#296 The Sex Pistols – EMI

(UK – 1977)

How do you a wreck a record company if you believe they’ve conned you? You feature them in a song full of rage. EMI signed the Pistols but banned them from playing in the UK altogether after a number of incidents. The upside of it was that they could play “in Europe” as the British put it.

“EMI” (click on pic to listen) is the final song on “Never Mind the Bollocks” and what a way to sign off. It would mean staying alert until the very last note. I used to have an original 1977 pressing of that record, but it was lost in the 25+ times I moved.

I still value this song as a very original punk rock composition (guitarist/lead composer Steve Jones was able to produce a little bit more than 3 power chords the average punk band had to offer), a 3-minute classic. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

I am sure that EMI was in the 1997 list, but I lost the original and only have scraps of what that list could have looked like. But it may have even been top 30!

#297 Eskimo – Can You Pick Me Up?

(UK – 2003)

As I wrote somewhere in the 400s of this list, psytrance is a recent acquired taste. It’s the kind of music that was missing in my universe and which as brought me a lot of pleasure. Although probably a bit too much for the majority of my followers, this actually relaxes me. I do get into a trance and crave for more, no limit.

“Can You Pick Me Up?” (click on pic to listen) could have been any other track from the album by the same name, that’s the whole idea of psytrance, it’s steve reich on acid. I merely scratched the surface of this genre but I’m hooked. If I were 20-30 years younger, I’d probably hang around festivals all the time.

Probably a good thing I’m a wee bit older!

#298 Genesis – The Battle of Epping Forest

(UK – 1973)

A posthumously released album by Frank Zappa is called “Does Humor Belong in Music”, Genesis could have done more or less the same, and “The Battle of Epping Forest” (click on pic to listen) is a fine example. This is British humour of course, sweet and sour, tongue in cheek and totally absurd.

The music goes from almost mediaeval to jazz and spans the many centuries between the ‘real’ battle and the modern-day gangsta showdown. The story is told like an account from a bloke at the pub, there are many (plot) twists and turns, it is a concept song on its own. The 1971-1974 period marked the height of what Genesis could achieve in music and lyrics. A quintet of very serious musicians producing sometimes hilarious material, but back to back with very profound philosophical stuff. The most versatile prog band around.

As a young man, I was very fond of “Epping Forest” for the many changes in beat and melody and the delicious tongue(s) of Peter Gabriel, whose voice is very similar to mine, so I could sing along almost in tune. I would definitely play side 2 of “Selling England” more than side one. Not just because of this song, but also because of the other long song, which we will encounter later this year.

#299 Peter Hammill – The Comet, the Course, the Tail

(UK – 1974)

How much control do we have over the path we take through history, both as a species and as an individual? We’re all comets in an elliptical orbit, but our tails can spread widely. Meaning: the options are manifold, despite the general direction of the object.

PH addressed many existentialist questions in his songs, and this is a key one indeed. The lyrics are as clear as they are obscure: this is poetry to be listened to and read over and over. The questions will never be answered satisfactory, so we might come up with several answers.

The music is myserious but never weird, the vocals are soft first and then strong. The first verse is a hit:

They say we are endowed with Free Will –
At least that justifies our need for indecision
But between our instincts and the lust to kill
We bow our heads in submission

But the last verse is a classic:

How can I tell that the road signed to hell
Doesn’t lead up to heaven?
What can I say when, in some obscure way
I am my own direction?

I adopted the last line as one of my motto’s when I was 18 years old. Yes, I am my own direction, direction being both “course” and “control”. Ambiguity is Peter Hammill’s preferred principle.

A song for eternity. Like many others that will follow. We’re in the upper 300 now, and the level of quality of the songs is already stunning. This is going to be a fine music year, no matter what else!

#300 Magazine – Shot By Both Sides

(UK – 1978)

What can I say? A punk rock classic on a post-punk avant-garde album. The last Shelley/Devoto (who both switched from the Buzzcocks to Magazine) composition before Pete Shelley called it a day. This is a signature fast and furious track. “Shot By Both Sides” still hammers away at the world 43 years in.

The song is about overload of the senses when among too many people:

I wormed my way into the heart of the crowd
I wormed my way into the heart of the crowd
I was shocked to find what was allowed
I didn’t lose myself in the crowd
Shot by both sides
On the run to the outside of everything
Shot by both sides
They must have come to a secret understanding
New offenses always in my nerves
They’re taking my time by force
They all sound the same when they scream
As a matter of course

At the time this album was released, I was on the reverse trip: I wanted to be in the crowd – at last, after feeling alienated and isolated in a distant and bloodless world, in a village “on the outside of everything”. So I did worm my way into the heart of the crowd, and I totally loved it. At 17 I jumped into the ‘real world’ (and not surprisingly, the album this song is on is called “Real Life”) and couldn’t resist all the fascinating options. Still can’t, although a certain level of satisfaction has been reached.

But let’s say I was not shocked at what was allowed, I was rather gobsmacked and decided to roam the edges. You see I came from a microcosm in which I had been “shot” by both sides all the time, so it was rather familiar. I didn’t dodge until I saw the bullet flying my way and some bullets were not lethal at all. So I bit them, swallowed them and got tougher and softer at the same time. Shot by both sides of the scale.

#301 Frank Zappa – Yo’ Mama

(US – 1979)

After the Summer of 1987, let’s talk about the Summer of 1981 and the Fall of 1982. Contrary to what others might believe, I had never heard a FZ song until that sweltering day in June 1981, when my buddy Egbert played “Sheik Yerbouti” in my face and almost blew me off the balcony.

