(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Five Songs You Need to Hear

I was in Florida as the pandemic erupted and the markets tanked, so as things began to shut down and I began to socially isolate myself, I found myself spending a lot of time outside walking by myself with my headphones on, looking at birds, and avoiding humans. My playlist for that trip had Gang of Four’s first three albums (Entertainment!, Solid Gold, and Songs of the Free) on it. They were a favorite band of mine in the ’80s, and their founding guitarist-vocalist-conceptualist Andy Gill had just passed away before we headed Southward, so that was an act of homage, on some plane. As I ambled and listened over the course of a few days, those three records somehow seemed to begin perfectly capturing the way that things are feeling right now, with smart songs about economics, societies, politics, communications — and their inevitable breakdowns.

I suspect that after we come through all of this (whenever that happens), any time that I hear Gang of Four, my mind will be carried back to the Time of the Coronavirus Correction. That’s how it has been for me with System of a Down’s Toxicity album, a chillingly resonant score for the horrors and aftermath of September 11, which happened just as I was spinning that great record constantly as a fresh new release. I can’t hear Toxicity anymore without thinking about that time, which means I don’t listen to it very often. We’ll see if that happens with the songs of this crisis era, most especially (for me) Gang of Four. It probably will.

I include one of Gang of Four’s more prophetic songs in this installment of “Five Songs You Need to Hear,” along with four others that have jumped out at me in recent days for their lyrical or emotional resonance with these trying times.  As always, the concept underlying “Five Songs You Need to Hear” is that they’re favorites of mine, many of you have not likely heard them, and so we should rectify that situation, stat. Musically, none of them have anything in common, though this month they do have some thematic commonality, even though that’s not normally the case. If you like the concept, you can click here for all of the earlier installments.

Here’s hoping everyone reading and listening here is safe and supported. Be good to each other, spin good tunes, watch great movies, plug in with your remote networks as often as you can, unplug from the nattering news machine even more often than that, and wash those hands, you filthy animals, you!

#1. Funkadelic, “Biological Speculation”

#2. Lou Reed, “There Is No Time

#3. Melt Banana, “Infection Defective”

#4. Gang of Four, “We Live As We Dream, Alone”

#5. Snog, “Cheerful Hypocrisy”

(Sittin’ On) Five Songs You Need to Hear

I grind through lots of new record releases toward the end of each calendar year, prepping for my Best Albums reports, so when that’s all done, I tend to spend the ensuing quarter or so just catching up with old stuff in my (large) catalog. As I’ve been happily spinning older faves recently, several seemed like good candidates for one my occasional “Five Songs You Need to Hear” features — so while the wind howls here in Central Iowa tonight, it seemed there was no time like the present to get a little bundle of auditory joy out into the world. Hey presto!

As always, the only connections between these five songs are that I love ’em, and that you probably have not heard ’em. So this series is designed to rectify that that latter situation. If you do like some or all of these songs, and/or the concept in general, hit this link and you can scroll down through all of the earlier installments, too. This is the eleventh piece in the series, so there’s a good mix tape (or Spotify playlist for you streaming weenies) to be made here. And probably enough data points to figure out the current naming convention.

Here we go . . .

#1. “C’est Bon” by Vulkano

#2. “Daughter of the Hillside” by Chicken Shack

#3. “Proper Rock” by The Chap

#4. “Kongsberg” by Yusef Lateef

#5. “A Head Bronco” by Japanther

(You Make Me Feel Like) Five Songs You Need To Hear

Well, the Iowa Caucuses lived way down to my prescient prediction of “chaos and disorganization” last Monday night, and then some. (I’m gonna claim prescience anyway, but if have you have ever paid any attention to how things get done politically out here, then the absurd outcome really shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Please, let this one be the last time Iowa goes first, ever. Amen).

The only positive caucus experience we had through the pointless, poorly managed hours we spent milling about the cold concourse of our local sports arena — regularly getting told to “stop talking!” by our petty tyrant precinct captain, while our candidate’s floor manager gave us wildly varying and mutually exclusive instructions throughout the evening — was watching our daughter, her boyfriend and their friend get interviewed live by Dana Bash on CNN. The three of them were smart and well-spoken, all on the spot. Good job, you! But then, on the flip side, we also interacted with Jake Tapper as he worked the room, and, uhhhh, he was kind of a jerk.

Add some shit weather to the mix as we’ve been sitting here being embarrassed about our state of residence fully failing per forecast, and we’re very ready to hit the road again, which we’ll be doing tomorrow morning, this time for two weeks in Arizona. I’m sitting here making playlists before we head out, and it seemed like a good time for one of my occasional “Five Songs You Need to Hear” features, while I’m looking at my recent listening logs, and trying to distract myself.

As always, the only connections between these five songs are that I love ’em, and that you probably have not heard ’em. So let’s fix that, yeah? If you do like these songs, and the concept in general, hit this link and you can scroll down through all of the earlier installments, too. Happy spins!

#1. OOIOO, “UMO”

#2. Napalm Death, “Logic Ravaged by Brute Force”

#3. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, “Kyrie From Missa Papae Marcelli”

#4. Subtle, “The No”

#5. The Stan Tracey Quartet, “Llareggub”

(Get A) Five Songs You Need to Hear (On Yourself)

We’re in the midst of a days-long weather hellscape here in Iowa with the nastiest of nasty stuff falling out of the sky, continually. Ice, snow, frozen rain, sleet, vulture urine, aviation fuel, chemtrails, and who knows what else. It’s disgusting and cold, whatever it is. So I’ve been hunkered down, spinning tunes, and thought it an apt time to return to our occasional featurette here, “Five Songs You Need to Hear.” The only things these songs have in common are that I love them, and you probably haven’t heard them. Now you can! Get listening! And then explore the artists further, as they’re all most worthy and deserving of your attention.

