124. just like heaven

I’ve never been one to buy many singles – something to do with coming of record buying age in the early 1970s, I guess, when albums were the thing. But every now and then, you’ve got to adjust your strategies. Like hearing Dinosaur Jr‘s planet killing version of the Cure’s Just Like Heaven on the radio one sublime summer day and immediately needing to own the record. But all I could find was a 7-inch. Which if I’d been truly cool would’ve triggered a whole new phase for me, 7-inches being all the rage as the 80s turned over into the 90s, particularly if you were into raw sort of proto-grunge indie-rock. But I’ve never really been into just one sound or attitude. It’s always been everything, if possible. Which to my mind (and heart) is what J Mascis and crew accomplish here, the kind of rapturous, all encompassing escape velocity that redefines reality forever … until it suddenly just has to stop.” (Philip Random)

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125. buffalo girls

“I’m pretty sure the first time I heard what came to be known as rap music was 1982, Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five. To my ears, it was just another pop-gimmick, albeit a pretty cool one. Big funky groove with some hip rhyming on top. But jump ahead a few months and no less than Malcolm McLaren (who’d previously helped invent the New York Dolls and the Sex Pistols, if you believe his bio) seemed to be singing (for lack of a better word) this new form’s praises. But it wasn’t just about the rhyming and grooving now, it was also the sampling (not that we’d heard that word yet), grabbing beats and pieces from wherever you could find them (some local NYC radio DJs, an old funk 45, a square dance album, some high school girls having a blast, the backstreets of Soweto), and just sort of jamming everything together, smacking it all around, somehow squeezing out what might be called a song, the weird and wonderful part being that it worked. In fact, I’ll always remember the party where I first heard Buffalo Gals, a friend’s place, everyone trying to get excited about Elvis Costello or whoever and suddenly this other tape got put on. So weird and fun that all you could do was dance to it. And then the album Duck Rock showed up to drive home the point that whatever was going on, it wasn’t just some one-off. Having ex-Buggle and Yes man (and future Art Of Noise instigator) Trevor Horn in the producer’s chair† may well have been a factor.” (Philip Random)

126. Once I Was

“I remember taping this song from the radio one night, early teens, maybe 1973. But I didn’t catch who it was, so for some reason I just assumed it was Donovan. Which threw things off for a good twenty years. I’d describe it to people as the one where he says, if I was a soldier, and they’d say, Universal Soldier, and I’d say, no, his other soldier song. Anyway, I finally got it figured about twenty-five years later. Special thanks to Rena, an ex-punk I used to know, who had a hate on for Jeff Buckley, because she thought he was an over-hyped shadow of his dad, the then long gone but not forgotten (by Rena anyway) Tim Buckley. Anyway, I asked her to make me a tape, and there it was, Once I Was, precious evidence of a time (1967) when a young man could just pick up a guitar, sing his deceptively simple song, put poetic truth to the brutality and chaos of the world, maybe change everything forever. At least, that’s what it must’ve felt like, I guess. I was just a little kid then, not allowed anywhere near the fun part of the party.” (Philip Random)

(image: Morrison Hotel Gallery)

127. Sister Ray

“Second of two in a row from the Velvet Underground, with Sister Ray likely to hit many as more weaponry than music, or as a DJ friend once put it, some songs you play for people, some you play at them. Either way, it’s a seventeen-plus-minute argument for A. how willfully out of step the Velvets were with pretty much everything else that was going down at the time (1968), and B. how brilliantly, thunderously, violently ahead of that time they were. By which I mean, the world needed Sister Ray. It just didn’t know it yet. At least, that’s how it worked for me. Discovered maybe fifteen years after the fact, mucking around through the bowels of a radio station‘s record library, educating myself. And I ain’t gonna lie. The extreme length was a particular selling point because not only did it force the limits of what we called The Reality Barrier, it also gave one time to cover a prolonged smoke or bathroom break – all the prog-rock epics of yore still being frowned upon in those contentious, battle weary days of the so-called Winter of Hate††.” (Philip Random)

(image source)

128. rock and roll

“The image I’ve generally had of Lou Reed is of this too cool misanthrope who lived to hate the Beatles, ruin parties, bring everybody down to his level of overall discontent. But then you hear a song like Rock And Roll (found on the Velvet Underground‘s 1970 offering Loaded) wherein he rhapsodizes on the redemptive freedom inherent in hearing the right three minute song (the kind that tells only the truth) at the right time, and well, all is forgiven. The man is even more like the Grinch†† than he lets on – with a heart at least two-sizes two big.” (Philip Random)

