For TNPC 100, we’ve delved deep inside our record collections, warts ‘n’ all, for the tunes that changed the way we thought about music; the sounds that helped to shape our lifelong musical obsession. We celebrate the tracks that messed with our heads, remembering the songs that let us know we were not alone and those that made us feel we could take on the world.
Better believe it, our lives were saved by rock’n’roll…
ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA – RICHARD STRAUSS (1896)
Sometimes I wonder how I came to be such an obsessive music fan as many of my earliest memories are of being terrified by what I heard – most of all this, the first piece of music to have a real hammer-blow impact on me. Even in Deodato’s laid-back, funky version, the wah-wah – a new sound to me – was like a cat yowling into the night, and those rising opening notes, darting like a bogeyman, remained as imposing as Strauss meant them to be. It only multiplied when I heard it as used in 2001 – the tympani simulating the voice of God like no music before or since. Even now, it feels disturbing, recurring through the maddest, oddest, most plain disconcerting U certificate film ever made – and Kubrick didn’t even intend to use it at first.
PEPPER BOX – PEPPERS (1973)
A birthday present I proudly took to the school Christmas party, with my name pencilled on the label – and a scintillating, feverish instrumental from France, an unmistakable product of its time and simultaneously 20 years ahead of it. The spring-heeled clavinet and squealing primitive synth belong in the time of The Goodies and power cuts – but then come the handclaps of a funky flamenco and a barely-audible but making-all-the difference scat vocal, and in a blind test you could easily have it down as Air or Daft Punk, as well as fitting right into the belle epoque of Jean-Michel Jarre, Space and even Magma.
DEATH ON TWO LEGS – QUEEN (1975)
My time as a rock and metal fan was brief and brought to a swift, sudden endby punk but before then, I found it close to impossible to see beyond the cape-sweeping of Queen, particularly on this marauding opener of A Night At The Opera, with Freddie denouncing an anonymous critic every bit as louchely as you’d expect. Their decline, fast, sharp and irreversible, began very soon afterwards.
SOMETHING BETTER CHANGE – STRANGLERS (1977)
The first punk record ever to make it into our house. It’s always been overshadowed by Peaches, No More Heroes and Golden Brown but it was a top 10 hit as well. I can’t say it put a swagger in my pre-teen step but it felt like it did – and the trick was replicated on the breathless b-side, Straighten Out.
KU KLUX KLAN – STEEL PULSE (1978)
A true eye-opener. My introduction to reggae, to dub – and to the knowledge of racism’s evils. How can it be that this is as topical as ever?
COLD CITY – SPIZZ OIL (1979)
I could have chosen dozens of songs to represent my realisation that music didn’t begin and end with the charts but this stands out for creating an apocalyptic vision with nothing more play-in-an-hour guitar, creaky sound effects and cave-dweller percussion. They’re usually remembered as a novelty act for Where’s Captain Kirk? and their practice of changing their name every year (Spizz Oil/Spizz Energi/Athletico Spizz ’80/Spizzles). They were far better than that.
TRANSMISSION – JOY DIVISION (1979)
Around two months before their abrupt end in dreadful circumstances, I got properly into Joy Division through Unknown Pleasures and this electrifying, white-knuckle single. Punk was now over – the future was underway.
ABSOLUTELY SWEET MARIE – BOB DYLAN (1966)
My record library not only helped me keep pace with the precipiate present; it was also invaluable in my endeavour to sort out the past. I finally took Blonde On Blonde out, some eight months after choosing an audiobook of I, Claudius instead, and it soundtracked a bright spring rather than a gloomy, drenched summer. Its majesty was immediately apparent; this is the song that hit first and hardest.
REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT – WILD SWANS (1982)
I saw them supporting Echo and the Bunnymen at Glasgow Apollo in 1981; liked them. They issued this single two months later; I thought it sounded good and mentally filed it away. Just over a year after that, I was unable to dislodge a particular melody from my mind. It turned out to be Revolutionary Spirit – I declared it my favourite song of all time and have continued to do so ever since. All the power, drama, magic, mystery and beauty you could seek in music is here, with the velocity and dynamic of a fleet of planes taking off. Just hear it for yourself; I’d only diminish it by trying to describe it further.
