7. Anarchy in the UK

“It’s been how long now since 1976, and some perfectly decent people still haven’t heard Anarchy in the UK, the greatest eruption of pop rage and negation ever pressed to whatever the hell it is vinyl records are actually made  of!?! Plastics, like the man said at the beginning of The Graduate, like that’s all a young man needed to know about the game called life and how to play it. And he was right by which I mean, he was so wrong all he could be was right, like Jo Stalin and Adolph Hitler chasing their ideological extremes so far and hard they were bound to meet in Stalingrad. Which is to say Hell. On earth. Yadda-yadda-yadda. By which I mean, where do you go with such evil in the air? Evil that came from humans, not even driven by organized religion anymore by the time WW2 hit its malevolent peak. What the f*** am I even talking about? Which is the wrong question, because I’m not talking, I’m ranting, and rule #1 of rants is you don’t have to explain. The noise is enough, its own justification.

By which I mean, Anarchy in the UK is sheer zeitgeist – 1976 alive and bleeding, more than three decades after WW2 (still the worst f***ing thing we humans have ever done collectively) finally wrapped up. Meanwhile, it’s 2001 where I’m currently sitting, a further twenty-five years down the line from the Sex Pistols first and best and most glorious eruption – so fierce, it’s like I said already, way too many people still haven’t been allowed to hear it. Which is true. The Man remains terrified of Anarchy in the UK and what it suggests — that the answer to that earlier question (Where Do You Go?) is simple. The answer is nowhere. You make your stand now, you make your stand here – wherever you happen to be on planet earth. Main Street, back alley, bank lobby, some faraway beach – it’s as much yours as anybody else’s, f*** all kings and generals and presidents and bosses. But you do have to make that stand, state your grievance, make your noise, save your soul, save the universe, save the world, save yourself, anihilate the passerby (figuratively, of course) Because if we don’t, THEY will, and it won’t be figurative.” (Philip Random)

(UNITED ARCHIVES GMBH / ALAMY)

8. blowing in the wind [live]

“I remember hating Bob Dylan’s take on Blowing in the Wind the first time I heard it. It was Grade Two, 1967 or thereabouts, Miss Horton’s class. We all loved the Peter Paul and Mary version which was sweet and wistful and fun to sing along to. But then one day Miss Horton (who was obviously at least a part-time hippie) played us the original and … well, what do you expect from a bunch of seven year olds? Over time, of course, I’d grow to like, even love, the man’s voice, like sand and glue as David Bowie put it. But Blowing In The Wind, I found it easy to remain ambivalent about. He just had so much better, more interesting stuff. Why even have an opinion about some dated hippie campfire sing-along? But then I heard the live version from 1974’s Before The Flood. The last track on the album, so the encore, I guess, of what at the time was a big deal tour indeed, Mr. Dylan reunited with The Band, re-conquering a world he’d more or less shrugged off for almost a decade in the wake of his still mysterious motorcycle accident.

The man who’d become a myth having chosen the way of invisibility for a while, then slowly, over a series of consistently inconsistent albums, reasserting himself as just a man again, a singer, a songwriter, a wanderer. Which I guess is what I love about this Blowing In The Wind, electrified now, growling shambolically along, speaking of way too many miles over too many roads, with many more still to come. Because that’s life – it ain’t over until it’s over, and thus the searching and the confusion and the reaching, never quite grasping continue. Because the answers are out there, pieces of them anyway, caught up in the weather, metaphysical and otherwise. In fact, I caught a glimpse of one just last night, but it was moving too fast for me. I finally just drank more wine, took a few notes — and so on until the stars fall from the sky. Which I imagine they did in some small way those other nights way back when, winter sometime, early 1974, the tour that came to be known simply as Tour 74. And then, in the darkness, a lot of people lit a lot of matches and candles.” (Philip Random)

9. in the aeroplane over the sea

“If there’s one track that I’m probably going to regret putting in the top ten of this thing, it’s this one, care of the outfit known as Neutral Milk Hotel, which seems to be concerned with dying and death and whatever happens (or doesn’t) afterwards, which of course throws light back on before, life itself, the whole mad aeroplane journey across the wide open ocean of eternity. But it’s too recent, I fear, too close. The song hasn’t had time to flip through its half-life, get overplayed or whatever, die a death and then re-emerge as … well, who knows? Because that’s what music does, for me anyway. The stuff I truly love. And right now, right here, June sometime, calendar year 2001, I’m f***ing in love with In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, the album and the song, and the band, about whom I know pretty much nothing beyond what the album cover tells me … and it’s a great f***ing album cover, the kind of thing you have to have on vinyl if only to maximize the size of the imagery.

