Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Countdown #62 - turn on the news

Broadcast June-1-2013 - 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).

Sly + the Family Stone - stand + you can make it if you try
Because it's powerful evidence of one of those 1960s high water marks that Hunter S Thompson was talking about that psychedelic morning in Las Vegas 1972, when he looked to the west, toward San Francisco and saw just how far the great waves of love and evolution had reached before, sadly, tragically, inevitably, beginning their great retreat.  Because the 1960s were nothing if not a wild and unprecedented ocean storm –sustained, relentless, committed, one wave after another, ebbing and flowing, always creeping further inland, going for the heart of the beast.  Because we do need to remember this stuff, how free things can get, and it's seldom ever been as free as a Sly And The Family Stone rave-up, live or in the studio, women and men of all races, creeds, making their stand, not fighting the power so much as grooving right on through it ... until the drugs wore off anyway.

The Smiths - how soon is now?
Because there had to be at least one goddamned Smiths song on this list.  Because as much as I've generally found whatz-iz-name's histrionics annoying as only a fourteen year old's whining can be annoying, I'd be lying if I said I didn't think he was one of the all-time heavyweights (even with all that criminally vulgar shyness).  And the band's not half-bad either as How Soon Is Now aptly proves from initial gush of flanged Johnny Marr guitar onward.  Trust that it sounded like nothing else in 1984, like a lost acid fragment of 1967 had finally completed its tour of the universe and somehow returned to ground in the grim and baleful north of Maggie Thatcher's Britain, like a gem of ancient beauty and power.  And for those who may already have heard How Soon Is Now, cool, I say.  There's still not enough of us.

Clash - clampdown
Because it's true, a young man's gotta watch himself when it comes to simple explanations as to how the world really works – all that fascist bullshit being so easy to fall into, so easy to end up wearing blue and brown.  I think of Dennis here, fellow cab driver back when I got started, summer 1980, at least ten years older than me, recently arrived from England, always with a spliff rolled, ready to go.  We'd book off for a few minutes, crank the tunes in his cab, which often as not meant the Clash London Calling.  The Sgt. Pepper's of the 1980s, he called it, the world's greatest remaining punk band moving beyond punk, trying to embrace everything goddamned thing, succeeding for the most part.  

Clash - police + thieves
Because you're not really looking at the world with clear eyes as long as you think it's cops versus robbers, police versus thieves.  It's the two of them together, fascists and mobsters, working flipsides of the same greedy coin.  The trick is to stay the hell out their crossfire.  I would've been at least twenty-two before I had this even remotely figured out, with the Clash and their overall worldview a huge part of my education.  Police and Thieves is a cover of an old Junior Murvin reggae tune, which is cool itself, but it took the Clash to kick it into full-on anthem status, all the while keeping the reggae.  Which reminds me of young Ryan and his oft-heard claim that the Clash were the world's best white reggae band.  Amen to that.  And amen to the Clash in general, this being their highest song on the list, not even cracking the top thirty.  Yet in terms of total number of inclusions, I'm pretty sure they've got everybody else covered.  So yeah, here's to maybe not the greatest band ever, but definitely the only band that mattered ... for a while anyway.  

Rolling Stones - can't you hear me knocking?
Because it marks that moment at which I realized Punk Rock was dead.  Which is bullshit, of course, it was just going into remission for a while.  It would've been summer 1988, a party at the joint we called the Sewer View.  I distinctly remember I was sitting on the stairs, swigging from my ever trusty bottle of cheap red wine, no doubt stoned as well.  Suddenly, in the main room, somebody yanked off the hardcore record that was playing, mid-song.  A few seconds of party noise and then ... pure riff magic, the Rolling Stones at their most elegantly gritty, tearing everything up, the whole party starting to move.  Even Mick Jagger didn't sound that annoying.  How was that possible?  And then, the last two-thirds of the track, he wasn't heard anyway, just a full-on Latin groove and some hot soloing.  How the hell had I not heard this song before?  Can't You Hear Me Knocking, from Sticky Fingers, the one with the zipper on the cover.  

Curtis Mayfield - right on for the darkness
Because even if it took a good decade and a half for it to find me, it was at precisely the right moment, just emerging from one of my more profound crash and burns.  Bruised and hurting and this smooth, sorrowful, beautiful song rises up on the radio (CiTR, of course, or was it Co-Op? -- couldn't have been anywhere else), guy singing like a earthbound angel.  By which I mean, it sounded like he had one foot in heaven, the other in the ghetto, which is to say, the world.  So yeah, right on to that.  I could relate, even if I was stuck in the suburbs at the time.  They're just a different kind of ghetto.  Nobody starves.  They just suffocate.

