Thursday, May 11, 2017

Der Kosmonaut's Top 10 Songs Of All Time

Since that I will be departing from the planet soon, I have decided to leave readers of my blog with my favorite Top 10 songs of all time. This is a list of the songs that have had the most impact on my life and which have shaped my own creative endeavors. Also they are important markers of various times of my life.

10. Lies-Thompson Twins
When I think of the early 80s British Synth-Pop music, this is the song that stands out the most. 1982 was the banner year for New Wave. Every important New Wave group cut a landmark record that year. When I first started seriously paying attention to music, especially New Wave in 1988 Lies was the song that made me excited. The second greatest radio station in the world was WLIR/WDRE 92.7 FM in New York. I discovered it in early 1988 after becoming disenchanted with Top 40 music and radio. (The greatest radio station in the world was WBLS 107.5 FM. It's was the world's largest privately Black owned radio station. It was the premier radio station for Soul and Funk music.) WLIR/WDRE featured the weekly Saturday night dance party. Lies was the record that never failed to make me dance. I will never understand why this was never as popular as the Thompson Twins' biggest hit Hold Me Now. Lies is by far a better composition than Hold Me Now. The latter is quite dull and slow compared to the former. Anyway, Lies comes in at 10th place of my all time favorite songs.


9.Things That Dreams Are Made Of-The Human League
I have been traveling all my life. I guess that I was 3 years old when I first went on my flight. At that age my grandmother and mother took me on their holiday to Puerto Rico. I will never forget the flights going to and returning from San Juan. I cried furiously on the flight down. It seemed that I was confined to a room feeling the effects of gravity and drag without knowing what the hell was going on. We were seated in the middle aisle seats of what was probably a L-1010 jet, which was primarily used by the Eastern Airlines for it's flights between New York and Florida and the Caribbean. I remember the return flight quite well as I looked out the window. I was notably calmer and content.
A couple of years later I took my first flight alone from Atlanta to NYC. Yes, I was only 5 when I was placed on a plane by myself. I now realized that I should've made a story about it. It was really one of the strangest events of my life. My plane literally disappeared for 12 hours. But it's too late for that now. For my 6th birthday my uncle gave me a globe. I would regularly examine the globe. At the age of 7 my uncle gave me a world atlas. My uncle and I used to spend hours examining the globe and atlas. I was in a sense of wonder about the strange sounding names of countries. Czechoslovakia and Turkey were the two strangest and funniest sounding names. I knew that I would eventually see those and many other countries.  I regularly traveled at least once a year throughout my childhood. These jaunts were mostly within the USA. I first left the country at the age of 12 visiting Montreal in 1984. I fell in love with the city and knew that I would eventually reside there as an adult.
When I got into New Wave music in 1988, that was the beginning of my naive love for all things British. I was 16 and decided that I wouldn't spend the rest of my life in the USA. I figured that I would move to Britain and become a New Wave musician. However, I did want to visit Europe.
In addition to how New Wave music made me feel emotionally, there were many songs about traveling the world and leaving the narrow confines of one's hometown and native country. The message was undeniable. To expand your mind and knowledge it's imperative to take a world journey and seek adventure. Things That Dreams Are Made Of is one of the songs that encouraged me to become a world traveler adventurer.