Which honestly is why I bought it. I liked what I was hearing in the record store but it was the cover that sealed the deal. The whole thing throws me back to a time when the whole package mattered absolutely, you wouldn’t think of not listening to it all in one go, headphones on, the cover in your lap. And then there’s the voice, the way it wraps itself around the delirious gush of words, young man by name of Jeff Mangum finding an entirely new way to deliver the poetry of his soul. And the band‘s right there with him the whole way, your basic bass-drums-guitar core, but also organ trumpet flugelhorn trombone saxophone zanzithophone banjo – whatever it takes to punch a hole through to a whole new sonic universe. Or not. Because I could be wrong. It could be too soon to lay so much praise on any record. It is too soon. But what can I do? I’m in love. I’m a fool.” (Philip Random)

10. sweet Jane

“The Velvet Underground being another of those changed-everything-forever outfits, but then that’s pretty much the rule now that we’re in the top ten of this thing. Sweet Jane gets the nod here because A. for some inexplicable reason, it hasn’t been overexposed in the culture (the ‘evil mothers’ line probably has something to do with it), and B. it’s main man Lou Reed opening wide his not entirely dark heart, and stopping gravity before he’s done. Particularly that part about the lies inherent in women never really fainting, villains always blinking, children being the only ones who blush, and the purpose of life being just to die. And, of course, it is the Velvets, so no time is wasted, no artificial sweeteners are used. It just goes straight for the heart and soul and brain. 

Apparently the story is, the record company pleaded with Lou for a hit single, something that wasn’t inherently transgressive, that could actually get played on the radio. And he delivered. Almost. Because whatever happened, we missed it. The culture, that is. I certainly have no memory of hearing Sweet Jane on the radio back in the day. In fact, it didn’t even get a single release until years after the fact. There were, of course, many covers along the way with the Cowboy Junkies finally kicking the song out of the park. But that’s a whole other angle. The Velvet original remains fresh to my ears, 100 percent non-allergenic. So yeah, I get to include it on this list. The tenth best song most people have still probably never heard.” (Philip Random) 

11. transmission

“Call Transmission the song that finally got me around to loving Joy Division. Because at first, they mostly annoyed me. Not because of the music. Nah, it was the death cult, the ‘Ian died for our sins’ crowd. Which is overstating it, I don’t recall anyone actually saying that. But it sure felt like it at times. ‘You must take this song very, very seriously because the man who wrote and sang it killed himself – how serious is that?’ To which I’d counter, so what you’re saying is Joy Division are half a serious as Badfinger because two of those guys killed themselves. Which I’ll now apologize for. That’s asshole logic. Which isn’t to diminish Badfinger at all. Badfinger were a great f***ing band. But they were no Joy Division. They didn’t change everything forever.

(photo: Martin O’Neill/Redferns)

Joy Division being one of those ground zero outfits, I think, there being a universe that existed before them with its own unique rules and peculiarities, and then they showed up and those rules and peculiarities changed. Forever. And no, it wasn’t the suicide. It got a lot of folks’ attention, for sure, but if there hadn’t been something uniquely sharp and fresh and yeah, deadly serious, in the actual music, well, we’d be talking about some other band. And anyway, despite appearances, I like to think there is at least a little actual joy to be found in the Joy Division discography. Maybe in Transmission, a love song that doesn’t tear anyone apart, because the focus isn’t on some other — just the right song at the right moment on the right radio station, and what it can do for a lonely human soul. It can set that soul to dancing. And when you’re dancing, you are not alone … even if you’re the only one in the room. Of course, I’ve heard the exact opposite argued – that Transmission is a condemnation of radio, of all the crap that people will listen to in order get their minds off all the troubles of the world. Guess we’ll just have to keep arguing, because the guy who wrote it checked out long ago.” (Philip Random)

12. rock’n’roll suicide

“Rock music is weaponry, no question. Final ammo of the disconnected, the lonely, the desperate. And who better to grasp this, put it into words and song but the Alien himself – David Jones, aka Bowie, aka Ziggy Stardust? Because even aliens are human, deep down inside. Or better put – we’re all aliens at some point, from some angle or other, alone at the edge of the night, and never more so than at some pivotal moment in our f***ed up youth, hanging onto the edge of some unfathomable abyss. To be or not to be.

