The 100 Most Important Records Ever Made
To mark our milestone we've chosen the most significant records made in the 20th Century - in a chart which sets down all the finest most marvellous and most great moments on record as they happened.
This HUNDRED was compiled from the suggestions of Brian Priestley, Brian Morton, Max Harrison, David Toop, Greil Marcus, Paul Gilroy, Jon Savage, Simon Reynolds, Mike Fish, Steve Lake, Nick Coleman, John Fordham, Franics Davis, Ben Watson, Kenny Mathieson, Biba Kopf, Hopey Glass, Ben Thompson, Laura Connelly, Mike Atherton, Stuart Nicholson, Andy Hamilton, Louise Gray, Richard Scott, Barry Witherden, Rob Yates, Cat Bass, Richard Boon, Tony Herrington, Kodwo Eshun, Chris Parker, Jonathan Romney, Philip Watson, David Ilic, Jack Cooke, Mark Sinker and Richard Cook.
On The Halls (World Record Club)
The real start of British pop on record. The music halls were still packed at the beginning of the century, and we're lucky that the gramophone caught many of the major performers before cinema and "variety" killed the form. Some of those here - Billie Barlow, George Lashwood, Marie Lloyd - suggest the last century rather than this one, but Billy Williams and Beth Tate look forward to a time of modern light entertainers. Some of them go further than merely reproducing their stage acts, ad-libbing before the recording horn and having fun with a new-fangled medium, and as dusty and puffing as many of the records are, many dating from the turn of the century, you can hear why the singing of popular songs has thrilled people to this day.
Complete Works conducted Pierre Boulez (Sony Classical) Recorded in 1978 for CBS, Sony have made these classic performances available as a CD three-disk set: everything Webern ever composed conducted by Pierre Boulez with his usual attention to rhythmic detail. Along with Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, Webern (1883-1945) changed the face of 20th Century music. Dubbed Second Viennese School (in contrast to the First Viennese School - Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven) they took western music's flirtation with chromaticism - breaking the tonal rules - to a qualitative break: atonality. Paradoxically, by their attention to timbre, Webern's sparse distillations became the blueprint for 20th Century classical music's interrogation of noise.
THE DINWIDDIE COLORED QUARTET
Early Negro Vocal Quartets Vol 1 (Document)
Most black or black-influenced instrumental music recorded before 1922 is stiff and unswinging, not the words for this first-ever reproduction of black vocal sounds. They fall somewhere between Gospel, which came together two decades later, and what we know of 19th-century Minstrel Shows. The revolutionary development, in fact, is the mingling of sacred and secular. "Camp Ground" looks forward to Louis Jordan with lyrics like "I thought I heard that chicken sneeze", "Gabriel's Trumpet" to Ray Charles with "Who's that younder dressed in red?". Their remaining LP'd track, the 6/8 "Bye-And-Bye", has the acappella group singing responses to a remarkably bluesy solo voice.
1910-1913, recorded 1978
The Firebird/Petrushka/The Rite Of Spring (CBS, Pierre Boulez)
Stravinsky's three ballets are 20th Century landmarks which were idealy suited to the gramophone. Maybe no on-record performance can equal the impact of a barbarically intense "live" reading of The Rite Of Spring, but Stravinsky's inner detail - perhaps best heard in the extraordinary layers of Petrushka - might almost have been conceived to be created on stereo records, and in Boulez's personalized but brilliantly sharp readings all the pinpoint shocks and incandescences of the music come blazing out.
Bartók At The Piano 1920-45 (Hungaroton)
There is no reasonable explanation as to how besides being among the century's greatest composers Bartók found time to do a huge amount of ethnomusological research, much teaching, conduct a voluminious international correspondence, and be widely active as a pianist of unforgettable originality. In 1981, his centenary year, Hungaroton issued modern recordings of his entire compositional output plus this eight-LP collection of his own performances. Mostly Bartók is alone and playing his own works, but there are teamings with his wife, with Szigeti, and with several singers. No more profoundly musical playing than his will be found, anywhere.
The World's Greatest Blues Singer/Any Woman's Blues/Empty Bed Blues/The Empress/Nobody's Blues But Mine (CBS) Bessie Smith (1895-1937) recorded 180 songs for Columbia between 1923 and 1933. Due to her "classic" status they are all still in the shops. She was immensely popular and was supplied with the best in studio technology and the best in accompanist (Fletcher Henderson, James P Johnson): the tracks still sound strong and clear. This is the blues as catharsis, draggy, weighted, the most harrowing voice of all. That this utterly exhausting emotionalism was a mass music speaks eloquently of the Black experience in America.
JELLY ROLL MORTON
The Jelly Roll Morton Centennial: His Complete Victor Recordings (Bluebird - 5CDs)
Maybe what the original Kid Creole (Broadway's newest star and the latest entrant into George C. Wolfe's coloured museum) actually meant to say was that he invented jazz composition. At the very least, he was the first to demonstrate that a performance didn't have to be a tango, a rag, a stomp, or an improvisation on the blues - it could be a combination of those things, or all of them simultaneously. Vis-a-vis Armstrong, he also initiated the pattern whereby a period of consolidation would follow one of innovation: not that such theorizing counts for much in the face of such ecstatic music. The sound on the Bluebird set is supposed to be inferior to other reissues, though it sounds OK to me. What matters is that it's complete, and this is one instance in which you need everything, especially "Wolverine Blues" with the Dodds brothers and also the barnyard vaudevilles, that day's versions of funky worms and cosmic dogs.
Hot Five & Hot Seven (Columbia) Louis Armstrong was not the first great player in jazz, but he was the first to elevate the soloist's art to a position of primacy, and he did so through the medium of the 78 rpm sides he cut for Okeh with his Hot Five and Hot Seven units. This was a genuine case of records creating history, since the band was almost exclusively a studio creation. The ensemble is often a little ragged and the recorded sound is of its time, but Armstrong continually cuts through with a crystalline brilliance he was never to recapture. If the tragic grandeur of his playing on "West End Blues" is the pinnacle, it is all but matched on a dozen others. Music could never be the same again.
Founder of the Delta Blues
A mean, hard-hearted mean, Patton's blues inscribed all the experiences of a Mississippi man into the rough and sometimes barely audible sounds he made for Paramount. He was one of the oldest of the major bluesmen - born in 1887, he bridges the gap between the blues and songster generations - and he sounds like a gruff, irritable figure, a self-taught musician but someone who knows he's damn good, even if he has his own manners. Blues didn't start with Patton, but he personified its expressionism - in the heat and flood of "Mississippi Bo Weavil Blues" and "High Water Everywhere" - and lived out its tissue of "saints and sinners" with an intensity which still strikes through these ancient records.
BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON
Praise God I'm Satisfied (Yazoo)
Texan Blind Willie (circa 1900 to circa 1950) sang gospel standards and his own religious songs in a floor-rattling growl. A moralizing preacher of the fire-and-brimstone school, in "God Moves On The Water", a piece as dark as a Nick Cave tale, he takes a malevolent glee in the sinking of the Titanic. But it's his guitar-playing that spellbinds. Using a pocket-knife as a slide he executes dazzling melodic leaps. The pičce-de-resistance is the spine-chillingly atmospheric "Dark Was The Night - Cold Was The Ground". Sonny Sharrock heard this and wrote "Blind Willie", later Last Exit's theme song. Ry Cooder used "Dark Was The Night" as the basis of the Paris Texas soundtrack.
Really! The Country Blues (Original Jazz Library) Issued in the early or mid-60s in Berkeley, California, this extraordinarily high-quality bootleg - Tommy Johnson, "Maggie Campbell Blues" (1928), William Moore, "Old Country Rock" (1928), Garfield Akers, "Cottonfield Blues Pts 1&2" (1929), Son House, "My Black Mama Pts 1&2" (1930), Skip James, "Devil Got My Woman" (1931), etc. - is now almost as much of a relic as the then unspeakably rare, and otherwise unhearable sounds it presented to the public. That is, it is a relic of white people who set out to discover an America created decades earlier by small groups of black people - set out to discover a real America, free of shame and lies, a place of passion, danger, and splendour, and found it. Today, of course, no right-thinking multiculturalist believes there ever was such a place.
Enthusiasm: Symphony of the Donhas (film with soundtrack) Vertov's Soviet montage classic is one of the world's finest industrial recordings. Celebrating the Don Basin coal-miners, it accelerated the invention of the portable equipment necessary for the location recordings he would construct into a symphonic alter-narrative to the newsreel footage. A true hero of noise, here's Vertov at its London premiere raising the volume at the climaxes "to an earsplitting level and finished the performance fighting for possession of the instrument of control, while the building seemed to tremble with the flood of noise coming from behind the screen."
