British Invasion 25

Ah yes, the United Kingdom. The British Invasion 25 originated from a themed event put together by Sari and Kayli, where we indulged in a smorgasbord of British cuisine and shared lists of our favorite records from the ongoing British Invasion. Rather than limiting the list to the timespan of the first British Invasion (put roughly the five years from 1964-1969), or even the second (the hordes of synth pop and new wave groups to storm MTV), we decided to include music all the way up to the present day.

Photo of The Beatles performing on stage for a packed arena
The Beatles live at Shea Stadium 1966

As long as I can remember, I've had an affinity for loads of music from the British Isles, starting with my earliest memories of The English Beat and Billy Idol, and continuing through indie dance, britpop, trip hop, jungle and the seemingly endless litany of electronic permutations to emerge from the island over the ensuing years. Ever since the The Beatles and The Rolling Stones bounced the foundational rock 'n roll of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly back to the shores of America, the transatlantic exchange between the United States and United Kingdom has been one of the key motors driving the thrust of pop music ever forward.

Still from David Bowie's music video for I'm Afraid Of Americans
David Bowie: Afraid of Americans

Which brings us to the second criteria of this list: all artists must have invaded the United States to the level of hitting the charts and/or becoming a household name (preferably both). As such, you'll find me referencing hits and chart positions far more than I normally would... here, it's a crucial part of the whole affair! Rather than just a simple list of my favorite records to emerge from the U.K., this is a selection of my favorite music from artists that made a splash in America to the point that you could mention them to your average stranger on the street and they'd know what you were talking about. The Beatles, David Bowie and Led Zeppelin... that's the level I'm talking about.

Image of Dego McFarlane and Marc Mac at the peak of 4 Hero's junglist reign
The genius of 4 Hero: lost in translation

Unfortunately, that eliminates loads of music that I absolutely adore from consideration, and the entire oeuvres of Tricky, The Black Dog, Primal Scream, Thomas Leer, Ramsey & Fen, 4 Hero, Caravan, Japan/David Sylvian, Young Disciples, Andrew Weatherall, Cabaret Voltaire, Dot Allison, Meat Beat Manifesto, Smith & Mighty, LFO, A.R. Kane, Cymande, Underworld, Brian Eno, Dizzee Rascal, Van Der Graaf Generator, Black Grape, Keni Stevens, FSOL, Sun Palace, Bandulu, John Martyn, My Bloody Valentine, Basement Jaxx, Saint Etienne, Jungle, The Orb, 808 State, The Slits, A Certain Ratio, Neuropolitique, Loose Ends, Bomb The Bass, Mark Stewart, Hijack, The Shamen, Ozric Tentacles, The Libertines, Shut Up And Dance, the Associates, So Solid Crew, and A Guy Called Gerald are all stricken from the record immediately!

Various Artists Run The Road Vice

Similarly, left field favorites like PIL's Metal Box, Talk Talk's Spirit Of Eden, The Human League's Travelogue and Simple Minds's Real To Real Cacophony must be set aside as well, since it's only the drastically different work from another era — often an entirely different lineup/incarnation — of these artists that's well known on this side of the pond. Entire genres like post punk, ardkore, shoegaze, grime and jungle seem to exist just below the surface of consciousness, and I've more often than not been met with blank stares when expressing my enthusiasm for these pockets of sound (the loneliness is real!).


And yet, even with all of that great music eliminated by default, there's far more music than one could possibly fit in one list of 25 records. Far more. In the end, the final selection came down to an honest assessment of my absolute favorite records and artists that managed to crack the code and storm the shores of mainstream America. This is a stack of records that have had a huge impact on me over the years, no question. So here we go... presented in chronological order, I give you the Parallax Moves British Invasion 25.

#25. The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour

Parlophone 1967

There's no better way to kick off a British Invasion list than with the movement's original figureheads. I mean, it almost goes without saying, right? Starting out a bit later than expected (with the more prototypical Beatlemania-era A Hard Day's Night perhaps the most logical choice), I've chosen Magical Mystery Tour since it's among their most British sounding records (it's also my favorite, after Beatles For Sale). Where early records like Please Please Me and With The Beatles followed the lead of American rock 'n roll and girl group — albeit shot through with a uniquely Merseybeat flavor and loads of charm — by this point The Beatles seemed to be operating in their own universe.

Finding the band at the peak of their studio-as-instrument powers (props to George Martin in effect), plying a psychedelic pop-cum-music hall vision right as the technicolor 1960s were cresting in the wake of the Summer Of Love. Magical Mystery Tour is Sgt. Pepper's mischievous kid brother, going so far as to pilfer Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever from his older brother's stash. Boasting even more lavishly skewed production (check out Blue Jay Way and the instrumental Flying) and bigger beats than ever before (see I Am The Walrus and the title track), the record's only weakness is its comparatively lackluster cover sleeve!

#24. The Kinks The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society

Pye 1968

The Kinks captured the idea of Old England in the public imagination more perfectly than just about anyone else around. Even if their biggest U.S. hits came both before and after (You Really Got Me Now and All Day And All Of The Night on one hand, Lola and Come Dancing on the other), there's no getting around the band's late-sixties peak, which found them dreaming up the whole idea of britpop in the wake of the The Kink Kontroversy's transitional elaboration on their earlier rock 'n roll sound.

As much as I love that record, along with Arthur, Face To Face and Muswell Hillbillies (it's very hard to single out one Kinks record for praise), there's just no getting around this sterling 1968 offering. From the perfect power pop of Picture Book to Village Green's overcast baroque inflections and the pastoral sweep of Johnny Thunder, it's a veritable treasure trove of unforgettably melodic moments caught in time. Without a doubt the band's quintessential LP, The Village Green Preservation Society is a miniature world unto itself. Once you make your first visit, you'll want to come back every chance you get.

#23. The Who Live At Leeds

MCA 1970

The Who started out life as the U.K.'s original punks, unleashing unbridled blasts of rock 'n roll energy like My Generation and I Can't Explain upon the world, before Pete Townshend's vision gradually grew more arty and ambitious with thematically-linked concept albums like The Who Sell Out and Tommy (the latter of which is generally credited with popularizing the idea of the rock opera). Despite their (by then) more measured approach in the studio, the band remained a furious live proposition, and 1970's Live At Leeds captures them at their monolithic peak.

Trademark garage punk blasts like My Generation and I Can't Explain are given a hard rock overhaul for the coming decade, while arty suites like Amazing Journey/Sparks and A Quick One, While He's Away are delivered with a muscular force that transcends the intricate arrangements and brittle surfaces of their studio originals. The opening blast of Heaven And Hell seems to combine both sides of the coin, with the grandiose scale of John Entwistle's songwriting (mirroring Townshend's contemporary ambitions) driven to a rock hard extreme by the furious interplay between Entwistle's molten bass and Keith Moon's machine gun drumming, over which Roger Daltrey's bare-chested roar and Townshend's arcing guitar feedback soar freely.

The band also runs through blazing covers of Eddie Cochran's Summertime Blues, Johnny Kidd's Shakin' All Over and Mose Allison's Young Man Blues, imbuing them with a raw power that lays the blueprint for all manner of seventies slabs of molten noise ranging from Deep Purple's Made In Japan to Grand Funk Railroad's Live Album, setting a high bar for the coming decade's double-live stone tablets. As one might expect, The WHo's Live At Leeds has gone down in the history books as one of the greatest live albums of all time.1

#22. Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin III

Atlantic 1970

Here's another one that goes without saying, even if I'm going to go ahead and say it anyway. Alongside Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin cemented the idea of heavy metal in the popular consciousness and accordingly had a seismic impact on rock music's subsequent trajectory. I'd be hard-pressed to name a band that epitomizes the idea of seventies rock more so than Led Zeppelin. This slot could have rightly been taken by any of their first five or six albums, but Led Zeppelin III remains my favorite thing they've ever done.

With its medieval inflections soaking up influences from all the British folkies who never had a chance to breach American shores (Roy Harper, Sandy Denny, Bert Jansch, et. al.) Led Zeppelin III adds that crucial mystical element to the band's heavy blues foundation, recasting it all as a widescreen epic and sounding utterly singular in the process. The album-opening Immigrant Song is the inescapable soundtrack to invasion, and as far as invaders go, they don't come much more all-encompassing than these four British lords.

#21. Elton John Tumbleweed Connection

DJM 1970

Moving confidently into the rootsy early seventies, Tumbleweed Connection finds Elton John and Bernie Taupin basking in the laidback country-fried vibes of Laurel Canyon and turning out their own loose-limbed take on the sound. I tend to prefer Elton at his most dusty, humble and down-to-earth — before the larger-than-life image takes over — which is captured most perfectly on Tumbleweed (particularly in songs like Come Down In Time, Amoreena and Burn Down The Mission).

Perhaps more than with anyone else in this list, it was difficult to choose the album — Empty Sky, Honky Château and dark horse Rock Of The Westies were all in the running — but you know what they say: when in doubt, go with your favorite. For me, a big part of this record's appeal for me is its inspiring portrait of a pair of avowed outsiders utterly in thrall to American music, who refract it through their own idiosyncratic vision and somehow manage to top their inspirations. Indeed, I can't think of a contemporary L.A. album that beats it.

#20. The Rolling Stones Exile On Main St.

Rolling Stones 1972

This is a similar case of an artist tackling American music head on and managing to come out on top. Indeed, The Rolling Stones are arguably the embodiment of rock 'n roll in the public imagination. Starting with Jumpin' Jack Flash and Beggars Banquet, The Stones managed to capture the essence of rock 'n roll, country, blues and other American roots music so thoroughly that I often forget I'm listening to a band of unruly Brits. On Exile On Main St., one could imagine them emerging fully-formed out of anywhere from New Orleans to Tallahassee, Memphis or El Paso.

Running the gamut from no-nonsense rockers like Rocks Off and Rip This Joint to the weepy country rock of Sweet Virginia and Torn And Frayed, raw blues like Shake Your Hips and Ventilator Blues and even gospel-tinged numbers like I Just Want To See His Face and Shine A Light, Exile offers up a stunning breadth of vision that Stateside contenders like Aerosmith, The J. Geils Band and ZZ Top never really strove for.2 Articulating it all with a careening, ramshackle charm, The Rolling Stones managed to record the great American rock 'n roll double-album.

#19. Roxy Music For Your Pleasure

Island 1973

Ah yes, now Roxy Music capture nearly everything that makes me such an Anglophile. The clash of Bryan Ferry's urbane — and occasionally manic — vocals and Brian Eno's experimental urges wreak magic on this their second album. Sure, later efforts like Siren and the sweeping Avalon made a bigger splash on this side of the pond, but For Your Pleasure was their first album to scrape the lower reaches of the charts in America and went on to be massively influential (not to mention that it's also one of my favorite albums ever).

Straddling the worlds of art pop, glam rock and a sort of post-kosmische psychedelia, Pleasure predicts the sound of everything from punk, post punk and new wave to hazy dream pop, goth and all manner of electronics-damaged psychedelia. The dejected splendor of ballads like Beauty Queen and Strictly Confidential define Ferry's stately, aristocratic vision, while the twin punk-preempting blasts of energy Editions Of You and Do The Strand epitomize what Eno called the idiot energy of early Roxy.

The record's real bolt for the blue comes on the second side, starting with the crawling death dirge In Every Dream Home A Heartache, a Gothic paean to an inflatable doll(!) — and one of the great articulations of alien longing and dislocation ever — that culminates in a blazing post-Hendrix guitar phantasmagoria from axe-man Phil Manzanera. The marathon slow burn of The Bogus Man starts out as a sort of motorik cabaret revue before spiraling into an extended jam on the initial theme that lasts well over nine minutes, shot through with Eno's ideas about process music and atmosphere.

However, For Your Pleasure (the song) is the album's greatest achievement. Starting out as another one of Ferry's ceremonial ballads, driven by rolling, martial rhythms and a sort of Cluster-esque kosmische sense of sparkling atmosphere — not to mention a haunting post-Ennio Morricone guitar line from Manzanera (Marco Pirroni was certainly paying attention) — it gradually builds into a cascade of shimmering atmospherics, with all the band's playing run through the machines by Eno and launched into the horizon. I only just now discovered that the closing bit of dialogue (You don't ask... you don't ask why.) is spoken by none other than Dame Judi Dench!

#18. David Bowie Station To Station

RCA Victor 1976

Further adventures at the interface of krautrock with it's eye set firmly on the future, Bowie's Station To Station captures the Thin White Duke's transition from the Philly soul inflections of David Live and Young Americans to his Berlin trilogy with Brian Eno in 1977 (where the eighties begin). Enamored with the Europe-endlessness of bands like Kraftwerk and Neu!, Bowie splices a sense of kosmische atmosphere into his (by now) heavily groove-based pop, setting the stage for the music's next big sea change in the wake of punk and disco.

The title track is a marathon ten-minute workout that kicks off the record with a killer downbeat stomp before accelerating into a stirring discoid call to the future (It's too late to be late again, the European canon is here.), while Stay and the ubiquitous Golden Years perfect the golden Philly grooves he first explored on Young Americans. And then there's TVC 15, a killer slice of robotic pop that invents the sound of his Berlin-era vocal outings in one fell swoop. Both sides of the record conclude with sweeping balladry (Word On A Wing and Wild Is The Wind, respectively), rounding out the record that proved that there was life after glam after all and David Bowie was here to stay.

#17. The Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols

Virgin 1977

PIL's Metal Box may still be somewhat below the radar to the American public (hits like Rise and Warrior came later), but John Lydon's first band remains a household name. Within a couple years of the band's emergence, everyone was trying to sound like The Sex Pistols. Alongside the Ramones' Blitzkrieg Bop, The Pistols' God Save The Queen and Anarchy In The U.K. cemented the sound of punk in the collective unconscious, a sound that's been picked up by generation after generation of snotty teenagers ever since!

My absolute favorite moment on the album is New York, with Steve Jones' crunching guitar and the rolling bass of Glen Matlock3 dueling over killer breakbeats from Paul Cook as Johnny Rotten spits acidic couplets dripping with disdain. This is the blueprint for The Prodigy circa The Fat Of The Land, which is borne out by the song's memorable appearance on The Dirtchamber Sessions, sandwiched right there between Fatboy Slim and the Beastie Boys like it was the most natural thing in the world! Arriving just it time to clean the slate for the coming decade, this is the tipping point between KGB to 91x, where old the guard gives way to the new.

#16. The English Beat I Just Can't Stop It

Go-Feet 1980

Speaking of which, the perfect ska pop of Mirror In The Bathroom and Hands Off... She's Mine never really went out of rotation on 91x — a testament to this record's truly timeless nature. As much as I love the Specials (particularly their late-period In The Studio LP), The Beat will always get my vote in the end, and this flawless album is a major part of that equation. Oh yeah, and in this case, it's actually the U.S. version of the album that you want, since it includes two extra tracks: the infectious Ranking Full Stop and a manic cover of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles Tears Of A Clown. Packed with front to back brilliance, this is new wave at its absolute finest, practically radiating day-glo sunlight.

In passing, I was quite saddened to hear about Ranking Roger's death earlier this year. His voice was such a crucial part of my musical upbringing, from his initial emergence with The English Beat to the General Public years and his solo material, and it seemed like he'd always be around. His memorable toasting and singjay tones were the perfect foil to Dave Wakeling's sunny vocals, driving the music as much as the instrumentation itself. Always the epitome of cool, Roger even memorably reprised I Just Can't Stop It's Twist & Crawl seventeen years later with big beat merchants Death In Vegas! Play both versions back to back for an instant party (just add water).

#15. The Clash Sandinista!

CBS 1980

More dread-soaked new wave, in which erstwhile punks get lost in the studio with the great Mikey Dread and dive deeper into pure sound than ever before. This is evocative stuff, conjuring up imagery of the band jamming out in some secluded studio at the edge of the world, capturing it all on sprawling tapes that are cut, spliced and remixed through the wild machinery of dub. Despite its relative inconsistency when compared to the more widely feted London Calling, for me this is by far the more captivating record, immersing their sound in a brilliantly murky stew of rockabilly, new wave, reggae, dub and disco that could have only happened in a town like London.

This is something like the Rosetta Stone of the whole Terminal Vibration concept I've been pushing around here lately, wrapping up whole swathes of post punk experimentation into a candy-coated pop package that makes perfect sense alongside dance music's post-disco drift and the burgeoning sounds of hip hop at the dawn of the decade, with songs like The Magnificent Seven and The Call Up burning through dancefloors across the nation (see Levan, Larry and the Paradise Garage).4 Apparently, this album charted even higher than London Calling in the States (no mean feat for a triple album!), setting the stage for the band's later world domination with the blockbuster Combat Rock.

#14. Kate Bush The Dreaming

EMI 1982

Hounds Of Love may have been the bigger record in terms of chart impact, but Kate Bush's preceding album The Dreaming was actually her first to breach the lower reaches of the charts in America. And, since it's my favorite of her records — indeed, its among my favorite albums ever — it gets in with a silver bullet. This is another instance of a record that really captures the sort of aura and approach that made me such an Anglophile growing up, with its innovative use of the Fairlight sampler and arty strains of disjointed songcraft coming off as utterly singular and otherworldly.

I mean, I love Peter Gabriel, but this is on a whole other plane. Songs like Get Out Of My House and the title track build up layers of atmosphere into towering crescendos, while Night Of The Swallow (which rides on the back of a stirring folk jig to devastating effect) and All The Love ply a swirling strain of balladry that would go on to be hugely influential. You can't hear a song like Pull Out The Pin, with its potent, moody atmosphere and dancing tapestry of voices, without suspecting that it must have inspired Depeche Mode's drastic reinvention and descent into darkness circa Some Great Reward and Black Celebration. Unflinchingly brilliant.

#13. Adam Ant Friend Or Foe

Epic 1982

As I've said time and time again, Adam Ant is the reason I got into music in the first place. His brand of larger-than-life, heavily rhythmic, almost offensively tuneful pop swept me up and set me on a path of deep appreciation for the music of the British Isles. After his debut (which is all but unknown on this side of the pond — I must have been the only kid at my school rocking out to Zerox and Whip In My Valise back in the day!), Friend Or Foe is my favorite Adam Ant album, offering up his most consistent set of songs that you can show any of your friends.

