119. red

“My relationship with King Crimson started fairly early on with the eponymous title track of the first album, which got a fair bit of radio play back in the day. But beyond that, I don’t know if I heard anything until a friend made a point of playing Red for me when I was maybe fifteen. Just the song, not the whole album. It actually frightened me, the intensity of it. No respite anywhere in its six plus minutes, even the quiet parts were wound tight, setting up another roar of visceral instrumental fierceness in the shade of red, that sort of mist you see when your rage gets the worst of you and all you can do really is howl. Though maybe here, it’s the best, because man, what a f***ing band! In retrospect, it’s no great surprise that Robert Fripp shut the operation down almost immediately afterward. There was really nowhere else for King Crimson to go – not for six or seven years anyway. And meanwhile, I had plenty of time to catch up†, get educated††.” (Philip Random)

(image source)
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129. Supper’s Ready

“Speaking of Peter Gabriel, if I’d compiled this list in say 1979, Genesis would’ve been all over it (particularly their Gabriel era stuff), with Supper’s Ready likely right on top, certainly in the top three. But such is the nature of this culture stuff. It won’t stop twisting, turning, swallowing its own tail, vomiting it all back up, eating it again. In other words, I grew kind of allergic to Supper’s Ready for a while, an affliction for which I only have myself to blame. I loved it too much, wanted too much from it. A song about everything. A song very much about the Apocalypse — Pythagoras with a looking glass, the beast 666, the guaranteed eternal sanctuary man, Winston Churchill dressed in drag, and ultimately the new Jerusalem, good conquering evil, an angel shouting with a loud voice, souls rising in ever changing colours, as a germ in a seed grows, like a river to the ocean, and so on …

Epic stuff ripped straight from the Bible itself, but not without a serious dollop of absurdist fun. The weird part is, I didn’t even hear it until 1977 (five years after it first showed up on the album known as Foxtrot, two years after Gabriel had split the band) by which point there was a punk storm blowing nasty and vindictive. But that was me in my late teens, as uncool as I’ll ever be, and yet life has seldom seemed so rich, the smorgasbord so alluring. Except then I had to go and eat way too much. Which gets us to the title finally. Supper’s Ready. Apparently it’s a reference to the very end of the Bible†, the final scene of the book of revelations (and here I’m sort of quoting my late friend James who used to study this kind of stuff before he decided life just wasn’t worth the trouble anymore). Apparently when all is said is done, Satan vanquished, Christ triumphant, God’s kingdom established here on earth, there will be a huge feast to which all the worthy, the sainted, the blessed, the good are invited. Apparently, it will be one heaven of a feed. But in the meantime, we’re all doomed to just keep on keeping on.” (Philip Random) 

(image: Armando Gallo)

192. sound chaser

“Maybe you had to be there like I was, fifteen years old, opening song of Yes’s 1975 Relayer tour. Stravinksy’s Firebird suite crescendos, the curtains part, and holy f***ing WOW!!! Call Sound Chaser an intervention. The gods themselves imposing on my affairs. Ecstatically so. Like the Apocalypse itself, but in a good way. Like these musicians, these sorcerers, weren’t really playing this music, they were conjuring it, shaping and turning and chasing this superlative noise that just kept bubbling over, ricocheting all around, setting even the atmosphere on fire. Or as my old muso friend Robert once put it, Sound Chaser‘s the one where Yes finally got to that edge they’d been aiming for, flirting with, singing about –  not close, not over, but right the f*** on it. Maybe not their greatest achievement, but definitely their sharpest, fiercest, most dazzlingly precarious. Like a gauntlet thrown down. This is where music must go. Here are untold galaxies for us to explore. Except I guess most of us were looking the other way, or maybe just afraid. Because disco came along, and punk, and whatever else, and somehow we stopped with the progress, and that was that, mission abandoned, lost in the vastness of space.” (Philip Random)

231. elephant talk

It’s 1981 and, after a seven year hiatus, Robert Fripp has decided to reboot the monster known as King Crimson. The new album is called Discipline and it’s clear from the opening seconds of the first track Elephant Talk that it’s all for the good. Tight and modern as the album title suggests, but also dangerous and beautiful in a primal, wild animal sort of way. Special thanks to new guy Adrian Belew‘s guitar athletics. And his vocals aren’t bad either. Not exactly rapping on Elephant Talk. Not singing either. Just arguing, agreeing, babbling, bantering, ballyhooing, chattering, chit-chatting, diatribing … and so on. Which is rather what the world sounded like in those days. As it still does.