8. Making Flippy Floppy-Talking Heads
For the longest time my favorite Talking Heads song was Swamp. That changed in the years 2010-11. There are a few lines in that song that I had overlooked until then. In Belgrade I worked for a stupid and absurd American from San Francisco. He was the worst businessman I've ever encountered. Even worse was that he was the epitome of the petit-bourgeois capitalist. He provided a keen insight into California. He pretended to be liberal and laid back. He was "open minded" and "tolerant". He used to take the staff out to lunch each day which he put on his American Express card. He would also allow us to smoke marijuana at the office. On Fridays during the final 2 hours we would bring out the liquor and we would booze up. Still, he was a ruthless capitalist. He remained the boss. He could be quite a nasty piece of work. In Making Flippy Floppy David Byrne writes: "Business and pleasure lie right to your face."
The following year I returned to Vienna from Belgrade. I was leery of returning to the West. I spent the initial days walking along the Donauinsel, which is a 30KM long artificial island in the middle of the Danube River. Though the Donauinsel is very nice, it's a haven for Nazis. The further south one goes on the Donauinsel, one finds many nude sunbathers. The Europeans are much more relaxed about nudity than the North American Puritans. Still many of the nude sunbathers found on the Donausinsel are at worst Nazis or at best reactionary. However my feelings of apprehension evaporated with another Byrne line from Making Flippy Floppy: "Well they are just people and I'm not afraid."
Additionally Making Flippy Floppy is Byrne explaining that we had entered into the era of the digital computerized totalitarian capitalist dictatorship. He says quite a bit in that song.
I decided to become a stage performer after seeing the concert film Stop Making Sense which was filmed by the late Jonathan Demme. It's the greatest rock concert film ever made.
I actually got to meet David Bryne twice. The first time was at CBGB Gallery in 1993. The second time was in front of The Spectrum in Montreal before his 2001 concert. I gave him a copy of most of the poems that I had written up to that point. I signed my name and wrote a dedication to him. I wonder how many other people have given him their autograph rather than ask for his>


7.Stretch Out and Wait-The Smiths
It's an open question how many lives Morrissey has saved over the past 35 years. It's quite possible that he saved hundreds of thousands of young people's lives who probably would've committed suicide. For those that didn't grow up under the Thatcher-Reagan-Bush years, they have no idea how alienating and depressing the times were. I discovered The Smiths relatively late in 1988 thanks to WDRE radio. Like many Americans "Louder Than Bombs" was the first album by The Smiths I had bought. Stretch Out and Wait is my favorite song by the band though I know that Rubber Ring is their best song.
Morrissey is an enigma. No one seems to understand him, not even his closest friends. Morrissey seemed to have an extreme animus against Soul music. Until the appearance of Joy Division and The Smiths, Manchester was the Soul music capital of Britain. When I visited Manchester in early 1993, it reminded me of Philadelphia. The architecture is very similar especially the row houses. Central Manchester has similar skyscrapers found in Center City Philly. Both cities were centers of Soul Music. In fact, Manchester's Soul scene came to dominance in the 60s, while the Philly Soul sound enjoyed its heyday in the 70s. According to the writer Johnny Rogan, who authored the first biography of The Smiths, Morrissey never liked the bassist Andy Rourke because the latter was a Soul musician. Rogan also suggests that Morrissey didn't like the band's first producer John Porter as the latter was Manchester's premier Soul music producer. What's puzzling is that it's the Soul elements that provides the emotional depth of  The Smith's music. What Morrissey's solo music lacks in comparison to his first band is the lack of emotional soul. Stretch Out and Wait is the best white Soul music song thanks to Rourke's bass and Morrissey's voice.
In 1991 while studying at Boston University another student lent me the cassette of "The World Won't Listen" album. It hadn't been released in the USA at the time. It was a compilation album of singles. However, the versions were different from what I was familiar with. The version of Stretch Out and Wait on "The World Won't Listen" is not only more melodic and soulful but it's cold and chilling.
I probably should write about how I eventually met Morrissey in NYC in 1992. I got his to autograph my copy of "Ouija Board, Ouija Board" and he hugged me. Our cheeks pressed against each other. I'm glad that I got to meet Morrissey in my life. All the rubbish about him being a racist is just that. I will defend Morrissey against any and all accusations of racism. He could've easily ignored me. I don't believe a hardcore fascist racist would hug on of his Black fans as intimately and warmly as he did. Unfortunately this time not even Morrissey is able to save me. I've made up my mind to go.


6.Take Some...Leave Some-James Brown
Speaking of soul it's impossible for a poet and artist of any emotional depth not to like the Godfather of Soul. The most vexing thing about James Brown is that his best material is never played on the radio or dance clubs. I Feel Good, It's A Man's World, Say It Loud-I'm Black and I'm Proud are good songs but they're inferior to what he composed and produced on his 1973 album "The Payback". Hands down "The Payback" is not only the greatest Soul album of all time, it's hands down the best Funk album. I was a Funk music DJ in Europe but nothing tops any of the tracks from "The Payback". Yet so few people have heard it. In addition to the music, it's James Brown's most serious political album. He's falsely assumed to have been radically political because of Say It Loud when in fact he was quite conservative politically. Glen Ford of Black Agenda Reports writes that Brown wrote and recorded the song in a cynical manner to capitalize on the emergent Black Power movement. That may very well be true. However, by 1972 the Black Power movement peaked and had taken on revolutionary dimensions. Only the most reactionary self hating Black person shunned it. "The Payback" reflects the social and political climate of Black America at the time. The standout track is Take Some...Leave Some. It's a completely flawless track which encompasses every talent of James Brown. Here one not only finds Brown's best singing but he also reveals a rather profound wisdom which is lacking in his famous hits.