This is technically his first solo album without The Ants, although he retains linchpin guitarist Marco Pirroni as his musical foil (a role he'd continue to fill into the 21st century). It's got his biggest Stateside hit Goody Two Shoes, which marries his trademark Burundi rhythms and Pirroni's awesome Morricone inflections with a New Orleans-style horn section, offering a decent glimpse of what to expect throughout the rest of the album.

Further singles like Place In The Country, Desperate But Not Serious and the title track are even better, while the remainder of the record is just as good. The bouncy power pop cuts Made Of Money and Try This On For Sighs should have been singles in their right, while the dubbed-to-pieces Cajun Twisters would sit right at home on Parallax Pier. The closing instrumental Man Called Marco even gives center stage to the guitarist, showcasing a crucial element of what made Adam Ant's sound so uniquely unforgettable.

#12. Big Audio Dynamite This Is Big Audio Dynamite

Columbia 1985

Mick Jones makes the list again (naturally)! After leaving The Clash and messing around with samplers — chasing his fascination with dance music and hip hop — he formed B.A.D. with Don Letts, Dan Donovan, Leo Williams and Greg Roberts, essentially inventing the whole idea of indie dance alongside New Order. This the group's debut album features an infectious pile up of anthemic rock, hip hop beats and electroid rhythms, all shot through with snatches of sound and dialogue from Jones' sampler.

Containing smash hits like Medicine Show, E=MC² and The Bottom Line — songs I grew up with in constant repetition — it's A Party's low slung digital dancehall and the electroid shapes of Sudden Impact! that really push the record over the edge into quintessential Terminal Vibration territory. The U.S. 12" single for The Bottom Line even came out on Def Jam — complete with a remix from Rick Rubin during his early LL Cool J-affiliated peak — making B.A.D. that rare British band to get a record to come out on the home of hip hop.

#11. New Order Substance 1987

Factory 1987

Another indie dance stone tablet, Substance 1987 rounds up a dozen tracks from about five years into one essential package. Perhaps I'm pushing my luck a little by including a compilation in lieu of albums like Low-Life and Power, Corruption & Lies, but this sterling collection of 12" dancefloor versions captures the group's status as indie dance pioneers best of all. Besides, it's the only place you can find both True Faith and the tuff 1987 remix of Confusion — two of my absolute favorite moments from the band — in one place. Shoot me down, but I think it squeezes in on the Psyche/BFC/Elements rule.

Everyone knows the robotic dancefloor filler Blue Monday — included here in it's full seven-minute-plus 12" glory — which is further developed across tracks like The Perfect Kiss and Sub-Culture, while tunes like Confusion and Shellshock (as heard in the John Hughes movie Pretty In Pink) interface with Bronx freestyle to stunning effect. With its inclusion of True Faith (peerless Balearic brilliance riding the thin line between melancholy and joy), Substance 1987 captures the band riding a wave that would culminate a year later in acid house's invasion of British shores and the Second Summer Of Love.

#10. Sinéad O'Connor The Lion And The Cobra

Ensign 1987

The Lion And The Cobra distills everything great about fellow Irishmen U2's October and War into one diamond-hard record, spiking the results with heavy shades of 4AD atmosphere and rugged, dancefloor-ready grooves. At the center of the record is the 21-year-old Sinéad O'Connor, possessed of a singular, uncompromising vision and a voice that could pierce the heavens. The sound here so utterly original, O'Connor is practically a genre unto herself. A crucial stepping stone between 1985 and 1990, this is where the circle is squared between Kate Bush, Janet Jackson, the Cocteau Twins and Neneh Cherry.

The towering Jerusalem rides into town on sparkling electronics, rock hard rhythms and ten-ton guitar, while Mandinka is an awesome power pop blast featuring the guitar sound of the great Marco Pirroni.5 One can even hear the ghost of Irish folk lingering in the shadows of Jackie and Just Like U Said It Would B. Further complicating matters, Just Call Me Joe sounds like it could a Breeders song from 1993. The single version of I Want Your Hands On Me even features a rap from MC Lyte! Taken as a whole, its a brilliant set of songs showcasing a stunning breadth of vision. The world wasn't ready...

#9. Soul II Soul Club Classics Vol. One

10 Records 1989

Here's where the nineties begin in earnest, one year ahead of schedule. With all due respect to Teddy Riley and Guy, it took a bunch of stylish Brits under the auspices of Jazzie B and Nellee Hooper (with due props to Smith & Mighty and Massive Attack as well) to truly mix hip hop and soul into the form known as modern RnB. Everything from Mary J. Blige's What's The 411? and Tony! Toni! Toné!'s Sons Of Soul to TLC's CrazySexyCool and Aaliyah's One In A Million owes a little something to this record. Add the crucial element of Caron Wheeler's powerful voice, and you're bound to wind up with something truly sensational.

Everyone knows that trademark Soul II Soul beat — see Keep On Movin' and Back To Life — getting the nineties off on the right foot, with everyone from Primal Scream to Janet Jackson swaying the same rhythm. Further dimensions unfold in the form of deep house missives like Holdin' On Bambelala and Happiness Dub rubbing shoulders with the proto-trip hop of Feel Free, while the crew's Afrocentric sensibilities and jazz-inflected cool prefigure the likes of Erykah Badu and D'Angelo by half a decade. Caron Wheeler's subsequent solo career even plays like a preview of Badu's!

The whole thing plays like a dress rehearsal for the turn of the century, when neo soul, broken beat, house, hip hop and electronic jazz would all coalesce in a glorious bit of synchronicity wherein the likes of 4 Hero, Moodymann, Innerzone Orchestra and The Soulquarians all seemed in thrall to more or less the same vision. To find that vision laid out in one place — a whole decade before the fact — is quite striking, and to this day never fails to amaze me.

#8. Neneh Cherry Raw Like Sushi

Circa 1989

I was originally going to include the awesome follow-up Homebrew, with its more fully-developed trip hop vibes and lusher sound, but this made the bigger splash and put Neneh Cherry on the map in the first place. And if pressed, I'd have to admit that it's probably the better record (but best believe it's close!). Ms. Cherry cut an inspired path through the 1980s, first as a short-lived member of The Slits and the New Age Steppers, and then as core member of the post punk group Rip Rig & Panic, before memorably cropping up as a dancer in some of Big Audio Dynamite's early music videos and falling in with the Buffalo Collective, becoming intertwined with the first rumblings of what would become trip hop as the eighties drew to a close.

Raw Like Sushi's Buffalo Stance is an epic, widescreen tribute to that crew, a moving snapshot of camaraderie just as their subtle influence was cresting into the wider world. Mixing brazen hip hop attitude with torch song passion and a sonic attack running parallel to both indie dance and contemporary freestyle, it's emblematic of an album that sets the stage for nineties triumphs ranging from Massive Attack's Blue Lines and Björk's Debut to Janet Jackson's Janet. and Seal's 1991 debut. Bobbing and weaving with ease through the rolling golden age hip hop of So Here I Come, freestyle-esque dancefloor-fillers like Kisses On The Wind, Inna City Mamma's superfly soul and the proto-trip hop of Manchild and Love Ghetto, Neneh Cherry is almost too good to be true.

#7. Depeche Mode Violator

Mute 1990

Improbably managing to crack the mainstream with late-period synth pop records like Black Celebration and Music For The Masses, Depeche Mode toured American stadiums and broke through at the very highest level, coming on like some combination of Kraftwerk and Led Zeppelin for lonely souls and introverts. 1990's Violator is the point where they really solidified their place in the firmament, consolidating their runaway success with an album that squared the Gothic dread of their most recent records with the electroid pop of their earliest material, mutating the whole thing into a high tech form of the blues.

Surely everybody knows Enjoy The Silence and Personal Jesus, which by this point have become timeless standards (the latter even memorably covered by the original man in black himself, Johnny Cash). The runaway success of those cuts was augmented by Policy Of Truth and World In My Eyes, twin singles that streamlined the Depeche Mode sound down to its singular essence, along with trademark slabs of stylized dread like Sweetest Perfection, Blue Dress and Clean.

It's all articulated with brilliant, uncluttered production by Flood,6 showcasing the group's quintessential sound with stunning clarity, making this the ideal introduction into the wonderful world of Depeche Mode. File next to Kraftwerk and Muddy Waters.

#6. Seal Seal

ZTT 1991

From day one I've loved Seal's debut album, and the passage of nearly thirty years hasn't diminished the power of this sterling set of songs. Back when the man still had his dreads, he could not be beat! Standing at the axis of dance music, modern soul, dream pop and still-cutting edge ZTT studio-craft, his remains an utterly unique sound, with every corner of the soundscape haunted by that voice. The results were so potent that he couldn't help but become a star, and the rest was history. With the passage of time, it's become easy to take the man's music for granted, but I don't even care if you're all too cool for it... this is my jam!

In fact, it's my favorite record to emerge from the whole Trevor Horn/Art Of Noise axis. Anchored by dancefloor smashes like Crazy, Killer, The Beginning7 and Future Love Paradise, it's actually the record's quieter moments that have grown to become my favorites. Whirlpool is a gorgeous slice of acoustic balladry, while Deep Water unfolds anthemic, multi-tracked harmonies over sparse percussion and acoustic guitars before building into a stunning crescendo that sways to cinematic strings and a rolling rhythm.

Best of all is the brilliant closing three-song stretch, which swoops and dives confidently into modern soul/RnB territory. Wild features the most gorgeously unforgettable chorus on the record, its incessant, tumbling rhythm melting into a whirlpool of strings, synths and cooing backup vocals. Show Me is even more atmospheric, reimagining A.R. Kane's hazy dream pop blueprint as an understated power ballad, its dub-chamber beats and lavish bassline providing the perfect launchpad for chiming guitars, swirling strings and Seal's falsetto to ascend into the record's most breathtaking crescendo.

And then there's Violet, a practically ambient pop song, in which the rolling machine rhythms melt into a blur of fretless bass, oceanic synths and subtle sampling, with Seal casually unfurling couplets like raindrops into the night sky. The perfect conclusion to such an understated, brilliant album, the whole thing plays like the best dream you've ever had...

#5. Prodigy The Fat Of The Land

XL 1997

Skipping ahead a bit now because most of my favorite mid-nineties music from Britain didn't manage to crash the charts over here, and (if I'm not mistaken) there's not one straight up rave or jungle album that charted in the States. That'll become more of a running theme as we continue, unfortunately. Still, this oughta do. From the beginning, The Prodigy were something special. Emerging from the heart of the rave scene with candy-coated ardkore classics like Charly, Your Love and debut LP The Prodigy Experience, before their music and sense of style gradually grew darker. By the time of their stunning second album Music For The Jilted Generation, they seemed to be soundtracking a dystopian future made manifest in the present.

By the time they unleashed Firestarter and Breathe on an unsuspecting public, the stage was set for third album The Fat Of The Land, which turned out to be the perfect prescription for an invasion of mainstream America. With an image ripped from the pages of some parent's nightmare — perched midway between gutter punk and Gothic hip hop — the group drafted in guitarist Gizz Butt to give their breakbeat voodoo and added rock edge. It was like The Sex Pistols all over again! Tunes like Firestarter, Fuel My Fire and Serial Thrilla offered up a stunning collision of rock, rave and big beat for the rockers, while Diesel Power consorted directly with New York rap legend Kool Keith.

Breathe came on like an unholy fusion of the two, sounding like some future vision of teenage rebellion that has yet to happen (and the music video remains a masterpiece of sonic imagery brought to life). Still, there's plenty here that would appeal to all the longtime fans and ravers, and tunes like Climbatize, Mind Fields and Smack My Bitch Up were the culmination of everything they'd been up to since the days of What Evil Lurks (albeit delivered with a harder edge than ever). The awesomely cinematic sweep of Narayan sounds like a 21st century premonition, a wild clash between Kashmir and Immigrant Song over splashing breakbeats and the spooked dancefloor stylings they'd spent the decade perfecting.

It took just the right angle for the ardkore continuum to break into America's seething subconscious, and The Prodigy were the ones to crack the code in the end. And to think they started out as such fine, upstanding lads...

#4. Massive Attack Mezzanine

Wild Bunch 1998

This could have been any of the first three albums, but Mezzanine turned out to make the biggest splash, cementing the group's presence in the popular consciousness. After this, if you brought up Massive Attack and trip hop in casual conversation, people knew what you were talking about. Much like The Fat Of The Land, Mezzanine found the group incorporating the sound of heavy guitars (played by Angelo Bruschini of The Blue Aeroplanes) into their heady sonic stew, translating the somnambulant dread of trip hop into a towering wall of cinematic pressure.

This is the conduit through which the Bristol blues sensibility — embodied by Smith & Mighty, Tricky, Portishead and Massive Attack themselves — seeped into mainstream America, making the group trip hop's indisputable ambassadors. In the ensuing years, the Mezzanine sound proved to be remarkably influential, with countless soundtracks and film scores imitating its contours and even lifting its songs directly. Even now, decades years later, the group are in the midst of a U.S. tour celebrating this record's 21st anniversary (best believe I'll be there!).

Aside from the overall heaviness, the other crucial development here is the appearance of the Cocteau Twins' Liz Fraser throughout the record, lending her otherworldly vocals to Black Milk, Group Four and Teardrop (I'd wager that nearly everyone has heard the latter). Paired with the rootsical voodoo vibes of Risingson, Inertia Creeps and the title track — which feature the group's trademark microphone interplay between 3D and Daddy G — along with two showcases for main main Horace Andy (Angel and Man Next Door), the whole experience gives Mezzanine the aura of something like trip hop's Metal Box... after this, there almost wasn't any point in even trying!

#3. Radiohead Kid A

Parlophone 2000

In which britpop's strangest band bring the sound of abstract electronica crashing into the mainstream. I'd been into this lot ever since The Bends came out, and even then I remember thinking there was something different about the band. This was borne out on the supremely dusted Talk Show Host (as heard on the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack)8 and the even stranger OK Computer album (where their legend truly took flight), before the band finally took a dive off the deep end with Kid A.

In retrospect, the extent to which the band delved into contemporary electronica here wound up delivering everything I'd been hoping for way back in 1997, but I suspect Kid A wouldn't have made the impact it did without the passage of time and the groundwork laid by OK Computer and the ensuing years. The band famously devoured the (by then) extensive back catalog of Warp Records, filtering their art-damaged rock sound through the cold machinery of LFO, The Black Dog and Boards Of Canada, in the process winding up with an of-the-moment art rock masterpiece.

Crystalline tunes like Everything In Its Right Place, Morning Bell and Kid A lose themselves in freeform hall of mirrors abstraction, while Idioteque managed to ride a mutant electroid rhythm onto the radio waves with the closest the band ever came to a dance track. The National Anthem even betrays the band's burgeoning fascination with the cosmic jazz of Sun Ra, exploding into a massive pile up of droning post rock and blaring horns in its climax. Representing the album at its most pastoral, Treefingers — tucked away at the end of side one — is an almost unexpected ambient treasure.

Still, there's a thread of continuity running all the way back to The Bends in the drifting cinematic acoustica of How To Disappear Completely, while In Limbo connects with the angelic crystal palace shapes of OK Computer. At the center of it all lies the towering Optimistic, which blends the band's trademark empty graveyard misery with a paradoxically triumphant chorus, resulting in a winningly anthemic slab of alternative rock that managed to reach #10 in America despite the fact that it never even came out as a single!

#2. Franz Ferdinand Franz Ferdinand

Domino 2004

Franz Ferdinand embody an era when a wing of rock music went back to basics, stripping the sound down to its taut essentials, much like The Stones and Faces had as the sixties turned to seventies. However, this time the reference points were completely different, with the rootsy blues and country rock signposts of The Stones replaced by the post punk/new wave/power pop resurrected by the likes of The Strokes, Bloc Party and the Arctic Monkeys.9 However, rather than winding up a mere carbon copy, the best of these bands managed to synthesize a sound that stood as a sound in its own right (much like The Stones, et. al. had done back in their day).

Enter Scottish band Franz Ferdinand, who skated the fine line between post punk, new wave and indie dance, winding up with one of the great pop records of the era. Smash hits like Take Me Out, The Dark Of The Matinée and Jacqueline play with tension and release as well as anyone since The Doors, while the pungent European flavor of Auf Achse and 40's clockwork dub sonics — striking dream mirages evoking everything from Kraftwerk to The Sabres Of Paradise — were almost too good to be true for someone who grew up on Adam And The Ants' Dirk Wears White Sox. Indeed, the brilliantly succinct Tell Her Tonight — this record's shortest track — is by far the best stab I've heard anyone make at conjuring up the same magic as Adam Ant's original band.

#1. Gorillaz Demon Days

Parlophone 2005

It wouldn't be a British Invasion list without Damon Albarn. As much as I love his britpop output with Blur over the course of the nineties, it's his work from this century that means the most to me. I originally included The Good, The Bad & The Queen record instead — since it tied the whole list up neatly into a bow conceptually as the list's final entry — but it wasn't that big a sensation over here (even if it's my favorite thing he's done). Gorillaz, on the other hand, were ubiquitous. Emerging in 2001 with Clint Eastwood and their self-titled debut, they took the concept of an animated band to its absolute apex, complete with an intricate back story and longform video features.

Of course, all of that wouldn't mean much if the music weren't this good. On Demon Days, the Gorillaz offer up a killer selection of tunes that fit the zeitgeist like a glove, trading the abstract hip hop and dub machinery of the debut for electro boogie sonics and day-glo new wave sheen (with an unexpected snatch from the Brian Wilson playbook) in this splendid sophomore set. I spun around when I first heard lead single Feel Good Inc. on the radio, splashed as it was with surprise Mtume/D-Train afterglow and a maniacal rap from De La Soul, returning cherished sounds of my youth to the airwaves outside the old school confines of Magic 92.5.

