Monday, June 25, 2012

Countdown #25 - peace + perfection

Broadcast June-23-2012 - podcast available here.  All comments are from Philip Random's notes (with some editorial diligence).  The full countdown list (so far) can be found here.  Links are not necessarily to the exact same recordings we played on-air, but we tried.
Enigmas - windshield wiper
The Windshield Wiper is a dance.  The record actually comes with a diagram and everything.  And oh yeah, the Enigmas are the great Vancouver band of the early-mid 1980s that most folks seem to have forgotten about. They had the whole garage-psyche thing down.  Tighter than punk, and sexier, but every bit as tough.  If a recording existed of their umpteen minute live version of Psychotic Reaction, it would be way up near the top of this list.  Not that the Windshield Wiper doesn't deserve its spot.

David Bowie - boys keep swinging
Someone told me that quite a few people have heard this.  Not on my watch.  Not on any commercial radio station I ever tuned in.  Not in any car commercials I've seen.  But it should have been.  A great beat, and you can dance to it.  We should all be sick of it by now.  I guess the subject matter was just a bit much for late 70s – all those boys being boys, cutting their moves, striking their poses, looking good in uniforms.  

Wire - 2 people in a room
I missed Wire completely the first time around.  Three genre defying, future inventing albums culminating in 1979's 154 at which point they called it quits, went their separate ways for a long while.  Then came 1987's Ideal Copy which was way too good to not get curious about, which eventually led me back to 154 – arguably the album that invented the 1980s (the good part of it anyway).  Indeed I seem to recall being on the sidelines when that argument happened.  The New Order team ended up crying.

Taste - blister on the moon
I remember being about sixteen, on my way to see Rick Wakeman live at the Queen E, and damned excited about it.  My friend Keith's older brother Wes was driving, but he was going to a different show.  Some guy named Rory Gallagher, playing at a small club.  Who's Rory Gallagher, I asked?  Way the fuck better than that sequined idiot you're going to see, said Wes.  Maybe a decade later, I finally got around to hearing Mr. Gallagher (via Taste, his initial band).  Wes was right.

Jefferson Airplane - volunteers
They did this at Woodstock.  Calling for a revolution at a time when such actually seemed possible.  America the Great was teetering.  If your hair was long and your soul experienced, you were talking about it bringing it all down.  But few songs said it in so many words.  And it rocked.  

Joe Cocker - give peace a chance
The other Give Peace A Chance, the one that brings down the house toward the end of maybe the greatest hippie movie ever made (and its soundtrack album).  No, not Woodstock.  There was too much mud, way too many people.  Mad Dogs + Englishmen had a tighter focus, which was a useful thing in those rather deranged days.  Just one band (a big one mind you, two dozen plus beautiful people) and the wild and colourful tale of their one and only tour together.  That's Joe Cocker, of course, on the powerhouse lead vocal, and Leon Russell the maestro holding it all together.  

Badfinger - perfection
It's 1972 and there's this band I keep hearing on the radio who must be the Beatles, except the DJs keep calling them BAD something.  And then my friend Chris buys their latest single (Baby Blue), and it's official.  This band is called Badfinger.  But they are on the same label as the Beatles – the one with the apple on it.  Maybe three years later, I'm finally buying albums on a regular basis, and one that I'm always looking for is Badfinger's Straight Up (the one with Baby Blue on it).  "Good luck finding that," says a record store guy one day.  "It's impossible to find ever since Apple went under."  Which is not entirely accurate.  I found it a few times over the years, used and stupidly expensive.  But finally, mid-90s sometime, there it was at a flea market in Germany, the cover a bit hacked but the vinyl itself looked okay.  The weird thing is, the track that immediately grabbed me when I finally got it home wasn't Baby Blue but Perfection.  Just a solid song, both musically and lyrically.  There's no good  revolution – just power changing hands – There is no straight solution – Except to understand.  True enough and yet all too sad given Pete Ham, that the guy who wrote it, killed himself in the mid-70s sometime (right around when I was first looking for the album).  And then a few years later,  another guy from the band, Tom Evans, did the same.  Does this make the song somehow better?  No, it was already perfect.

Beatles - flying
How could the Beatles have been even better?  More of this kind of stuff.  Melotrons and backwards flutes, and melodies your grandma might hum.  More FLYING.  More George.  

