2. doing it to death

“Because there had to be at least one James Brown track on this list — Godfather of Soul, Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Soul Brother No. 1 and a bunch more, I’m sure. Including I hope some reference to funk. He did invent funk, didn’t he? What do I know? I’m just some white guy from the suburbs. I’ll tell you what I know. I know that whatever it is we’re all doing here, this being alive, this ever expanding sustained chain reaction of possibilities that comes with breathing, moving, growing, learning, dreaming, DANCING — we’re doing it to death. And even death is no end, because trust that whatever happens (or doesn’t) after we die — the groove goes on, the song doesn’t end, we’re fated to life eternal. Not any of our mortal stuff obviously. That all plays itself out in time even if you go vegan, pump iron, take your vitamins – you are gonna die, your flesh is gonna rot. No it’s the immortal stuff I’m thinking about, the noise we make, the light we shine and reflect, the seeds we plant, and how they grow. By which I mean ideas, passions, commitments, sacrifices, songs – the grooves in particular. None of that stuff ever dies.

Which is all just an approximation of a pile of thoughts I had this past New Years (into 2001), while DJing on some unnamed island, monster sound system, high on some of the local shrooms — not hallucinating or anything, just elevated enough to see (and feel) that the crowd were finally at the point where they’d dance to anything. But what the DJ wants at such a moment, is to give them exactly the right thing. And there it was: The JBs’ Doing It To Death. Not even a James Brown album per say. He gave this one to his band, because who was he really without his JBs? The album itself kind of a rarity, my copy pressed in Germany, 1973, one of those records you spend a long time looking for. And yeah, the title track‘s the treasure that makes it all worth the trouble. Like the intro says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, there are seven acknowledged wonders of the world. You are about to witness the eighth’. No clever DJ tricks required, just drop the needle, slay everyone in the room, give them eternal life. Call it a paradox. I won’t argue. We need more paradoxes.” (Philip Random)

(photo: Universal Music archives)

28. baby’s on fire

Baby’s On Fire doesn’t play by any of the rules, yet it absolutely slays as pop song, rock song, whatever you want to call it — the Brian Eno genius in full wild eruption, that beautiful baby getting tossed out with the bathwater, or whatever the hell’s going on. What’s going on is Mr. Eno’s delightfully skewed approach to wordplay. Throw a bunch of loose phrases into a box, pull them out in random order. Proceed from there. And then there’s Robert Fripp‘s incendiary guitar solo erupting through the middle of things like a demon from future antiquity (or was it Paul Rudolph?). By which I mean, holy sh**, Baby’s On Fire was at least five years old when I first heard it, and still too hot to touch. And it still hasn’t cooled off. Yet it is still cool.” (Philip Random)

31. right on for the darkness

“I guess I probably heard this Curtis Mayfield epic back when it was new via the local cool FM radio station (1973 being a year before all that started going to hell). But I wouldn’t have been up to it. I wasn’t cool enough yet. Its depth-beauty-power-significance would’ve breezed straight past me. But jump ahead a decade and now I was ready for the album called Back To The World found in a friend’s collection. ‘Back to the World’ being how American GIs in Vietnam referred to their return home to the normal every day life you’d left behind at least a thousand years ago. Which if your blood was to some degree African too often meant just trading one war for the another anyway.

Betrayal in a word. A betrayal heard in the Mr. Mayfield’s intensely masculine falsetto (as somebody else described it). But there’s more than just that going on in Right on for the Darkness, musically, and production wise, a complexity of ambition and beauty that … well, sometimes you’ve just got to say yeah, right on, this is something only music can do. It can take you there, one foot in heaven, the other in hell. Which even if I hadn’t spent any of my time in a proper ghetto, I could still sort of relate, the suburbs offering their own kinder, gentler, more deceptive nightmares. Not many get murdered and nobody starving. But they do suffocate. And good luck trying to get out.” (Philip Random)