When it arrived, the album more than delivered on the promise of Feel Good Inc. The highlights come fast and thick, from the spooked dance track Dare (featuring Shaun Ryder)10 going toe to toe with Feel Good Inc. in terms of pure pop magic to the sparkling fourth world hip hop of Dirty Harry (featuring The Pharcyde's Bootie Brown) updating Clint Eastwood's sound and bringing it all back to the Terminal Vibration. Happening as it was in parallel to the rise of the SA-RA Creative Partners empire and all surrounding endeavors, there was definitely something in the air.

Featuring cameos from national treasures like Neneh Cherry, Roots Manuva and Martina Topley-Bird, this record also goes some way toward redressing the preceding four year gap in this list (between Kid A and Franz Ferdinand). This stretch was filled with brilliant music from both Roots Manuva and Martina — along with the likes of The Streets, Dizzee Rascal, Wiley and So Solid Crew — but tragically, none of it could storm the blockades of America's popular consciousness. Such a shame!


Similarly, I'd have loved to wind up this list with a selection from Burial — the ghostly shades of dubstep making a perfect elegy and conclusion to the list, and along with The Good, The Bad & The Queen offering the perfect one-two punch of overcast gloom — but even Untrue doesn't seem to have made the pop impact I thought it had at the time (I could've sworn Raver was a hit here, but my research leads me to believe that hunch was unfounded). Even Hot Chip and Jungle didn't break through to the level where people you meet on the street will have heard of them. In fact, I can't think of much after this point that made a big impact here and matches the preceding records for brilliance (although I suspect I must be forgetting something).

At any rate, take this list as a heartfelt selection from an avowed Anglophile, filled to the brim with great music. Each of these records mean the world to me, and are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the great music that's sprung from the British Isles over the years. Coming from the other side of the pond, we thank you!

Footnotes

1.

Note that it's the 1995 expanded CD reissue that you want, which doubles the length of the album and contains unmissable romps like Heaven And Hell, I Can't Explain, Fortune Teller and the definitive version of A Quick One, While He's Away.

2.

I've always had the peerless free jazz attack of blazing Detroit metal like MC5 and The Stooges down as a slightly different category.

3.

Actually, it looks like Steve Jones played the bass parts too!

4.

See also Reese's awesome You're Mine, a killer Detroit techno workout from the great Kevin Saunderson that pulls a handful of samples from Sandinista!-era tunes like The Magnificent Dance and Mensforth Hill.

5.

The credits have him down as playing on this song alone, but his fingerprints appear to be all over Jerusalem as well. I suspect the credits might be leaving something out... there's something they're not telling us!

6.

Master-producer Flood already had an impressive resume by this point, helming sessions for everyone from industrial outfits like Cabaret Voltaire and Nitzer Ebb to arty post punks like the Associates and Marc And The Mambas, and even proto-big beat thugs Renegade Soundwave, before engineering U2's nineties dancefloor reinvention on records like Achtung Baby, Zooropa and Pop alongside Brian Eno and Howie B.

7.

The chorus of The Beginning (The music takes you round and round and round and round) was even memorably sampled by ardkore purveyor Blame's rave classic Music Takes You.

8.

Also noteworthy is the The Black Dog Remix of Talk Show Host, as heard on the indispensable Foundations: Coming Up From The Streets compilation.

9.

I'd originally included both The Libertines and the Arctic Monkeys in this list, but later discovered they weren't quite BIG enough to invade (I should have known better, having caught The Libertines at the tiny venue The Epicenter back in 2004!). With Franz Ferdinand, however, there's no question at all that they made a huge splash.

10.

Lead singer of Black Grape and the Happy Mondays.

Parallax Processing

At the surface level, Parallax Moves has been inna dormant state for the last couple of weeks. Below the surface, however, it’s been a different story. Alongside a number of cooler heads (prevailing), I’ve been slinging code toward a fresh wing of this whole Parallax thing, a set of innovations that’ll serve to revamp the whole situation.


The plan is to roll out the big change in early August, assuming everything goes according to plan (when does it ever?), with the long-anticipated conclusion to the Terminal Vibration saga: the Terminal Vibration 100. It’s been a long time coming, but I can assure you it’ll be worth the wait... the perfect message for the brand new medium (upgraded and updated).


In the meantime, we’ve got a new top 25 feature coming up based on the latest music lover event with Sari and Kayli, along with the requisite Tile of the Month and Hall of Fame entries for June. After what have been a relatively lean couple of months, tings should return to business like usual next month — just in time for August to rewrite the rulebook once and for all.

Until then, hang tight...

The Prodigy

Liam Howlett, Maxim Reality, Leeroy Thornhill and Keith Flint: The Original Techno Punks

Amid a rash of recent untimely deaths to hit the music world, the passing of the great Keith Flint was perhaps the most unexpected. For one, he was a generation younger than figures like Scott Walker, Ranking Roger and Mark Hollis, coming up in the era of hip hop and rave. After all, the landing of The Prodigy's The Fat Of The Land on American still shores seems like it was only yesterday (even if it was by now over twenty years ago!).

Perhaps it was no coincidence that the crew's big splash in the States came with Flint taking his place as the public face and de facto frontman of the group (after five years spent as one of two dancers in the crew alongside Leeroy Thornhill). Storming American shores alongside the likes of The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim, it was like the British Invasion all over again... only this time with breakbeats and loops of fury.

The Prodigy circa 1997

In the end, The Prodigy wound up getting so big that it became easy to take them for granted. With the classically-trained Liam Howlett's intricate productions talking the tightrope between precision and raw power, the crew emerged from the rave underground as a live force to match anything happening in contemporary rock, with Maxim and Keith Flint stalking the stage and trading barks for sneers as Leroy Thornhill exploded into high octane dancing and Liam Howlett furiously worked the machines into a glorious sonic frenzy.

Just a taste of that ill '97 sound...

During what was a high water mark for dance music, they truly captured the energy and excitement of an era when everything was more or less still running on the same page. There wasn't that much space between The Chemical Brothers' Block Rockin' Beats, Massive Attack's Angel, Daft Punk's Da Funk, E-Dancer's Velocity Funk, Reprazent's Brown Paper Bag and FSOL's We Have Explosive, while labels like Astralwerks managed to provide a decent snapshot of the wider scene in motion. And then there was The Prodigy, the original techno punks, living large in the midst of it all and storming the mainstream with a vengeance...

Profile insert from The Prodigy Experience

It all started with Liam Howlett, a DJ refugee from the U.K. hip hop scene who'd recently been turned on to rave. Working up a demo tape inspired by the nascent sounds of ardkore, he managed to impress a pair of dancers (Flint and Thornhill) to the degree that they insisted on forming a live unit with him, wherein Howlett worked the machines while the other two cut wild shapes across the stage. Enter Maxim on the mic, demented master of ceremonies, and the rest was history.

The Prodigy What Evil Lurks XL

Debuting on wax with the four track EP What Evil Lurks, The Prodigy burst onto the scene with a skeletal selection of tunes like Android and Everybody In The Place, straddling the thin line between ardkore and bleep 'n bass just as everything was about to change. However, they made their first true splash with the epochal Charly. A clash of incongruent samples, accelerated breakbeats and twisted hoover synth noise, it ran parallel to the likes of Shut Up And Dance, 4 Hero and Sonz Of A Loop Da Loop Era, all of which defined the distinctly British sound of breakbeat ardkore.

The Prodigy The Prodigy Experience XL

The Prodigy's debut album consolidated the success of singles like Charly and Everybody In The Place with a stunning soundclash of fast-forward hip hop and pure rave energy. Candy-coated rave confections like Wind It Up, Your Love and Fire crossed Italo-style piano vamps and gushing divas with rushing breakbeats (this at the height of ardkore's pop ascendancy), while Jericho and Death Of The Prodigy Dancers caned the manic sense of dread that was beginning to emerge in the mutant strains of darkcore.

4 Hero In Rough Territory Reinforced

The striking variation and depth to what is essentially a killer selection of proto-jungle madness marks The Prodigy Experience out alongside 4 Hero's In Rough Territory and A Guy Called Gerald's 28 Gun Bad Boy as one of the great album-length statements to emerge from ardkore. You even get proggy, multi-part suites like Hyperspeed G-Force Part 2 and Weather Experience, which hint at a certain cinematic, widescreen quality that would continue to inform the group's increasingly hard-edged sound.

Jean-Michel Jarre Oxygene Polydor

The latter comes on like a digital symphony vaguely reminiscent of Jean-Michel Jarre's Oxygene, starting out as a bucolic ambient tone poem — all deep blue skies and emerald green fields — before introducing a slow-motion breakbeat rolling beneath it all at a trip hop pace. Then, it all cuts out to the solitary sound of a heartbeat — as howling wind and thunderclaps enter the fray — before exploding into a great rush of junglist darkness as the storm clouds and lightning descend upon the valley below.

The Prodigy Out Of Space XL

However, my absolute favorite track is Out Of Space, which manages to perfect the group's early sound in a stunning five minutes, riding a memorable snatch of Max Romeo's I Chase The Devil and a brace of triumphant sequences in a stirring rush of rave optimism. Featuring a sped-up sample of the Ultramagnetic MC's Critical Beatdown, it also signals an ongoing penchant for the singular rap cadences of the great Kool Keith.

Out Of Space music video1

The music video for Out Of Space is easily one of my all time favorites of the form, transcending its obvious low budget with loads of flavor and charisma. With everything from Keith car-surfing to Leeroy's killer dance moves, a flock of ostriches and an Altern 8-style mad-scientist figure (actually Keith Flint in disguise), it offers a glimpse of beautiful glimpse of the era's seemingly unbounded excitement and optimism.

Gatefold image from Music For The Jilted Generation

Naturally, the government decided to crack down on the whole damn scene. In the wake of 1992's Castlemorton Common Festival, which was one of the largest outdoor raves to happen up to that point in time, the government passed the Criminal Justice Bill. A heavy-handed attempt to prevent anything like Castlemorton from happening again (even explicitly mentioning repetitive beats in its text), it was clearly aimed squarely at the burgeoning rave culture.

Autechre Anti EP Warp

The dystopian connotations of police state overreach had an immediate effect on the music, looming large as the sound grew darker and leaner, from trip hop's emergence out of the shadows to ardkore's mutation into jungle and techno's increasingly cold, spartan shapes. Figures like Orbital and Autechre even released records in explicit protest of the CJB (Are We Here? and Anti EP, respectively). However, it was The Prodigy's second album that captured the most uncompromising, definitive snapshot of the moment.

Death Comet Crew At The Marble Bar Beggars Banquet

Although there had been hints of darkness on the first album like Jericho and Death Of The Prodigy Dancers, Music For The Jilted Generation introduced a distinct sense of paranoia into the mix. Guitars also make their first appearance on a Prodigy record, in the form of both samples (Nirvana's Very Ape) and live cameos (featuring Pop Will Eat Itself), giving the record a harder punk edge (cyberpunk, even). In fact, one could draw a direct line back to Terminal Vibration, particularly things like Meat Beat Manifesto and Cabaret Voltaire, Public Enemy and Death Comet Crew.

The Prodigy Music For The Jilted Generation XL

This was the first Prodigy record I ever bought. I can still remember picking it up at the Tower Records on El Cajon Blvd. on a rainy day in November (the perfect setting for this music). I'd already heard singles like Voodoo People and One Love (both on the Hackers soundtrack!), and was ready to take a deeper dive. Of course those two tracks were obvious standouts, but I was immediately struck by tunes like Break & Enter (with its soaring vocal sample from Baby D's Casanova) and 3 Kilos (apparently a riff on the brilliant gutter funk of S.O.U.L.'s awesome Burning Spear).

Goldie Timeless FFRR

Both tracks seemed to connect with a sort of urban corridor vision of futurist dance music, lying somewhere between the rhythmic Detroit techno of E-Dancer, Goldie's Inner City Life and the dark hip hop of the Wu-Tang Clan. This music seemed to hint at previously hidden corridors and sonic possibilities, bringing to mind images of subsonic frequencies echoing through city streets as high-rises loom and cast shadows from above, subways racing back and forth like circuitry beneath a lattice of power lines in the cold machinery of the night.

Various Artists Sub Base For Your Face LP Suburban Base

This is the point where The Prodigy really carve out their singular niche in the post-rave musical landscape. Even if Experience were arguably their greatest album (and it's certainly in the running), it's still not that far removed from contemporary ardkore records like Acen's Trip II The Moon and Jonny L's Hurt You So. One could even imagine it coming out on Suburban Base! The point being that the crew's early sound was still of a piece with that of their surrounding peers, slotting in comfortably alongside the steady stream of 12"s and white labels passing through the hands of DJs across the scene in rapid succession.

The Prodigy Poison XL

In contrast, little else sounds quite like Music For The Jilted Generation. What hits you immediately is the shift from the starry-eyed soundclash of the debut to a grimy, steel-plated aesthetic that seems to rope in all manner of post-rave currents into a vortex of swirling cyberpunk cosmic slop. The punk-edged hip hop of Poison and Their Law — all hydraulic rhythm and barely-contained fury — connect with the nascent big beat of The Chemical Brothers and Meat Beat Manifesto,2 while the manic fast-forward sonics of One Love and No Good Start The Dance conjure up visions of speed/happy hardcore/hi-NRG warping into a mutant strain.

Vangelis Blade Runner Atlantic

There's even an increasingly prog-tinged scope to tracks like The Heat The Energy and Speedway Theme From Fastlane (which even goes so far as to sample the Blade Runner soundtrack!) picking up where Weather Experience left off (albeit with a definite shift toward rushing cyberpunk vibes). Tellingly, the record ends with a three-track movement called The Narcotic Suite, kicking off with 3 Kilos's rolling cinematic hip hop before shifting gears into the mechanical techno rush of Skylined, ultimately climaxing with the speedfreak nightmare vision of Claustrophobic Sting.

The Prodigy Voodoo People XL

The tune that connects most logically with the debut is Full Throttle, sounding like a larger-than-life sequel with its collision of angelic piano, rave noise and rushing breakbeats. Similarly, Break & Enter seems to pick up where songs like Hyperspeed and Pandemonium (from the Charly 12") left off. And yet if there's one tune that manages to connect all eras of the band into one shimmering circuit, from the breakbeat ardkore of their earliest records to the rock-inflected attack of their mainstream peak, it's Voodoo People.

Voodoo People music video3

Sampling Nirvana's Very Ape over fast-forward beats and a thicket of racing electronic sequences, The tune also happens to feature the record's greatest music video, which finds the members of The Prodigy running through the jungle, trying to escape the presence of an ominous bokor (shades of The Serpent And The Rainbow) that always seems to be one step ahead! As evocative of the era's general tenor as Experience was to its own, it also points the way forward to where the crew would go next.

Firestarter music video4

When the Firestarter single hit the public in 1996, it came as a (future) shock: an unmistakable warning that the band's sound had mutated significantly. With familiar — albeit harder-edged — breakbeats and twisted guitars sounding as if they were being sucked backwards and circling the drain, the tune also featured Keith Flint's timely emergence as front man, spitting lyrics like I'm the trouble starter, punkin' instigator, I'm the fear addicted, a danger illustrated across the foreground. The result was something like The Sex Pistols if they'd emerged from the belly of rave culture rather than a back-to-basics riposte to mid-seventies stagnation,5 pointing the way toward the group's next quantum leap on their third album...

Prodigy The Fat Of The Land XL

The Fat Of The Land is built on a foundation of muscular breakbeats — now operating at a dusted, big beat pace — threaded by interlocking, razor-edged sonix and an ever-present industrial hum that seems to run through every track on the record. Tunes like Serial Thrilla and Firestarter seem to descend directly from the guitar/breakbeat equations of Jilted Generation's Their Law, with their fusion of live and sampled guitars bringing a rock 'n roll edge to the sound to a greater degree than ever before.

L7 Hungry For Stink Slash

The bracing punk blast of Fuel My Fire — featuring the crunchy guitarwork of Gizz Butt and backing vocals from Saffron (of indie dance superstars Republica) — even finds the group burning through a straight up cover version of the L7 punk classic, with more great, sneering vocals from Keith Flint. It's quite a change from the sample-based vocal snatches of the group's earlier recordings... this is certainly the first Prodigy record that would warrant a lyric sheet!

Gatefold image from Fat Of The Land

However, upon closer inspection, the record is less of a departure than it initially might appear to be, offering up a heavier, mid-tempo elaboration on the Jilted Generation sound that remains pure Prodigy. The rolling breakbeat epic Smack My Bitch Up is something like the criminally-minded cousin to Break & Enter and The Heat The Energy, while Funky Shit and Mind Fields get down with an electroid hip hop sound that envisions a winning combination of both Poison and 3 Kilos. The sweeping Climbatize even slips into cinematic side of the group's sound, tracing all the way back to Weather Experience in its bracing widescreen splendor. It even samples the voodoo horns from Egyptian Empire's ardkore-era classic The Horn Track!

Kula Shaker (Crispian Mills second from left)

Narayan betrays a similarly cinematic vision, with rolling breakbeats cascading beneath a synth progression that splits the difference between spectral piano and ghostly, moonlit strings. It's all remarkably linear, with the subtle shades of Eastern modes and minimalism about it. The gloriously doom-laden vocals come courtesy of Crispian Mills — of Indo-britpop sensation Kula Shaker — gleefully hurling portentous couplets like:

If you believe the Western Sun is falling down on everyone.

And you feel it burn... don't try to run.

If you would know your time has come.

Strangely enough — at the time — the resultant sound gave me the impression that Kula Shaker must have been sort of hybrid dance/RnB group, before I got around to checking them out! Even hearing it now, I can sorta see where I was coming from. It's probably my favorite song on the album, and clocking in at nine minutes, it's easily the longest. I've always thought that it would've worked brilliantly as a single in mid-1997 (released somewhere between Breathe and Smack My Bitch Up). At any rate, I wish there had been a whole scene that sounded like this.

Kool Keith enjoys a well-earned drink

The record's other big guest vocal spot is Diesel Power, featuring Kool Keith himself on the mic. Catching the man in the midst of his Dr. Octagon reinvention at the vanguard of underground rap, this is the hip hop hybrid that you always wished more big beat would have aspired to, with submarine sonix and heavy breaks pulsing beneath a first rate MC just doing his thing. One imagines Howlett reaching back to his earliest hip hop recordings — along with formative British rap like Hijack, London Posse and Ruthless Rap Assassins — even as it parallels contemporary trip hop's interface with New York rap like Tricky's Grassroots and Genaside II's New Life 4 The Hunted.

