Friday, November 20, 2009

Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy was not regarded as an instant classic when released. Like many of the best records it was mostly ignored. In my junior year at Headland High School in East Point, my art teacher allowed her students to bring records to class. We could play them on a dinky turntable in the back of the room, presumably to inspire youthful muses. I brought records of Mott the Hoople and Brian Eno, the latter to the horror of most of my classmates. Eno would not have been tolerated but for the support of a scary biker friend named Billy who approved my musical choices for some insane reason. Billy Lindsay returned to my life after graduation when I was re-introduced to him by soon-to-be convicted murderer, Chris Wood. Chris was the singer for Atlanta's infamous punk band, the Restraints. By that time it was 1979 and Billy was working for Wood's seminal band. Back in suburban wasteland high, Billy and I stood out from the crowd for different reasons. Billy stood out because he wore a leather jacket, had long hair and a beard, and drove a motorcycle to school. The fact he was three years older than anyone else did not help his efforts to blend. I was an ordinary skinny kid, but my bizarre tastes were legend already, and the cause for much derision from my peers. Around the same time Billy and I were making enemies and influencing no one with our art class musical selections, I published my first record review of another then mostly unknown musician: Bruce Springsteen. The record was Born to Run. The review was in our school's student paper. Shortly before my review appeared, the boss-to-be was in the matrix of a hyperbole storm. He appeared simultaneously on the cover of Newsweek and Time. But in the south, Springsteen remained little known despite the media attention. Doubtless the fact I was the one claiming his record was good, contributed to the certainty among my "readers" he must be crap. In the month's to follow I received a few punches in the arm, accompanied by clever remarks about my fag musical tastes. In the spring there was an April fools' issue of our paper with a parody of my writing style. The review was by Gwen Trasher. She reviewed the latest make-believe masterpiece of Conway Twitty. I have often wondered about the anonymous writer of that cute and nasty little piece. The chances are very good he/she grew into a Springsteen fan, like most of his/her generation. Perhaps she/he even likes Twitty. My own taste certainly matured a bit. As a teenager, I was a rather typical ignorant, reactionary/rebellious youth. I hated all things blatantly southern for the hell of it. I refused to read most of the masterpieces of southern fiction. I would have nothing to do with Harper Lee or Flannery O'Connor. I was closing on my forties before I got to To Kill a Mockingbird and Wise Blood. As for the brilliant rock of the Allman Brothers and Skynyrd, I could not stand that stuff when I was young. Most of the anger my Springsteen piece enflamed among my fellow students was over how I found the space to ridicule "such trash" as Lynyrd Skynrd within my astute analysis of Born to Run. The fact I managed to bring Skynyrd into the review indicated I had some kind of agenda. It also suggests my youthful writing style was not so different from later loquacity. At about the time I was getting over my grudge against the masterworks of 20th century American fiction, I finally admitted to myself the best of southern rock was balls busting good stuff following the Stones, the Yardbirds, C.C.R., Neil Young, Howlin' Wolf, Little Richard, and most good solid rock 'n' roll. As for 1974, much of the great music stood with Eno at the margins of standard "album oriented" music of the period, far from today's "classic rock." Rock Bottom, Grievous Angels, Fear, Too Much Too Soon, and Radio City are usually pigeon holed as "cult" records, great records with small, tight, passionate fan bases, records loved fervently by a few, and held at arm's length by most everyone else. Nevertheless, at a distance of 35 years it is unclear there is much difference between cult and classic. To a young listener, Before the Flood and Rock Bottom are equal, until they land on the turntable or ipod. The moment such sounds are first heard by a new generation listener is a moment of truth. It is the moment a golden oldie turns into fresh new music. It is a beautiful place to be. In that moment, I believe, 1974 is a good year for music.

