These are the albums that had the biggest or longest lasting impact on me, not necessarily my favourite, not necessarily the best, nor even the most evocative of a time (that’s another list for another time). I struggled to get this under 30, let alone 15. Many of my favourite bands and artists are absent (Clash, Jam, Kinks) because I couldn’t pin them down to one album that ‘did it’. No glam rock, cos that was all about singles not albums, and no Medway music, as that was more about the live experience than the records. Nothing after 1995. I think the capacity for music to profoundly change your life diminishes with age, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. No apologies for including compilations. Those were the actual albums that did the business for me. You may also notice that this almost entirely white men with guitars. I have no explanation for that other than that I am one myself. It's not that I don't have a love and respect for techno, jazz, hip-hop and electronica but.......
1. The Marmalade – Best of The Marmalade
This was the first album I ever owned, when I was 4 or 5. It got forgotten quite soon, once Slade and the like came along, but I always came back to it and gave it a spin every so often. I still love the best tracks on here (but yes there are a couple of duffers) and they stand up next to any well-crafted pop of this or any other period.
2. The Beatles – 1962-66 (Red album)
I always have trouble picking the best Beatles album but this one was the first one I ever owned - in cassette format, at the age of 9 or 10. Although I loved the glam rock that was around at the time it was, in musical terms, mainly blues/rock based but I was always very excited by everything about The Beatles, by the unashamed pop melodies and harmonies of their early stuff that had virtually disappeared from music in the early 70s. ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand and ‘She Loves You’ still sound to me like the most thrilling music ever made.
3. Beach Boys - 20 Golden Greats
I bought this album in the summer of 76 and didn’t own another Beach Boys album for about 20 years. Again it was the harmonies that really hooked me in as being so different to anything you ever heard in the 70s (outside of adverts, which all used Beach Boys songs anyway).
4. The Buzzcocks – Another Music In a Different Kitchen
I didn’t like punk in 76 and 77. In fact I didn’t really know or understand it. I was still too into The Beatles and football. So 1978 was my year zero and The Buzzcocks were one of the first bands that won me over. They combined everything that was good about punk with the pop sensibility that appealed to me and cheeky intelligent lyrics. If you want to know where the inspiration behind the Ascoyne d’Ascoynes’ songs came from (and lets face it why should you?) look no further than this album.
5. C81 Rough Trade/NME Cassette
Forget C86. This was the first one, five years earlier, that no-one seems to remember. Recently, and not before time, there have been books and TV programmes celebrating the joys of the early indie/post-punk/John Peel era where people forgot the rules, even the rules of cool, and made the most diverse, quirky, original music. This was a tape that you had to save up tokens for from the NME and order by post. I still remember the day I ripped open the envelope and listened to it in my bedroom after school with the sun streaming in my bedroom to the sounds of the opening track “The Sweetest Girl” by Scritti Politti. Very little has ever sounded so good as that song, that day. Then there was Orange Juice, the Raincoats, Young Marble Giants, Josef K etc. etc. This collection really made me proud of ‘my era’ and said to me ‘you can do this’. And then there were even things like Lynx that brought home to me that modern dance music played by black people was not automatically to be dismissed as disco crap.
6. The Byrds – singles 1965 – 1967
The post-punk era so celebrated above didn’t last long. The C81 cassette, though I didn’t know it at the time, was probably at the tail end of that golden era. The no-rules, creative free for all gave way to a drawing of battle lines between glossy funk, new romanticism, proto-goth or anarcho-punk, all of which bored me to tears. The little money I had therefore went on the discovery of the past. I had never really stopped being intrigued and obsessed with the 60s, so with little current to excite me I went and rediscovered a lot of 60s bands. I knew all their famous songs from hearing them on the radio over the years. But buying the records was different. Listening to them on stereo headphones (as opposed to background medium wave radio) with a wannabe-musician’s ear was like seeing a wall-size colour print of something you’ve only ever seen as a tiny crumpled black and white photo. The day I got this record home and was blown away by the freshness and sweet jangly joy of Mr Tambourine Man, All I Really Want To Do and Feel a Whole Lot Better was the day I found ‘my sound’.
7. Pebbles Volume 8 – various
John Peel used to play the occasional track from the Pebbles series of obscure mid-60s garage bands. Other than that, the whole genre was one you never ever heard on the radio. You had to buy the records. So I did. Starting with this one. There were always some corking tracks, some less so, and it was a while before I saved up for the next purchase so all the tracks on this one got played to death. The guts and attack of this kind of music were absent from all the music of the present day and had a close kinship with the Medway bands that I was discovering around the same time.
8. The Doors – The Doors
Psychedelia excited me. I was really interested in the early psychedelia that has just evolved from beat groups and still had an edge, before getting too tie-dyed and pot-headed. Discovering the Doors and Love was like opening the door (scuse the pun) on some dusty forgotten relic. There was no industry of nostalgia or retro-cool in those days and even though this album had sold in millions less than 15 years before, The Doors seemed to have been completely forgotten. I got a rare chance to hear them on a half hour piece on Radio 1 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Jim’s death. I know they haven’t aged well and to some extent theer is a feeling that the Doors have been ‘found out’. But at the time I was totally sucked in by the swirling mystery of Light My Fire and The End.