Prodigy Breathe XL

The awesome radio smash Breathe ties all aspects of the record into one demented package, with brilliantly dark production (those horns!) and a pervasive atmosphere of dreadful paranoia. The tune's bassline is essentially just a sub-bass industrial hum, while the melody is carried by an uncomplicated fragment of plucked guitar voodoo. The punky sonix swoop in to dominate the chorus, with Maxim and Keith sparring over baleful feedback, before doom-laden strummed Led Zeppelin-style guitars creep in for the breakdown.

Breathe music video6

Pure atmosphere and dread by virtue of sonix alone, Breathe's music video is the group's visual masterpiece of whole Fat Of The Land era, in which they find themselves in a crumbling, decrepit tenement building with all manner of insects and reptile crawling out of every drain and crack in the wall. Maxim and Flint are locked in adjoining rooms, seeming to mentally torment one another through a hole in the wall, while the other two lay low and witness various sequences of bizarre phenomena. It's the most fun nightmare you've never had, and the first time you see it, well, it'll stick with you for good!

Prodigy The Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One XL

On the heels of The Fat Of The Land's blockbuster impact (and attendant tour), the group seemed to take a breather for a spell, with Maxim and Leeroy even recording solo albums of their own. Liam took the opportunity to dig deep into a pile of records and turn out a killer DJ mix,7 The Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One. From the first bars of Intro Beats — with its razor-edged breakbeat attack built on Billy Squier's The Big Beat — you can tell you're in for a treat. Running the gamut from punk, hip hop and big beat to techno, indie dance and funk, it's a true tour de force of 21st century b-boy music.

Gatefold image from The Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One

The gatefold inner sleeve, featuring Howlett hovering over a drum machine and surrounded by stacks of gear and records, perfectly captures the spirit of the whole affair. Bomb The Bass and The Chemical Brothers rub shoulders with Renegade Soundwave and Meat Beat Manifesto, spiked with a healthy dose of old school hip hop from Ultramagnetic MC's, Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys. Tying it all together with original beat junkies like DJ Mink, West Street Mob and The 45 King, Liam highlights the breakbeat continuity stretching from Sugar Hill to Skint. Once again, you wish more of the contemporary big beat had this strong a spirit and sense of danger.

The Beginning Of The End Funky Nassau Alston

As if that weren't enough, Howlett feathers in a brace of vintage funk gems like The J.B.'s Blow Your Head, The Beginning Of The End's Funky Nassau, The Jimmy Castor Bunch's It's Just Begun, and then spikes it with the killer rock 'n roll of Babe Ruth's proto-disco (by way of prog rock) classic The Mexican, Primal Scream's Kowalski and The Sex Pistols New York (Johnny Rotten's snarl clearly the blueprint for Keith Flint's trademark sneer). In a sense, one could even take The Dirtchamber Sessions as a late-nineties analogue of sorts to Johnny Rotten's storied appearance on Capitol Radio back in the day.

Andrew Weatherall Nine O'Clock Drop Nuphonic

Appearing concurrently with similarly revelatory discs like Terranova's DJ-Kicks and Andrew Weatherall's Nine O'Clock Drop, The Dirtchamber Sessions got me to reconnect with my musical roots and reroute it all back through the eighties and beyond, filling in the blanks in the process. As such, it remains an inescapably formative piece of the puzzle in the whole Terminal Vibration concept, sowing the seeds for its germination nearly twenty years before I even got around to articulating it. Even now, listening to it is as much a rush as ever.

Prodigy Baby's Got A Temper XL

Sadly, Thornhill left The Prodigy in the year 2000, whittling the group down to a technoid power trio. The next Prodigy full-length wouldn't come out until 2004, but the group did put out this solitary 12" in 2002. Baby's Got A Temper manages to distill the whole punk/hip hop axis of The Fat Of The Land into four-and-a-half minutes of feedback-drenched madness. By now seemingly airbrushed out of history — a lot of people seem/ed to hate it — it's nevertheless a key part of the Prodigy story.

I'll admit that it took me a second to warm to it at first (I just about choked on the twisted fairground loop), but the undeniable charms of its ultra-funky chorus quickly won me over. If memory serves, I think the complaint was that the band's sound hadn't moved on sufficiently, but with the benefit of hindsight, it's a glorious bit of 21st century cyberpunk fury. Just imagine if they'd put it out a few couple earlier... in 1999 I suspect it would've set the charts ablaze.

Baby's Got A Temper music video8

The tune's demented music video is something of a mini-masterpiece of the form, featuring Maxim and Keith bouncing around the stage like peak-era Onyx while Howlett pumps the Moog Prodigy (what else!?) and a dummy drums, the band playing for a room full of cattle. I don't want to give anything else away, but that's probably the least crazy thing about the whole affair. If it came out nowadays it'd be dismissed as offensive, but a closer inspection reveals it to be a striking commentary on the artifice of celebrity culture and the mechanical vapidity of mindless consumerism. Brilliant!

The Prodigy Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned XL

Fans had to wait another two years for the next album, and when it finally arrived, the sound had mutated wildly. The trio had been whittled further to just Liam (although the group hadn't broken up — it was simply a stripped-to-basics effort), and the sound was a wild mash up of electroclash shapes and breakbeat fury. Perhaps I could have let it lie with Baby's Got A Temper for today's discussion: a clear and concise ten-year arc stretching from the lean years of boy bands and nu-metal back to the glory days of marathon raves and pirate radio. I can't help it... I've always had a soft spot for Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned.9

Make no mistake, this is exactly what The Prodigy should have been doing in 2004. Dovetailing brilliantly with the whole post punk redux (now in full steam by this point), it also managed to run parallel to the contemporary rude movements of Basement Jaxx's Kish Kash, Audio Bullys' Ego War and Roni Size's Return To V, not to mention the rise of the grime zeitgeist in the wake of Dizzee Rascal's Boy In Da Corner crashed the party. All of which did a great deal to form my idea of what the pop music of the future would sound like.10

Gatefold image from Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned

The D-Train-sampling electroid groove of Girls and the sleazy gutter disco That's Just The Way it Is (which might be my favorite thing here) sync perfectly with what DFA were up to around this point in time, while noise workouts like Get Up Get Off, Wake Up Call and Memphis Bells seem to trade the kinetic roll of classic Prodigy for a maddening start-stop take on the dirty south rhythm matrix. In a sense, the sound in these tunes might be the most strikingly different from the prototypical Prodigy template as things would ever get.

Further new forms take shape with the fiery electro-punk of Spitfire, Hotride and Action Radar (another favorite), which in retrospect seem to pick up where Fuel My Fire left off. The other big highlights (for me, at least) are the two hip hop instrumentals (You'll Be Under My Wheels11 and Medusa's Path), which bring it all full circle back to the hip hop sounds where Howlett started out in the first place. In the words of Liam himself, This album is about reminding people what The Prodigy was always about — the beats and the music.


After an extended hiatus, the crew went on to record further albums like Invaders Must Die and No Tourists. However, it's this initial run — spanning from What Evil Lurks to Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned — that forms the perfect conceptual arc, and a sound illustration of everything great about The Prodigy. Raw power and pure excitement rolled up inna virtuoso soundclash right there on the edge of madness, they were the original techno punks.

Footnotes

1.

The Prodigy. Out Of Space. The Prodigy Experience. Curtis, Russell. XL, 1992. Music Video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4eav7dFvc8

2.

See also The Prodigy's awesome remix of Method Man's Release Yo' Delf, which was roughly five years ahead of its time. Just listen to Lil Wayne's Tha Block Is Hot... or even Clipse's Hell Hath No Fury in 2006! I've often thought that Chinese New Year and Trill sounded like The Neptunes had been mainlining on Music For The Jilted Generation right before the sessions.

3.

The Prodigy. Voodoo People. Music For The Jilted Generation. Stern, Walter and Curtis, Russell. XL, 1994. Music Video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YV78vobCyIo

4.

Prodigy. Firestarter. The Fat Of The Land. Stern, Walter. XL, 1996. Music Video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmin5WkOuPw

5.

I always liked Simon Reynolds' offhand recontextualisation of Firestarter within the remit of the original sixties garage punk as enshrined in the Nuggets box set.

6.

Prodigy. Breathe. The Fat Of The Land. Stern, Walter. XL, 1996. Music Video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmHDhAohJlQ

7.

This at the height of the mix CD phenomenon, with series like Back To Mine and DJ-Kicks hitting their stride.

8.

Prodigy. Baby's Got A Temper. Baby's Got A Temper. Stern, Walter and Curtis, Russell. XL, 2002. Music Video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFBPnZe_iMA

9.

The album's title is a reference to the Laurence Fishburne film Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, which was based on Walter Mosley's book of the same title.

10.

I think both The Prodigy's Action Radar and Lucky Star by Basement Jaxx (featuring Dizzee Rascal) illustrate what I was envisioning: gloriously sleazy and exotic future shock music. Imagine my disappointment when future pop turned out to be Kesha and Ariana Grande instead!12

11.

I have a live bootleg13 from 1996 featuring a track called Rock 'n Roll, which rocks the same Kool Keith sample (from Ultramagnetic MC's' Poppa Large and seems to be an early version of this tune.

12.

Well, at least Azealia Banks managed to cut an inspired path every now and then...

13.

That bootleg was titled Techno Punks, which inspired the title and general thrust of this entire post. It's well worth checking out, offering a killer snapshot of the crew running through their rave-era repertoire, just before they unleashed Firestarter on an unsuspecting public.

Bomb The Bass – Clear

Bomb The Bass Clear

4th & Broadway 1995

I think it's time to discuss the philosophy of hip hop blues as it relates to Terminal Vibration. Prime trip hop, in other words. Aside from Tricky's debut, I can think of no record that embodies this outlook more than Bomb The Bass' third album, Clear. Squaring patly in the aftermath of Melting Machines — that place where live band dynamics melt into the sprawling electronic trip: samplers, breakbeats, studio-as-instrument chopping up loops and playing with time — Clear is the undeniable masterpiece from Tim Simenon and his wild offbeat vision of post-rave British hip hop, the culmination of over half-a-dozen years spent at the forefront of the sound that would become known as trip hop.

Bomb The Bass Into The Dragon Rhythm King

Bomb The Bass started out in the late 1980s with records like Beat Dis and Into The Dragon, which melded hip hop beats with Second Summer Of Love dawn-of-rave energy in such a way that came to define Rhythm King's whole anything goes patchwork aesthetic. Particularly interesting in terms of today's discussion, Into The Dragon — like Jon Saul Kane's Depth Charge output — went a long way to trailblazing the sort of rough-hewn trip hop that would set the tone for a whole sensibility that would come to define large swathes of the nineties. The Burt Bacharach/Hal David cover Say A Little Prayer mirrors the similar fascination Smith & Mighty — those other architects of trip hop — exhibited with the baroque pop songwriting duo on records like Walk On... and Anyone....

Bomb The Bass Unknown Territory Rhythm King

However, its on BTB's 1991 sophomore effort that things really start to get into Terminal Vibration territory. Unknown Territory, with its dirty beats and grimy basslines, plays like a sister record to Depth Charge's Nine Deadly Venoms inna true fellow traveler stylee. With a yet more rugged, dubbed-out sound than before —  with shades even of post punk lurking in its shadows — it makes perfect sense that the record also features the entrance of Doug Wimbish and Keith LeBlanc (aka the immortal Tackhead/Sugar Hill rhythm section) into the fold.

Tim Simenon: Bomb The Bass mastermind

With production that somehow manages to combine lush atmosphere and rugged edges, not to mention an added emphasis on vocal songs — featuring torch vocals from Loretta Heywood and raps from A La Mode — it all points the way forward to the inimitable Clear... Simenon's undeniable masterpiece and today's tile of the month. Like Massive Attack's Protection, Clear is constructed on an almost symmetrical structure, with one side mirroring the other. As such, it seems to make the most sense to tackle it track-by-track, and in order. Taking it from the top, then, let's discuss Bomb The Bass' mightiest lightning sword of death: Clear.

Justin Warfield: Hip hop's beatnik fool

The record opens with the awesome big beat pile drive of Bug Powder Dust, a rude slab of feedback-fueled hip hop that sounds like the greatest Chemical Brothers track you've never heard, and just as the Brothers Dust were beginning to gather steam with Exit Planet Dust (check out In Dust We Trust). Featuring the stoned free-association flow of the inimitable Justin Warfield, whose kaleidoscopic raps pull in everything from William Burroughs' Naked Lunch to Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness and Cameron Crowe's Fast Times At Ridgemont High, it's everything big beat could've turned into if only more MCs were drafted in and the often corny retro/rock goofiness had been reigned in just a little bit. Without a doubt one of the greatest album openers of all time, this is up there with Luv N' Haight, Immigrant Song and Straight Outta Compton.

Bomb The Bass Bug Powder Dust 4th & Broadway

Notably, the 12" for Bug Powder Dust took on a life of its own with remixes from La Funk Mob, DJ Muggs and, appropriately enough, The Chemical Brothers themselves. Most famously, Kruder & Dorfmeister reworked the track as a languid bit of hip hop noir, and it's this version that appeared on the U.S. version of Clear in place of the feedback-drenched original. It's this version of Clear that I actually started out with back in the day, before eventually tracking down the original 4th & B U.K. issue. Trust me, this is the version you want, especially since the two Kruder & Dorfmeister mixes are included on The K&D Sessions, which everyone should already have by now anyway.

Bim Sherman: Dreamtime dread

Sleepyhead follows in perfect precision, with reggae icon Bim Sherman providing the sublime falsetto over a grinding bassline and splashing breakbeats, while a talking drum creeps in and out of the mix just on the edge of paranoid consciousness. With its rugged beats anchoring a heavy duty bass-driven groove that slips and slides beneath a tune so chill its damn near sub-zero, make no mistake: this is what trip hop's all about. Embodying a deeply strange roots music shot through with spectral visions of the future, this would've provided the perfect soundtrack to the proverbial good nineties cyberpunk film.

Strange Parcels Disconnection On-U Sound

It's worth noting that these rugged beats are pure Tackhead — which makes sense since Doug Wimbish and Keith LeBlanc have remained in full force from Unknown Territory — augmented and abetted by one of trip hop's great sonic architect. Especially intriguing is the added presence of guitarist Skip McDonald, who makes his first appearance of the record on Sleepyhead, rounding out this de facto Tackhead reunion. This just after the Strange Parcels record, which featured LeBlanc, Wimbish and Bernard Alexander (but not McDonald) working up a series of kinetic endless horizon-evoking mid-tempo grooves. That album, Disconnection, makes an excellent companion piece to Clear, bridging the gap between Mark Stewart's proto-trip hop/post punk self-titled third LP and Clear's squaring of the circle between 1979, 1985 and the year of Maxinquaye.

Bim Sherman Miracle Mantra

The striking thing about Clear is its network of routes reaching out in seemingly every direction, drawing in as it does a rather disparate crowd of artists and iconoclasts into its singular, visionary orbit. Bim Sherman had been a fixture on the U.K. reggae scene ever since Adrian Sherwood coaxed him across the Atlantic for a tour, and (appropriately enough, given the On-U/Maffia connection) his presence on the record is a perfect fit. In fact, it's sort of surprising that Sherwood himself wasn't involved in this project. It's worth noting that Bim's Miracle set from the following year, featuring production by Sherwood, Skip McDonald and Talvin Singh (plus the presence of Doug Wimbish on bass), is something like a more bucolic extrapolation of Sleepyhead and a sublimely unique vision of ambient roots music.

Carlton: Trip hop's king of falsetto

But now back to Clear... One To One Religion rides in on a menacing bassline, driven by a slow-burning 4/4 pulse, while Carlton's angelic falsetto and skewed, new world cinematic strings soar across the mix. This is one of the few post-Call Is Strong appearances of Bristol blues' greatest falsetto, and for that alone deserves our attention. If anything, Religion plays like a harder, ruffed-up take on Smith & Mighty's stellar productions for Carlton's sole album, which brilliantly blurred the lines between trip hop, r&b and the lush rainforest productions of discomix reggae. Like Sleepyhead, it seems to spring entirely from within the Terminal Vibration tradition even as it gestures slyly toward the 21st century.

Bomb The Bass One to One Religion 4th & Broadway

In another twist of fate, I first heard this tune in its killer Dobie-produced Skankapella Mix, as found on the U.S. release of the record (along with some of the attendant 12" singles), which recasts the tune as a sumptuous ballad built on the back of a languid sample from Three Dog Night's Easy To Be Hard (which younger heads might know from the opening of the David Fincher film Zodiac). At first I dug this mix even more than the original (after all, I was exposed to it first), but over time I've come to regard them about equally. Different vibes for different occasions, and everything else the good man said.

Spikey T in full effect

Coming on dark and coming on hard, Dark Heart recasts Mark Stewart + Maffia records like High Ideals And Crazy Dreams, Liberty City and Survival as straight up trip hop literal, bringing it all back to Bristol once again (all roads, etc.). With its depth-charging bassline and waterlogged beats, featuring singjay vocals from one Spikey T, this menacing roots music sounds just like William Gibson's Zion recast aboard Captain Nemo's Nautilus, grooving in slow-motion 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Like Drexciya by way of dub rather than Detroit, or Hendrix's 1983... A Merman I Should Turn To Be reconstructed by King Tubby, this is deep six music for real.

Leslie Winer: Stylish and savage

If You Reach The Border follows, sliding into view on an electro-inflected beat like Barbara Mason's Another Man played at '33. The first of the record's two spoken-word pieces, this features vocals from model/iconoclast Leslie Winer on a druggy, stream-of-consciousness tip. Ill nonsense, and cool as can be, this picks up where her ahead-of-its-time, trip hop-adjacent (inna Mélaaz/Vanessa Daou stylee) 1993 LP Witch left off. More ghost-of-Burroughs' type madness, it offers up a welcome breather sandwiched between what might be the record's two darkest tracks. Shall I describe the person that I died in? Are you seeing the grave that I ride in? Tell me... am I, am I making sense? Not at all, Leslie, but we're down just the same.

