9. in the aeroplane over the sea

“If there’s one track that I’m probably going to regret putting in the top ten of this thing, it’s this one, care of the outfit known as Neutral Milk Hotel, which seems to be concerned with dying and death and whatever happens (or doesn’t) afterwards, which of course throws light back on before, life itself, the whole mad aeroplane journey across the wide open ocean of eternity. But it’s too recent, I fear, too close. The song hasn’t had time to flip through its half-life, get overplayed or whatever, die a death and then re-emerge as … well, who knows? Because that’s what music does, for me anyway. The stuff I truly love. And right now, right here, June sometime, calendar year 2001, I’m f***ing in love with In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, the album and the song, and the band, about whom I know pretty much nothing beyond what the album cover tells me … and it’s a great f***ing album cover, the kind of thing you have to have on vinyl if only to maximize the size of the imagery.

Which honestly is why I bought it. I liked what I was hearing in the record store but it was the cover that sealed the deal. The whole thing throws me back to a time when the whole package mattered absolutely, you wouldn’t think of not listening to it all in one go, headphones on, the cover in your lap. And then there’s the voice, the way it wraps itself around the delirious gush of words, young man by name of Jeff Mangum finding an entirely new way to deliver the poetry of his soul. And the band‘s right there with him the whole way, your basic bass-drums-guitar core, but also organ trumpet flugelhorn trombone saxophone zanzithophone banjo – whatever it takes to punch a hole through to a whole new sonic universe. Or not. Because I could be wrong. It could be too soon to lay so much praise on any record. It is too soon. But what can I do? I’m in love. I’m a fool.” (Philip Random)

12. rock’n’roll suicide

“Rock music is weaponry, no question. Final ammo of the disconnected, the lonely, the desperate. And who better to grasp this, put it into words and song but the Alien himself – David Jones, aka Bowie, aka Ziggy Stardust? Because even aliens are human, deep down inside. Or better put – we’re all aliens at some point, from some angle or other, alone at the edge of the night, and never more so than at some pivotal moment in our f***ed up youth, hanging onto the edge of some unfathomable abyss. To be or not to be.

The palpable memory for me here is my friend James, long gone now, because he let go of the edge, became a rock and roll suicide. Was he even aware of this song? Probably. He knew his music way better than I did. But mostly, he knew his bullshit dreams, got swallowed by them. That need to be adored, far outweighing his desire to give. That’ll kill you every time one way or another. Anyway, David Bowie’s Rock’n’roll Suicide contains all that, and more, the sublime climax to one of the very few albums that I still listen to in its entirety. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect because nothing is, but holy sh**, Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars gets damned close to that particular impossibility.” (Philip Random)

16. tomorrow never knows

“It’s springtime 1966, the first sessions for the album that will come be known as Revolver, and it’s entirely arguable that those loveable moptops from Liverpool, the outfit known as the Beatles, have already perfected so-called psychedelic rock. Seriously. Short of that snare shot at the beginning of Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone, I’m arguing that it all really starts here – the opening of the floodgates on the vast and psychedelic ocean that all humanity had to navigate in order to not blow ourselves to smithereens, because don’t kid yourself, that’s where the so-called status quo had us headed come the mid-1960s. And we’re still in that ocean, still navigating its mysteries and monsters. And maybe we always will be.

Not that everybody has to do heroic doses of LSD, get lost in the chasms and altitudes of their beyond within, but we do all need to share in the discussion of the impossible stuff that’s been found there (and we keep on finding more). And this discussion has always sounded best, made the most sense, when delivered via music. Bass, drums, guitars, maybe a few keyboards, tape loops, backwards masking, whatever — full-on raging and rhyming from the very highest and deepest part of anything and everything. It is shining, It is being, It is Knowing, It is Believing, Existence to the End, of the beginning. Even if it makes no sense at all, it really does matter.” (Philip Random)

(photo: David McEnery)

18. as

As (found deep within Stevie Wonder’s 1976 monster Songs In The Key Of Life) is the best god damned love song I know (by which I guess I mean God graced … but who talks like that anymore?). Starts out as a nice and soulful ‘me and you together forever babe’ thing, but then about halfway through, something amazing happens. The Wonder genius pulls some sleight of hand, punches up the groove which somehow sets the melody soaring, and meanwhile the lyric (and the voice that’s carrying it) have also mutated. Now it’s tearing up the atmosphere, singing of that greater love, the one beyond just me and you, babe, the one that truly comes from on high.

Notice I didn’t say God. What do I know about God? Or gods. What I do know is I’m right here, right now, not anywhere else. Some of it’s on me, I guess, and some of it’s in me, but most of it – well who f***ing knows how I got here, or why, or what I’m supposed to do about it? And sometimes, this is all too f***ing much, for anyone. We need something to lift us, allow us to see past the barriers of our suffering and frustration and grasp that the only real wisdom starts with an acceptance of these barriers, the stuff of them, because maybe just maybe these trials and travails and humiliations and tribulations are precisely what our souls require. Because as somebody else’s grandpa used to say, if life was supposed to be all roses and perfume and puppy dogs, they would have called it something else. And anyway, roses have thorns, puppy dogs sh** all over the place and perfume can be toxic. Play this one at my funeral. No question. I’ll be there if I can.” (Philip Random

