“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)
“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)
“I’m guessing the title is sort of a nod to the Mary Poppins tune, though the song itself takes off in a more resolutely soulful direction. And cool it is until the groove takes over and things genuinely elevate care of the kind of musical genius that isn’t afraid to just let the piano speak, give it all the space it needs, don’t worry, it won’t disappoint you. Isaac Hayes (yeah, you may know him better as Chef) being the genius in question, the groove itself being so hot that Public Enemy would put it to stunning use a couple decades later in Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos (one of their greatest moments) … almost as if Mr. Hayes had it planned all along. And maybe he did.” (Philip Random)
“Fred Frith being one of those geniuses who pretty much always let his playing do the talking, Gravity being an album that dates back to 1980, but it was deep into the 1990s before I gave it a proper listen. Music that stood the test, no doubt about that. Or more to the point, music that had confidently showed the way to the cool future we were then having. Rock and jazz and folk and all manner of exotic elements all humming along very nicely together, not world music per say, but what the world actually sounded like, with Hands of the Juggler a delirious standout, particularly once it shifts gears around the three-minute point.” (Philip Random)
“Jimi Hendrix’s superlative 1968 double shot Electric Ladyland features two versions of his anthem toward getting high and dreamy on a rainy day (the first more laid back one being Rainy Day Dream Away, the second more explosive one being Still Raining Still Dreaming). I long ago linked them via an edit that I can’t even find now, but trust that it all flows nicely, powerfully together, with Hendrix rhapsodics to make even the gods cry, which leads to more rain, of course, more dreaming.” (Philip Random)
“On a bad night, with the wrong kind of ears, I suppose Pali Gap sounds like just more Hendrix noodling. The rhythm section locks into a groove, the great man proceeds to wander. But on a good night, with the right kind of lightning tearing up the sky, it’s a secret door to one of the Lord’s own mansions. Or as old friend Chris once put it, ‘With Hendrix sometimes, it’s not the notes he’s playing, it’s what they’re suggesting, except he plays so many f***ing notes, it’s impossible to grasp even a fraction of what he’s suggesting.’ So all the more reason to play Rainbow Bridge one more time (even if it has nothing to do with the movie of the same name).” (Philip Random)
The genius of Todd Rundgren is that he can do anything – pop, soul, rock, prog, abstract avant whatever. The worst thing about Todd Rundgren is that’s exactly what he does a little too often — anything and everything all at the same time, and it all just ends up getting in the way of itself. But not so the title track of Healing (which ends up filling all of side two). It’s 1981 and drum machines and synths and sequencers are the cool new toys of the moment, and, genius that he is, Todd knows exactly how to play with them, to genuine therapeutic effect.
Alphabet Street being the lead off track from the last truly great Prince album, 1988’s Lovesexy. “We didn’t realize it at the time but he really did have to reign things in, else there would have been no reason for humanity continuing, God’s own paradise of peace and love and f***ing having been achieved here on earth by Prince Rogers Nelson’s unstoppable cavalcade of genius.” (Philip Random)
Leon Russell, everybody’s favourite underappreciated genius of the past fifty years, takes Bob Dylan’s surrealized hymn to ongoing apocalypse and renders it soulfully, gospelly, funkily (almost) fun. So much so that Dylan would be following that road himself in a few years through the land of rolling thunder.