“1977 is not the best Talking Heads album, not even close, but in Psycho Killer, it probably has their best song. Which gets us to the argument I had recently with my lawyer, she claiming to have heard it before, and thus a dubious selection for this list. Hell, it’s in the movie, the very first song, David Byrne stepping out solo on stage, just acoustic guitar and beatbox, and his uniquely wound intensity. But these are records I’m listing here, not songs, and the essential recording of Psycho Killer is the original 1977 album version — funky, tough and psychotic, which clearly not enough folks have heard yet, or it would’ve shown up as the theme song for some eighth rate cop show. Which is a good thing. I’m not complaining. But I was at a friend’s big deal fortieth birthday recently where it brought the house down, which was weird and also kind of beautiful, all these former punks and new-wavers and whatever else hitting the middle of their lives, showing scar tissue, but still moving, liable to explode at any instant, taking everything with them. But in a good way.” (Philip Random)
“Mongoloid rates high indeed because it’s the first punk tune that ever truly grabbed me, even if some have argued (and no doubt continue to) that Devo weren’t Punk, they were New Wave, to which I just fire back a big WHATEVER. It would’ve been 1978 because Tormato, the latest Yes magnum opus, had been released, except it was neither magnum or opus. But I loved it anyway being a fan. But not my friend Carl, who made a point of removing Tormato from the turntable mid-song (the one about a UFO as I recall) and slapping down Devo’s first album in its place … which proceeded to make an impression. Particularly Mongoloid. Just the whole nasty punk idea of it – a wound up anthem about some guy who was a mongoloid. How perverse was that! And yet fun. Because it was. Unlike the Yes. But Yes weren’t aiming for fun, I tried to argue, they were fixed on something more complex, important. Carl just smiled and played Mongoloid again. By the third time through, I was air-guitaring.” (Philip Random)
“Frankie Teardrop is probably the one track on this list that I’ve listened to the least, because who f***ing needs it on repeat? Yet we do need such stuff sometimes. Because violence is in our nature and it’s seldom been so viscerally expressed as it is here. No great surprise that it came out of 1977, the year Punk properly broke. Not that Suicide were punk. They were their own genre altogether. And political as hell if only for the full on howl of Frankie Teardrop, young man with a family, just trying to survive, but he’s not gonna make it, he can’t make the payments … and don’t fool yourself, we all know Frankies, perhaps as near as the closest mirror.” (Philip Random)
The Clash‘s take on Willie Williams’ Armagideon Time wasn’t included on Sandinista. In fact, it was released the previous year on the Black Market Clash 10-inch (a loose and cool collection of various b-sides and whatnot), but it came to my ears at almost exactly the same time as Sandinista care of a mixtape a friend made which was all Clash, all to some degree not punk or even rock, more the groovy, strange, dub-induced stuff which comprised so much of Sandinista‘s six sides, pissing off so many of the old school punks (but f*** those reactionary idiots anyway), and very much sucking me in, affirming me in my growing impression that whatever was going on out there culturally speaking, the world had changed profoundly in the last year or two.
My world anyway. Something to do with apocalypse, end times, armagideon – not coming, already upon us, and not really that bad, not if you had the right kind of eyes (and ears). I can even remember the precise moment it all came clear. I was tripping on some middle-grade LSD, out wandering the suburban sprawl with a house fire in the near distance, a calamity of sirens, smoke, people coming and going in the encroaching dusk, a whole block like a war zone. But I was somehow okay with it. Maybe because I had that mixtape playing on my walkman, Armagideon Time, the stretched out dub version guiding me through all the smoke and confusion like it was all just a movie, but not one I was watching, one I was in. Like, here it is, pilgrim, the Apocalyptic Now. Get used to it, because it ain’t goin’ away. It’s not pretty but it may be beautiful.” (Philip Random)
Because it’s the f***ing Sex Pistols, arguably the greatest rock and roll band of all time, at their most pop, such as it is. Pretty Vacant being the one you could find on a mixtape with the likes of Elvis Costello, The Who, The Doors, The Cars even, without offending anyone. Certainly no one you didn’t want to be offending. Based on an Abba song apparently.
“Because it’s The Stranglers taking on Burt Bacharch’s Walk On By and proving my old buddy Carl right. He used to say there were no bad songs, only bad performances. Not that I really considered Walk On By a bad song, just sort of guilty by association, buried as it was in the EZ-listening-muzak background of my growing up (whatever that godawful Toronto radio station was that my parents had on all the time, 1,001 strings in full asphyxiating flower). But jump ahead a decade and things are different. The song may still be saying the same thing, but the music isn’t. The music snarls, this heartbreak is dangerous, and come the instrumental jam of the full length version, the Stranglers are soaring. Even the punks are running scared.” (Philip Random)
“Public Image was the first single from Public Image Ltd, the concern that Johnny Rotten (aka Lydon) threw together amid the wreckage of the recently crashed and burned Sex Pistols. And it was damned good. Hell, even I liked it on first listen from my then mostly anti-punk perspective. A serious call to … seriousness, I guess, Mr. Rotten making the point that he was more than just a cartoon character, a gimmick, a punk, that he knew a thing or two about music, how to sing a song, make a record, take steady aim, hit them all where it hurts. And damn, what a bass line!” (Philip Random)
“I’m pretty sure the first time I heard what came to be known as rap music was 1982, Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five. To my ears, it was just another pop-gimmick, albeit a pretty cool one. Big funky groove with some hip rhyming on top. But jump ahead a few months and no less than Malcolm McLaren (who’d previously helped invent the New York Dolls and the Sex Pistols, if you believe his bio) seemed to be singing (for lack of a better word) this new form’s praises. But it wasn’t just about the rhyming and grooving now, it was also the sampling (not that we’d heard that word yet), grabbing beats and pieces from wherever you could find them (some local NYC radio DJs, an old funk 45, a square dance album, some high school girls having a blast, the backstreets of Soweto), and just sort of jamming everything together, smacking it all around, somehow squeezing out what might be called a song, the weird and wonderful part being that it worked. In fact, I’ll always remember the party where I first heard Buffalo Gals, a friend’s place, everyone trying to get excited about Elvis Costello or whoever and suddenly this other tape got put on. So weird and fun that all you could do was dance to it. And then the album Duck Rock showed up to drive home the point that whatever was going on, it wasn’t just some one-off. Having ex-Buggle and Yes man (and future Art Of Noise instigator) Trevor Horn in the producer’s chair may well have been a factor.” (Philip Random)
In which the amazing Peggy Lee takes on a Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller ode to disillusionment (based on a Thomas Mann short story) and doesn’t just own it, she immortalizes it. Because, yes as a matter of fact, there is nobody more punk than a little girl who’s seen it all, from burning buildings to broken hearts to dancing bears, and been at best bemused. But that’s no reason not to break out the booze, have a party, death being the greatest disappointment of all, you might as well do some proper living first.