31. right on for the darkness

“I guess I probably heard this Curtis Mayfield epic back when it was new via the local cool FM radio station (1973 being a year before all that started going to hell). But I wouldn’t have been up to it. I wasn’t cool enough yet. Its depth-beauty-power-significance would’ve breezed straight past me. But jump ahead a decade and now I was ready for the album called Back To The World found in a friend’s collection. ‘Back to the World’ being how American GIs in Vietnam referred to their return home to the normal every day life you’d left behind at least a thousand years ago. Which if your blood was to some degree African too often meant just trading one war for the another anyway.

Betrayal in a word. A betrayal heard in the Mr. Mayfield’s intensely masculine falsetto (as somebody else described it). But there’s more than just that going on in Right on for the Darkness, musically, and production wise, a complexity of ambition and beauty that … well, sometimes you’ve just got to say yeah, right on, this is something only music can do. It can take you there, one foot in heaven, the other in hell. Which even if I hadn’t spent any of my time in a proper ghetto, I could still sort of relate, the suburbs offering their own kinder, gentler, more deceptive nightmares. Not many get murdered and nobody starving. But they do suffocate. And good luck trying to get out.” (Philip Random)

32. can't you hear me knocking?

Can’t You Hear My Knocking marks that precise moment at which I realized Punk Rock was dead (which is bullshit, of course, it was just going into remission for a while). It would’ve been summer 1988, a party at the joint we called the Palace of Failure. I remember I was sitting on the stairs, swigging from my ever trusty bottle of cheap red wine, no doubt stoned as well. Suddenly somebody yanked off the hardcore record that was playing, mid-song, which was fine by me, I wasn’t exactly paying attention. A few seconds of party noise and then … pure riff magic, the Rolling Stones at their most elegantly gritty, tearing everything up, the whole party immediately starting to groove. Even Mick Jagger didn’t sound that annoying. How was that possible? And then, the last two-thirds of the track, he wasn’t around anyway, just a full-on Latin groove and some hot soloing. Pure bliss and proof positive that whatever had been so horribly wrong with old school rock back in the early punk days had now passed, a dysfunction of the zeitgeist or whatever. And how the hell had I not heard this song before?  Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, from Sticky Fingers, the one with the zipper on the cover. Which means I had heard it. Because my friend Gary had that album way back when, end of Grade Seven. I distinctly remember playing with the zipper. Which is kind of weird, now that I think of it.” (Philip Random)

(Morrison Hotel Gallery)

33. police + thieves

“More Clash because one track never really suffices with this outfit, as this overall list makes clear. More Clash tracks than from any other artist. With Police and Thieves their highest placing because it cuts to the truth of it: you’re not looking at the world with clear eyes as long as you think it’s cops versus robbers, police versus thieves. It’s the two of them together, fascists and mobsters, working flip sides of the same venal coin. The trick is to stay the hell out their crossfire. I would’ve been at least twenty-two before I finally had this even remotely figured out. With the Clash and their overall worldview a huge part of my education, Police and Thieves being a cover of an old Junior Murvin reggae tune, which is cool itself. But The Clash’s take, found on their first album, kicks things into full-on anthem status, all the while keeping both the reggae and the punk. Which reminds me of young Ryan and his oft-heard claim that the Clash were the world’s best white reggae band. Amen to that. And to the Clash in general. Maybe not ever the only band that mattered, but it sure felt like it at times.” (Philip Random)

34. clampdown

Clampdown‘s the second song I heard from London Calling, the album that ignited the possibility that yeah, maybe the Clash were the only band that mattered. I heard the title track first, and I immediately loved it – all that rage and insurrection down by the river. But for whatever reason (probably because I was pretty broke at the time), I didn’t dive in and buy the album until fellow cab driver Dennis pulled me aside and forced Clampdown on me. It was simply that important, that urgent.

Because as Dennis put it, ‘You’re a young man and a young man’s gotta watch himself when it comes to simple explanations as to how the world really works — fascist bullshit being so easy to fall into, so easy to end up with the bully boys wearing blue and brown. Say goodbye to your living soul.’  Dennis (who was about five years older and recently arrived from England) being the kind of guy who always had a spliff rolled, ready to go. We’d book off for a few minutes, crank the tunes in his cab, always something British, punk or new wave, which past a certain point in summer 1980 meant pretty much non-stop London Calling — the Sgt. Pepper’s of the 1980s, he called it, ‘But better than that hippie shit.’ Punks moving beyond punk, trying to embrace everything goddamned thing, succeeding for the most part. Thanks, Dennis, wherever you are.” (Philip Random)

35. how soon is now?

“Because there had to be at least one goddamned Smiths song on this list. Because as much as I’ve generally found whatz-iz-name‘s histrionics annoying as only a perpetual seventeen year old’s whining can be annoying (and f***ing wrong), I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think he was one of the all-time heavyweights on those occasions when he did get it right … even with all that criminally vulgar shyness.