5.Reasons-Earth,Wind and Fire
As a Black kid who grew up in the 70s and 80s in NYC, I didn't like Rock music. There are many reasons for this. In the USA Rock music wasn't just overwhelmingly white but it was reactionary. By the Second Grade of school, the racial polarization and tensions in school were over music. Blacks and Puerto Ricans exclusively liked Disco (which by 1978 encompassed Soul and Funk) while the whites listened exclusively to Rock. What was quite disconcerting was the visceral hatred and antipathy that whites had for Disco. There was really no rational basis for such hatred. There's lots of shit music out there. However, I don't have a murderous hatred for the music that I detest.  I've written previously my opinion of Kurt Cobain and Kanye West. However, I'm not consumed with a burning passion of hatred. The anti-Disco movement of the late 70s and early 80s was actually a mass hate movement based purely on racism. While it would be careless to call the anti-Disco movement "fascist" or "Nazi", it was thoroughly reactionary. In 1979 there was anti-Disco night at a baseball game in Chicago where thousands of Disco records were blown up. There were mass Disco record burnings. Rock station DJs would actually saw Donna Summer records in half live on the air. It's been forgotten now but the election of Ronald Reagan was in large part due to the Anti-Disco movement. Of course the reactionary "Coca-Cola Intellectuals" of today wouldn't say that. They would say that Jimmy Carter was incompetent with the economy and he mishandled both the Iranian Revolution and the Cuban refugee crises. This might be the reasons why the American ruling class turned against Carter but it wasn't reason why Americans voted for Reagan.
By 1980 the United States had become a thoroughly Black country culturally and socially. The Black Power revolutionary movement at the beginning of the decade had altered the social and cultural landscape. Disco music was simply the most visible manifestation of the cultural change away from white Protestant America. Indeed, between 1977-79 the symbols of white cultural America died. Elvis Presley (who's universally hated by Black Americans and universally loved by whites worldwide) died in 77 while John Wayne, who encapsulated every aspect and trait of American capitalism,imperialism, genocide and racism, died in 1979. With these two major cultural icons of White America gone, the cultural landscape had been replaced by Donna Summer, George Benson, Barry White. Reagan was the replacement for reactionary White America in lieu of Elvis and John Wayne. Some astute intellectuals, such as Webster Tarpley, understand that Reagan's election was the backlash against the gains of the Civil Rights movement. Reagan himself didn't fail to convey that sentiment.
Until the rise of the Punk/New Wave acts which exploded on the scene in 1977, white rock music of the 70s was dull and mediocre. There are notable exceptions of course. David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album not to mention the two Pink Floyd landmark albums of Dark Side of The Moon and Wish You Were Here. Then there were the Prog Rock acts of King Crimson and Frank Zappa. But if you look at the top white rock acts prior to 1977, they are pretty wretched. I know that many whites swear that Led Zeppelin are the greatest band of all time. Sorry. I'm not feeling it. There's nothing that impresses me about Led Zeppelin. Then there was Foreigner, The Eagles, Neil Diamond, Jetro Tull, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Basically the gallery of the mediocre and the bland.
In comparison the Soul and Funk of the same period was superior in every department. The songwriting was much better. Not even Roger Waters, by far the best white rock composer of the pre-1977 era, can compete with Curtis Mayfield in music composition. The O'Jays and the Philly Soul hit parade just leaves 70s white rock in the dust. It must be noted that all the white Punk/New Wave artists that started to emerge in 1977 were all Soul and Funk music fans and it's reflected in their music. It was the white Punk/New Wavers that wholeheartedly embraced Soul, Funk, Disco, Dub, Reggae and the emergent Hip-Hop/Rap. Why is it that Debbie Harry remains the most prominent white icon among the New York Hip-Hop scene? Ever since Blondie released Rapture, she has been the most admired and respected white musician in The Bronx. Also the white New Wave/Punks recognized that Elvis made his fame and wealth by stealing from Black musicians. Blondie and Talking Heads were very conscious and careful about not stealing from their contemporary Black musicians.
But this is all a digression. When I think of the 70s, I think of Reasons by Earth, Wind and Fire. It's one of the earliest songs that I remember. That and The Hustle. However while The Hustle is an atrocious song, Reasons still holds water 42 years after its release. Among Blacks in NYC it was by far the number one song of 1975. This song epitomizes the essence of the 70s. This is the Black "Stairway To Heaven".


