“The Pogues being one of those outfits that put a lie to the notion that the music of 1980s lacked soul. You just had to know where to look for it, or listen. In the Pogues’ case, that meant London, even if the sound (and the blood) was emphatically Irish. And sure, call them all drinking songs, I guess, just don’t discount the sorrow, or in the case of Thousands Are Sailing, the ghosts. An immigrant song, and so, a song of desperation, because it really does take you there, Ireland, 1845 and onward, the Famine. The thousands upon thousands who sailed away across the western ocean in the general direction of the Americas, packed into disease infested coffin ships with no prospect of anything save that it beat the certainty of starving to death if they stayed home. And then maybe three quarters of the way across, assuming you’d survived that far, some shady guy in religious garb might have pulled you aside and suggested that a snap renunciation of the papacy and conversion to the Church of England might save you and yours from getting dumped onto a plague island in the St. Lawrence river, reserved for Catholics and the like. At least that’s how it played out in my family’s story, or so I’ve been told. So yeah, here’s raising a stout to that stout and pragmatic Protestant Irish blood that still pumps through at least three-eighths of me, and to the Pogues for conjuring its bitter, drunken, resilient truth.” (Philip Random)
“Take the Doctor Who theme, jam it up with Rock and Roll Part 2, add some big beats and incidental noise, and voila! the whole world shall move. And it did, sort of, Doctorin’ The Tardis being one of those records that hit like a monster all over the world, excepting the Americas where it never bothered to crack pop radio – the KLF being almost as committed to sabotaging themselves as they were to world domination. For instance, Doctorin’ The Tardis was originally credited to the Timelords, a moniker that got dropped after only one more release, which wasn’t even a record. It was a book called The Manual (How To Have A Number One The Easy Way). Future shenanigans would include hooking up with Tammy Wynette for another almost monster hit, and later (now operating under the banner of the K Foundation) burning a million pounds (about three million dollars at the time) in the name of art, which confused a lot of people and forever earned misters Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty mythical status in my book. And they also (sort of) invented the notion of the extended ambient chillout mix. Call them true and justified heroes of this ongoing apocalypse and you won’t hear me arguing the point.” (Philip Random)
“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)
“Because it’s Leonard Cohen (mostly forgotten about at the time) laying out a pretty much perfect summation of late 1980s resignation (and resilience). Because everybody with a half a brain (or perhaps soul) over the age of twenty-one had to know that the dice were loaded, the fights were fixed, the good guys had lost the war, the rich were richer, the poor were getting eaten. Didn’t they? And yet, well, here’s where I drop one of my all time fave quotes (also from Mr. Cohen) as to the nature of life, reality, everything. ‘We do live in several worlds. We live in a world that’s mundane, a world that’s apocalyptic, a world of order and a world that knows no order. We’re continually juggling these worlds, entering and leaving them. I’ve always had the sense that this apocalyptic reality is with us. It’s not something that’s coming.’ Everybody knows this, right?” (Philip Random)
“It’s true. The mind is a terrible thing to taste. All those lysergic juices, leaking down from your brain to the back of your mouth when all that acid you put in your veins gets to bubbling over. Actually, I was in total control the whole time, Lollapalooza, 1992, the biggest mosh pit I’ve ever encountered, the dark gods of Ministry reigning supreme in their ridiculous over-sized hats. Which is key. Despite all the menace, there was something genuinely fun about Ministry live. Although there was that moment toward the end of their set when they were slaying all with Stigmata (and officially seizing the day from the likes of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, The Jesus + Mary Chain, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers) — I turned for a moment from the stage, looked back through the multitude, the thousands upon thousands of spent and wasted young faces illustrating the key lyric all too well: The only truth I know Is the look in your eyes. Did I mention it was pouring rain that day? The rain just kept a-falling.” (Philip Random)
The lead-off track from maybe the greatest album ever in the history of anything, Teenage Riot is where Sonic Youth get political, make their demands explicit as to what it’s going to take to get them the f*** out of bed and deliver the goods. A full-on teenage riot and nothing less. Which may be inappropriate, wrong even, but f*** is it fun to tear up Main Street, smash all the windows, not get caught! Which by the end of Teenage Riot is exactly what’s going on – Misters Moore and Renaldo annihilating frequencies with their magic guitars, smashing every window and door, setting all humanity free for a while. Even the adults. The rhythm section’s not half bad either.
“Springtime, 1989, the year I ended up in London somehow. It’s a long story, which only matters here because that’s where I found Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden. Lonely, very low on cash, wandering through the big HMV near Piccadilly and there it was on cassette, remaindered, dead cheap. What I knew of Talk Talk was that they were a better than average synth-pop outfit. What I was completely unprepared for was the deep and spacious and ultimately epic first side of Spirit of Eden – three titles (The Rainbow, Eden + Desire) but really all one seamless song, and exactly what I needed to set my soul free long enough to get my thinking straight toward sorting out the problem of the rest of my life. I left town the next day.” (Philip Random)
Second of two in a row from the Swans, 1988 being the year that they gave us not one but two covers of everybody’s favourite suicidal love song, both actually quite good. Jarboe‘s version gets the nod here, because she’s got the nicer voice, and it’s more gentle. And we definitely needed some gentle niceness by the time 1988 landed, Winter of Hate in full effect. Not that Love Will Tear Us Apart could ever be mistaken for a song bereft of cataclysm.
The Jesus + Mary Chain were never going to top their first album Psycho Candy in terms of zeitgeist grinding superlative noise. And yet they’ve managed to stick around for a good while anyway, always good for some dark, menacing pop thrills, like Sidewalking, a single from 1988 (the same basic pop historical moment that Public Enemy unleashed Bring The Noise — it was a damned fine year for disturbing the peace).