60. music + science lovers

“The 1987 album known Time Boom X De Devil Dead (yeah, it’s a mouthful, but why shouldn’t it be?) is one of the greatest three way musical collisions that ever happened, and further evidence that you just can’t trust the Music Biz when it comes to getting superlative noise from creators to appreciators. In fact, it may just be the whole reason for this list (the best stuff you’ve probably never heard). The music and science lovers in question here being i) Lee “Scratch” Perry (having recently split Jamaica for the UK), ii) the Dub Syndicate (absolute truth in advertising), and iii) Adrian Sherwood (mix magician extraordinaire) all taking the night train together, feeling no pain, even as the Cold War reality of the moment kept burning hotter and hotter, almost as if the only conceivable constructive action was to keep moving, keep grooving, keep smoking the ganja and cranking the echo, and spilling the mad truth in hopes it might someday one day, by whatever improbable means, finally find the sort of ears that need it, want it, maybe even deserve it. Time Boom X De Devil Dead. Seriously, seek it out — possibly the greatest album ever that hardly anyone’s heard.” (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)

83. ball of confusion

“The Temptations had the big hit with Ball of Confusion but the Undisputed Truth (also signed to Motown, and working with the song’s co-writer Norman Whitfield in the producer’s chair) took it way further, bigger, louder. Seriously, did any Motown record before or since rock harder than this? So yeah, take a bow, Mr. Whitfield, and Undisputed Truth for being up to that groove. And then there’s that band I saw at a school dance, maybe Grade ten, doing their own long and sloppy rock take, all jammed out and obviously memorable, because here I am remembering it. I had no idea it was a Motown cover at the time, just caught some of the lyrics and couldn’t help relating. Because that’s what the world was (even fifteen year old me had that much figured out) – a ball of confusion indeed. Just turn on the six o’clock news – everything pumping with paranoia, unease, threat. And the band played on.” (Philip Random)

84. Doctorin’ the Tardis

“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)

87. if music could talk

“Second of two in a row from the Clash‘s absurdly abundant 1979-80 phase which culminated in the six sided monster known as Sandinista – If Music Could Talk being (for me anyway) probably that album’s key track. Not for any grand power or standalone attainment, but simply for its inclusion — that a band as righteously raw and committed as The Only Band That Mattered™ could deliver such an oddly sweet and beatific ode to not rebellion-revolution-insurrection, but music itself. Which gets us back to that suburban house fire, 1981 sometime, the mixtape I had playing on the walkman care of my good friend Simon Lamb. If Armagideon Time was more fuel for the fire that was our whole broken and corrupt Cold War western culture, then If Music Could Talk, which came after, was some kind of next chapter, an odd little path leading wherever it is that only music can go, not even poetry can keep up with it, though there is a pile of poetry in If Music Could Talk, the words spilling like rain down both channels of the stereo mix, not making sense so much as easing beyond it, because we already knew it way back then even if we couldn’t quite find the words: the revolution, or evolution, or whatever it was going to take to somehow NOT annihilate ourselves in some kind of forever war – it could not be rational.” (Philip Random)

88. armagideon time [justice tonight]

The Clash‘s take on Willie Williams’ Armagideon Time wasn’t included on Sandinista. In fact, it was released the previous year on the Black Market Clash 10-inch (a loose and cool collection of various b-sides and whatnot), but it came to my ears at almost exactly the same time as Sandinista care of a mixtape a friend made which was all Clash, all to some degree not punk or even rock, more the groovy, strange, dub-induced stuff which comprised so much of Sandinista‘s six sides, pissing off so many of the old school punks (but f*** those reactionary idiots anyway), and very much sucking me in, affirming me in my growing impression that whatever was going on out there culturally speaking, the world had changed profoundly in the last year or two.

My world anyway. Something to do with apocalypse, end times, armagideon – not coming, already upon us, and not really that bad, not if you had the right kind of eyes (and ears). I can even remember the precise moment it all came clear. I was tripping on some middle-grade LSD, out wandering the suburban sprawl with a house fire in the near distance, a calamity of sirens, smoke, people coming and going in the encroaching dusk, a whole block like a war zone. But I was somehow okay with it. Maybe because I had that mixtape playing on my walkman, Armagideon Time, the stretched out dub version guiding me through all the smoke and confusion like it was all just a movie, but not one I was watching, one I was in. Like, here it is, pilgrim, the Apocalyptic Now. Get used to it, because it ain’t goin’ away. It’s not pretty but it may be beautiful.” (Philip Random)

98. everybody knows

“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)

(photo: Claude Gassian)

129. Supper’s Ready

“Speaking of Peter Gabriel, if I’d compiled this list in say 1979, Genesis would’ve been all over it (particularly their Gabriel era stuff), with Supper’s Ready likely right on top, certainly in the top three. But such is the nature of this culture stuff. It won’t stop twisting, turning, swallowing its own tail, vomiting it all back up, eating it again. In other words, I grew kind of allergic to Supper’s Ready for a while, an affliction for which I only have myself to blame. I loved it too much, wanted too much from it. A song about everything. A song very much about the Apocalypse — Pythagoras with a looking glass, the beast 666, the guaranteed eternal sanctuary man, Winston Churchill dressed in drag, and ultimately the new Jerusalem, good conquering evil, an angel shouting with a loud voice, souls rising in ever changing colours, as a germ in a seed grows, like a river to the ocean, and so on …

Epic stuff ripped straight from the Bible itself, but not without a serious dollop of absurdist fun. The weird part is, I didn’t even hear it until 1977 (five years after it first showed up on the album known as Foxtrot, two years after Gabriel had split the band) by which point there was a punk storm blowing nasty and vindictive. But that was me in my late teens, as uncool as I’ll ever be, and yet life has seldom seemed so rich, the smorgasbord so alluring. Except then I had to go and eat way too much. Which gets us to the title finally. Supper’s Ready. Apparently it’s a reference to the very end of the Bible†, the final scene of the book of revelations (and here I’m sort of quoting my late friend James who used to study this kind of stuff before he decided life just wasn’t worth the trouble anymore). Apparently when all is said is done, Satan vanquished, Christ triumphant, God’s kingdom established here on earth, there will be a huge feast to which all the worthy, the sainted, the blessed, the good are invited. Apparently, it will be one heaven of a feed. But in the meantime, we’re all doomed to just keep on keeping on.” (Philip Random) 

(image: Armando Gallo)

130. here comes the flood

“It was the night John Lennon was murdered. My friend Simon dropped by with some LSD and, given the extremes of the moment, our fates were sealed. It was our profound duty to now trip the vast lysergic, play a pile of Beatles records and see where the mystical magical vibrations might take us. They took us to dawn, sitting in my car now, high up a hilltop, taking in the first grey light of a cold and misty day. We had Simon’s little brother asleep in the backseat with a dog named Alice (it’s a long story) … but the Beatles weren’t on the playlist anymore. We’d sort of lost track of them as things started to peak, the gods having other plans for us apparently. Now it was a mixtape Simon had made of more recent stuff, moody and cool and mostly instrumental. Except here was Peter Gabriel suddenly, singing Here Comes The Flood, but not the version from his debut album, this was sparer, sharper, far better. I later discovered it was from Robert Fripp’s Exposure album — everything peeled back to just voice, piano and some ghostly Frippertronics. A song of apocalypse, no question, of saying goodbye to flesh and blood. Yet not forecasting doom in the end, but rather a sort of dreamlike survival. And then the rain really started to deluge on that hilltop. And it still hasn’t stopped, not really, the 1970s being known as the last decade that the sun ever really shone.” (Philip Random)