1. the lion sleeps tonight

“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 Lion Sleeps.

28. baby’s on fire

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)

49. ladytron

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)

71. third uncle

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.

122. Jezebel spirit

“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)

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156. Song for Europe

“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)

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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)

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247. remake-remodel

“The first song from the first Roxy Music album makes it abundantly clear. This band is not concerned with the past. This is not a rock ‘n’ roll soaked in blues and authenticity. This is dissonance, angularity and cool high fashion, which no doubt must have felt like a hostile alien invasion if you were a certain kind of hippie in 1972. Hell, I didn’t even hear Remake/Remodel until at least 1979 and I just assumed it was some up and coming New Wave outfit, except they were way better than most. And I suspect the same would be true today. Still more about what’s to come than what has been.” (Philip Random)

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248. America is waiting

“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)

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