Yeah, you’ve probably heard No Time a million times already on oldies radio, The Guess Who (Canada’s own Beatles) rocking it hard, melody as big as a Manitoba sky, getting it all just right. But you probably haven’t heard the longer, rawer, more psychedelized original version that showed up on 1969’s Canned Wheat. Like the band just didn’t realize what they had, how truly world class they were, being just a bunch of wannabes from the middle of nowhere. And thus, they were at their peak.
“It was a summer party, a backyard thing, 1980 or thereabouts, the evening shifting sweetly into twilight, everybody else having gone inside leaving just me and the stillness, and the music, the stereo having been dragged outside earlier, various mixtapes coming and going, and now, miraculously, as though ordained from on high, the Moody Blues‘ epic and spacious finale to Threshold of a Dream, their third and best album — it suddenly seemed to contain everything, capture all the complexity of the moment in strange apprehension, like a painting, but not looking at it, being inside it. Definitely the threshold of something. The acid was kicking in.” (Philip Random)
The melody’s nice here but it’s more the overall smooth, mournful mood that sets Albatross free. But, of course, the early Fleetwood Mac being a blues band, it’s not really that kind of Albatross, is it? It’s the kind that you carry as a curse, hung around your neck, weighing you down, reminding you and all the world that you blew it, you killed a beautiful thing for no damned reason. Which is sort of what happened to Peter Green, the man who wrote it, his career pretty much over within the year, psychedelic drugs and mental illness finding each other in yet another implosion of tortured genius.
“The raw, reductive simplicity of the Velvet Underground is one of the foundation blocks of everything that has mattered since 1965, musically or otherwise. But their story is not remotely complete without a chapter or seven devoted to their more avant concerns, which Murder Mystery illustrates rather nicely, coming across like premeditated murder of all conventions, expectations, intentions. John Cale was gone by 1969, but you can’t help but feel that when he heard it, he thought, man, I wish I’d had a piece of that. Deadly and mysterious and not entirely unmusical.” (Philip Random)
Los Angeles, 1969, murder, mayhem, earthquakes, rumors of Armageddon, the whole city of angels falling into the Pacific, such that even on the 33rd Floor, beyond the gold plated door, the Lord’s almighty flame would find the wicked, and soon. Meanwhile, country rock was getting invented by a curious crowd of drugged out hippies in cowboy suits calling themselves the Flying Burrito Brothers. Good times.
“Because there had to be some Santana on this list. Might as well go with the biggest, wildest, livest thing I’ve got. Because the force of nature known as Carlos Santana always sounded best to me live, from stealing the show at Woodstock (for a while anyway) to conquering Japan in 1974 with maybe the hottest band on the planet. I only wish I’d actually known about Every Step of the Way at the time. Would’ve allowed me to destroy all comers in all those stupid yet essential who’s-the-fastest-guitarist arguments we seemed to need to have in Grade Ten.” (Philip Random)
The Fleetwood Mac story is long and confusing if nothing else. We all know the stuff that made them mega-rich and cocaine famous, but there’s an entire decade that precedes all that, and deep it goes, often with completely different singers and players working entirely different worlds and angles. Except the rhythm section, Mr. Fleetwood and Mr. Mac. You might even say the original line-up isn’t just the best Mac, they’re one of the best damned bands EVER, with guitarist Peter Green spearheading things, taking the old school blues, amplifying and psychedelicizing them, giving us stuff that barreled along neck and neck with what guys like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page were doing at the time. 1969’s Then Play On is the key album, capturing not just the breadth Mr. Green’s genius, but also hints of the psychosis that would soon tear him apart. Beautiful and gone, lost to ozone whilst Searching for Madge.
“I was just a little kid in 1969 when Nina Simone‘s take on Suzanne arrived, but even ten years later, I wasn’t near cool enough to get it. Hell, I barely got Leonard Cohen. No, the awe inspiring talents of Ms. Simone would take another decade and a half to penetrate my white, suburban thickness. The mid-90s by now. Grunge had gone horribly wrong. We were slipping into pseudo-sophistication, sipping cocktails, realizing our parents had been right all along. Amy’s parents anyway, who had this album tucked way away in the dusty far reaches of their collection … just waiting for us, some enchanted evening.” (Philip Random)