The Complete Recordings (Columbia) If we didn't have these scratchy etchings it would have been necessary for someone to fake them. This is how the blues sound in the root of every imagination. Johnson was of an age with several still-surviving bluesmen - but his work, preserved from a moment in time in an anyway short life, supersedes all the journeymen traces the bulk of the recorded blues is every now and then heir to. The sessions had always carried with them the whiff of legend - when this set, augmenting the original releases ever so slightly, came out, it outsold every other record in America that same week. Johnson's guitar is as polyphonic as the wheels of a train, his voice as elemental as the wind; they pass the listener at an unbiddable distance and leave only the faintest trace, like steam on a window. This music is all about impermanency, which is possibly one reason why Johnson looks like a jaunty black tulip on the cover.
BILLIE HOLIDAY WITH THE TEDDY WILSON ORCHESTRA
The Complete (Affinity, or Columbia)
These classic recordings, from Billie's earliest and finest period, were made cheaply, using "head" arrangements, for the juke-box market. They remain, after nearly 60 years, the standard by which jazz singing is judged. "I'll Never Be The Same" from 1937 is one of the best of these finest. Lester Young - the Pres - introduces the song at a relaxed slow-medium tempo, then unusually there's a long and superb solo lasting a full chorus from Wilson on piano. That leaves just one full chorus for Lady Day, but how much is packed into those 32 bars. The first line is so behind the beat, it comes out "I'll never be the same"; the emphasis is different each time the line is repeated. Lester's obligato weaves in and out seamlessly. "There is such an ache in my heart"; Lester's line sighs in agreement. A perfect marriage of feeling and art.
The Original American Decca Recordings (MCA) After nearly ten years in the Midwest, former stride pianist William Basie came roaring out into the wide world with a group of free-thinking individuals such as Buck Clayton, Jo Jones, Herschel Evans and, above all perhaps, Lester Young. Originally a nine-piece made up to 13 for the big-time, it retained the collective input of a small unit. The brilliance of the solos was anchored in ensemble work that - more than other 1930s bands - defined the blues-based dance-music of the day, while the light-fingered rhythm-section loosened everyone's approach and laid the groundwork for bebop.
The Great 16 (RCA)
This summit of Dixieland/Chicagoan/Traditional jazz music helped to start the "revival" of the music in 1939: yet when Muggsy Spanier took his band to New York, after a run of success in Chicago, work was so thin that he had to split it up. Their records have been called "The Great 16" almost ever since. Most of the material was old (even then) stuff like "Livery Stable Blues" and "Big Butter And Egg Man", and Spanier had already been playing it for years. But it was maybe the first neo-classic jazz initiative, handled by experts, instilling a sense of tradition, and played with superb economy and craftsmanship. "Someday Sweetheart", for instance, is so definitive an interpretation that it defies handling by anyone else.
Body And Soul (Bluebird)
Thelonious Monk said it sooner than most people: he couldn't understand how a record that was so musical, and so advanced for its time, could also be a jukebox hit (even for black audiences). Yet Hawkin's 1939 single - reclaiming his New York turf after a five-year stay in Europe - was such a popular triumph that he had to re-create it every night of his life. What was advanced was the freedom of the timing and the chromatic improvisation which completely displaced the "tune". What got through to non-musicians was Hawk's soulful authority in building gradually to an unstoppable climax.
The Blanton-Webster years (RCA)
Several factors combine make these recordings great, not least the 78rpm format which restricted playing time to around three minutes. A lot happens in a very short time span. Often there are several themes in one arrangement and remarkably, in view of the limited time, there are transitional and developmental passages as well. Then there's the unique tonal quality of Ellington's orchestra, setting it apart from any ensemble in jazz. Ultimately, though, these recordings are neither landmarks of jazz improvisation or the Big Band dance music popular at the time they were recorded. Simply because neither categories seem adequate to embrace one of the finest bodies of music created this century.
The Savoy Sessions (Savoy)
The sides Parker cut for Savoy Records in the pre-LP era capture the saxophonist in the crucial phase of his development, moving rapidly from the tentative first session with Tiny Grimes to the breathtaking fervour of "Ko Ko" in the second a year later. From that base, he launched out on five more sessions which captured the incandescent glory of Bebop in all its fiery freshness and exuberant harmonic daring, and if the time limitations of the 78 rpm record prevented lengthy experimentation, it focused minds all the more sharply on the business in hand. The music - much of it playing tap-team with friend and co-conspirator Dizzy Gillespie - still burns from the speakers even now, and is the most consistently achieved encapsulation of Parker's revolutionary art left to us.
Genius Of Modern Music Vol 1 and 2 (Blue Note)
These early realizations of the pianist's compositions cut between 1947 and 1952, are perfectly structured, infinitely repeatable little gems. Despite such perfection, history went on to show that far from being the final shapes the pieces would take, these were only possible versions of composition to which not only Monk, but Steve Lacy and a legion of contemporary instrumentalists and composers inside and outside jazz, would again and again return. These sides barely sound dated today; only Monk's many neo-classicist mis-interpreters, both sides of the Atlantic, make him sound like an old composer.
Four Brothers (Columbia) "Four Brothers" introduced a stunning saxophone team - Getz, Chaloff, Zoot Sims and the lesser known Herbie Steward - who created an ensemble sound that has echoed round the world for decades. But what strikes just as strongly now is the utter simplicity of composer Jimmy Guiffre's score, rejecting all the rococo of big band bebop: no intro, straight in with that ravishing sax passage against staccato trumpets, who build steadily to dominate the final ensembles against Don Lamond's crunching drums. You wouldn't think - if you didn't check - that there was a pianist on the date. Or indeed a trombone section.
What a difficult event this was when it managed to break out (released only under pressure; Capitol didn't want to pay Tristano either). It's free improvisation, somewhat inhibited by strength of respect for harmony, within which every emerging thread of melody tends to seek harmonic resolution, but nevertheless the entire radical concept of improv emerges here. What made it easier to deal with at the time was the strength of the rest of the session, particularly perhaps "Marionette", which crystallized Tristano's previous experimental modernism into a work of approachable beauty and allowed - demanded - this next major step to be taken seriously.
Turangalîla Symphony (RCA Red Seal-Ozawa)
Part of Messaien's Tristan and Isolde "trilogy", Turangalîla challenged and offended the established standards of aesthetic taste. Massive an instrumentation and duration, over-ripe in construction and orchestration, it was saved from decadence by the sureness of Messiaen's intellectual conception. Ozawa's appropriately sumptuous 1967 recording did not flinch from realizing its erotic aspects. Inspired programming coupled the voluptuous mysticism of this Eastern influenced symphonic extravagance with the asceticism of November Steps Takemitsu's wary debate between the Western orchestra and the eerie starkness of traditional Japanese instruments.
Folk Music Of The Mediterranean (Folkways)
Despite notable exceptions Bartók, Kóaly and Colin McPhee, most 20th century composers have looked at the world's folk resources as simple plunder, ripe for expropriation. This 1952 anthology, assembled and sleeve-noted by the good Henry Cowell, is a welcome showcase for the music in its own right. Sides A & B run along the top of Africa and turn the corner at Syria; C & D zip along the south of Europe. The collection gives a very good sense of the way in which cross-cultural fusion is an age-old trend: as Cowell points out, the Syrian entry, for example, reveals Arab-Egyptian, Jewish and Turkish influences. Hard to pick a highlight in an anthology as strong as this, but the Albanian "Kaba Me Violi" for one and two violins is particularly affecting.
The Tatum Solo Masterpieces (Pablo)
Just after Christmas 1953, in two days' studio time pianist Art Tatum created 70 (that's seven-zero) tracks. He nearly doubled that amount with a couple more sessions before his death in 1956, covering all his favourite repertoire of standards and originally filling 15 LPs. These are Tatum's last word, but only by default: he could have continued refining his gargantuan style even further. But, by this stage, his artistic control matched his long-standing technical gifts in this definitive tour de force. Compared to his tigerish youth, the flamboyant display was almost mellow.
