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.

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!

Look Ahead: Son House, The Original Delta Blues
(Columbia/Legacy 1964)

Son House tells us he “woke up this mornin'”, but in every other way this is a blues session out of the ordinary. He receives a “Death Letter” and goes to see his sweetheart’s body laid out. Bravura unaccompanied vocals warn of those who “grin in your face”, and foretell the end of the world in “John the Revelator”. “Preachin’ Blues” mixes sacred and profane, while “Pearline” showcases House’s extraordinary bottleneck guitar-playing. Many tracks rework his classic 30s recordings, which influenced Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and through them the history of post-war popular music. Like many bluesmen, he was rediscovered in 1965 after decades of obscurity, but unusually, got a session for a major label, through Columbia’s David Hammond. Then in his 60s, House summoned up his old power and an even greater intensity for some of the most haunting and anguished blues on record. The session has been reissued under various titles, including Death Letter. AH