Fast forward a year or so I find myself in Guatemala with my soon-to-be wife and her buddies talking about music and what might be the best songs to get high on. “Oh I know”, I said, “that must be Zappa”. But imported records were almost impossible to get, or at exorbitant prices. So I wrote to my brother and politely asked him to compile a cassette with the songs I deemed eligible. The package arrived a few weeks later. The posse joined, rolled, lit and waited. With feverish hands for unrestrained excitement I inserted the tape into a worn player and the rest is history. Copies of the tape went many districts of the capital and even beyond. Some people even claimed they had produced the piece de resistance.

Anyhow, “Yo Mama” (click on pic to listen to the unremastered version) was prominent on that cassette, just as it had been on that balcony in Amstelveen 18 months previous. The song is basically a 10-minute guitar solo, but the lyrics were just right for the moment:

Maybe you should stay with yo’ mama
She could do your laundry ‘n’ cook for you
Maybe you should stay with yo’ mama
You’re really kinda stupid ‘n’ ugly too

And
You should never smoke in pajamas
You might start a fire ‘n’ burn yer face
Maybe you’ll return to Managua

You could go unnoticed in such a place

You ain’t really made for bein’ out in the street
Ain’t much hope for a fool like you
Cause if you play the game, you will get beat

Fact is: I had had my moments of despair in the early weeks of my Central American journey, and basically I was now staying with my mother-in-law. It was too warm for pajamas, but I did smoke in bed, and I had just returned FROM Managua (see the “Tiburon” entry of this Top500), where I definitely went unnoticed. And the question if I got beat at the game of life, love and travels, was still unanswered. By the time we listened to the tape, it could still go either way.

“Yo Mama” reminds me of the days before and after I met my destiny and was catapulted into a life I had not foreseen or prepared for. There was not much hope in the beginning, but I somehow made it and was able to shrug off the burden of “My Mama”. But that’s an entirely different story.

#302 (-/96/40/-) Rubén Blades y Seis del Solar – Agua de Luna

(PAN /US – 1987)

The Summer of 1987 was my Summer of Love. Sorry Boomers (although by some definitions I am actually one of them), I’m not on the same page. 1987 was the year of Rubén Blades. Not only did he, together with Little Steven, record the ultimate summer hit “Bitter Fruit“, which by the way may have been the most political summer hit to this day, but he also released one of the albums of the year: “Agua de Luna” (click on pic to listen to the title track, featured on this list).

I played this album to exhaustion. 1987 was the scene of one of the most radical transitions of my life, as my point of focus shifted to a new culture, a (relatively) new language and a new relationship horizon. Oh and did I mention a new job?

“Agua de Luna” tells the story of this transition perfectly, it starts with: “No hay respuesta a la pregunta para qué uno nace” – There is no answer to the question why a person is born. And it ends with: “Desde el mágico Caribe le traemos agua de luna” – From the magical Caribbean we bring you moon water.
The magic of the Caribbean had waned and would be swept away by the magic of my secret passion: German-speaking Europe. It was still a total taboo to say that out loud, which was thrown in my face as soon as I told people I had in fact fallen in love with a German girl. The reaction had been exactly the same as 5 years before, when I had fallen in love with a Guatemalan girl: “Were Dutch girls not good enough?” Any illusions about the Netherlands being some kind of island of tolerance amidst the ubiquitious racism in the world were totally shattered.

So there was moon water – agua te luna – go with the waters of Norway, Spain, Portugal (the stages of my summer journey) and Southern Germany, and of course the river Maas of Rotterdam always close at hand. A water year. A moon year. A rebirth year.

#303 Nas – NY State of Mind

(US – 1994)

Some say this is the ultimate rap about New York in the 1990s, when hiphop ruled and NY ruled hiphop (although in LA they will say the same). As I wrote before, I was more an East Coast fan, but that was pre-emptive.

Nas’ rhymes are practically unbeaten on “NY State of Mind” (click on pic to listen), so many genius lines but also a graphic image of the NY gangsta wars going on.

Just a few samples:
And the stuff that I write is even tougher than dykes” – (respect)

I got so many rhymes I don’t think I’m too sane
Life is parallel to Hell but I must maintain

and of course the legendary:
I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death

There was life before and after “Illmatic”.
Missed out on going to New York on account of the pandemic.
Just before I could get into the right state of mind,
the quarantine got hold and they cancelled all the flights.

But I’ll be back!

#304 The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Voodoo Child (slight return)

(US/UK – 1968)

Jimi Hendrix telling the blues how to rock.

That’s the shortest and the most accurate description of this song. Voodoo Child (slight return) (click on pic to listen) is one of the many first-offs Hendrix, Redding and Mitchell pulled off. Listening to Hendrix is actually listening to music history being made. The world still has to figure it out completely. Hendrix’ untimely death put an end to so many potential combinations. Like Hendrix and Miles Davis – probably the wildest of them all. Imagine “Bitches Brew” with Jimi Hendrix.

#305 Small Faces – Lazy Sunday

(UK – 1968)

Yep, this is one of the other songs I was mad about as a first-grader. The happy melody, the psychedelic bridge, the escalation in the end, the funny words and accents, it was just a ton of fun. My parents were not so fond of “Lazy Sunday” (click on pic to watch the crude 1960s clip, yet with special effects!), so I always had to sneak behind them to turn up the volume – and risk to get smacked. But it was worth it.

So lovely that 53 years later I can still enjoy this song the way I did when I was a kid. And in fact, by then we still got on with the neighbors!