Tonight’s the Night is oft thought of as Neil Young‘s death album, and the deepest, darkest depths of the so-called Ditch Trilogy. Stark cover, mostly black. Stark songs pulling no punches about various dead friends, and in the case of Tired Eyes, a friend who left death in his wake, got caught up in an ugly drug deal, ended up in prison for a long time. The damage done.
“I guess I was twelve when I first started hearing about this guy named Alice Cooper who was some kind of reincarnated witch that murdered chickens on stage and hacked baby dolls to pieces, and his shows always ended with him getting hung from the neck until he was dead, but being a demon, he could never really be killed. But what was truly shocking was the music when I finally heard it. How good it was. Not just ugly noise like you’d expect from a baby murdering demon from hell, but actually kind of nice in places, beautiful even, which made the evil stuff all the more frightening, twisted, and yeah, hilarious, because anything that could piss off adults that much had to be hilarious. The album in question was Killer and now some decades later, it’s still song-for-song one of the best I’ve ever heard, from any band, from any era, with Dead Babies the epic track toward the end about, you guessed it, dead babies and how they just can’t take care of themselves. Sad but true.” (Philip Random)
There’s no shortage of rage in the Johnny Rotten (aka Lydon) discography, but nowhere else does so much sorrow show itself than in Death Disco (aka Swan Lake because it cops a bit of the Tchaikovsky melody), a track recorded immediately after the death of his mother (she requested some disco for her funeral). It actually hurts to listen to it, but in a good way (not that the whole album doesn’t lean that way) — the punk is revealed as all too human, just in case there was any doubt.
“No, Nazareth didn’t f***ing write Love Hurts. It was Boudleaux Bryant, a guy who most definitely knew a thing or two about love and how it simultaneously sets you free as the wind and carves raw chunks out of your soul. My essential version has to be Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris’s take — quiet, heartfelt, grievous and true. Unfortunately, Mr. Parsons would be dead before the world ever heard it.” (Philip Random)
“There’s bests, and there’s favourites. Pat Garrett + Billy The Kid is not one of the best movies of all time. But it is one of my faves. Because of all the whiskey, I guess, and the cigars, and the dying, the whole thing like an epic tone poem of doom and inevitability, hard men looking the devil in the eye, taking another drag, another swig, killing or being killed. And a big part of what holds it all together is Bob Dylan‘s soundtrack. Yeah, there’s only a few proper songs (including Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door which never actually shows up in the director’s cut of the movie – it’s complicated), but it’s the mood of the instrumental stuff that sells it. As for the Final Theme – go ahead and play it at my funeral. But first, break out the whiskey and cigars.” (Philip Random)
“Yes as a matter of fact, folk music did still matter in the 1980s, certainly in the hands of Richard (and sometimes Linda) Thompson. Because you just can’t argue with a song like Wall of Death, with pushing harder, faster, to the edge and beyond, working your momentum up until gravity’s no longer your master, just a thing to be played with straight up the wall of death (an amusement park thing in Britain, riding a motor vehicle in a circular pit until you get up enough momentum to defy gravity, pull stunts, get the crowd to roaring). Gravity will win in the end, of course, but that’s life, isn’t it? Not defined by where you end up, but all the crazy beautiful moves you pulled en route and the places they got you.” (Philip Random)
“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 that manages to get quite epic before things go 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 wraith-like 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.