There are albums that I know better than my own mind. That’s probably not that bold a statement, because anyone who knows me well could probably tell you more about my mind than me… I am sure we all have these amazing collections of music which we know word-for-word and beat-for-beat. We know every rise and fall in the melodies and we probably have a built in metronome that measures the gaps between each song. Please tell me in the comments if you have an album that you feel like that about!
So, in no particular order, here are my top
ten (eleven!) albums and a bit about them all. Now that I have put them all down on a list I am shocked to discover that I really am still stuck in the nineties! But then who cares, there were clearly some awesome albums released in that decade! Ask me on another day and this list may slightly change, though there are some definite constants. Let me know your favourite albums too. I’d love to hear!
Manic Street Preachers- The Holy Bible
The first time I heard this a lad I was in college with lent it to me on a cassette. Everything Must Go had been out for a few months and I loved it, but it turned out that I was too late to the Manics party as the creative genius that was Richey was already missing, never to return. The Holy Bible blew me away. The way the words fell on top of each other over disjointed guitars really woke me up. In an instant it became my number one. It is still my favourite album and I have been lucky enough to see the band perform the album in it’s entirety twice.
Ben Folds Five- Whatever And Ever Amen
Ben Folds bashing a piano like a punk-rock Chopin, while throwing out a mixture of self-deprivation, apathy, anger, and wit, what else could a boy ask for? My older sister was often the source of my musical learning during my youth. She was off in university and coming back with these interesting CDs. Like this guy, Ben, that sung amusing by evocative songs in his three piece piano rock band. It went against the grain of the grunge I was soaked in at the time. I have loved Mr Folds ever since and through his influence have been turned onto the amazing talents of Regina Spektor and Amanda Palmer.
The Smiths- The Queen Is Dead
While I have disowned the sad old bigot Steven Morrissery (go and read this article I recently had published on Queen Mob’s Teahouse) it is an undeniable fact that The Queen Is Dead is amazing album and I will arm wrestle anyone who says otherwise. I remember getting so into this album that I used to go and sit and read in a local graveyard for several weeks one summer. That’s the kind of influence The Smiths had one me. While I grew up having The Smiths and The Cure drilled into me, I was far too young in the eighties to understand or appreciate them. But, come my teenage years I was ready for a double-dose of satirically sombre serenades and The Queen Is Dead became my (elderberry) jam.
Too late to the party again I got into Nirvana just months after Kurt’s death. I probably listened to this album twice or three times a day. I bleached my hair and grew it long. I had a pair of jeans that had about fifty different tears in it and I lived in checked shirts. Grunge was probably my first ever opportunity to express myself. In a kappa tracksuit town where rave was the go-to sound, I genuinely got some serious abuse for the way that I looked and dressed. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t care what people thought; because I did. But I was not going to be like them. Later in my life I realise that my individuality was just a photocopy of so many other off-beat teenagers and had all the originality of the cloned drones in their shell suits. Nirvana inspired me to pick up the guitar and form a band which was originally called Nemesis. We were utter shite. All my songs had four chords and went quiet, loud, quiet, loud but never had the true grit of grunge.
Pearl Jam- Ten
The drummer in my bad teenage band gave me a badly copied tape of Ten when we were still in school together. He said someone gave it to him and he didn’t like it. A few years later I realised just how badly recorded it was- there were parts of songs missing and parts of it sounded as though they were underwater. ‘Black’ is a beautiful track that really makes that album. I’d go on to enjoy other songs more that many of the album tracks on Ten, tracks such as ‘Rearviewmirror’ and ‘Spin the Black Circle’ on Pearl Jam’s second and third albums are up there in my all time favourite songs. But as an album, Ten has a feeling that reminds me of a time. But it also feels distant and ethereal.
Suede- Dog Man Star
Suede sounded like David Bowie and The Smiths shoved in a blender. ‘The Wild Ones’ was the hauntingly romantic suburban ballad that I bought on single and proceeded in listening to on repeat for weeks. For Christmas that year my parents bought me three albums which got played to death, Dog Man Star, Pearl Jam’s Vs., and White Zombie’s Astro Creep 2000: Stories of Love Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head. All three albums covering the specrum of my sixteen year old tastes. Guitarist, Bernard Butler, left Suede after this album, and though I still enjoyed their work, they were never quite as dramatic or romantic in my view.
The Beatles- Abbey Road
Although released before Let It Be, Abbey Road was the final studio album by The Beatles. The amazing second half mega-mix always stunned me as a piece of songwriting excellence. An album that reminds of train journeys and cold days. I feel as though my teenage years my Beatles preferences moved in a delayed thirty-year parallel. Starting off enjoying the jangling early career stuff in my early teens, through to the psychedelic mid career Beatles in my mid-teens, before moving onto the likes of Abbey Road at the end. Top picks for me include ‘Golden Slumbers’ and ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’. and ‘The End’
Radiohead- OK Computer
The first time I heard this album was the day it was released. My college lecturer brought a copy of it in and we all listened to it over-and-over. He told us stories about vividly remembering the day that Houses of the Holy by Led Zeppelin was released (also an amazing album). This album reminds me of hand-me-down musical histories. Belonging to the set of anti-rockstars like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Radiohead were the music without the ego and the pomp. As Oasis carbon copies began dominating the ‘non-pop’ music industry in the UK, it was getting hard to escape the lad culture that began appearing in the indie and Britpop scene. Radiohead were the antidote, and to a gangling geeky kid like me who was at odds with how to behave as a ‘lad’, Radiohead offered an alternative. The exciting noises of this album were structured and haphazard, cascading and crashing, beautiful and angry. For every softly played moment came a new way to distort a guitar.
The Clash- London Calling
Released in the year of my birth, London Calling was punk evolved. I didn’t like this album when I first listened to it. I tried a few times, but for some reason I just didn’t get it. Then , in my early twenties, something clicked and this album became a constant familiar favourite.
Stereophonics- Word Gets Around
Being Welsh, in the late nineties we made listening to the Stereohonics a matter of national pride. Even the cheesy-flavour-quaver-ravers dropped their Dreamscape and Fantastia tapes and joined in listening to some guitar music. The rise in popularity of the Manics, and other Welsh bands such as Super Furry Animals, and Catatonia heralded in the glory years of ‘Cool Cymru’. ‘Local Boy In A Photograph’ catches the back of my throat, ‘Traffic’ reminds me of a short-lived band I was in around that time, and ‘Billy Davey’s Daughter’ reminds me of drunken walks home with one of my best friends growing up, and ‘Last of the Big Time Drinkers’ was the song to start the night.
Super Furry Animals- Mwng
In 2000, after Creation records closed down, the Super Furry Animals decided to release an album on their own record label, Placid Casual. Reaching number 11 in the UK album charts, this would be their first entirely Welsh album and it would be the first time that the chart would feature an album recorded in Welsh. The beautiful paired down lo-fi vibe on this album differs from most of the Super Furry’s more psychedelic output. The album took Welsh language rock to a completely new level and the album even got a mention in parliament. Lead singer, Gruff has gone on to record solo albums in both Welsh and English, in fact the last record I bought was a signed copy of his most recent album ‘Pang’ released just a couple of weeks ago.