Wire’s 100 Records that set the world on fire while no one was listening. 11-20

Feel the fire and groan the moan, this is the passion based 10 series from the greatest list ever. I’m listening to Dr John as I write this and letting the music fill me up – is there anything like a groove that ‘works’?  That magical moment when you have exactly the right music for exactly the right mood. I’m getting better at picking my tunes these days – it’s not about being ‘up to date’ its about knowing yourself and knowing the musak and yearning for their many different combos in exactly the right way.

Music is more than a legal way to alter your consciousness. Its transformative. If you’re music isn’t changing you, reaching you, churning your insides, you’re too used to it, or you aren’t listening to a broad enough field. Like all art forms, its contribution is in its early stages, not after ten years on repeat. Just as if you watched a film fifty or sixty times, or read a book one hundred times, the music will stop speaking to you. Don’t be tempted to overplay and dominate the music.  Don’t be tempted to tame it into something you can comfortably keep in a cage. Most of all don’t be tempted to use it to take you back to something long-lost. If the music spoke to you then, thank it and love it from a distance. Its time to connect to something else – even if it from the same time period – just don’t disrespect it into submission.

The ten records on offer in this post can only be described as deeply groovy. They were all recorded between 1967 and 1970, so they are all about groove, but more than that, these are records that embody a time in the history of our world when music was profoundly alive. You can hear it in the tunes. From the sublime experiments of Sun Ra to the assault of freshness from Blue Cheer. This was a time of diversification, movement and passion.

And most of all… groovy.

Albert Ayler

Albert Ayler in Greenwhich Village

can you belive this is a live album? that means people were in the audience to hear this at the Village Vanguard that night. I have a soft spot for Greenwich village even if it is little more than a tourist attraction now. Its cafes are one of my favorite places in the world to write. This album is made in  1967 when pretty much anything that was going to happen in music happened. This is the year Aretha Franklin records Respect, Elvis marries Priscilla, The Doors perform live on The Ed Sullivan show and sing “girl we couldn’t get much higher” and are subsequently banned, Jimi Hendrix experience performs a two-hour special and the Saville theatre in London and St Peppers is released. It’s also the year Otis Redding dies in a plane crash.

This is Aylers first album with Impulse! records. At the urging of John Coltrane, Impulse! Records’ first recordings of Ayler were made live. A single track recorded at the Village Gate in 1965 was released on the album The New Wave in Jazz and the current album was recorded at the Village Vanguard and Village Theatre, New York City in 1966 and 1967. Unusually, Ayler plays alto rather than his usual tenor on the opening track, a tribute to Coltrane, who was present when the two tracks on side two of the album were recorded. The two versions of Ayler’s band heard on the record both feature two bass players, which “sharpens the sound considerably, producing a rock-solid foundation for Ayler’s raw witness”.

For my money the Coltrane tribute (above) is unbeatable, but really the entire record is sublime. Ayler played this at Coltranes’ funeral the next year. He died soon after, when they fished his body out of the East River in New York City in November 1970. As he himself explained: “I can’t be confined to an earthly plane even though I was, like, born here and everything.” Amen.

Bill Dixon

Intents and Purposes: The Jazz Artistry of Bill Dixon

What is there to say about music this fine? Bill Dixon was an outspoken critic of conservative jazz because he was sadly neglected for years. From the wiki:

“In the 1960’s Dixon established himself as a major force in the jazz avant-garde movement. In 1964, Dixon organized and produced the ‘October Revolution in Jazz’, four days of music and discussions at the Cellar Café in Manhattan. The participants included notable musicians Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra among others. It was the first free-jazz festival of its kind. Dixon later founded the Jazz Composers Guild, a cooperative organization that sought to create bargaining power with club owners and effect greater media visibility. He was relatively little recorded during this period, though he co-led some releases with Archie Shepp and appeared on Cecil Taylor’s Blue Note record Conquistador! in 1966.

He was Professor of Music at Bennington College, Vermont, from 1968 to 1995, where he founded the college’s Black Music Division. From 1970 to 1976 he played “in total isolation from the market places of this music”, as he puts it. Solo trumpet recordings from this period were later released by Cadence Jazz Records, and later collected on the self-released multi-CD set Odyssey along with other material.”

There is a sweltry impact here of the intervals of unequally spaced semitones. A lugubrious quality adds to the impact, moving this jazz trumpeters style far away from an upbeat swing based history. This is a soulful sound delicately held by the musician. Somehow, despite its depths, I never feel down when I listen to this stunning music. It’s as fresh today as it was back then. We need musicians who break open the boundaries of conditioned listening. Bill Dixon was one of the greatest.

