Mendelsohn: Going into this, I sort of figured we get around to talking about Iggy Pop at least once—I didn’t think he’d have two records lodged in the back end of the Great List’s Top 100. And I didn’t know how well it would go having to talk about two Stooges records in short succession, but I’m glad we are because, man, is Raw Power just non-stop, balls-to-the-wall rock ‘n’ roll. I hadn’t paid much attention to Raw Power in the past; after “Search and Destroy”, (best side one/track one we’ve seen in a while), I thought there wasn’t much to this record. But once you get past some of the questionable production values, there is a wealth of pure rock energy just waiting to lay waste to your ears. Even the “ballads” are loud, badass, and completely in your face.
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Klinger: We all have blind spots in our musical education. No matter how we try, we’re just not going to be able to listen in on every genre and subgenre that’s made its way into the rich tapestry of pop music. I’ll confess to a few (all in good time), but one of my main blind spots has always been the experimental, ambient, two-more-steps-from-the-blues form known as Krautrock. Because of this, I suspect that there have always been certain nuances associated with David Bowie’s LP Low that have sailed past my head. Low has always sounded a little baffling to me, like it wasn’t quite ready to be released. So many songs are either instrumentals that sound like they’re waiting for lyrics (“Speed of Life”) or solid pop songs that Bowie seems to give up on just as they’re getting going (“Breaking Glass”). Then there are all those tone poems on side two that drift from one into the next.
So at any rate, I’ve dug into a little bit of Bowie’s Teutonic influences in preparation for this Counterbalance. And after hearing a bit of Neu! and a few other groups, I think I have more of a handle on Low. Still, I can only imagine what average Bowie fans must have felt when they cracked the shrink wrap on this back in 1977. You’ve presented yourself as more of a Bowie acolyte than I am, Mendelsohn (although you have been stripped of your superfan status), so I’m interested in hearing your take.
Mendelsohn: I love the effect that time has on music, Klinger. Such an intangible, arbitrary measure of our existence, but it never ceases to amaze me what the passage of time can produce. Just over ten short years after Miles Davis changed the way people looked at jazz with Kind of Blue, he turns around and does it again, this time with the wilder, avant-garde trip of Bitches Brew. Playing these albums back to back sounds like we’re listening to two different artists from two different planets. Which leads me to ask: what happened to Davis during the 1960s, man?
I never really got Kind of Blue but I find Bitches Brew to be an absolutely arresting ride (most of the time). Maybe that has to do more with the things I recognize—the nods to rock, the electric guitar of John McLaughlin and keyboard of Chick Corea, the winding, looping song structure that would reappear in certain quarters of electronic music several decades later. Plus, at loud volumes, this record won’t put me to sleep.
Klinger: On one hand, I’m not surprised that Bitches Brew is the first jazz album we’ve covered that you’ve been able to bond with. (And while we’re on the subject, this makes three jazz albums on the Great List so far compared to hip-hop’s two. I say that not because I have anything against hip-hop, but just because I enjoy annoying you.) It’s certainly full of references to funk and rock that should be instantly familiar. And the bubbling rhythmic percolations have indeed informed a lot of what has come since.
Klinger: Mendelsohn, I can’t help noticing you tipped your hand last week when you were professing your unconditional love for Radiohead’s The Bends. You essentially positioned Oasis as the evil Antiradiohead, whose laddish swaggering and hit singles made you throw up in your mouth—a vivid image to be sure. So while I await your spirited evisceration of the Gallaghers, their bandmates, songwriting, and possibly their ancestry, I would like to take a brief moment to point out that this is the fourth album in a row that owes its place on the Great List almost entirely to the European (and especially UK) music press. Were it not for the impassioned advocacy of the NME and their ilk, we could have gotten to Bitches Brew a good month sooner. But here we are on Week 4 of this British leg of our tour, and I’m beginning to say “Bob’s your uncle” in regular conversation.
Not only that, but these last four LPs end up presenting a makeshift continuum of sorts as UK indie music went from scruffy noiseniks in thrall to pop’s detritus to classicists with a decidedly more reverent eye toward the past. By the time (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? came out, the outré sounds of Jesus and Mary Chain had given way to the fully groomed Britpop heard here. So there’s a bit of context for you there, albeit an accident of mathematics. But without further ado, I’ll let you get to your bile-spewing. Mendelsohn, to what extent do you loathe this album?
Mendelsohn: Ready for more Radiohead, Klinger? In case you weren’t keeping track, this is the third Radiohead LP to make it into the Top 100 of the Great List (if you want to get super-technical, Radiohead has a fourth album, In Rainbows, lurking just outside the Top 100 at number 127). To put that into perspective, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan each have four records in the Top 100, David Bowie and Led Zeppelin have three, and everyone else has fewer. That puts Radiohead in some heady company. Do you feel comfortable placing Radiohead on a list like that? You can put them at the end if it makes you feel better: the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead. Looks weird, doesn’t it?
But there it is. The list doesn’t lie. At number 86 is Radiohead’s The Bends, the bands sophomore effort and response to the rising fame that engulfed them after the success of Pablo Honey, fueled by the single “Creep”. I can’t talk rationally about this record. This disc was the soundtrack to my freshman year of college and, as you know, that can be a terrific and terrifying time. The stories I could tell.