Television - marquee moon
Because I've always been a sucker for an epic, and Marquee Moon was particularly delightful in its epic-ness because it made such a mockery of the almost Stalinist edge you were feeling from certain aspects of the punk scene in the late 70s, early 80s -- all these hard and fast rules getting laid down about what drugs could be taken, what colour your leather jacket could be, how long your hair could be, how long a song could be.  Yet here was this band that may not have been punk, but they certainly came from punk, and they were just saying fuck it, riding a riff unto eternity, because they were taking their orders from the music, not some tiresome Machiavellian assholes whose idea of beauty was some kind of international workers revolution, with them calling the shots, deciding who should be disappeared. 

Laurie Anderson - O Superman
Because truly, it's one of those records that stopped time.  Everybody I know, the first time they heard it.  A double-take.  A what is this? moment.  To which the answer was simple enough – just some New York artist/poet type playing her magic fiddle, messing with tape loops and stuff.  And that line near the beginning, the bit about "Hello, I'm not home right now" – pretty much everybody I knew had that as their answering machine message for at least a few days somewhere between 1982 and 1984 as O Superman swept through the world, like a virus from outer space.  Yet I doubt it ever got a single play on commercial radio.  Almost makes you think there was some kind of huge conspiracy afoot.

Brian Eno - baby's on fire
Because it doesn't play by any of the rules, yet it absolutely slays as pop song, rock song, whatever you want to call it – the Eno genius in full eruption.  And there's a pile of Robert Fripp genius too, guitar solo erupting through the middle of things like a demon from future antiquity.  By which I mean, holy shit, Baby's On Fire was at least five years old when I first heard it in the early 80s, and still too hot to touch.  

Pere Ubu - final solution
Because it equates unrequited lust and thermonuclear holocaust, and all this in 1976 before punk rock had even officially erupted.  Also, it's basically a cover of Summertime Blues, one of rock and roll's seminal protest songs, except these weirdoes from Ohio have exploded it into something far bigger, ravenous even.  In my idea of a perfect world, it would replace Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl at all weddings.  And hell, play it at funerals too.  

Husker Du - turn on the news
Because it's one of those "you must hear this" records.  It would've been 1984, a radio night, Bostock shoving everyone else aside and demanding we pay attention to the first track on Side Four of Husker Du's Zen Arcade, punk rock's first truly epic album.  Which, of course, meant Zen Arcade wasn't really punk rock.  It was too big, too beyond, and no question, Turn On The News was its most essential few minutes.  A song of pain, a song of despair, and yet hope as well, because it's a song of consciousness, of not turning away from the pain of the world.  And thus ultimately a useful turn of phrase when some old friend would be boring you to death with his tax issues, or the mortgage on his new condo.  You just shake your head and spit it out.  "Turn on the news, man.  You don't have problems."

Husker Du - eight miles high
Because it always had to follow Turn On The News in the playlist.  What else could?  And it's maybe the greatest cover version of all time,  taking on the Byrds' original using it to capture that pivotal early-mid-80s moment when the hard core rage monster caught a glimpse of itself in the psychedelic mirror, and it paused, saw both tragedy and beauty.  Which is to say, truth.  But a truth that's beyond words, a truth that can only be conveyed via amplified musical weaponry, and ultimately vocals that must leave articulation behind because there were hellhounds on the rampage.  Definitely lots of hellhounds in the early-mid-80s. 

Jello Biafra + DOA - full metal jackoff
Because it's maybe the greatest thing ever recorded in the Terminal City, Jello Biafra and DOA together, if only for one short album, Last Scream of the Missing Neighbours.  And no question, Full Metal Jackoff is its reason to exist.  Because it uses its almost fourteen minutes to put it all together:  the epic evil of Ronald Reagan's America in all its complexity, conspiracy and cynical malevolence.  Because it really would be a little obvious to fence off all the slums, hand machine guns to the poor and just let them kill each other off.  No, you need to be more subtle than that.  You need a plan that involves cocaine from Colombia, funnelled through the (so-called) freedom fighting Contras of Nicaragua, who trade it straight up for CIA guns ... until at some point there's a black van with no windows cruising the various mean streets of the great US of A, sealing the deal, disappearing a few of your neighbours on the side.  But nobody even hears their screams.  

No comments:

Post a Comment