Justin Warfield My Field Trip To Planet 9 Qwest

That other dark track, featuring the return of Justin Warfield from his Field Trip To Planet 9, is Braindead. Recasting Warfield's mad-crazy-mosaic lyrical style in a downcast nightmare backed by a twisted bit of slow-motion psychedelic rock (courtesy of Jimi Hendrix — by way of Curtis Knight) submerged in storm clouds of pure sensi. The effect makes me flash on both 1983... A Merman I Should Turn To Be (that tune again) and the Gravediggaz' Defective Trip Trippin', before it all drops out into a wall of low end feedback with Warfield's echo-drenched refrain:

Too much combustion gets my brain dusted.

Shadows of the pain, sucking on a young man's brain.

Yea, it's that type of tune! References to A Clockwork Orange, Modern English and Jim Morrison are swept into the strange brew, while Warfield rattles off his lyrics like a lackadaisical madman. Warped and heavy like prime New Kingdom, it even drops a dope little coda after the fade that could've sustained a whole other track in its own right.

Will Self in an abstract mood

The second of the weird spoken word pieces, 5ml. Barrel features outsider author Will Self narrating a disturbingly detailed episode involving a particularly resourceful addict's unconventional means of procuring vast amounts of morphine. Needless to say, its the one track that didn't make the U.S. cut at all! The dragging, druggy beat matches his druggy delivery perfectly, and — with a grinding bassline from the great Jah Wobble — the result is as hypnotic as it is unsettling. With two shots of black humor to chase down the horror, one senses the unmistakable shadow of William Burroughs hanging over the proceedings like a malevolent force.

Depeche Mode Ultra Mute

And then, an instrumental. Ah yes, Somewhere. We needed a breather after the last tune, and Somewhere delivers in spades. The album's lone instrumental, Somewhere starts out as pure ambient, sounding almost like something you'd find on Biosphere record, before veering off into fourth world territory, replete with iridescent percussion, downbeat dub and a looped Muezzin wail. Notably Simenon would go on to produce Depeche Mode's beloved Ultra a couple years later, and throughout much of Clear you can hear the roots of a lot of the low slung ideas he'd bring to that record. In fact, Depeche instrumentals like Jazz Thieves, Junior Painkiller and Uselink are essentially Clear tracks in miniature. See also Simenon's mixes for Material's 1997 reissue of Seven Souls (Burroughs strikes again).

Bernard Fowler: Tackhead and N.Y.C. Peech Boy

After that atmospheric sorbet to cleanse the aural palette, we enter the album's final three song lift off, where everything melts into a liquid stream of dream logic and lushly-arranged ambience. Sandcastles is just perfect, with descending vibes, sweeping ethereal synth architecture, dubbed-out textural flourishes, gently-strummed guitar, nimble bass, and vocals from latter day Tackhead frontman (and ex-N.Y.C. Peech Boy) Bernard Fowler. This is a definite contender for my favorite track on the album, and when it turns like clockwork to its resolutely unfolding denouement, the effect often reminds me of the gorgeous technoid denouement of The Isley Brothers' Between The Sheets. Sublime stuff.

Massive Attack Protection Wild Bunch

Sustaining the ethereal mood for our listening pleasure, Tidal Wave drifts in as if on an ocean breeze. Echoing the sultry trip hop ballads from In Dark Territory — tracks like Winter In July and Love So True — with post-Soul To Soul beats and bluesy pianos reminiscent of Craig Armstrong's work on Massive Attack's Protection, it's gentle collision of scratching, sub-bass pressure and slow-motion breakbeats embody the notion of hip hop blues. This is that sub-oceanic, dreamtime realm where trip hop drifts into the slipstream alongside everything from Sade and Vanessa Daou to David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti.

River (aka the inimitable Minnie Driver)

Strangely enough, the gorgeous torch song vocals come courtesy of the mysterious River, who turns out to be none other than actress Minnie Driver (of Grosse Point Blank, Good Will Hunting, Sleepers, et. al. fame). Of course this is slightly before all that. She actually went on to record a couple albums about a decade later, which are solid dream pop outings with fascinating jazz and country inflections. I often wonder if her career had taken a couple more years to make its ascent, maybe we'd have gotten a peak-era trip hop record credited to River and produced by Simenon? A girl can dream...

Benjamin Zephaniah and Sinéad O'Connor

All of which brings us to the final song of the album, the downcast, downbeat mirror image of Bug Powder Dust. Empire starts just like Timbaland And Magoo's Up Jumps Da' Boogie inna a dub chamber before kicking into a slow-motion stomp, pushed forward by subterranean acid and spectral voices seemingly in echo of the past. I'm instantly reminded of Funkadelic's awesome death dirge March To The Witch's Castle. 'Nuff dread! Benjamin Zephaniah trades verses with Sinéad O'Connor in a cutting critique of the British Empire, in which the forceful dub poetry and haunting vocals that compare it to a vampire and intimate that the sun might set on it one day after all. It's a rather fitting end to such shadowy, uncompromising record, wrapping it all up with a baleful understated epic that winds down the long daydream/nightmare trip.


So that's the story with Clear. It may not make the lists with the frequency of a Dummy or a Blue Lines, but it's every bit their equal. This record was a key moment in trip hop's protracted development, springing from a roots 'n future fusion of hip hop, reggae, soul and traces of post punk ghosts still lingering in the machine. As such, its also an undeniable Terminal Vibration record, tying its present of Tricky's Maxinquaye and Massive Attack's Protection back through Depth Charge and Smith & Mighty and into Colourbox's Baby I Love You So and Mark Stewart's third LP. And then there's Tackhead, lurking right there in the whole unfolding of the story, driving these twisted torch songs and grimy breakbeat burners that practically define the term hip hop blues.

Terminal Vibration: Melting Machines

Man-Machine Rhythms
Man-machine rhythms melting into the night...

There's a few things I noticed while compiling the Terminal Vibration anthology on Cheap Hotel, things that had been swirling in the background for some time before finally coming into focus. They all center around the idea of the 1980s as the decade when the liquid, telepathic grooves of funk and krautrock melt into dance music's sprawling electronic trip. Giving the drummer some inevitably led to breakbeats getting fed into Akais, recontextualized in the vibrant interzone between hip hop and rave, just as musicians locking into disco's tantric pulse will ultimately (and inevitably) bring you face to face with acid house.

Tackhead Strange Things SBK

I'm talking about the way the rubberband grooves worked up by live groups like Talking Heads/Eno/Byrne and Funkadelic (synth genius Bernie Worrell involved in both, of course) are gradually mirrored by the sequenced machine music of Hashim and the Jungle Brothers. To my mind, the year 1985 is the axis on which it all hinges. One could almost draw a line down the middle of the decade, with Tackhead/Fats Comet/Maffia's machine-inflected post punk as the axis around which everything else falls into place. By the end of the decade, they'd even drafted Bernard Fowler (of the N.Y.C. Peech Boys) as lead singer for a pair of records that seemed to scramble the entirety of the 1980s through the day-glo cyberpunk prism of The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension, resulting in true parallax horizon music that hinted at Seal's early sound and would later culminate in the Strange Parcels record and Bomb The Bass' Clear.

Prince Sign "O" The Times Paisley Park

When it comes to merging man with machine in the sonic space, it's hard to beat Prince, who was arguably to the eighties what Bowie was to the prior decade. Leaping from the brittle new wave funk of 1980's Dirty Mind to 1999's increasingly machine-driven rhythms in the space of just two years, he wound up the decade by synthesizing the perfect hybrid of both sides of the coin with records like Sign "O" The Times and Lovesexy. One can certainly hear the next decade of RnB flowing right through the former with routes stretching out into everything from Teddy Riley and Jodeci to The Neptunes and Rodney Jerkins (not to mention D'Angelo and Terence Trent D'Arby!).

Big Audio Dynamite Megatop Phoenix Columbia

Sweeping back across the Atlantic, in some strange sort of parallel Mick Jones seemed to find himself at the very cusp of the zeitgeist again and again throughout the decade. Ringing in the decade with The Clash's Sandinista!, a rich, multifaceted record of day-glo new wave post punk dance drenched dub, he closed it with the kaleidoscopic post-Second Summer Of Love masterpiece Megatop Phoenix (the best indie dance record ever). In between, he put out records on Def Jam (Big Audio Dynamite's The Bottom Line) and brought the sampler into the charts, even featuring a post-Rip Rig & Panic/pre-solo career Neneh Cherry across multiple music videos. Usually decades don't break down so neatly, but 1985's This Is Big Audio Dynamite is another key record that seems to bisect the decade with its visionary approach to sound.

Kate Bush The Dreaming EMI

Of course Kate Bush had her own mind-bending Fairlight excursions even earlier on 1982's The Dreaming, even if they didn't hit the charts until three years later alongside B.A.D. with Hounds Of Love. The Dreaming itself is a bracing, one-of-a-kind listen, with threads leading out toward the avant garde of Holger Hiller, the arty pop of Japan/David Sylvian and Peter Gabriel, and even the electro-tinged productions Jam & Lewis later unveiled on Janet Jackson's Control, it's one of the key signposts of the decade. And I still need to touch on my whole theory that leads from Janet Jackson to Neneh Cherry (by way of Sinéad O'Connor), which is a whole other story.

Ryuichi Sakamoto B-2 Unit Alfa

There's this whole avant pop wing of the eighties exemplified by Ryuichi Sakamoto's Forbidden Colours (featuring David Sylvian) and Talk Talk that's of a piece with Ms. Bush's work. Sakamoto in particular gets into extraordinarily far-reaching territory right at the dawn of the decade with 1980's B-2 Unit, which features the unmatchable Riot In Lagos, sounding like the blueprint for The Black Dog ten years ahead of schedule. It's one of those records that laugh cruelly at the idea of synths aging poorly, and like contemporary Suicide and Thomas Leer, seem to exist out of time.

Wally Badarou Echoes Island

The logical conclusion of all this furiously innovative activity is an explosion of electronic dance music as a form in its own right, a sub-kingdom within the body pop encompassing everything from electro to house, techno and utterly unclassifiable records like Wally Badarou's Echoes. All of which come — surprise, surprise — at the midpoint of the decade (even if electro had already been kicking up a storm for a couple years by then). One could argue that the entire dance music explosion of the nineties could be traced back to this point, tracing a jagged line from The Egyptian Lover to The Prodigy.

Mr. Fingers Ammnesia Jack Trax

Early house records like Mr. Fingers' Can You Feel It, Jamie Principle's Waiting On My Angel and Jungle Wonz's The Jungle, which all poured out of Chicago around this time, were mirrored by early Detroit techno like Model 500's Night Drive Thru-Babylon, Rhythim Is Rhythim's Nude Photo and Reese & Santonio's The Sound, while killer electro like Hashim's Primrose Path and The Egyptian Lover's On The Nile sprung up from the coasts to build on the foundation of Planet Rock. These records all managed to build entire worlds from a spartan combination of synths, drum machines and sequencers, opening up exciting possibilities for a generation of would-be bedroom visionaries.

Marley Marl In Control Volume 1 Cold Chillin'

All of which brings us to hip hop, the other big sonic revelation that seemed to reach its tipping point in 1985 with Run-D.M.C.. I can think of no better illustration of the point I'm trying to make here than rap's evolution from the live funk jams of the Sugar Hill rhythm section through the hardcore machine rhythm matrix of Mantronix, Code Money and Orange Krush to ultimately come full circle to Marley Marl splitting the atom with his sampler. All those early Pop Art/Prism/Cold Chillin' records, featuring a slew of charismatic MCs like Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie and Roxanne Shanté (and later personal favorites like Masta Ace and Kool G Rap) paved the way for the likes of the De La Soul and The Dust Brothers' mad sampladelic tapestries. The blueprint for the nineties, in other words, when funk was reworked from scratch backwards until the machines would have their day again...

Which in a round about way, manages to both rewind back to My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts and fast-forward to the future... but more on that to come.

CHR-009: Terminal Vibration Vol. One

Various Artists Terminal Vibration: Vol. One

Cheap Hotel 2019

I'd originally planned to put this out after the Terminal Vibration 100 hit the site, but the compilation wound up being ready ahead of schedule. This latest Cheap Hotel release rolls up the whole Terminal Vibration vision into an unmissable two-disc anthology, where new wave, hip hop, post punk, house, dancehall, techno, afrobeat, funk, disco, trip hop, electro, boogie, dub and fourth world avant pop all collide in a killer selection of 30 Riddimatic Traxx From The Wild Side Of The 1980s.

I've worked up a little mix from the original compilation. Please excuse the transitions, which are quite conservative — and in some cases a little rocky — but I wanted to retain as much as the original track as possible. Sure, I might have mixed from Junior Reid's One Blood straight into the wayward groove of Ryuichi Sakamoto's Riot In Lagos, but I just couldn't bear to skip the amazing intro and build up as riot begins to take shape! At any rate, on with the music...

Listen Now

    CHR-009: Various Artists - Terminal Vibration Vol. One Part 1

  1. Simple Minds I Travel Arista
  2. Bullet train punk disco from the band that would later bring you Don't You Forget About Me, this much earlier track finds the crew lean and hungry at the dawn of the decade. This is the sound of Europe-endless Moroder madness crashing the new wave party, screaming past skyscrapers and concrete bunkers, circuitry, telecommunications and the rising sun looming on the horizon.

  3. Doug Wimbish featuring Fats Comet Don't Forget That Beat World Record
  4. Pure fast-forward cyberpunk madness from Fats Comet (aka Tackhead aka the Maffia), this electroid punk-to-funk workout comes at you like a Prince cameo in the Count Zero motion picture. With a peerless stutter-funk groove hitting about as tactile as they come, this is everything implied in the promise electronic dance music.

  5. Jamie Principle Waiting On My Angel Persona
  6. Gothic digital disco from the dark prince of Chicago, shaded heavy with new wave colors. Rising from deep from the underground just as house was beginning to make its presence felt, this record arrived fully formed just as everyone else was still figuring out how to work the equipment. About as catchy as anything ever played on a dancefloor, in a perfect world this would have been a #1 smash hit (images of Idoru spring to mind).

  7. Junior Reid One Blood J.R.
  8. Apocalyptic dancehall masterpiece arrives at the tail end of the decade, the rhythms in this track are happening on something like four or five planes. Pepperseed drum machine beats flip into slow-motion breakbeats beneath the electronic roots-n-future mash-up, while the spectre of Junior Reid hangs above it all sounding like a prophet.

  9. Ryuichi Sakamoto Riot In Lagos Alfa
  10. Innovator on holiday from YMO turns in one of the most futuristic tracks ever laid down on tape. Coming out in early 1980, this could have been released twenty years later and still sounded ahead of its time. Unbalanced, untethered and utterly unpredictable, this is quite simply the benchmark of brilliance... everyone making electronic music should aspire to be this good.

  11. Thomas Leer Tight As A Drum Cherry Red
  12. Skewed electropop heaven from the Scottish bedroom auteur. From the brilliant 4-track EP, 4 Movements, the entirety of which is just stupidly, preposterously ahead of its time. Miles away from any sort of rigid synth pop conventions, this melts and glides like some Mediterranean sunset serenade.

  13. Tony Allen with Afrobeat 2000 When One Road Close Another One Go Open Wrasse
  14. Afrobeat goes electro! After four stellar solo albums, Fela Kuti's main man behind the kit takes his sound into the 1980s in a big way, offering up the greatest polyrhythmic-fourth-world-dubbed-out-future-shock stone tablet since King Sunny Adé descended into the studio with Martin Meissonnier behind the boards. An indisputable monster-groove.

  15. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five New York New York Sugar Hill
  16. One of a handful of tracks that so perfectly fit the Terminal Vibration remit, it almost hurts! In fact, there were a handful of records from this crew that would have fit just as well: The Message (which this record echoes), Scorpio and especially Message II Survival. For me, the bionic superfly attack of New York New York is the pick of the bunch, a track that sounds better still with every passing year.

  17. Brian Eno/David Byrne Regiment Sire
  18. Like the last track, this is Terminal Vibration distilled down to its purest essence, only more so. Indeed, the entire My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts album was probably the impetus for this whole endeavor. Over at DJ Food had it down as a Trip Hop blueprint if there ever was one, and when confronted with Regiment's rock hard downbeat funk riddim and muezzin wail, you know exactly what he means.

  19. The Clash Outside Broadcast CBS
  20. A saner man would have gone with the original version, which everyone knows and remains a classic tune, but this seven-plus minute dub version is a wild tangled trip that fits in far to well to pass up. Dig that atmosphere — car horns, street sounds, disco diva vocals, throbbing bass, proto-raps, electrofunk hand claps, stylized sax and Joe Strummer swirling in a cavern — in this runaway late night taxi cab ride.

  21. D-Train You're The One For Me Prelude
  22. Part of why I love this era so much is the way so many disparate scenes suddenly found themselves in sync — punk/disco/rap/reggae/the avant garde — and wired up to to the dancefloor. In truth, much of this was down to disco's gravity pull, as both a force to be reckoned with and something to define oneself against. This seminal Prelude joint is the moment at which boogie splits off from disco proper, and is the secret cousin to all The Clash's Sandinista!-era dancefloor burners.

  23. Jungle Wonz The Jungle Trax
  24. More early Chicago. You practically get a hit of that sense of discovery — and wide-open possibilities — every time you spin the best of these records. The rule books hadn't even been written yet, so the prospect of Harry Dennis' Last Poets-style raps over lush fourth world minimalism must have sounded no more out of bounds than Larry Heard's proto-ambient house or Jamie Principle's solitary moonlight missives. Nowadays, we know better than to take this stuff for granted...

  25. Aisha The Creator Ariwa
  26. Roots reggae songstress does her thing in Mad Professor's digital playground, resulting in a crisp slice of liquid perfection that still sounds like the future. This is so lean and mean! I'm sure there are cooler songs... I just can't think of any right now. Ambient house heads will instantly recognize the vocal sample that later turns up in The Orb's Blue Room (all roads lead to Jah Wobble).

