Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Countdown #33 - into the groovy

Broadcast September-1-2012 - podcast available here.  All comments are from Philip Random's notes (with some editorial diligence).  Links are not necessarily to the exact same recordings we played on-air (but we tried).  Nor is every record represented here.  To hear them all, you've got to actually listen to the podcast.  The full countdown list (so far).  

Keith Leblanc - technology works [edit]
This is exactly what 1986 felt like – the good part anyway. Big beats (bigger than man had ever heard before), cool noise, strange new technologies alchemizing, boiling over, eager to smash the planet, change everything forever. And they did. Planet smashing was definitely what it was all about in the 80s. The planet needed smashing. Still does, always will, as long as we keep splitting atoms, and I can't see that stopping any time remotely soon. 

Beatles - everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey
Patrick Gallagher lived across the street me until I was ten. He was a year older and definitely had hipper parents than me, because every Christmas he'd get a new Beatles album. In 1968, it was the White Album, two records exploring all kinds of extremes, most of them miles over both our heads. But we liked the monkey song. What kid wouldn't? Even if later on, it turned out to have nothing to do with monkeys at all, but was John Lennon's cynical take on the great Maharishi being a bit of a horndog, trying to get his hands on Mia Farrow's ass, and how this didn't seem to fit with the great man's higher wisdom and philosophies.

Ciccone Youth - into the groovy
Sonic Youth muck around with drum machines, take the piss out of a Madonna song, turn it into a zeitgeist-defining masterpiece. At least, that's what my friend Martin thought. And he was a loud guy, persuasive. Indeed, there was a brief period, 1989 into 1990 where Into The Groovy really was the greatest record ever. Why argue? 

Kris Kristofferson - Jesus was a Capricorn
How do you tell if there's a hippie in the room? Say, "Jesus was a Capricorn." Hippies must immediately follow with, "He ate organic food". It's in their training. But that's okay, because it's a darned fine song. In which Kris Kristofferson likens our great lord and saviour to the hippies of the day, and suggests that were he to wander down Main Street, he'd likely suffer the same old brutal fate as 1,972 years previous.

Spacemen 3 - big city
Somewhere in the shadows of the 1990s, I lost the 12-inch single version of Big City, which was way longer than the album version, but not much different. It just kept on cruising, hypnotic and kind of sad, never really getting anywhere, like being alone in a great big city. Nothing to do but drive.

Visage - fade to grey
Fashion victims, we called them – Sophistos, HAIRCUTS. But the proper term was New Romantic. And we could make all the fun we wanted, they still had some great tunes, with Fade To Grey particularly notable, because it was Visage, which is to say Steve Strange, and he was the guy that started it all, shrugged off the ugly extremes of punk and replaced them with a more androgynous glam aesthetic – equal parts extreme, absurd and beautiful. And Fade To Grey was definitely beautiful. 

Cat Stevens - sitting
Every generation has its pluses and minuses. Born in 1959 means you pretty much the missed the 60s entirely, except from an outside-looking-in little kid's perspective. Turn eleven and you had the Beatles breaking up, Bob Dylan going into hiding, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin – all dead. On the other hand, turn thirteen and you had Cat Stevens riding high not just in the charts but also in terms of serious artistic cred. And with Sitting, he was laying it all out for you -- the nebulous and paradoxical truth about this, that, life in general. Yes indeed, life is just a maze of doors, and they all open from the side you're on. I still believe that. Just keep pushing hard, boy, try as you may, you'll end up where you started from. Not sure about that part. 

Minutemen - king of the hill
King of the Hill was the Minutemen's version of consciously selling out. It even said so on the record cover, (Project: Mersh). Record company big-wigs, pouring over all available data, having a eureka moment. "I got it," says one, "We'll have them write hit songs." Good for a belly-laugh. Until the word hit. D. Boon, the big guy that played guitar and sang and wrote most of the Minutemen's songs, was dead, killed when the band's van crashed. A sudden, brutal end to what had been a damned fine story. 

Love + Rockets - yin and yang + the flowerpot man
They were Bauhaus basically, without the singer, which, of course, made all the difference. They still conjured cool moods, worked powerful dynamics, but it wasn't all so gothic any more. They'd bailed from Dracula's castle, gone for a brighter, sweeter, more psychedelic scene. Look no further than a title like Yin and Yang and The Flowerpot Man, a song that seemed to be about the virtues of alcohol, strangely enough.