Gottfried Michael Koenig

Terminus II (1966-67) / Funktion Grün (1967)

This may not appear to very “groovy” at first glance, but stay with it. I love this album, although I confess to often playing it as background (supportive) noise. The Wire describes its importance best:

In the rediscovery of Cologne’s first wave of Electronica, Gottfried Michael Koenig has still to resurface. Working with Stockhausen on the latter’s Kontakte, he moved on to Utrecht in the Netherlands, where Terminus II and Funktion Grun were realized. The pieces are systems music of sorts: all the sounds derive from an original tone and follow in the order in which they were mathematically processed. But besides the conceptual pursuits, Koenig was evidently drawn into exploring noise colour in great sculptural swathes, pustling ring modulation and its ability to swell tones into the realms of cyberdelia: strata of brittle, industrial sounds on rising and falling vectors and hollow blistering drizzle, like some turbulent data systems architecture. Funktion Grun evolves a spidery modem noise -but this was 1967.

Sun Ra

Strange Strings

OK!  So here we go. I adore this album.

Strange Strings is an album by the American Jazz musician Sun Ra and his Astro Infinity Arkestra. Recorded in 1966, the album was released by 1967  on Sun Ra’s own Saturn label. The record was reissued on compact disc by Atavistic in 2007. “Strange Strings” is one of those songs that is likely to inspire some sort of “you call that music?” comment from your grandmother, or even from open-minded friends. If it sounds like they raided the local pawnshop for anything with strings on it, then passed them out to the band members to you, you should know that’s exactly what they did. It’s difficult to tell if some of these instruments have been prepared in some way, or if they’re simply being played by deaf people. There are also lots of drums and some viola playing from Ronnie Boykins that is also treated heavily with reverb. Some of the instruments were untuned (as the band members weren’t sure how to tune them) but Sun Ra declared this music was going t be an exercise in ignorance, music at the point where knowledge gave way to spirit. Despite the cacophony, there is a definite ebb and flow to the piece and what seem like different movements or themes. Whatever you think of the music contained, there’s no denying that it produced some of the most remarkable sounds of the mid-’60s. If you’re looking for Avant Guard you wont find anything quite as out there as Sun Ra.

Blue Cheer

Vincebus Eruptum

According The Wire list, Blue Cheer is a particularly potant type of street acid – perfect for the band considered to have given birth to heavy metal. Vincebus Eruptum is the debut studio album by American rock band Blue Cheer. Released in January 1968, the album was the first to feature the band’s classic lineup of vocalist and bassist Dickie Peterson, guitarist Leigh Stephens and drummer Paul Whaley. A commercial and critical success, Vincebus Eruptum peaked at number 11 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and spawned the top-20 hit cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues”.

You can feel the start of music filth here. This is a group that played so hard and so loud they are supposed to have killed a dog during one of their rehearsals, simply because it was on the stage listening to them. Of the song I have posted above Dickie Peterson explained that “”when I wrote the song (in 1967), it was a glorification of drugs. I was going through a lot of “Should I take this drug or should I not take this drug? Blah, blah, blah.” There was a lot of soul searching at the time when I wrote that song, and I actually decided to take it. That’s what that song was about and that’s what I sang it about, sort of a drug anthem for me.”

This album is important for me. I have such a soft spot for it. I love the intro to metal that it provides. I was a metal ignoramus up until a year ago, though I would call myself a ‘yearning newbie’ now.  Albums like this one were perfect to ease me into the depths and darkness of metal and help me understand ‘what it was all about.’

Dr. John

Gris-Gris

Here it is, the original night tripper himself. It is tres un-chic to have come to Dr John late – although I feel that I get away with it because I came to all music late. The reason it is un-cool to discover him late is that he’s had a discovery explosion of late and everyone is claiming Dr John as their fav-our-ite. There is a reason for this. This is a brilliant album. It did sit in obscurity for more than 30 years, but this is partly due to the variety and unidentifiable quality of the album. We can comfortably call it psych / funk / drug – rock with the benefit of hindsight, but music this cool is always slippery.  Yes its drug fueled, but its mastery lies in the control, not in the hallucinatory effects.

Gris-Gris was released in 1968 on Atco Records, a sub-label of Atlantic Records. Atlantic executive Ahmet Ertegun was reluctant to release the record at first, exclaiming “How can we market this boogaloo crap?”. Gris-Gris failed to chart in the United States and United Kingdom.  Modern reception of the album has been very positive. Richie Unterberger of Allmusic gave the album five out of five stars, referring to it as “The most exploratory and psychedelic outing of Dr. John’s career”.  In 1999, Tom Moon of Rolling Stone gave the album a positive review, with a rating of four stars out of five.  In 2003, the album was ranked number 143 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

 