19. starless

Starless is just a lament basically, though for what I’m not sure. Maybe a lost love. Or perhaps every apocalyptic thing, because by the time it’s done, it’s pretty much fractured the universe, having done that thing that I’m pretty sure only so-called progressive rock can do (or certainly King Crimson, who it’s pretty easy to argue, invented the genre). Which is to say, Starless doesn’t waste a second of its twelve and half minutes, but neither is it ever in a rush, the first four minutes or so serving as set up (the aforementioned lament), the final eight evoking first the darkest night there’s ever been, and then … well, words fail. But the music doesn’t. The music carves a hole straight through all that darkness, ultimately unleashing vast Niagras of tumultuous and redemptive light. It’s unearthly, it’s uncanny, it’s terrifying, it’s finally so f***ing beautiful you want the whole of creation to just … well, I said it already, words fail when you go that far beyond the perimeter …

The weird part is that the guy singing is John Wetton who would go on to front Asia (the band), which, I’m sorry, is the kind of transgression that can only lead to eternal hellfire. Except based on Starless, maybe he’d already been there. To hell, that is. Which gets us to my old friend Geoffrey (aka the philosopher), and his three essentials of any epic. 1. There must be a hero. 2. There must be a list. 3. There must be a descent into hell. I’m still trying to figure out the list part, unless that’s what I’m doing here. But I’m no hero and I’ve only ever been half-way to hell. Anyway, I guess we’re supposed to be left with a mystery, certainly in the case of King Crimson as main man Robert Fripp had dissolved the band before Starless (and Red, the album that contains it) had even been released. Because as he later put it, ‘The old world, characterized by large, unwieldy and vampiric organizations, was dead, and with it King Crimson.’ Though as deaths go, it would be akin to what happened with Gandalf after he fell into that pit with the Balrog, because King Crimson would return in time, different, but still infused with a magic both terrifying and beautiful.” (Philip Random)

24. full metal jackoff

“One of my more dangerous friends used to say Full Metal Jackoff was the ultimate surf tune – the music he wanted playing when that monster wave he was riding finally rose into a tsunami the size of a continent and effectively removed all evidence that humankind had ever existed. What it is actually, is a hardcore supernova — Jello Biafra and DOA together (for one short 1990 album), and no question, Full Metal Jackoff is its primary reason to exist. Because it uses its fourteen piledriving minutes to put it all together for us: the monstrous evil of Ronald Reagan’s America in all of its streamlined complexity, conspiracy and cynical malevolence.

Because it really would be a little obvious to fence off all the slums, hand machine guns to the poor and just let them kill each other off. No you need to be more subtle than that, you need a plan that involves illegal cash from Iran, cocaine from Colombia, the ‘freedom fighting’ Contras of Nicaragua and CIA guns … until at some point there’s a black van with no windows cruising the various mean streets of the great US of A, sealing the deal, maybe disappearing a few of your neighbours on the side. But nobody even hears their screams. Or if they do, they’re too terrified to do anything about it. Welcome to America at the end of the 1980s. Not fascist so much as stampeding in that particular direction. Though it’s not as if serious f***ing noise isn’t getting made about it.” (Philip Random)

(Winston Smith)

30. marquee moon

“In case you haven’t figured it out already, I’m a sucker for an epic, and Marquee Moon (the song) is definitely that. Title track of Television’s first and best album, and doubly lovable for how it righteously pulled the rug out from certain Stalinist tendencies of the punk scene at the time — way too many hard and fast rules getting laid down as to what drugs could be taken, the colour of your leather jacket, the length and style of your hair, how long a song could be. Which is all dumb, all opposite to the anarchic fervour that ignited punk in the first place. No rules, no boundaries, no nothing – just don’t be f***ing boring. And Marquee Moon (song and album) nail that. So yeah, maybe Television weren’t punk, but they certainly came from punk. So if a riff said, ride me to f***ing eternity, they were going to ride it, taking their orders from the music, not some tiresome Machiavellian assholes who, in another era, would be deciding what words could be used in a poem, what symbols … and who should be disappeared come the revolution.” (Philip Random)  

31. right on for the darkness

“I guess I probably heard this Curtis Mayfield epic back when it was new via the local cool FM radio station (1973 being a year before all that started going to hell). But I wouldn’t have been up to it. I wasn’t cool enough yet. Its depth-beauty-power-significance would’ve breezed straight past me. But jump ahead a decade and now I was ready for the album called Back To The World found in a friend’s collection. ‘Back to the World’ being how American GIs in Vietnam referred to their return home to the normal every day life you’d left behind at least a thousand years ago. Which if your blood was to some degree African too often meant just trading one war for the another anyway.

Betrayal in a word. A betrayal heard in the Mr. Mayfield’s intensely masculine falsetto (as somebody else described it). But there’s more than just that going on in Right on for the Darkness, musically, and production wise, a complexity of ambition and beauty that … well, sometimes you’ve just got to say yeah, right on, this is something only music can do. It can take you there, one foot in heaven, the other in hell. Which even if I hadn’t spent any of my time in a proper ghetto, I could still sort of relate, the suburbs offering their own kinder, gentler, more deceptive nightmares. Not many get murdered and nobody starving. But they do suffocate. And good luck trying to get out.” (Philip Random)

39. Würm

“Second of two in a row from Yes’s early 1970s glory years, though Würm is technically only part three of 1971’s Starship Trooper, which I figure most people probably have heard in one way or another. But probably not the longer, bigger, vaster 1972 live version, which truly takes off at its standalone climax – the Würm in question here. The album in question is the six sided monster known as Yessongs which was my proper introduction to Yes, the first album of theirs I actually owned. Talk about starting big. And even to this day, I have no problem arguing that at least four of those sides are a waste of nobody’s time, proving beyond any doubt that even as this crowd sometimes chased their high and mighty conceptual concerns perhaps a little (or a lot) too far, they always did it from a foundation of solid ROCK. With Würm’s deceptively simple, ever expanding power exhibit A in that regard.” (Philip Random)