From today’s perspective it’s probably quite hard to imagine what the 1970s were like to grow up in. There was controversy, struggle, antagonisms everywhere, but people were still talking to each other. There were no bubbles like today. What it meant, though, is that if you were in any way involved in the world around you, you would be discussing anything all the time with anyone around you. Great debating training, yes, but not so easy to fall asleep on.
Tom Robinson arrived as one of the frontpersons of “Rock Against Racism”, and was already famous for “Glad to Be Gay”. The “Power in the Darkness” album provided all the ammuntion for any debate. I was just in the middle of the transition from liberal to radical, so this was the perfect starting point.
“Power in the Darkness” (click on pic to listen) is basically a black and white call for action and solidarity, as the forces of conservative control and (especially in the UK) reaction were gathering like thunderclouds. 1978 was the last pre-Thatcher year and Reagan and Kohl were around the corner. The song basically sums up the reasons to “stand up and fight for your right” and the mock radio broadcast, declaring everybody being against the reactionaries “left wing scum” after summing up all “those who would undermine our society”, i.e. anyone deviating from the grey average.
I was just beginning to deviate and I didn’t get to listen to this album before I turned 19 in 1980, but the cat was out of the bag: this was the revolutionary drum. I used to play it on and on, especially in preparation (or in the aftermath) of conflicts, where were all over the place for the most of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.
I believe the power is still needed, to much darkness around.
I did not grow up in a household that liked anything experimental, especially not in music. I’ll never forget the day my dad came home proudly with the latest Golden Earring record featuring a 19-minute cover version of “Eight Miles High“. The first minutes are safe, because, well: it’s the Byrds…, but the song gradually turns experimental and my dad was so angry about that, he eventually threw the album away.
He was no fan of Jimi Hendrix either, so I was. I loved the weird psychedelic interludes, even if I didn’t get it. “3rd Stone From the Sun” was particularly pleasant, because Hendrix’s deep voice sounded so God-like, and I imagined a voice from heaven speaking about (or event to) all the stones from the sun that made up the solar system. It was a moment of magic and I got the feeling I was hovering around in a space ship.
I still get that feeling when I listen to this song: it has been sent from heaven.
The slowest Police single release and most of the emotion is subdued. Only at the very end some of the tension is released. So it’s actually the tension that makes for the beauty of the song. Back in the early 80s, I could never explain why I liked this song so much I would repeat it (which is not good if you have quite an old record player) and play it very loud several times. I would dance to it too, the rhythm is very inviting.
“Wrapped Around Your Finger” (click on pic to watch the click) is a song about relationship tension during the tense days of the final stretch of this amazing trio. They were falling apart at the seams and were still able to record the stunning “Synchronicity” album. Something only Moloko and of course The Beatles have been able to do – to my knowledge. End with a bang.
A song just as inconspicuous as the Pigling Bland character, but surprisingly vivid and almost like a holy ode. “Pigling Bland” is tongue in cheek and a little gem at the same time. Elton Dean totally kills it on sax and Hugh Hopper lays down an almost subliminal but totally wild bass track. The song escalates to unexpected heights in the last few bars.
From the legendary “Fifth” album, this is another fantastic track. The perfect Sunday morning tune to accompany fresh fruit juice and toast. The black coffee always in reach.
“Pigling Bland” has always been close to the Top100 in the last 24 years, only actually made it once. And I repeat, being on #227 is only a statement about the songs to follow. This one stands like a rock. A soft rock with a tree on it. A jazz rock with a weirdly shaped plant emerging from it.
“Acted like general Franco when he acted like governor of California” – the B Movie actor will be mentioned once more in this list, by the time he was elected president. But this is 11 years prior and Tricky Dicky is the president. Paul Kantner and his crew are announcing the demise of all the old oppressors and the beginning of new time.
“Mau Mau (Amerikon)” (click on pic to listen) is the hippie declaration of war. The name of the song is derived from the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, which was long and bloody. Jefferson Starship mean business here. They represent the radical wing of the ‘flower kids’.
When I lived on the East side of Amsterdam among the radicals of the squatter movement, 10 years after this song was released, there were many Jefferson Starship fans among them. Contrary to most of the squatters, who were roughly between 16 and 25, these people were in their 30s and 40s and veterans of struggles in the late 1960s.
“Open that door” is the last verse of the song. The door to a new world. This is a psychedelic rock song with the fierceness of Hawkwind’s space rock and the lyrical power of the likes of Bob Dylan. Paul Kantner and Grace Slick, the core of Jefferson Airplane and Starship, really wanted to rock the boat.