The palpable memory for me here is my friend James, long gone now, because he let go of the edge, became a rock and roll suicide. Was he even aware of this song? Probably. He knew his music way better than I did. But mostly, he knew his bullshit dreams, got swallowed by them. That need to be adored, far outweighing his desire to give. That’ll kill you every time one way or another. Anyway, David Bowie’s Rock’n’roll Suicide contains all that, and more, the sublime climax to one of the very few albums that I still listen to in its entirety. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect because nothing is, but holy sh**, Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars gets damned close to that particular impossibility.” (Philip Random)

13. wild horses

“As the story goes … well nobody seems to know for sure with this one. Who did write Wild Horses? The official story is that Jagger and Richard did it with a little help from Richard’s soul brother/fellow substance extremist Gram Parsons, then of the Flying Burrito Brothers. The darker version is that it was mainly Parsons’ tune (certainly his lyrics) and the Stones more or less stole it from him while he was too wasted to notice, with the final evidence in this regard being that they felt guilty enough to let him release his version first. I personally don’t care. Just as long as we got his version, the Flying Burrito Brothers take.

If only for the middle verse where Parsons gives voice to that dull aching pain, making for the deepest kind of soul music, immensely powerful, but also fragile, way too easily wounded. It’s a place Mick Jagger could never have hoped to touch, could never really own. He just didn’t live that dangerously. Which I suppose makes it another argument for the thievery in question. But like I said, I don’t care. And neither does Parsons, long dead now via heroin induced misadventure out near Joshua Tree – a story that’s perhaps gotten way too much notice over the years. The music being the thing. The music is always the thing.” (Philip Random)

14. astral weeks

“When it comes to Van Morrison, it seems there’s three types of people. The first have no opinion really. They just like it when Brown Eyed Girl gets played at weddings, and maybe Moondance, too. The second tend to argue that Van peaked with Them, howling out the Ulster punk blues circa 1965-66, and everything since has been self indulgent whatever. And then there are those who hear the poetry of the opening lines from Astral Weeks (the song) and let’s just say, they get chills, the good kind, the transformative kind. The music humbles them, you might even say it saves them (at least in some small way) from narrow belief in a narrow universe in which everything is known, and that which isn’t will be soon enough, and thus defined by sober application of scientific data. Or nothing matters anyway, we’re all just over-evolved monkeys doing our worst to stay alive. Or it’s all fate, preordained by some all powerful, all terrible blind idiot God (and his minions). So either way – who f***ing cares?

I do actually. Which I suppose makes me a type three, the third kind, with nine Van Morrison albums on my shelf never far from reach, because you never know, nobody knows, but still we reach. And the one album that’s gotten grabbed the most over the years is Astral Weeks, the 1968 miracle that apparently just seemed to just come out of nowhere, and even today nobody’s really sure. The mystery continues, beautiful and profoundly necessary, or as Lester Bangs put it a few years after the fact: ‘In the condition I was in, it assumed at the time the quality of a beacon, a light on the far shores of the murk; what’s more, it was proof that there was something left to express artistically besides nihilism and destruction.’ In other words, yeah, what can I say? It sends me.” (Philip Random)

(image source)

15. revolution 9

“Second of two in a row from the outfit known as The Beatles, because one record could never do justice to everything they accomplished, particularly through their so-called studio years, which never went further, wider, weirder, more provocatively abstract than the track known as Revolution 9 (I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone call it a song). My first encounter came toward the end of Grade Seven, springtime 1972. Twelve years old and because I’m sort of responsible, I guess, I’ve been assigned to help slightly bad kid Malcolm Mills make a mix tape for the end of year dance — entrusted with the key to the school’s downstairs music room. Anyway, among other options, Malcolm’s grabbed his big brother’s copy of the Beatles White Album, intending to extract some of the obvious pop stuff. But we end up digging through all four sides, at some point wondering why there are two Revolutions listed. The first is just a slowed down version of the radio hit, and thus not near as cool. The second one’s called Revolution 9 and it’s …?

Well, it’s not really music, is it? It’s just all this baffling noise that keeps going on and on. But then Malcolm gets it. This is the one where it says Paul is dead, the secret track where all the Beatles mysteries are revealed. It has to be. So we listen again, louder, making sure we haven’t missed anything. Then a third time, VERY LOUD, which is when Mr. Walton, the Gym teacher, barges in, and asks us what the hell we’re doing. We never did finish that party tape. But I did get my tiny head turned around in a profound way – a question mark imposed upon all manner assumptions I had as to what music actually was. Or more to the point, at what point does noise become music? Or what happens when the two are indistinguishable? And who’s making the call? The secret, of course, is not to decide, just enjoy. Surf the chaos. See where it takes you. Thank you, Beatles. And Yoko, of course. No Yoko, no Revolution 9. No Beatles getting elevated to that level where they really were (still are) definitively, superlatively fab.” (Philip Random)