5. yoo doo right

“Call Can the best band that most people probably still haven’t heard. Can being an acronym for Communism-Anarchism-Nihilism, if you believe everything you read. I tend to reject that because it feels too political. These guys were beyond politics. Or maybe I should say, they inspired revolution, not the other way around. Though they did form in 1968 out of the virulent insurrections that were tearing through Europe at the time. Four Germans (all children of the ruins of World War Two) working with two vocalists in particular. The second one, Damo Suzuki (straight outa the Japanese ruins) tends to get the most notice. But it’s Malcolm Mooney (on the run from the Vietnam draft) fronting things on Yoo Doo Right, the monster that filled all of side two of their debut album, Monster Movie. Though the original take was apparently magnitudes longer, a six hour improv that only really stopped because they ran out of audio tape. Can being the sort of outfit that absolutely gave itself over to the music. Call them shamans, I guess, holy weirdos in tune with the gods. Which in the case of Yoo Doo Right meant the groove, and the noise from which it grew.

A letter from my friend JR comes to mind. He was traveling in Thailand at the time. I’d made him a few mixtapes before he took off, one of which contained Yoo Doo Right. Anyway, he dropped some acid one night at a particularly beautiful beachfront spot, and eventually got to wandering and wondering, just him and the moon, the waves, the sand, working through all manner of stuff, including his own desperate loneliness, about as far away from home and family and friends as a young man could get without leaving the planet altogether. And the thought occurred to him right around midnight that he could just lie down, let the tide take him, solve all his problems and confusions … but the music got to him first, the quiet part in the middle, the singer muttering about whoever Yoo was and how they better-better doo it right, over and over, an incantation, everything starting to rise in groove and passion until at some point, JR realized he was dancing, just him and the moon and the ocean, the entirety of the universe somehow graspable, very much in tune and in time. And yeah, I can’t put it any better than that. The power of Can, hippie-freak weirdos beating the living drum of revolution-evolution-whatever it is that finally sets us all free. Gotta-gotta get it right.” (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)

38. another song to sing

Johnny Cash is right. The world’s always bigger than you thought it was. And weirder, more wonderful. There’s always a reason to crawl out of whatever hole you’re in, get up, try one more time. Because there’s always another song. I guess I don’t really know Johnny Cash’s story as well as I should. I know he had some hard times. I know he got himself saved by the Lord Jesus. I know he gobbled a lot of pills for a while, mixed them up with moonshine or whatever. I know he managed to burn down a forest in California. A thick and complex volume, that man in black. Thank all gods (or whatever) that he found so many songs to sing. Including this one, all (almost) two minutes of it, that I have no memory of adding to my collection, except there it was one day, stuck on side two of an album called From Sea To Shining Sea. About America, I guess. Which goes without saying. Johnny Cash is always about America, one way or other.” (Philip Random)

(Morrison Hotel Gallery)

41. some velvet morning

“In which Frank’s little girl Nancy (Sinatra, that is) and a shady older gent named Lee (Hazelwood) deliver the heaviest, most beautiful easy listening track I know — guy so wasted he can’t even open his girl’s gate, but some velvet morning all dragonflies and daffodils, he’ll be up to it. Maybe he’ll even tell her about Phaedra. Which I always figured was heroin, yet suburban somehow. Because nothing feels more desperate than a junkie in a bungalow with a fine trim lawn, the utilities paid, the appearances kept, the muzak on the radio morphing into something luxuriously caustic — the split level dream corroding into a void the size of a solar system, feeling no pain, but burning up regardless. Or something like that. Anyway, great song. Great album. Great sense of time and zeitgeist, a whole world gone static yet doomed to implode. What was it about America, 1968?” (Philip Random)

77. 1983 … (a merman I should turn to be)

Second of two in a row from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, this one coming from Electric Ladyland, their third and last proper outing, and even that’s somewhat confused. With 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be) about as far and deep and abstract as any Hendrix recording would ever go – the unit here being Mr. Hendrix (doubling up on bass as well as guitar) and Mitch Mitchell (drums), with Traffic’s Chris Wood throwing in on flute (and the studio techs, of course — Eddie Kramer and Gary Kellgren, take a bow). All in aid of an epic investigation of oceans at least as deep as the human mind and soul, touching on themes of crisis, apocalypse, transcendence, the earth’s dry land abandoned, a return to the sea embraced, mermaids, Atlantis even. And superb it all is, the very best music being not unlike an ocean with depths beyond imagining. It’s possible that psychedelic drugs were involved.

(photo: David Montgomery)

97. a saucerful of secrets

“Because sometimes it’s not about the notes or the words or the chords etc – sometimes what makes for great music is its architecture. Which is certainly true of Pink Floyd and how they made it and played it through the late 1960s, early 1970s, post the psychedelic implosion of their main man, Syd Barrett, pre all that Dark Side of the Moon seriousness and precision. The live Ummagumma version of the ‘song‘ that was originally known as The Massed Gadgets Of Hercules gets the nod here because it’s prime evidence of just how far (and deep and high) the Floyd’s free live adventures had taken them in a comparatively short stretch of time, the key word being stretch. Because it may have been only year in a temporal sense between the release of Saucerful of Secrets and the live show that made it to Ummagumma, but clearly aeons had passed in more psychedelic realms. Never played the same way twice, and even if it was, it was never heard the same way, or so it was explained to me once. Which is what the cover of Ummagumma is all about apparently. Eternity simultaneously repeating and collapsing within itself on a nice day somewhere in England. I’d say maybe you had to be there, but I think we all were in some strange way.” (Philip Random)

113. Madame George

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. “All hail Lester Bangs‘ mostly lucid raving about Astral Weeks, without which I may never have found myself in the thrall of Van Morrison’s Madame George and its nine plus minutes of mystical, magical longing, all childlike visions and the smell of sweet perfume. No way, you say. Astral Weeks is famous enough, I would’ve stumbled upon it eventually. But that’s not how the universe works, I say. Because if I hadn’t spent a week or three in the grim eternity of a mid-1980s February pouring over its ever second, who knows what might have happened, what mystical butterflies would have remained dormant, never flapped their wings and set great cosmic vibrations in motion? The Berlin Wall may never have come down. The Cold War may have brewed hot and catastrophic. The end of all things. Maybe. As for Madame George, it seems to be about a cross-dresser, but it’s really about all of us, how we’ll never really get to hold that thing we desire the most, and yet the reaching for it, the yearning, well that redeems us, doesn’t it, confirms our humanity? And if you haven’t yet found the time to sit still for about forty-eight minutes and listen to the miracle of Astral Weeks in its entirety, well, what are you waiting for? The world could end at any second.” (Philip Random)

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)