Eighteen unreleased performances, 1968-84, some demos, mostly live, better than the recent Sandy Denny box, and more playable than Thompson’s own retrospective (guitar, vocal). The pairing of an ’82 duet with then-wife Linda Thompson on “I’ll Keep It with Mine” and an ’84 “Calvary Cross” (fingering his guitar, Thompson seems to be fingering the timber, wondering what it would be like to be up there) shows how far this modest piece of tape can take the gnostic story Thompson has been telling for almost 20 years; the immodest price includes a four-issue subscription to Flypaper, the newsletter of the Richard Thompson fan club.
2. Stan Ridgway, The Big Heat (I.R.S.)
How to talk American—and not get caught. Whether or not Jim Thompson could have written these songs, his characters lived them out.
3. Coin-operated Photo Booth, circa 1933
The first published photograph of Robert Jonson (Rolling Stone, 13 February 1986). Born in 1911, this titanic singer and guitarist at once summed up and exploded the Delta blues tradition when he recorded in 1936 and ’37; be was killed in 1938. After that he became a legend, a ghost story, and was subsumed into the tradition; in the 1960s he exploded out of it. In the early 1970s, blues archivist Steve LaVere tracked down the facts of his life, and his leavings, amongst which were three photographs, prizes sought for decades, the Grail of the blues. The two that remain unpublished are formal studio portraits: here, prehensile fingers snake over the neck of Johnson’s guitar like hoodoo bone charms. You’ve got to see it.4. PiL, “Single (Rise)” (Elektra)
Inside the rant (“anger is an energy,” etc.) is a pause; John Lydon pulls back, thinks it over, almost croons to himself: “I may be wrong, I may be right.” The tune is supposedly about the struggle against apartheid, but it segues as perfectly into “Pretty Vacant” as it does out of black South African Sipho Mabuse’s “Burn Out.”
5. Luc Besson, director, Subway (Island Films)
Punk flees blown blackmail plot into the Paris metro, and, having nothing better to do, decides to manage a really underground band.
6. Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (Houghton Mifflin)
Not long into the future, when what was once the U.S.A. has become the Republic of Gilead, a theocracy that has replaced the Constitution with the Bible, a slave sings forbidden music to herself: “I feel so lonely, baby/I feel so lonely, baby/I feel so lonely, I could die.” She doesn’t know where it came from.7. Electric Light Orchestra, “Calling America” (CBS)
Amazing how these portly gentlemen can still sound like addled teenagers, especially on an answer record to a 24year-old hit. In 1962 the Tornadoes’ “Telstar,” commemorating the first communications satellite, became the first U.K. rock ‘n’ roll record to top the U.S. charts; now, the sci-fi “Telstar” sound still hanging in the background, Jeff Lynne finds his call suspended 20,000 miles up in space and he can’t get it down. NASA is working on the problem.8. Firesign Theater, Eat or Be Eaten (Mercury)
Probably written a few years ago—the premise is video games—but if the only true exemplars of multi-track dada comedy have to spend the next decade catching up with themselves, everyone else will still be behind.9. Doug Hill and left Weingrad, Saturday Night—A Backstage History of ‘Saturday Night Live’ (Beech Tree/William Morrow)
A fine story, cleanly told, though the authors have no idea how good Laraine Newman was, or that her nose job represents a greater tragedy than John Belushi’s death.
10. Sam Cooke, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” from A Man and His Music (RCA reissue, 1956-65)
When this performance was released as a posthumous single in 1965, a verse about the racism the 1964 Civil Rights Act was meant to abolish was omitted; you could only find it on the LP version, which you couldn’t find. History has finally been corrected—though, given that a man who fought against that law is now responsible for enforcing it history may be beside the point. Maybe RCA should have retitled the song “A Change Was Gonna Come.”
Village Voice, March 18, 1986