#72 (-) Notion – Tash Sultana

Notion

(AUS – 2016)

A bit of Amy Winehouse and a LOT of Jimi Hendrix: the one trans-person band Tash Sultana is totally serious shit and it’s also totally playful and limitless. After the online explosion of “Jungle“, there has been so much more. Tash may be the most proficient busker that ever played on the streets of this earth and is now hitting main stages all over the world. And all this is at age 24! And that is not the only parallel with Jimi Hendrix.

Their debut “Notion” (click on pic) is an musical and emotional rollercoaster from amazing lyrics and vocals to virtuoso guitar play and natural performance skills beyond compare. Tash is so multi-talented that it almost hurts inside, especially if you are aware of the drugs and mental health issues they openly share.

Listen to this to get your spirits on their feet! Dance barefoot and open the windows!

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#73 (63) Black Sea – XTC

XTC_-_Black_Sea_album_cover

(UK – 1980)

Like me, most people who were teenagers in the 1970s remember XTC from this weird video of “Making Plans for Nigel“. Their fourth album, “Black Sea” (click on pic) is a lot more mature, but still pleasantly weird.

As singer-guitarist Andy Partridge once said: an album is like a movie, the songs are scenes and you should listen to them in the right order. This is particularly so for “Black Sea”. None of the songs among the best I ever heard, but the combination does it.

The first five songs display a fierce pace, take you by the hand and lead you to a place where you can act as crazy as you like. “Respectable St.” of course, is a hilarious satire on snobbnishness, and “Generals and Majors” is about impending WWIII (which was a real perspective in 1980, let’s not forget), immediately followed by “Living Through Another Cuba”, which gets the date of the Cuba crisis wrong (1961 instead of 1962), but the “piggy in the middle” feeling of many young people like them and me totally right. After “Love At First Sight” and “Rocket From a Bottle” we move to a slower tempo for just two songs: “No Language in Our Lungs” and “Towers of London”, after which we rush to the finale.

Travels in Nihilon” is the abstract absurd musical war painting that is all over the place without really landing. It’s a song you listen to time and time again without listening to the same song more than once. You may focus on the (battle) drums, the next time on the bass, the next time on the lyrics, the voice, the backup vocals, the guitar, the repetitiveness, the gloomy backdrop etc. etc. It doesn’t go down easy, but it stands.

XTC was not afraid to experiment their way into every song. It may or may not have worked all the time, but you get a sound movie that is utterly convincing.

#74 (-) Nursery Cryme – Genesis

nursery-cryme-album_1024x1024

(UK – 1971)

The first of the classic Genesis albums was the one when Phil Collins and Steve Hackett joined the band. Although this was already their 3rd album, most of the band’s members were not even 21 years old. I was 15 when I first listened to this album. Most of the songs went right over my head the first few times. It was a case of ‘too much, too young’.

“Nursery Cryme” revolves around three giant songs, suites on their own accord. “The Musical Box” can be found way up on my Song top 100 (as the live version, though). It was Steve Hackett’s introduction and it ain’t half smashing. The guitar part is so different from what other guitarists (including Steve Howe) were doing back then, that it seems impossible to get it out of your system. The world of music hasn’t been different since.

“The Return of the Giant Hogweed”, loosely based on Wyndham’s “Trouble with Lichen” (which I had read the same year I first heard this song), starts off real awkwardly, but once it picks up pace the keyboard, drums and guitar spiral towards new heights. The finale could be pure doom metal, if more bass had been added.

Between this giant and the next, the ‘underestimated’ “Seven Stones” (already predicting something like “Can-Utility and the Coastliners” on “Foxtrot”), the hilarious “Harold the Barrel” and the vulnerable “Harlequin” add to the mix.

“The Fountain of Salmacis” was played live during the 1978 Genesis concert I was lucky to attend. It is one of the few Genesis songs with a meaningful bassline. That was the weak spot of this band: all pedals, no pluck. The double-vocal turns the song into a fairy tale.  The guitar-bass-flute-keyboard exchange in the middle is exquisite of composition and execution. The guitar finale already announces that of “Supper’s Ready”‘s.

This is a prophetic album. The prequel, but what a way to make one!

#75 (36) Agua de Luna – Rubén Blades y Seis del Solar

Ruben_Blades_Y_Seis_Del_Solar-Agua_De_Luna-Frontal

(PAN – 1987)

The Summer of 1987, 20 years after the Summer of Love and 10 past the Summer of Hate, was my Summer of Resurrection. In the midst of a painful divorce and a multitude of conflicts at work, I took 4 weeks off to be far away from the maelstrom pulling me down. I spent 2 weeks in Norway, 1 day at my brother’s wedding in the Netherlands and another 2 weeks in Portugal. The latter were accompanied by pure magic, starting at a jazz festival in Donostía, followed by a long train haul to Porto and more of the extraordinary happening in Serra do Gerês.