Pearls Before Swine

Balaklava

My least favorite of tonight’s offerings. The best thing about this album is that it is dark dark dark. The Wire claims it used bird song and sea spray before ambient made them naff – but I can’t quite get past it and think they have always been naff. I’m not great with folk anyway (a little too saccharine for me) but one of the best things about this album is that it was too dark for the poxy hippies. That I love! They also record Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne here, which shows great judgement, but I don’t love the version.   To give you reading material, I’ll quote directly from The Wire:

“The soundworld might be Tim Buckley’s Goodbye and Hello, the ‘lizzardd sound’ (sic) of West Coasters Kaleidoscope (and even the Brit psych-medievalists of the same name), but Tom Rapp’s Florida based outfit nailed together a more intoxicating, Carpenter’s Gothic version of folk psychedelia, in which the whispers of ancient voices created powerful crosscurrents. Like the archivist warlock Harry Smith, the Swine herd were clearly hypnotized by phonography’s ability to re-animate history’s dead voices: encrusted with popping shellac, we hear Trumpeter Landfrey, bugler at the original Charge of the Light Brigade (hence the title), and even the indistinct voice of an aging Florence Nightingale. Concrete features including canned birdsong and seaspray – before Ambient made them naff – and a taperewind of the entire LP, fold Rapp’s lyrical ballads into shuffling temporal layers. Despite being cloaked in sweet arrangements with strings, oboe and distantly swatting percussion, Rapp’s shadowed invocations of Herodotus, Santayana, the Orpheus myth and Blakean angels in response to Vietnam atrocities – America’s Crimea – proved too dark for flowered-up Aquarians.”

Spontaneous Music Ensemble

Karyobin

Of all the music on offer for your pleasure in this post, this is the record I play the most. I ADORE this album. I can’t get enough of it.  The consummate collective free improv album asked everything of the musicians and you can FEEL them responding to the challenge set by drummer John Stevens. It’s the spirit in this recording that drives me wild every time I hear it. In some strange way this is different to free jazz. The musicians are close and lacing with each other. Derek Baily’s guitar work is barely recognisable as the instrument is pressed into new spaces and responds with alacrity.  This totally juices me this album. There is so much pleasure in making the music that it pours overflowing into your heart and pumps adrenaline through the veins.

Major influence here are American free jazz (SME is a London-based group) and of all things Samuel Beckett. Perhaps that is why I love this so much. I can feel Beckett’s influence on this album – there is prose in them thar hills of sound.

The United States of America

The United States of America

Formed in 1967 by Joseph Byrd, the band membership consisted of Joseph Byrd (electronic music, electric harpsichord, organ, calliope,piano, and Durrett Electronic Music Synthesizer); Dorothy Moskowitz (lead vocals); Gordon Marron (electric violin, ring modulator); Rand Forbes (an early adopter of the fretless electric bass), and Craig Woodson (drums and percussion). Ed Bogas also performed on the record with occasional organ, piano, and calliope; he became a full member of the band on its first and only tour.

The United States Of America achieved a unique hybrid of psychedelia and electronica which giddily reworked vaudeville and downhome Americana, encircling its sources with vocalist Dorothy Moscowitz’s Iysergic melodic swoops and wildly oscillating synthesized tonebursts. The album was the only release by The United States of America when they were still together and received positive reviews on its release, charting at 181 on the Billboard 200. The album has been re-issued several times and continues to receive critical acclaim decades after its original release.

This is definitely  a get your groove on album. highly experimental in its tonal attributes, it’s a great listen and always makes me feel better no matter what mood I was in before. Definitely high on the funky list.

Camarón de la Isla

El Camarón de la Isla con la colaboración especial de Paco de Lucía

For someone who played Flamenco guitar for nine years, I know very little about it. However I did know about this incredible album. This turned a musical style on its head, coming back to a raw originality after it had been co opted by a flash materialism.  the wire says it best here:

“No one whose funeral was televised with thousands of people fainting over his coffin can really be described as neglected, but Camaron, the tormented duende of contemporary flamenco, is too little known outside Spain – and flamenco itself too little understood. Camaron helped restore the form’s rawness and authenticity after decades of operismo and Franco-inspired dumbing down, while his tousled, rebellious image appealed to the young. On the first of several collaborations with Paco De Lucia, the master technician and seminal innovator of modern flamenco, he tackles classic forms, from the belting buleria to the wasted intensity of the siguiriya. Camaron’s famously rasping voice, not yet ravaged by drugs or alcohol, still sounds pure, liquid, almost feminine, while De Lucia’s guitar has a mercurial lightness And however tender and lyrical, there’s an ever-present tension and attack. A truly exalted recording that opens up another world.”

And that’s it for the next ten pieces. For my first post about this list that changed the world while no one was listening, go here.

The next 10 records will be up within another month. Till then, check out the Creel Pone posts that I have added for some more on experimental music.

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