Friday, September 28, 2018

McQ's Best Of 1977 Vol 6 - All Roads Lead To Berlin

By the middle of 1976, David Bowie's cocaine addiction had gotten so bad he was a physical, emotional, financial, and mental wreck, and had begun to fear for both his life and sanity. He knew he had to get straight, fast, and to do so, he had to leave his home of the last few years, Los Angeles, or as he called it in the day, the "cocaine capitol of the world."

So he moved first to Switzerland, became fascinated with the classic fine arts and literature of the region, then at some point was joined by his great friend Iggy Pop, and the two gradually drifted to the Schonenberg district of Berlin, couch surfing at the home of Tangerine Dream's Edgar Froese for a while before ultimately sharing an apartment of their own nearby.

As Bowie tried to kick his habit, Froese introduced he and Pop to the many emerging krautrock and electronic acts of the Berlin scene - Kraftwerk, Can, Neu, Faust, Cluster - and Bowie and Iggy became obsessed with their sounds, as well as that of a British artist Bowie had just met the year before, electronic pop/ambient pioneer Brian Eno.

Bowie convinced Eno and producer Tony Visconti to join he and Pop in Berlin, and over the twelve months of 1977, the three artists would collaborate extensively and produce six albums, Bowie's Low and Heroes, Iggy's The Idiot and Lust For Life, and Eno's Before And After Science and his ambient collaboration with Cluster, simply titled Cluster & Eno, that along with Bowie's third collaboration with Eno in 1979, Lodger, would become the cornerstone albums of the famed Berlin era.

And while not all of these albums were recorded in Berlin (in truth only Low and The Idiot were complete Berlin productions, and Eno had started amassing a large number of the over two hundred songs  he considered for Science back in 1975), all three were inspired by the new sounds emerging from the German scene, and share a very consistent sonic DNA.

So here we go, the Bowie-Berlin era, containing at least four tracks from each of the big three, and to round the celebration out, additional 1977 cuts from the emerging electronic/experimental artists that were inspiring them at the time... Kraftwerk, Italy's Giorgio Moroder, France's Jean-Micael Jarre, Eno's old Roxy Music bandmate Bryan Ferry, and industrial music originalists Throbbing Gristle.

Yes sir.  It's time to skronk the f*** out!

About The Artists/Albums/Songs:

1. Slug Bait - Live at Southampton - Throbbing Gristle: England's Throbbing Gristle is the one act on this mix that had no stylistic, personal, or spiritual connection to the acts and scene of Berlin, but from the standpoint of groundbreaking experimentalism, these noise rock pioneers absolutely belong here.  Presenting harsh, jarring music devoid of any melodic or rhythmic convention, and amongst the most confrontational and offensive live bands of the era (rolling in soiled diapers and used tampons on stage was not beneath band leader Genisis P-Orridge), they appealed to virtually no one in their day, and their fanbase hasn't grown much since. Despite that, over the years, their 1977 debut The Second Annual Report Of Throbbing Gristle has come to be viewed as one of the seminal and most influential early releases, or maybe even the first true release, of the industrial genre.

2. Sound And Vision - David Bowie: When Low was first released in January of 1977, it was such a stylistic departure from the sound of Bowie's popular Thin White Duke-era albums that it threw a portion of his fans and critical supporters for a loop (as well as Bowie's label and manager at the time, who fearing a death blow to the continuation of the big money paydays they'd enjoyed from Young Americans and Station To Station, sought to block Low's release). And while it did receive some laudatory reviews upon its release, many others did indeed hate it on first listen, reacting with revulsion to its turbulent, fragmentary, over-in-a-blink avant-pop first side, and the dark, slow, lumbering instrumental passages that informed side two. I still remember even a year later, when I picked up my first edition of the Rolling Stone record guide in 1978, that Low and Heroes were still regarded as mediocre efforts, both bequeathed just a measely three stars out of five rating.  But based on the success of this side one single, Low gradually took hold in England, and began to win fans over, finishing as the second top-selling album of the year in the UK, and from there, the album's reputation has only grown to the venerated landmark status it holds today.

