104. pretty vacant

Because it’s the f***ing Sex Pistols, arguably the greatest rock and roll band of all time, at their most pop, such as it is. Pretty Vacant being the one you could find on a mixtape with the likes of Elvis Costello, The Who, The Doors, The Cars even, without offending anyone.  Certainly no one you didn’t want to be offending. Based on an Abba song apparently.

(image source)
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212. the night they drove old Dixie down

Joan Baez had a big AM radio hit with this back in around 1972. Meanwhile, the cool FM DJs were playing the Band’s original version, which my teenybop ears didn’t really get. Too gritty, too raw. But jump ahead a few years to The Last Waltz (the movie of the Band’s big deal farewell concert) and yeah, I got it! The vast tragedy of the American South, what it is to lose a war and thus your culture, see it all burned before your eyes by the forces of Northern Aggression. Yeah, they owned slaves or certainly fought for those who did, but … I can’t think of a but for this. Slavery’s about as f***ed up as humanity gets. But there you go – where there’s humanity, there’s also soul, and thus complexity. Which is why we need songs like The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” (Philip Random)

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224. don’t worry about the government

“It continues to amaze me that this hit in 1977, the year Punk truly erupted, tore the firmament asunder, tossed multi-dimensional hand grenades up and down the corridors of power and complacency. And Talking Heads were very much part of all that, playing all the relevant clubs, going to all the relevant parties. Except Don’t Worry About the Government isn’t really raucous at all, just a spry ditty about clouds and pine trees and peaches and civil servants and friends, and loved ones. Nothing at all to worry about.” (Philip Random)

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(photo source)

236. five years

“At first I wasn’t even going to include anything from Ziggy Stardust on this list. It just seemed inconceivable that there was anybody who hadn’t already heard it all perhaps way too many times. But then Five Years popped up on an old mix tape and young Tracy (who isn’t even that young) said, is this John Lennon? Five Years being the 1972 song in which David Bowie accurately predicted the end of the world in 1977. Which I realize is a confusing fact to lay down, particularly to those born since 1977. Just trust me, it’s true. This is not the same world as before. Something very odd happened in 1977 and we’ve all been spinning in weird gravity ever since.” (Philip Random)

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253. Allez Ali Baba Blacksheep have you any bullsh**?

“In which the outfit known as Gong put their psychedelic meandering to punk power, their aerie-faerie bullsh** to pure raw rebellion and somehow keep the f***ing world on its axis, doing its revolutionary thing around the sun, which is itself swerving in weird cycles through the unknown (un)limits of infinity. By which I mean, what value anarchy if it does not float? … or should you ever find yourself tripping on weapons grade psychedelics and feel the need for a soundtrack that’s both youthfully raw yet somehow cosmically smooth, seek no further than the Allez Ali Baba blacksheep have you any bullshit mama maya mantram found here. It makes perfect sense. All fifteen minutes of it.” (Philip Random)

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273. plastic people

“As a kid who hit his teens in the early 1970s, I sort of always knew about Frank Zappa and his Mothers and their various crimes against humanity, but I never really fell in love until I heard Absolutely Free toward the end of high school, Plastic People in particular, and how nastily, incisively, hilariously it skewered all the transparent, pre-fab zombies I walked the halls with, who I once thought of as friends, but now, they just seemed hard-wired for lives of desperate boredom, intent on becoming just like their parents, only worse, because normal always gets worse. Yet Plastic People is in fact not about suburbia 1977, but Los Angeles 1967, a grand piss take of pretty much everyone, even the hippies, and how there was plastic where their souls should have been. It was just that kind of town, I guess. Still is, apparently.” (Philip Random)

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280. don’t leave me this way

“Call it bad timing. Disco erupted as I was finishing high school, jammed up all the available radio stations, transformed all the nightclubs (just as I finally had good, foolproof fake ID). Sure it probably served some greater service to the culture as a whole, gave all the former hippie freaks and rebels something to do in the wake of their failed revolutions and insurrections – just snort coke, shake their booties, lay the groundwork for yuppiedom, Reaganomics, Tom Cruise. Yeah, I blame disco for all of that. But I always liked Don’t Leave Me This Way. Thelma Houston had the big hit but nothing touches what Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes did with it, particularly the long version. Though that was actually Teddy Pendergrass singing lead. Things were a little confused in that outfit.” (Philip Random)

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307. if I can dream

“When Elvis (aka The King) died in 1977, John Lennon was smugly heard to observe that he’d already been been dead for almost twenty years — ever since he joined the army back in 1958. But I give him another ten years, to 1968 and the big deal comeback TV special on NBC.  Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had just been shot, the Vietnam war had officially gone to hell, the Beatles hadn’t played live for years. But Elvis wasn’t worried.  He had a secret weapon for the show’s finale, a brand new song written by a guy named Earl Brown called If I Can Dream. ‘I’m never going to sing another song I don’t believe in,’ said Elvis when he first heard it, ‘I’m never going to make another movie I don’t believe in.’ And yeah, Elvis did deliver on NBC, a performance that reached deep through the strange vacuum of the cathode ray tube and touched the hopeful soul of all humanity, maybe even saved the world. But then he proceeded to eat doughnuts, sing awful songs, make worse movies, and finally died nine years later, alone, sitting on a toilet. Poor guy. The King of Need, the Residents called him.” (Philip Random)

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319. dogs

Dogs is the epic Pink Floyd track that you couldn’t put on when you and your high school friends all got high. You’d get maybe three minutes in and some idiot would say, ‘Let’s hear side one of Dark Side instead. It’s so cool when all those clocks go off.’ I came to really hate Dark Side because of those morons. Still do (sort of), or maybe I’m just allergic to it. I have none of that trouble with Dogs and its withering 17 minute rip into all things corporate, capitalist, evil. And the thing is, it found eighteen year old me at a pivotal moment, forced a consciousness that I’d been flirting with anyway. Something to do with just saying NO to every greed and conformist based assumption I’d been fed by every parent, teacher, coach, priest, expert I’d ever encountered. They’re all wrong, it shouted. Do what they say and you’re already dead, dragged down by a stone. Or as my friend Motron put it, Dogs is punk rock on acid, then slowed way down … but in a good way.” (PR)

(photo: Phillipe Gras)