Best LPs of 1974

1. Brian Eno: Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy (Island)
2. Robert Wyatt: Rock Bottom (Virgin)
3. The Velvet Underground: 1969 Velvet Underground Live (Mercury)
4. Bob Dylan & the Band: Before the Flood (Asylum)
5. David Bowie: Diamond Dogs (RCA)
6. Gram Parsons: Grievous Angels (Reprise)
7. John Cale: Fear (Island)
8. Kraftwerk: Autobahn (Mercury)
9. Roxy Music: Stranded (Atco)
10. New York Dolls: Too Much Too Soon (Mercury)
11. Big Star: Radio City (Ardent)
12. Cecil Taylor: Silent Tongues (Freedom)
13. Neil Young: On the Beach (Reprise)
14. Roxy Music: Country Life (Island, UK)
15. Derek Bailey & Anthony Braxton: First Duo Concert (Emanem)
16. Leonard Cohen: New Skin For Old Ceremony (CBS)
17. Frank Wright: Unity (ESP)
18. Joseph Jarmen & Anthony Braxton: Together Alone (Delmark)
19. Frank Koglmann & Steve Lacy: Flaps (Pipe)
20. Sun Ra: Cosmo-Earth Fantasy (Saturn))
21. Miles Davis: Get Up With It (CBS)
22. Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel: Psychomodo (EMI)
23. Nico: The End (Island)
24. Richard & Linda Thompson: I Want to See the Bright Lights (Island)
25. Tom Waits: The Heart of Saturday Night (Asylum)
26. Curtis Mayfield: Curtis (Buddah)
27. Bob Marley & the Wailers: Rasta Revolution (Trojan)
28. Lou Reed: Rock 'n' Roll Animal (RCA)
29. Miles Davis: Big Fun (CBS)
30. Joni Mitchell: Court & Spark (Asylum)
31. Eric Clapton: 461 Ocean Boulevard (RSO)
32. Randy Newman: Good Old Boys (Reprise)
33. Slapp Happy/Henry Cow: Desperate Straights (Virgin)
34. Mott the Hoople: The Hoople (CBS)
35. King Crimson: Red (Atlantic)
36. Blue Oyster Cult: Secret Treaties (CBS)
37. Al Green: Explores Your Mind (Hi)
38. Stevie Wonder: Fullfillingness First Finale (Motown)
39. The Kinks: Preservation Act 2 (RCA)
40. Various: Leo Kottke/Peter Lang/John Fahey (Takoma)
41. Captain Beefheart: Unconditionally Guaranteed (Mercury)
42. Bryan Ferry: These Foolish Things (Atlantic)
43. Andy Fairweather Low: Spider Jiving (A&M)
44. Henry Cow: Legend (Virgin, UK)
45. Steve Reich: Drumming/Six Pianos/Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ (Deutsche Grammophon)
46. Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel: The Human Managerie (EMI)
47. Gato Barbieri: Chapter Three: Viva Emiliano Zapata (Impulse)
48. Al Green: Living For You (Hi)
49. The Rolling Stones: It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (Rolling Stones)