3. The Passenger - Iggy Pop: Lust For Life, Iggy's second release of 1977, was recorded with Bowie in just eight days after finishing their tour of The Idiot, and truth be told, they were ready to take a breather from electronic sounds. The result was something far more scruffy and immediate than the other albums of this period, not to mention the best album of Iggy's solo career. Still, while there's less of a Bowie feel to Lust For Life than The Idiot, his presence is still strong, even lyrically on this song, as Iggy (who still didn't have a driver's license) reflects upon the countless hours being driven around North America and Europe sitting shotgun in Bowie's car.

4. No One Receiving - Brian Eno: Coming off the adulatory (and completely deserved) critical praise to his 1975 album Another Green World, Eno wanted to make sure his fifth album Before And After Science felt different, and so, after laying down the tunes with an assortment of British and German musicians, including members of Can, Genesis, Fairport Convention, and King Crimson he adopted the Low/Heroes sequencing strategy, placing all his livelier art-pop tracks (Backwater, King's Lead Hat, album opener No One Receiving here) on side one, and all the prettier, bucolic tracks on side two.  It was a strategy that worked, as Science is now considered nearly the equal of Eno's other three 70s pop albums, but it would be his last pop effort of the decade as his attention shifted towards ambient recordings and producing/playing with Bowie and the Talking Heads.

5. Trans Europe Express - Kraftwerk: This song is the title track to Kraftwerk's sixth release, an album now viewed, like several others represented on this mix, as one of the most important in electronic music history, and the record that completed Kraftwerk's transition from their start as instrumental Krautrock improvisers into the visionary minimalist electronic sequencers they are regarded as today. In keeping with the collaborative history of so many songs on this mix, David Bowie and Iggy Pop played a roll here, listening to the album with the band as it neared completion and offering lyrical suggestions.

6. Black Out - David Bowie: Black Out, though not among the best known of Bowie's songs, might be the skronkiest cut of this entire skronky era, and has always been a Heroes standout.

7. Sister Midnight - Iggy Pop: My favorite and the best known track from Iggy's first 1977 release The Idiot

8. By This River - Brian Eno: This lovely track from side two of Before And After Science was actually a collaboration with German act Cluster, whom Eno had released an album of ambient tracks with earlier in 1977 that we'll be profiling later in this mix.

9. Oxygene, Pt. 4 - Jean-Michel Jarre: While Oxygene was French composer Jarre's third album, many consider it his first, as it was his first release not intended as a soundtrack.  Mostly recorded in a home studio, he was probably the first musician worldwide to make public his concerns about global warming, and this album, conceived around such environmental themes, would go on to become a huge success in France and the UK, and is now another record on this mix considered to be one of the most influential electronic album's of all-time, setting a template for the use of analog synth blips and bleeps that endures to this present day. 

10. First Hand Experience In Second Hand Love - Giorgio Moroder: Though Moroder and the album from which this song came, From Here To Eternity, are most often associated with Disco (and we'll hear more from him when we get to our Disco mixes), it's clear on tracks like First Hand Experience, with its New Orderish vibe, that Moroder was as ahead of his time and clear on the directions electronic music would take as any of the key Krautrock bands.

11. This Is Tomorrow - Bryan Ferry: This Is Tomorrow, a minor hit for Ferry, was the lead single from Ferry's fourth solo album In Your Mind, his first solo effort comprised entirely of original material.  

12. Be My Wife - David Bowie: Here's one of those speed-rush deep cuts from side one of Low. It was a tough call choosing between this track and Always Crashing In The Same Car for the final Low representative, but Be My Wife's higher energy punch won out.

13. Wehrmut - Cluster & Brian Eno: Cluster & Eno was the first of many collaborations between Eno and the longstanding German ambient act, and it was met with solid reviews at the time of its release. In particular, listeners loved how the artists punched up these sonic beds with just enough detail and melody so that while the tracks still functioned perfectly well as background music, the were tracks of background music you were compelled to actively process.  The evocative, oh-so-gentle Wehrmut has always been my favorite from the album. 