  27. Reese Just Want Another Chance KMS
  28. It still blows my mind that this record, with its bunker-crumbling drum machine beats and ten ton bassline oozing out of every pore, came out in 1988. But then, Kevin Saunderson is nothing if not an innovator (they don't call him Master Reese for nothing). As if the greatest bassline ever weren't enough, he peppers the track with killer sequence after counterpoint-sequence and spooked warehouse vibes to spare.

  29. Silicon Soul Who Needs Sleep Tonight Disko B
  30. Classicist electro-chanson from New York. Loneliness personified. First heard this, appropriately enough, on Terranova's DJ-Kicks — the O.G. Terminal Vibration experience — even if they just played the instrumental synth sequence. Hearing the original tune (from 1981) was such a joy, thanks to a timely reissue from Disko B at the turn of the century. I used to play this when I knew I was gonna have to pull an all-nighter, and it never failed to get me in the mode.

Listen Now

    CHR-009: Various Artists - Terminal Vibration Vol. One Part 2

  1. The Special AKA Bright Lights Two-Tone
  2. Shadowy post-ska dance music from Jerry Dammers and co. The protracted sessions for the In The Studio LP resulted in a brilliantly strange collection of moody tunes that seem — from the cover on downward — haunted by the spectre of trip hop menace well before the fact.

  3. Model 500 Night Drive Thru-Babylon Metroplex
  4. Dark, sleek future music from techno originator Juan Atkins. With Night Drive Thru-Babylon, he created an utterly kinetic perpetual motion engine, serving as electro's killer app and pointing the way forward to techno's otherworldly, psychedelic glow.

  5. Big Audio Dynamite Sudden Impact! Columbia
  6. Sudden Impact! is electroid dance pop of the highest caliber, shot through with just a hint of dub and strains of the nascent dancehall, sounding something like Mad Professor vs. The Latin Rascals. Proves that Mick Jones had his finger to the pulse of eighties dance music, running from Radio Clash right through Megatop Phoenix and the Second Summer Of Love.

  7. 808 State Narcossa Creed
  8. Rough and rugged acid house from Manchester's original techno proposition, back when A Guy Called Gerald was still firmly in the crew. As hinted by the title, this is electronic music at its most druggy and weird, even as it never loses sight of the dancefloor. The finest track from their excellent debut album, Newbuild, this manages the trick of sounding ancient and at the same time like it could have come out tomorrow.

  9. ESG Moody Spaced Out 99
  10. Girl group punk funk from New York. ESG managed to capture the spirit of Central Park's endless Puerto Rican conga jams (a sound that also inspired the likes of New Order and A Certain Ratio within the moody corridors of half-lit punk funk, getting tagged by the music press as PIL meets the The Supremes. And at the end of the day, what higher praise could you ask for?

  11. Hashim Primrose Path Cutting
  12. Overcast New York electro retrofit with bionic slap-bass funk, this sounds like it could've come from the streets of Chiba City. Coming out on electro/freestyle stalwart label Cutting Records and masterminded by the peerless Hashim (who also produced the definitive electro masterstroke Al-Naafiysh The Soul), this record's practically a genre unto itself.

  13. Massive Attack Any Love Massive Attack
  14. Trip hop supergroup's humble beginnings start with this killer Smith & Mighty-produced cover of Rufus & Chaka Khan's Any Love, fronted by the angel-voiced falsetto of Carlton and featuring a brilliantly introverted rap from Tricky (almost as an afterthought). That's a crazy amount of talent to squeeze into one studio, right there. Of course, it shows through in this deliciously minimalist tune, featuring some of the most kinetic drum programming ever laid down on tape.

  15. Grace Jones I've Seen That Face Before Libertango Island
  16. This skewed, cosmopolitan dubwise chanson always strikes me as undeniably trip hop in both spirit and execution. Look no further than Massive Attack's Spying Glass and Nicolette's No Government (1996 version) for some sound comparisons. From the storied Compass Point sessions that resulted in Nightclubbing, Grace Jones' finest hour.

  17. Virgo School Hall Radical
  18. Virgo unleashed this bit of moody dancefloor magic right at the close of the decade, perfecting the deep house blueprint just in time for the nineties. And I do mean perfect... this song — in form, sonics and execution — is like a flawlessly cut diamond. When that bassline hangs in repetition for a bar before cascading into the chorus, it captures every lonely walk through your high school's crowded corridors as you try to slip through unnoticed and as quickly as you can. It gets me every time...

  19. Derrick Harriott Dub Whip Hawkeye
  20. Ah yes, Derrick Harriott with another one that's almost too good to be true. Early-eighties cover version of — strains credulity — the Dazz Band's Let It Whip?! Not only that, but with a dubbed-to-pieces remix tucked away on the flipside. With its visions of discomix reggae on the game grid, this is one of the most prized 12"s I own.

  21. Wally Badarou Chief Inspector Vine Street 4th & Broadway
  22. More Compass Point magic, this time from synth man Wally Badarou. For people who don't know (who are these people?!), Badarou was in the Compass Point All Stars, who played on that Grace Jones record (and a whole other brace of brilliant things). So casually understated yet undeniably brilliant, Paul "Groucho" Smykle's notion of adding go-go-inspired percussion to his Vine Street remix push this over the edge into the divine.

  23. Roxanne Shanté Have A Nice Day Cold Chillin'
  24. Rock the bells! Roxanne Shanté does her inimitable thing over an impossibly funky Marley Marl production, this invents the sound of golden age hip hop. I'm only sorry that I couldn't include more hip hop on this compilation: The D.O.C.'s No One Can Do It Better, Too $hort's Players, the Death Comet Crew's At The Marble Bar and The Junkyard Band's Sardines. Oh well, there's always Volume Two...

  25. Fresh 4 Wishing On A Star Lizz. E 10 Records
  26. Another Smith & Mighty production for another supergroup-before-the-fact. Fresh 4 were a crew consisting of Bristol royalty DJ Suv and DJ Krust (who'd both later wind up in Full Cycle/Reprazent), Flynn (later of Flynn & Flora) and Judge (who he?). With its blissful, sun-glazed Faze-O sample, torch song vocals and slow-motion breakbeats, this is trip hop's blueprint writ large before the nineties even started.

  27. Prince Something In The Water Does Not Compute Warner Bros.
  28. Sublime machine soul from the young Prince, just as he was poised to take over the world. Tucked away among the marathon electro boogie funk jams on his 1982 double-album 1999, this track rides a robotic start-stop rhythm haunted by Detroit-style synths, random computer bleeps and Prince's all-to-human paeans to the women who've done him wrong. The man's finest moment?

  29. Colourbox Looks Like We're Shy One Horse/Shoot Out 4AD
  30. Discomix post punk dub-cum-spaghetti western epic from proto-trip hop architects Colourbox, just grooves along for a satisfying four-and-a-half minutes while samples from Duck You Sucker and Once Upon A Time In The West drift over the top. Then, halfway through its eight-minute running time, it goes all moody and atmospheric before going all Binary Skyline with a fourth world cyberpunk downbeat coda that sounds like sci-fi Repo Man meets FSOL's Central Industrial. Really, it's the only way to end this mix properly...

Simple Minds - Empires And Dance Doug Wimbish featuring Fats Comet - Don't Forget That Beat Jamie Principle - Waiting On My Angel Junior Reid - One Blood Ryuichi Sakamoto - B-2 Unit Thomas Leer - 4 Movements
Tony Allen with Afrobeat 2000 - N.E.P.A (Never Expect Power Always) Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - New York New York Brian Eno/David Byrne - Regiment The Clash - This Is Radio Clash D-Train - You're The One For Me Jungle Wonz - The Jungle
Reese - Just Want Another Chance Silicon Soul - Pouti The Special AKA - In The Studio Model 500 - Night Drive Big Audio Dynamite - This Is Big Audio Dynamite 808 State - Newbuild
ESG - Come Away With ESG Hashim - Primrose Path Massive Attack - Any Love Grace Jones - Nightclubbing Virgo - Virgo Derrick Harriott - Whip It
Wally Badarou - Chief Inspector Roxanne Shanté - Have A Nice Day Fresh 4 - Wishing On A Star Prince - 1999 Colourbox - Baby I Love You So
CHR009: The Records

Scott Walker

Scott Walker in glasses at the microphone, circa 1967
The man with the golden voice

I was still reeling from Mark Hollis's untimely passing a month earlier when news of Scott Walker's death began to filter through in March. The sense of loss is always compounded in such cases, and with Dick Dale, Ranking Roger and Keith Flint gone too — and in such close temporal proximity to one another — it was hard to know where to begin. In their own way, all five figures had a significant influence on pop music's development over the years, and accordingly each of them had a profound impact on my own musical life. Three of them are responsible for records lodged right up there among my absolute favorites of all time, while the other two figures aren't far behind.


Scott Walker's career stretches back the longest, starting in the mid-1950s when he was still a child star known as Scotty Engel. However, it wasn't until the mid-1960s, when he hooked up with Gary Leeds and John Maus in L.A. to form The Walker Brothers, that he really began to make waves. At this point, each member of the trio took the last name Walker, much like the Ramones and Hardkiss later would with their respective group names. The trio wound up crossing the Atlantic in search of an audience (once again, much like artists like Hendrix and the Sparks later would), which they ultimately found with hit singles like Make It Easy On Yourself and The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore. The group, it seemed, were on top of the world. Then, in 1967, Scott Walker went solo.

Scott Walker Scott Philips

For me, this is where things get really good. As predictable as it might be, my favorite stretch of the man's discography remains the four self-titled albums he recorded in the late sixties. Each of these records are defined by a lushly-orchestrated, arty baroque pop of the absolute highest caliber, with Walker's rich, golden croon intimating enigmatic and often existential sentiments. With a cast of characters including sailors, soldiers, dictators, prostitutes, knights and even death himself, these tales certainly pushed the boundaries of pop music's typical subject matter of the era. Run-of-the-mill crooner outings these were most definitely not.

His solo debut Scott is a stone cold classic, announcing itself with the brass fanfare of a vigorous forward march called Mathilde. It's a truly bracing blast and the first of his many covers of the legendary Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel, whose literate, worldly songwriting would certainly prove a key influence on Walker's own compositions. The stately ballad Montague Terrace In Blue is one such song, its vivid descriptions exploding into a monumental chorus, while the exquisite organ-hued sketch Such A Small Love unveils the almost Medieval overtones that he'd continue to explore in earnest. Similarly, The Lady Came From Baltimore betrays a burgeoning fascination with country music, foreshadowing what would become a growing influence in the years to come.

He even takes a stab at the crooner standard When Joanna Loved Me (also done by both Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett), in which he more than holds his own with the giants, while Angelica and The Big Hurt give his vocals a chance to really soar. However, it's a pair of Jacques Brel numbers that point the way forward, with the Gothic melancholy of My Death and Amsterdam's swirling carousel of madness showcasing Walker's considerably unique vision. At the end of the day, Scott is a simple case where every track's a winner, and one can certainly see why Bowie was such an ardent fan (he even covered Amsterdam in 1973 for the b-side of Sorrow).

Scott Walker Scott 2 Philips

Scott 2 seems to pick up directly where Amsterdam leaves off, with the same rude-edged, seamy undertones in yet another in a long line of Brel covers. Jackie is a driving stampede of chanson, firmly in the tradition of Mathilde, while the Spanish-style bolero Next tells the winding tale of a young army recruit with the same unflinching detail as Amsterdam. Notably, a snatch of Walker's soaring vocal  — the naked and the dead — would later be sampled in Orbital's track of the same title (the b-side to Halcyon + On + On).

The soaring Best Of Both Worlds finds Walker at his romantic peak, while The Amorous Humphrey Plugg (later sampled by Wu-Tang general Masta Killa!) walks the tightrope between carefree fancy and creeping dread. The Girls And The Dogs (another Brel cover) even offers a bit of lighthearted fun, with its description of the inner workings of the relationship between girls, men and their dogs (the latter of which always seem to get the raw end of the deal!). That one always cracks me up. It's also worth noting the b-side to the Jackie, the massive, cinematic epic The Plague, which boasts inspired use of treated vocals and twisted instrumentation in a continuation of Next's darker corners.

However, if one reads between the lines, the overriding trend here — despite all the aforementioned highlights — is an increasingly subdued, dreamy atmosphere hanging over the proceedings. Outlined in scattered, ethereal moments like Windows Of The World, Wait Until Dark and the closing Come Next Spring, these breezy chansons nevertheless seem to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. This is where Walker's literate, existential vision begins to imbue everything with an added sense of depth and gravity, pointing the way forward to the spectral majesty of Scott 3.

Scott Walker Scott 3 Philips

From the opening strains of It's Raining Today — with its at times almost atonal string section in counterpoint with a sparkling chord progression — it's clear that you're dealing with something extraordinary. In a certain sense, Scott 3 is almost works as a bridge between Walker's sixties work and what he'd be up to decades later. This is also Walker's big songwriting breakthrough, in that all but the last three songs were written by Scott himself (the final trilogy are all Brel compositions).

The sound has also shifted dramatically, with an even greater emphasis on the sort of ethereal songcraft that had begun to build up steam in the softer corners of Scott 2. The tone poem Copenhagen is a great drifting, shimmering mist, and sets the tone for a record that seems to capture the first days of spring, when the snow is just beginning to melt and the sun's warmth gradually starting to return. Rising from a thunderous cascade of timpani, Big Louise is a heavenly portrait of a sad, lonely woman (the world's passed her by) imbued with a deep sense of pathos and melancholy.

The almost ambient Two Ragged Soldiers, with its circular, shimmering progression, is emblematic of the whole affair. There's but a handful of tunes to break into a canter, such as We Came Through — connecting as it does to earlier driving marches like Jackie — and the black humor of Brel's Funeral Tango, while the folky concision of 30 Century Man (the album's shortest track) betrays an understated funkiness in its implied rhythm. In many ways, it's the latter song — paired with the medieval undertones of If You Go Away and Winter Night — that most clearly foreshadows where he'd venture next.

Scott Walker Scott 4 Philips

Next being Scott 4, which is quite simply phenomenal. We're talking about one of the absolute greatest albums ever recorded, hands down. Every home should have a copy. In truth, its perfect fusion of lush orchestration, arty lyricism and hip rhythm is almost too good to be true. The Seventh Seal opens the record with a Morricone-esque cascade of orchestra charts and Gregorian chanting over a locked, oneiric drum beat, its subject inspired by Ingmar Berman's film of the same name — the story of a lone knight's ongoing chess game with death. Simply exquisite.

Similarly, The Old Man's Back Again is almost comically perfect in execution, with Scott's peerless croon dancing across the surface of a rolling, funky downbeat rhythm (30 Century Man made explicit) and another duel between baritone chant and lush orchestration. Walker's off-the-cuff scat-singing in the denouement comes as an added bonus. If you've never heard Scott Walker before — and your interest is piqued — this song just might be the place to start.

Elsewhere, here's still some remaining strands of the ethereal Scott 3 lingering in the midst, most clearly in the gorgeous Boy Child, which sounds like the first rays of the rising sun shone through the treetops in a grove of ancient redwoods. Sheer majesty and wonder. The languid Angels Of Ashes finds Walker at his smooth-crooning best, recalling earlier ballads like When Joanna Loved Me and Come Next Spring, finding him at his most disarmingly unadorned and classicist.

Special mention must be made of Walker's latent country inflections, which return here with a vengeance. The strummed guitars and ethereal strings of On Your Own Again linger midway between Gothic cathedral and home on the range, while Duchess is a gorgeous western ballad that would make Charlie Rich proud. The great galleon of rousing orchestral country pop Get Behind Me often reminds me of Tumbleweed Connection before-the-fact, while the bittersweet Rhymes Of Goodbye is a cowboy song in widescreen... as wide as the great blue horizon stretching out beyond a country plain as far as the eye can see.

It’s the ideal conclusion to a record with a sound unlike any other, and a stirring grand finale to the man's first golden era, painted in rich gatefold glory and glorious downbeat perfection. Hearing Scott 4 for the first time is like stumbling into a secret world, colored in summer haze and autumn chill, full of mystery and longing. This is just the sort of music destined to be rediscovered time and time again.

Scott Walker We Had It All CBS

Walker rang in the 1970s with 'Til The Band Comes In, which kicks off a string of lesser albums running through the decade. In fact, none other than Scott Walker himself admitted to taking a good deal less care with his albums during this period. Which isn't to say that there aren't a number of gems tucked away in the grooves of records like Stretch and We Had It All, records that find Walker delving into the world of country pop with understated abandon. We Had It All is a particularly great song, and quite moving in this context (especially when his voice soars to sing I know that we could never live those times again in the chorus).

The Walker Brothers Nite Flights GTO

It was a 1978 reunion record with The Walker Brothers — of all things — that reinvigorated Scott Walker and brought everything back into focus. Nite Flights was split evenly between the three brothers, with Scott's contributions betraying a dark, moody vision that seemed to run parallel with the contemporary records acolyte David Bowie's had been working up in Berlin. Shutout and the title track have the same sort of European, new wave-inflected vision as records like "Heroes" and Lodger, while The Electrician seemed to lay the blueprint for everything else Scott Walker would do from here on out.

Scott Walker Climate Of Hunter Virgin

Climate Of Hunter fulfills all the promise of The Electrician — particularly in the opening one-two punch of Rawhide and Dealer — while songs like Three and Seven updated the sleek new wave pop of Shutout and Nite Flights. Conversely, the beatless ambient pop of Sleepwalkers Woman seemed to hark back to the ethereal qualities of Scott 3, even if they were recomposed in a completely alien environment. Climate Of Hunter was a welcome return to form, an LP of a piece with the contemporary records of Kate Bush, Talk Talk and David Sylvian, particularly albums like The Dreaming, Spirit Of Eden and Secrets Of The Beehive. Without a doubt, Scott Walker was back.

