89. one nation under a groove

“Because it made John the drug dealer cry. Tough guy, carried a gun sometimes (or claimed to anyway), you did not f*** with him. It was 86 Street nightclub, 1988, maybe three hours into the 19-piece P-Funk All Stars extravaganza, George Clinton and company riding a groove that had been building all evening, just wave after wave of funk infused fabulousness, everything building, building … and finally shifting slightly, evolving into a recognizable song, the one about there only being one nation, the one which entices us to all move in groovy unity. That’s when John nudged me, pointed to a tear on his cheek. If that musical moment had somehow been pressed to vinyl in all its power and glory, it would probably be number one on this list. But I guess we’ll just have to go with the album version from a decade previous, which like so much of the Parliament-Funkadelic stuff, works fine even as it falls magnitudes short of the live item. Oh well. Maybe you had to be there. I was.” (Philip Random)

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109. walk on by

“Because it’s The Stranglers taking on Burt Bacharch’s Walk On By and proving my old buddy Carl right. He used to say there were no bad songs, only bad performances. Not that I really considered Walk On By a bad song, just sort of guilty by association, buried as it was in the EZ-listening-muzak background of my growing up (whatever that godawful Toronto radio station was that my parents had on all the time, 1,001 strings in full asphyxiating flower). But jump ahead a decade and things are different. The song may still be saying the same thing, but the music isn’t. The music snarls, this heartbreak is dangerous, and come the instrumental jam of the full length version, the Stranglers are soaring. Even the punks are running scared.” (Philip Random)

115. public image

Public Image was the first single from Public Image Ltd, the concern that Johnny Rotten (aka Lydon) threw together amid the wreckage of the recently crashed and burned Sex Pistols. And it was damned good. Hell, even I liked it on first listen from my then mostly anti-punk perspective. A serious call to … seriousness, I guess, Mr. Rotten making the point that he was more than just a cartoon character, a gimmick, a punk, that he knew a thing or two about music, how to sing a song, make a record, take steady aim, hit them all where it hurts. And damn, what a bass line!” (Philip Random)

141. soul fire

“In which Lee Scratch Perry (aka Rainford Hugh Perry), the maddest mix-doctor of them all, nails us with a powerful ember of soul fire ††that manages to be equal parts easy and strange. Because it’s roots reggae (always an easy groove) and it concerns the human soul (always strange). Doesn’t matter if you’re in feverishly hot Trenchtown, Jamaica, or just some pointless suburb at the north-western edge of the crumbling civilization known as Babylon. It’s all humanity if you drill deep enough.” (Philip Random)

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149. downpayment blues

“When AC/DC first hit my particular suburb, I was in my late teens and fully committed to the sinking ship that was known as Prog Rock, after which I grabbed some wreckage that washed me ashore on the island known as punk, new wave etc. Because hard rock, heavy metal, riff rock – that was for little kids as far as I was concerned. I was wrong, of course. Because jump ahead a decade, I’m almost thirty now and in no way measuring up to any of the adult expectations that anybody ever had for me (my parents, my teachers, myself even) and among many other unexpected diversions, I’m finally ready for the genius that is-was-will-always-be AC/DC. Honest, direct, maybe a little evil, always piledrivingly on the nose whether deliberately hellbound or, in the case of Downpayment Blues (from Powerage, the second last studio album of the Bon Scott era), just slacking off, drinking cheap swill, doing nothing with a vengeance. Or as somebody put it in Slacker† (the movie) a few years later, ‘… withdrawing in disgust should never be confused with apathy.’ Words to live by.” (Philip Random)

198. Satisfaction

“1978 sometime. I’m home alone watching Saturday Night Live, and BAM! Devo hits the stage with their take on the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction and … well, call it a Ballad of a Thin Man moments (ie: that Bob Dylan song where he sneers at straight old normal Mr. Jones and says, ‘Something is happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you?’) Except I wasn’t even twenty years old yet, how the hell could I be as uncool as Mr. Jones? And anyway, I had heard Devo already and didn’t hate them, but I didn’t exactly get them either. What I was, of course, was confused, which I’d eventually realize was the whole point. Devo existed to confuse. The trick was to trust this confusion, maybe even love it, embrace it as the true and weird future for all of mankind. Or something like that. I guess I’m still confused, but man, I do love that first Devo album.” (Philip Random)

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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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219. Senor (tales of Yankee power)

“I tend to think of Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) as Mr. Dylan‘s last great pre-Christian moment, though I suppose some of the lyrics suggest he’d already opened the good book at this point – he just wasn’t advertising it yet. Either way, he seems to be alone at a crossroads in the midst of some wasteland with smoke rising off in the distance. But is that Lincoln County or Armageddon? And what’s the difference anyway?” (Philip Random)

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246. warm leatherette

The Normal must have released more music than just 1978’s Warm Leatherette (and its b-side) but I’ve never heard any of it. Which makes them pretty much the perfect bit player in this ongoing pop apocalypse, working a one hundred percent batting average, because Warm Leatherette (a catchy hit of machine driven coolness about the car crash set, sado-masochism, the work of JG Ballard, other hip transgressions) remains entirely on the money and way ahead of its time.” (Philip Random)