“Agua de Luna” (click on pic) accompanied on my first Walkman, all the way. The songs not only were the witnesses to all the amazing stuff happening, they also provided the backdrop and the explanation to much of the opaque.

Latin America is the realm of magic realism. I am convinced that life is much easier with it than without it. It’s what the North totally lacks.

“Ojos de Perro Azul” has become one of the key principles of my life: be true to the game or stop playing.

Mira donde va, a la hora de la verdad de que color es tu mentira?
Mira donde va, y explicame que es mejor, perder el alma o la vida?
Mira donde va, el mundo solo será del que camina sin miedo
Mira donde va, de que te vale vivir siendo por dentro extranjero?

(Watch where you’re going, in the hour of truth what color are your lies?
Watch where you’re going, and tell me which is better, lose your soul or your life?
Watch where you’re going, the world shall only belong to those who walk without fear
Watch where you’re going, what’s life worth if you’re a stranger inside?)

And of course the title song giving it all away (or not?):

No hay respuesta a la pregunta ¿para qué uno nace?
No hay respuesta a la pregunta ¿para qué uno muere?
Misterios, que no tienen fin.

Yo sólo sé que cuando hay vida todo se puede y
Que si uno usa lo que tiene comprenderá que se
Puede dar sentido a lo absurdo haciendo que sea
Éste mundo la razón de nuestro llegar.

(There is no answer to the question: why are we born?
There is no answer to the question: why do we die?
Infinite mysteries

I only know that, as long as there is life, everything is possible and
If you use what you have, you will understand
That you can make sense of the absurdities
Pretending that this world is the reason of our arrival)

And there is more, so much more. The music is beyond excellence and all the lyrics are based on the writings of Gabriel García Márquez.

Listen and shiver.

#76 (76) Real Life – Magzine

Real Life

(UK – 1978)

The sleeve! I knew I had to buy this album, no matter the music. But it was love at first sound and the relationship has stood the test of time.

“Real Life” (click on pic) is one of those debut albums that stands like a rock. Of course, Howard Devoto wasn’t new to the game, but it was a bold restart. “Shot By Both Sides”, the last remaining Buzzcocks composition, is perhaps the most exciting song on the album, but it was never my favorite.

Two songs have competed for my preference: “The Light Pours Out of Me” and “Motorcade”. Both have featured on my Song top 100 and may still do so in the 2021 special edition (more about that later this year).

“Motorcade” is the sort of mini-movie which takes you into the head of the person “at the centre of the motorcade”, who “has learnt to tie his boots”. The reverb on the vocals is especially tantalizing. The bass lick is just delicious. The guitar is totally destructive. The beat is frantic. The keyboard smacks of 1980s British gangster TV-series.

“The Light Pours Out of Me” is slave-to-the-rhythm groovy. Hit single stuff.

And there’s more, much more on this album. The carrousel song “The Great Beautician in the Sky” leaves you in vertigo and “Definitive Gaze” is just the right way to start off an album.

A crossover between punk/post-punk/indie and a bit of doom which totally nailed it!

#77 (89) Synchronicity – The Police

Police-album-synchronicity

(UK/US – 1983)

The Netherlands were the first country where The Police broke through, even before the UK. I will never forget the hype starting in 1979 with “Message in a Bottle” and “Roxanne“. My brother had taped a Police concert from the radio and in my hometown, that was the cassette everyone wanted to copy.

“Synchronicity” (click on pic) was to be the last studio album and the triumvirate is at it’s shining best. “Synchronicity I & II”, “Walking in Your Footsteps”, “King of Pain”, “Every Breath You Take”, and my absolute favorite “Wrapped Around Your Fingers” (one of the shower songs), it just doesn’t stop. Stewart Copeland’s drumming is at a flying high level, perhaps that’s what makes this album so amazingly good.

“Synchronicity” belongs to the albums I would play more than once back to back. Perhaps that’s the ultimate criterion for being higher up on this top 100 list. The top entries are those I could play all day… But that’s still a long way away.

You play “Synchronicity” when you’re home alone and you’re in a slighly depressed mood. It might just lift you up. It works for me.

#78 (-) Apostrophe (‘) – Frank Zappa

Apostrophe

(US – 1974)

“Apostrophe (‘)” (click on pic) is an old friend of mine. After “Sheik Yerbouti” it was the first FZ studio album I listened to, nearly 40 years ago.

