“Procol Harum achieved improbable levels of success with their very first single, 1967’s Whiter Shade of Pale, and it was taken rather seriously. Because it was rock meets Johan Sebastien Bach with lyrics obscure enough to almost make you forget that Bob Dylan had taken a vacation, more or less. But then what do you do for an encore? You go further, higher, deeper, longer, you give all of side two of your second album to a single seventeen minute track called In Held Twas In I, which to many ears, ranks as the first genuine prog rock epic. In other words, yeah, it probably goes too far, too high and deep, definitely too long. But what do expect from young men cut loose from the herd, more or less commanded to go climb the highest mountain? Or as the Dalai Lama puts it in the intro. Life is like a beanstalk. Isn’t it?” (Philip Random)
It’s 1979 and man, it’s cold out there. Back in the 1950s, they said wine, women and song. Come the 1960s, it was drugs, sex and rock and roll. Now, almost into the 1980s, it’s just, I will drug and fuck you on the permafrost. At least, that’s how the band known as Magazine put it on their second album, Second Hand Daylight, as bleak as it was invigorating, taking all the bile and negation of punk and smartening it up some, getting progressive even.
“How f***ed up was the war on drugs? In Los Angeles, 1993, a few weeks before Christmas, a few weeks after River Phoenix had died on the sidewalk outside the Viper Room, a gram or two of heroin cost less than a gram or two of proper skunk weed due mainly to who and what had been getting busted of late. Which wouldn’t have been a problem if we weren’t day drinking, and feeling that something else was needed in the mix, and Gus from Idaho, being cheap, showed up with some heroin instead of the expected bud. And the thing is, none of us are that cool. We’ve never done heroin, but suddenly there it is getting laid out in narrow brownish lines on the coffee table, and yeah, we’re all just drunk enough to be stupid enough to not give a f***, even if you can die just snorting the stuff, particularly if you’re not used to it, if your body hasn’t built up a decent tolerance, this being common knowledge to anyone who’s seen Pulp Fiction. But then just as Greg from Osoyoos is rolling up a dollar bill, Slayer comes crashing in, full roar on the stereo. It’s Smith from Nelson, calling bullshit, enlisting no lesser ally than Lucifer himself, the Morning Star from his haunt way down south of heaven, demanding we see things at least slightly straight. Long story/short, we Just Said No to the heroin, went out for cheap tacos instead, ended up watching I Love Lucy reruns on some lost cable channel. And Slayer will forever have a place in my heart and soul, somewhere in the paradox file.” (Philip Random)
“Lazarus eventually showed up in truncated form on the Boo Radleys‘ third album Giant Steps, arguably the greatest album ever that hardly anyone’s ever heard (except a bunch of Brits in 1993 or thereabouts), but the version you need to hear is the original 12-inch single mix with the extended and ultimately profound lead-in. Over a minute before there’s a discernible beat, almost three before the trumpets of heaven properly unleash like the Lord’s own light shining through, turning confusion to epiphany, sorrow to joy, undeath to everlasting life (there is a difference). I may not believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Saviour, but I do believe in this song.” (Philip Random)
In which Primal Scream discover drugs, forget who they used to be, set their controls for the heart of the sun and somehow go further. Or as Philip Random noted at the time, “There were two suns that day, everything split, refracted. There was acid in the mix, and serious altitude, and an ocean. And some sort of abyss that at least one of our retinue seemed to be at the point of falling into forever and in fact they did for at least a while, yet such is the nature of genuinely amplified psychedelic confusion, this wasn’t really discussed at the time, we were more concerned with oceans and shores and solid ground, how the higher goal seems to be both being out there committed to the waves and the currents of eternity but also firmly rooted in some sort of metaphysical ground. It didn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense. Unless there are in fact two suns, two worlds, two solar systems, maybe billions. And so on. This went on forever but it was all over by the end of the song in question, which was Primal Scream’s Higher than the Sun, a sort of extended version of the extended version pumping away on the ghetto blaster that we’d dragged with us to this edge, this ledge, this forehead of the world. And then we all went home, ate solid food and drank red wine, yet nothing would ever be the same. Maybe this all happened. Maybe it didn’t. But I do remember it.” Found on 1991’s Screamadelica which needs to be heard by everyone eventually.
“I suppose I was born just early enough to remember a time when Elton John was not a big deal pop supernova, but rather a cool underground item, more for the older kids. Like Russ (boyfriend of a friend’s big sister) who insisted that Madman Across the Water was about Richard Nixon and Watergate, the crazy mess he’d made of things. He was the madman destroying everything he touched. Which kind of made sense in 1973. Except I later realized it was a 1971 record, and the Watergate break-ins didn’t even happen until 1972, and didn’t get much media coverage until after Mr. Nixon got himself massively re-elected with pretty much the biggest majority in American political history. Mad and confusing times, no question. Lots of scary shadows forming across the water, maybe throwing time itself out of joint. Who knew the what of anything? Except the music. The music was amazing.” (Philip Random)
“A tight modern pop song with the kind of sharp, icy edge that defines a sonic future for all mankind. Which is pretty much what Wire did in 1979 with 154 (one of the greatest albums of any time) and songs like the 15th. Hell, I didn’t even hear it until at least five years later, called up the DJ because I had to know what this cool newsong was.” (Philip Random)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve heard Heroes a million times already. But have you heard the German/English edit that showed up on the soundtrack for Christianne F, the most depressing movie ever? There’s just something about what that complex language does to Mr. Bowie’s delivery, the deeper, more wrenching depths of soul and enunciation, how it gets you right to the heart of what was then still a divided city – two opposed universes of politics and animosity grinding up against each other. Forever. Or so it felt at the time.