That's All Right (Mama)/Blue Moon Of Kentucky (sun)
Sam Phillips's sale of Elvis's contract and Sun masters to RCA in 1955 counts as one of the great missed opportunities of all time. Characteristically, Phillips reckoned it was worth it, not having to deal with Colonel Tom. With Elvis's first single, he had discovered the sure-fire combination of a blues on one side, a country song on the other. He also had a white boy who sounded like a black boy. Just as in Glasgow bars they used to check your religious and footballing allegiance by asking what school you went to, Dewey Phillips (no relation), interviewing a nervous Presley for Memphis radio station, asked him what high school he went to - it was Humes - just to prove he ws who and what he was said to be. The Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup tune "That's All Right (Mama)" was record, in Elvis's pure, breathless tenor and released within the month. It remains of the benchmark performances of popular music, cut raw with no sweetening other than Sun's patented tape delay echo; no drums, just Bill Black on bass and Scotty Moore on guitar and a polite, slightly clumsy young man who still sang and lived with a tight asshole.
Julie Is her Name (London-Atlantic)
Maybe the wind cries Mary, or perhaps they call the wind Maria, but the name that drifts in on this soft, erotic breeze is Julie. Her name was Julie, and she whispered in your ear as no singer had ever done before. Singers were meant to sing, to declaim words, to mark out melodies. Julie just sighed her way through them, lingering over a phrase, not quite singing', never just talking, husking over the sparse and simple jazz accompaniment, promising an intimacy which, well, she delivered: you can't ask more of a record than a glow, a tickle in the ear, a caress that prickles on your skin. This has a name; and her name is Julie.
Songs For Swinging Lovers (Capitol)
A popular LP, for sure: at one time, it was mysteriously in both the albums and singles chart in the British hit parade. Sinatra's albums for Capitol introduced the singer's album, the concept album and the grown-up album all at once. In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning was the first lonely LP, and Sinatra made arguably greater albums in the later No One Cares and Where Are You?, but Swinging Lovers is the best-remembered, and the most sheerly enjoyable. The voice has matured into a lustrous tenor-baritone, every word carefully sung, and meaning and resonance was imparted with urbane, worldly wisdom. Capitol's engineers did the occasion proud.
Saxophone Colossus (Prestige)
One of Rollins' all-time classics, this would have been a set to remember just for pieces like his typical jostling calypso "St Thomas", or the brusque, barging "Moritat" ("Mack The Knife") but it's the long, episodic blues improvisation "Blue Seven" that makes it unique. Rollins' motivic improvising style, endless plunging off at tangents with fragments of the theme or fresh ones plucked from the encyclopedia in his head, represents headlong jazz improvisation at its most inspired and inspirational. Max Roach is balefully inventive at the traps.
THE FIVE ROYALES
Dedicated To The One I Love (King)
The first proper appearance of the electric bass guitar in black R&B. Suitably obsessive lyric, plus a great, made lead guitar solo running throughout, as electric and threatening as Richie Valens or Link Wray. The group were veterans, but this is a pivotal record: in the past, the golden age of Doo-wop; in the immediate future, James Brown. Not a pop hit of course, until the Shirelles (1961) or the Mamas and the Papas (1967). For more, read Ed Ward's chapter in Stranded (ed. Greil Marcus: 1978).
Sweet Little Sixteen (Chess)
This one works brilliantly on every level. Berry's cascading, shimmering nine-note guitar intro sets a rocking beat which Willie Dixon's group easily maintain, Lafayette Leake's hammered treble notes on the piano provide perfect fills, and on top if it all Chuck's lyrics encapsulate the mid-American teenage experience in two minutes 36 seconds. Berry could rock with the best of them, but his singing was never frantic: the cool, detached and humorous observer, he let his songs (like "Maybelline" and "School Day") speak for themselves. That they had the musical and lyrical strength to do so it proven by the myriad of artists who have since recorded the songs which he spawned int the golden decade 1955-65.
Kind Of Blue (Columbia)
Miles was aware of George Russell's ideas on modal music from the 1940s, but this consummate masterpiece represents his triumph over the form. He had long favoured a relaxed, melodic style centred in the middle register, which a relatively unadventurous approach to harmony but an extremely sensitive awareness of rhythmic nuance. Improvising on scales or modes with limited chord changes suited that style to perfection. The lack of the dense harmonic digressions associated with Bop give the music its unhurried, meditative, but still intense feel, beautifully illustrated in "All Blues" or "So What", while the genius of the musicians - Miles, Coltrane, and Bill Evans among them - ensured it would be both timeless, and a crucial augmentation of the vocabulary.
Go Bo Diddley (Checker)
Now shunted into a siding, "rock and roll greats", Diddley actually concocted something weird and fascinating with his unselfconscious hybrid of rural blues, African (and Afro-Latin)-isms, urban R&B, technological innovation, "longhair" music training and, as they say, "the strength of street knowledge". This particular album is hard to believe, jumping as it does across moods which are morbid, eerie, obsessive and almost ritualistic. On the one hand there is "Bo's Guitar", rippling and stinging beyond the boundaries of conventional guitar instrumental showcases; on the other hand, there is the funereal strangeness of "The Great Grandfather", or his violin feature "The Clock Strikes Twelve". Wilfully misunderstood and betrayed, Bo knew a lot more than diddley.
Gesang der Junglinge/Kontakte (DGG)
Gesang der Junglinge's reconciliation of electronic and natural elements is achieved with considerable skill and conviction, Stockhausen assembling his materials into a strange but exultant hymn to God, the purity of the human voice and the rich potential of electronic music. Designed to be played over five channels, it marked the composer's first systematic control of the movement and direction of sounds in space. Kontakte exploited differing perceptions of rhythms according to the speed at which they are presented, and developed Stockhausen's moment form, a concept which has since exerted enormous influence, despite the antipathy which the Serialist establishment displayed towards the piece in 1960.
Change of the Century (Atlantic)
Coleman's Atlantic sessions from 1959-61 revealed that the New Thing wasn't just New, but adaptable too. Ornette sought both to open jazz structure and celebrate his own R&B roots in a highly varied series of sessions during the period (not unreasonably compared to Armstrong's Hot Fives and Sevens, and Bird's 40s quintets). As well as an ensemble sound of uncanny collective empathy, and Ornette's own impulsive, zigzagging, dynamically-rich improvising style, there are also some of his most audaciously accessible tunes on this disc, including "Una Muy Bonita" and the bluesy folksiness of "Ramblin'".
Out Of The Cool (Impulse)
Gil Evans's short-lived band of 1961 was arguably the most perfectly-balanced he ever led. Fifteen pieces, brass-heavy but lightened by woodwind and driven by two great percussionists, it enabled the detail of the leader's writing to emerge with a pure mix of clarity, subtlety and sheer power. The long "La Nevada" is the out-and-out tour-de-force, with its contrasting solos, vast dynamic range and snarling finale, but perhaps the real masterpiece is Evans' reworking of Kurt Weill's "Bilbao Song", languorously displaced from the original foxtrot rhythms into a slow drama of suspense. But then again, what about that version of George Russell's "Stratusphunk"?
The Village Vanguard Sessions/Move from the Vanguard (Milestone)
These albums provide a detailed examination of Evans's piano style, perhaps the most influential in mainstream contemporary jazz. By the time they were recorded in 1961, he had shed the cliches of bop. A hallmark of his playing were clusters of notes that ran harp-like and seemed suspended in the air, and the use of space to illuminate his playing, framing chords just long enough to savour their unique voicings. Simultaneously his trio were moving towards a new rhythmic conception; they suggested a three way conversation over a pulse implied rather stated. These recordings would be significant for either of two reasons, the emergence of a new voice in jazz or the revolutionary approach to the jazz rhythm section. That both occurred at one time underlines their importance.
Blues and the Abstract Truth (Impulse)
Nelson's aim: a dramatic formalization of Charlie Parker's ability to create almost infinite musical resources out of the 12-bar blues and the 32-measure "I Got Rhythm". It includes Nelson's two finest and most characteristic compositions - "Stolen Moments", a 16-bar C minor blues, and "Hoe Down", which dramatically lengthens the rhythmic base to 44 bars, bringing it into line with a much wider spectrum of 20th century American music, notably Copland's - also the outwardly slighter "Teenie's Blues", a more personal piece that restates the blue aesthetic in its most minimal (only three tonal centres and harmonic progressions) and most dramatically subtle. Why isn't it more universally admired?
BOOKER T & THE MG'S
Green Onions (Stax)
When it first charted for the Memphis-based quarted in August 1963 this may have seemed like just another R&B instrumental, but organist Booker T Jones's simple four-to-the-bar chord progression stood the test of time to become one of the few Great Riffs. Soon copied by The Dartells ("Hot Pastrami"), Sonny Boy Williamson ("Help Me") and approximated by John Lee Hooker ("Onions"), its appeal was timeless enough for it to hit Britain's top ten in 1980. It was the first flower of the chunky laid-back but funky Stax sound which was to propel Otis Redding. Wilson Pickett and Sam & Dave into the world's charts, as well as providing an early taste of the peerless, immaculately-time guitar of Steve Cropper.