9. Elvis Costello – Almost Blue
I never owned this album until relatively recently, and there may be 10 Costello albums that I prefer to this one, but that’s beside the point. There was a ‘making of’ documentary on TV when this album was released and the key thing for me was that here was Elvis saying ‘listen, country music is actually very good when done properly.’ I thought if Elvis says so there must be something in it. Opened the door to all sorts of music (both types in fact) that I might never have otherwise given house room to.
10. Velvet Underground - 1969 Live Vol 1
I love the banana album and have nothing against Warhol, or indeed Cale, but this is a fantastic document of a simply great band playing great songs (to no one!) on their own terms with no complications or trappings. I used to play this album over and over again. Lovely unpretentious songs and guitar playing that switches between beautifully delicate and frantically choppy (or is it choppily frantic).
11. The Smiths – The Smiths
After having almost given up on contemporary music during 1982 and 1983 the Smiths were like gift from Heaven. It seemed like this album defined the Spring of 1984. It seemed to dominate life, whether you loved it or hated it. It had the jangling guitar style that I loved, that no-one had played for years, and it’s interplay with the bass was genius and like nothing I’d heard before. Then there were some of the most exciting, audacious lyrics ever heard, about feelings and subjects hardly ever dealt with. I think that probably half the best lines ever written are on this album. The sheer beauty and depth of this album is never less than stunning. Despite regarding Morrissey as an utter cock on so many occasions since, I loved his arrogance at this time. It was not in the slightest bit misplaced. I remember teenage parties in the early hours, everyone pinching daffodils from gardens, sticking them in their back pockets and doing THAT one-footed dance. Hatful of Hollow is the near equal of this album but after that the Smiths plummeted in my esteem. It took a while for me to learn to appreciate some of their mid to late period stuff but I'm afraid I still just do not get The Queen Is Dead.
12. Scott Walker – Scott
In the early summer of 1985 I saw this album for 50p in a junk shop on Canterbury Street. I bought it on the strength of the way Julian Cope used to rave about Scott in interviews. I knew the Walker Brothers of course but this was a revelation. This quickly led to acquisitions of Scott 2 and Scott Sings Brel which, together, were the soundtrack of 85 for me. Live Aid may as well not have existed. Me and Ian Smith played the Scott Sings Brel album for the first time and our jaws dropped an inch with each new track. We had never heard anything remotely like this. Theatre, wit, passion, heartache, all delivered by the voice of the century.
13. The Wedding Present – George Best
Hearing My Favourite Dress in 1987 was the catalyst to realising that maybe there was some decent music around in the present day. This was the first contemporary sounding thing I’d liked in years and before long I was revelling in The Pixies, Dinosaur Jnr and the pre-baggy Soup Dragons. I don’t think this is a great album by any stretch, but it turned my head.
14. Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted
The phenomenon of grunge and Nirvana is well documented and it did have a massive impact but it’s always stupidly oversimplified. What is probably more significant is the post-grunge fall out, which led to an explosion of creativity in the US in the early 90s not unlike the post-punk period in the UK in 79-81 where all sorts of people were taking the attitude of grunge and creating music without preconceptions or a prevailing fashion. All of sudden Sonic Youth’s time had come. At the time the word ‘slacker’ was coined to describe this ramshackle non-movement and probably the most shining example was Pavement. They managed to sound loose and untogether and out of tune and yet everything fell into place perfectly. When I first heard Trigger Cut it was one of those moments where I thought this is just the perfect song and the perfect sound right here right now.
15. Teenage Fanclub – Grand Prix
In many ways the Teenage Fanclub are my perfect band. Of course they are not groundbreaking or innovative and I can’t mount a convincing case that they are the best band ever but that’s not the point. They are the nearest thing to my home territory. They have all the ingredients I love, blended in just the right way, with album after album of quite cracking tunes, and they have rarely sounded anything less than fresh. This album is their pinnacle in my view. Reminds me of sunny days in 1995. A cracking year for albums anyway (Supergrass, Edwyn, Boos, SFAs) but this one is the tops.
Very near misses: Unknown Pleasures, Da Capo, Wilder, Modern Life Is Rubbish, Crocodiles, The Clash, The Undertones, The Go-Betweens 78-90, Revolver, Another Side of Bob Dylan, Doolittle.
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Ian Smith at 21:21 on 18 March
Fantastic - can I copy & paste this onto Pop Junkie - it would make a great post?
Have been thinking about my 15 - I hadn't forgotten, just wondering what the parameters would be - I think you've dovetailed it nicely.
I gave a big mention to the C81 cassette on PJ a couple of weeks ago and am planning to review it when I get round to it:
Gary Robertson at 21:47 on 18 March
Bob you git. You have once again raised the bar. I wish I could find the time to write about my choices in this way, having seen yours I guess I'll have to.
Andy Fraser at 22:04 on 18 March
I'll have a look at this Pop Junkie...thanks for the link, Ian.
This made wonderful reading, Bob. I can relate to a lot of the sentiment...and it brought back memories of a time when the world was, seemingly, a better place. I'll put it on the 15 Songs blog.
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