And the band’s not half-bad either as How Soon Is Now aptly proves from initial gush of flanged Johnny Marr guitar onward. Trust that it sounded like nothing else in 1984, like a lost acid fragment from 1967 had finally completed its tour of the universe and somehow returned to ground in the grim and baleful north of Maggie Thatcher’s Britain, like a gem of ancient beauty and power. And for those who may already have heard How Soon Is Now, cool, I say. There’s still not enough of us.” (Philip Random)

36. stand + you can make it if you try

“This live Sly + the Family Stone double shot comes from the awkwardly titled monster The First Great Rock Festivals of the Seventies: Isle of Wight / Atlanta Pop Festival which is one of those albums I inherited because nobody else wanted it – from my friend Carl who’d previously grabbed it from his older brother’s discard pile. Six sides of this and that including Johnny Winter, Poco, The Allman Brothers, Jimi Hendrix, Leonard Cohen, even some Miles Davis. I guess the whole was less than sum of its parts. I say ‘guess’ because I lost track of everything but the middle two sides a long time ago – the Procol Harum, Ten Years After, David Bromberg, Cactus and Sly and The Family Stone sides, all from the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival (Britain’s Woodstock if you believe the hype, but history seems to argue it was a little more contentious than that).

Anyway, the one thing that is clear is just how f***ing brilliant Sly and his crowd were at that point. The best band on the planet? Maybe. Because to my mind (and soul) it’s powerful evidence of what Hunter S Thompson was talking about, 1971 sometime, that psychedelic morning in Las Vegas when he looked to the west toward San Francisco and saw just how far the great waves of love and evolution had reached before, sadly, tragically, inevitably, they achieved their high water point, and thus began their great retreat. Because the 1960s were nothing if not a wild and unprecedented ocean storm — not just one lone rogue wave taking out a some unsuspecting picnickers, but a sustained, relentless, committed storm, one wave after another, ebbing and flowing, always creeping further inland, going for the heart of the beast that was America (etc). Because we do need to remember this stuff, how free things can get, and it’s seldom ever been as free as a Sly And The Family Stone rave-up, live or in the studio, women and men of all races, creeds, making their stand, not fighting the power so much as grooving right on through it, confident as f*** they’d make it they just never stopped trying. At least until the drugs wore off.” (Philip Random)

(image source)

37. Eskimo [the random edit]

“Because if you’re not at some point listening to music that has turned into noise, or perhaps noticing that noise has turned into music – you’re not trying hard enough. And I’ve definitely tried in my time. I’ve listened to The Residents a lot over the years. There’s certainly a lot to listen to. None of it remotely ordinary, some of it outright sublime. Though they disappointed me when I finally saw them live. Not that there was anything wrong with the show. It was just too human somehow, all my notions dashed that they were aliens of some sort, or spirit entities or maybe some kind of future post-humans come back to check up on us. Nope, they were just people wearing eyeball masks, cranking out weirdly weird music. Yet an album like Eskimo (various parts of which constitute this edit) still gets me wondering. Because it just doesn’t feel like it’s from this world. It feels beyond us somehow, and sublimely, enticingly, alluringly so. Of course, maybe that’s what living in the Arctic is really like, or was anyway, for the millennia before electricity finally showed up. Maybe that’s the whole point. We have met the aliens. The aliens are us.” (Philip Random) 

38. another song to sing

Johnny Cash is right. The world’s always bigger than you thought it was. And weirder, more wonderful. There’s always a reason to crawl out of whatever hole you’re in, get up, try one more time. Because there’s always another song. I guess I don’t really know Johnny Cash’s story as well as I should. I know he had some hard times. I know he got himself saved by the Lord Jesus. I know he gobbled a lot of pills for a while, mixed them up with moonshine or whatever. I know he managed to burn down a forest in California. A thick and complex volume, that man in black. Thank all gods (or whatever) that he found so many songs to sing. Including this one, all (almost) two minutes of it, that I have no memory of adding to my collection, except there it was one day, stuck on side two of an album called From Sea To Shining Sea. About America, I guess. Which goes without saying. Johnny Cash is always about America, one way or other.” (Philip Random)

(Morrison Hotel Gallery)

39. Würm

“Second of two in a row from Yes’s early 1970s glory years, though Würm is technically only part three of 1971’s Starship Trooper, which I figure most people probably have heard in one way or another. But probably not the longer, bigger, vaster 1972 live version, which truly takes off at its standalone climax – the Würm in question here. The album in question is the six sided monster known as Yessongs which was my proper introduction to Yes, the first album of theirs I actually owned. Talk about starting big. And even to this day, I have no problem arguing that at least four of those sides are a waste of nobody’s time, proving beyond any doubt that even as this crowd sometimes chased their high and mighty conceptual concerns perhaps a little (or a lot) too far, they always did it from a foundation of solid ROCK. With Würm’s deceptively simple, ever expanding power exhibit A in that regard.” (Philip Random)