“The #1 greatest record you probably haven’t already heard is Robert John‘s take on The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Which is immediately kind of a lie. All kinds of people heard it back in the day. It was the #21 biggest selling single of 1972 in the USA, #45 in Canada. Yet somehow or other the world seems to have mostly forgotten about it. It’s also not the greatest song you probably haven’t already heard. It just isn’t. But what is then? I don’t know. I’m just some guy sitting on a porch, making a list. What I do know is The Lion Sleeps Tonight isn’t just any song. Written in 1922 by a man named Solomon Linda, a South African of Zulu origin, finally released almost twenty years later under the title Mbube, a 78-rpm record that was mostly marketed to black audiences in South Africa.
But something clearly happened along the way, not all of it good. In fact the song’s back story includes one of the more notorious copyright crimes of all time. The upside of all that being the myriad cover versions that flooded forth– everybody from Miriam Makeba to Brian Eno to Chet Atkins to Roger Whittaker, Yma Sumac, The Weavers, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Sandra Bernhard, the Stylistics, even REM (sort of). But Robert John’s take is the one for me, and not just for nailing the yodeling, but also the doo-wop stylings, and there’s a tuba involved, some pedal steel as well. And so it captures the peace and joy and freedom from worry (if only for one night) that it’s all about. Because the lion is asleep. Which if you think about it, doesn’t really makes sense. If the lion’s asleep, isn’t a raucous party going to wake it up? Not if it’s been drugged. So whatever. It’s a party! We’re alive and we’re singing, and tomorrow and all of its troubles – that’s just a rumour. Tonight the LionSleeps.
“Baby’s On Fire doesn’t play by any of the rules, yet it absolutely slays as pop song, rock song, whatever you want to call it — the Brian Eno genius in full wild eruption, that beautiful baby getting tossed out with the bathwater, or whatever the hell’s going on. What’s going on is Mr. Eno’s delightfully skewed approach to wordplay. Throw a bunch of loose phrases into a box, pull them out in random order. Proceed from there. And then there’s Robert Fripp‘s incendiary guitar solo erupting through the middle of things like a demon from future antiquity (or was it Paul Rudolph?). By which I mean, holy sh**, Baby’s On Fire was at least five years old when I first heard it, and still too hot to touch. And it still hasn’t cooled off. Yet it is still cool.” (Philip Random)
“The First Roxy Music Album is still mostly ahead of its time even now decades after the fact (and the next four or five are pretty amazing as well). But it’s the first one that lays it all out – the glamour, the romance, the noise, the pop, the rock, The Future. And the single track that delivers it all in less than four and a half minutes, the one Roxy artifact I’d grab if the world was burning down (and it probably is), is Ladytron. Which (it occurs to me as I jot this down), I don’t even know what it’s about. It’s about a lady, of course, and beautiful at that, though I guess she may be a robot. But maybe Bryan Ferry‘s kiss can make her human. Or something like that. Equal parts fairy tale and science fiction and pure fun modernity, circa 1972.” (Philip Random)
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Brian Eno’s original take on Third Uncle. Bauhaus’s cover is just louder, fiercer, more dangerous, better. In fact, it gets downright harrowing before it’s done – a reminder that so-called Goth didn’t even exist at the time, Bauhaus being one of those rare outfits that forces a re-think, a whole new definition. Yeah, there were already lots of folks dressing in black, mourning for their own deaths, but they were just part of the greater scene, lurking in the shadows of the cooler clubs like something important was being born, but it hadn’t quite arrived yet. Until along came Bauhaus, looking good in black themselves, and way too loud to ignore.
“I believe I’ve already rhapsodized about David Byrne and Brian Eno’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, how it changed everything forever, put sampling into the cool music toolbox, set more than just the white man free. But it was also a hell of a fun album in a creepy way, and nowhere more so than Jezebel Spirit, the track that used audio from an actual exorcism to serve its groove, which yeah, is pretty dime a dozen in certain goth and industrial circles these days, but man, what a groove! And this was early 1981. Ronald Reagan had barely been sworn in as President, John Lennon had only recently been murdered. Mix in the strong LSD that was suddenly so plentiful in my little corner of Americaland … and let’s just say some deeply weird realms were explored, entities encountered, the Winter of Hate enthusiastically engaged, not that we had the term figured out yet. But the soundtrack was already strong.” (Philip Random)
“The easy and wrong position to take on Roxy Music is that they were only good as long as Brian Eno was onboard (ie: the first two albums), ‘…a 1970s band playing 1950s music for the twenty-first century‘. It’s true that things changed with Eno’s rather abrupt departure. How could they not? But as their third album Stranded makes abundantly clear, Roxy still had more than enough rings for a proper circus. With Song For Europe an epic romance that offers verses in not just English and French, but Latin too, all toward … well, I don’t know what exactly, or where. It just sends me there, sweetly, strangely, and finally powerfully. Which I suppose is where Roxy did finally lose it for me – when they stopped delivering the power and the strangeness, opting for those misty water-coloured moods of Avalon which definitely shifted units, but just drove me resolutely elsewhere. Anywhere else really. Oh well.” (Philip Random)