Jefferson Starship remained obscure to me until quite recently, I must ashamedly admit. After Woodstock I switched to heavy metal for a few years and then moved on to prog. “Blows Against the Empire” is truly a great achievement among the hippie albums.
The love for this song (and for the entire album, for that matter) was kindled on a bus with 50 odd people traveling from the utmost southeast of the Netherlands to The Hague, the sede of the government, to protest against the deployment of US nuclear warheads on military bases across western Europe. This was to be the second demonstration of its kind, after the first one two years earlier. This time – and not just in the Netherlands but in all of Europe – all records of mass demonstrations were broken and have stood since.
Me and my partner plus many friends were among the estimated 550.000 people marching, but by God was it a long journey. I believe we spend 4 hours on the bus in each direction, as traffic was hell all over the country (normally the journey is just over 2 hours). But there was a great entertainment program: we had 1 cassette with “Abril en Managua”, the peace concert in Nicaragua, on side one and “Ensemble” on side 2. In the 8 hours of our aggregated journeys, we could listen to each album about 5 times. Which we did.
“Merhaba/Ghia Cara” combines the fierce saz played by Zülfü Livaneli with Maria Farantouri’s incredible voice. In 1982, a Greek and a Turkish artist playing together wasn’t something any of them was supposed to do. The recent controversies over Cyprus and of course the centuries-long animosities over Ottoman rule were far from being resolved. This song and the album as a whole were trying to express that all humans are equal and experience the same challenges in life. A wonderful contribution to peace, an album still cherished and a song still loved.
In the 1980s I heard a lot of saz playing in the immigrant district of Rotterdam where I lived, the sound is hypnotizing and there were so many skilled players around. The community center I worked in organized saz classes and sometimes great players would come for a guest lesson. So this song also evokes great memories!
Cumbia time! During my Latin America days, I discovered that for many latinxs, cumbia is the next level to salsa. And by the way, what the rest of the world knows as ‘salsa’, is actually a whole range of rhythms and styles, but I don’t want to preach here.
Cumbia is the music of the Caribbean coast of South America, it is centered around the accordion and it is the music of Gabriel García Márquez. If you read his books, you should be able to hear cumbia being played in the background.
“La Zenaida” (click on pic to watch the clip) is a well-rounded composition with a stiff pace and a stunning display of accordion mastery. Joy and fun will jump at you from bar 1. This is party music!
Syncopation continued from the previous entry… This time it’s not only the music, but also the dance. This was called ‘total theatre’ in the 1970s, Hauser Orkater was an unprecented sensation.
“Zie de mannen vallen” (see the falling men) (click on pic to watch the clip) is actually about the mysterious female character, possessing a small strip of no-man’s (!) land on top of a high, wooden fence. A piece of land that no man may safely reach. They will fall from the fence. Women will keep their balance, unless they start hesitating.
A tantalizing lyric, a mesmerizing metaphor. A catchy melody, a fabulous drummer. A song I have loved since it was released. I can play it on a loop for a long period of time and indeed I have.
Stuart Syn-Copeland and his British buddies created the ultimate counter-rhythm with this song that seems to skip or smuggle a beat all the time. An amazing string of golden beat(d)s wrapped around a solid bass lick and a sequence of trance-like keyboard chords.
“Spirits in the Material World” (click on pic to watch the clip) may not sound very spectacular 40 years in, but back then it was pretty sensational. The Police added jazz to rock and reggae. They also added spirituality but kept their ‘spark of madness’. I believe there has never been a band that remained so cool as they were. And this reputation lives on with the individual members until this very day.
Every Police song carries some kind of competetion between the members, and please don’t rule out the muscial genius of Andy Summers! In this song this is lifted to new heights, and we’re one album away of their last (and best) album, where it goes off the chart.
I can’t stop listening to the syncopated rhythm tickling me on so many levels. Glad to be able to include it in this list!
The humanistic version of “stand your ground”: be true to yourself. Kate Tempest stuck to the motto and transformed to Kae. But it’s much more than that: to be genuine in this world that is pressurizing everyone to become a mould is an achievement in itself.
“Hold the wolves that hunt you Given time they will be the dogs that bring your slippers”
And so much more sagery by the poet that can look behind every emotion and see the truth written on every eyelid. This poem brings tears to my eyes, because it’s so vulnerably real, so unprotected and open-hearted. The message is as Buddhist and clear as it can get: if you embrace what you are, you will be. If you crave what you’re not, you will always be unhappy. Live the moment consciously and you’ll already be rich.