Scott Walker Tilt Fontana

Still, it was over ten years before he delivered a follow up, setting his latter-day precedent for protracted years of radio silence punctuated by the occasional brilliant record. Tilt found Walker spinning his inscrutable avant pop even further into abstraction. The opening Farmer In The City almost sounds like an operetta swathed in modern classical, with Walker's voice sounding as incredible as ever. His piercing croon defines the record, drifting lonesome among haunting strings and atmosphere, as in the eight minute excursion Patriot A Single. Interestingly enough, its the title track that connects back most literally to the fretless bass odysseys of Climate Of Hunter.

Scott Walker The Drift 4AD

After another eleven years (punctuated by soundtrack work for the French film Pola X and production for Pulp's brilliant swan song We Love Life), The Drift arrived to great fanfare. A true event, it seemed to be the most overwhelming salutations ever bestowed upon a new Walker release. To be fair, it's the first time I knew to be paying attention (in 1995, I didn't know to be checking for Scott Walker records yet!). By this point an avowed fan of the man's music, I picked it up the day it came out. As foreshadowed by the opening Cossacks Are, the record was an even more primal, organic dive into the subconscious. This was a vision of avant pop that felt right at home in not only the world of modern classical but also the burgeoning sub-genre of dark ambient.

Scott Walker + Sunn O))) Soused 4AD

Appropriately enough, The Drift commenced Walker's longstanding relationship with the 4AD imprint, which turned out to be his longest since the classic era with Philips (a relationship that lasted until his death). Just as records like The Drift and Bish Bosch found him edging ever deeper into abstraction, his collaboration with Sunn O))) was a meeting of the minds with the reigning auteurs of doom. In 2017, The Childhood Of A Leader — which would turn out to be his final album — rounded out a decade of comparatively feverish activity, his highest frequency of output since the halcyon days of the sixties.


Ending on a high note, it's a testament to the man's restlessly creative spirit, always moving forward and never succumbing to nostalgia, resisting the urge to make that classicist album or tour the hits as so many of his contemporaries wound up doing. It was this quality that marked Scott out as singular among sixties figures, ever delving deeper into the avant garde. And yet however far he'd venture into abstraction — records sometimes informed by their darkest corners — that golden voice would always be there, rising from the depths and calling you home.

Johnny Rotten Meets Tommy Vance Uptown On Capital Radio

Johnny Rotten grips the microphone and Tommy Vance hovers over the sound boards Capital Radio
The Johnny Rotten Show: The Punk and His Music

In light of Public Image Ltd.'s Metal Box status as record of the month, it's worth noting the fortuitous historical twist of fate that found Johnny Rotten guesting on Tommy Vance's Capital Radio show back in July 16th 1977 at the height of his notoriety in The Sex Pistols. I'd perennially heard whispers about this interview — along with the idiosyncratic selection of records that Rotten played throughout — but it wasn't until reading Jon Savage's storied punk tome England's Dreaming that I came into contact with actual coverage of the event. In fact, it might be my favorite part of that book.1

Some time later, Simon Reynolds' timely survey of post punk, Rip It Up And Start Again, delved into further detail.2 The idea is that the Capital Radio appearance found Johnny Rotten the punk throwing the world for a loop as he played a deep selection of reggae, dub, arty rock, glam and krautrock — rather than the punk rock onslaught that was no doubt expected of him — letting down his guard and introducing the world to John Lydon, the man, and ultimately sowing the seeds for Public Image Ltd.'s heady forays a year later. The birth of post punk, in other words, sourced in all manner of strange pre-punk sounds. After that, I simply had to know more about what went down when Johnny Rotten met Tommy Vance on Capital Radio.

Well, the good folks at the Fodderstompf website (hub for all things PIL-related) hooked it all up a few years back, providing the interview in its entirety here.3 With a breakdown of the records Lydon played, a full transcript of the interview and even full audio of the whole affair, it's a real resource. I can't stress the importance that you drop everything right now and listen to it! When I first stumbled upon it, years ago, it was a real eye opener. Lydon's selections lay out a roadmap to all manner of cool music, shooting off into nearly every possible direction. I'd always wanted to riff on these records a little bit, and I can think of no better time than now...

Tim Buckley Greetings From L.A. Warner Bros.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to be found is the handful of records from the canyon that play a crucial role in the transmission. I mentioned this in passing during the extended Two Weeks In The Canyon foray last year, but it bears repeating. This is one of my absolute favorite bits of musical happenstance of all time (see also Depeche Mode chilling with Derrick May at The Music Institute), with Lydon opening his set with Tim Buckley's awesome Sweet Surrender, the sun-baked cinematic strings rising from Lydon's request to Just play the records...4

You really need to hear the audio to appreciate the sheer magic in evidence, the juxtaposition of punk's first wave vanguard riding high in '77 (after conquering the U.K. the prior year), the amiable Lydon/Vance back-and-forth, and a whole raft of utterly absorbing music. Sweet Surrender of course taken from Buckley's Greetings From L.A., his unexpected swerve into gutsy, soul-inflected territory, marked by the man's otherworldly croon ensconced in slowly melting, sun-glazed surroundings, and picking up where the proto-kraut mirage of Gypsy Woman (sex on vinyl doncha know?) left off.

Neil Young On The Beach Reprise

The other big canyon moment here is Neil Young's awesome Revolution Blues, a burning downbeat groove that just rolls on in portentous slow-motion. With its oblique references to the Manson Family's movements leading up to that bloody night on Cielo Drive, it has clear parallels to punk's savage imagery that had so startled the press of the day. Throughout the interview, Lydon has a lot to say about the papers (which had continually plagued the band with sensationalist, fear-mongering coverage), none of it good, noting their exploitative nature and ultimately dismissing it all as rubbish.

The entirety of Neil's On The Beach LP actually happens to be my favorite of all his records, with the baleful Revolution Blues an undeniable highlight. Quite kraut-leaning in its particular way, with a searing widescreen solo from Young himself, it's firmly in the tradition of other Young monster jams like Cortez The Killer and Cowgirl In The Sand. One only wishes that it had a chance to stretch out a bit to about two or three times longer (although the brevity in this context certainly plays to the punk ear).

Kevin Coyne Marjory Razorblade Virgin

Despite not originating from the canyon proper (rather Derbyshire, England), Kevin Coyne's Marjory Razorblade is quite canyon-adjacent in spirit — even if there's a proggy British-ness to it that marks it out as very much its own beast — for my money managing to beat even Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde at his own game. If there's one record in particular that Lydon made famous on this show, it's got to be this one, which was introduced to a generation of young punks when he played Eastbourne Ladies — after talking about getting beat up by gangs in the summer strolling the streets.5 'Nuff dread!

Third Ear Band Music From Macbeth Harvest

Lydon actually played a fair few folk tunes from the British Isles, including a killer version of the Irish folk tune Jig-A-Jig that apparently no-one has been able to identify to this day, along with Coyne's Eastbourne Ladies and Fleance by the Third Ear Band. Existing at the cusp of freak folk and British prog, the Third Ear Band turned out a handful of strange, otherworldly albums like Alchemy and Elements before being drafted in to provide the soundtrack for Roman Polanski's especially bloody, doom-laden version of Shakespeare's Macbeth (but then, is there any other way to do that play?).

That's a haunting movie right there... pure dread, through and through, like a slow-building nightmare it just washes over you. I remember seeing this hard-R-rated movie in English class in the 10th grade (how did that happen??), and it stayed with me ever since. This score is a large part of what gives the movie its haunting, otherworldly atmosphere (that and the fog creeping into every frame), with the Third Ear Band's droning medieval instrumentation in full force throughout. The show-stopping Fleance is an undeniable highlight, with Chaucer's Merciless Beauty sung by the young Keith Chegwin (as Fleance himself) during the film's memorable banquet scene for King Duncan.

Nico Desertshore Reprise

Even if he claimed to not be a fan of The Velvet Underground, Lydon played a lot of arty music from ex-Velvets like Lou Reed's cabaret-inflected Men Of Good Fortune (from Berlin — be sure to also check out the spectacular Lady Day), Legs Larry At Television Center from John Cale's avant garde The Academy In Peril and Nico's nightmarish harmonium mirage Janitor Of Lunacy. Crucially, all three figures wound up having an outsized influence on not only David Bowie's Berlin records, but also Brian Eno's contemporaneous avant pop excursions and even more directly PIL (along with large swathes post punk itself).

Peter Hammill Nadir's Big Chance Charisma

Speaking of Bowie, Lydon plays his glam rock staple Rebel Rebel, along with further jukebox glam from Gary Glitter's Doing All Right With The Boys (later covered by none other thank punk superstar/ex-Runaway Joan Jett herself, on her blistering debut album). At the weirder end of glam, Peter Hammill (of prog iconoclasts Van Der Graaf Generator) even gets singled out for praise by Lydon for the proto-punk outing Nadir's Big Chance — an utterly unique LP, existing at the intersection of glam and prog — going so far as to (inadvertently) play two tracks from it, emphasizing I'm damn sure Bowie copied a lot out of that geezer. The credit he deserves just has not been given to him. I love all his stuff.6

The Creation Life Is Just Beginning Polydor

With almost all of the selections emerging squarely within the span of the 1970s — Lydon even going so far as to state I've never liked any of those 60s bands. Terrible scratching sound. — nevertheless a couple sixties records do slip through. The first is The Creation's Life Is Just Beginning, a string-quartet-led bit of psychedelic garage punk (and the flipside to the oft-compiled Through My Eyes). Coming as it does on the heels of Tim Buckley's Sweet Surrender, it imbues the proceedings with a similarly cinematic flourish.

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band Trout Mask Replica Straight

Sixties renegade Captain Beefheart appears later in the mix with The Blimp Mousetrapreplica, from his notoriously off-the-wall Trout Mask Replica double-LP, which like Bitches Brew and Monster Movie hit like 70s records just barely snuck in at the tail-end of the decade. The good Captain's utterly original abstract blues, straining as it does at the very confines of rock itself, works up a wild racket from the sands of the Mojave that seems to predict all the best prog and avant rock. As Lydon himself says, What he does with music, he takes it away from the, it has to be this position or that position, he just uses sounds to make the whole thing better, but he's mad, he's great.7

Culture Two Sevens Clash Joe Gibbs

Note: The dub version of I'm Not Ashamed is played — the original can be found here.

Along similar lines, one of the best parts of the show is when Lydon and Vance bond over a mutual love of reggae, with Vance commenting:

I like reggae mainly because, for a long time, I thought it was about the only stream of music in which people were trying to do different things like overdubs, using echoes...

to which Lydon interjects:

They just love sound. They like using any sound, I mean right down to that Culture single: car horns, babies crying. And why not? I mean it's only sound music, isn't it.

Fred Locks Black Star Liners Vulcan

One could write a whole book on Lydon's reggae and dub selections alone. As this handwritten note8 to a PIL fan attests, he clearly had a strong grasp of the form, far beyond any sort of passing, casual affinity... a true connoisseur. His strong, opinionated nature shines through here, as it does in the interview, when he singles out Fred Locks' Walls for praise — highlighting its brilliant sense of paranoia (a Parallax reggae record if there ever was one!) — even if he dismisses the remainder of what I've always held to be a very strong roots record as lame. What gives Johnny?!

Makka Bees Nation Fiddler Congo

Further deep cuts (this time 7" exclusives) — ranging from Vivian Jackson (aka Yabby You) & The Prophets' Fire In A Kingston and Makka Bees' Nation Fiddler — are the order of the day, both of which offer up superb dread-inflected reggae informed by a swirling, almost overwhelmingly atmospheric production that more than vindicates everything Tommy Vance was just saying a couple paragraphs back. Choice material, in other words. Roots reggae doesn't get much better than this...

Ken Boothe Let's Get It On Trojan

On a similar tip, island soul man Ken Boothe gets a look in as well, with his cover version of Syl Johnson's Is It Because I'm Black. Taken from his Let's Get It On LP, which exists in the shadow of his classic Everything I Own set (released the same year). To this day it's never been reissued, in spite of the fact that it originally emerged on reggae powerhouse label Trojan Records. What's up with that? In fact, most of Lydon's selections couldn't get much deeper, and even after four decades of reissues, compilations and anthologies, many of them are still pretty hard to come by.

Peter Tosh Legalize It Columbia

Fortunately, there are a handful of selections that are a bit more straightforwardly available to the uninitiated (although I suspect everything here is available on Youtube/Soulseek nowadays!). Roots radical Peter Tosh — having been one of the Wailers — has what must have been the highest profile of the bunch. Indeed, this record is nearly as easy to find as any given Bob Marley record! They even used to play it on 91x during regular rotation9 (maybe they still do, for all I know). You can't go wrong...

Augustus Pablo King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown Clocktower

On the flipside of the coin is Augustus Pablo's King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown, one of the most perfectly atmospheric dub records ever conceived. Another great cinematic moment in the context of the show, with King Tubby's trademark splashing percussion rolling across the mix as the interview rattles on. Dub techniques themselves among the most important musical developments of the last fifty years, filtering through post punk and disco into just about any sound and scene you could mention.

Dr. Alimantado Sons Of Thunder Greensleeves

Similarly, there's no getting around the deejay's eerie prediction of rap, toasting over re-purposed backing tracks the same way hip hop MCs would later rhyme over extended funk jams, rolling samplescapes and hard-hitting drum machine rhythms. Reggae, reggae, reggae! It's essential. Like I was just saying the other day:

My father wrote about this in his book. Chapter 1... Page 1... Paragraph 1: What is the answer to 99 out of 100 questions?... Reggae.10

Deejay iconoclast Dr. Alimantado's Born For A Purpose later turns up on the Sons Of Thunder LP, done up in a discomix style with its dubbed-out b-side Reason For Living tacked onto the end. Dr. Alimantado became a favorite with the punks, in large part thanks to Lydon's endorsement, especially his phenomenal debut album Best Dressed Chicken In Town. Which, in truth, everyone should own... and while you're at it, grab Sons Of Thunder too. This utterly original, and deeply strange music is on par with other absolute essentials like Captain Beefheart, Metal Box and Can.

Can Tago Mago United Artists

That's right, Can! One could guess the krautrock legends would make an appearance here, and the rolling eighteen-minute monster jam Halleluwah stands as the penultimate track of the show (coming in just before Peter Tosh closes out the evening). Interestingly, Fodderstompf notes that it was Sid Vicious who actually tuned Lydon into Can in the first place. The band's wild kraut-funk workouts would later play a crucial role as part of the inspiration behind PIL's storied Metal Box sessions (alongside disco's extended rhythms and the monster basslines of dub).

Bobby Byrd Back From The Dead International Brothers

Speaking of funk, we get to the very last of Lydon's records: Bobby Byrd's nimble funk masterpiece Back From The Dead. The tune actually gets played smack dab in the middle of the show, but I've saved it for last since it's one of the most memorable moments of the evening, when it drops in just after Lydon states:

Just to get these was a real strain, I ain't got a record player at the moment, so I have to pass them around, because music's for listening to, not to store away in a bloody cupboard. Yeah, I love my music.

That's pretty cool... the man speaks the truth! When all is said and done, it's what this site is all about, really. In the same way all this music fed into PIL and post punk — be it the funk, the dub, the rock, or the avant garde — it lives and breathes on even to this very moment, its echoes and repercussions flowing through the years from node to node to node and all the tributaries between.


Perhaps that's why, even after all this time, this interview itself remains so fascinating? It gets to the the heart of how profound music's effect can be, the way you can play something from fifty years ago and it could still manage to sound hotter than the latest thing. Like Lydon said, Just play the records. They'll speak for themselves. That's my idea of fun...

Tim Buckley - Greetings From L.A. The Creation - Life Is Just Beginning David Bowie - Diamond Dogs Augustus Pablo - King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown Gary Glitter - Doing All Right With The Boys
Fred Locks - Black Star Liner Vivian Jackson & The Prophets - Fire In A Kingston Culture - I'm Not Ashamed Dr. Alimantado - Born For A Purpose Bobby Byrd - Back From The Dead Neil Young - On The Beach
Lou Reed - Berlin Kevin Coyne - Marjory Razorblade Peter Hammill - Nadir's Big Chance Peter Hammill - Nadir's Big Chance Makka Bees - Nation Fiddler Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica
Nico - Desertshore Ken Boothe - Let's Get It On John Cale - The Academy In Peril Third Ear Band - Music From Macbeth Can - Tago Mago Peter Tosh - Legalize It
The Johnny Rotten Show: The Records

    The Punk And His Music: The Tracklist

  1. Tim Buckley Sweet Surrender Warner Bros.
  2. The Creation Life Is Just Beginning Polydor
  3. David Bowie Rebel Rebel RCA Victor
  4. Unknown Artist Jig-A-Jig Unknown Label
  5. Augustus Pablo King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown Clocktower
  6. Gary Glitter Doing All Right With The Boys Bell
  7. Fred Locks Walls Vulcan
  8. Vivian Jackson & The Prophets Fire In A Babylon Prophet
  9. Culture I'm Not Ashamed Joe Gibbs
  10. Dr. Alimantado Born For A Purpose Greensleeves
  11. Bobby Byrd Back From The Dead International Brothers
  12. Neil Young Revolution Blues Reprise
  13. Lou Reed Men Of Good Fortune RCA Victor
  14. Kevin Coyne Eastbourne Ladies Virgin
  15. Peter Hammill The Institute Of Mental Health, Burning Charisma
  16. Peter Hammill Nobody's Business Charisma
  17. Makka Bees Nation Fiddler Congo
  18. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band The Blimp Mousetrapreplica Straight
  19. Nico Janitor Of Lunacy Reprise
  20. Ken Boothe Is It Because I'm Black Trojan
  21. John Cale Legs Larry At Television Centre Reprise
  22. Third Ear Band Fleance Harvest
  23. Can Halleluwah United Artists
  24. Peter Tosh Legalize It Columbia

Footnotes

1.

Savage, John. England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, And Beyond. New York: St. Martin's, 1991. 381. Print.

2.

Reynolds, Simon. Rip It Up And Start Again. Great Britain: Penguin, 2005. 15-17. Print.

3,

4,

5,

6,

7.

