119. red

“My relationship with King Crimson started fairly early on with the eponymous title track of the first album, which got a fair bit of radio play back in the day. But beyond that, I don’t know if I heard anything until a friend made a point of playing Red for me when I was maybe fifteen. Just the song, not the whole album. It actually frightened me, the intensity of it. No respite anywhere in its six plus minutes, even the quiet parts were wound tight, setting up another roar of visceral instrumental fierceness in the shade of red, that sort of mist you see when your rage gets the worst of you and all you can do really is howl. Though maybe here, it’s the best, because man, what a f***ing band! In retrospect, it’s no great surprise that Robert Fripp shut the operation down almost immediately afterward. There was really nowhere else for King Crimson to go – not for six or seven years anyway. And meanwhile, I had plenty of time to catch up†, get educated††.” (Philip Random)

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136. return of the grievous angel

“Late 1980s sometime, date a bit vague because I was convalescing at the time, coming off a prolonged ailment that, in retrospect, had at least something to do with a disease in my soul. Which made it the perfect time to finally discover the music of Gram Parsons. Yeah, I’d heard of him, how he pretty much invented country rock, hooked up with Keith Richard, turned heroin blue way before his time. But now via random discovery of his only two solo albums at a yard sale, I was actually hearing his soul, because that’s what it was (still is), his take on so-called Country. Soul music, grievous and angelic. And precisely what I hadn’t been hearing pretty much my entire life, which was a white man digging deep into the roots of his own music, finding some beauty therein. If you don’t like Country, you don’t really like me.” (Philip Random)

147. overnight sensation (hit record)

“I do remember hearing Overnight Sensation (aka Hit Record) on the radio when it was new, maybe two or three times. But it definitely didn’t hit in my corner of North America, where the Raspberries were good for two sharp power pop anthems and then weren’t much heard from anymore (overnight sensations indeed). Which is great in a way, because that means I never got allergic to Overnight Sensation which likely would have happened had it received its due. Which, I guess, is my vaguely Buddhist way of admitting that despite my numerous complaints as the to corrupt and absurd nature of the music biz, I’m often as not delighted at how time-the-universe-everything has spun things out – that there are still some absurdly overlooked treasures just lying around. And thus there’s a reason to keep digging through that hissing, shifting, living landfill that the 20th century left us. Mostly just trash, some of it genuinely toxic, but every now and then ….” (Philip Random)

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192. sound chaser

“Maybe you had to be there like I was, fifteen years old, opening song of Yes’s 1975 Relayer tour. Stravinksy’s Firebird suite crescendos, the curtains part, and holy f***ing WOW!!! Call Sound Chaser an intervention. The gods themselves imposing on my affairs. Ecstatically so. Like the Apocalypse itself, but in a good way. Like these musicians, these sorcerers, weren’t really playing this music, they were conjuring it, shaping and turning and chasing this superlative noise that just kept bubbling over, ricocheting all around, setting even the atmosphere on fire. Or as my old muso friend Robert once put it, Sound Chaser‘s the one where Yes finally got to that edge they’d been aiming for, flirting with, singing about –  not close, not over, but right the f*** on it. Maybe not their greatest achievement, but definitely their sharpest, fiercest, most dazzlingly precarious. Like a gauntlet thrown down. This is where music must go. Here are untold galaxies for us to explore. Except I guess most of us were looking the other way, or maybe just afraid. Because disco came along, and punk, and whatever else, and somehow we stopped with the progress, and that was that, mission abandoned, lost in the vastness of space.” (Philip Random)

239-238-237. tenement funster – flick of the wrist – lily of the valley

“Three tracks from Sheer Heart Attack, Queen’s third album, that all flow seamlessly together, so it’s tempting to think of them as all just one epic piece. But  take a look at the lyrics (and the overall shifts in tone) and it’s clear there are three distinctly different things going on here. Tenement Funster‘s a raw piece of ‘kitchen sink’ glam. Call it drama. Flick of the Wrist is like a flick of a TV channel to something suddenly quite bitchy with operatic moments and not just a little malevolence. Call it melodrama. And Lily of the Valley‘s just a lovely bit of epic love. Call it romance. Thus we are reminded of how Queen always had more ideas and angles going than any nine other bands, and the chops to do everything justice. When this stuff landed in the various teenage rec-rooms of suburbia circa 1974/75, let’s just say a great hunger was sated – one we weren’t even fully aware we had. Something to do with a need for passion and fun delivered with a fierce electric raunch that was always at least slightly under control.” (Philip Random)

