A Twitter conversation with the inestimable @BearNecessitude underlined to me that even fans of an artist may not always see eye-to-eye over the virtues of a particular album. We both agreed Steve Hackett’s “Please Don’t Touch” was splendid, and then totally failed to agree that its successor “Spectral Mornings” was possibly even better (my view).
Since there’s nothing so gratifying – nor, indeed, so wasting of time – as a jolly good debate over music, I have chosen 15 albums that have seen heavy rotation on my playlists past and present, with a brief attempt to explain why. It’s not my Top 15 – dear me, no! THAT would be a time-consuming debate – but I’ll be interested to see what you all think of my choices. (Bear, that probably means just you, mate.)
1. The Snow Goose
You can almost smell the marshland as this classic 1970s instrumental album unfolds in a grand, but not pompous, prog-fest. I first heard this played in our sixth-form common room and was transfixed. It’s quintessentially English, and I recommend it to anyone unfazed by the concept of electric guitars living happily alongside oboes and bassoons…
2. The Earth Is Not a Cold Dark Place
Explosions in the Sky
Music that swoops and swoons, chiming guitars, moody percussion; no lyrics — the music speaks for itself. If you haven’t heard this band yet, this is a good introductory album. Tell them Limey sent you.
I guess I could have picked pretty much any Dan album – ever-brilliant lyrics, oblique cynical humour, musicianship of the highest order guaranteed – but Aja contains the wondrous Deacon Blues and Josie. ‘Nuff said.
4. With The Beatles
This takes me straight back to childhood. I had the original Parlophone album in Mono and would play it incessantly. Roughly split between covers and originals it’s just classic early Moptop…as witnessed by the album cover. I’m not saying it was better than their later stuff, but it totally blew me away at the age of five and can still make me smile like a loon forty-five years later.
5. Wasp Star
It’s been said many, many times, but if any group should have inherited the Beatles’ mantle it is XTC. They are still woefully under-rated, but to see what all the fuss is about get this, and its companion piece Apple Venus, and marvel at songs like Stupidly Happy and The Man Who Murdered Love. Rich, layered, packed with fun and whimsy – Andy Partridge gets my vote for Godlike Rock Genius, even if he does hail from Swindon.
6. Sounds of the New West
Various Artists: Uncut Magazine
A strange thing happened to me on the way to fifty: suddenly alt.country began to challenge my oft-repeated assertion that I would rather bury my head in a wheelbarrow full of horseshit than voluntarily listen to a Country record. These days I have to admit that the twangs of a steel guitar aren’t necessarily going to consign me to the Seventh Circle of Hell. This album, free with Uncut magazine about ten years ago, is mostly responsible for my change of heart. It single-handedly introduced me to artists such as Josh Rouse, Neil Casal, Lambchop, Willard Grant Conspiracy and The Handsome Family, who now make up a goodish proportion of my record collection. There’s not a duff track on the album; if you can beg, steal or borrow a copy, I heartily recommend it.
7. The Seldom Seen Kid
For me, getting into Elbow was something of a slow burn; I could appreciate their potential in early work like Asleep At The Back, but it didn’t quite gel. And then along came this album and suddenly everything fell into place. Delicate, mesmerising, majestic, capable of moments of sheer perfection, I can now see why Elbow should not be hurried. They are a band to lay back and wallow in.
8. Moroccan Roll
Yes, it’s Prog Jazz. And Phil Collins is on drums and vocals. I suspect many of you are even now heading for the toilet, but give this a chance and I truly hope you’ll change your minds. Come on…what can you lose? Your eternal soul is already damned for liking Face Value when it first came out.
9. Listen Now
Phil Manzanera & 801
What do you mean you never heard of it? Okay, so it’s obscure and it’s from 1977, but if you wanted to hear what the bastard lovechild of Roxy Music, 10cc and Crowded House might sound like then: hey presto! Manzanera, Eno, Godley, Creme and Tim Finn are all here. Great songs with an undercurrent of paranoia running right through the album. Not exactly party music, I grant you, but parties are over-rated anyway.
10. Rockin’ The Suburbs
Were it not already occupied by Andy Partridge, Ben Folds would be a shoe-in for the role of Godlike Rock Genius. I’m in thrall to all the Ben Folds Five albums, and his solo stuff is equally good. Zak and Sara, Fred Jones Part Two, Carrying Kathy and Not the Same are highlights, but that’s a bit like saying The Himalayas are a tad taller than the Rockies. It’s all good…better still, there’s a rumour on the street that the Five may be together again.
11. Sir Henry at Rawlinson End
So it’s mostly spoken and only occasionally punctuated by admittedly eccentric music, but this is one that would make it into any putative top fifteen of my favourite records ever. Stanshall takes the English language and effortlessly makes it do his bidding. If you are not reduced to quivering piles of helpless, mirth-ridden jelly by this then I will eat my extensive collection of deerstalkers.
12. Sheet Music
In my humble opinion this album was the best thing they ever produced. Firing on all cylinders, ideas sprouting like Medusan heads from every conceivable angle, the ability to weave together musical genres and make them seem as if they had always belonged together – they have all of that, plus an uncanny prescience: Old Wild Men in which they wonder what will happen to old rock stars when a pensionable age is reached, and Oh Effendi, a gleeful nod to Middle Eastern/American relations, containing the priceless line: “Your guerillas are urban and there’s bourbon on your turban and the sun shines out of your ass”.
13. Joe’s Garage Acts I, II and III
Wickedly subversive; way, way ahead of his time; completely bonkers. I know Frank’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and this may not be every Zappa fan’s favourite album, but it is an unholy mish-mash that still somehow holds together and rewards every listen in new ways. Hear where Flight of the Conchords and Godley and Creme (consciously or otherwise) got inspiration for some of their stuff.
14. Great Day For Gravity
This was criminally overlooked when it came out. Tom Driver and The Dumbest Story Ever Told would grace any gritty guitar rock album, and the fact is they’re not the only tracks that would; it’s a fine album. When you discover that the driving force behind it is Gary Clark (of Danny Wilson fame) everything suddenly becomes clear. Go find it and enjoy yourselves!
15. Selling England By The Pound
It was only a question of which album. I thought long and hard and in the end I stuck a pin in my iPod. Classic Peter Gabriel-era Genesis and if you don’t like it already nothing I can say here will probably change your mind. Stand out tracks: Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, Cinema Show and The Battle of Epping Forest. Glorious!