15. revolution 9

“Second of two in a row from the outfit known as The Beatles, because one record could never do justice to everything they accomplished, particularly through their so-called studio years, which never went further, wider, weirder, more provocatively abstract than the track known as Revolution 9 (I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone call it a song). My first encounter came toward the end of Grade Seven, springtime 1972. Twelve years old and because I’m sort of responsible, I guess, I’ve been assigned to help slightly bad kid Malcolm Mills make a mix tape for the end of year dance — entrusted with the key to the school’s downstairs music room. Anyway, among other options, Malcolm’s grabbed his big brother’s copy of the Beatles White Album, intending to extract some of the obvious pop stuff. But we end up digging through all four sides, at some point wondering why there are two Revolutions listed. The first is just a slowed down version of the radio hit, and thus not near as cool. The second one’s called Revolution 9 and it’s …?

Well, it’s not really music, is it? It’s just all this baffling noise that keeps going on and on. But then Malcolm gets it. This is the one where it says Paul is dead, the secret track where all the Beatles mysteries are revealed. It has to be. So we listen again, louder, making sure we haven’t missed anything. Then a third time, VERY LOUD, which is when Mr. Walton, the Gym teacher, barges in, and asks us what the hell we’re doing. We never did finish that party tape. But I did get my tiny head turned around in a profound way – a question mark imposed upon all manner assumptions I had as to what music actually was. Or more to the point, at what point does noise become music? Or what happens when the two are indistinguishable? And who’s making the call? The secret, of course, is not to decide, just enjoy. Surf the chaos. See where it takes you. Thank you, Beatles. And Yoko, of course. No Yoko, no Revolution 9. No Beatles getting elevated to that level where they really were (still are) definitively, superlatively fab.” (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)

105. ballrooms of Mars

“It’s easy to file T-Rex away as a glammed up (and out) pop monster whose singles absolutely nailed the zeitgeist for a year or three in the early 1970s, and they certainly did all that (in Britain anyway). But main man Marc Bolan could also just lay down a brilliant song – poetic, psychedelic, vaguely surreal, rather like the times, but also timeless, with Ballroom Of Mars (found on 1972’s Slider) exhibit A in this regard. Because that’s how I found it, at least a decade after the fact, wasting a day, drinking red wine so cheap the only way to make it palatable was to pour it over ice, maybe add a touch of something sweet. But the sun was shining and the company was good and … holy shit, who is this? It’s T-Rex, of course, gripped in the arms of the changeless madman. It means something.” (Philip Random)

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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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123. she said she said

If you’re Peter Fonda and  you want to impress John Lennon while tripping on LSD in a hot tub, tell him how you died once when you were a little kid. Guaranteed, you’re going to going to send the coolest Beatle someplace dark and scary, the only way out of which will be to write a stunner of a song ††††in which A. he tells you, you’re making him feel like he’s never been born, and B. he and his band will go a long way toward perfecting†††† the psyche-infused power pop record almost before it’s even been invented. Oh, those lovable mop-tops.††

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130. here comes the flood

“It was the night John Lennon was murdered. My friend Simon dropped by with some LSD and, given the extremes of the moment, our fates were sealed. It was our profound duty to now trip the vast lysergic, play a pile of Beatles records and see where the mystical magical vibrations might take us. They took us to dawn, sitting in my car now, high up a hilltop, taking in the first grey light of a cold and misty day. We had Simon’s little brother asleep in the backseat with a dog named Alice (it’s a long story) … but the Beatles weren’t on the playlist anymore. We’d sort of lost track of them as things started to peak, the gods having other plans for us apparently. Now it was a mixtape Simon had made of more recent stuff, moody and cool and mostly instrumental. Except here was Peter Gabriel suddenly, singing Here Comes The Flood, but not the version from his debut album, this was sparer, sharper, far better. I later discovered it was from Robert Fripp’s Exposure album — everything peeled back to just voice, piano and some ghostly Frippertronics. A song of apocalypse, no question, of saying goodbye to flesh and blood. Yet not forecasting doom in the end, but rather a sort of dreamlike survival. And then the rain really started to deluge on that hilltop. And it still hasn’t stopped, not really, the 1970s being known as the last decade that the sun ever really shone.” (Philip Random)

157. yer blues

“True fact. For most of the 1980s, the Beatles pretty much always lost those Beatles vs Stones arguments (unless you were hanging out with idiots). Not that the ’80s Stones were up to anything new that was particularly necessary, just that their older stuff had the sort of teeth the times required. Though Yer Blues from the so-called White Album, also excelled in that regard — a blues as voracious as anything the Stones ever put to vinyl, or any other pale skinned band for that matter. As much a send-up of the whole idea of white guys churning out authentic black music as it was a genuine howl from the soul of a guy who really was so lonely he wanted to die, it still conjures chills and wins arguments. Because it’s true, the Stones may have been a better blues outfit but Beatles had the best actual song.” (Philip Random)

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189. gimme some truth

 

“So I’m twelve almost thirteen, smart enough to not believe in the God I’ve had foisted on me my entire life, and thus scared to death of death – the fact that sometime somehow I will die, maybe in ten minutes, maybe in a hundred years of old age, but either way, everything will end, my heart will cease pumping, my mind will cease minding. Then nothing. Just blank. Like a light getting clicked off. Sorry, but twelve almost thirteen year old me can’t accept this. There has to be something, which is why I just can’t buy John Lennon’s Imagine, all that no heaven stuff – above us only sky. There bloody well better be more than just sky. And Imagine’s kind of lame anyway, too hippie la-la-la. Gimme Some Truth on the other hand, from the same album. That I can chew on. Way more than just sky.” (Philip Random)

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307. if I can dream

“When Elvis (aka The King) died in 1977, John Lennon was smugly heard to observe that he’d already been been dead for almost twenty years — ever since he joined the army back in 1958. But I give him another ten years, to 1968 and the big deal comeback TV special on NBC.  Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had just been shot, the Vietnam war had officially gone to hell, the Beatles hadn’t played live for years. But Elvis wasn’t worried.  He had a secret weapon for the show’s finale, a brand new song written by a guy named Earl Brown called If I Can Dream. ‘I’m never going to sing another song I don’t believe in,’ said Elvis when he first heard it, ‘I’m never going to make another movie I don’t believe in.’ And yeah, Elvis did deliver on NBC, a performance that reached deep through the strange vacuum of the cathode ray tube and touched the hopeful soul of all humanity, maybe even saved the world. But then he proceeded to eat doughnuts, sing awful songs, make worse movies, and finally died nine years later, alone, sitting on a toilet. Poor guy. The King of Need, the Residents called him.” (Philip Random)

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