“For all the suburban whiteness of my so-called tweens, at least the DJs at the local FM rock station were still allowed to be halfway cool. So you can bet they were digging deep into Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, which truly is one of the great albums, every note, every sorrowful, soulful texture all flowing together like one vastly complex song. So I’m sure I heard Inner City Blues when it was still pretty new, even if I wasn’t aware of it. Just part of the ongoing flow that was filling me in and filling me up with what was really going on out there in that part of the world that wasn’t organized into easy suburban shapes.” (Philip Random)
“I’m not black, I’m not even the lightest shade of brown. But I guess if the soul of a song is true – you get it anyway. Part of it, at least. Because there’s a lot to get from Syl Johnson‘s Is It Because I’m Black? (both song and album) – the sheer frustration, rage, pain, resentment of it, sadly still as relevant now as it was decades ago.” (Philip Random)
“Remain In Light was the Talking Heads’ fourth album, and the one that finally forced me to admit they were probably the best band in America, possibly the world. Because here was the future, not coming, already here, and cool and strange in ways I just wasn’t prepared for. Rhythms and poly-rhythms and drones and eruptions taking songs in all kinds of unprecedented directions, like they’d somehow heard all the music in the world and figured a way to get it into a 40 minute album of so-called pop music, or in the case of Crosseyed and Painless (concerned with urban paranoia apparently) one less than five minute song. Brian Eno helped, of course.” (Philip Random)
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 Minutemen album, 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)
(photo: Naomi Petersen)
Soul Love is the second of two in a row from 1972’s Ziggy Stardust + The Spiders From Mars, making the list if only because Five Years doesn’t sound quite right without it following immediately afterward. And it’s proof in advertising, a groovy nugget of soul and love, and a solid hint of where the alien Bowie might be headed once he shed his Ziggy skin.
“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)