51. thick as a brick

“Speaking of songs that aren’t afraid to be long, Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick is by far the longest on this list (clocking in at 43 plus minutes) and it shouldn’t be one second shorter, even if it’s ultimately not really about anything — an in-joke within an in-joke, which is to say, the alleged epic poetry of a pre-teen genius (one Gerald Bostock) taking on everything he sees as hypocritical, absurd, foolish about the world, society, God, his small town … and never really coming to any conclusion short of the wiser you are, the less thick you are, which is a problem when it comes to empathy, because how does a wise man begin to grasp what it is to be … well, about as dumb as a brick? Or something like that. According to Tull main man, Ian Anderson, it was intended as a lark, a piss take on the whole concept album craze of the time. Except once he started writing, things rather took on a life of their own … and the result ended up conquering the world (for a few weeks anyway in late spring, 1972). #1 in Australia, Canada, Denmark, USA. Top five in the UK, Norway, Netherlands, Italy, Germany. Apparently, it was even all the rage in Vietnam.

Barely teenage me ate it up, of course, the whole mad and epic stew of folk and rock and classical and pop tangents, the ebb and flow of themes and counter-themes, coming, going, kicking up, burning down. And yes, it really is all one big song, because try as have over the years (and trust me, I’ve tried hard), I’ve never found any piece of it that works better on its own than it does as part of the epic whole. And that includes the cover which is essentially an entire small town newspaper, twelve full-size pages of scandals, non-rabbits, art crimes, comics, even an advance review of the album itself, which probably says it best. One doubts at times the validity of what appears to be an expanding theme throughout the two continuous sides of this record but the result is at worst entertaining and at least aesthetically palatable.” (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 kids 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)

62. the golden void

“The first time I ever heard mention of Hawkwind, it was some punk rock loudmouth dismissing them as metal heads who’d fried their brains on too much brown acid. Which instantly sounded like something worth investigating. What they are, or certainly were (because it’s the deep weird 1970s, I’m thinking about here), was proper anarcho-hippie-revolutionaires who made the very best of their fabulously fried brains. Because it’s f***ing true, what the guy’s singing about in The Golden Void — the corridor of flame and the psychedelic warriors who commit to it, find themselves way the f*** out at the edge of time. Because I’ve seen them in my psychedelic journeys. Hell, I’ve been one, doing my infinitesimal bit to keep the universe expanding as it must, riding that big and glorious and infinite boom to its ever blooming edge. It’s all true. Trust me. I wouldn’t lie about something like that, and neither would Hawkwind. You can hear it in the passion of the performance, every means utilized to evoke what they’ve encountered: ever spiraling, never ending, indescribable, and the thing is, they’re still there, down the golden void, and so am I, surfing fractal edges of … eternity, I guess. Time and space are like that if you’re moving fast enough. I think. I wish I could somehow prove any of this. Which I suppose I can. But not if you won’t listen to stuff like The Golden Void at proper atom splitting volume … with the right kind of ears.” (Philip Random)