Two in a row from Joe Walsh‘s The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get. Everybody knows the big deal hit, the one about getting high, the Rocky Mountain way, and it’s a classic. But that goes for the whole album, a set of songs that are thankfully not all trying to be the same thing. In the case of Midnight Moodies, that means a cool instrumental groover, ideal for late night driving in warm climes. And then, it’s seamlessly into the reggae stylings (years before such became a soft rock cliché) of Happy Ways, which is truth in advertising. “One of the most genuinely happy songs I know. Dig into it a bit, and you discover it’s really bassist Kenny Passarelli‘s tune, who took the lead vocal, and he co-wrote it (as he did Rocky Mountain Way). All hail Barnstorm, the band. And Joe Walsh for letting everyone shine.” (Philip Random)
It’s 1973 and the times may be grim but the Temptations (and producer Norman Whitfield) are in full, expansive, beautiful bloom (riding as they are on the mega-success of 1972’s Papa was a Rolling Stone). But the focus now is not the past, but seventeen years into the future, the dawning of the 1990s, not that not much has changed. There still ain’t no justice.
The only Beach Boys track on the countdown list is as good a time as any to reference the guidelines, the key ones in this case being A. if Philip Random didn’t have it on vinyl as of August 2000, it doesn’t matter how good it is, the song doesn’t qualify, and B. it has to be something the average person probably hadn’t heard (also as of August 2000 – a few of these tracks have since gained some much deserved notoriety), which means no chart-toppers, no inescapable big deal pop items already played lots on commercial radio and/or heard in commercials themselves, or in big deal movies or TV shows, or video games, or in any other way already exposed out there in the culture. So, in the case of the Beach Boys, we only get one selection, “… the easy, breezy, really quite cool Leaving this Town (found on 1973’s Holland), because everything else I’d care to share has either A. proven impossible to find on vinyl at non-ridiculous collectors prices, or B. popular enough already.” (Philip Random)
“In which Queen unleash one minute fifty seconds of punk rock a good three years before they had a label for such stuff, Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll being found on their first album, the one titled simply Queen. And exhibit A when it came to proving that they could do anything any other so-called rock band could do, and better. At least, that was the argument in the Grade Nine ghetto down by the metal work room.” (Philip Random)
Proof that Led Zeppelin weren’t afraid to get a little funky, or take the piss, The Crunge being a song of search – a song in search of its bridge, which it never finds, it just keeps crunging crunchily along.
“It was 1974 sometime, so I would’ve been fourteen or fifteen, a weekday night. I’m in my room doing homework or whatever, and suddenly there’s this song on the radio I can’t ignore. Sort of Bob Dylan, sort of Van Morrison, sort of the Band. But it’s its own thing. The singer feels younger, more hopeful, even if he is telling a sort of tragic tale, and he’s definitely telling a tale – love and violence, despair and romance. And then the DJ says the guy’s name but it’s kind of weird, and I promptly forget it. Which is no big deal, it’s a great song, I’ll hear it again soon enough. Except I didn’t. Because FM radio was turning to shit in those days, getting taken over not by music loving DJs, but coldhearted consultants who knew neither love nor grace. So it took maybe three years (and the breakthrough of Born to Run) before I finally discovered I’d been listening to a song called Incident on 57th Street, from Bruce Springsteen’s second album, The Wild the Innocent + the E Street Shuffle. Things just moved slower in those days.” (Philip Random)
“In which angular German hippies Neu! do their bit to invent punk a good three or four years before the fact. Of course, I wouldn’t discover Neu! until at least ten years later, so for me, they had more to do with providing an overall blueprint for the future of everything. Just lock that beat and lay down some music mixed with noise, because we’ll always need a beat, and there will always be noise, and music just makes everything better.” (Philip Random)
As evolutions go, the outfit known as Renaissance worked a weirder one than most. Originally formed out of the meltdown of the Yardbirds (Keith Relf and Jim McCarty wanting to try their hand at something a little more sophisticated) it would, in time, pull what’s known as a Ship of Theseus (the Theseus’ paradox being a thought experiment, first posed in the late first century, that raises the question of whether an object that has had all of its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object). In Renaissance’ case, that meant all the original members were long gone by the time 1973’s Ashes Are Burning came along. And that “more sophisticated” sound – it had evolved into a mostly acoustic prog rock that was nevertheless not afraid to get very big and dramatic, if required, with Ashes Are Burning (the song) about as epic as they ever got. And soaring above it all, you had the inimitable voice of Annie Haslam, classically trained and as strong and vast and high and ghostly and beautiful a sound as has ever been heard on any kind of so-called rock song.
One of those Leonard Cohen songs you just never seem to hear. Possibly because it’s too long, though more likely because it’s thus far eluded the grasp of half-baked MOR interpreters. “Some people seem to hate this song. Probably because it tells the truth, as simple as a man with his hand out on the winter street, bitterly cold, barely hanging on, and all he asks is that you not ignore him, that you not just pass him by one more time.” (Philip Random)