14. China Girl - Iggy Pop: The original recorded version of the David Bowie song that Bowie himself would slick up and imho improve upon on his 1983 release Modern Love, I toyed with giving this slot to The Idiot's equally cool tracks Dum Dum Boys or Nightclubbing instead, but ultimately decided on a mix with so many lesser known experimental tracks, the song more people would already be familiar with was the way to go.

15. Warszawa - David Bowie: Warszawa, the most highly regarded of Low's instrumental tracks, and the only instrumental track included on this mix from either Low or Heroes (sorry V-2 Schneider and Moss Garden), was really 90% Brain Eno's work, with most of its themes composed and recorded while Bowie was off in Paris attending court hearings against his former manager.

16. Here He Comes - Brian Eno: It's been written of Eno's lyrics that he often employs "a sound over sense" approach, and this charming song from Before And After Science, about a boy who dreams of floating up into the sky and transporting himself into a different time, is a textbook example.

17. Success - Iggy Pop: Surprisingly, given the enduring popularity of its title track and The Passenger today, Success was Lust For Life the album's only single. But it takes just one listen this awesome throwaway to understand the choice. Success is as fun as any solo track of Iggy's solo career.

18. The Secret Life Of Arabia - David Bowie: The Secret Life Of Arabia has to be one of the weirdest, goofiest songs of David Bowie's career, and when you're talking about David Bowie, that's saying something. But this Heroes closer has always been amongst my all-time favorite Bowie deep cuts. There's just some inescapable je nais c'est quoi factor to it that I've can't shake, and I've known for years now that when I finally got around to making this Berlin-era mix, it would be concluding Bowie chapter.

19. Maggot Death - Live At Southhampton - Throbbing Gristle: One more very brief, creepy excerpt from The Second Annual Report Of Throbbing Gristle to wind things down.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

McQ's Best Of 2017 Vol 5 - The Mostly Usual Suspects

Continuing where we left off with Vol 3 - The Usual Suspects, this mix takes a look at those veteran indie acts with an 80's New Wave or electronic angle that returned to deliver the goods once again in 2017, plus a couple of unexpected newcomers.

Including selects from 5 of my personal top 15 albums of 2017 (LCD Soundsystem's American Dream, St. Vincent's Masseduction, Wolf Parade's Cry Cry Cry, The Xx's I See You, and The Horror's V), this is my favorite of the 2017 themed mixes after Vol 2 - Hush.

About the Artists/Songs:

1. tonite - LCD Soundsystem: This year's grammy winner for Best Dance Recording (the first for the band after five nominations) kicks things off for us here as another highlight from LCD's American Dream.

2. Say Something Loving - The Xx: Another prime example of the more yearning romanticism and astounding Jamie Smith production work prevalent on the The Xx's third LP, I See You.

3. You're Dreaming - Wolf Parade: One reason it was so exciting to see Wolf Parade come back so strong in 2017 with Cry Cry Cry is that when he wants to, nobody whips up an awesome Car's knock off better than band co-leader (and also Handsome Furs / Divine Fits member) Dan Boeckner.

4. Los Ageless - St. Vincent: We all know someone, or maybe we were that person ourselves, who reaches a point where their lifelong hometown is no longer working for them and they just have to move. Following the collapse of her relationship with actress/model Cara Delevigne, St. Vincent's Annie Clark found herself in a similar position and left New York for Los Angeles.  While most of Masseduction's songs hint at the New York-based pain and conflicts that fueled her need to leave, this track here cast some doubt upon her choice for relocation, as it skewers LA high society's shallow, plastic surgery-obsessed culture, though not without a trace of empathy.  As St. Vincent puts it in possibly the best catchphrase of 2017 regarding those aging men and women who spent their youth empowered by exceptional beauty, "How can anybody have you.../How can anybody have you and lose you.../How can anybody have you and lose you and not lose their minds, too!"

5. Punk Drunk & Trembling - Wild Beasts: Sadly, this wonderful, sexy British new wave act that was so productive and consistently great from the late Aughts to the middle portion of this decade have called it quits, but not before dropping one last small EP of Boy King outtakes that included this fantastic track here.

