53. oh yeah

“I doubt I’ll ever find the words for how wonderfully, ecstatically, profoundly the so-called Krautrock combo known as Can have affected me since I first crossed paths with them sometime around my twenty-fourth birthday. I guess I could write a book, but somebody already has. And anyway who’s got the time? But assuming I did, I suspect I’d give at least a chapter to that lamest of all Lollapaloozas. 1994, I think, Cloverdale BC, traffic jams, shitty food, too much sun, not enough water, too much dope, too many big deal bands not really delivering, failing to send me anywhere I hadn’t been before … except for maybe Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds until some loogan tossed a shoe at the stage. And that was that, early exit. F*** you, somebody.

And then, a few long hours later, it’s getting on sunset and I just want to cut my losses, go home, except I’ve lost touch with my ride, so whatever, I’m just sitting there alone in the middle of a very crowded field, waiting for the Beastie Boys who are up next, but I just saw them last year in a smaller, cooler, better situation, so no, I’m not feeling much in the way of excitement or anticipation. But then their pre-show DJ does a genius thing, drops the needle on Can’s Oh Yeah, from Tago Mago, certainly their biggest album … and it’s perfect, seven or so minutes of pulsing groove and eerie drones and backwards vocals and jagged rips of sideways guitar that somehow merges with the crowd noise and dust and fading light and redeems the f***ing the day, pulls all of its fragmented pieces together, makes it whole, worth all the trouble. Yeah, I could have just listened to the same record at home, sitting on the patio 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, as I try to remind myself whenever shit keeps going sideways, going anywhere but where and how I want it. Such is life, I guess. If it was supposed to easy, they would have called it something else. And a song like Oh Yeah – it just wouldn’t matter as much.” (Philip Random)

54. thousands are sailing

“The Pogues being one of those outfits that put a lie to the notion that the music of 1980s lacked soul. You just had to know where to look for it, or listen. In the Pogues’ case, that meant London, even if the sound (and the blood) was emphatically Irish. And sure, call them all drinking songs, I guess, just don’t discount the sorrow, or in the case of Thousands Are Sailing, the ghosts. An immigrant song, and so, a song of desperation, because it really does take you there, Ireland, 1845 and onward, the Famine. The thousands upon thousands who sailed away across the western ocean in the general direction of the Americas, packed into disease infested coffin ships with no prospect of anything save that it beat the certainty of starving to death if they stayed home. And then maybe three quarters of the way across, assuming you’d survived that far, some shady guy in religious garb might have pulled you aside and suggested that a snap renunciation of the papacy and conversion to the Church of England might save you and yours from getting dumped onto a plague island in the St. Lawrence river, reserved for Catholics and the like. At least that’s how it played out in my family’s story, or so I’ve been told. So yeah, here’s raising a stout to that stout and pragmatic Protestant Irish blood that still pumps through at least three-eighths of me, and to the Pogues for conjuring its bitter, drunken, resilient truth.” (Philip Random)

55. rock’n’roll n*****

“A friend (I won’t say their name) thinks I should somehow apologize for listing Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger. But holy shit, how do you apologize for something like this? Yeah, Patti Smith’s not black, but she is one hell of a poet, so if she says she’s a nigger of the rock ‘n’ roll variety, I guess I have to take her word for it. Even as I’m sure that some will take issue, and they’ll probably be at least as right as Ms. Smith. Just call it all confusion, I guess. Fierce and true.

Speaking of which (and maybe the best damned argument for the word, the song, the song that contains the word) is the album it showed up on. 1978’s Easter, which is otherwise a mostly restrained affair, maybe even a little a dull. Though it does contain the biggest hit she ever had, Because The Night, the one Bruce Springsteen wrote for her. Which is hilarious really — all those Boss fans buying it, then getting spat on toward the end of side one. Such were the punk rock wars of the late seventies. Confusion everywhere … and it was good.” (Philip Random)

56. revolution

“Because I couldn’t really justify forcing the Beatles Revolution onto this list, and anyway this latter day Revolution (care of The Spacemen 3) pays it fierce and eviscerating and ultimately beautiful homage, all flesh eating distortion and simple message. Just five seconds. That’s all it would take for all the fucked up children of this world to rise up and tear everything down. The weird part is, I was in Britain when this was new. I even saw the t-shirts. 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 was going on here. Grunge before they had the marketing figured out. A punk rock that wasn’t in a hurry. And I mean that in the best possible way. Because once marketing got involved, it was game over for everybody but the unit-shifters.” (Philip Random)

