angel being perhaps the one album more than any other that made me realize just how wrong I could be about what constitutes great f***ing music. Because I was that kind of fool when I was younger – happy to tell you just how much I hated ALL country music. And I’m sure I was loud about it. Sorry. I know better now. I know that hating all of any kind of music is like hating a part of your soul. Because in what other form could you take a simple song about a simple wedding gone wrong and turn it into something epic, apocalyptic even. Because such are human souls – we’ve all got entire universes exploding inside of us. And why would you want to deny any of that?” (Philip Random)
The album’s called Dark Continent, and the song’s called Tse Tse Fly (both references to Africa) but Wall of Voodoo‘s first (and best) long player is really about America. The jangly guitars, cheap drum machines, scrapyard percussion bits and tips into noise. And the stories being told, equal parts noir and surreal. What could be more American?
Second of two in a row from XTC‘s double treasure, 1982’s English Settlement, the album where they pulled a sort of Beatles move: stopped worrying about how they might reproduce the material live and instead just dove into the studio and its possibilities. And special nod to engineer and co-producer Hugh Padgham, best known for inventing the gated drum sound that so drove the 1980s (for better and worse). But his tricks on English Settlement are more subtle, working an often rich acoustic sensibility which, as the story goes, was driven not by any great conceptual intent, but rather main man Andy Partridge‘s purchase of a new acoustic guitar after giving the old one away as a contest prize.