4.Thieves-Ministry
This is the angriest, meanest, roughest, toughest, the most vicious and bad-ass song ever recorded. I can beat anyone in a fight when this song is played. I could mop the floor with the ass of Andre The Giant is this song is played. I'm dead serious. I could knock Mike Tyson flat out cold. I could give Muhammad Ali in his prime a run for his money. He thought that he had it hard with George Forman, but I could easily box Ali with Thieves. Though I wouldn't be able to beat him because as soon as the song ended, he's knocked he out cold. Ali would be compelled to use his famous rope-a-dope for 5 minutes. He would come a whisker of losing a round with me.
I really can't stand Heavy Metal music but Thieves is Industrial. It blows every Heavy Metal song out of the water. Anytime I get into an argument with a Heavy Metal music fan, I put on this track and they always shut up. They're in a state of shock when they hear it.
One criticism that I have about WDRE/WLIR radio is that though they played the earlier New Wave Ministry songs such as Revenge, Work For Love and the Gothic anthem Everyday Is Halloween, when Ministry became aggressive starting wit 1988's "The Land of Rape and Honey" album, WDRE/WLIR didn't play those songs.
I will never forget the first time I heard Thieves. It was July 1990. I went to Freshman orientation at Boston University. On the last night of orientation weekend, there was a dance party. The DJ's played exclusively New Wave music. When Thieves came on, I lost my control. I was whipped into a physical frenzy of dance. I couldn't control myself. Hundreds of other students stopped what they were doing to stare at me with mouths agape. I worked up such a sweat that my clothes were drenched afterwards. It was the second time within 2 months that I was excited by a new song which I hadn't heard before.
Back on to the theme of fighting and this song, I must recount the following story. It was summer of 1992. I was thoroughly immersed in the Goth/Industrial scene. New York was the second of the three major centers for Goth/Industrial music in the USA. The first was Chicago. Third was Boston. That summer I was clubbing 3 times a week. Michael T, who hosted "Stigmata" party each Friday night at the Pyramid Club in the East Village hosted a special birthday party out in a 70s disco club on Steinway Street in Queens. Not that many people attended. Manhattanites have always been reluctant and skeptical to take the subway under the East River to Queens and Brooklyn. For those from The Bronx and Brooklyn, it was too long a subway journey to schlep out. Still I went. The venue was definitely an outer borough discotheque. It had typical 70s furnishings. There was a relatively small dance floor in the middle of the club which had raised wooden tiles. It was ringed by iron railings.
The night was relatively uneventful until some local neighborhood Guidos arrived. I think they saw the Goth/Industrial girls heading in and thought: "You let's get some freak pussy! Look at those freak bitches! Yeah! Let's go in and have some fun."
They would've been tolerated were it not for the fact that they started sexually harassing the women by grabbing their asses and coping feels on their other private parts. When they weren't sexually assaulting women, they were being obnoxious pricks as Guidos always are. Then they broke the Cardinal Rule of the Goth/Industrial club scene. Under no circumstances were drinks allowed on the dance floor, especially beer bottles. The reason being that Industrial music is often slam dancing. Beer bottles were considered weapons.
By this time everyone had had enough of them, including the DJ. The DJ played Thieves and we were off to the races. All of the males came down on the Guidos like 40 tons of bricks. We grabbed them and flung them from one end of the dance floor to the other. One Guido was hurled across and slammed into his buddy. The collision caused buddy to to break his teeth on the beer bottle. The the moment of the song where the sampled voices say: "I hope you realize that this is your last goddamn chance! Kill him! Kill! Kill! Kill", we became more ruthless. It became a scene straight out of Wrestlemania. There was one Industrial buddy that was quite huge. He wore a necklace with a bullet dangling from it. I stood up on the railing. He picked me up from the railing and threw me on to one of the Guidos. I imitated Randy "Macho Man" Savage and landed my fists closed together on the crown of the Guido's head. He immediately dropped. When the song ended. The Guidos were sprawled out on the dance floor semi-conscious. We let out our victory roars, gave double high fives and hugged each other. The Guidos slowly collected themselves and fucked off. That was one of the most joyful and fun filled moments of my miserable life.