#1. “Space Invaders” by Solaris, (available on the outstanding and recommended Soul Jazz Records Presents SPACE FUNK: Afro-Futurist Electric Funk in Space 1976-84 compilation)

#2. “Electronic Eye” by Crisis Actor

#3. “Love Lived Here Once” by Christelle Bofale

#4. “Analog Warmth” by Jad Fair & Kramer (Feat. Paul Leary)

#5. “Crazy Energy Night” by Pom Poko

(Don’t Go Back To) Five Songs You Need To Hear

In which we return to our occasional mini-series, for links to five songs that I know and love, and you probably don’t, but you should, so now you can, no excuses. These five cuts were all released in the past year, all culled from albums that you’ll likely read (much) more about in my “Best Albums of 2019” feature coming in a month or so. Fresh baked, as it were. Warm and tasty. Ready? Open wide your brain, and dig in . . .

#1. “Hollow” by Sin Fang

#2. “Three Sisters” by Daniel Khan (featuring Vanya Zhuk)(Audio Only)

#3. “Spite Alone Holds Me Aloft” by Lingua Ignota (Audio Only)

#4. “Almost It” by Sacred Paws

#5. “Wolf Totem” by The Hu

Five Songs You Need to Hear (Slight Return)

About a decade ago, I had a recurring feature here called “Five Songs You Need to Hear.” The premise was to offer a peek into what happened to be rocking my world at the moment, with a focus on things that might be slightly off the beaten track for most folks. I was spinning an older favorite cut this morning, and would have shared it enthusiastically on social media if I still used social media, so I have decided instead to return to this occasional blog featurette about “gotta share” songs of the right now, right here. So with no further ado, here’s another edition of Five Songs You Need to Hear!

“Bleeding” by One King Down: Crunchy, riff-fueled hardcore from the Albany/Troy quintet’s 1995 Absolve EP, with original singer Bill Brown on the mic, before the law chased him out of town. OKD went on to achieve some national notoriety in Straight Edge circle in the years that followed with Brown’s replacement, Rob Fusco, doing the jumping and shouting parts, but this one song, for me, stands as their most titanic moment, and is perhaps my favorite hard-music cut from all of my years as a critic of record for the Albany region’s phenomenal hardcore and metal scenes of the 1990s. The song maintains a stately pace, with a six minute run time, giving itself far more room to grow and swell than most tracks by similar genre bands, with an absolutely killer breakdown for the time in which we must do the circle dancing. (Note that the image on the video is from the cover of a later album, the CD of which included Absolve as bonus tracks).

“The Creator Has a Master Plan (Peace)” by Leon Thomas: Pharoah Sanders’ 1969 album Karma dedicates its entire first side to the 19-minute  “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” one of the most astounding and electrifying recorded freakouts in the history of jazz, if not music as a whole. It’s one of those songs that I occasionally and literally plan to spin, as it requires full attention, and once you start it, you can’t stop it. That is not allowed! Co-writer and vocalist Leon Thomas offered another version of that titanic cut on his own ’69 album Spirits Known and Unknown, preserving the beautiful core melody and sentiment, but in a more readily digestible four minute arrangement. Lovely!

“I, John” by Elvis Presley: My grandfather had Elvis’ three great gospel albums on eight track tapes, and he played them incessantly at his house in Piedmont Cackalacky, when he wasn’t watching Hee Haw. I know and love them all dearly accordingly, and this is probably my favorite track from the three, a weird apocalyptic counting song with a beat than you can darn near dance to. The King is in fine voice and fettle here, and it’s worth noting that this was released in 1972, the same year as his last great pop hit, “Burning Love.” That’s about as good of an absolute “spirit vs flesh” creative dichotomy as I can come up with in a single year from a major artist’s catalog, Prince possibly notwithstanding.

“Long Island Iced Tea, Neat” by The Coup, feat. Japanther: Boots Riley’s incredible 2018 flick, Sorry to Bother You, had a long and complicated creative gestation. The first public glimmers of the project emerged with a 2012 album of the same name by Riley’s group, The Coup. It’s a bangin’ record, soup to nuts, and the 2018 soundtrack to the film provided a perfect second act of new music to help in telling this craziest of crazy stories. This cut is my favorite from the first album, and it features the late lamented Japanther, a deliriously eclectic duo who made the most exciting and trippy noises with their drums and guitars and voices. It was a match made in heaven. I wish they’d both “feat.-ed” each other more often!

“Heaven and Hell” by William Onyeabor: In my remembrance for Johnny Clegg after his passing a couple of months back, I wrote a bit about what a chore it was to find records and tapes by African artists in the pre-World Music and pre-Internet eras. William Onyeabor was a popular Nigerian musician, label owner and record producer who issued an incredible string of albums in his native country in the late 1970s and early 1980s, thought it was damned hard to get your hands on his stuff States-side. After his 1985 album, Anything You Sow, Onyeabor abruptly ceased recording and refused to speak of his musical career, having undergone a profound religious conversion experience. This cut is from his 1977 debut album, Crashes in Love, though you can more readily find it these days via the Luaka Bop compilation Who Is William Onyeabor? (2013), which annoyingly is now the type of thing that populates the checkout racks at your local Starbucks. Grumble. The lyrics make it clear that William, who passed away in 2017, was already thinking about his eternal soul, long before he walked away from music to protect it.