If you’re on Facebook – and the chances are good that you are – then you may well have seen the latest “challenge” doing the rounds. Slightly less damp than the ice bucket challenge, this one asks you to list 10 favourite albums.
“What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list, even if only now and then. Post the cover, no need to explain and nominate a person each day to do the same.”
Each day you just post an image showing the album cover in full and nominate a friend to do the same (I’ll be honest, I stopped nominating after three days; if people wanted to do it, my theory was they would do it without being shamed into the act).
Anyway… it’s a simple enough task. You’d think so anyway.
I, frankly, have struggled every day to whittle down all the possibilities that have come into my head. The list would probably change tomorrow.
And I wanted to explain, just a little, my reasons for choosing each album. And maybe introduce you to something new?
So… in no particular order.
Phil Collins “Face Value” (1981) Think you know what a Phil Collins album sounds like? Delta blues. African drumming. The horn section from Earth, Wind and Fire. Indian violins.
Whilst “Face Value” definitely wears its heart upon its sleeve – written, as it was, after the break-up of his first marriage – it’s not the middle of the road rock n pop that would become his hallmark in the years to come.
New Order “Substance 1987” (1987) Ok, so it’s a greatest hits album. But I don’t care. “Substance” collects every New Order 12″ from “Ceremony” (a Joy Division song, though JD never released it) through to a new track called “True Faith” that did rather well when it was released as a trailer for this collection.
These weren’t extended versions, the 12″ version was usually the original recording of the song; it was the 7″ versions which were adapted. “Substance” defined what it was to be an indie rock band with electronic leanings in the 80s.
Air “Moon Safari” (1998) No, I can’t believe this is 20 years old either. It could so easily have turned into muzak but remains the right side of credible with melodies and atmospheres that wash over you, lift you up and spin you round. Electronica with soul, and a Gallic twist.
Massive Attack “Mezzanine” (1998) Whereas the first two MA albums had been trippy and laidback, “Mezzanine” was dark and angry. It starts off as it means to go on, with the bass throb of “Angel” just getting louder and angrier with every verse. A rare moment of light is “Teardrop” with the etheral Liz Frazer (of Cocteau Twins, singing in English, which was unusual for her at the time) warbling of ‘love’, ‘verbs’ and ‘black flowers’. Actually, moment of light is a relative term in the context of this album.
The The “Infected” (1986) If there’s a sexier opening line than this, I’ve yet to hear it: “I followed that bead of sweat, to the small of your back, from the nape of your neck. Lightin’ it up, with every drag upon my cigarette…” Ok, it swiftly descends into a happy-go-lucky tune about misogyny, (subtle) racism and objectification but “Slow Train to Dawn” on this album is still a great song.
“Infected”‘s dystopian overtones were reinforced by the accompanying film – essentially a video for every track on the album – which I have vivid memories of being equal parts bewildered, excited and entranced by when Channel 4 showed it during my teenage years.
And any album which features “Heartland” whose lyrics still ring true 32 years later deserves a place in any list like this.
Public Enemy “Fear of a Black Planet” (1990) I’m not sure I got rap when I was younger. But I also didn’t get The Smiths either, so I won’t beat myself up about it. Maybe the years of listening to predominantly guitar-based rock in my teenage years meant that I didn’t have the vocabulary to understand it. I got there eventually, that’s the important bit.
“Fear of a Black Planet” is much more than a collection of songs, it’s a manifesto about empowerment backed by an aural compilation of samples, soundbites, instruments and sound effects. But mainly samples.
James Brown, Malcolm McLaren, Roy Ayers, Soup Dragons, The Average White Band, The Beatles… there wasn’t anybody production team The Bomb Squad wouldn’t “borrow” from. And what a fabulous result.
Mylo “Destory rock & roll” (2004) When the sun’s out: my shades are on my nose and Mylo’s on the stereo. It’s one of my rules for life. A simply glorious album that can’t fail to lift even the dullest of spirits.
Prefab Sprout “Steve McQueen” (1985) Just sublime. Whilst the production values may sound dated to modern ears, the tunes are timeless. Singer, songwriter and the only de-facto member of the band remaining today, Paddy McAloon may not be a genius – but he’s bloody close. His ability to combine lush chords with acerbic lyrics means that the underlying tone of the songs can sometimes be missed. “…hear you got a new girlfriend, how’s the wife taking it?”
For American viewers, I haven’t got the title of the album wrong; they were forced to change it in the US, by the estate of a deceased movie star, to “Two Wheels Good”. Which isn’t quite as iconic.
The Chemical Brothers “Exit Planet Dust” (1995) When you receive thanks in the liner notes of the debut albums by Fatboy Slim (“Better living through chemistry”) and Daft Punk (“Homework”), you’re probably doing something right.
I’m sure others will disagree but, to me, this album doesn’t sound 23 years old. It’s fresh, it’s powerful, it created ‘big beat’ dance music, it features Tim Burgess (of The Charlatans) and Beth Orton. Whether it’s driving along with the roof down or doing the washing up, “Exit Planet Dust” pushes you along and makes you want to throw your hands in the air (like you just don’t care).
The Postal Service “Give Up” (2003) A strange little thing this. It’s their only album (excluding the 10th anniversary edition which added some extra tracks) and, despite both members being active musicians, it probably always will be. And I think I’m ok with that.
Ben Gibbard (singer and songwriter with Death Cab for Cutie) and Jimmy Tamborello (electronic musician, using the name Dntel) became friends when Gibbard recorded vocals for a Dntel track. So they decided to make an album together.
This being the early 2000s, the best way of exchanging ideas was on CD-R’s sent through – are you there yet? – the US Postal Service. Maybe it’s the New Order fan in me but I loved this album the first time I heard it. I’ve always had a soft spot for electronic indie music I suppose. High spot: “Such great heights“. Listen to it now, you will thank me.
The Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” (1966) It’s got “God only knows” on. What more do you need to know?
The Beatles “Revolver” (1966) This is where the studio become a proper tool for The Beatles – not just a glorified tape recorder – and George Martin moved from being a producer to a facilitator, helping to make the sounds in the band’s heads possible.
From “Taxman” to “Tomorrow Never Knows”, each track is different to the last. Moving from protest song (“Taxman”), to the dreamy “I’m only sleeping”, to the Indian musicians on “Love you to” and the bar room swagger of “Doctor Robert”, it’s an album that sounds like the work of a band having internal discussions about their musical style. And it’s a masterpiece.
Except for “Eleanor Rigby”, I’ve never liked that song. I always skip it.
Radiohead “OK Computer” (1997) I didn’t want to put “OK Computer” on this list. I didn’t want to be ‘that guy’: the 40-something who sticks in Radiohead because it’s expected. But it truly is a glorious album. Depressing as hell true. But, you know, I like The Smiths, so I’m used to that.
It’s the bridging album; between the indie rock of their first two and the experimentation that was to follow. And the hybrid nature is probably what makes it fascinating to listen to.
And if you’d ever told me that a six minute song, titled after a character from “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, structured in four distinct sections and without a chorus would become the indie hit of ’97 I’d have laughed in your face. And then apologised for my error. And rudeness.
And if you’re counting. There were 13 in that list. I couldn’t whittle it down any further. So sue me.
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