It was the golden Zappa days, in which the blend of jazz, rock, soul, funk and crazy Varese-stuff was nearly perfect. Every note fits. The musician’s skills are phenomenal and the compositions just compete against each other for brilliance.

“Apostrophe (‘)” starts off with the famous Yellow Snow-suite which just kills you, riff after riff. The final part, “Father O’Blivion” is a 2-minute opera, knocking every listener from their feet. “Cosmik Debris” could have been a song on “Over-Nite Sensation” – it is one of the many hippie-satires in FZ’ works and eventually bursts into the first of the many guitar solos on this album.

“Excentrifugal Forz” funks away in 94 seconds and leaves you breathless, followed by the title song, which is a classic rock-style instrumental piece, eventually revealing itself as a guitar solo in disguise. It rocks like hell and the solo is so fresh! “Uncle Remus” is the soulful swinging counterpart.

The album closes off with the hilarious “Stink-Foot”, with a country & western type guitar solo, and introducing… the speaking poodle! The poodle of course being Zappa’s symbol of modern-day decadence.

Apostrophe (‘) is one of three FZ-albums on this top 100 list. The man wrote more than 1200 songs, which makes him one of the most prolific musicians of all time.

We are approaching the end of the first quarter of this list, and already the amazingness of the albums is staggering. I’m thoroughly enjoying this, as these are all the albums I like the most. Makes my heart soar!

 

#79 (-) Run For Your Wife – Ben van den Dungen & Jarmo Hoogendijk Quintet

Run For Your Wife

(NL – 1991)

Right towards the end of my jazz heydays, in the year in which me and my best pal went to see a total of 20 shows at the North Sea Jazz Festival in a matter of 4 days, I stumbled upon this gem.

Dutch bebop at its best, expanding in all directions, energy bouncing of the walls, innovative themes, amazing solos and every kind of harmony. “Run For Your Wife” (click on pic) is a real grown-up album. The title song is speedy enough to get you off your feet, heading into a night of fun and dance. I would love to play this album just before leaving to any kind of event.

Feelgood and skill, never to be repeated, unfortunately. The band broke up after this album. So this one stands out forever. A milestone in Dutch jazz history.

#80 (-) Fragile – Yes

fragile-yes-lp

(UK – 1971)

I was lucky to be part of the Band of Minor Siblings. When we got together after school in the late 1970s, we would play the records of the older sisters and brothers, which would usually be hippie and prog music. As I didn’t have an older sibling, I was introduced into this Walhalla.

Two records were especially popular: Genesis’ “Selling England by the Pound” (popping up next month) and “Fragile” (click on pic). Most of the songs of “Fragile” were also played on what I consider as the best album ever (but disallowed on this list for being a live album): “Yessongs”. The live versions were all better than their studio counterparts. And that is the reason why “Fragile” is not further up this list. But one major song was not on that live record: “South Side of the Sky”, so that was the one I was always waiting for.

“Fragile” was the start of the golden era of Yes, stretching for 7 years until “Tormato”. The most famous song on this album is of course the renowned “Roundabout”, and the most groundbreaking song is, without a doubt, “Heart of the Sunrise”.

This #80 of the top 100 marks the beginning of my supergroup entries, covering 17% of all albums. Yes I have remained faithful over the years. Yes is on only one of the three I have never seen performing live, however. I had the chance, amost 20 years ago, to see them in London, but I changed my plans last-minute and went to see a comedy show. I have never regretted that, but still…

#81 (28) Atom Heart Mother – Pink Floyd

AtomHeartMother

(UK – 1970)

This is the kind of album you have heard about, that it should be totally genius and far out and a classic and what not. And the first time you play it, it totally eludes you. There was only one song I could more or less relate to, which was “Summer ’68”. The beautiful keyboard composition love song has not ceased to captivate me, even after almost 40 years.

It was the winter of 1980-81 when I first listened to “Atom Heart Mother” (click on pic), and obviously the title song is what I refer to mostly. That one and “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast”.

“Atom Heart Mother” (the song) has transformed from a totally impenetrable suite to a masterpiece beyond compare. It was just that I had to learn about complexity, multi-layeredness. A choir, a windscreen wiper, “rapatita Golgotha”, the main theme with the horns, “Silence in the studio” and the grand finale. It’s the Sistine Chapel of Rock.

“Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” is so calming, so soothing, so casual almost, the total opposite of the title song, beside being totally hilarious. “Marmelade, I like marmelade”.

The two remaining songs, “If” and “Fat Old Sun” are the reason why “Atom Heart Mother” will never be a top 20 album. They lack the genius and the beauty. Having dropped more than 60 places this year, this album will be in grave danger in 2024, but for now: listen to it during dark, unquiet nights when you need to take an important decision. Oracle music.