KingCrimson-1981-backstage(photo found at Youtube)

325. perpetual change

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with the original 1971 studio recording of Yes’s Perpetual Change. It just doesn’t go as far as strong as gobsmackingly wow!!! as the 1972 live recording that showed up on the triple live set Yessongs. Because they really do set the atmosphere on fire here, one of the last tracks ever recorded with drummer Bill Bruford, so yeah, the classic Yes lineup (my version of it anyway), which does need to be raved about if only for that point maybe halfway through Perpetual Change where the band are effectively playing two completely different songs at the same insane time, and it works, finally blowing off into a feedback overload that quickly segues into a Jon Anderson vocal harmony, and then BAM!!! into an extended outro, the tightest band on the planet at the time (seriously, even Led Zeppelin had to be looking over their shoulders in 1972) bouncing back and forth from improvised bits to insanely abrupt changes, on and on, higher and deeper until the only real flaw, which is the overextended drum solo (not bad, just not necessary). As a musician friend once put it, Perpetual Change is the secret to everything that was great about Yes, because they were perpetual change (up until around 1975 anyway), not just evolving from album to album, but within the songs themselves. Everything was possible and they had the smarts (and the chops) to make it so.” (Philip Random)

335. father of night, father of day

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band being an example of a darned strong outfit that never bothered much for hype or glory, particularly in their early days, but rather just put everything they had into the music. In the case of Father of Night Father of Day, that meant taking a sub two minute Bob Dylan acoustic throwaway about the glory of God etc and electrifying it, amplifying it glorifying until it was almost ten minutes long, and miles higher. The whole album’s a killer by the way, 1973’s Solar Fire. The Roaring Silence got all the sales and notoriety three years later because it contained Blinded By The Light, but Solar Fire is superior by orders of magnitude, the definition of a rock that was progressive, and at a time when that still mattered.” (Philip Random)

353. In held ’twas in I

Procol Harum achieved improbable levels of success with their very first single, 1967’s Whiter Shade of Pale, and it was taken rather seriously. Because it was rock meets Johan Sebastien Bach with lyrics obscure enough to almost make you forget that Bob Dylan had taken a vacation, more or less. But then what do you do for an encore? You go further, higher, deeper, longer, you give all of side two of your second album to a single seventeen minute track called In Held Twas In I, which to many ears, ranks as the first genuine prog rock epic. In other words, yeah, it probably goes too far, too high and deep, definitely too long. But what do expect from young men cut loose from the herd, more or less commanded to go climb the highest mountain? Or as the Dalai Lama puts it in the intro. Life is like a beanstalk. Isn’t it?” (Philip Random)

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434. sailor’s tale

“By 1971’s Islands, their fourth album in barely two years, the force of mind and nature known as King Crimson were not so much lost as just a very long way from shore. Down to only two of the original five members, and one of them (Pete Sinfield) had never provided much in the way of actual music, just “… words, sounds and visions, cover design and painting, production” (and in fact, he was on his way out, Islands would be his last Crimson involvement). Robert Fripp, on the other hand, was firmly ensconced on whisper-to-apocalyptic-howl guitar, with Sailor’s Tale a particularly powerful offering. Just wait until whatever high you’re riding is at its peak, then crank the sound system and wait for that sucker punch eruption at around the 4-and-a-half minute point. Not a sudden eruption from silence. No this is far trickier than that. Because the song’s already charging along at that point. It just suddenly goes way further. The earth shakes. The skies open. A gaping hole gets blown from the jigsaw of time.” (Philip Random)

KingCrimson-1971-liveBlurry

 

453. inmate’s lullaby

Second of two in a row from Gentle Giant’s prolific and dense and rather brilliant early 1970s phase. Inmate’s Lullaby being one of those songs that you know what it’s about, even if you don’t pay attention to the lyrics. It’s about madness, insanity, but in a nice way, like a nice day at the asylum. The inmate looks out his window and smells the flowers and hears the birds and comes to believe he’s in paradise, heaven even. Does heaven have inmates? If it does, you know they have a band, and it likely sounds a lot like Gentle Giant do here, working all manner of archaic and weird (for any kind of rock outfit) instrumentation to evocative effect.