1. the lion sleeps tonight

“The #1 greatest record you probably haven’t already heard is Robert John‘s take on The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Which is immediately kind of a lie. All kinds of people heard it back in the day. It was the #21 biggest selling single of 1972 in the USA, #45 in Canada. Yet somehow or other the world seems to have mostly forgotten about it. It’s also not the greatest song you probably haven’t already heard. It just isn’t. But what is then? I don’t know. I’m just some guy sitting on a porch, making a list. What I do know is The Lion Sleeps Tonight isn’t just any song. Written in 1922 by a man named Solomon Linda, a South African of Zulu origin, finally released almost twenty years later under the title Mbube, a 78-rpm record that was mostly marketed to black audiences in South Africa.

But something clearly happened along the way, not all of it good. In fact the song’s back story includes one of the more notorious copyright crimes of all time. The upside of all that being the myriad cover versions that flooded forth– everybody from Miriam Makeba to Brian Eno to Chet Atkins to Roger Whittaker, Yma Sumac, The Weavers, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Sandra Bernhard, the Stylistics, even REM (sort of). But Robert John’s take is the one for me, and not just for nailing the yodeling, but also the doo-wop stylings, and there’s a tuba involved, some pedal steel as well. And so it captures the peace and joy and freedom from worry (if only for one night) that it’s all about. Because the lion is asleep. Which if you think about it, doesn’t really makes sense. If the lion’s asleep, isn’t a raucous party going to wake it up? Not if it’s been drugged. So whatever. It’s a party! We’re alive and we’re singing, and tomorrow and all of its troubles – that’s just a rumour. Tonight the Lion Sleeps.

12. rock’n’roll suicide

“Rock music is weaponry, no question. Final ammo of the disconnected, the lonely, the desperate. And who better to grasp this, put it into words and song but the Alien himself – David Jones, aka Bowie, aka Ziggy Stardust? Because even aliens are human, deep down inside. Or better put – we’re all aliens at some point, from some angle or other, alone at the edge of the night, and never more so than at some pivotal moment in our f***ed up youth, hanging onto the edge of some unfathomable abyss. To be or not to be.

The palpable memory for me here is my friend James, long gone now, because he let go of the edge, became a rock and roll suicide. Was he even aware of this song? Probably. He knew his music way better than I did. But mostly, he knew his bullshit dreams, got swallowed by them. That need to be adored, far outweighing his desire to give. That’ll kill you every time one way or another. Anyway, David Bowie’s Rock’n’roll Suicide contains all that, and more, the sublime climax to one of the very few albums that I still listen to in its entirety. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect because nothing is, but holy sh**, Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars gets damned close to that particular impossibility.” (Philip Random)

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)

39. Würm

“Second of two in a row from Yes’s early 1970s glory years, though Würm is technically only part three of 1971’s Starship Trooper, which I figure most people probably have heard in one way or another. But probably not the longer, bigger, vaster 1972 live version, which truly takes off at its standalone climax – the Würm in question here. The album in question is the six sided monster known as Yessongs which was my proper introduction to Yes, the first album of theirs I actually owned. Talk about starting big. And even to this day, I have no problem arguing that at least four of those sides are a waste of nobody’s time, proving beyond any doubt that even as this crowd sometimes chased their high and mighty conceptual concerns perhaps a little (or a lot) too far, they always did it from a foundation of solid ROCK. With Würm’s deceptively simple, ever expanding power exhibit A in that regard.” (Philip Random)

40. close to the edge

“So here we are, decades after the fact and it’s still difficult to discuss the music of the band known as Yes without somehow disparaging it as overwrought, pretentious, guilty of trying too hard. To which I say, f*** that (unless you’re talking about their later stuff – the 1980s and beyond, some of which I’m pretty sure is on perpetual repeat in hell’s jukebox). Because the good stuff, the grand stuff, the vast and virtuous and ambitious stuff of their early-mid 1970s phase, we need that stuff, particularly Close To The Edge (the song and the album, but particularly the side long song). Because it’s true, I think, the edge isn’t a place, the edge doesn’t exist. You’ve either gone too far and you’re falling the long fall into oblivion, or you’ve found that sweet spot just short of it where everything opens up. All those BIG unifying passions and ideas that have been floating in and around you since before puberty even – the idea of indivisibility. Jehovah and Allah and Jesus and Muhammad and Krishna and every known and unknown god or whatever, all one big happy. Bigger than any cathedral, that’s for sure. Because every church, every creed, every ideology gets it wrong the instant it claims to have gotten it all right. Because even if you have vast chunks of the truth, you can’t have it all. It’s the nature of it, beyond mortal comprehension. So the very claim of TRUTH divides us, sets loose corrosive elements, brings the f***ing roof down.

