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)

34. clampdown

Clampdown‘s the second song I heard from London Calling, the album that ignited the possibility that yeah, maybe the Clash were the only band that mattered. I heard the title track first, and I immediately loved it – all that rage and insurrection down by the river. But for whatever reason (probably because I was pretty broke at the time), I didn’t dive in and buy the album until fellow cab driver Dennis pulled me aside and forced Clampdown on me. It was simply that important, that urgent.

Because as Dennis put it, ‘You’re a young man and a young man’s gotta watch himself when it comes to simple explanations as to how the world really works — fascist bullshit being so easy to fall into, so easy to end up with the bully boys wearing blue and brown. Say goodbye to your living soul.’  Dennis (who was about five years older and recently arrived from England) being the kind of guy who always had a spliff rolled, ready to go. We’d book off for a few minutes, crank the tunes in his cab, always something British, punk or new wave, which past a certain point in summer 1980 meant pretty much non-stop London Calling — the Sgt. Pepper’s of the 1980s, he called it, ‘But better than that hippie shit.’ Punks moving beyond punk, trying to embrace everything goddamned thing, succeeding for the most part. Thanks, Dennis, wherever you are.” (Philip Random)

56. revolution

“Because I couldn’t really justify forcing the Beatles Revolution onto this list, and anyway this latter day Revolution (care of The Spacemen 3) pays it fierce and eviscerating and ultimately beautiful homage, all flesh eating distortion and simple message. Just five seconds. That’s all it would take for all the fucked up children of this world to rise up and tear everything down. The weird part is, I was in Britain when this was new. I even saw the t-shirts. But I didn’t get around to hearing any of it for at least a year, by which point grunge was breaking (or about to anyway), which is really what was going on here. Grunge before they had the marketing figured out. A punk rock that wasn’t in a hurry. And I mean that in the best possible way. Because once marketing got involved, it was game over for everybody but the unit-shifters.” (Philip Random)

133. straight to hell

Combat Rock is far from the Clash’s best album. Yet Straight To Hell may well be their best single song, working an oddly open groove to make room for a gush of Joe Strummer passion and consciousness that manages to cover all manner of unstable ground from British Colonialism to American interventionism to junkiedom to everything else. ‘Could be anywhere – any frontier – any hemisphere’ being a key line, speaking to the universality the (r)evolution that the Clash were always propounding, though not always so eloquently as here. Want to get to the heart of 99-percent of what’s wrong with the planet? Start with everybody who’s been just shoved aside by history and its dubious intentions. We need to be needed. All of us. Every frontier. Every hemisphere. Else it’s straight to hell. All of us. The only band that mattered maybe the last time they mattered.” (Philip Random)

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170. I know I’m losing you

“By the time I was thirteen or fourteen and paying proper attention, there were three versions of I Know I’m Losing You percolating around the radio airwaves: The Temptations’ original, Rod Stewart’s stomping rocker, and Rare Earth‘s stretched out epic. Actually, make that four, because Rare Earth also had a live version which was the best of bunch – rock hard, funky, a powerhouse that just went on, on, on, because sometimes, what’s going down is just too good to stop, so you don’t. A lot of great early 1970s music had this, particularly on live albums. Like the message hadn’t been received yet that the revolution was over and the good guys lost, so just keep pushing, pushing, pushing, this superlative noise must never stop. And as long as I manage to hang onto albums like Rare Earth In Concert, I guess it won’t.” (Philip Random)

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193. teenage riot

The lead-off track from maybe the greatest album ever in the history of anything, Teenage Riot is where Sonic Youth get political, make their demands explicit as to what it’s going to take to get them the f*** out of bed and deliver the goods. A full-on teenage riot and nothing less. Which may be inappropriate, wrong even, but f*** is it fun to tear up Main Street, smash all the windows, not get caught! Which by the end of Teenage Riot is exactly what’s going on – Misters Moore and Renaldo annihilating frequencies with their magic guitars, smashing every window and door, setting all humanity free for a while. Even the adults. The rhythm section’s not half bad either.

332. wake up n*****s

Performance, the movie, needs to be seen. It’s the one where Mick Jagger plays a sort of Satanic rock star who’s messing with the mind of gangster who’s on the lamb, mainly out of boredom, it seems. But that sells it way short. Look no further than the soundtrack and the inclusion of a song like Wake Up N*****s by the Last Poets. It has no particular reason to be in the movie. Other than to be that cool, that on the mark of what was really going down in 1970, with the pulse of revolution very much in the air.

LastPoets-1970

415. carry on

“The original version of Crosby Stills Nash + Young‘s Carry On is entirely okay. It makes its point. The revolution may have peaked but, man, we’re still on the edge of something beautiful, man, so just carry on, man, to peace love and understanding, man. Live however, captured on 1971’s 4 Way Street, you actually believe it. Love is coming for us all. War shall be forever banned. Richard Nixon will not be re-elected in a year’s time by the single biggest landslide in history, America will not keep mucking around in Vietnam for four more bloody years. It’s the jamming, of course. Neil Young and Steve Stills facing off (with rhythm section Fuzzy Samuels and Johnny Barbata in strong support) riding the wave to heaven’s gate itself, leaving the original song far behind for at least ten minutes. Meanwhile in a hotel in Las Vegas, Hunter Thompson is glimpsing through ancient eyes what he’d come to call the high water mark. These things are not unconnected.” (Philip Random)

CSNY-1971-studio

463. no more heroes

“In which the Stranglers at the peak of their not-exactly-punk form dish one out in the name of a million dead heroes. Dedicated to all of those ponderous hard left politicos who tried to convert me back in my formative days. I was right all along, assholes. The Revolution died with Stalin, the supreme asshole. He killed all the real heroes, had icepicks rammed into their brains. So yeah, all hail the Stranglers for setting things straight in less than three and a half minutes.” (Philip Random)