6. Impossible Objects Of Desire (Radio Edit) - Fujiya & Miyagi: I mentioned five albums in the intro to this mix that will all make my top 15 for 2017, but nipping right at their heels was the enjoyable eponymous sixth release from these Bristol, England Krautrock vets. Known for their clever, repetitive wordplay and irresistibly funky motorik grooves, we haven't included them in our mix collections since 2007 (a fact the band unintentionally and self-deprecatingly alludes to in another of this record's best tracks, Extended Dance Mix), so it was great to see them step forward in 2017 with such a strong, entertaining return to form.

7. Nemoralia - Ulver: One of the most unexpected album releases of 2017 had to be veteran Norwegian Black Metal outfit Ulver's sudden heartfelt embrace of dark, Depeche Mode-flavored synth pop, The Assassination of Julius Caeser. Nemoralia, the opener we're profiling here, is just one of several excellent tracks on the album.  I also suggest checking out Rolling Stone and Southern Gothic.

8. The Punishment Of Luxury - Orchestral Manoeuvers In The Dark: Here's the winning title track from the New Wave legends latest.

9. change yr mind - LCD Soundsystem: When LCD Soundsystem decided to reunite, one of the biggest issues they would face would be the negative fallout from those who had attended their heavily promoted, Last Waltz-scaled final performance at Madison Square Garden prior to the initial breakup. Here, James Murphy confronts that backlash from angry fans who had a magic moment in their life diminished by the band's return to the stage, empathizing with them, but in the end reaching the conclusion, that just as with women, it's a band's prerogative to change its mind.

10. R.S.I. - Fujiya & Miyagi: Given their self-knowing sense of humor and commitment to unrelenting, locked-in grooves, it seems in retrospect inevitable that Fijuya & Miyagi would come up with a song dedicated to Repetitive Stress Injuries, and then also thwart that inevitability by promoting the theme around a instrumental bed that becomes, by its end, one of the most musically chaotic, off-the-rails songs of their career.

11. Happy Birthday, Johnny - St. Vincent: Johnny has been a recurring character throughout St. Vincent's albums, a maybe fictional, maybe not charismatic soulmate of daring and dashing character. But in keeping with the emphasis on themes of loss and disappointment that courses throughout the rest of Masseduction, this achingly beautiful ballad finds Johnny fallen upon desperate times, his once appealing reckless, unconventional ways now cement ankle blocks dragging his him straight down to skid row, a development for which the now estranged St. Vincent feels partly responsible.

12. Tinseltown Swimming In Blood - Destroyer: Sadly, though it has its moments, Destroyer's  eleventh release ken was the Dan Bejar-led band's least essential work in a long time, but I loved the classic New Order feel to this bass line of this song here.

13. Shadows - Future Islands: Man, the first time I heard this collaboration with Debbie Harry from The Far Field, Future Island's solid but less spectacular 2017 follow-up to their unstoppable 2014 breakout album Singles, I was thrown.  Harry's voice sounded so aged, so feeble, so nicotine-scarred. But on repeat listens, between the cracks in her voice, a sense of an indomitable survivor's strength began to emerge, and I came to love this song for exactly that reason and the way Harry blends with Samuel T. Herring's explosive croon. 

14. Candy May - Alex Cameron: Alex Cameron is a young, up-and-coming Aussie songwriter (he co-wrote five songs on the Killer's latest Wonderful Wonderful) and electronic musician, usually partnered with saxophonist Roy Molloy, who, like PJ Harvey, Bowie, and others through the years, tends to adopt high concept fictional personas (most commonly a failed lounge singer) that then define the direction of his work. For his second album, 2017's Forced Witness, he shed the personas and went for direct, full-on John Hughes-ish new wave romanticism, as evidenced by Candy May here.

15. Am I An Alien Here - Wolf Parade: Here's another one from Cry Cry Cry. One of my favorite things about the album is all the weird instrumental flourishes the band finds to adorn these songs. On this Spencer Krug song, it's that cool, sheeny rhythm guitar that gets me, especially when it kicks in on the bridge around the 2:05 mark.

