“Clampdown‘s the second song I heard from London Calling, the album that ignited the possibility that yeah, maybe the Clash were the only band that mattered. I heard the title track first, and I immediately loved it – all that rage and insurrection down by the river. But for whatever reason (probably because I was pretty broke at the time), I didn’t dive in and buy the album until fellow cab driver Dennis pulled me aside and forced Clampdown on me. It was simply that important, that urgent.
Because as Dennis put it, ‘You’re a young man and a young man’s gotta watch himself when it comes to simple explanations as to how the world really works — fascist bullshit being so easy to fall into, so easy to end up with the bully boys wearing blue and brown. Say goodbye to your living soul.’ Dennis (who was about five years older and recently arrived from England) being the kind of guy who always had a spliff rolled, ready to go. We’d book off for a few minutes, crank the tunes in his cab, always something British, punk or new wave, which past a certain point in summer 1980 meant pretty much non-stop London Calling — the Sgt. Pepper’s of the 1980s, he called it, ‘But better than that hippie shit.’ Punks moving beyond punk, trying to embrace everything goddamned thing, succeeding for the most part. Thanks, Dennis, wherever you are.” (Philip Random)
“Because if you’re not at some point listening to music that has turned into noise, or perhaps noticing that noise has turned into music – you’re not trying hard enough. And I’ve definitely tried in my time. I’ve listened to The Residents a lot over the years. There’s certainly a lot to listen to. None of it remotely ordinary, some of it outright sublime. Though they disappointed me when I finally saw them live. Not that there was anything wrong with the show. It was just too human somehow, all my notions dashed that they were aliens of some sort, or spirit entities or maybe some kind of future post-humans come back to check up on us. Nope, they were just people wearing eyeball masks, cranking out weirdly weird music. Yet an album like Eskimo (various parts of which constitute this edit) still gets me wondering. Because it just doesn’t feel like it’s from this world. It feels beyond us somehow, and sublimely, enticingly, alluringly so. Of course, maybe that’s what living in the Arctic is really like, or was anyway, for the millennia before electricity finally showed up. Maybe that’s the whole point. We have met the aliens. The aliens are us.” (Philip Random)
“It’s all in the title. Teenage Kickskicks like a f***ing teenager. In the best possible way. Or as The Who put it way back when, the kids are alright. They always are, they must be, such is the life force itself, all those eternal teenage hormones, hardons, heartbreaks, total havoc. The Kicks Must Continue or else seriously, why bother? And the thing is, you don’t have to be a teenager to get it. I wasn’t. I was twenty the first time I heard Teenage Kicks. And if my math is straight, so was Feargal Sharkey when he sang it, and John O’Neill when he wrote it. Power pop for the f***ing ages, I say. The Undertones were NOT a punk band. Yet in true stupid music biz fashion, I doubt it got played even once on commercial radio here in the Americas. And people wonder why I so deeply detest the f***ing Knack.” (Philip Random)
“I don’t care what all the charts were saying at the time, by 1979 the Rolling Stones were nowhere, and accelerating hard to oblivion. Certainly on record. Which makes Why D’ya Do It? the last truly great Rolling Stones record, even if they had nothing to do with it beyond Marianne Faithfull being Mick’s ex from way back. Which is the connection, I think. Because this does sound like proper Stones rocker, the way she spits the kind of bile the Stones would have still had in them if they hadn’t f***ed up on heroin and indulgence. In other words, YEAH! Why D’Ya Do It? is raunchy and vindictive and unrepentant and f***ing dirty in all the right ways. Seriously. Imagine Mick Jagger singing it in say 1972, part of the Exile on Main St. sessions. You know it would have kicked serious shit. But Ms. Faithfull’s take would still be better. And the whole Broken English album is essential, one of the very best of 1979, or any other year for that matter.” (Philip Random)
“It was the night John Lennon was murdered. My friend Simon dropped by with some LSD and, given the extremes of the moment, our fates were sealed. It was our profound duty to now trip the vast lysergic, play a pile of Beatles records and see where the mystical magical vibrations might take us. They took us to dawn, sitting in my car now, high up a hilltop, taking in the first grey light of a cold and misty day. We had Simon’s little brother asleep in the backseat with a dog named Alice (it’s a long story) … but the Beatles weren’t on the playlist anymore. We’d sort of lost track of them as things started to peak, the gods having other plans for us apparently. Now it was a mixtape Simon had made of more recent stuff, moody and cool and mostly instrumental. Except here was Peter Gabriel suddenly, singing Here Comes The Flood, but not the version from his debut album, this was sparer, sharper, far better. I later discovered it was from Robert Fripp’s Exposure album — everything peeled back to just voice, piano and some ghostly Frippertronics. A song of apocalypse, no question, of saying goodbye to flesh and blood. Yet not forecasting doom in the end, but rather a sort of dreamlike survival. And then the rain really started to deluge on that hilltop. And it still hasn’t stopped, not really, the 1970s being known as the last decade that the sun ever really shone.” (Philip Random)
“Because there must be at least one B-52’s track on this list, and it must be from the first side of their first album, and Dance This Mess Around seems to be not only comparatively underheard, but also the best damned thing on it. Yeah, Rock Lobster gets the frat-boys going and Planet Claire‘s kind of indispensable at Halloween parties and Sci-Fi conventions, but only Dance This Mess Around has the sort of relentless and hypnotic groove that locks you into ALL sixteen dances, including the infamous Dirty Dog. In other words, I’ve gone on a lot about all the necessary bile and intensity of punk and so-called New Wave and all the profound and necessary insurrection it unleashed upon the culture through the late 1970s … but none that would have happened if it wasn’t a mad lot of fun.” (Philip Random)
Wire’s 154, released in 1979, has been hard to ignore with this list, being one of those albums that helped invent the future, gave birth to all manner of sounds and textures that would come to define the decade known as the 1980s, which is now ancient history, of course. But 154 continues to stand up, songs usually as sharp and short as they are lyrically obtuse. Though A Touching Display goes the other way with a vengeance – an epic and passionate display of song as weapon, particularly as things erupt past the midpoint, like a bomber the size of a football stadium off to deliver a payload that would destroy the known world. And it did.
“The second of two in a row from John Cage’s rather intense Sabotage/Live is a sailor’s tale of sorts. It starts as an instrumental meander perhaps evoking unsettled seas, then gets deadly serious as the singing creeps in. No, I don’t think Peter Pan’s involved, unless he’s the one that slipped the laudanum into the Captain’s rum. For a fever dream it is, apparently driven by the evils British Colonial India. The journey is long, with treasures along the way, madness at the end.” (Philip Random)
John Cale being the tall, brooding, avant-Welsh part of the Velvet Underground sound that changed everything forever – the man who brought the white light to the white heat, did dangerous things with his viola among other noise crimes. But he was gone from the Velvets by 1970, pursuing a solo (and) producing career that seemed to get him wherever he felt like going. In 1979, this meant a live album that was as hard as punk, but tougher, more seasoned. Like the greedy, full-on call to war of Mercenaries, monstrous and strong, and yes, the very definition of nihilistic. But in a good way.