January 28, 1986. The Space Shuttle Challenger and all on board explode across the consciousness of the world, America in particular. Before the year’s out, Keith Leblanc (drummer, mad scientist, co-inventor of the various grooves that pretty much set hip hop free), will release an album called Major Malfunction, the title of track of which is driven by all manner of relevant audio samples from the day. No sad piano, no violins. Just evidence. Welcome to the future, it seems to be saying. Like a disaster movie with human error the cause.
“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)
“Being a necessary missive from the final Minutemenalbum, main man D Boon weighing in on that so-called lucky generation of young Americans who didn’t have to go fight in Vietnam, but had older brothers (or cousins or next door neighbours) who did, and so saw all too closely the damage done. But then a pointless van accident can get you any time, as it did D Boon in December 1985, somewhere in the desert. Rest in peace, man. The Minutemen are still the best f***ing band most people have never even heard of.” (Philip Random)
“The gods must have had me in mind with America is Waiting, side one track one of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Brian Eno and David Byrne messing with African beats and rhythms, disembodied voices, all manner of weird noises, everything coming together to call down the venal soullessness of Ronald Reagan’s America, like the atmosphere itself was speaking to my concerns. How could all this not go well with the copious quantities of LSD that were bubbling around at the time? But the drugs wore off eventually. My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts didn’t, never has. Others may have used samples before, merged noise and rhythm and all manner of exotic tangents and textures. But once Misters Eno and Byrne had done their bit, this sort of stuff was emphatically here to stay, part of the firmament.” (Philip Random)
“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)
“David Bowie at his rawest, glammest, most rockingest. The time I him do Cracked Actor live, he sang it to a skull, a cracked actor indeed. Or was he an alien? Aladdin Sane being the last of Ziggy albums that wasn’t all cover tunes. Either way, it was a harder rock than pretty much anyone was delivering at the time, except maybe Iggy and Stooges at the … and almost nobody knew they even existed.” (Philip Random)
Warren Zevon’s Excitable Boy got a fair bit of notice at the time, but we only ever heard a few tracks on the radio, and none of them was Lawyers Guns + Money, which is just a good old-fashioned smart, sly, cynical as f*** rocker about a rich kid off in some foreign locale, into something way over his head. Not unlike America itself at that particular moment in time, what with a recently lost war and all manner of other horrific sh** unfurling.
“How dumb was America in 1974 (and Canada for that matter)? This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us, one of the fiercest, funniest, pop smart eruptions to ever get pressed to vinyl, didn’t make the singles charts, didn’t even crack the Top 100. In fact, no Sparks single ever charted in the entire decade of 1970s, their best. Thank God for friends and friend’s big sisters being somehow cool enough to find out about them anyway, and share the f***ing glory.” (Philip Random)