Which is what’s going on in the middle of Close To The Edge, I think, the part where the church organ kicks in. That’s the capital T Truth failing. That’s the cathedrals all collapsing, and the mosques, the temples, the synagogues. That’s the outside crashing in, the inside gushing out. Now that you’re saved, now that you’re whole. Seasons will pass you by. You get up. You get down.  It’s all so clear once you stop trying to make sense of it. Just smoke a doob, put on the headphones, stretch out and let it all be … for eighteen and a half minutes anyway. Maybe the best damned band on the planet. Ever. Or certainly close to it. Hell even Led Zeppelin had to be looking over their shoulders by 1972. Because Yes simply had more going on. Hell, they had Rick Wakeman and his mountainous stacks of keyboards, conjuring choirs and orchestras and all manner of big and mysterious colours and textures and everything really, or damned close to it anyway. As close as anyone got at the time, and maybe ever since. Because has there ever been another time like it? We were definitely close to something.” (Philip Random)

47. I’m gonna booglarize you, baby

“In which the good Captain (Beefheart, that is) sublimely demonstrates what white men ought to be doing with the ole Mississippi Delta Blues – not just imitating them but working them, taking them somewhere deep, strange, more complicated, and yeah, probably inappropriate, because I don’t think booglarize just means to compel someone to get out on the dance floor. Though I did have the exquisite experience of watching a couple dance to it once, all wild hair and hippie beads. I was still just a kid really, maybe fourteen, hanging out at my friend Carl’s place during one his big brother’s parties. One of those legendary wild and wasted mid-70s affairs, before disco hit and confused everything in terms of what constituted suitable dance music. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s first time I ever heard the Captain’s music. Paid attention to it anyway. But how could I not have noticed something like I’m Gonna Booglarize You, working at least three separate yet finely intertwined grooves with such finesse that a man couldn’t help but get to growling. Or a boy. Anybody really.”  (Philip Random)

(photo: Gijsbert Hanekroot)

49. ladytron

The First Roxy Music Album is still mostly ahead of its time even now decades after the fact (and the next four or five are pretty amazing as well). But it’s the first one that lays it all out – the glamour, the romance, the noise, the pop, the rock, The Future. And the single track that delivers it all in less than four and a half minutes, the one Roxy artifact I’d grab if the world was burning down (and it probably is), is Ladytron. Which (it occurs to me as I jot this down), I don’t even know what it’s about. It’s about a lady, of course, and beautiful at that, though I guess she may be a robot. But maybe Bryan Ferry‘s kiss can make her human. Or something like that. Equal parts fairy tale and science fiction and pure fun modernity, circa 1972.” (Philip Random)

51. thick as a brick

“Speaking of songs that aren’t afraid to be long, Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick is by far the longest on this list (clocking in at 43 plus minutes) and it shouldn’t be one second shorter, even if it’s ultimately not really about anything — an in-joke within an in-joke, which is to say, the alleged epic poetry of a pre-teen genius (one Gerald Bostock) taking on everything he sees as hypocritical, absurd, foolish about the world, society, God, his small town … and never really coming to any conclusion short of the wiser you are, the less thick you are, which is a problem when it comes to empathy, because how does a wise man begin to grasp what it is to be … well, about as dumb as a brick? Or something like that. According to Tull main man, Ian Anderson, it was intended as a lark, a piss take on the whole concept album craze of the time. Except once he started writing, things rather took on a life of their own … and the result ended up conquering the world (for a few weeks anyway in late spring, 1972). #1 in Australia, Canada, Denmark, USA. Top five in the UK, Norway, Netherlands, Italy, Germany. Apparently, it was even all the rage in Vietnam.

Barely teenage me ate it up, of course, the whole mad and epic stew of folk and rock and classical and pop tangents, the ebb and flow of themes and counter-themes, coming, going, kicking up, burning down. And yes, it really is all one big song, because try as have over the years (and trust me, I’ve tried hard), I’ve never found any piece of it that works better on its own than it does as part of the epic whole. And that includes the cover which is essentially an entire small town newspaper, twelve full-size pages of scandals, non-rabbits, art crimes, comics, even an advance review of the album itself, which probably says it best. One doubts at times the validity of what appears to be an expanding theme throughout the two continuous sides of this record but the result is at worst entertaining and at least aesthetically palatable.” (Philip Random)

70. the world is a ghetto

“Because it’s true, what the title says, the world is a ghetto, and never more so, it seems, than 1972-73, when I was finally getting serious about music, exploring the FM radio waves (which were still infinitely cool then, still dominated by DJs who loved music playing the stuff they loved). And that meant the extra long album version of The World Is A Ghetto got a lot of play, the version that really took you therewalkin down the street, smoggy-eyed, looking at the sky, starry-eyed, searchin’ for the place, weary-eyed, the fires of the 1960s riots and insurrections still smouldering, the smoke reaching even the whitebread suburbs of the Pacific Northwest where we didn’t really have so-called Black people. Yet we had their music and thus some small piece of their truth, I guess. Which, in the case of the band known as War meant all manner of genres, influences, ethnicities, impressions. They even had a white guy from Denmark playing some very haunted harmonica. Because this music wasn’t of or about any one place. It really was the whole world.” (Philip Random)