TERRAPIN – SYD BARRETT (1970)
The library triumphs again. The Madcap Laughs is not entirely a comfortable listen, and it’s questionable whether some moments on it should have been included at all, but at its finest, it’s a man attempting to make sense of the world in the only way he can and offering to share that world with us with wit and generosity. While Men at Work and Bonnie Tyler were scrabbling across the airwaves, this was all I wanted to hear.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA – FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON (1992)
I’ve always been a dabbling dilettante when it comes to dance but I know what makes sense to me when I hear it. This impossibly beautiful and richly crafted tune rose above the nosebleed anthems like Excalibur thrust out of a swamp.
FAT CHANCE – MOTHERS (2016)
In my most recent review, of Pylon’s Gyrate, I neglected to mention that their influence has found its way to the present, not least in this band from, appropriately enough, Athens. Tense, compelling, glowering yet tender – and gloriously devoid of millennial whoop (PG).
The Teddy Bears – To Know Him Is To Love Him (single)
In amongst my parents record collection was this single. I think it was where I discovered that music could be more than the words and notes committed to tape. There is something else captured on this that is utterly transporting. As David Briggs would say – It’s got the spook.
Ramones – Rockaway Beach (It’s Alive)
The first noise that drowned out all the crap around me. Because the opening lyrics define rock’n’roll to me. When the Ramones albums were only available on import It’s Alive gave you twice as many songs for only £1.00 more and that was important in those days.
Velvet Underground – Heroin (Live 1969)
I bought the Velvets’ albums in a weird order. Luckily I had a fellow TNPC’er to help guide me through. I’m glad I heard this LP early though. I think hearing Lou rap about football made them seem so much more accessible and easier to identify with. The sleeve notes are among my favourite (along with Husker Du’s Warehouse Songs and Stories). Pull up a cushion.
Jesus & Mary Chain – Somethings Wrong (Psychocandy)
From hearing their 1st Peel session in late 1984 to seeing them in early 1986 the Mary Chain owned me. For a long time I thought this was the greatest song ever recorded.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Sad Waters (Your Funeral My Trial)
I bought this for someone and in the end couldn’t bear to give it away. Released as a double vinyl, it was so good it was a week before I played the second record. Still the highpoint of an incredible body of work.
Nick Drake – Time Has Told Me (Five Leaves Left)
A fellow TNPC writer loaned me the Heaven In A Wild Flower compilation c. 1988. I discovered that if I set my record player to 7” it would drop perfectly on this track. I would then play this on repeat for several hours at a time, and allow its meditational healing power to wash over me. Nick Drake has been a near constant companion ever since.
Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (Astral Weeks)
In the late 1980’s, Melody Maker in the UK issued a magazine called Pop! The Glory Years containing some of the finest music writing I’ve ever read. The piece on Van Morrison opens “Think about all the people you ever knew. Some of them are dead now, others have been lost in the slow unwinding of the years, gone mad, burned themselves out; others are out there, busy with their lives, happy with what thaey have become. It will have been a long time since you last saw these people you know and maybe loved, but listening to Astral Weeks will bring them back into your life.” That is about as close as anyone has ever got to summing up this masterpiece for me.
13th Floor Elevators – Slip Inside This House (Easter Everywhere)
An avid collector of Nuggets, Pebbles, etc. psych garage compilation, no amount of garage rock could prepare me for this. Sometimes I feel I’m on the verge of grasping its elusive meaning before just giving into the trance cooked up by Roky and Stacy.
Bobby Bland – I’m Not Ashamed (Two Steps From The Blues)
The re-release of Greil Marcus’ Mystery Train provided a treasure map to a world I barely knew existed. Soul music rarely gets deeper than this.
Galaxie 500 – Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste (Today)
The first track I heard by them (thanks John Peel). Turning an acapella Jonathan Richman track that barely lasts two minutes into a psychedelic epic is some kind of genius.
Debra Keese – Travelling (Build The Ark)
Digging deeper into the world of reggae in the mid to late 1990’s opened up whole new sonic vistas to me. Along with a series of incredible re-releases on the Blood and Fire label (Keith Hudson, The Congos, Yabby U, Horace Andy etc.) a local record shop (Fopp) had 3 Lee Perry triple vinyl box sets for £5.00 each. The Upsetter, Open The Gate and best of all Build the Ark. This is a song that never fails to take me into the mystic.
