26. turn on the news

Turn On The News arrived in my life as one of those ‘you must hear this’ items. 1984 sometime, the dark middle point of Ronald Reagan’s reign. It’s a radio night, Bostock shouting everyone else down, elbowing his way to the turntable, demanding we pay attention to the first track on Side Four of Husker Du’s Zen Arcade, punk rock’s first truly epic album. Which, of course, meant Zen Arcade wasn’t really punk rock. It was too big, too beyond, and no question, Turn On The News was its most essential four and a half minutes.  A song of pain, a song of despair, and yet hope as well, because it’s a song of consciousness, of not turning away from the noise and pain of the world. And it forced a turn of phrase, in my life anyway. Some friend’s boring you to death with his girlfriend issues, or the details of the mortgage on his new condo. You finally just shake your head and say, ‘Turn on the news, man. There’s people out there with real f***ing problems’.” (Philip Random)  

27. final solution

Final Solution equates unrequited lust and thermonuclear holocaust, then binds them with a title that can’t help but force reflection on the worst damned thing human beings have ever done. How punk is that? And all this from Cleveland, Ohio, 1976 before punk rock had even officially arrived in the Americas. The Pere Ubu crowd in full mad annihilation mode, simultaneously demolishing and inventing the future we all had coming, ready or not. Also, it’s basically a cover of Summertime Blues, one of rock and roll’s seminal protest songs, except these weirdos have exploded it into something far bigger and hungrier, ravenous even. In my idea of a perfect world, it would replace Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl at all weddings. And hell, play it at funerals too. Because who ever dies with all their problems solved?” (Philip Random)

28. baby’s on fire

Baby’s On Fire doesn’t play by any of the rules, yet it absolutely slays as pop song, rock song, whatever you want to call it — the Brian Eno genius in full wild eruption, that beautiful baby getting tossed out with the bathwater, or whatever the hell’s going on. What’s going on is Mr. Eno’s delightfully skewed approach to wordplay. Throw a bunch of loose phrases into a box, pull them out in random order. Proceed from there. And then there’s Robert Fripp‘s incendiary guitar solo erupting through the middle of things like a demon from future antiquity (or was it Paul Rudolph?). By which I mean, holy sh**, Baby’s On Fire was at least five years old when I first heard it, and still too hot to touch. And it still hasn’t cooled off. Yet it is still cool.” (Philip Random)

29. O Superman

O Superman is one of those rare records that truly stopped time. Because pretty much everybody I knew at the time (1981-82) – the first time they heard it, they literally stopped. A what is this? moment. Quickly followed by Who is this? To which the answer was simple enough — just some girl named Laurie from New York, spiky hair, artist/poet type playing her electrified fiddle, messing with tape loops and stuff, speaking (almost singing) strange and angular truths. Nothing that many haven’t attempted since but unlike anything anyone had heard before. And she nailed it — whatever it was. And that part near the beginning, the bit about ‘Hello, I’m not home right now’ —  pretty much everyone had that as their answering machine message for at least a few days as O Superman swept coolly, smoothly, strangely through the world, like a virus from outer space. Yet I doubt it ever got a single play on local commercial radio. Neither the song nor the album, Big Science, which took everything further, weirder, bigger. It’s almost as if the people running things didn’t have a f***ing clue of what was going on.” (Philip Random)

30. marquee moon

“In case you haven’t figured it out already, I’m a sucker for an epic, and Marquee Moon (the song) is definitely that. Title track of Television’s first and best album, and doubly lovable for how it righteously pulled the rug out from certain Stalinist tendencies of the punk scene at the time — way too many hard and fast rules getting laid down as to what drugs could be taken, the colour of your leather jacket, the length and style of your hair, how long a song could be. Which is all dumb, all opposite to the anarchic fervour that ignited punk in the first place. No rules, no boundaries, no nothing – just don’t be f***ing boring. And Marquee Moon (song and album) nail that. So yeah, maybe Television weren’t punk, but they certainly came from punk. So if a riff said, ride me to f***ing eternity, they were going to ride it, taking their orders from the music, not some tiresome Machiavellian assholes who, in another era, would be deciding what words could be used in a poem, what symbols … and who should be disappeared come the revolution.” (Philip Random)  

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)