3. Entartete Welt (The Discovery of The North Pole)-Laibach
The summer of 1992 was one of the best times of my life. I was 20. I was a revolutionary. I had boundless optimism and unlimited energy. As I mentioned earlier, I went clubbing three nights each week. On Tuesday night was "Communion" at the Limelight. What was special was that each week they featured the top Goth/Industrial acts. One night in June, Laibach made an appearance. I hadn't heard of Laibach. However, the now defunct New York Press alternative newspaper had an outstanding columnist named J.R. Taylor. Laibach was his top choice of shows to see that week. He made an unusual comparison between Laibach and Kraftwerk. "Laibach is the kind of band that would make Kraftwerk laugh." Since Kraftwerk is my favorite group of all time, I was intrigued. The accompanying article featured a photo of Laibach wearing suits. They looked intense.
At the time the Yugoslav civil war was raging. Though Slovenia had declared its independence and successfully fought for it the year before, Laibach were still considered to be a Yugoslav group. As I later discovered, that night's show was historic. There were people from all over the world in attendance. Six years later in Vienna I met a woman who had attended the same concert.
New York is one of the toughest audiences in the world for music. It takes a hell of a lot to shock New Yorkers. However, Laibach shocked us. I stood right up in front of the stage. My jaw suddenly dropped. There was a collective awe throughout the Limelight.
I had no idea how much Laibach would not only influence my own musical development but I had no idea that 12 years later I would conduct Laibach's first ever interview in Canada and their second in North America. In 2009 I was the DJ at the wedding party for Laibach's original drummer. He was the drummer on the "Kapital" album and played at the Limelight show. I would see Laibach 4 times between 1992 and 2009. I saw them twice in NYC (1992, 97), Montreal (2004) and Belgrade (2009). I even managed to make multiple appearances in their documentary "Divided States of America". This is the most intense and interesting song in Laibach's repertoire. I will never forget this song, especially since it was literally larger than life as I stood at the front of the stage when they performed it.


2. One Man's Burden-Nitzer Ebb
Back to June 1990. I was 18. Within a week I would graduate from high school. Depeche Mode had released their biggest album "Violator". They were on tour in North America. The opening act was Nitzer Ebb. Again, WDRE/WLIR hadn't played any Nitzer Ebb music, so I wasn't aware of their sound. The radio station simply stated that Nitzer Ebb were Depeche Mode's favorite group. With that in mind, I expected them to be good. I thought that they were in the same league as DM. I was simply a lamb being led to slaughter.
It was a beautiful early summer evening at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. It was probably the happiest evening of my life. I was excited about everything. I saw some Nitzer Ebb shirts and fans wearing them. I instantly was attracted to the Industrial/EBM fashion and aesthetic. Also the girls looked so hot! They were oozing with sexual energy. That made me more excited about seeing Nitzer Ebb.
I said above that it's hard to shock New York audiences. It's nearly an impossible task to both shock and make New York audiences dance. Nitzer Ebb strutted out on stage with an attitude that staggered me. Practially everyone in New York has attitude and tries to look and play the part, but no one pulled off what Nitzer Ebb had. They wore black t-shirts, with black denim shorts that cut off just above the knee, with black Dr. Marten's shoes.
They opened with Getting Closer. They knocked everyone on their ass. Not only was their sound loud but their percussionist played on electronic drum pads. Each time he struck them, the entire stadium shook. I had the sensation of my bones cracking. I can't remember the next couple of songs. I was in a state of shock as were the roughly 10,000 other attendees. After establishing their authority over us by knocking us silly that we lost our senses. They started One Man's Burden. It starts off slow but that electronic bass line still pounded the senses as it throbbed out. After the intro, the song erupts. Everyone and I mean everyone got to their feet and danced. There wasn't a single soul in the stadium that was sitting. Every body was swaying and dancing. Though of us in the stands stood on the seats. Their overall set was too short. When they walked off stage, I was alarmed and upset.
"Yo! Hey! Where are you going? Come back!"
It was the first time that I had ever had an orgasm that wasn't induced through masturbation. I was still a virgin at the time. Nitzer Ebb blew Depeche Mode out of the water. In fact, they were upstaged by Nitzer Ebb. When I go into the death plunge later, I will think about this moment. One Man's Burden was the happiest moment of my entire life.