Six Organs Of Admittance – Eighth Cognition/All You’ve Left (School Of The Flower)
Aiming for Alice Coltrane but ending up somewhere else is no failure. A perfect gateway both to the earlier and later work of Ben Chasny, and also a multitude of other artists. (TT)
HERB ALPERT & THE TIJUANA BRASS – THIS GUY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU (1968)
I was brought up on a diet of Debussy, Stevie Wonder and bossa nova, stuff my mam listened to, so I had an ear for melody. And Burt is really the king of melody. Herb can’t sing on the other hand, but hey…
SWEET – LOVE IS LIKE OXYGEN (1978)
I mind hearing this on the radio, and feigning illness from school the next day in the hope that I might hear it on the radio once again. Lying on the couch, my mam hoovering the living room, and me, fingers on the ‘record’ button – having to tell her to stop when it finally came on. I can’t quite understand what it was that appealed. That multi-tracked vocal probably sounded like the future to me, even though Sweet by then were obviously a relic from the past.
JAPAN – GENTLEMEN TAKE POLAROIDS (1980)
The first band I thought of as ‘mine’. I took this home from the library and played it all summer (’81 I think). It was the perfect antidote to all that NWOBHM guff that all my school mates were listening to. They used to stand playing air guitar in a line and shaking their hair to their Saxon records, while I just stood aside entirely bemused. I remember being really upset finding out Japan had split, just as I had discovered them.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND – SUNDAY MORNING (1967)
Adam Ant selected this on some radio show in 1985. When I heard it I lost interest in going to the football. I started perfecting my forlorn indie kid look and buying the NME. Yes, I blame the Velvets. I immediately bought the banana album, which kind of shocked me by its abrasiveness, but there was no way back.
PERE UBU – NON-ALIGNMENT PACT (1978)
Well, it’s the most thrilling introduction to a song ever isn’t it? Then it’s a Martian singing outside some radioactive power plant, backed by the loudest garage band in town.
TIM BUCKLEY – LOVE FROM ROOM 109 AT THE ISLANDER (1969)
Well, who doesn’t like ocean sounds, a bit of improvisational jazz and Dionysus crooning over the top?
PUBLIC ENEMY – REBEL WITHOUT A PAUSE (1987)
I resisted hip hop for a while, but this was the turning point. Insanely radical, sharp intellects, precision programming and ‘that’ noise, whatever the hell it was. They made better records but this was the bomb.
AR KANE – BABY MILK SNATCHER (1988)
I missed all that C86 stuff because I was too busy buying all the cool LPs from the NMEs ’85 Top 100 list (as well as from the original Perfect Collection book) to notice what was going on, so I only really got to grips with new sounds around ’87 – no bad thing: the next few years produced an abundance of astonishing music on both sides of the Atlantic. Here’s a great track from a band that seems to have slipped from collective memory. This is the EP version.
LEONARD COHEN – FAMOUS BLUE RAINCOAT (1971)
I was asked the other day, if I preferred Dylan or Cohen. Not an easy question, but lyrically, Lenny was untouchable. The melody got me first, and the words still shake me to the core. A relationship song but not about ‘that’ relationship. Is he singing to his friend/’brother’ or to himself? A song for grown ups, as anti-pop as its possible to be.
FLAMINGOS – I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU (1959)
I think I heard this in 1992 or thereabouts. I think it’s the greatest production job I’ve ever heard. Take a bow George Goldner!
DJ PIERRE – MUZIK IS LIFE (Life Long Mix) (1992)
This alongside Derrick May’s remix of ‘Sueno Latino’ was the soundtrack to the early ’90s for me. You can say what you like but Chicago and Detroit were where it was at. A patient, building, hypnotic, disorientating, ecstatic noise.
JULIA HOLTER – MAXIM’S I (2013)
Loud City Song is proof that popular music is alive and well. There are still fearless pioneers out there, amongst them Kendrick Lamar, Daniel Rossen and Julia Holter, who writes like a mad poet and sings like a schizophrenic ghost. (JJ)