57. teenage kicks

“It’s all in the title. Teenage Kicks kicks like a f***ing teenager. In the best possible way. Or as The Who put it way back when, the kid’s are alright. They always are, they must 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? And the thing is, you don’t have to be a teenager to get it. I wasn’t. I was twenty the first time I heard Teenage Kicks. And if my math is straight, so was Feargal Sharkey when he sang it, and John O’Neill when he wrote it. Power pop for the f***ing ages, I say. The Undertones were NOT a punk band. Yet in true stupid music biz fashion, I doubt it got played even once on commercial radio here in the Americas. And people wonder why I so deeply detest the f***ing Knack.” (Philip Random)

58. the man whose head expanded

“I admit it. I never really gave Fall main man Mark E. Smith his proper due back in the day. But I had my reasons, mainly connected with the cult that seemed to spread up around him, which got particularly annoying as the 1980s dragged along (certainly in my narrow version of what passed for reality at the time). But that was then. Now there’s no arguing the guy had something genuinely fresh and cool 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, an assault rifle of 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 definitely well expanded. Either way, tip of the hat to Martin for forcing the point, and to Mr. Smith just for being who he was-is-shall-always-be, good bad and ugly, because he will never die, I’m pretty sure, not with all those f***ing records kicking around.” (Philip Random)

59. psycho killer

1977 is not the best Talking Heads album, not even close, but in Psycho Killer, it probably has their best song. Which gets us to the argument I had recently with my lawyer, she claiming to have heard it before, and thus a dubious selection for this list. Hell, it’s in the movie, the very first song, David Byrne stepping out solo on stage, just acoustic guitar and beatbox, and his uniquely wound intensity. But these are records I’m listing here, not songs, and the essential recording of Psycho Killer is the original 1977 album version — funky, tough and psychotic, which clearly not enough folks have heard yet, or it would’ve shown up as the theme song for some eighth rate cop show. Which is a good thing. I’m not complaining. But I was at a friend’s big deal fortieth birthday recently where it brought the house down, which was weird and also kind of beautiful, all these former punks and new-wavers and whatever else hitting the middle of their lives, showing scar tissue, but still moving, liable to explode at any instant, taking everything with them. But in a good way.” (Philip Random)

60. music + science lovers

“The 1987 album known Time Boom X De Devil Dead (yeah, it’s a mouthful, but why shouldn’t it be?) is one of the greatest three way musical collisions that ever happened, and further evidence that you just can’t trust the Music Biz when it comes to getting superlative noise from creators to appreciators. In fact, it may just be the whole reason for this list (the best stuff you’ve probably never heard). The music and science lovers in question here being i) Lee “Scratch” Perry (having recently split Jamaica for the UK), ii) the Dub Syndicate (absolute truth in advertising), and iii) Adrian Sherwood (mix magician extraordinaire) all taking the night train together, feeling no pain, even as the Cold War reality of the moment kept burning hotter and hotter, almost as if the only conceivable constructive action was to keep moving, keep grooving, keep smoking the ganja and cranking the echo, and spilling the mad truth in hopes it might someday one day, by whatever improbable means, finally find the sort of ears that need it, want it, maybe even deserve it. Time Boom X De Devil Dead. Seriously, seek it out — possibly the greatest album ever that hardly anyone’s heard.” (Philip Random)

61. desolation row

“It must’ve been early 1973 because I was still thirteen, working through the bullshit of Grade Eight, and everything else for that matter, including life itself, a big fat WHY BOTHER at the heart of pretty much all my musings. Because the Christian-God-based reality I’d had foisted on me from day one was too ridiculous to be taken remotely seriously. But what did that leave then other than meaninglessness, which was proving to be no fun at all. Meanwhile in the background, this Bob Dylan song was playing on the cool FM radio station of the moment (nobody else sounded like him, I had that much figured out) and it just kept going on and on, about postcards sent from hangings, and Cain and Abel, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Insurance Men, the Titanic, Einstein disguised as Robin Hood, the Phantom of the Opera, Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliot … like the singer-poet-whatever in question had a damned serious message for me and he wasn’t going stop until I got it. Which I did finally. Except it wasn’t really a message. More of a feeling that I’d be wise to stop sweating the meaning stuff, and rather just get on with it, live, learn, encounter crazy shit, go to the hangings and bear witness, maybe drink cheap red wine, mix it up with marijuana, get serious about all that confusion out there (and within for that matter) not as an end but maybe as an indication that some higher wisdom-insight-glory might be waiting a little further down the line. And take notes, maybe send a few postcards of my own. Maybe this is one of them.” (Philip Random)