38. another song to sing

Johnny Cash is right. The world’s always bigger than you thought it was. And weirder, more wonderful. There’s always a reason to crawl out of whatever hole you’re in, get up, try one more time. Because there’s always another song. I guess I don’t really know Johnny Cash’s story as well as I should. I know he had some hard times. I know he got himself saved by the Lord Jesus. I know he gobbled a lot of pills for a while, mixed them up with moonshine or whatever. I know he managed to burn down a forest in California. A thick and complex volume, that man in black. Thank all gods (or whatever) that he found so many songs to sing. Including this one, all (almost) two minutes of it, that I have no memory of adding to my collection, except there it was one day, stuck on side two of an album called From Sea To Shining Sea. About America, I guess. Which goes without saying. Johnny Cash is always about America, one way or other.” (Philip Random)

(Morrison Hotel Gallery)

41. some velvet morning

“In which Frank’s little girl Nancy (Sinatra, that is) and a shady older gent named Lee (Hazelwood) deliver the heaviest, most beautiful easy listening track I know — guy so wasted he can’t even open his girl’s gate, but some velvet morning all dragonflies and daffodils, he’ll be up to it. Maybe he’ll even tell her about Phaedra. Which I always figured was heroin, yet suburban somehow. Because nothing feels more desperate than a junkie in a bungalow with a fine trim lawn, the utilities paid, the appearances kept, the muzak on the radio morphing into something luxuriously caustic — the split level dream corroding into a void the size of a solar system, feeling no pain, but burning up regardless. Or something like that. Anyway, great song. Great album. Great sense of time and zeitgeist, a whole world gone static yet doomed to implode. What was it about America, 1968?” (Philip Random)

48. brown shoes don't make it

“The highest Frank Zappa and/or Mothers of Invention track on the list comes from their second album, the appropriately titled Absolutely Free, for absolutely free and mad and hilarious it is in its twists and turns and … punchlines. Because it’s late spring 1967, and all the pop world is getting its mind blown by The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – the album that would change everything forever. Except Frank Zappa and The Mothers had already been there done that with 1966’s Freak Out, and Absolutely Free (released the same day as Pepper’s) was even tighter, wilder, more passionately, incisively on the mark.

Forty plus non-stop minutes of full-on everything, by which I mean jazz, doo-wop, rock and roll, pop, avant-noise, fun. Which, if you’ve only got seven and half minutes to spare, can pretty much all be found in Brown Shoes Don’t Make It – rude and crude and musically sharp as a diamond. Uncle Frank (both with and without his Mothers) would, of course, go on to release more music than some entire nations over the next twenty plus years, but for my money, he’d never top the fierce and funny fabulousness of what happened here.” (Philip Random)

(photo: Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs )

70. the world is a ghetto

“Because it’s true, what the title says, the world is a ghetto, and never more so, it seems, than 1972-73, when I was finally getting serious about music, exploring the FM radio waves (which were still infinitely cool then, still dominated by DJs who loved music playing the stuff they loved). And that meant the extra long album version of The World Is A Ghetto got a lot of play, the version that really took you therewalkin down the street, smoggy-eyed, looking at the sky, starry-eyed, searchin’ for the place, weary-eyed, the fires of the 1960s riots and insurrections still smouldering, the smoke reaching even the whitebread suburbs of the Pacific Northwest where we didn’t really have so-called Black people. Yet we had their music and thus some small piece of their truth, I guess. Which, in the case of the band known as War meant all manner of genres, influences, ethnicities, impressions. They even had a white guy from Denmark playing some very haunted harmonica. Because this music wasn’t of or about any one place. It really was the whole world.” (Philip Random)

86. Je t’aime … moi non plus

“Apparently Je T’aime … moi non plus (the Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg version) was a big deal international hit way back when. Just not here in the Americas. Because the first time I was even aware of it was at least twenty years after the fact, and that would’ve been in the background somewhere, cool radio, maybe somebody’s mixtape at a backyard barbecue, people playing croquet in the foreground. But it did eventually hit me. It did stick. The kind of easy cool melody and pop fresh production that destroys time, transcends decades, and then there’s the subject matter and its rather unabashed eroticism. Or as my friend Angela once put it, ‘The French may have gotten a lot wrong when it came to rock and roll, but they sure knew how to do dirty without it coming across as unclean.’ What it was (and still is) is pretty much pop perfect to my ears and (special thanks to North America’s rampant Puritanism) still not overexposed hereabouts, thus allergy free. And for the record, Ms. Birkin would’ve been twenty-one when she recorded her vocal, so it’s all entirely legal.” (Philip Random)

132. inner city blues (make me wanna holler)

“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 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)

148. is it because I’m black?

“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)

(image source)

172. crosseyed + painless

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)

TalkingHEads-1980-live

208. major malfunction

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.

KeithLeblanc-MajorMalfunction-crop