Queen-1974-promo

281. love hurts

“No, Nazareth didn’t f***ing write Love Hurts. It was Boudleaux Bryant, a guy who most definitely knew a thing or two about love and how it simultaneously sets you free as the wind and carves raw chunks out of your soul. My essential version has to be Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris’s take — quiet, heartfelt, grievous and true. Unfortunately, Mr. Parsons would be dead before the world ever heard it.” (Philip Random)

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289. Cyprus Avenue

“I saw Van Morrison once. 1986, I think. Underwhelmed would describe my response. Not that I was horribly surprised. I had been warned. Van was notorious for less than stellar shows. If he wasn’t feeling the gods own light in his soul, he wasn’t going to fake it. But on a good night, well, words don’t suffice. You’ve got to just shut up and listen to the likes of what happens here in Cyprus Avenue, recorded in 1973 sometime, final song of the evening apparently. Too late to stop now.” (Philip Random)

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339. Mr. Brown

Mr. Brown is definitely the most garage sounding track I’ve heard from Bob Marley, which is not a surprise given Lee Scratch Perry‘s presence at the mixing board, conjuring his unique and multihued magic. Found by me on Rasta Revolution, a 1974 compilation of various pre-fame Marley and the Wailers odds and ends, which means it probably got recorded prior to 1972. Not that Marley saw much fame anywhere beyond Jamaica until after 1974 anyway. And then I didn’t stumble onto it until at least 1994. But it still felt fresh, if a little ripe.” (Philip Random)

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370-369-368. Boy Boy – Laredo Tornado – El Dorado

“When I was kid, maybe fifteen, it was the story, the big concept that appealed most, perfect for my still growing brain and imagination. Which made Electric Light Orchestra‘s fourth album, Eldorado essential. The one concerning the Dreamer, the Unwoken Fool. He starts out high on a hill, catches a glimpse of the ocean’s daughter, goes after her, gets caught up in a war, a tornado in the desert, Sherwood Forest, a lost kingdom, the south seas, some painted ladies, and so on … finally ending up atop another hill, still a dreamer, unwoken, still a fool. For months, I’d listen to Eldorado beginning to end at least five days out of seven, until one day, I guess I finally got into Yes, or maybe ski season started. Or just girls and alcohol. Whatever happened, Eldorado got put aside for more than a decade. Until one night in 1987 sometime, high no doubt, tired of punk rock and hardcore and whatever, I’m picking through the dregs of my old vinyl (the un-essential stuff not filed on a shelf, just piled in various boxes) and the cover catches my eye. It still does.

A still from an actual film frame from Wizard of Oz – Dorothy’s contentious ruby slippers, the wicked witch of wherever trying to zap them off with her pale green hands. I put the album on and I couldn’t help but smile. It was just so big and fun. Sheer melodrama, all those strings and choral overloads, and related surprises. Like in Boy Blue where everything’s revving up to an obvious sort of b-movie climax, but it doesn’t go there. Not yet. Just sidesteps into plucked cellos (I think), and then it goes for the obvious climax. And then in Laredo Tornado, it’s the raw power of electric guitar with everything else majestic and soaring all around it, like a genuine tornado, grand and intense. And then jump ahead to the climax of the whole thing, the title track, Eldorado, I swear Jeff Lynne‘s channelling Tom Jones here, strong as a coal miner, even if the lyrics are too often just filler (I recall Jeff Lynne saying he wrote them all in a weekend). Nah, it’s the music that matters, the big and beautiful journey it takes, electric and full of light.” (Philip Random)