The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (Impulse)
"The New Wave of Folk [sic] is on Impulse!" Mingus's masterpiece was marketed by ABC-Paramount as "Ethnic Folk-Dance Music", a designation that avoided the hated "jazz", but didn't relocate the music as its turbulent creator might have liked. Black Saint was pivotal work in Black American music. Whatever anyone says about Ellington's "suites", they were largely just compilations of like- and contrastingly-toned songs, with none of the macro-structural ambitions of Mingus's formidable piece. It was unique in other ways, as well: the first "jazz" record to employ overdubbing; the first to include an imprimatur by the artist's psychiatrist.
Mariano's tacked-on solos are super-added in another sense, sounding like additional commentary on music already remarkably cohesive; genuinely orchestral but marked by the collected improvisations of early jazz. Buried autobiography?" "I wrote the music for dancing and listening... It is my living epitaph from birth til the day I met Bird and Diz. Now it is me again."
Sunday Morning Blues
As Young wrote in his "Composition 1961": Draw a straight line and follow it. Little can prepare you for the third eye power of Young's sine wave drones, experienced without any meditation: viz his 1989 installation at the Dia Art Foundation. This recording, with Young (soprano sax), Marian Zazeela (voice), John Cale (violin). Tony Conrad (viola), Angus McLise (drums) is the square root of the Velvet Underground, most of the music on the Land label, and much more besides: the meeting point of Near Eastern, Far Eastern and Euro/American Modern with some demented beatnik percussion. It should be far more widely heard.
EZZ RECO & THE LAUNCHERS
King Of Kings (Columbia)
An infectious re-working of a Jimmy Cliff song from a couple of years previously, "King Of Kings" was not in itself an exceptional record. But, hitting the U.K. charts in March 1964, a week before Millie pierced the nation's eardrums with "My Boy Lollipop", it was the first ska tune to gain radio and TV exposure in this country, despite the fact that low-profile indie labels like Melodisc, Island and Starlite had been issuing dozens of such discs per month for three years. From this point on, Jamaican records were at least in with a chance of international success, though it would be a dozen more years before Bob Marley became reggae's first superstar. After two more singles The Launchers and their singer Boysie Grant were heard from no more, though trombonist Emmanuel "Reco" Rodriguez has pursued an active career which has included hits with The Specials and Paul Young.
ALBERT AYLER TRIO
Spiritual Unity (ESP)
"To boldly go where no man..." Ayler was one of the greatest saxophonists to ever walk this planet, even though he hardly seemed of it. By no means virtuosic, his music is nonetheless not only impossible to transcribe - being of no known clef or stave - but virtually impossible to write (sanely) about. Maximum intensity screaming-in-tongues intuitive free group improvisation, peppered with folksy marching band tunes, of a physical force which should render it unlistenable and terrifying. Yet Ayler succeeded where many of his followers failed; to make this music human, organic, accessible, beautiful. This 1964 trio with Sunny Murray and Gary Peacock was his finest (recorded) moment.
Louie Louie (Scepter/Wand/Forever)
"In Louie Louie', the Kingsmen produce a relentless vulgar camouflage for such messages as She's got a rag on' and I'm never gonna lay her again'..." said Richard Meltzer in The Aesthetics of Rock; the index of the book places the Kingsmen between Kierkegaard, Soren and the Kingston Trio. The debate was revived last year in the movies Coup de Ville - teenage lust or sea shanty? What's the abiding fascination of this three-chord wonder by doo-wop singer Richard Berry? In the snooty trash-aesthetic perspective of the 70s, "Louie Louie" was celebrated as the "dumbest" record ever made. In fact, it's among the most eloquent, because the most single-minded - pop's first essay in limitation as the source of possibility. The singer comes in too soon, the drums clatter in desperation, the "vulgar camouflage" reveals itself as camouflaging nothing, the protagonist can announce his own arrival only by singing about his imminent departure. The first record to speak purely of its own repetition, repetition, repetition, it really started something. Lust isn't in it.
Out To Lunch
Nominated for The Wire's top 50 rhythms in April, and once voted Wire reader's top jazz album of all time; it's maybe fair to ask what the legacy of Out To Lunch has actually been. Its place in Blue Note's historical contribution was tacitly recognized when James Newton played "Hat and Beard" with Dolphy's original sidemen Bobby Hutcherson and Tony Williams on the 1985 One Night With... but otherwise only Oliver Lake has made any serious and extended effort to re-examine the compositions, open-ended and under-exploited as they are, that made the album so compelling. Dolphy has routinely been described as a "multi-instrumentalist", rarely as a composer, which is now de rigeur for Mingus, Ornette, even Bird, whose range of harmonic and melodic material was very much narrower. "Out To Lunch", "Straight Up and Down" and "Something Sweet, Something Tender" are among the finest original melodic conceptions in modern jazz; their independence from that magnificent rhythm described by Richard Cook is somehow exactly the point and it would be a shame if all the revisionist emphasis suddenly shifted to Messrs Hutcherson, Davis and Williams.
A Collection Of 16 Tamla Motown Hits (Tamla Motown)
Pop albums before Dylan were one hit and a bunch of other songs, but the hits compilation was something different, and the Motown hits albums were something else. Here was the album as black jukebox: there were real hits on this totemic cross-section of Motown's key year, 1964, like The Supremes tracks which open and close the record, and The Four Tops' crescendo of anguished fidelity, "Baby I Need Your Loving", but the misses - Marvin Gaye's slinky "Try It Baby" or The Miracles' "The Man In You" - spoke as eloquently of the Motor City's freewheeling but perfectly orchestrated record-making. It also catches Motown before the hits become too familiar.
See My Friend (Pye 7")
A chart gets its meaning from its random, diverse contents, playing off against each other. A decade and half after the introduction of the 45, it hit full conscious potential - not as a unit item of expression in itself and by itself, but as a considered piece of the full-on-babel colloquy the many singles (good, bad, hip, not) in any one week's chart make up. Which is why between June 64 and May 66 - with Dylan, Them, The Yardbirds, The Troggs, Elvis, The Animals, The Who, The Byrds, The Righteous Brothers, The Stones, The Supremes and Jim Reeves all bickering their way into the Top Ten - it makes more sense to focus on this minor Kinks hit. Not Ray Davies' usual semi-jaunty precision of character-vignette, but the earliest of raga-pop drones, definitive in prophetic unlikeliness. The big names you already take for granted - the undercurrents are where the future is.
Papa's Got A Brand New Bag (King 45)
Of all James Brown's countless hits - "Cold Sweat", "I Got You", "Sex Machine", "Night Train" - "Papa" gets closest to the heart and soul of The Godfather's art. His ecstatic, gravel-toned gospel shouts over the tightest of arrangements, funkiest of Famous Flames grooves, and cleanest of riff breaks set the showman standard by which no others could follow. Although other crossover chart toppers followed, this was Brown's first top ten pop hit and set the seal on the hard-fought artistic and business control he subsequently exerted over his musical affairs. Without Soul Brother No 1, no Otis Redding, Sly Stone, George Clinton, Michael Jackson, Prince, Public Enemy, Soul II Soul etc. Say it loud....
Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia)
On the sleeve: Dylan in a purple shirt, behind him a bulging male torso. A friend bought the album for his little brother, a Christmas present; their mother refused to allow it in the house. She was right - nothing on this record holds still, not sex, geography, genre, myth, the blues, language least of all. Today it might be Dylan's sense of time that's so striking - the way he works the police car siren, say, or his hesitations in "Ballad of a Thin Man". But then you hear again how he ties the numbers together in the fourth verse of the seventh song, and you might break your head off for shaking it in wonder.
They Don't Make Em Like Us Anymore (Alegre)
The Latin Jazz tradition has a long history of opposing forces being brought together in a climate of mutual expression and exchange, from the Duke Ellington Orchestra recording two compositions by the Puerto Rican trombonist Juan Tizol in the 1930s to Hilton Ruiz's recent collaborations with Sam Rivers and Don Cherry. The tracks collected on this record represent the best moments from the career of a group whose music during the 60s and 70s stood at the peak of that cross-over tradition. All the tracks are sustained by a strong sense of freedom and creativity. Under the direction of pianist Charlie Palmieri the music compromises neither direction; effortlessly integrating the hardest Cuban and Puerto Rican derived barrio rhythms with the harmonic sophistication of the best modern jazz. Timeless.
