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.

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.

Look Ahead: Joe Meek, I Hear a New World

A profound influence on artists as diverse as Steven Stapleton and Saint Etienne, Joe Meek’s magnum opus was destined to languish in obscurity for several decades. Aside from a couple of highly collectable EPs of the material, and a few white label copies, it didn’t get an official release in Meek’s lifetime. Having developed an obsession with transmundane sounds when working as a radar operator during his National Service, Meek had his passion further inflamed by the Russian and American satellite programmes Consequently, he resolved to create a record which would explore life on the Moon. Aware that this was going to be “a strange record”, Meek brought his entire gamut of unorthodox recording techniques to the fore. Speeded-up tapes, rattling washers, combs dragged across ashtrays, etc, were thrown into the mix, along with the clavioline and all manner of home-built effects. The results are at times an adumbration of techniques used in later electronic music; at other times the record is undeniably quirky with its risible speeded-up voices. But undoubtedly, it was a significant work, suffused with exquisitely simple melodies and genuinely strange intros that still sound way ahead of their time.