Fodderstompf. John Lydon: Capital Radio, Tommy Vance Show, July 16th 1977. Fodderstompf. F&F Publishing, 30 Sep. 2017. http://www.fodderstompf.com/ARCHIVES/REVIEWS%202/capital77.html. Accessed 2 May. 2019.

8.

Fodderstompf. "It ain't the names that matter, you got to be able to hear them first...". Fodderstompf. F&F Publishing, 30 Aug. 2017. http://www.fodderstompf.com/ARCHIVES/ARTS/reggae.html. Accessed 2 May. 2010.

9.

As opposed to during the Sunday night Reggae Makossa show.

10.

Actually, Tom Cruise said this as David Ames in the movie Vanilla Sky! Well, if you substitute Money for Reggae, that is...

Public Image Ltd. – Metal Box

Can Ege Bamyasi United Artists

When discussing the basis for the whole Terminal Vibration vision, in laying out its roots at the axis of rhythm and atmosphere, there are any number of notable precursors that immediately spring to mind. If you root around in the shadowy pre-history of the 1970s, you come across obvious rhythmic precursors like the motorik grooves of Neu!, Can's kosmische funk, the atmospheric avant pop of Roxy Music/Brian Eno, and their timely fusion in Bowie's Station To Station and all the Berlin records to come in its wake (see also Iggy Pop).

Miles Davis Dark Magus Columbia

There's also no getting around the blazing atmospheric tension of Miles Davis' monolithic jazz fission side-long monster jams and Don Cherry's proto-fourth world excursions throughout the decade, not to mention the sun-glazed, dusted grooves of War's The World Is A Ghetto and The Isley Brothers' wild, multi-jointed rhythms. Then there's the ghostly studio magic of King Tubby and his skipping, aquatic dubs, or Lee "Scratch" Perry's voodoo-tinged freakouts, both similarly forward-reaching in scope, predicting as they do the dislocated riddimology of post punk, trip hop and beyond.

Public Image Ltd. Metal Box

Virgin 1979

However, if there's one record that (symbolically at least) stands at the portal to the world of Terminal Vibration like the Colossus at Rhodes, setting the tone and the template for everything to follow, it is without a doubt Public Image Ltd.'s mighty Metal Box. This album delivered the most thorough collision of funk, dub and punk up to that point in time, a rough and rugged blueprint for all manner of rude mechanical sound to spring up in the decades to come. Poised at a sort of street-level anti-glamour, it paralleled most of the new forms that would arise from the margins to storm the mainstream in its wake.

Public Image Ltd. pose on a rooftop
Public Image Ltd.

Jah Wobble, Keith Levene, Jim Walker and John Lydon

PIL were formed by John Lydon in the fallout of his untimely exit from The Sex Pistols, with splintered guitar prodigy Keith Levene (once of The Clash) and soon-to-be bassist extraordinaire Jah Wobble (who at the point of the band's formation, he hadn't yet played a note!). Notably, the position of drummer was never a permanent one, although Jim Walker seemed to have the largest impact during the band's key early years. Despite Lydon's punk fame as Johnny Rotten, he was determined to reinvent himself as a member among equals (even going so far as to describe PIL as a multimedia corporation): with punk's star frontman, the as-yet unsung guitar prodigy and the brilliant non-musician all on equal footing within the group.

Public Image Ltd. Public Image Virgin

The idea was to match the social rebellion of The Sex Pistols with an equally extreme sonic attack, this time tearing up rock's rulebook in the process. Their first, eponymous record washed away the ragged sound of punk with one great wave of sleek and minimalist futurism, its cascades of ringing guitar serving up one of new wave's great warning shots (The Edge was certainly paying attention) even as it was informed by a dubby bottom end (post punk's m.o. in chrysalis). And despite its place as one of punk's definitive voices, Lydon's wail possibly sounded even more at home in this cold new environment.

Public Image Ltd. First Issue Virgin

The landmark Public Image culminated in the band's debut album First Issue, which found them done up like fashion models in a tongue-in-cheek manner, with all but Walker decked out in suits in a curious parallel to Kraftwerk's tailored, machine-like perfection. The sounds within more than lived up to the image, with the sleek post punk attack of Public Image and Low Life offset by the doom-laden stomp of Theme and the icy dubbed-out, discomix tundras of the closing Fodderstompf. The latter two tracks in particular offered up twin portraits of the sound that would become post punk, pointing the way forward for the group's landmark second album.

Inset from PIL's debut, First Issue, featuring a glammed-up Jah Wobble on the cover of PIME magazine!
That Jah Wobble's a handsome chap...

Inspired by their twin obsessions with krautrock and Jamaican dub, the band descended further into the shadowy realm of the studio with the stated goal of working up a sound unlike anything else around. Needless to say, magic was wrought from the whole affair, and the resulting tapes from these sessions more than lived up to such a lofty target. Such unique music demanded a singular presentation, and the album was slated (in its original form) to be released as a trio of 12" singles housed in a metal film canister emblazoned with the PIL logo. This concept served as both the source of its title as well as a thorough deconstruction of the album-as-statement, encouraging the listener to play the sides in whichever order they chose.

Public Image Ltd. Second Edition Virgin

After its initial run, the album was reissued as Second Edition in the standard double-LP format, which is actually how I (and I suspect many of us in the States) first heard it. Its sleeve featured a black-and-white photo of the band's faces warped and melting into one another, nearly as appropriate a visual representation of the sounds contained within as the original metal slab had been. It prefigures the look of whole swathes of records to come out of the industrial scene (for instance) in the decade to come. Indeed, in 1989 it would have fit right in. But in 1980, the whole thing just looks like trouble...

An albatross looms in the sky
Getting rid of the albatross...

In the Second Edition version of the record, Albatross opens the album (after all, Metal Box opens wherever it wants to), its ten-ton bassline coming on like a dark sequel to Fodderstompf in 3D. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner might be the first thing that springs to mind, and indeed the tune matches the pervasive sense of dread running through Coleridge's epic poem, but writers have interpreted the track as an echo of Lydon's wish to distance himself from punk and The Pistols. With lyrics like getting rid of the albatross and sowing the seeds of discontent, it's pretty hard to argue. His warped muezzin wail makes perfect sense in this context, with Levene raining shards of splintered guitar noise across the top of Wobble's immortal bassline and the drums stomping beneath in doomed slow-motion for a solid ten-minutes.

Basic Channel Quadrant Dub Basic Channel

Careering burns at a similarly glacial pace, the subterranean strains of its slow-motion groove and haunting bassline adding a spectral caste to the proceedings. Rising and falling in pitch like dread-laden steam in some cold-blooded thriller, the unspooling synths create an incredible compression of atmosphere around this nightmare discomix showcase. It's as close to the idea of a flesh-and-blood band attempting to predict the sound of Basic Channel's dubbed-out, skeletal techno (well over a decade before the fact) as one could get (and of course BC had a metal box of their own. The nagging vocal refrain from Lydon (is this really living?) is just the icing on the cake. All things considered, it's probably my favorite tune on the record.

Jah Wobble

It's tempting to have Metal Box down as a Wobble showcase, with his massive bass sound triumphantly anchoring the whole record as it does. Sure enough, he's a household icon around these parts), and obviously the band were never the same after he left. Still, that does nothing to diminish the crucial role that the rest of the band play. Subtract Lydon and it just wouldn't be the same at all — his piercing wail imbues everything with a haunting, ear-shredding immediacy — while Levene's great sheets of sound (in both guitar and synth form) provide the all-pervasive sense of dread atmosphere that defines the record. When the trio's inimitable contributions all interlock over the rugged drumming (which is rarely mentioned in discussions of this record, but is crucial), the results truly do sound unlike anything else around.

The Gun Club Miami Animal

Announcing itself with a fragment of kosmische synth sound, Graveyard pulls into focus on a rolling baleful groove, appropriately enough registering the album at its most strikingly spectral. With Levene's jagged guitar shapes obliquely recalling Link Wray, this instrumental is a down-tuned Desperado mirage. Squint and you can just barely hear the faintest hint of The Gun Club's haunted, atmospheric rockabilly circa Miami. It's an almost undisclosed secret for such a notoriously anti-rock record, but there it is, hiding in the spaces between the spaces, and further pointing toward the album's inscrutably contrarian nature.

Public Image Ltd. The Flowers Of Romance Virgin

A similarly rock moment turns up in Poptones, which clocks in at nearly eight minutes (aside from Albatross, it's the longest track here). Levene's speaker-shredding guitar showers down over a start-stop beat driven by Wobble's dub-tastic basslines wandering up and down the fretboard. More than anything else here it points the way forward to the hollowed-out sonic pile-ups on PIL's third album, The Flowers Of Romance. You hear a song like Poptones and Kurt Cobain's love of the band makes perfect sense (in fact, The Flowers Of Romance cropped up in a list of his favorite albums). Indeed, when viewed through a lens of abstraction, its not hard to sense to roots of alternative and grunge in there somewhere.

The Sex Pistols Submission Virgin

Chant, in contrast, calls back to punk rock in a rather abstract way, featuring Lydon railing over the top of a scrawling blast of atonal noise just as he might have during the Sex Pistols days. But then there's the maddening repetition of someone chanting love war fear hate in the background throughout, raising the spectre of process music and post punk's lingering abstraction. It's just another measure of this record's striking variance, which in its own way seems to cover as much ground as The White Album, even if most of its forms hadn't even existed back when The Beatles were doing their thing.

Funkadelic The Electric Spanking Of War Babies Warner Bros.

As much as Metal Box is a deconstruction of the album-as-statement, certain corners of this record seem to deconstruct the band's very sound. The Suit is one such track, with Lydon intoning in relative monotone over a simple time-keeping backbeat and another one of Wobble's great throbbing chunks of bottom-end. It's this aspect of the record that often makes me think of it in the same breath as Funkadelic's The Electric Spanking Of War Babies. Where the War Babies found Funkadelic stripping their band's sound down to its constituent parts and rebuilding it like a composite street racer, Metal Box finds PIL melting their sound down to its base molten form and throwing magnetic shapes around the room.

Suburban Knight The Art Of Stalking Transmat

Bad Baby is another such track, with its bass/drum locked groove rolling away as Levene opts to contribute desolate synth lines rather than his usual sheets of guitar noise, leaving Wobble's bottom end to carry the melody. Lydon's offhand vocals — which split the difference between carefree and dejected — are some of the record's most memorable. The instrumental Socialist plays like a dub version of a punk tune, guitars shunted to the side and Wobble's bass taking up the lead. Its striking compression captures a sense of pure claustrophobia and dread, as Levene unfurls squelching synths like strangled mechanical voices over the subdued madness. In both cases, my mind flashes immediately to the angular menace of Suburban Knight's The Art Of Stalking.

U2 War Island

At first, No Birds takes a similar tack, with Lydon's offhand vocals and another adamant bassline from Wobble rolling out beneath. However, it quickly becomes the closest thing here to First Issue, with Levene's guitars sound like the blueprint for The Edge's sound circa U2's Boy/October/War trilogy. I'm especially reminded of tunes like I Threw A Brick Through A Window and The Refugee, both of which happened to take a particularly minimalist, rhythmic angle on the band's usually widescreen sound. This all in keeping with the PIL influence, which brought such stark, uncompromising rhythms to the post punk party in the first place.

Public Image Ltd. Death Disco Virgin

Nowhere is this more evident than Swan Lake, which in its original version was released as the Death Disco. Death Disco was the founder of the feast, so to speak, laying the groundwork for the mutant disco rhythms of Metal Box even as it wired it all up to a spluttering, punky spirit. Levene's spidery guitar lines quote liberally from Tchaikovsky's ballet of the same name (hence the track's retitling to Swan Lake here), while Lydon wails into the cold, bleak night (see it in your eyes) and Wobble's throbbing dub basslines stalk beneath, occasionally rolling up into a mini-disco bridge. As such, Swan Lake/Death Disco is the record's most realized fusion of disco, dub and punk, and remains its undeniable centerpiece.

Public Image Ltd. Memories Virgin

However, for my money the preceding Memories rivals it. With an even faster attack (this time approaching techno velocity), it features Levene running through another one of his Desperado-esque guitar figure over a ramshackle disco pulse. The spectre of Link Wray hangs over the proceedings once again, as does James Pennington. The use of compression here just line any number of Suburban Knight 12"s, especially at 1.5 minutes in when the center of gravity shifts to a bass-heavy throb and Lydon wails over the top like a madman. This punk-tinged mutant disco vision just might have had PIL's most far-reaching impact on the music to come in its wake.

Jah Wobble Invaders Of The Heart Lago

The figure who chased down this aspect of the group's sound most thoroughly was without a doubt Wobble, who unfurled similar death disco-tinged rhythmic madness over the course of records like Betrayal, Full Circle, Snake Charmer and Invaders Of The Heart. These records may not have had the same sense of profound danger as Metal Box, but they maintained the overwhelming sense of atmosphere and even added a distinctly fourth world flair to the proceedings.

Jah Wobble The Legend Lives On... Jah Wobble In "Betrayal" Virgin

However, it was Wobble's debut album he Legend Lives On... Jah Wobble In "Betrayal" that wound up getting him kicked out of the band (the rest of the band objected to his use of some PIL backing tracks on the record). And yet it was Lydon and Levene who had positioned the band as a multimedia corporation that would put out everything from records to soundtracks, films and even musical equipment. One certainly imagines that spooling out killer tangent records from session cutouts would fit the bill, with the promise of side-projects echoing those of George Clinton's P-Funk organization and Lee "Scratch" Perry's Black Ark empire in the 1970s. Ironically, in the end it was Wobble (who was always the most skeptical of the band pitching itself as a corporation in the first place) who offered the most follow-through on the initial premise!

The Clash Sandinista! CBS

It's a shame that Lydon and Levene kicked him out for using those backing tapes, especially considering their case of writer's block that would come just months later (the sessions for The Flowers Of Romance were fraught with complications). All of this in stark contrast to Wobble's restless flurry of creativity, working with everyone from Can's Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit to The Edge (of U2) and disco master-producer François Kevorkian. One could imagine the group powering through the 1980s with Wobble still in tow, generating loads of source material and spooling it all out into worlds in their own right just Can had the 1970s. At any rate, one wonders what a PIL Sandinista! might have been like...

The Prodigy The Prodigy Experience XL

Radio 4 ends the whole trip on a gentle breeze of Satie-esque ambience, shades of some celestial carousel and Lynch's lady in the radiator. The synth melody is just dislocated enough, in the surreal sense of disorientation one feels in a dream, that the melodic wandering of Wobble's bassline beneath it all carries an entire counterpoint melody and takes center stage. There's an interesting glimpse here (in spirit, at least) of Wobble's later collaboration with Brian Eno (Spinner), and I'm often reminded of the sickly-sweet synths in The Prodigy's Weather Experience.

Post punk icons

It's the perfect signing off moment for an album that fuses kosmische funk with dub and punk in such a way that sounds utterly unlike any of its inspirations. Metal Box represents the sound of a whole new music, dreamt up alongside similarly trailblazing figures like The Pop Group, The Slits and Gang Of Four. Still, nobody did it with PIL's sense of gravity and ambience. In retrospect, they were the beating heart at the center of it all.

This heavy atmospheric music (more often than not wired-up for the dancefloor) is true out come the freaks music, and as such it's close to the Parallax heart. In turn, it's also the cornerstone to everything discussed in the Terminal Vibration trip, not only as a prime influence but also something of a decoder ring to the whole affair. Get Second Edition and absorb it... really get it, and you'll be ready for anything the Terminal Vibration 100 will throw at you 40-some days from now.

Slow Burn

Flammable Material

Summer 1987. The splash of the swimming pool echoes on the edge of earshot in my cousin's room out in Carolina, gear stacked against the wall and freestyle riddims in full force in the twilight. The TR-808 kicks into gear, beats roll and bass bumping and an errant keyboard sequence dazzles across the top in slow-motion. Strange shades of Smith & Mighty Walk On.../Any Love just moments before the fact, rugged beats cut through the palms dancing in the evening breeze over Caribbean waters and way out east into the Atlantic waves against the shore.

The Orb Remix Project Auntie Aubrey's Excursions Beyond The Call Of Duty Ultra

The slow-burning grooves of Barely Breaking Even creep down across the Parallax Pier, over crystal clear waters and hazy visions cooked up in the kitchen (swimming in flavors succulent salty-sweet). A wood-paneled TV sits in the corner, beaming in black-and-white imagery from the past and then fast-forward to the future, networks all in place and linked up in sync with the rhythm. Deconstructed breakbeats and the Space Centre Medical Unit Hum of rustic air-conditioned ventilation, Not For Threes on 747 flight home and There’s More To Life Than This (Björk's Debut as a trip hop record) and Auntie Aubrey's Excursions Beyond The Call Of Duty swinging in from 1980s jewel of the Caribbean vibes against the dawning 21st century blues... once they tore a kid to pieces and then he awoke one day a broken man.

Bobby Konders A Lost Era In NYC 1987-1992 International Deejay Gigolo

We Who Are Not As Others up among the tall buildings and then out into the suburban sprawl where everyone knows your name but no one knows you, small solace comes within the confines of the machine and pyramids and palms and technicolor 2600 dreams (these dreams are my color scheme). Big Rooms filled with big rigs and big speakers bump big music in the glistening mist, the pump of pure bass out the bins and the crisp crack of the snare, hi-hats sizzling and shakers tickling the eardrums, congas tapping away on the inside of your head. A Rub A Dub Stylee in a kidney-shaped pool, Bobby Konders' Rydims/Cutting Records/Todd Terry/WordSound/Massive Sounds/Clocktower, it's a New York-style ting.

Photek Solaris Science

Out in the northern rooms, ASCII characters rush up and down the screen and across these city streets, rebuild your world on wheels, cycles and skates and boards and cars in the moonlight, Alleys Of Your Mind and Grantville corridors. The Baby Namboos and slowed-down Apache breaks, the cool blue of Solaris all half-lit in moody neon. Strange venues hidden in the shadows, electronic shops and trip hop bars all linked up on a grid in walking animation colors with a grimy mix of tropical and dusty, downbeat island boogie let's melt together in the night...

Excerpt from The Coqui Papers