21. the beautiful ones

“Second of two in a row from the artist known as Prince, because you just don’t do justice to what he accomplished through the 1980s with a single item. In 1984, that would’ve meant Purple Rain (album and movie), which for me finally drove home the point that the most necessary music-art-whatever-you-want-to-call-it almost never comes from where you’re expecting it. In other words, I walked into the movie theatre more curious than anything (what were the kids all so excited about?) and walked out a lifelong fan of this almost annoyingly talented (so-called) black guy – something I absolutely did not see coming. With The Beautiful Ones perhaps the most necessary track of all for its evocation of an infatuation so pure and delirious, the only word to describe it is … purple? By which I mean not the colour of grape juice but affected, bloated, fancy-pants, grandiose, inflated, pompous, pretentious, stilted, excessive, flattering, fulsome, boastful, bombastic, elevated, eloquent, lofty, ultimately regal. Because such is true love. If it ain’t worth taking to a preacher right f***ing now, it ain’t the really thing. Or so I’ve been told.” (Philip Random)

23. relax [the long version]

“I first heard this astoundingly epic remix of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax at Vancouver’s best dance club ever, the Luv Affair. It would’ve been 1984, I guess, at a time that many were saying it was already past its true glory. Because the club had become too populated with so-called breeders, was no longer a strictly gay and/or bi and/or trans situation. But I’d argue this made 1984 its true peak, because of those breeders (myself included), because this was the moment when the various compulsions all balanced each other, when no particular tribe held sway, sexually, politically, spiritually, philosophically (am I missing anything here?), yet all were being heard.  Felt anyway. In the music. And holy f*** this was good music.

Not that Relax wasn’t profoundly, exquisitely, educationally gay (particularly the extended version). It actually coached us all on the exquisite pleasure of delaying orgasm, of NOT firing all the guns at once … which instantly made it political, because this was a moment in history when the overall consensus (among those who actually thought about things) was that some level of global nuclear cataclysm was no longer an ‘if’ but a ‘when’. Mere minutes to midnight on the doomsday clock. Yet Frankie seemed to be saying, we all just needed to Relax, that yes, we have this climax in us, wanting out, but the more we just lie back, relax, focus on our breathing, the better it all starts to feel. Like maybe the point isn’t to climax, but to find that spot just short of the edge, and ride it to eternity, sheer gushing pleasure to the ends of universe, the right kind of apocalypse. I distinctly remember thinking all this one night at the Luv Affair, dancing, LSD in my veins. And no, it wasn’t lost on me that there already was a gay apocalypse playing out, a horrific one, the one known as AIDS. Everybody knew somebody who was dying or already dead. Hell, we’d soon find the guy who was singing Relax was infected. But all this just catalyzed things, I think, amped the volume, everything to play (and dance) for. Hallelujah!” (Philip Random)

25. eight miles high

“Because what else could ever follow Turn On The News on a playlist but perhaps the greatest cover tune of all time? Husker Du‘s annihilating take on the Byrds‘ seminal 1966 psyche out capturing that pivotal mid-80s moment when the hardcore monster caught a glimpse of itself in the psychedelic mirror, and it paused, saw both tragedy and beauty, and amplified at that. Which is to say, truth. But a truth that’s beyond words, and even music eventually, a truth that can only be conveyed via amplified sonic weaponry and an all too human howling that must leave the words behind lest they be swallowed by whatever hell hounds have been unearthed by all the compounded, concentrated evils of the world. There were a lot of those as the 80s hit their midpoint. But we weren’t too concerned. We had a killer soundtrack.” (Philip Random)

26. turn on the news

Turn On The News arrived in my life as one of those ‘you must hear this’ items. 1984 sometime, the dark middle point of Ronald Reagan’s reign. It’s a radio night, Bostock shouting everyone else down, elbowing his way to the turntable, demanding we pay attention to the first track on Side Four of Husker Du’s Zen Arcade, punk rock’s first truly epic album. Which, of course, meant Zen Arcade wasn’t really punk rock. It was too big, too beyond, and no question, Turn On The News was its most essential four and a half minutes.  A song of pain, a song of despair, and yet hope as well, because it’s a song of consciousness, of not turning away from the noise and pain of the world. And it forced a turn of phrase, in my life anyway. Some friend’s boring you to death with his girlfriend issues, or the details of the mortgage on his new condo. You finally just shake your head and say, ‘Turn on the news, man. There’s people out there with real f***ing problems’.” (Philip Random)  

35. how soon is now?

“Because there had to be at least one goddamned Smiths song on this list. Because as much as I’ve generally found whatz-iz-name‘s histrionics annoying as only a perpetual seventeen year old’s whining can be annoying (and f***ing wrong), I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think he was one of the all-time heavyweights on those occasions when he did get it right … even with all that criminally vulgar shyness.

And the band’s not half-bad either as How Soon Is Now aptly proves from initial gush of flanged Johnny Marr guitar onward. Trust that it sounded like nothing else in 1984, like a lost acid fragment from 1967 had finally completed its tour of the universe and somehow returned to ground in the grim and baleful north of Maggie Thatcher’s Britain, like a gem of ancient beauty and power. And for those who may already have heard How Soon Is Now, cool, I say. There’s still not enough of us.” (Philip Random)

52. the killing moon

“Some songs just want to be longer, I guess. Case in point, the All Night mix of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Killing Moon. Nothing particularly wrong (or short) about the original almost six minute long album version – this one just goes further, deeper, richer. And seriously, what’s the rush given what’s on the line? Which is everything: life, death, eternity, oblivion, fate up against your will, looking the truth of it in the eye, daring to stare it down. There’s a f*** of a lot going on here, needless to say, and not just in and around Ian McCulloch‘s preposterously overwrought ego. Because I doubt the world’s ever had as many possible endings as it did in the mid-80s. If AIDS wasn’t going to get you, then trust that old man Reagan and the malevolent bureaucrats in Soviet Russia would. Or maybe it would be that hole in the ozone we kept hearing about – bigger than Antarctica, or was it Australia? And the ice caps were all melting. Yeah, we knew that even then. So why the hell not take a few more minutes to work the mood, ponder the imponderables, explore the best f***ing song ever recorded. Arguably.” (Philip Random)

64. song to the siren

This Mortal Coil were a project, not a band, brainchild of 4AD Records’ Ivo Watts-Russell. The idea being to dissolve the boundaries between the various groups and artists on the label, get everybody mixing it up together, with an accent on the ethereal, the mysterious yet easy to listen to. Which certainly worked for me, the first album in particular, It’ll End In Tears, which got a pile of play in the middle 80s, evoking as it did an apocalypse that was neither fire nor brimstone, but rather deep and spacious, mournful even. Ideal for the coming down phase of any number of psychedelic ventures – the part where you’re still too wired to sleep, too spent to do anything else but lie flat. The forty plus minutes of It’ll End In Tears being all somber relaxation and release, a whole definitely more than the sum of its parts, except maybe the cover of Tim Buckley’s Song To The Siren, the Cocteau Twins Elizabeth Fraser taking it places where gravity remains unknown, and you with it. Or did I dream that part?” (Philip Random)

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)

94. Funky Kingston

“I never got to see most of the soul greats. No Ray Charles, Al Green, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye ticket stubs in my scrapbook. But I did catch Toots and Maytals while they were still in their prime, one of the best damned bands ever in the history of anything tearing the roof off Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom, making me fall in love with all humanity. It wasn’t even reggae really, just big, soulful, fun and rockin’ music. And Funky Kingston (from the album of the same name) was the climax of the show, rude and raw and at least as hot as a hot night in Trenchtown.” (Philip Random)