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.

The Blue Men, I Hear a New World (RGM White Label 1960, Reissued RPM 1991)

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.

Look Ahead: Joe Harriott, Abstract (Columbia UK/Capitol US 1961)

When conjuring up the name of the UK’s greatest jazz musician, all of whose records are out of print, the temptation is to list every one of them. And truth be told, almost anyone of them would qualify for this list: the two with double quartet of Indian and jazz musicians (Indo Jazz Suite and Indo Jazz Fusions, both 1966), and the 1954 records with Buddy Pipp’s Highlifers, would put him on the WoridMusic list; then there are the poetry and jazz record with Michael Garrick; the Afro-Cuban recordingswith Kenny Graham; his Dixieland work with Chris Barber; blues recordings with Sonny Boy Williamson and Jimmy Page… But his heritage will probably rest with Free Form, Movement and Abstract, all three of which have been compared to the best of Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman. In fact, with Abstract, the effect is that of Coleman playing with a group with the cohesion and compositional unity of Mingus. Except that – dare I say it? – Harriott was a more passionate alto saxophonist than Coleman, and the compositional feel of the Harriott quartet evades the cliches which Mingus often relished. If Harriott’s records are ever reissued, or better yet boxed together, the UK’s stock in the history of jazz will go through the roof!