100 Records That Set the World on Fire (While No One Was Listening)

Every week, we’ll be looking at 1 or two records from The Wire’s “100 Records That Set the World On Fire (While No One Was Listening)” list, originally published in the The Wire 175 (September 1998). You can find the list we’re working from in several places: A Discogs List, and a Rate Your Music List. Both the Discogs List and the Rate Your Music list also have an additional 30 Records that the Wire published later. You’ll also notice that the original lists are in alphabetical order. The Rate Your Music list is in chronological. I think it’s far more interesting to do it chronologically, so that’s how we’re going to do it. The text below the pieces are from the Wire writers. Please listen and comment on reactions.

Louis & Bebe Barron. Forbidden Planet (1956)

By the time MGM got around to asking Louis and Bebe Barron to compose an electronic soundtrack for their prestige sci-fi presentation, Forbidden Planet, the husband and wife team had already worked with John Cage, Anais Nin, Aldous Huxley and Maya Deren. Mimicking Norbert Weiner’s experiments involving negative and positive feedback in stressed animals, the Barrons had learned to make electrical circuits literally ‘shriek’, reprocessing the results through careful tape manipulation into extremely rich and varied electroacoustic soundscapes. Having supplied not only the film’s music but its alien sound effects as will, the Barrons had to abide by the studio’s decision to list their contribution as ‘electronic tonalities’ in the credits out of fear that the Musicians’ Union might sue. This unfortunate trivializing of their pioneering work might explain why the Forbidden Planet album became such a relatively rare and neglected item. Harsh, metallic, and cavernous, the future never sounded this good again. 

Look Ahead: Esquivel and his Orchestra: Other Worlds, Other Sounds

In January 1958, Juan Garcia Esquivel drove from Mexico City to Hollywood, California, at RCA Victor’s invitation, to record an album that would feature American musicians playing some of his startling ‘Sonorama’ arrangements in stereo for the first time. The result, the company decided, was to be a gentle little affair entitled Beguine For Beginners. Esquivel thought otherwise. Claiming that all his sheet music had been stolen, he suggested they tackle “Granada” instead. The producer had a fit. The ensuing session, however, included reworkings of Cole Porter, Sammy Kahn and Kurt Weill of such stark exuberance and scintillating orchestral muscle that, 40 years on, they still have the power to amaze Esquivel’s passion for drawing new sounds from conventional instruments shines through in the taut dynamics of Other Worlds Other Sounds, a tribute to the arranger as an unacknowledged force in 20th century music.