61. desolation row

“It must’ve been early 1973 because I was still thirteen, working through the bullshit of Grade Eight, and everything else for that matter, including life itself, a big fat WHY BOTHER at the heart of pretty much all my musings. Because the Christian-God-based reality I’d had foisted on me from day one was too ridiculous to be taken remotely seriously. But what did that leave then other than meaninglessness, which was proving to be no fun at all. Meanwhile in the background, this Bob Dylan song was playing on the cool FM radio station of the moment (nobody else sounded like him, I had that much figured out) and it just kept going on and on, about postcards sent from hangings, and Cain and Abel, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Insurance Men, the Titanic, Einstein disguised as Robin Hood, the Phantom of the Opera, Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliot … like the singer-poet-whatever in question had a damned serious message for me and he wasn’t going stop until I got it. Which I did finally. Except it wasn’t really a message. More of a feeling that I’d be wise to stop sweating the meaning stuff, and rather just get on with it, live, learn, encounter crazy shit, go to the hangings and bear witness, maybe drink cheap red wine, mix it up with marijuana, get serious about all that confusion out there (and within for that matter) not as an end but maybe as an indication that some higher wisdom-insight-glory might be waiting a little further down the line. And take notes, maybe send a few postcards of my own. Maybe this is one of them.” (Philip Random)

79. burnin’ and lootin’

“Burnin’ and Lootin’ goes back to 1973, almost the beginning of the Bob Marley and the Wailers story (certainly in terms of the music getting heard anywhere outside of Jamaica) but it took almost twenty years for it properly nail me. April-29-1992, the LA riots, watching it all go down on TV, then throwing in with a radio show that night, mixing in live TV audio, surfing the chaos, mixing it up with various relevant tunes, which meant lots of gangsta rap, of course, almost as angry as the day itself. But the song that ended up cutting the deepest that night, spoke most profoundly to the underlying history, the centuries of evil bullshit and terror that had fed the monster we were watching – that was Burnin’ and Lootin’. Because the only thing new about what had happened to Rodney King was the man’s name.” (Philip Random)

(image source)

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)

91. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

“Because even if it was only for two or three weeks roughly halfway through Grade Nine, Black Sabbath were the greatest, most essential band in all creation, all hail Satan to whom they’d sold their souls. At least that’s what I heard in Metal Shop from John Field, and you didn’t argue with that asshole. And anyway, who’s arguing with Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (the song)?  Heavier than all the world’s cathedrals combined, more essential riffs in its five and half minutes than all the 80s hair bands put together could conjure in a decade, and yes, as a matter fact, exactly what you need for air-guitaring when you’re fourteen and getting properly smashed on whiskey for the first time. And then I think we went and smashed some stuff.” (Philip Random)

107. O Lucky Man!

Alan Price being an original Animal and British Invasion contender, O Lucky Man! being exactly the movie you need if you’re fourteen and suburban and every bit as existential as you are horny. Because you do need something to turn your world on its head, expose and eviscerate your every delusion as to how things really work, until all you can do really is laugh at the fact that nothing’s funny anymore, it’s god damned horrific. And yet, like the song says, there remains a big IF at the heart of it all, IF you can just see through all the bullshit, and figure out a reason to smile anyway. IF being the middle part of Life anyway. Did I mention I was stoned when I saw O Lucky Man! for the first of at least nine times, just getting started really on the path of self de-programming, art and drug induced? ” (Philip Random)

126. Once I Was

“I remember taping this song from the radio one night, early teens, maybe 1973. But I didn’t catch who it was, so for some reason I just assumed it was Donovan. Which threw things off for a good twenty years. I’d describe it to people as the one where he says, if I was a soldier, and they’d say, Universal Soldier, and I’d say, no, his other soldier song. Anyway, I finally got it figured about twenty-five years later. Special thanks to Rena, an ex-punk I used to know, who had a hate on for Jeff Buckley, because she thought he was an over-hyped shadow of his dad, the then long gone but not forgotten (by Rena anyway) Tim Buckley. Anyway, I asked her to make me a tape, and there it was, Once I Was, precious evidence of a time (1967) when a young man could just pick up a guitar, sing his deceptively simple song, put poetic truth to the brutality and chaos of the world, maybe change everything forever. At least, that’s what it must’ve felt like, I guess. I was just a little kid then, not allowed anywhere near the fun part of the party.” (Philip Random)

(image: Morrison Hotel Gallery)