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)

76. Ohio

“The album was released in 1972 under Neil Young’s moniker (soundtrack to a movie almost nobody saw, and probably for good reason), but this Crosby Stills Nash + Young live recording of Ohio dates to June 1970, barely a month after the events in question – the murder by National Guard marksmen of four students on the campus of Kent State University, Ohio. So what you’re hearing is a band that’s very much in the line of fire, the smoke hasn’t even cleared, they’re playing for their lives, ferociously. Because Richard Nixon has given the executive order. F*** the long hairs and their protests, send in the tin soldiers and shoot ’em all down.” (Philip Random)

81. holly holy

“We’ve already heard from Neil Diamond‘s Hot August Night on this list, arguably the greatest live album of all time. Or the best ending to one anyway, the fourth and final side, which kicks off with Holly Holy. Some have called it a Christmas song, which is odd, because Mr. Diamond is Jewish – what it is, is a gospel-inspired, wild and profound reach for (and grasp of) glory — a beautiful noise indeed. Because it’s not ironic, man, this stuff makes me live, man, let the seed be full with tomorrow, it doesn’t get more hopeful than that, man, and also the part about the lame man not just walking but flying – and then the song f***ing takes you there, beyond gravity. Because only music can. I’m paraphrasing my friend Steven here from better part of a decade ago, and I agreed with him, even if I needed about five drinks in me to bring myself to it. Or more to the point, back to it, because he wasn’t saying anything I hadn’t said myself (or tried to anyway) decades previous, twelve or thirteen, the first time Holly Holy sent me over the rainbow. The Hot August Night version being the version, hot band and small orchestra, and singer and song and audience all coalescing in one grand and miraculous f***ing slam.” (Philip Random)

85. child in time

Deep Purple‘s Child In Time is one of the first times I ever really connected with a lyric, the one about the blind man shooting at the world. I guess thirteen year old me had enough of a grasp on randomness and karma and the overall crumbling state of the post-60s zeitgeist to have no problem buying in. Because there were blind men out there, figurative and otherwise. They did have guns and they were just letting rip. Of course, Ian Gillan’s vocals helped in this regard, always one more octave to be nailed with all due terror and glory, this being the guy who played the title role in the original Jesus Christ Superstar. So heaven really was the limit.

“And then there’s the band itself, jamming through the extended middle section like the world was ending (and it probably was), particularly the live Made In Japan version, Made In Japan being what one might call the definitive 1970s double live album. It was certainly required listening in every big brothers’ beater of a car, always on 8-Track tape, soundtrack for bombing recklessly around suburbia as if there was actually a reason to. And maybe there was. I do remember one rather psychedelically enhanced conversation with old friend Motron wherein it was decided that maybe the entire reason for our particular suburbia to have existed was to give us young folk (boys mostly) something to tear around in at absurd speed, thus justifying Deep Purple at the peak of their attainments. If that makes sense. And even if it doesn’t, what do you expect from men who spent their childhoods ducking blind men with guns? Figuratively and otherwise.” (Philip Random)

96. why d’ya do it?

“I don’t care what all the charts were saying at the time, by 1979 the Rolling Stones were nowhere, and accelerating hard to oblivion. Certainly on record. Which makes Why D’ya Do It? the last truly great Rolling Stones record, even if they had nothing to do with it beyond Marianne Faithfull being Mick’s ex from way back. Which is the connection, I think. Because this does sound like proper Stones rocker, the way she spits the kind of bile the Stones would have still had in them if they hadn’t f***ed up on heroin and indulgence. In other words, YEAH! Why D’Ya Do It? is raunchy and vindictive and unrepentant and f***ing dirty in all the right ways. Seriously. Imagine Mick Jagger singing it in say 1972, part of the Exile on Main St. sessions. You know it would have kicked serious shit. But Ms. Faithfull’s take would still be better. And the whole Broken English album is essential, one of the very best of 1979, or any other year for that matter.” (Philip Random)

(photo: Lynn Goldsmith)

105. ballrooms of Mars

“It’s easy to file T-Rex away as a glammed up (and out) pop monster whose singles absolutely nailed the zeitgeist for a year or three in the early 1970s, and they certainly did all that (in Britain anyway). But main man Marc Bolan could also just lay down a brilliant song – poetic, psychedelic, vaguely surreal, rather like the times, but also timeless, with Ballroom Of Mars (found on 1972’s Slider) exhibit A in this regard. Because that’s how I found it, at least a decade after the fact, wasting a day, drinking red wine so cheap the only way to make it palatable was to pour it over ice, maybe add a touch of something sweet. But the sun was shining and the company was good and … holy shit, who is this? It’s T-Rex, of course, gripped in the arms of the changeless madman. It means something.” (Philip Random)

(image source)

129. Supper’s Ready

“Speaking of Peter Gabriel, if I’d compiled this list in say 1979, Genesis would’ve been all over it (particularly their Gabriel era stuff), with Supper’s Ready likely right on top, certainly in the top three. But such is the nature of this culture stuff. It won’t stop twisting, turning, swallowing its own tail, vomiting it all back up, eating it again. In other words, I grew kind of allergic to Supper’s Ready for a while, an affliction for which I only have myself to blame. I loved it too much, wanted too much from it. A song about everything. A song very much about the Apocalypse — Pythagoras with a looking glass, the beast 666, the guaranteed eternal sanctuary man, Winston Churchill dressed in drag, and ultimately the new Jerusalem, good conquering evil, an angel shouting with a loud voice, souls rising in ever changing colours, as a germ in a seed grows, like a river to the ocean, and so on …

Epic stuff ripped straight from the Bible itself, but not without a serious dollop of absurdist fun. The weird part is, I didn’t even hear it until 1977 (five years after it first showed up on the album known as Foxtrot, two years after Gabriel had split the band) by which point there was a punk storm blowing nasty and vindictive. But that was me in my late teens, as uncool as I’ll ever be, and yet life has seldom seemed so rich, the smorgasbord so alluring. Except then I had to go and eat way too much. Which gets us to the title finally. Supper’s Ready. Apparently it’s a reference to the very end of the Bible†, the final scene of the book of revelations (and here I’m sort of quoting my late friend James who used to study this kind of stuff before he decided life just wasn’t worth the trouble anymore). Apparently when all is said is done, Satan vanquished, Christ triumphant, God’s kingdom established here on earth, there will be a huge feast to which all the worthy, the sainted, the blessed, the good are invited. Apparently, it will be one heaven of a feed. But in the meantime, we’re all doomed to just keep on keeping on.” (Philip Random) 

(image: Armando Gallo)

139. all the seats were occupied

Second of two in a row from possibly the most evil album of all time, Aphrodite’s Child’s 666, a four sided monster of a concept completely concerned with … well, what is it all about? According to principal composer and keyboard wizard Vangelis Papathanassiou said, “the answer to the question 666 is today.” Lyricist Costas Ferris (taking a break from his main job of film directing) has been less elusive, citing the central concept as a counter-cultural interpretation of the Book of Revelation, in which a circus show based on the apocalypse performs for an audience at the same time that the real apocalypse is happening outside the circus tent … with All the Seats are Occupied the prolonged and climactic point where these two apocalypses finally collide and all hell breaks loose. Literally. But is it really hell? Aphrodite’s Child being a rarity for all time, a psyche-prog-pop-rock outfit straight outa Greece, apocalypse being a Greek word not for the the catastrophic End of All Things, but for the drawing back a sheet, an unveiling of a new and mysterious thing. So why all the panic humanity?