Saturday, February 23, 2013

Countdown #49 - roses + kicks

Broadcast February-16-2013 - 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.

Edwin Starr - funky music sho nuff turns me on
What a voice!  What a song!  I'm pretty sure  I first heard this way back in the day, when it was new and so was I -- one of many cool and exuberant rave-ups you could actually hear on commercial radio stations back in the early 70s, mixed up with rock and roll, pop, la-la-la love songs, anything and everything.  But the real discovery came twenty odd years later, mid-90s, a flea market find, and proof in advertising all the way.  The funk is evident from the first nasty squall of guitar, like a thermonuclear device getting turned on.

Black Sabbath - supernaut
The memory is of lying in bed, thirteen years old, unable to sleep for reasons of existential magnitude, so I've got the radio on to keep me company, tuned to FM, of course, because I'm at least that cool.  Anyway, this song comes on, heavy and wild, the singer howling about how he wants to reach out and touch the sky.  But I didn't catch who it was.  Next day at school, I I'm quizzing everybody, but nobody knows what I'm talking about, and anyway, they're mostly into Elton John.  Long story short.  It would be fifteen years before I had my answer, care of a marijuana dealer I knew at the time who played bass in various hard rock outfits, knew his heavy history.  I mentioned the "I want to reach out" part and he instantly said, "Black Sabbath Supernaut."  He dug out Volume IV, put it on, and my life suddenly felt a tiny bit more meaningful, complete.  But then he got paranoid, peered out a slit in the curtains, told me I had to leave through the back door.  "Now."

Pogues -  dirty old town

A song about London, I've been told, and it tells no lies.  A dump of a town, carrying grime that's centuries old.   I remember a jetlag morning, first light and I cannot sleep so I'm wandering Camden Lock and shocked by all the filth floating in the still water.  At some point, I realize there's a dead swan in the middle of one particularly disgusting looking clump.  Later, I'm back at my friend's flat having breakfast and I mention what I saw.  He shrugs, pulls out  the Pogues Rum Sodomy + the Lash and slaps it on.  

The Band - the  night they drove old Dixie down (live)
Joan Baez had a big AM radio hit with this back in around 1972.  Meanwhile, the cool FM stations were playing the Band's version, which I never really got.  A little too raw and gritty for my unformed teenybop ears.  But jump ahead a few years to The Last Waltz (the movie of the Band's big deal farewell concert) and holy shit did I get it.  The tragedy of the American South, what it is to lose a war and thus your culture, see it all burned before your eyes by the forces of Northern Aggression.  Yeah, they owned slaves or certainly fought for interests who did, but … I can't think of a but for this.  Slavery's about as fucked as humanity gets.  But there you go – where there's humanity, there's also soul, and thus complexity.

Holger Czukay - Persian Love

I first heard Persian Love via Peter Gabriel's Womad compilation album Music + Rhythm.  Exotic, sweetly melodic, trippy -- it instantly hooked me, and thus I had to know more.  Turns out Holger Czukay started in an obscure German band called Can … and so on.  One of those journeys that starts small, but damned if didn't lead me to a vast mansion of musical (and thus human) possibility:  doors within doors within doors, and they all kept inviting me deeper, higher.  Until eventually, I got the story on Persian Love itself – how Mr. Czukay constructed it around a snatch of song he'd recorded from shortwave radio.  And that's it you still hear on the record – snatches of the actual shortwave recording, like a ghost … out of Persia.

Buffalo Springfield - broken arrow
Wherein Neil Young hears the Beatles Sergeant Pepper's and responds in kind with an epic piece of something or other.  It starts with a live snatch of one of the other songs on the album, slips sideways into various surreal meditations on this-that-other things, finishes up with some honky-tonk piano that just sort of fades away into a heartbeat.  It's all definitely about something, which in 1967 was all you really needed. 

Lou Reed - kicks
Amphetamine kicks all night long, and then the next day too, and then maybe another night and day, and at least one more night.  Speed doesn't kill, or so I've been told, it just drives you crazy and then somebody kills you for being such a crazy asshole.  Either way, I've been happy to mostly keep my distance from it over the years.  But some of the postcards are interesting, particularly when it's a young Bob Dylan or a 70s glam Lou Reed doing the sending.  

