Nico – “Frozen Warnings” (1969)
Neither Nico’s contributions to the Velvet Underground, nor the lovely ‘Chelsea Girls,’ could suggest the breathtaking mystery and utter timelessness of her first two incredible albums, ‘The Marble Index‘ and ‘Desertshore‘. Those records might also be the best examples of prime John Cale at the crossroads between his avant-garde and drone-based experimental work, and his “friendlier” singer-songwriter work. Dark doesn’t come close to capturing the shimmering depths of this work; and from a purely sonic standpoint, this is minimal but careful production at its finest, surely influencing later masterworks like Talk Talk’s beloved couplet or Arthur Russell’s more introspective work. This track is relatively “pretty,” but even the more challenging tracks remain stunningly beautiful and emotionally gripping. [Nico is featured on one of my favorite mixes at Musicophilia.]
The Shaggs – “I’m So Happy When You’re Near” (1969)
Most people would hear The Shaggs and think, “that’s just wrong,” but for some of us, it’s just so damned right it simply had to be. The musical expression of “sticktoitiveness” at its best, the young Wiggin sisters may have been coerced into making music in a way that might require a call to CPS today (being taken out of school on the basis of their father’s premonitions and delusions of grandeur). But from the sound of things, once they got going, nothing was going to stop them. And so the seemingly avant-garde clashing of tempo, melody, alternate-tuning, and deconstructed pop forms and subject matter flows forth as though it were the most natural thing in the world–for these girls, it seems to have been, and there is indeed a logic to it all, once the listener acclimates. Many never will, but for those who do, The Shaggs scratch an itch that more considered un-pop music (Captain Beefheart, LAFMS et al) can’t even reach. Just don’t dare call it kitsch–we love this music wholly on its own terms. [The Shaggs are featured on two Miniatures mixes at Musicophilia, including work from their lovable but more “normal” later recordings.]
Brainticket – “One Morning” (1972)
With only a few exceptions, “Krautrock” has been a genre of the haves and the have-nots, for me: a few top tiers of very few acts of greatness, and a precipitous drop-off to the (wanky, noodling) rest. So I haven’t experienced a lot of “lost gems;” but if Brainticket is Krautrock (given that it’s made by Swiss, Italian and German musicians) the first two albums are gems. I prefer the second album, ‘Psychonaut’. If you can find it, grab the two-fer that houses the the first two albums. This track makes might appeal to fans of Animal Collective, based on what I’ve heard of their work, with it’s off-kilter, pretty-but-tense weirdo-folk feeling.
Link Wray – “Rumble Mambo” (1958)
You have to love that just-behind-the-beat swagger of Wray’s guitar, complimented in this version of “Rumble” with a martial dance beat that feels a little punk, and some sultry-sweet sax. This is the very essence of “cool” taking shape.
Yoko Ono – “Mindtrain” (1971)
I’m not even going to address the misconceptions about Ono as a person or re: the Beatles, other than to say they’re nonsense. If the recording personnel on Ono’s early albums are any indication, it’s clear that the Macca killed the Beatles, not this mind-expanding artist. I’ll grant that her vocal approach makes her no Carol King, but she never wanted to go down easy (in art, in life) and I think she gave Lennon balls, not took them. John Lennon never rocked like he did on her first two albums (not to mention Ringo, too) and the album he recorded simultaneously to her first. This track is a Krautrock-or-Fela-level stretch-out, kicking into a fully-fledged-funky groove and never letting up; Klaus Voorman bounces things along nicely on the bass, the drums slowly build the train-like churn from a breakbeat stomp into a Faust-like barrage; and John shreds and shards the guitar like a slightly-more-in-control-than-usual Sonny Sharrock. Ono’s freak-out vocalising (if you can’t call it “singing”) pushes the whole thing into the stratosphere. She’s like nothing you’ve ever heard; unless you’ve heard the stronger and more innovative women in music she surely influenced/freed up from post-punk onward. This is one time to open your ears and pay no mind to the haters. [Yoko Ono appears on a ‘Le Tour du Monde’ mix at Musicophilia in a singer-songwriter mode, with a track that uncannily anticipates Big Star’s gutting “Holocaust”.]
