“I never much bought into all the death cult stuff, the young artists who were just too pure for the world, or whatever. I guess I feel it’s the living we should focus on, the ones still dealing with it (whatever it even is) rolling with it, not ending it, intentionally or otherwise. Or as a stoned friend once put it of Jimi Hendrix, I prefer the stuff he did before he died. Which gets us to the only Nick Drake selection on this list, the only one I heard before I had any idea of why he was so damned important. True he was already long dead when I first stumbled upon Northern Sky via the Great Antilles Sampler (the 1980s sometime), but I didn’t know that. I just liked the song and it how it served the album’s overall eclectic flow – from folk to pop to free jazz to full-on experimental avant-everything. Music worth living for, goddamit.” (Philip Random)
“As the story goes, David Bowie’s first post-Ziggy Stardust album was supposed to be a musical adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, but he couldn’t secure the rights, so it morphed into Diamond Dogs which was its own weird, extreme thing with a few explicitly 1984 songs included in the mix, including the climactic Big Brother, which manages to get quite epic before things get deeply off kilter with the Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family. Which is not just some b-grade horror stuff. It’s real. I’ve heard that infernal family, while deep inside the wrong kind of acid trip, the ‘I’m Dead’ kind, the kind you just want to end, but it goes on for millions of years, with all these wraithlike forms howling at you forever, because you’re dead, you died, this is what comes next. Which I suppose is relevant to 1984. What it feels like to get stomped in the face with a boot. Forever. Great music though.” (Philip Random)
King of the Hill was the Minutemen‘s version of consciously selling out. It said so on the cover, Project: Mersh. Record company big-wigs, pouring over the data, brainstorming how to shift more units, having a eureka moment. “I got it! We’ll have them write hit songs!” Good for a laugh. But then the word hit that D. Boon, the big guy that played guitar and sang and wrote most of their songs, was dead, killed in a van crash in Arizona. A brutal end to what had been a damned fine story.
“The title track of Neil Young’s sixth studio album is completely concerned with heroin and the damage done, souls consumed, lives ended way too soon. It says 1975 on the cover (and it was actually recorded a couple of years earlier) but I didn’t find it until at least ten years after the fact, yet grimly perfect timing nevertheless, such is junkiedom — it never goes out of style. Which isn’t to say Tonight’s the Night is all one sustained dirge – the album that is. But that said, it never forgets what it’s about, always more shadow than light, always more nasty than nice.” (Philip Random)
Gram Parsons was dead before the world ever heard his final album, Grievous Angel. Which made In My Hour Of Darkness, its final song (completely concerned with people who had died before their time) all too relevant, particularly the part where he sings his own eulogy: he was just a country boy his simple songs confess – and the music he had in him so very few possess. Who says there’s no such thing as ghosts? And angels, because that’s Emmylou Harris singing backup.