Psychedelic Revelators: Top Ten Songs from 6:20 to 6:24


28 nov. 2008, 3h08m

The first concert I can remember seeing was at LSU's Greek Theatre circa 1971; I was about 6 years old, and attended with my mom and my aunt. I don't remember any of the bands specifically, but I do remember being asked how I liked the music, to which I replied, "I like the fast songs." Those tended to be the shorter ones, too, and to this day I've maintained a general preference for songs that get to the point. That's why, when punk came along, it immediately resonated with me. (And it was a pleasing coincidence that the nascent Baton Rouge punk scene got some of its widest exposure via afternoon concerts at the same Greek Theatre.)

I still admire economy more than sprawl, but longer pieces do things that short songs can’t. Not all of those things are good; I have never been a fan of jams that don’t seem to be leading anywhere, even in the days when I took a lot of psychedelic drugs. But songs at this length can generate a depth of feeling that only expansiveness allows, and the best long songs seem to arrest time; you don’t just listen to them, you inhabit them. That experience is inherently pretty psychedelic, even if the music itself doesn’t flaunt typically-recognized psychedelic tropes.

(Thanks to Lance for playing me a lot of 60s music when we were young, and to Joe for helping me appreciate electronica.)


Top Ten Songs from 6:20 to 6:24

1) Revelator
It's odd that at a length that encourages complexity, the top two songs are structurally very simple. The surface simplicity is deceptive, as "Revelator" offers an opaque meditation on fate, free will, and identity, and responds to those issues with a terrifying ennui. In another journal a while back, I wrote: "Gillian Welch's Revelator is relentless. It quietly creeps up on you and destroys your will to live. And it does that without tricks, just Welch's gorgeous bone-tired croon and two acoustic guitars. That such stark simplicity can easily evoke what heavy psych bands sweat to even approach is remarkable."

2) Carry Me Ohio
One of the things music does better than anything else is to deliver a concentrated blow of sharp, fully-realized emotion straight to the listener’s hindbrain. In Sun Kil Moon's best song, Mark Kozelek distills mournful sorrow and resignation to exactly what they would sound like if those emotions could sing. In my songwriting career, in some ways, I kept trying to write this song and kept failing, either miserably or interestingly.

3) Tunic (Song for Karen)
One of Sonic Youth's achievements in this song was to create a scary guitar sound that is also oddly soothing. It's unclear to me whether this farewell to Karen Carpenter was meant to be mocking or elegaic; maybe it's a little of both.

4) Rabbit in Your Headlights
If you're looking for "Paranoid Android" in this list, please accept this substitute. I like Thom Yorke's vocal much more here, and this densely brilliant psychedelic track is full of head-spinning surprises, like the interpolation of the Jacob's Ladder monologue and that bass line walking deep down the scale when Yorke sings "Awayyyy...."

5) Rebel Base
So often psychedelia comes as a package deal with insufferable pretension, but that's happily not the case with the US indie band Home. "Rebel Base" explores the opposition between "natural" and "manufactured" sounds, traversing from a pretty acoustic guitar and piano melody to a very quiet freakout, then back to the natural sounds, which eventually develop into an impossible-to-play drum loop. Home is a band that I like more than any of my friends, so there's a strong possibility that I'm just wrong about how great they are. Then again, my friends could be philistines.

NOTE: The distinction between "natural" and "manufactured" sound is of course muddy, and depends on your frame of reference. Strictly speaking, an acoustic guitar or a piano is a machine for manufacturing sound. However, it is an ingrained habit of mind in our culture to consider those sounds "natural," perhaps because they can be made without electricity, or because those sounds have become so familiar over a long period of time. In any case, the distinction I'm making here is focused on how most people think of different types of sound rather than how the sounds are actually produced.

6) Money
It's a classic rock chestnut, but the opening cash register montage is still remarkable, and the funk of the verses wobbles between swagger and stagger, like a drunk rich man. Superb production, and worthy of its fame.

7) Walk on By
Someone called this Bacharach cover "prog-punk," and I guess that fits The Stranglers' take as well as anything else. I love the way Hugh Cornwell rushes through the verses with an almost-careful enunciation, like he's coming down from speed. If you're wondering why I would cut some slack to the jamming here, given my stated preference for NO JAMMING, I'm wondering too. For some reason it doesn't bug me. It's interesting to compare this to Isaac Hayes's version, which is equally psychedelic, but in a smoky languid way.

8) An Eagle in Your Mind
It's hard for me to evaluate and describe music with a lot of ambient DNA, because it demands to be taken on different terms than music with even fractured pop song structure. I didn't grow up with this kind of stuff, so I'm less sure of my footing. Nonetheless, I know what I like in electronica, and like many Boards of Canada tracks, this sounds like it's going somewhere, or has just arrived and is defining the space it’s in, not just pointlessly looking around.

9) Untrue
Burial is a reinterpreter of natural sounds: he plays with manufactured sounds as their natural analogs, most famously with pitch-shifted vocals. Here, the omnipresent hiss of worn vinyl sounds like rain. It's hypnotic, like a walk through a cyberpunk cityscape.