Silver Apples of the Moon (Nonesuch)
A significant benchmark in modern recording history in that it represents the first composition commissioned by a record label and "premiered" by the release of a commercial recording. Silver Apples is a tape piece, prepared on what looks like glue-and-string technology, the Buchla computer, an inspired by the Ray Bradbury story of the same name. Subotnick's subsequent experiments in sonic art have been almost universally superior to the slightly vapid sci-fi feel of the 1967 peice for Nonesuch, but it has a quaint charm that keeps it just about current. Subotnick described his later music as "sculpture in time and space"; this is the plaster model.
A Love Supreme (Impulse)
Flawed, even considered by some to be the most over-estimated record in jazz, A Love Supreme remains one of the music's most personal experiences. It is Coltrane opening his soul and laying it bare. It is the hymnic expression of a musician's profound devotion - both to his craft and his God. It is the great sound of an anguished, soaring legato. It is a quartet at the height of its considerable individual and collective power. Beguiling and transporting, A Love Supreme reaffirms music's ability to embrace the spiritual.
Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Parlophone)
It's had to pay ever since, of course: no one wants to know you can overdose on cheeky joy. The fun they were having over-driving the form suddenly addles. At this climatic arrival of studio-created pop in its fullest possibility a multiple pile-up of gags cants sideways, buries them. But consider: George Martin first endeared himself to Lennon by having produced on Goons records, including creating comedy sound-effects. It may be that one thing and another - drugs, omnipotence - caused them to lose the plot, to get confusedly serious about a potent but transient surrealist music-hall BritPopArt joke at the expense of their own astounding development as recording musicians, at the expense of the very idea of old-fashioned all-round entertainment, the root of their success. Maybe if they'd found a way to make it vanish a month after it appeared? As it is, we have fonder memories for earlier, lesser but less equivocal breakthroughs.
FRANK ZAPPA & THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION
We're Only In It For The Money (Zappa)
The most deeply wounding of Zappa's satirical thrusts, right down to the cover art (with its barbed parody of the Sgt. Pepper sleeve). All the same, while the lyrical jokes never fall short of their intended targets (both 60s hippy culture and the needling confrontation of the Generation Gap), it's the musical comedy which gives the album worth; the affectionate parodies of fledgling 50s pop styles, and the curiosity of displacement, throwing Varese-style peculiars and other avantist classical asides into what was supposedly only a rock album. Zappa's best works crammed in his many musical passions and preoccupations; this one combined them with unique precision.
Axis Bold As Love (Polydor)
If there is such a thing as the most important Jimi Hendrix recording, Axis, one of the four studio LPs, gets the most points - it has the most focused and compositionally mature material. For all his wildness and (some say) arbitrary mastery of feedback, this is the most sonically controlled of all. And it exemplifies a group that function as a unit - Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell are the perfect foils to the axeman's waywardness; neither superfluous nor overpowering. It's rock's most complete statement - it has tenderness, aggression, beauty and dirt. No-one before or since has touched that plane.
SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE
Dance To The Music (Epic)
Of the series of precisely distilled summer evocations which Sly and the Family Stone released between 1967 and 1971, this isn't necessarily the best or the most ambitious, simply the purest, the most stripped down: nothing but music exhausting you and pleading with you to react to more music. Sylvester Stewart started as a teenage DJ in Oakland - at 21 he was producing Beatle-soundalikes (The Beau Brummels, the Mojomen); at 23 he'd formed with Family. When Sly asks them - they were, let's face it, Magical Beings, citizens from a paradisaical 21st century - each to take a turn with their instruments, it's a microcosm of how Summers Of Love SHOULD be. Over time this single - its horns a love parade, its bass a creature from the psychedelic lagoon - has sometimes seemed naive. At other times (and now is one such), it's seemed uncannily prescient, promising and equality-in-hedonism only just out of reach.
Pre-meditation (Sky Note)
Reggae, swirling between rocksteady and early soul, probably recorded in the late 60s, and neither the myriad puns in the title nor the simple image on the album sleeve - a blue-grey moon rising over a single strand of barbed wire - can enclose the testimony of Brent Dowe, Tony Brevett, and Trevor McNaughton. The simple affirmations of side one fade into something more difficult on side two, with "Better Days", "Give Some Way to Love", and "Survival Is The Game": politics, as they were in Jamaica in those days, but in the Melodians' own voice - a modest apocalypse.
CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & THE MAGIC BAND
Trout Mask Replica (Straight/reissued Reprise)
With his old buddy Frank Zappa at the controls, Beefheart finally smashed his way through the frosted glass to reveal his unique blend of Delta n' Dada in all its quirky sophistication. This was truly a world set apart from 12 bar orthodoxies; the rustic and trippy imagery and the coarse-cut, earthy performances drew as much on free jazz techniques and beat poetry as well as the blues. Seminal it was not - the army of Beefheart emulators never came within a mile of this wonderland, and whilst there was the occasional flash of similar genius, Beefheart himself never properly followed it up, although he continued to record.
THE VELVET UNDERGOUND
White Light/White Heat (MGM)
Hugely influential, and one of the half dozen most significant rock albums. Why this, though, and not the earlier "Warhol" album? Most obviously, WH/WL replaced the alternation of fey tunefulness and feedback storm of other VU albums with a sophisticated synthesis of the two that was scarcely ever matched. If there is a single, great VU track, it is "Sister Ray", a hokey tune turned into swirling, pre-Doors surrealism by John Cale's organ and Mo Tucker's thrashing drums, an urgent setting for Reed's flat whine. Only a step behind is "I Heard Her Call My Name", a cornball rocker scythed across by Cale's viola effects, brilliantly conveyed by Tom Wilson's much-underrated production.
THE ROLLING STONES
Let It Bleed (London/Decca)
I wonder how Merry Clayton feels today, when she has the radio on and the verse she took in "Gimme Shelter" comes up - does she think she was ripped off, used and tossed aside, or does she smile at the fact that she has her place in the greatest rock'n'roll recording ever made? There was a whole new way of being in the world in solo Keith Richards played, just as there was in the licks Carl Perkins played in "Blue Suede Shoes"; trouble was, it was a whole new world, too.
Scott 3 (Philips)
Still unlike any other singer and songwriter, Walker's astonishing series of largely self-composed records paved the way for the bedsit bards of the 70s but did so with an infinitely grander, more personal, more ambitious music than anything the idiom subsequently achieved for itself. Whether portraying other lives or, seemingly, his own, Scott Engel Walker chronicled his feelings with an elegance and insight that was matched by peerless orchestration, superb production, sumptuous sound-values. It speaks now, sadly, of a vanished time, in record-making as in the songs: orchestras and that great tenor voice will never be recorded this way again, just as the characters of "Big Louise", "Rosemary" and "Butterfly" are lost back there in 1969. But the supernatural chill of "Winter Night" haunts me for all time.
Look A Py Py (Josie)
Today's revisionist histories of funk give New Orleans a wide birth, but there would have been no headhunting, goodfooting or mothership launching without the second line sorcery of Zigaboo Modeliste and his cohorts - George Porter, Leon Noncentelli and Art Neville. The break-ability of these classic beats is an unequivocal tribute to their continuing dancefloor allure, their popularity in Jamaica - where the various Cissy tunes, and anthems like Chicken Strut inspired a thousand rockers - another sign of historic significance. The Meters' third set Look A Py Py gets in ahead of its distinguished predecessors for the perfection of its epic first side.
When they say it's the greatest rock'n'roll record of all time, they really mean Side One. The first album's morose, moribund entropy (a compliment) (honestly!) EXPLODES with "Wild On The Streets", "Loose", "TV Eye", a triptych of controlled abandon that's never been equalled. The delirium of subhuman snarls and sucking sounds emitted by Iggy at the climax of "TV Eye" is the living end, a nether limit even the Birthday Party (for whom Funhouse was bible) underpassed. After immolation, burn-out: "Dirt", a hymn to transcendence thru abjection, with Ron Asheton alternating between piteous blues and silvered cascades. The Bowie-fied Raw Power probably had more to do with spawning punk, but Funhouse is the real animal: progeny include Black Flag, Pixies, the wah-wah mantras of Loop and Spacement 3, and the SubPop/Nirvana crowd.
