“I remember seeing Midnight Oil live when they were as big as they’d ever get (late 1980s sometime), saving the world from ecological ruin one song at a time. They introduced Power and the Passion as a surfing song, which makes sense, because there’s nothing more powerful or passionate than a big wave, all that planetary evolution and movement coalescing across four billion years of evolutionary ebb and flow and yin and yang to conjure this fabulous monster which, if your skills are to up to it, you can actually ride. So not man vs nature so much as man in tune with it, which, in their prime, The Oils were just powerful and passionate enough to make you believe was possible.” (Philip Random)
Alternately known as St. Che or merely Che, this outfit was basically just Tackhead anyway, which is confusing, because Tackhead was also Fats Comet and/or Mark Stewart’s Maffia and/or Little Axe (though that came later) and/or Keith Leblanc working solo. He was the drummer, the other key three players being bassist Doug Wimbish, guitarist Skip MacDonald and producer, mixmaster extraordinaire Adrian Sherwood. The first three originally connected as the house band for Sugarhill Records but it took colliding with Mr. Sherwood to truly unleash the kind of outfit that defines zeitgeists. Big fat beats, funky grooves, charged samples all toward the kind of soundtrack that a proper apocalypse needs, and the 1980s were nothing if not a rolling apocalypse (if you had the right kind of eyes). As for Che, little is known beyond this single and then, a few years after the fact, an album that hardly anyone heard. Which is pretty much par for the whole Tackhead story. Essential but you’ve got to go looking for it.
“I remember first hearing In The Light on the radio when Physical Graffiti was brand new and I was maybe sixteen, and immediately thinking, okay, this is serious stuff. This is about something. Because by 1975, the music you found on the radio was less and less about anything. It was just predictable gruel, programmed to fill sloppy gaps between advertising. Not that I was sophisticated enough to voice it as such. I just knew something good was fast slipping away – all that cool significance that had been so prevalent way back when in 1972 and 3. Because when you’re that young, you just don’t know that’s how the world works – that it’s precisely the best, most beautiful, cool, dramatic stuff that THEY consciously destroy, because that’s just the kind of gangsters they are. But you are at least beginning to suspect something. And more to the point, you’re not just waiting for it to come to you anymore, you’re starting to go after it. The Light, that is. Everybody needs some light.” (Philip Random)
“Fred Frith being one of those geniuses who pretty much always let his playing do the talking, Gravity being an album that dates back to 1980, but it was deep into the 1990s before I gave it a proper listen. Music that stood the test, no doubt about that. Or more to the point, music that had confidently showed the way to the cool future we were then having. Rock and jazz and folk and all manner of exotic elements all humming along very nicely together, not world music per say, but what the world actually sounded like, with Hands of the Juggler a delirious standout, particularly once it shifts gears around the three-minute point.” (Philip Random)
“I saw the Sensation Alex Harvey Band in 1975, warming up Jethro Tull, and yeah, it was sensational. They had props and costume changes, and there seemed to be a story being told. Maybe concerning a Man In a Jar, a track which I only got around to hearing (on record) maybe ten years later, bored, picking through a pile of old albums a friend was getting rid of. It was an instant keeper, and not just for the one song, the whole album being a sort of sleazy back alley opera about sleazy back alley stuff, and yet redeemed by an impossible dream, which are always the best ones. There were even bagpipes before it was all done.” (Philip Random)
“I never much bought into all the death cult stuff, the young artists who were just too pure for the world, or whatever. I guess I feel it’s the living we should focus on, the ones still dealing with it (whatever it even is) rolling with it, not ending it, intentionally or otherwise. Or as a stoned friend once put it of Jimi Hendrix, I prefer the stuff he did before he died. Which gets us to the only Nick Drake selection on this list, the only one I heard before I had any idea of why he was so damned important. True he was already long dead when I first stumbled upon Northern Sky via the Great Antilles Sampler (the 1980s sometime), but I didn’t know that. I just liked the song and it how it served the album’s overall eclectic flow – from folk to pop to free jazz to full-on experimental avant-everything. Music worth living for, goddamit.” (Philip Random)
“In which the Screaming Blue Messiahs remind us that, lest there be any doubt, the rock of the mainstream 1980s sucked. All those Power Stations, Duran Durans, Huey Lewises, hair metal catastrophes – proof that malevolent criminals sat at the controls of the music biz. Because we most definitely had other options. We had the Messiahs who were everything their name promised: loud, angry as hell, and damned good. But nah, Mister Mister was somehow more necessary.” (Philip Random)
“The version of Summer Breeze that I grew up with was the Seals + Crofts original, which was an entirely okay in a 70s AM Top 40 sort of way. But the Isley Brothers (working through at least phase four of their multifaceted career) take things way further, navigating a much hotter breeze, feverish even, yet eminently cool in a soulful, latter day psychedelic sort of way. Did somebody say The Perfect Summer Song?” (Philip Random)
Two in a row from Nektar‘s 1971 conceptual spectacular Journey To The Centre Of The Eye, one of those albums that absolutely walks the line between so-called prog rock and so-called psychedelic rock, managing to be both mindblowing and reasonably precise. Frank Zappa was certainly impressed, so much so that he had plans to sign Nektar to his Discreet label, a plan that crumbled along with Zappa’s partnership with his manager (one of those long stories). Which perhaps explains why we never heard that much of Nektar over here in the Americas. Or maybe their first album was simply their best – an astonishing and ultimately harrowing voyage to the deep and high beyond within. In other words – an acid trip, the heroic kind, right through the centre of the eye to the dream nebula and beyond, all in the mind anyway.