Modern Lovers – “I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms” (1972)
While more punkers and post-punkers probably cherished there Velvets and Stooges LPs, for me the Modern Lovers are the much more. . . realistic forebears. Nobody could really expect to be as cool as Reed or Cale, as batshit as Pop–or at least their images. Richman, Harrison, Brooks and Robinson–their non-image proto-punk was far more attainable. I wonder how things might’ve been different if they’d been heard in ’72 instead of ’76 (and in the case of this track, ’81). Of course, this romper with its deadpan but romantic lyrics and shards-of-guitar was still right on time even four (or nine, or 38) years late. [The Modern Lovers are featured at their most unguarded in a ‘Miniatures: Lullaby‘ mix at Musicophilia.]
Faust – “The Lurcher/Krautrock/Do So” (Live, BBC) (1973)
Don’t miss this one. This twenty-minute medley expresses a wide swath of Faust’s power and prescience. The first section, “The Lurcher,” is a drunken Germanic breakbeat-funk with treated saxophone and ethereal guitar that must have seemed to be coming from the future to whoever actually heard this performance in March of 1973. The second section, “Krautrock,” must have sent plenty running, if they hadn’t already; but those who remained in the center of this maelstrom-meditation may have experienced a religious conversion (even though Faust may have been having a pisstake at a nonsensical genre they never really fit, their humor was often sublime). And after all the build up, humor comes to the fore, as Faust reminds everyone not to take it all too seriously with “Do So,” a bent little pop ditty that is subtly as cyclical as their longer works disguised in song-form. If you haven’t heard this performance before–or especially if somehow you haven’t heard Faust before–I envy you the experience. For me, in contrast with Can, Faust took years to fully seep in, but once they did there was no going back–these sounds can reshape your ears. [For more Faust, check Musicophilia for a number of mixes.]
Il Balletto di Bronzo – “Epilogo” (1972)
Prog is a form of music that when I enjoy it, I’m certain I enjoy it from all the “wrong” directions and for all the “wrong” reasons, as I place no intrinsic value of the purported paramount virtues of the genre (virtuosity, speed, complexity-as-an-inherent-good, constant change for its own sake, technicality). I’ve come to appreciate plenty of middle-period King Crimson, but via This Heat; I enjoy post-Wyatt Soft Machine, but through the lense of Miles Davis; I dig Amon Duul II only when they set aside the noodling and get a little Stooges rawness. Il Balletto di Bronzo, described elsewhere as “difficult at first” is an easy fit, coming from my prog-wrong directions. Apparently the album ‘Ys,’ from which this track is culled, represents the pinnacle of something called “Italian symphonic prog,” which had I known would probably have steered me clear of this recent Exiled Records acquisition.
Fortunately, I gave it a blind listen, and found that its stereo-experimentalism and weird choral vocals and moog-and-piano arpeggios work for me entirely against any “symphonic” assessment–this ain’t no Yngwie, thank goodness. The fast parts remind me of Death May Be Your Santa Claus or Burnin Red Ivanhoe or Os Mutantes–they have a sense of humor and psychedelic playfulness, rather than lockstep-prog guitar-faced seriousness. The long slow-burn phased-drums groove of the middle section of this track needs no apologies–it’s just damned spooky, dark-space heavy badassness.
Franco Battiato – “Meccanica” (1972)
‘Fetus’ was undoubtedly a horizon-expanding discovery for me, adding another layer to my understanding of the roots of synth-based music, outre, proto-punk, etc. Battiato would go on to do much more abstract music, following a trajectory not that unlike Eno, until he entered the center of the Italian mainstream in the 80s. This early stuff is a great headtrip of early electronics, off-kilter pop-rock songwriting, borrowed/sampled sources, and what I take to be sort of sci-fi lyrics (from what I can gather via Italian-English cognates). [I’ve not used the album’s cover because some might find it disturbing; it does seem slightly shock-value unecessary to me and is not representative of the fun music contained within. Franco Battiato is featured from this period here and in a later form here in mixes at Musicophilia.]
Creation – “Making Time” (1967)
Gotta love that scuzzy, chunky bowed guitar, that put-on snarl that can’t hide the fact that this is a perfect pop song. Every once in a while, Musicophilia is prepared to rock.
Can – “Shikaku Maru Ten” (1970)
You just know there’s at least a couple box-sets worth of amazing unreleased Can jams locked away somewhere, since they had their own studio. But I’m not holding my breath for Miles Davis-style “complete sessions” vault-clearings any time soon. So we have to be content with a few dodgy radio recordings and live bootlegs, and a couple b-sides and non-album tracks. “Shikaku Maru Ten” does the trick, gliding along with an effortless snare shuffle and bass/guitar groove that approaches New Orleans funk at 4am.