NoMeansNo - dad
It would've been 1986. Husker Du were playing the York Theatre and it was the hot ticket. The place was packed and wild. I'm pretty sure that's the night that somebody actually dove off the balcony. It's unclear if he ever landed. Or maybe that's just how the drugs remember it. I was definitely quite high that night. LSD. Anyway, the evening ended up being like high school sex. It was a blast but it peaked way early. Because NoMeansNo were the warm-up act and they destroyed the headliners. It was the first time I ever heard Dad. I remember it moving me to tears. I remember thinking, punk rock isn't supposed to do this. I remember throwing myself off the balcony. Well, maybe not that part.

Roxy Music - editions of you
Tight, hard, fast, and looking very good. Nobody else sounded or looked or felt remotely like Roxy Music in 1973. That would have to wait five or so years. Then all kinds of people were sounding, looking, feeling like Roxy Music … in 1973. Unfortunately, Roxy weren't. They were getting all smooth and white-boy soulful, turning into a creature I was fast finding it hard to love anymore. But that's another story. 1973 was all for my pleasure ... in 1983, which was when I finally got around to discovering it all.  It all makes sense if you're looking in the right kind of rear view mirror.

Peter Gabriel - intruder
Peter Gabriel's first three solo albums were all called Peter Gabriel, so we fans (and I was definitely a fan) tended to refer to them as The Weird Eyes (the first), Nails On The Blackboard (the second), and Melting Face (his third). Melting Face was the one that mattered most, both then and now -- the one where he finally figured out how to refine the best of his so-called prog-rock tendencies, fuse them with punk and new wave's rawer, sharper edges, and thus kick things way into the future. And it all started with Intruder, a creepy hit of atonal menace that really was like nothing anyone had ever heard. Still is.

Jeff Wayne etc - Horsell Common + the heat ray [edit]
Just because punk hit in 1976-77 and changed EVERYTHING in its nasty, ugly-beautiful, inarticulate way, doesn't mean it all happened overnight. No, culture is nothing if not a very big ship which can hardly turn on a dime. Which means that come 1978, many of us were still finding the time to light up a doob, put on the headphones and trip out to various big deal concept albums. Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds would have been one of the last of these. A rock opera interpretation of H.G. Welles' sci-fi epic, featuring the incongruous talents of David Essex, Phil Lynott, Justin Hayward, Chris Spedding, and oh yeah, Richard Burton. What's amazing is how hot the band is on Horsell Common + The Heat Ray. 

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - statues
I remember seeing this live. Commodore, 1981. Statues comes across nice and moody on record, but in that big room, packed with every serious art-weirdo-scenester in town, it was powerful stuff, shut everybody up, put us all in a trance that was both beautiful and foreboding. The 80s were always going to be that kind of movie.

Rolling Stones - time waits for no one
This got a bit of radio play back in the day, just enough to make an impression, and it was all good. Arguably the Rolling Stones' most beautiful song, epic and tragic, and only a bit nasty (because it wouldn't be the Stones without the nasty). Later, I'd discover it was mostly Mick Taylor's song. He didn't write it, but he did everything else, fought for it in the studio, played that superb guitar solo. And then, as the story goes, he was done. He quit the band, did a good job of becoming completely obscure. Apparently, heroin was involved.

Laurie Anderson - Sharkey's Day
I'm guessing that the Sharkey here is a reference to a Burt Reynolds movie called Sharky's Machine that I know I saw, but I can't say I remember it. He was a cop, I guess I remember that, and there was corruption involved, probably some wiretapping, and ugly sex, and women no doubt getting treated like shit. This was the downside of the gritty 70s movie. Sometimes the grit was less raw truth, more just an excuse for sleaze and nihilism. Or maybe Sharkey's Day has nothing to do with any of that. Maybe Laurie Anderson just saw the poster at some point, and something about it spoke to her – Burt Reynolds and his moustache riding high at the box office, and everything that said about a culture. Where do you go from there?

Bob Marley + the Wailers - war
It sounds a little absurd on paper. Take a speech from recently deceased Haile Selassie (Emperor of Ethiopia, living incarnation of God if you happened to be Rastafarian) and turn it into a song. Except being Bob Marley, it works to powerful effect – goes beyond mere tribute, gets close to sounding like the stuff of an actual saviour whose guidance transcends all borders, all boundaries, all negation.

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