Sure, there are many ways the King Crimson single “Elephant Talk” lives on, but perhaps its most unique legacy is lending its name to a groundbreaking web-based fan site. Well before most were adept at relating addresses with a well placed @, King Crimson fan Toby Howard started a newsletter meant to be distributed via email. Dubbed “Elephant Talk,” the first issue was distributed in the summer of 1991. That eventually led to a website of the same name, which further evolved into a wiki-style platform years later, after some twelve hundred plus issues over fifteen years, all still available online for intrepid explorers. As the lead track on the 1981 album Discipline, “Elephant Talk” represented the reintroduction of King Crimson after a multi-year layoff. Initially, Discipline was the name guitarist Robert Fripp intended to give to a new band he was pulling together. After a few gigs as Discipline, he relented to his own legacy, choosing to continue under the King Crimson moniker. One of the new members of the band was guitarist Adrian Belew, fresh off a tour with the Talking Heads. Also charged with lead vocal duties, Belew settled in as the group’s lyricist as well, initially opting for a highly democratic approach. It was in the composition of “Elephant Talk” that he realized that sort of creative generosity may not be the best route. He explained, “One day, when I was formulating this thought about putting together just singular words for ‘Elephant Talk,’ I went to the other guys in the band and I said, ‘You got any favorite words you want to throw in here?’ Robert was saying, like, ‘inalgedenomic’ and all these crazy words that I really couldn’t imagine myself singing. So after that we agreed: yeah, if I want to sing, I should sing what I feel like singing.” Like most King Crimson songs, “Elephant Talk” didn’t have any discernible success on the commercial charts, but the band did play it live on the Saturday Night Live knockoff Fridays.
Most people agree that “The Killing Moon” is the best song by Echo & the Bunnymen. Ian McCulloch, the band’s lead singer can be counted among that number. In fact, from the jump he was immodest about telling anyone who’d listen that it was one of the great songs of all time. In an 1987 interview he boasted, “I still think ‘The Killing Moon’ is worth a whole album. Even now, nobody has released anything like that. And it was so easy to write. I can’t believe people can’t write like that. Actually, I can. I think it’s the best song by a group since the sixties. The best ballad, at least.” The lead single from the band’s 1984 album, Ocean Rain, the song supposedly came to McCulloch in his sleep. He reported awoke with the song’s key lyrics (“Fate up against your will/ Through the thick and thin/ He will wait until/ You give yourself to him”) fully formed. The lyrics allude to humanity’s helplessness in the face of higher powers, with McCulloch sometimes coyly noting that they could be referencing either God or the Devil, depending on one’s predilections. More specifically, the song is about the notion of lives being entirely predetermined. By some measures, “The Killing Moon” was the band’s most commercially successful single, their second to make it into the U.K. Top 10.
Rumors persist that “When I Dream” was written about Courtney Love, even though timetables suggest it is somewhere between unlikely and impossible. The future Hole frontwoman did indeed log some time in the household of Julian Cope while he was presiding over the band the Teardrop Explodes. She later termed herself as something of a mascot to the band, while Cope dismissively referred to her in his autobiography as merely “the adolescent.” Cope himself repeatedly denied Love to be a muse, and specifically took aim at her in a 1992 print ad, which read in part, “Free us from Nancy Spungen fixated heroin a-holes who cling to our greatest rock groups and suck out their brains.” There wasn’t really a need for Love’s unique talent at stirring up drama, anyway. Cope was quite capable of that on his own. Just a couple years into the existence of the Teardrop Explodes (its name drawn from typically florid prose found in the panel of a Marvel comic book), Cope had already orchestrated acrimonious personnel changes and started the long, steady progress of alienating others in the Liverpool music community. At least the band was on the upswing in terms of commercial success. Released as a single from the band’s debut album, Kilimanjaro, “When I Dream” was the first single from the Teardrop Explodes to find a place, albeit a modest one, on the U.K. charts.
As we go along, I’ll build a YouTube playlist of all the songs in the countdown. The hyperlinks associated with each numeric entry lead directly to the individual song on the playlist. All images nicked from Discogs.