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.

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

Look Ahead: William S Burroughs, Call Me Burroughs
(ESP-Disk 1965)

One man, one voice, one microphone. It sure don’t come much better than this: Uncle Bill alone in the studio, reading extracts from The Naked Lunch and Nova Express with the libidinous detachment of a research scientist in a toxicology lab. The sound of a man who loves his work. Routines include “The, Complete All-American De-Anxietized Man”, “The Buyer” and the crazed ramblings of the Death Dwarf going on the nod in Nova Police custody (“My power’s coming! My power’s coming!”). Not since the Raven first croaked “Nevermore” have things sounded this grim. What makes these recordings unique, however, is the way Burroughs tackles some of the more abstract of his cut-up sequences, his sepulchral drawl imbuing their fractured syntax with a distant, mournful poetry that has never been equaled. Call Me Burroughs demonstrates just how powerful a listening experience text can be. One of the hundred records you should hear before you die. Just before you die, in fact. KH