10) Inner Meet Me
The Beta Band offer a pleasing collision between electronic cheese and bright busky acoustic guitar, reminiscent of Beck without the distance and self-conscious irony; there's something both knowing and touchingly open-hearted about it.

I Like These Songs Too But Not Quite as Much as the Ones I Just Wrote About

Paranoid Android
Close Up The Honky Tonks

There is no worst song this time; nothing in my collection at this length was particularly egregious.


  • Auto_Da_Fe

    1) Doctors of Madness - Perfect Past. In 1975/6, at 6th form college in Twickenham, I often went to a pub called The Cabbage Patch at lunchtime. To play darts. We were vaguely aware that gigs happened of an evening in the upstairs room - but, pre punk, we didn’t imagine that anything that wasn’t at Hammersmith Odeon could be any good. The most frequent performers as I remember (along with Chicken Shack) were the Doctors of Madness. Over the same period that they recorded and released two of my favourite ever albums. Only trouble was, it was getting on for two years later that I realised. This is one of the best tracks. (Note to self: must learn to play it) 2) Robert Wyatt - Sea Song. The best track from a stellar album 3) Alternative TV - Nasty Little Lonely. The Image Has Cracked was the first postpunk album, despite being one of the first punk albums. Impossible to imagine at the time, twelve years later, I played with them for a while. Nothing we did came close to this. Not much ever has. 4) Gillian Welch - Revelator. Couldn’t agree more. 5) Okkervil River - My Bad Days. Seem to be going off the boil a bit with the last two albums, but so many beautiful, intense performances on those before. Such as this. (And maybe the last two just need more listens...) 6) Doctor John - Black John the Conqueror. The best gris-gris style Doctor John track that isn’t on the album of that name. 7) Curved Air - Marie Antoinette. 8) The Balenescu Quartet - Autobahn. Everybody and their dog has had a “string quartet tribute” album made now. (And bluegrass, and loungecore, and...), but in 1992 this was revolutionary. And the fact that this was so good is why so many copycats followed. 9) Vinegar Joe - Black Smoke Rising from the Calumet. Elkie Brooks and Robert Palmer. Hardly names to encourage investigation of what preceded their solo fame. But this track anyway is very satisfying – Elkie gives it all she’s got! 10) Burning Red Ivanhoe - Oblong Serenade. Thank you, John Peel R.I.P. The Stranglers track might have beaten this - but since that's had the mention it deserves, it's Burning Red Ivanhoe all the way.

    28 nov. 2008, 19h55m
  • rockrobster23

    As usual, James, you offer a lot of stuff that's new to me. In many ways, the pre/post punk distinction seems to be useful primarily as a distinction of time rather than a descriptor of sound. So many of those songs (like "Perfect Past" or "Nasty Little Lonely") sound like they could have come before or after punk, or during, for that matter. I feel the same way about Television. That Alternative TV track is tremendous--thanks for introducing me to it.

    29 nov. 2008, 18h48m
  • Auto_Da_Fe

    re the pre/post punk distinction:- I think what you say is quite right, looking back from now, and with the information explosion which the internet has provided. In 1976/7 though, so much of the precursor music was unknown (to me, at least), and values were incredibly different. I remember being mocked on a school trip, because I'd bought the Clash single "White Riot". Both sides were less than 2 minutes long, and my schoolmates made great play of how I'd been ripped off. Musicianship was everything, in a way that I don't suppose it will ever be again. (Because of sampling technology rather than fashions in music). Doctors of Madness were an influence on punk cited by Johnny Rotten amongst others. They had members called Kid Strange, Urban Blitz, Stoner and Peter DiLemma in 1975. One of them had blue hair. I think the artists you mention might have thrived in 1966 or 1978 - but there was no place for them in serious music in 1974/5 (Pop on the other hand was at its wildest, inclusive enough to allow extraordinary sounding records by the likes of Cockney Rebel, David Essex and many more to be played on daytime radio and reach high chart positions. But I've bleated about that elsewhere.)

    1 déc. 2008, 22h38m
  • masto65

    Interesting stuff gentlemen. Well done. It has given me a bunch of stuff I am not familiar with to sink my teeth into and I thank you for that. I will try and add to the list rather than duplicate some of the excellent choices here. 1. 30 Seconds Over Tokyo a little slice of American punk weirdness from Cleavland circa 78. 2. Senecao one of those bands you either love or hate it seems. personally I fall on the love side. This track has got all the cool things I like about Tortoise. Groovy back beat drumming and mixed synth and guitar ambient riffing. 3. A father wants A song I am sure none of you have heard. SoCal cowpunk legends tear it up in this epic piece. Greg Davis is one of the best guitar players I have ever seen live. This has all his signature bits. Cruchy riff, classical guitar melody, and gut punch country slide thrash flailing. Shoot me a shout and I will make sure any intrested parties will have the tunes to check out since I know lastFM doesn't have a lot of them to stream. 4. Angel Solid tune. Menacing. Love the way it builds. 5. Celluloid Heroes I love Davies lyrics and this is no exception. 6. Propellor One of those bands that time forgot. I still listen to these old Severed Heads albums and enjoy the hell out of them.Amazingly unheard of especially in the US and it's a shame because the stuff is great fun. For fans of synth and electronica for back in the day when they actually used tape loops. 7. For Your Life Okay not what you would expect coming from someone who listed the other tracks here but I really like the stuff on this album. It's way cooler than their classic stuff in my mind and not as F'ed out. 8. Hope Against Hope A tasty track from as always a unsung American Underground band from the late 80's. 9. India Post punk in the first generation before they got all John Hughes on us. 10. Isopropanol You either like this kind of stuff or don't but classic Aphex Twin is the benchmark for most electronica. Well I hope I added a little something to the list. I will have to know focus my attention on some of the times I missed. Masto.

