212. the night they drove old Dixie down

Joan Baez had a big AM radio hit with this back in around 1972. Meanwhile, the cool FM DJs were playing the Band’s original version, which my teenybop ears didn’t really get. Too gritty, too raw. But jump ahead a few years to The Last Waltz (the movie of the Band’s big deal farewell concert) and yeah, I got it! The vast tragedy of the American South, what it is to lose a war and thus your culture, see it all burned before your eyes by the forces of Northern Aggression. Yeah, they owned slaves or certainly fought for those who did, but … I can’t think of a but for this. Slavery’s about as f***ed up as humanity gets. But there you go – where there’s humanity, there’s also soul, and thus complexity. Which is why we need songs like The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” (Philip Random)

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214. supernaut

“I’m thirteen, lying in bed and unable to sleep for reasons of existential magnitude, so I’ve got the radio on to keep me company, tuned to FM, of course, because I’m at least that cool. Anyway, this song comes on, heavy and wild, the singer howling about how he wants to reach out and touch the sky. But I didn’t catch who it was. Next day at school, I I’m quizzing everybody, but nobody knows what I’m talking about, and anyway, they’re mostly into Elton John or Three Dog Night. Long story short. It took fifteen years to get my answer, care of Jared, a marijuana dealer I knew at the time who played bass in various hard rock outfits, knew his heavy history. I mentioned the ‘I want to reach out’ part and he instantly said, ‘Black Sabbath Supernaut,’ like I’d just become magnitudes less cool in his eyes. How the hell could I not know Supernaut!? But I was just glad to have the answer, life suddenly feeling a little more purposeful, complete. Supernaut, found on side one of Vol. 4, which Jared had, so on it went, heavy and cool as I remembered. Life before the interwebs. You just had to keep digging.” (Philip Random)

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225. cosmic dancer

“Unlike many T-Rex songs, Cosmic Dancer seems to actually be about something, which is that certain something we’ve all been doing since the moment we exited the womb. Not just breathing, crying, shitting, eating … but moving in some sort of graceful accord with the cosmos. Trying to anyway. Noted as yet another T-Rex gem that I missed when it was fresh (easy to do over here in the Americas), but rather stumbled upon at least ten years after the fact, but therein lies the real magic of their sound, I think, particularly the stuff from 1971-73: it defines timelessness.” (Philip Random)

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235. soul love

Soul Love is the second of two in a row from 1972’s Ziggy Stardust + The Spiders From Mars, making the list if only because Five Years doesn’t sound quite right without it following immediately afterward. And it’s proof in advertising, a groovy nugget of soul and love, and a solid hint of where the alien Bowie might be headed once he shed his Ziggy skin.

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236. five years

“At first I wasn’t even going to include anything from Ziggy Stardust on this list. It just seemed inconceivable that there was anybody who hadn’t already heard it all perhaps way too many times. But then Five Years popped up on an old mix tape and young Tracy (who isn’t even that young) said, is this John Lennon? Five Years being the 1972 song in which David Bowie accurately predicted the end of the world in 1977. Which I realize is a confusing fact to lay down, particularly to those born since 1977. Just trust me, it’s true. This is not the same world as before. Something very odd happened in 1977 and we’ve all been spinning in weird gravity ever since.” (Philip Random)

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247. remake-remodel

“The first song from the first Roxy Music album makes it abundantly clear. This band is not concerned with the past. This is not a rock ‘n’ roll soaked in blues and authenticity. This is dissonance, angularity and cool high fashion, which no doubt must have felt like a hostile alien invasion if you were a certain kind of hippie in 1972. Hell, I didn’t even hear Remake/Remodel until at least 1979 and I just assumed it was some up and coming New Wave outfit, except they were way better than most. And I suspect the same would be true today. Still more about what’s to come than what has been.” (Philip Random)

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251. natural magic

Performance (the 1970 movie) is almost as good as its soundtrack, or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, it’s a dark, dark gem – something to do with gangsters, an illusive rock star, drugs, sex, nihilism, and the only true performance ending in madness. As for the music, it covers at least as much ground and features all manner of then essential contributors, with producer/composer Jack Nitzsche at the heart of it all, delivering just what you might expect from a fatally bored rock star with piles of money but precious little inspiration, desperate for something/anything that might allow him to haul himself back into a world where anything matters.

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271. dead babies

“I guess I was twelve when I first started hearing about this guy named Alice Cooper who was some kind of reincarnated witch that murdered chickens on stage and hacked baby dolls to pieces, and his shows always ended with him getting hung from the neck until he was dead, but being a demon, he could never really be killed. But what was truly shocking was the music when I finally heard it. How good it was. Not just ugly noise like you’d expect from a baby murdering demon from hell, but actually kind of nice in places, beautiful even, which made the evil stuff all the more frightening, twisted, and yeah, hilarious, because anything that could piss off adults that much had to be hilarious. The album in question was Killer and now some decades later, it’s still song-for-song one of the best I’ve ever heard, from any band, from any era, with Dead Babies the epic track toward the end about, you guessed it, dead babies and how they just can’t take care of themselves. Sad but true.” (Philip Random)

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284. Final Theme – Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

“There’s bests, and there’s favourites. Pat Garrett + Billy The Kid is not one of the best movies of all time. But it is one of my faves. Because of all the whiskey, I guess, and the cigars, and the dying, the whole thing like an epic tone poem of doom and inevitability, hard men looking the devil in the eye, taking another drag, another swig, killing or being killed. And a big part of what holds it all together is Bob Dylan‘s soundtrack. Yeah, there’s only a few proper songs (including Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door which never actually shows up in the director’s cut of the movie – it’s complicated), but it’s the mood of the instrumental stuff that sells it. As for the Final Theme – go ahead and play it at my funeral. But first, break out the whiskey and cigars.” (Philip Random)

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