66. sweet thing – candidate – sweet thing

“If the house was on fire and I could only grab one David Bowie album, I’d die for sure because I’d be stuck there trying to make up my mind. Or maybe I’d just be f***ing honest with myself and grab Diamond Dogs, because I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the one I’ve listened to the most over the years, the one that doesn’t even begin to have a weak or misguided moment, the one I’ve never seemed to grow even slightly allergic to, perhaps because it’s so witheringly uninterested in being pleasant. And Sweet-Thing-Candidate-Sweet-Thing (the mini-epic that takes up most of side one) is the high water mark.

The Ziggy alien is long gone by now. This new Bowie creature is very much earthbound – half human, half dog, and rolling in the muck and mire of an apocalyptic hellscape that’s equal parts Hieronymus Bosch, Salvador Dali, and George Orwell. And he’s running for political office,. He wants to be Big Brother. Which is sort of the concept here. Diamond Dogs being the album that was originally intended to be an adaptation of Orwell’s 1984, but Mr. Bowie couldn’t secure the rights, so it ended up being its own uniquely dark and harrowing thing. And yet there’s a sweetness at the heart of it, a sorrow even, a sliver of soul and humanity that suggests maybe all is not lost. Not yet anyway. Welcome to the early-middle part of the 1970s, the outlook may be grim, but damn, if the noise isn’t superlative.” (Philip Random)

(Guy Peelaert)

67. ambulance blues

“Given my age at the time (barely fifteen), Neil Young’s On The Beach is definitely one of my earliest (and oddest) album length crushes. And being cool had nothing to do with it. It was just one of those difficult teen summers, stuck visiting relatives, no friends within three thousand miles, too old for little kids stuff, too young to care about adult bullshit. And yet for some reason, there was this Neil Young album kicking around my uncle’s place. I think he won it in a raffle, probably listened to the whole thing once, if at all. And to be honest, that’s probably all I would’ve given it if there’d been any other options. But there weren’t, so I dove in, with side two, the mellow side, the rich and deeply somber, dark and melancholic side, being the one that truly grabbed me over time. Though grab’s the wrong word. More of an embrace, albeit a cool one. Particularly Ambulance Blues, which really felt like the album cover: a California beach on a grey and disappointing day, patio furniture spread around, and the tail fin of a buried car, with Mr. Young way out at the water’s edge looking like he might be about to jump in, never come back. You’re all just pissing in the wind.” (Philip Random)

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)

(image source)

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)

(image source)

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)

239-8-7. 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)

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)

(image source)

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)

VanMorrison-1973-tooLATE