Friday, November 06, 2009

In 1974 for my 15th birthday, my Mom drove me to Peaches Records and Tapes in Buckhead. Peaches was one of those wonderful, giant record emporiums of that era. We lived in East Point, on the south side of Atlanta and opposite the uptown Buckhead neighborhood. Finding good records on Atlanta's south side in the seventies was all but impossible. It is not easy 35 years later. As an apprentice record collector, all I wanted for my birthday was an opportunity to get to this legendary store, which might as well have been off world to a bicycle bound teenager. I still remember the thrill of walking into that room of records for the first time. To this day when I go to a good record store the pleasure I feel is but a simulation of that initial rush. The addict is always looking to repeat the experience of his/her first shot. For my first time I bought two records that would turn out to be enormously influential. One was a collection of experimental music on the Folkways label called Sounds of New Music (1959), including short selections by John Cage, Henry Cowell, Edgard Varese and an excerpt of Aleksandr Mosolov's "Symphony of Machines." The other record I bought was Brian Eno's first album, Here Come the Warm Jets. I had read about this extraordinary record in Creem magazine, which was my principle source for information on new and unusual music in my suburban cultural desert. Unusual was what I sought. I was that kind of kid. Anything that stretched the boundaries of music or lilterature or film appealed to my imagination. I might not understand it, but I wanted it. Here Come the Warm Jets was about as weird as pop music gets, then or now. In many ways it was the model for all the post punk and new wave experimental pop that emerged between 1977 and 1982 and beyond. Wire, the Talking Heads, Pere Ubu, Magazine, Orange Juice, the Tall Dwarves, the Pixies and dozens of other important bands owe much to Eno's early solo work. Likewise pop new wave hit makers such as ABC, Soft Cell and Japan would not have existed without the influence of the arty experimental pop of Brian Eno on this record and the arguably greater masterpiece to follow: Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy. Nearly four decades later this music still sounds foward reaching. As a teenager I studied the careful clutter of the cover photography for clues and listened to Here Come the Warm Jets until I wore my copy out. And I loved it. According to the discography on error-riddled Wikipedia: Here Come the Warm Jets was issued in January of 1974. According to the typo scattered classic: Terry Hounsome's Rock Record: Enlarged, Revised, Expanded: A Collectors' Directory of Rock Albums and Musicians (Blandford Press, 1987, 3rd edition), the same record was issued in 1973. My overburdened, unreliable brain remembers first reading about the record in 1973. Certainly Here Come the Warm Jets was issued in the UK prior to its U.S. appearance. So I am assuming it was available as an import through the Jem Records import catalogue toward the end of 1973.

Best LPs of 1973

1. Brian Eno: Here Comes the Warm Jets (Island, UK)
2. Iggy & the Stooges: Raw Power (CBS)
3. Lynyrd Skynyrd: Pronounced Leh-nerd Skeh-nerd (MCA)
4. Roxy Music: For Your Pleasure (Island, UK)
5. Mott the Hoople: Mott (CBS)
6. David Bowie: Aladdin Sane (RCA)
7. John Cale: Paris 1919 (Reprise)
8. Kraftwerk: Ralf & Florian (Vertigo, UK)
9. King Crimson: Larks Tongue In Aspect (Atlantic)
10. Miles Davis: On the Corner (CBS)
11. Al Green: Call Me (Hi)
12. Art Ensemble of Chicago: Bap-tizum (Atlantic)
13. Can: Future Days (United Artists)
14. John Prine: Sweet Revenge (Atlantic)
15. Blue Oyster Cult: Tyranny and Mutation (CBS)
16. New York Dolls: New York Dolls (Mercury)
17. Tom Waits: Closing Time (Asylum)
18. Led Zepplin: Houses of the Holy (Atlantic)
19. Faust: IV (Virgin)
20. Sly & the Family Stone: Fresh (Epic)
21. Art Ensemble of Chicago: Fanfare for the Warriors (Atlantic)
22. The Who: Quadrophnia (MCA)
23. Toots & the Maytals: Funky Kingston (Island)
24. Robert Fripp & Brian Eno: No Pussyfootin' (Atlantic)
25. Elliott Murphy: Aquashow (Polydor)
26. Neu: Neu 2 (United Artists)
27. Stevie Wonder: Innervisions (Motown)
28. Sun Ra: Space is the Place (Impulse)
29. Lou Reed: Berlin (RCA)
30. Big Youth: Screaming Target (Trojan)
31. Peter Hammil: Chameleon In the Shadow (Charisma)
32. Marvin Gaye: Let's Get It On (Motown)
33. Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon (Capitol)
34. Gato Barbieri: Chapter One: Latin America (Impulse)
35. Faust: The Faust Tapes (Virgin)
36. The Faces: Oh La La (Warner Brothers)
37. Gram Parsons: GP (Reprise)
38. Bob Marley & the Wailers: Catch A Fire (Island)
39. Jeff Beck: Beck Ola (Epic)
40. Cockney Rebel: The Human Managerie (EMI)
41. ZZ Top: Tres Hombres (Warner Brothers)
42. The Kinks: Preservation Act 1 (RCA)
43. Henry Cow: Legend (Vigin)
44. The Rolling Stones: Goats Head Soup (Rolling Stones)
45. Roy Wood: Boulders (United Artists)
46. Terry Reid: River (Atlantic)