Psychedelic London hatched just two bands of note: Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd and the Soft Machine, and only the Soft Machine had any musical intelligence. To lock into their world was to receive an education: following them diligently led a young listener directly to Terry Riley, Messaien, Cecil Taylor, Coltrane, electronic music, and British jazz (at one point Keith Tippett's entire front line was in the group). By turns austere, charming and hot, hot, hot, Third, recorded 1970 and featuring an augmented Ratledge-Hopper-Wyatt-Dean line-up, was their finest hour. Wyatt's conversationally intimate "Moon In June" balanced the labyrinthine complexities of Ratledge's writing and the jazzier thrust of Hopper's "Facelift". Saxophonist Elton Dean and Ratledge, a one-of-a-kind organist, delivered the knockout solos.
Songs Of The Humpback Whale (Capitol)
Until the release of Roger Payne's now excruciatingly familiar recordings of Humpback whales, the format of sonic entertainment of an extra-human nature tended towards pseudo-science. As one's stylus tracked across the dark vinyl waste of a birdsong long player, the fauna would be caged off in separate bands, to be named and classified by sepulchral voices in weighty "objective" tones. Payne delivered up the first psychedelic bio-acoustic document. His intentions were prophetically conservationist and the project took off with remarkable force. Despite their limited range of sounds, whales continue to sing the call sign of the New Age and Green movements. If a whale could sign a contract, the Humpbacks would now be bigger (in all senses) than Phil Collins.
Led Zeppelin IV (Atlantic)
Contrary to received wisdom, Led Zep didn't bastardize the blues: they aggrandized them, inflated them from porchside intimacy to awe-inspiring monumentalism. Detached from their contemporary context (in which they could only seem a fascistic, brutalized perversion of rock) we can now only gasp and gape at the sheer scale and mass of Zep's sound, never more momentous than on this LP - the megalithic priapism of "Black Dog", the slow-mo boogie avalanche of "When The Levee Breaks". But Zep were more than just heavy: both "Misty Mountain Hop" (slanted and enchanted acid-metal) and "Four Sticks" (a locked groove of voodoo-boogie) sound unlike anything recorded before or since. Perhaps because of this, er, eclectic experimentalism, Led Zep actually didn't have that much influence on HM, except for odd instances like Living Coloür's fusion-metal and Jane's Addiction's funked-up deluges of grandeur.
Music In Twelve Parts (Venture, recorded 1989) And, by extension, earlier works like Music With Changing Parts, In Contrary Motion, In Similar Motion, In Fifths. Written between 1971-4, and only released in its entirety three years ago, Twelve Parts was to be Glass' great grammar, a syntactical thesis on rhythm and structure (harmony was a relatively late arrival) that described more than an individual style. The style of the work - five hours - is, by most standards large (not La Monte Young's: the Dreamhouse projects could - and did - last weeks), and rivalled only by Steve Reich's monumental treatise on rhythm, Drumming. As a composition leading to an understanding of Glass alone, Twelve Parts is fundamental; as a key to reading subsequent developments in both classical and electronic (pop-ish) music, it is a sine qua non.
RAVI SHANKAR & ALI AKBAR KHAN
In Concert 1972 (Apple)
In an enlightened future this extraordinary recital of Indian classical music may be viewed as the justification of the Beatles' existence. (George Harrison sponsored, mixed and edited In Concert.) Accompanied by the enormously sensitive tabla player Alla Rakha, the masters of the sitar and the sarod pay tribute to their just-deceased guru Ustad Allaudin Khan, and the entire performance resonates with an emotional power - like a sublime deep blues - that no listener, western or otherwise, can miss. The rapid-fire exchanges at the climax of "Raga-Sindi Bhairavi" are breathtaking.
Innervisions (Tamla Motown)
Despite Wonder's plethora of deeply funky soul recordings there's no dispute that Innervisions is his classic. Inherently tuneful tracks not only groove like crazy but are steeped with not-quite-naive social statements - "Living In The City" the prime example - that make it all the more moving. Introspective, melancholy, sassy and uplifting, it transcends all notions of soul as schmaltz. It may have come out of the fashions of the 70s but it still sounds fresh and relevant in the 90s. Timeless music (the imitations are too numerous to count).
Let's Get It On (Motown)
You're not supposed to like this one best, but then neither are you supposed to think sex is more interesting than politics. Gaye had already kick-started the concept of the black concept album with What's Going On two years previously. Yet that album, magnificent rhetorical statement that it is, is only a statement; it is emblematic of a state of mind. Let's Get It On is the thing itself, a musical fucking session that dares to include all the worry stuff - from seduction double-talk to post-coital ash-raking, via the existential value of cuddling and the certainty of death, Gloomy? You got it. Not to mention dark, lush, tremulous, churchy and too short. Soul has never been so concentrated. Gaye packs all its big themes (plus several of the smaller ones) into barely half an hour's-worth of densely figured narratives, in which the central protagonist writhes like the moral lover of medieval Romance and the ensemble lifts up his voice like a chalice. The title-track, incidentally, includes the best-sited hand-claps in recorded history.
Can't Buy A Thrill (Probe)
The liner notes, accurately enough, describe the band as "struggling to make sense out of the flotsam and jetsam of its eclectic heritage." To a rock world then chock-full of inflated pretensions and drug-crazed bombast, the lean accessibility and sly intelligence of Dan's debut brought the notion of the "intellectual's rock record" - an innovation which immediately attracted respect and a worldwide following. Appealing tunes, slick instrumental work from guitarist Skunk Baxter, writers Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (who was the group's real strength) made it the first of a series of smart, listenable records which successfully carried Fagen's jazz-honed sensibilities into rock - a rare achievement, and one which endears him to Jazz FM and its listeners to this day.
Ladies Of The Canyon (Reprise)
The first real signs of the talent that would make Joni Mitchell one of the most important singer-songwriters of the 70s, 80s and into the 90s. In addition to featuring the angelic, near-perfect clarity of Joni's early singing voice, Ladies Of The Canyon is an album of eloquent meditation and emotional drama - from the beautiful, folk-pure poetics of "The Circle Game" to the ecologically prescient "Big Yellow Taxi" and the generational love and peace anthem "Woodstock". With its clarinet and saxophone breaks, it also hints at Mitchell's future jazz explorations. Words and music near their absolute best.
Nuggets - Original Artifacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968 (Sire)
Such was the state of the wannabe national in those days. Young white America - deeply if incoherently aware of the bankruptcy of the culture and moral order it ws expected to inherit - preferred to believe it wanted to be Brit, not black: helped, of course, by the success of 64-66 (as noted above). Lenny Kaye, future guitarist for Patti Smith, put this together in 1972, rock's first ought-is-not-is stab for a "truer" history than the one we all got. It featured 20 chart should-have-beens - The Mojo Men, The Third Rail, The Strangeloves, Mouse, The Barbarians etc - on the grounds that they'd have invented this sound if the UK hadn't got there first. Would the world have been different if The Cryan Shames - rather than The Beatles - had held down the top fives places in the US Billboard chart one week in April 1965? Of course not.
Catch A Fire (Island)
Twenty years ago the prescient Richard Williams used Catch A Fire to justify his description of Bob Marley as the Sly Stone of reggae. Its novel sound set a new standard and produced an exhilarating hybrid of black Atlantic styles at the crossroads where the urban spirit of street funk encountered the muses fleeing from Coxsome's Studio One. Redemptive Rasta interventions into the memory of slavery suddenly made sense in the context of aspirant pop. The trademark haze of doomy clarinets was punctuated not just by the wails of Joe Higgs' most celebrated pupils but by the rocked out Muscle Shoals guitar-playing contributed by Wayne Perkins. Together they introduced the finest moments in modernist reggae.
Soon Over Babaluma (Spoon)
Like Tago Mago and Future Days, Babaluma is inexhaustible; a hundred listenings in, and you still find new worlds. "Dizzy Dizzy" and "Come Sta, La Luna" are Can at their most telepathic and tactile. The Mandelbrot whorls and 7th dimensional involutions of "Chain Reaction/Quantum Physics" are the deepest psychedelic grooves I know outside early 70s Miles. Humour, poignancy, awe, groove, Dada, intimacy, immensity - sometimes I wonder why I bother listening to anything else. Anticipates (or pre-empts): the Fourth World pan-Globalism of Talking Heads' Remain In Light, Byrne/Eno's My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, Jon Hassell, the avant-funk of PiL and The Pop Group, The Raincoats, 23 Skidoo, ARKane's oceanic rock, even some rap and rave.