16. emotional haircut - LCD Soundsystem: This Movement-styled blazer from American Dream received an assist from two seventies icons The first is obvious, Harry Nilsson, whose Jump Into The Fire (used so prominently in Goodfellas) is openly plagiarized at the song's end. The second assist is less obvious. It came from David Bowie, who recommended the specific guitar model (a Supro Dual Tone) the band uses here to get such a distinct skronky feel.

17. New York - St. Vincent: Another moving ballad from Masseduction, this song finds the usually eccentric artist in a way more direct and sentimental frame of mind as she reflects on New York friends and scenes lost, to soul-stirring effect. 

18. Something To Remember Me By - The Horrors: Had Nancy wrapped up her selects for her 2017 mix (still to come!) before I started posting last month, this track, the best song on The Horrors finest album to date, the simply titled V, would have replaced Valerie June's Got Soul as the closer to my Vol 1 - Best Of The Best instead of landing here.

Monday, September 24, 2018

McQ;s Best Of 1977 Vol 5 - Kingston Greetings

1977 was such a huge year for reggae, an amazing 11 of its all-time top 60 most critically acclaimed albums (at least as presently rated on aggregator came out within the year's January 1 to December 31 span.

That said, listening to this mix, it's hard to ignore what a powerful impact poverty had on the Jamaican music scene at the time, not just in terms how it informed everything about the music's politics, but also in how significantly it limited these artists ability to get the best possible versions of their songs down on vinyl.

Once you get past the work here of The Wailer's, Peter Tosh, and US-based artist Garland Jeffreys, most of these songs sound like they were recorded a decade earlier than their actual release on the most rudimentary of four-track technology, and my guess is in many cases, with regard to the technology, that was probably true.

But dated recording issues aside, this is an awesome collection of tunes that captures a golden moment when Jamaican reggae and dub was thriving and had suddenly endeared itself to music lovers all around the world, especially the punks coming into their own in the UK.

About The Artists/Songs:

1. Jamming - Bob Marley & The Wailers: Exodus is so damn loaded, it's practically a greatest hits collection unto itself, so it seemed fitting to kick off this mix with its best known track.

2. Two Sevens Clash - Culture: The title track to roots reggae Culture's stunning debut was a huge hit in Jamaica, and had an Orson Welles' War Of The Worlds-like impact on the island, as its lyrics, which popularized the Marcus Garvey prediction that the apocalypse was officially scheduled for July 7, 1977, inspired a significant portion of the island's population to stay home from work and/or shut down their businesses on that day when it finally arrived.

3. Downpressor Man - Peter Tosh: The first of three songs we'll be profiling here from Equal Rights, Tosh's second solo album after leaving the Wailers, Downpressor Man was a reworking of Nina Simone's 1965 song Sinnerman, a song that many in Jamaica, including the Wailers, had re-recorded prior to this version here.

4. The Sun - Burning Spear: Winston Rodney's 1977 Burning Spear release Dry & Heavy,  while not the finest effort from this ridiculously fertile period in his storied career, is still considered a minor classic. And coming from the most fervently committed artist to Rastafarian ideals of all of Jamaica's major 1970s players , The Sun captures him at his fiery best.

5. I May Not Be Your Kind - Garland Jeffreys: The lone American on this mix, Jeffreys was a Bronx-born New Yorker who actually spent a portion of his formative years working/hanging with the likes of the Velvet Underground's Lou Reed and John Cale before embarking on a solo career in 1973. But by 1977, he had evolved into a broadly eclectic songwriter who could switch with ease from reggae to soul to down and dirty bar rock at the drop of a hat, and emerged with the best album of his long career, Ghost Writer, which like this song from it here, focused on his difficulties growing up as a person of multi-racial heritage.

6. Children Crying - The Congos: There are many who consider The Congo's 1977 roots-reggae debut, Heart Of The Congos to be the finest production effort of Lee "Scratch" Perry career. He took everything on for the band, adding a third band member, and bringing in the Heptones and other reggae superstars to produce a dense, rich vocal blend. But because Perry was also involved in a contract dispute with his previous label Island Records at the time, he was forced to release this album on his own tiny Black Ark label, printing just a few hundred copies on initial release, and wasn't able to land international distribution for years (in fact the full, original mix version of the album wasn't given a proper worldwide release until 2017), causing a huge rift with the band that took years to repair.  Went with my personal fav Children Crying over the album's most reknown song Fisherman here.