Keith Leblanc - major malfunction
January 28, 1986.  Space Shuttle Challenger explodes across the consciousness of pretty much all the world, America in particular.  In the aftermath, Ronald Reagan would get a lot of coverage for quoting a poem about man daring to touch the face of the God, which would prompt my good friend Simon Lamb to say, "Maybe that's the problem right there.  Maybe God doesn't like having his face touched."  Before the year was out, Keith Leblanc (drummer, mad scientist, co-inventor of the various grooves that pretty much set hip hop free, and a white man at that), would put out an album called Major Malfunction, the title of track of which would feature a few lines from Mr. Reagan's poem and various samples from the moment of the major malfunction itself.  My point here being, that beyond the obvious shock of the moment, my main feeling about the Challenger fuckup was akin to relief – to finally see any mud in the eye of the Ronald Reagan's America and all the smug ugliness it was imposing on the world.  Because, like they said at the time, that guy was made of Teflon.  Nothing stuck to him but maybe this would.  Can't say I'm proud of it now, politicizing the deaths of those involved. But it was a stark moment of realization.  I really had strayed far from the norm.   

Love - alone again or + between Clark + Hillsdale
Speaking of buried treasures, I don't believe I heard  Forever Changes until at least the 90s.  But I guess I must've heard something about it, because I did pick up the album.  And album is the word, a collection of songs that don't so much slay you on their own as altogether, a consistency of warm and slightly hazy (don't dare call it smoggy) LA summer-of-love heartbreak and beauty and colours forever changing and whatever else it is that Arthur Lee's singing about.  Clearly, he's singing about everything.  But love most of all.

Fleetwood Mac - oh well
Wherein Peter Green, main man for the early 1960s Fleetwood Mac, lays down the blueprint for a blues rock that's going to move so far beyond the bounds of either blues or rock that a new name will be required – something that somehow contains the grit of the Mississippi Delta circa 1930, waters rising, levees about to overflow, and also the majestic sweep of a Ennio Morricone Spaghetti western soundtrack – that scene where the cold eyed killer looks into the mirror and sees something monstrous looking back.  Which sadly, is what happened to Peter Green, sort of.  He got swallowed by the monster – the Green Manalishi he called it.  Some say it was just money, filthy lucre.  Others that it was the devil himself.  Either way, Mr. Green disappeared down his own nasty psychedelic wormhole, went mad for a while, got lost.  But not Fleetwood Mac.  They played on.

The Who - drowned / I've had enough / Doctor Jimmy
Quadrophenia is one of the very first things I heard when I finally got a proper stereo FM radio in my room – a Christmas present when I was fourteen.  CKLG-FM played it in its entirety.  I put the headphones on and had my young mind blown by this tale of … well, I guess I had no idea what it was about, except the ocean was involved, and motor scooters, and toward the end, some fairly shocking rape and pillage.  That would be the infamous Doctor Jimmy + Mr. Jim -- young man getting swallowed by his dark side.  Drowned on the other hand is a little more about confusion -- young man desperate for meaning.  As for the rest of the albums four sides, well there's a pile more rage, mixed up with confusion, all working with the gatefold cover and accompanying booklet to tell the rich if somewhat muddled tale.  Meanwhile the music is epic, as grand as the Who would ever get, which seemed to be the thing in 1973 and 74.  Epics everywhere and few even close to Quadrophenia.

Poco - Rose of Cimarron
Poco were one of those bands I used to hear a lot on the radio – middle of the road, soft rock, so inoffensive they became the opposite.  Except for Rose of Cimarron, which rose above the regular soft, sticky muck and set the god damned sky on fire.  By which I mean, BIG like a great western sunset, with a wind starting to blow, throwing up dust at least as old as time, catching the rays of that setting sun and reminding me of why I'm glad I'm alive.  Because every now some otherwise non-essential soft rock band operating out of LA touches the eternal and creates something so beautiful even the hills get to weeping.

Eagles - journey of the sorcerer
Wherein the Eagles ditch the regular LA cocaine bullshit for a while, drop a few peyote buttons and travel long and far to the nether regions of the great American desert, or perhaps some alternate universe.  Here they encounter Don Juan who is in fact full of shit, but The Eagles don’t care, they've got a magic banjo with them that somehow conjures great sweeps of orchestration down from the heavens and all is right, all is good.  Eventually, The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy will cop it for its theme song.  Even better.


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