“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)
“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)
“Second of two in a row from the artist known as Prince, because you just don’t do justice to what he accomplished through the 1980s with a single item. In 1984, that would’ve meant Purple Rain (album and movie), which for me finally drove home the point that the most necessary music-art-whatever-you-want-to-call-it almost never comes from where you’re expecting it. In other words, I walked into the movie theatre more curious than anything (what were the kids all so excited about?) and walked out a lifelong fan of this almost annoyingly talented (so-called) black guy – something I absolutely did not see coming. With The Beautiful Ones perhaps the most necessary track of all for its evocation of an infatuation so pure and delirious, the only word to describe it is … purple? By which I mean not the colour of grape juice but affected, bloated, fancy-pants, grandiose, inflated, pompous, pretentious, stilted, excessive, flattering, fulsome, boastful, bombastic, elevated, eloquent, lofty, ultimately regal. Because such is true love. If it ain’t worth taking to a preacher right f***ing now, it ain’t the really thing. Or so I’ve been told.” (Philip Random)
“Apparently Je T’aime … moi non plus (the Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg version) was a big deal international hit way back when. Just not here in the Americas. Because the first time I was even aware of it was at least twenty years after the fact, and that would’ve been in the background somewhere, cool radio, maybe somebody’s mixtape at a backyard barbecue, people playing croquet in the foreground. But it did eventually hit me. It did stick. The kind of easy cool melody and pop fresh production that destroys time, transcends decades, and then there’s the subject matter and its rather unabashed eroticism. Or as my friend Angela once put it, ‘The French may have gotten a lot wrong when it came to rock and roll, but they sure knew how to do dirty without it coming across as unclean.’ What it was (and still is) is pretty much pop perfect to my ears and (special thanks to North America’s rampant Puritanism) still not overexposed hereabouts, thus allergy free. And for the record, Ms. Birkin would’ve been twenty-one when she recorded her vocal, so it’s all entirely legal.” (Philip Random)
“In which Nina Simone proves the experts wrong. The Bee Gees peaked long before all that disco foo-furrah of the later mid-70s, probably in 1967 with To Love Somebody which may just be the greatest song of unrequited love ever written, the proof being in the covers, everybody from the Flying Burrito Brothers to Michael Bolton to the Chambers Brothers to Billy Corgan, Roberta Flack, Michael Buble, Janis Joplin, Eric Burdon taking a swing at it … but nobody ever owned it like Ms. Simone, whose pumped up 1969 take removes all adornments, just tells it like it is-was-will-always-be. I lost somebody. I’m broken. I don’t think I’ll ever be fixed. At least I still believe in my soul.” (Philip Random)
“Idiot Wind has to go out to Angela, and me. We officially broke up in 1988. It just took me three years to finally get it one long, strange, lonely summer day that began with an urge to drop a little solo LSD, climb a small mountain, check out the scenery. And it was good. But then came the long descent, lots of time for deeper, darker reflection in the solitude of the forest, and meanwhile, on the walkman I had Bob Dylan‘s Blood on the Tracks playing, because I’d exhausted all the more cosmic stuff on the way up. And damn if all that earthbound grit and spite didn’t just start talking to me, particularly Idiot Wind‘s angst driven symbols and reflections, like nine hundred different stories all kaleidoscoping into one by the end, the part where the idiocy doesn’t just blow when you open your mouth, but also when I open mine. Because like some smartass said just the other day, there’s no I in team, but there’s two of them in idiot. Welcome to love, I guess, the part they don’t mention in all the fairy tales, the not happily ever after part. Which is why we need the music of Mr. Bob Dylan from pretty much any phase of his career. Post-fairy tale all the way.” (Philip Random)
“Second of two in a row from Love‘s 1967 masterpiece Forever Changes, because it really is an album (as opposed to a collection of songs). Or as an ex-DJ friend once put it – ‘I find it hard to put tracks from Forever Changes in a mix, because they always work best next to each other, as part of the intended flow.’ And these songs aren’t exactly out to take prisoners, not obviously anyway. They’re just content to work a warm and consistent and slightly hazy (perhaps smoggy) LA vibe of heartbreak and beauty and colours forever changing and whatever else it is that Arthur Lee‘s singing about. With titles like Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale, he’s clearly singing about everything. But love most of all.” (Philip Random)
“I don’t believe I heard Love’s Forever Changes until at least the 1990s. Not consciously anyway, because it is the kind of album that might’ve just slipped by. Not for any inherent weakness so much as its subtlety and, I guess, its timelessness – its strings and horns and multicoloured melodies and mysteries. It may have come out of Summer of Love Los Angeles, but heard in the background at a café or from the next room at a party, it could be almost any decade (since the 1960s anyway). As for Alone Again Or, it’s all in the title, I guess. Not so much a love song as a lack of love song, yet there is still hope. It is 1967 after all.” (Philip Random)
Second of two in a row from the Swans, 1988 being the year that they gave us not one but two covers of everybody’s favourite suicidal love song, both actually quite good. Jarboe‘s version gets the nod here, because she’s got the nicer voice, and it’s more gentle. And we definitely needed some gentle niceness by the time 1988 landed, Winter of Hate in full effect. Not that Love Will Tear Us Apart could ever be mistaken for a song bereft of cataclysm.