7. Do You Love My Music - Horace Andy: Today, Horace Andy might be best known as the reggae singer who prominently lended his vocal talents to all five Massive Attack albums, but he was a mainstay on the Jamaican scene throughout the 70s until moving to Connecticut with his first wife in 1977, where he recorded his fourth full-length In The Light from which we pulled this song here.

8. I Am Still In Love - Alton Ellis: Rocksteady pioneer Alton Ellis, who had already been recording for over a decade by 1977, was an elder statesman on Jamaica's music scene by the time he released this lovely single in 1977, but it's one of my absolute favorites from the year.

9. Equal Rights - Peter Tosh: The title track and one original we are featuring from 1977's Equal Rights, this track would go on to become the second most popular song of Tosh's solo career.

10. Waiting In Vain - Bob Marley & The Wailers: One of the most surprising things about Exodus is though it was the first album Marley recorded after an assassination was attempted on his life, it's amongst the least angry, least political, and most laid back albums of his career, focused to a far greater extent on fostering a positive sense of community and the healing powers of love and sex. Pretty obvious which of those two themes he's focused on here.

11. Born For A Purpose / Reason For Living - Dr. Alimantado: Primarily a singles artist at this point in his career, Alimantado (aka Winston James Thompson) was kinda the reggae equivalent of Daft Punk in 1977, a producer/composer who would write great songs, and then build them around the best vocal talent the island had to offer.  It would be another year before he became know outside of Jamaica, but when he finally did, in no small part due to the 1978 success of this single in the UK, he became one of the Punk scene's most revered reggae artists.

12. Chant To King Selassie I - Augustus Pablo: Augustus Pablo (the performing name for producer and session player Horace Swaby) was one of the most important early pioneers in the development of dub, and is also know for popularizing the use of the melodica in Jamaican music. This song, like most of his work, is purely instrumental, and comes for his 1977 album East Of The Nile River, the follow up to his definite 1976 work King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown.

13. Wolf & Leopards - Dennis Brown: Half of a cheat here, as most of the songs on Wolf & Leopards the album had been released as singles in the years immediately prior. But rather than just collect the existing singles into a greatest hits compilation, they were instead re-recorded in updated form, and it is this rerecorded version of the song Wolf & Leopards (which condemns those island thugs who were adopting Rastifari mannerisms purely as a cover for their criminal activities) that became the definitive version most hear today.

14. Pirate Days - Culture: One more track I couldn't leave off from Culture's Two Sevens Clash.

15. Uptown Top Ranking - Althea And Donna: Despite the abundance of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Culture tracks on this mix, it is this joyous track here from these one-hit wonders that is now considered by critics the best reggae song of 1977. Recorded when the female vocal duo were only 17 & 18, it caught fire in Europe, and ended up as the #1 song of the year in Britain in 1978.

16. Police & Thieves - Junior Murvin: This, the original version of the song, was the biggest hit of Murvin's career, popularized even further by The Clash, and is taken from the Lee "Scratch" Perry-produced album of the same name.

17. Stepping Razor - Peter Tosh: Another cover from Tosh's Equal Rights, this time it's reggae hero Joe Higgs, considered by many the first true reggae artist (and a man who was also an important mentor for Tosh/Bob Marley early in their careers) who gets his work reinterpreted in such fine fashion here.

18. So Much Things To Say - Bob Marley & The Wailers: Had a tough time picking this song over Exodus's title track for the final Marley inclusion, especially since the song's ending is a little wonky and makes for a hard transition into any other track, but I just liked this song too much to leave off, clunky edit into The Heptones and all.

19. I Shall Be Released - The Heptones: Guilt over not including the title track to The Heptones' 1977 classic Party Time, but this cover of Dylan's I Shall Be Released that also appears on the album is just so good, I knew this had to be the closer for this mix.