1. Trans-Europe Express-Kraftwerk
There are two distinct memories. It was Halloween 1977 and my uncle took me to a party at the Jackson Avenue Projects in The South Bronx. It was the peak of the Disco era. As I've written above by 1977 Disco had come to encompass Soul and Funk. Grandmaster Flash was the DJ for the party. He was still a kid himself. Perhaps he was 15-17 years old. He played all the major Disco hits of the day. Then I heard the sound of a train and I fell into rapt attention. I lost control and went into one of my mad dances. Grandmaster Flash looked at me with mouth agape. Apparently my method of dancing is rather extravagant at times. I just can't help myself.
I thought the singer was saying "Trans Zero Express". My uncle corrected me. I think that was the very first time that I heard the word Europe. Anyway, this was one of the biggest songs in The Bronx. Grandmaster Flash and other Hip-Hop DJs sampled the hell out of that song.
Fast forward 21 years. Kraftwerk were performing their first show in NYC since 1991. I was terribly excited. My plan was to Candy Flip. I wanted to take LSD and Ecstasy. Yet a very strange thing transpired. NYC had a drought of LSD and Ecstasy. I couldn't find any. I knew all the drug dealers in Manhattan that sold them. No can do. I went Uptown, Downtown and Crosstown for the week prior and day of the show. Still no luck. I settled on getting buying a Dime bag ($10) of weed. To my astonishment there was no weed to be found. I went to Washington Square Park. Nothing. I went up to the Sheep Meadow in Central Park. Fuck all. It was almost showtime and I had invited my friend to come along. I wasn't going to be one second of the show. I went to see Kraftwerk cold stone sober. I didn't even have a drop of alcohol.
It turned out to be a good reason. Kraftwerk blew my mind. It was the best concert that I had ever been to. My Russian friend that I had invited was also blown away. It was the biggest high that I've ever experienced. Had I taken drugs I surely would've passed out or would have blown a mental gasket. When they performed "Trans-Europe Express" I ejaculated and soiled my underpants. My friend and I left the concert bouncing off the Moon. We went down to the East Village and all of my friends were taken aback. They said: "You're not on drugs. You're high on Kraftwerk!"
Incidentally I saw them again in 2004 in Montreal. They performed a superior version of TEE than they did at the 1998 show.
Since they're German, I'm obliged to play the version in that language.


Some may ask why I don't have any female artists listed in my Top 10. Don't get me wrong I love Eurythmics with Annie Lennox, Yazoo with Alison Moyet, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Robert Flack and Anita Baker are the best Black female singers. Ranking Ann is the most bad-ass singer of them all. Missy Eliot made one of the best records to date in the 2000s. It's simply that they haven't recorded songs that have made a deep impact on my personally. I'm simply listing songs which are markers of my life. Thompson Twins, The Human League and Talking Heads all have women members who were equal to the men in contributing to the songs selected above.


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2 Comments:

Blogger zoemushi said...

Do you remember Anee Clark - sleeper in Metropolis?

Thursday, June 15, 2017  
Blogger Der Kosmonaut said...

No I didn't know Anne Clark or that track "Sleeper In Metropolis" prior to you bringing it to my attention. I just listened and it's very interesting. I will explore more of Clark's music and poetry. Thanks for commenting and for introducing me to something different.
Nice one!

Thursday, June 15, 2017  

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