    2 déc. 2008, 9h06m
  • rockrobster23

    Masto, thanks for the contribution. I have only one Band of Susans track, an excellent cover of "1,000,000" from an otherwise spotty R.E.M. tribute, and am curious to learn more, as I do like their sound. As for Blood on the Saddle, don't be so sure! I used to have one of their albums on vinyl, and in fact I'm pretty sure I saw them live sometime back in the beer-soaked 80s. And now that you mention it, I kinda miss that album, and wonder if I would still like it. I imagine so, since I'm much more into country-inflected music now than I was 20 years ago.

    2 déc. 2008, 9h34m
  • Auto_Da_Fe

    Indeed - more interesting stuff. If my 30 Seconds Over Tokyo were 1 second shorter, it'd've been my number one too. (And Blood on the Saddle - I was working with the label when they put out their first album. Haven't listened for years though, better dig it out!)

    2 déc. 2008, 17h43m
  • masto65

    Done and done. I will drop you an email. On a different note. I hate that you cannot edit your posts. I would like to fix a couple of my typos. Worse is the song link at no. 2. That should be Seneca by Tortoise. Could you please fix that so everyone will know what the hell that is supposed to be. I would appreciate it. Masto

    2 déc. 2008, 18h36m
  • rockrobster23

    I can't edit the comments, I can only delete them. Pere Ubu is a band that has resisted me a bit, although I haven't tried that hard either. Saw them open for the Pixies circa '92, which was a hoot.

    2 déc. 2008, 19h17m
  • masto65

    Damn, that figures. You think you would be able to edit your own journal. So what your saying is I need to be more careful when posting. Pere Ubu is an acquired taste no doubt but the 70's stuff I find the most accessible and most enjoyable. Hey Auto (why are we not friends you have excellent taste) are you referring to the self titled New Alliance release? I have the first 3 releases then bits and pieces. The above song is from "More Blood" which I believe was a European release only. When I get home tonight I will post a link. As far as the goodies I was going to share with robster I guess I can share with you also. At 2:15 go to my website and poke around I am sure you guys will find something for your trouble. Masto.

    2 déc. 2008, 21h05m
  • masto65

    I agree with robster. not being familiar with Alternative TV I checked the song Auto listed. It is tremendous. His voice reminds me of the Subhumans. Masto.

    2 déc. 2008, 22h25m
  • jcshepard

    Floyd's MONEY I can still hear those darn cash registers anytime I even think about the Moon. I would not have connected Gillian with your others.... however, she just fits. I close my eyes, and I can see psychedilic kaleidoscopes cascading through. And I've seen some say the song's overdone these days, but I do like Dwight's take on John Prine's Paradise off Dwight's Used Records (6:24). Mr. Peabody's coal train done hauled it away...

    2 déc. 2008, 23h22m
  • rockrobster23

    Listening to Blood on the Saddle again, I can't help making the comparison to X, a comparison which is not kind to BotS: X has the far superior rhythm section, better songs, etc. Then again, I can't think of many bands that would come off well in that comparison, as in my universe X is one of the handful of the finest rock bands of any time, not just the punk era. Taken on its own merits, without the ruinous comparison, it holds its own. The cowpunk scene in the 80s was a lot of fun. JC, I have been arguing for a while that the adjective "psychedelic" has a lot more to do with what happens between one's ears than it does with any formal qualities of the music itself--so, yeah, "Revelator" is pretty intensely psychedelic to me, as is loads of stuff that is not ordinarily categorized as such. Maybe I need to flesh out that discussion...maybe coming to a future journal.

    3 déc. 2008, 7h26m
  • rockrobster23

    2:54 is next.

    3 déc. 2008, 7h50m
  • thisisall1word

    The Burial samples on his first LP were not only vinyl crackle but also rain and fire - so the rain you heard might have been, well, rain! Not sure about cyberpunk cityscape but the sounds are just like 3am in South London, November, its raining, you're waiting for a night bus, headphone on, hood up, there are clubs playing great music that you can hear from three streets away and the clatter of the overhead night trains as their horns echo into the night. I love Burial, me. Good choice and good list!

    25 mars 2009, 23h48m
  • rockrobster23

    I love your description; that the sounds are descriptive of an actually existing reality is a titillating notion, as I'd always thought of them in a science fiction milieu. Then again, maybe South London at 3 am is kind of an actually existing science fiction landscape/soundscape.

    26 mars 2009, 4h00m
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