GRUPO FOLKLORIO Y EXPERIMENTAL NUEVAYORQUINO
Concepts In Unity (Salsoul)
Recorded histories of Latin Music, those that exist, have always located the apex of the genre's mid-70s experiments in the recordings of Eddie Palmieri, Willie Colon, Ricardo Marrero and others. Of course, records like Palmieri's Sentido or Marrero's Time are sensational in the way they warp the traditional strictures of Latin music to accommodate new, outside forces, but they are dwarfed by the scope, depth and diversity of this double album, one of only two recordings made by GFyEN. In fact the group wasn't a group at all but an informal aggregation of forward-thinking NY-based Latin musicians who came together to resurrect the traditional folklore bases of Latin Music by playing with a hard, progressive edge. The results are spectacular: multi-layered percussion, passionate coro sections and furious soloing move across a wide spectrum of Latin genres, all informed by an atmosphere of committed experimentation, extensive improvisation, heightened consciousness and deep concentration. The holy grail of Latin music.
The album that saved rock, spawned punk and declaimed a pure, pearly white defiance of a subversion unseen (or heard) since Elvis first sang black. It took another three years before Smith, the waif-like poetess, named herself a "rock'n'roll nigger', but the intention was always there, her dream-beat poetics articulate far beyond the shouts of anarchy! soon to echo through the otherwise empty UK. Van Morrison's "Gloria" opened Horses, transformed into a thing both blasphemous and instinctual; the title track itself was an eight minute stream-of-consciousness ending in sonic orgasm. Interviewed, Smith said she prepared for shows by masturbating before going on stage - and no-one was surprised. Sexual freedom, the motor behind 60s rock, had never been like this before. Robert Mapplethorpe took the sleeve photo, which showed Smith a creature beyond gender, the music's perfect pictorial analogue.
FELA RANSOME KUTI & THE AFRICA 70
Kalakuta Show (Creole)
One of the first victims of an emergent world music aesthetic was Nigeria's Fela Kuti. Rejected as an arrogant sexist pig whose music was old hat, Fela's perceived importance as an innovator and communicator has been declining since the late 70s. He, of all people, reunited the cyclic drum rhythms of West Africa with the trance grooves of James Brown into a long-form structure that twitched and flowed right out of the run-off grooves of the record. Kalakuta Show is not necessarily Fela's best, but it is the perfect example of his use of music as anti-colonial hypnosis magic and propaganda bulletin.
Another Green World (EG)
Freeing 70s British art rock from its tendencies towards complexity and pretension, Eno popularized the idea of pastel electronics applied in simple, bold brushstrokes of sound, spare yet striking as oriental wall-hangings. From fusion music, he adapted Percy Jones' invertebrate bass for the reptilian rhythm effects taken up by the likes of Kate Bush and David Sylvian to define (very well) their own otherness. Indeed, Britain's ambient and electronic pop cottage industries are inconceivable without Another Green World. Pity other practitioners didn't listen more closely.vBK
The Clash (CBS)
"Wah wah! Wanna wah wah!" - "White Riot", which Jon Savage first heard as pre-Oedipal baby-wail, sounded to others - poor Cornelius Cardew among them - as proto-fascist call-to-arms. All Joe Strummer's goofy, desperate PC-meanderings then and since don't absolve the Clash of guilt for Oi: but the point was always how they acted out the music's contradictions. Even its confused, unlimited, unacknowledged-because-unpunky generosities: which drew to them those drawn, repelled those repelled, and surface most in the range of influences they try to stand beside (pop as iconographic terrain), less in the all-too commonly cited rebel-myth posturing. If these reasons for this record's huge influence are now better understood, it has to be said that it actually sounds more cartoony-cardboardy than many thought at the time, Strummer's idiot-sealbark of a voice blatting away over thick guitar, Woolworths-drums, loveable-loutish group-harmonies.
HANS JÜRGEN SYBERBERG
Hitler, A Film From Germany (film with soundtrack) Hitler, A Film From Germany is the German director's fulfillment of his claim for "film as the music of the future" or as "the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk of our time". Plucking newsreel/radio broadcasts and musics - classical, operatic, song, kitsch - from the rubble of German history, he montages complex interweaves of dialogue and sound that prosecute or underscore the film's subject, or simply redeem the music from its foul associations. The soundtrack alone anticipates and betters most avantish hiphop-rap trickery. And certainly nothing else on video or film comes close to Syberberg's perfect dis/integration of sound, music and image.
Trans Europe Express (Capitol)
Shedding the superficial experimentalism of their earlier albums, the waves and whooshes of tape and delay technology, Trans Europe Express is where Kraftwerk, those consumate engineers, embrace electro-pop and settle down. Their musical decor was certainly minimal (though without the canniness of classical Minimalism). The repetitive rhythms, later to be harnessed to a disco beat, were for now more of a lulling statement of presence, of continual motion; there's an unmistakable fragrance of doomed romance in this journey that never leaves Kling-Klang Studios, Dusseldorf. If the album's epic dourness was as camp as Christmas, its influence was immense. First it sparked a brief return to form for David Bowie (Station To Station), then a string of forgettable Mitteleuropa tunes (Ultravox's "Vienna", Simple Minds "I Travel" being notable offenders); but the strangest journey was trans-Atlantic, over to NYC's Zulu Nation, where Afrika Bambaataa jumped on the Express and hijacked it - the rest is history, the complete history of rap.
Free improvisations is not the most obviously successful of recorded forms. There are more important and wonderful musicians in the field than there are important and wonderful recordings. Simply speaking recordings have got almost nothing compared to the thing itself - the performance - with all its specific surprises, atmospheres, doubts, questions and impossibilities. Most improvisers view recordings merely as documents or sources of information, only rarely as things in themselves. However, the rarefied sphere of Evan Parker's labyrinthine (difficult to discuss him without that word) solo saxophone improvisations seems to survive the transition. In fact its other-wordly resonances are emphasized when you can't see him playing. Hardly possible to believe these epically, epochally vast circumterrestrial processes are the product of a single mind, body and (rather small) instrument.
Dub Housing (Chrysalis)
The first Pere Ubu LP, The Modern Dance, was supposedly the breakthrough - the sound of urban punk being jemmied into by interlopers from the Cleveland tyre-towns. Dub Housing went way further, one of rock's few genuinely de-constructive records. The title track evoked the image of pop as Old Dark House echoing with a thousand-tongued Babel, and the music, all bare girders and steely edges, echoed that, with David Thomas wailing over it like the foolish late reveller locked overnight in the funhouse. It's rife with the terror of self-image ("Who do you see in Caligari's mirror?"), with the terror of reading between the lines ("Secret scenes in the seams of the world!"). It echoes in the record's sound - things fall apart, reverberate, you hear voices where there aren't any, and still (almost) within the framework of the conventional rock song. Pop's nearest equivalent to being a child and thinking you see a face in the window, then realizing it's the window itself that's so scary.
PUBLIC IMAGE, LTD.
Metal Box (Virgin)
The famous three 12" 45s in a film can, with the biggest dub sound before or since, Jah Wobble's walking bass in twelve-league boots, and a pox on every face. Miasma, terror, loathing so deep it left John Lydon's body to seek its true body, history: "Still the spirit of 68," Lydon sang, so strangely - "I ran away." Today, reissued as a single CD in a small, round tin container, it really is the pill the band named itself - a poison pill.
THE POP GROUP
Hardly a meeting of minds, even in the brief postpunk anything's-possible moment that allowed it, Y married The Pop Group's free rock-jazz with the pop-dub productions of Dennis Bovell: from the opening studio-tech belch, it's a maelstrom of dub and distortion effects, a tempest of extremes. Recording levels change suddenly, inexplicably, in mid-note; musical unity, and the ordinary sense of place that recording strives to maintain, are both constantly, relentlessly, creatively blown to pieces. Nothing is allowed to settle; the listener least of all. Rage, terror, anguish, all hurtle past and round you: time and space feel violently mutable. Digital technology may have made all the cut-and-paste herein easy, but it's never produced so deliriously, maddeningly protean a piece of music.
Lulu (Deutsche Grammophon)
Berg's Lulu is among the few great 20th century operas, but, for reasons too complicated for explanation here, it was long heard in truncated form. The complete version became accessible only in 1979, and Pierre Boulez's four-LP recording derives from the Paris staging of that year (soon repeated in London and elsewhere). He shapes Berg's labyrinthine score with his usual resolute clarity and there are fine accounts of the extremely demanding vocal parts from, among others, Franz Mazura as Schön, Yvonne Minton as Countess Geschwitz, Kenneth Riegel as Alwa and Teresa Stratos as the maneater herself.
