“Pere Ubu were one of those bands I started hearing about in 1977-78 as punk and whatever finally started reaching the suburbs (the underside of them anyway). And then I actually heard them and yup, they were intense, noisy, hard to ignore but also hard to love. Though 30 Seconds Over Tokyo would eventually turn me. Because it’s just so damned good. It was the title first, reminding me of the movie, a World War 2 thing, American heroes bombing Tokyo, a suicide run, just like the record says. Except the record’s way better, and recorded way before punk actually, in 1975. Cleveland, Ohio of all places. No, let me rephrase that. Cleveland, Ohio obviously. Because something had to start there, whatever it is that got started, that’s still going on, that mad suicide run to take the war to all the normals, figuratively, of course.” (Philip Random)
“The band known as War at absolute peak power. In the case of Gypsy Man, it’s how the song creeps in, as if carried by a distant storm, catching the moment for me, 1973, maybe fourteen years old, the Watergate thing, the Vietnam thing, the whole prolonged end of the 1960s thing, all the bright colours fading, distinct stench of garbage caught in the breeze. But at least radio was still good in 1973. You could actually hear Gypsy Man on a commercial FM station, the long album version. Because the big corporate screwing hadn’t happened yet, but it was about to, because the consultants had filed their reports. There was stupid money to be made with the FM airwaves, and all of this visionary art and truth-telling crap — it was in the way, babe.” (Philip Random)
“It’s 1977 and punk rock may be erupting but Neil Young‘s gone strangely, evocatively ambient … for one song anyway, all heartfelt yearning and fireplace hisses and crackles. Will To Love being an example of a unique artist at the peak of his powers doing something the’s never really done before so well that he’ll never really have to do it again. Found on American Stars And Bars a mish-mash of an album that also includes Like A Hurricane and some pretty much straight up Country stuff, making it a more or less perfect evocation of one man’s confusion. And don’t kid yourself, everybody was confused in 1977.” (Philip Random)
“When I was kid, maybe fifteen, it was the story, the big concept that appealed most, perfect for my still growing brain and imagination. Which made Electric Light Orchestra‘s fourth album, Eldorado essential. The one concerning the Dreamer, the Unwoken Fool. He starts out high on a hill, catches a glimpse of the ocean’s daughter, goes after her, gets caught up in a war, a tornado in the desert, Sherwood Forest, a lost kingdom, the south seas, some painted ladies, and so on … finally ending up atop another hill, still a dreamer, unwoken, still a fool. For months, I’d listen to Eldorado beginning to end at least five days out of seven, until one day, I guess I finally got into Yes, or maybe ski season started. Or just girls and alcohol. Whatever happened, Eldorado got put aside for more than a decade. Until one night in 1987 sometime, high no doubt, tired of punk rock and hardcore and whatever, I’m picking through the dregs of my old vinyl (the un-essential stuff not filed on a shelf, just piled in various boxes) and the cover catches my eye. It still does.
A still from an actual film frame from Wizard of Oz – Dorothy’s contentious ruby slippers, the wicked witch of wherever trying to zap them off with her pale green hands. I put the album on and I couldn’t help but smile. It was just so big and fun. Sheer melodrama, all those strings and choral overloads, and related surprises. Like in Boy Blue where everything’s revving up to an obvious sort of b-movie climax, but it doesn’t go there. Not yet. Just sidesteps into plucked cellos (I think), and then it goes for the obvious climax. And then in Laredo Tornado, it’s the raw power of electric guitar with everything else majestic and soaring all around it, like a genuine tornado, grand and intense. And then jump ahead to the climax of the whole thing, the title track, Eldorado, I swear Jeff Lynne‘s channelling Tom Jones here, strong as a coal miner, even if the lyrics are too often just filler (I recall Jeff Lynne saying he wrote them all in a weekend). Nah, it’s the music that matters, the big and beautiful journey it takes, electric and full of light.” (Philip Random)
Neutral Milk Hotel‘s 1999 album, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea gets a special nod here for giving us the most recent selections on the list. Though it should be noted that the entire decade of the 1990s is rather woefully neglected mainly because Philip Random had mostly stopped buying new vinyl by then. “CDs were the thing at first, and then mp3s. But something about In The Aeroplane Over The Sea – I just had to have it in full twelve-inch form. And not just for the cover, though it’s a hell of a cover. Nah, it just didn’t feel right unless I was getting some vinyl hiss and ticks, like a throwback to those times when the blemishes mattered. The blemishes always matter, which main Neutral Milkman Jeff Mangum makes clear every time he opens his mouth and thus his soul, young man with a whole new way of turning breath to voice. And the whole album’s strong. Not an unnecessary moment. Including the few seconds it takes to flip it over between sides.”
Any way you look at it, the Guess Who (straight outa Winnipeg) were the closest thing Canada ever had to a Beatles. Hell, they even outsold them in 1970. But this is two long years later. They’ve lost Randy Bachman, ace guitarist, co-founder and key songwriter, but they’re still rockin’ profoundly up and down the north side, working that giddy sense of freedom that only a superlative live band can attain. And they’ve still got Burton Cummings just sober enough on Guns Guns Guns to lay down some of the finest vocals that this planet will ever hear. Godspeed mother nature, Godspeed.