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129. Supper’s Ready

“Speaking of Peter Gabriel, if I’d compiled this list in say 1979, Genesis would’ve been all over it (particularly their Gabriel era stuff), with Supper’s Ready likely right on top, certainly in the top three. But such is the nature of this culture stuff. It won’t stop twisting, turning, swallowing its own tail, vomiting it all back up, eating it again. In other words, I grew kind of allergic to Supper’s Ready for a while, an affliction for which I only have myself to blame. I loved it too much, wanted too much from it. A song about everything. A song very much about the Apocalypse — Pythagoras with a looking glass, the beast 666, the guaranteed eternal sanctuary man, Winston Churchill dressed in drag, and ultimately the new Jerusalem, good conquering evil, an angel shouting with a loud voice, souls rising in ever changing colours, as a germ in a seed grows, like a river to the ocean, and so on …

Epic stuff ripped straight from the Bible itself, but not without a serious dollop of absurdist fun. The weird part is, I didn’t even hear it until 1977 (five years after it first showed up on the album known as Foxtrot, two years after Gabriel had split the band) by which point there was a punk storm blowing nasty and vindictive. But that was me in my late teens, as uncool as I’ll ever be, and yet life has seldom seemed so rich, the smorgasbord so alluring. Except then I had to go and eat way too much. Which gets us to the title finally. Supper’s Ready. Apparently it’s a reference to the very end of the Bible†, the final scene of the book of revelations (and here I’m sort of quoting my late friend James who used to study this kind of stuff before he decided life just wasn’t worth the trouble anymore). Apparently when all is said is done, Satan vanquished, Christ triumphant, God’s kingdom established here on earth, there will be a huge feast to which all the worthy, the sainted, the blessed, the good are invited. Apparently, it will be one heaven of a feed. But in the meantime, we’re all doomed to just keep on keeping on.” (Philip Random) 

(image: Armando Gallo)

130. here comes the flood

“It was the night John Lennon was murdered. My friend Simon dropped by with a couple of hits of LSD and, given the extremes of the moment, our fates were sealed. It was our profound duty to now trip the vast lysergic, play a pile of Beatles records and see where the mystical magical vibrations might take us. They took us to dawn, sitting in my van now, high up a hilltop, taking in the first grey light of a cold and misty day. We had Simon’s little brother asleep in the backseat with a dog named Alice (it’s a long story) … but the Beatles weren’t on the playlist anymore. We’d sort of lost track of them as things started to peak, the gods having other plans for us apparently. Now it was a mixtape Simon had made of more recent stuff, moody and cool and mostly instrumental. Except here was Peter Gabriel suddenly, singing Here Comes The Flood, but not the version from his debut album, this was sparer, sharper, far better. I later discovered it was from Robert Fripp†’s Exposure album — everything peeled back to just voice, piano and some ghostly ††††††Frippertronics. A song of apocalypse, no question, of saying goodbye to flesh and blood. Yet not forecasting doom in the end, but rather a sort of dreamlike survival. And then the rain really started to deluge on that hilltop. And it still hasn’t stopped, not really, the 1970s being known as the last decade that the sun ever really shone.” (Philip Random) †

131. is that all there is?

In which the amazing Peggy Lee takes on a Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller ode to disillusionment (based on a Thomas Mann short story) and doesn’t just own it, she immortalizes it. Because, yes as a matter of fact, there is nobody more punk than a little girl who’s seen it all, from burning buildings to broken hearts to dancing bears, and been at best bemused. But that’s no reason not to break out the booze, have a party, death being the greatest disappointment of all, you might as well do some proper living first.

(image source)

132. inner city blues (make me wanna holler)

“For all the suburban whiteness of my so-called tweens, at least the DJs at the local FM rock station were still allowed to be halfway cool. So you can bet they were digging deep into Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, which truly is one of the great †albums, every note, every sorrowful, soulful texture all flowing† together like one vastly complex song. So I’m sure I heard Inner City Blues†† when it was still pretty new, even if I wasn’t aware of it. Just part of the ongoing flow that was filling me in and filling me up with what was really going on† out there in that part of the world that wasn’t organized into easy suburban shapes.” (Philip Random)