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.

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

Steve Reich, Early Works. “Come Out” ; “It’s Gonna Rain” ; etc (Elektra Nonesuch 1965)

In 1965 in San Francisco, partly inspired by the phase experiments of Terry Riley’s In C, Steve Reich was playing around with two identical tape loops he had recorded of a black Pentecostal preacher. Letting the loops go slightly out of phase, he became mesmerized by the complex sub-rhythms set up by the interference, the voice morphing into a pulsing Minimalist music. It’s Gonna Rain lifts those three words out of the sermon, turning them into a rhythm -a flickering repeat that shears into depersonalized cyber tones. In a longer sequence, about people beseeching Noah to let them into the ark, the tape subdivides into eight loops of garbled counterpoint. In 1966 he pushed the voice of Daniel Hamm, arrested in the Harlem riots of 1964, even further towards a morass of hypnotic vibrations around the phrase “Come out to show them”. A Techno prophecy. MF