Monsoon - ever so lonely
Somebody told me a while back that Ever So Lonely was the first official World Music hit, whatever that means.  I mean, it's all world music, right?  Which isn't to say Ever So Lonely wasn't one of the freshest things I'd ever heard when it first crossed my path in 1982.  Not just for the purity of the vocal and the melody, but it was also a darned fine production, good strong beat, a joy to dance to.  And it got a lot of play in the clubs for a while.  

Bob Dylan - like a rolling stone [live]
It's true.  I would not be compiling this list if it wasn't for Like A Rolling Stone.  It's the single song I'd grab if the house was burning down.  No question.  Because it marks the moment at which the Apocalypse got interesting to me, when the big story I care about kicked into gear.  It's the snare shot to be specific, the one at the very beginning.  That's what did it – kicked the proverbial door wide open, and it's all been wild mercury ever since.  But everyone's already heard that record, so it doesn't qualify for this list.  However the live version does, from 1974, Dylan and the Band raving it up like the anthem it is, saving the world one night at a time.  Because that's the nature of apocalypse.  Shit just keeps on exploding.

Waterboys - the big music
I didn't really like this at time.  Felt too on the nose.  The BIG music.  And anyway, wasn't that U2's thing?  But a decade or so slips past and I listen to it again, and suddenly it serves a different purpose.  Now it's more like a souvenir of a moment we'll never see again, when such bigness could still be fresh.  And no U2 anthem can do the same, because there's no freshness left in any of them.  They're all played out.  Yeah, the Waterboys seemed to be on a God trip, too, but there's was not a definable Christian thing, bound by the scriptures.  Nah, this bigness was pagan, beautiful and wild.  Like the crash of surf on a northern shore, at sunset, everything turning blood red.

Rolling Stones - monkey man
1969 was a pivotal year in Rolling Stones land, good, ugly and bad.  It all went to hell in December with a free concert at a placed called Altamont, a man murdered by Hell's Angels directly in front of the stage while the band played Under My Thumb.  But that was only after Brian Jones got booted from the band, then killed himself in his swimming pool, or he died by drug-addled mistake, or maybe the construction guy murdered him.  And meanwhile, Keith Richard just kept slipping deeper and deeper into that lost kingdom called heroin.  And oh yeah, they also recorded Let It Bleed, maybe their greatest album, with Monkey Man, a track that has managed to not get played to death over the years.  A trifle too Satanic, I suppose.    

King Sunny Ade - Synchro System
It's summertime 1983 and we're way the hell up in the North Shore mountains.  The acid is kicking in nicely and Morgan decides to put some King Sunny Ade on the ghetto blaster – the now sound of Nigeria suddenly transported to the bleeding, lysergic edge of western civilization just as the gods had always intended.  Like strange tourist music, except we seemed to have got our continents confused.  Maybe a month later, we caught them live at the Commodore – an event of historic proportions, except somehow the ghetto blaster up the mountain felt more essential, appropriate. 

Talking Heads - heaven
As a younger man, I didn't get this song.  Not that I didn't like it.  I guess I just assumed  David Byrne was being ironic, imagining heaven to be a bar where nothing ever happened.  Where's the heaven in that?  But older me (I'm in my 40s now), well I can see it – the eternal bliss inherent in nothing at all.  Everything just is.  Merely being is enough for all eternity.  Because sometimes fun and games just get tiring.   

Cure - killing an Arab
No, it's not an encouragement to go commit a hate crime.  It's an examination of existentialism, as spare and unflinching as the French novel that inspired it, Camus' L'Etranger.  Nevertheless, we did play it a lot on radio during that first Gulf War.  Late winter, early spring 1991, tens of thousands of Arabs being killed for no particular reason, except maybe keeping down prices at the gas pumps.  Doesn't get much more existential than that.  I haven't owned a car since.    

Dr. John - Angola Anthem
Somebody actually called me up to say this song is evil once.  It was the late 80s sometime and I was playing it on my late night radio show.  I didn't take it off or anything, but it did get me thinking as its seventeen-plus minutes played out, dense and sinister, bereft of any light at all.  No, Angola Anthem isn't evil.  But it is about evil, Angola Prison, Louisiana (the Alcatraz of the South), the kind of place that hardened criminals would break down at the mere mention of, because doing time there was a journey to the past, the days of slavery.  I don't think Dr. John (aka "Mac" Rebennack) ever did time there himself, but he was locked up for a while in Texas, so the feeling is he must have caught a glimpse of something similar.  Welcome to that nightmare.  Because like a wise man once said, if we don't remember this kind of stuff, it will happen again.      

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