In Thatcherland you immediately notice a level of public discourse altogether different from our own. Despite the UK’s lack of a Bill of Rights, the place has generated an intensity, a shamelessness, a sense of absolute stakes, that in the U.S. is muffled by calculation and strategy, by the realization that the American people are now an audience, not a polity: by the belief that Americans can now be addressed only through the sort of discourse that measures which sitcoms will stay on the air and which will get dumped. So it’s a shock to pick up this Scottish culture magazine and read what Gray, a TV personality students recently elected rector, i.e., official spokesperson, of Edinburgh University, has to say. “If I could advise the Scottish people to do anything, I’d advise them to get down to the plant where the Sun is printed and firebomb it. Seriously, if I had to have any terrorism in this country I would aim it at Murdoch. I’d like to see journalistic terrorism where they’d just keep setting fire to his newspaper-printing plants, all over the country, all the time.”
2. Primitives, “Crash” (RCA)
A review of the band’s album compared it favorably to a Peanut Butter Conspiracy LP—any one of which is a good bet for the worst psychedelic LP of the ’60s—and that’s what the Primitives Lovely is like, But their single, just now getting U.S. airplay after a few months floating around the margins, is the single of the year, guaranteed to sound as loud in 2005 as it would have in 1966.
3. Brian Wilson, “Goodnight, Irene,” from Folkways: A Vision Shared—A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly (Columbia)
Irene becomes a California girl. This is what post-postmodernist critics would call “the music of transgression,” if they could understand you can transgress to the right as well as to the left.4. Book of Love, “Lullaby,” from Lullaby (Sire)
A tune to dream to—too good for sleep.
5. John Mellencamp, “Rave On,” from Cocktail (Elektra soundtrack)
A lot of Mellencamp falls between the tracks: acoustic B-sides, his grandmother warbling on Scarecrow, the heavenly “Colored Lights” he wrote and produced for the Blasters, and now this straight shot at Buddy Holly on an album filled up by hip, lousy artists.
6. Philip Roth, The Facts (Farrar Straus)
There was more rock ‘n’ roll in Lyndon Johnson than in Bobby Kennedy; in this autobiography Roth, who in 1962 fashioned perhaps the most perfect integration of a rock song (“Earth Angel”) into fiction (Letting Go) names Johnson the muse behind Portnoy’s Complaint. As a book, The Facts is trivial; this claim is not.
7. Aroma Disc (Romance Division of Environmental Fragrance Technologies Ltd., N.Y., N.Y. 10019)
Lester Bangs once predicted rock would someday be no more than room spray; he couldn’t have imagined records playing (on your special Aroma Disc Player) “Oriental Mystery,” “Seduction,” “Gourmet,” “Candlelight Dinner,” and “After Dinner Mint.” But this isn’t rock. Where’s “Baby Let Me Bang Your Box,” “Burn On,” “Incense and Peppermints,” “Hair Pie: Bake l,” or “Cold Sweat”? Not that it would make any difference.
8. Joe Strummer, “The Return of Smokin’ Joe,” interview by Matthew Colin in Cut (July)
“I wish we hadn’t taken it so seriously… It said, ‘Let’s sweep away everything and start again,’ but after a few years when all the old buzzards came back, it obviously hadn’t swept away anything. It was a hiccup rather than a complete change.” “Didn’t you realise that was inevitable all along,” says the recuperative voice of the interviewer. “Well, I should have. I’d seen all that before when I was taking my 0 levels, all that Vietnam protest stuff and Paris raging in ’68… then again, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten into it without being so completely fanatical.” The key word here is not “fanatical,” it’s “we.”
9. Pat Benatar, “All Fired Up” (Chrysalis)
In the sound and feel the record’s reaching for, it’s a lot like Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power,” and there’s nothing to that record but its reach. But “All Fired Up” is twice as convincing, many times more exciting, and Benatar hasn’t had a hit for years. How come no one’s raving about her comeback?
10. Albert Goldman, The Lives of John Lennon (Morrow)
Imagine it’s all true; a lot of it is. Then connect the music to the truth. There you have a paradox, which the author doesn’t want you to solve.’
Village Voice, August 1988