Slates, Slags etc. (Rough Trade 10")
Before this they were callow punk-bandwagon promise and bad haircuts: the early LPs, all containing work of unequalled originality, are as uneven as they're variously "unFall-like". later they settle into classic and even generically classic work, but their moment is passed: as survivalist institution, they lack the whatever to destabilize the rest. At this moment Mark E Smith's unfooled bile seems perfectly dialectically visionary, wearily energized, utterly untimely: his unmusicality a higher music. "Naive" anti-design sleeve design, rhythms that jerk along like speedheads addicted to paranoia side-effect; a guitar-sound jabbing barbs into your skin, razor-edge squeals into your head - Man With Chip's voice yabbers scarily on through a thick fog of textured noise.
GRANDMASTER FLASH AND THE FURIOUS FIVE
The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels of Steel (Sugar Hill) DJ Herc did it first but Flash got it down on vinyl: the first scratch mix, enshrined here for all time, laid down a formal gauntlet not taken up until Double Dee and Steinski's three "Lessons" of 1984/5. Then there came sampling. This is the entry point into a new, incredibly creative period of black music mixes: it cut Queen ("Another One Bites The Dust"), Chic ("Good Times"), the Sugarhill Gang ("8th Wonder"), the Furious Five ("Birthday Party"), the Sequence and Spoonie Gee ("Monster Jam"), and Blondie ("Rapture"). Flash is fast, Flash is cool. (For more: David Toop, Rap Attack II, 1991.)
KING SUNNY ADE
Juju Music (Island)
The attempt to shoehorn Ade into this-decade's-Bob-Marley-position was as misguided as it was uninspiring; but it echoed Ade's own drive to make Juju a universal pop inflection (the way reggae, once just as obscure, is). When Juju Music itself appeared, with its shimmering webs of rhythm-as-melody (and vice versa), the compromises between Ade the outwardly mobile artist/composer and Martin Meissonier the Paris-based pop-producer strengthened rather than weakened their case, as did resemblances between their fourth-world studio-juju and the glowing 3-D sound of Eno-ated Talking Heads two years before. The King reckoned without the Social Real - his Africa Beats, reduced to mere peonage in this economic equation, rebelled; without them, cultural world conquest failed. The fabulous promise of the Juju sound still haunts the World Music industry; as does the blindness to necessary change, or essential preservation.
We can't leave out the biggest-ever record, and besides it deserves its place. Jackson's unprecedented commercial success elevated the concept of the all-conquering, blockbuster album to reality, but the incredible thing about it is how well it survives: after so much world-wide exposure, it remains a playable record. After Thriller, the industry initiated a super-league which only a precious few can aspire to, and which led Jackson himself into control of a power base which recording artists had seldom glimpsed before. And still the music endures.
Zen Arcade (SST)
Along with the Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy, this kick-started/blueprinted the late 80s regeneration of rock. Like J&MC, Husker Du trailblazed a whole new way for pop and noise to coexist. Their fusion of folkadelic yearning and foaming fury, bleeding hearts and bleeding ears, spawned the Dinosaur Jr/Nirvana school of "zen apathy/bewilderness rock", and was a pivotal influence on My Bloody Valentine et al too. The 13-minute all live raga-improv blizzard "Reoccurring Dreams" that closes this magnificent double didn't, however, ignite a Mahavishnu revival (shame!). They recorded more accomplished albums (Warehouse, Flip Your Wig) but Zen Arcade was the Du at their most unleashed, expansive and emotionally devastating.
Minor Threat (Dischord)
This is cheating really, as these songs originally appeared in 1981 as two seven inch EPs, but their impact was cumulative, hammered home by a heroic touring schedule. Like the less morally bracing Black Flag, Minor Threat tramped through just about every town in America, inspiring legions of American youth to start bands with great names and overloaded amplifiers. Various cores might have got harder and speedier afterwards, but for sheer uptight fury, the song "In My Eyes" has never surpassed. In their struggle to sign a route away from traditional over-indulgence Minor Threat got themselves every bit as appealingly screwed up just saying no as any of rock's excess victims - "You say that I make no difference, but at least I'm fucking trying".
Into The Groove (Sire/Warners)
Trailing baffled jealousy and rage, the Material Girl - a narcissist so pure she manifests as a holy little blasphemer - has transcended all previously possible woman-as-star roles in the entertainment industry. Not humble giver, but proud taker; not a prize but a threat. Within the plump plastic disco-throb of her hits (the chart 12" her mastered medium), mocking dance music's supposed artistic passivity, she expertly deploys the producers who mould her "voice": apparently the manipulated object of the technology, she's made herself - as CEO of her own huge operation - the ultimate speaking subject. Here, in her first number one, a blatant dance-sex double entendre shifts focus from her as loveslave-trader too you as perfect consumer. She has absolute control.
The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto (Earthworks/Virgin) This one record justifies all the dully worthy blah committed in the name of World Music. Trevor Herman's and Jumbo Van Renan's inspired compilation tells an essentially mythological tale of community resilience and survival, reaches into the gorgeous, raw-gritty sound of an already-vanished past for one last moment, without ever denying that the music can only really be so potently rediscovered because of the effects of a barbarously retarded social set-up: because Soweto's will to change was so violently thwarted. The music remains as tensile as it's witty: and old troupers like Mathlathini will later clearly enjoy recreating their roles to cartoon perfection, if that's what sympathetic whitey overseas wants.
Record Without A Cover (Recycled)
A smack in the face for vinyl fetishists, Marclay's sleeveless one-sided album takes as its subject the record as both material and musical artefact. Marclay works with the sounds of records themselves, as much as the sounds pressed into them - mixing the clicks, pops and scratches of well-worn vinyl oddments with straight musical quotes (Ellington's "Caravan" in particular), he develops the whole with an almost classic compositional logic, building to a nerve (and vinyl) shredding climax. Inspired more by Cage than hiphop, Marclay's school of scratch is also the naughty child of musique concrčte. Utterly remarkable.
Washing Machine (Trax 12")
As a drummer based in Chicago, Larry Heard played as much of what he calls "abstract rock", inspired by Yes, Rush and Genesis, as fusion and R&B. "Washing Machine" was a weekend experiment with a Roland Juno 6 keyboard and a drum machine. Predating Marshall Jefferson's and DJ Pierre's equally radical House 12" "Acid Tracks", Heard stripped the music down to basics. He described it to me in 1989 as "just random sounds running over a drum beat" but this was too self-effacing. The melody line is the bass line is the rhythm: this economy, which is another context we would call minimalism, opened House music out from pop song structure into it present exploration of moods, of (washing) machine states, and of the interplay of sound and beat.
Tata Sira (Camara)
It's difficult to choose one artist or recording out of the thousands that make up Mali's vast musical heritage. I've picked this exquisite very often bootlegged masterpiece of contemporary electro-Jali simply because of its unprecedented popularity and influence in West Africa itself. The powerful combination of Koita's majestic, heart-cleaving vocal with brilliantly paced balafon, ngoni, kit-drums, bass and electric guitar is truly inspired (and not just by the profit-motive that leads so many African artists to try it!). Modernity and tradition in a rare and beautiful mutual coexistence.
In Berlin Œ88 (FMP)
The old jazzcrit polemic bites the dust. No more American-versus-European or Black-versus-white rhetoric is admissible after this raging multinational celebration. One of the instigators of American "free jazz" hooks up with a succession of drummers (German, British, Dutch, Zulu) for a series of duets, encounters Derek Bailey, fields a trio with Evan Parker and Tristan Honsinger, and heads a 17 piece orchestra for a monumental performance. At the end of it all, Taylor's playing differently, and so are the Europeans. Everybody wins. In Berlin Œ88 swept all jazz polls in 1990. Rightly so.
Bring The Noise (Def Jam/Columbia)
The Bomb Squad as Rubber Band; their production never more chewy, taut, bouncy than on this single (also second track to the second album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back). The beat feels like they've been fed helium; Chuck D and Flavor Flav race each other to the chorus, Terminator X raises his hands as his scratches leave him standing, a sound that accelerates away from us like a grey road unspooling. D, Flav and producer Hank Shocklee all met at Adelphi University in the early 80s where college radio gave them a laboratory in which to refine their experiments in sound, leading up to their astounding debut Yo! Bum Rush The Show, aesthetically and politically like nothing in rap previously. Last year Chuck D told Village Voice that the group had recorded the album two decibels higher than usual for maximum radio impact. Its reverberations were deafening, saddening, confusing, seeming to surprise even them.
This article appeared in The Wire issue 100, June 1992
© The Wire.