Right. My cursory examination of the world wide web suggests that there are probably more top 10 album lists than there are certain kinds of sub-atomic particles. It seems that any bloke of a certain age, with too much time and access to Amazon and/or I Tunes, will have attempted to impose/show off his taste in music. and it’s obviously always 10 until he gets greedy, with 25 seemingly the next most popular integer.
Still undeterred by the utter pointlessness of the exercise, and keen to really show off my taste and knowledge, I am determined to add to the digital trash-heap.
Now regular readers will be aware that I am a) getting on a bit and b) fancy myself as a bit cultured. This will therefore colour what follows and the keen-eyed will notice there is a quite constrained chronology in my choices. This is because, in my view, the music that stays with you is the music that hits you in your most formative years when you have most time and when your are most selfish which surely is late teens/early adulthood.
Now I am talking about proper pop/rock/indie music not the chart shite that is an unfortunate by/waste product which has been there since the 1950s. I am also, in this blog, focussed solely on my pop/rock/indie identity. The classical side of my nature has been there from a fairly early age but has expanded apace in recent years. I am now pretty clear on the boundaries here and therefore continue to go deeper not broader into the classical world. And the only live music I listen to is classical. There are very infrequent gigs but it is all a bit loud for me now I fear.
Anyway back to today’s sermon. So the period of deepest engagement for me coincided with the rise of post-punk which happily for me produced most of the greatest pop/rock/indie music ever made and the best bands, a few of which soldier on to this day. I am not accepting any argument here – it is a simple fact. When it comes to musical taste I simply will not permit any collapse into some sort of hopeless, wishy-washy relativism. From this starting point I will no doubt bore you in future with stuff prior to these fertile period (it is called the 1960s and 1970s kids). But, having set my entrenched boundaries, it does mean that from the late 1980s through to the last few years I don’t really know what I am talking about, and have wandered around aimlessly trying to find exciting new stuff. And to be fair there have been some successes. Still I am grateful for any tips.
Right I have rambled on enough ahead of something no-one will ever read anyway. So with thanks to John Peel, the NME in its heyday and assorted independent record labels, here goes.
1. Echo and the Bunnymen – Heaven Up Here – 1981
So Echo and the Bunnymen are the greatest ever band. Period. There are other contenders; Joy Division but there just isn’t enough material to draw on, the Fall, obviously, but there might just be too much (and it is impossible to draw out one album for this list), Wire, but maybe a bit too clever by half, the Wedding Present, but even I accept if you’ve heard one of theirs you’ve heard them all. and other contenders from other periods which will be revealed in time. But the reality is the Bunnies were, and remain, my first love, and the first 4 albums, Crocodiles, Porcupine, Ocean Rain and this, their masterpiece, are just what I know best.
I will keep buying anything the Bunnies create as there are still nuggets to be found and I will still try to see them on very rare occasions where I can tolerate the noise. But I know they will never again create the uplifting maelstrom of the heyday as Les’s loopy basslines and Pete’s (RIP) magnificently creative drumming propped up Will’s shards of guitar genius and Mac’s preposterous but utterly convincing lyrics (last night he played in a local theatre in Henley on Thames – mind-boggling).
It is therefore fortunate that I can listen to this – not every day but nary a week passes without a happy reminder. Thanks lads.
2. Joy Division – Closer – 1980
So, if the Bunnies are ultimately a swaggering, anthemic post-punk rock band (Mac has observed that if they hadn’t been so lazy they could have beaten U2 to the prize), then Joy Division are the mournful antithesis. The father of innumerable progeny this really is music for late teenage boys to listen to in the bedroom whilst wallowing in a sea of self-pity.
The thing is though that this album goes far beyond that into some really dark places. This largely reflects Ian Curtis’s lyrics (I won’t bang on about this standing as the ultimate self epitaph – it’s nonsense) but also Martin Hamnett’s extraordinary production. The fact is that I don’t think any of the contributors to this album had any idea what they had created. No surprise really that when Curtis exited stage left the rest of the band sought sanctuary in dance rhythms.
Anyway I assume any self respecting fan of popular music of the last half-century or so owns this even if they may not always be in the mood required to listen to it. If not get on with it.
3. Kate Bush – Hounds of Love – 1985
Right I know she is a genius. You know she is a genius. And this is still as amazing as it was on the day of release. There is not a musical idea, phrase, a note, a word, a sound that isn’t perfect. I get that Katie elsewhere very occasionally lets the side down with a misplaced idea but not here. This is Art.
“I’d make a deal with God”. Indeed. That can be the only explanation. Except there is no God. But you know what I mean.
I was too ill to stay for all of Before the Dawn so missed the Ninth Wave and A Sky of Honey. No matter. Six songs. It was enough to last a lifetime. What a sentimental old duffer I’ve become.
4. Gang of Four – Entertainment! – 1979
The discerning reader of this blog might have guessed this was coming. Funky, arty, post-punk replete with Marxist analysis. It’s like a focus group was tasked with delivering up the perfect soundtrack for the late teens Tourist. So tap the feet, engage the brain and turn it up nice and loud.
“He fills his head with culture …..”
5. Neil Young – Harvest – 1972
Evidence that I am not completely tied to the music of my youth.
Now most of the individual creative giants of popular music (Bowie D, Morrison V, Bush K, Mayfield C, Franklin A, Prince TAFKA, Marley B, Harvey PJ, Wyatt R) have let themselves down on occasion, none so persistently or so wilfully as the irascible Mr Young. Yet on those albums where it all came together no-one gets closer to the emotional heart of the matter.
I get why you kids today might regard this as an embarrassment. Then again you listen to Ed Sheeran. No more witnesses your honour, I rest my case.
6. Human League – Dare – 1981
I am so glad the synthesiser has made a comeback. It has restored my faith in contemporary pop music. But none will ever come close to the pristine perfection on offer here. I daresay there will never be an 80s party without Don’t You Want Me Baby on the playlist but for once familiarity breeds joy not contempt.
Normally when a band sells out (mind you I was happy with the prior incarnation of the Human League) it spells disaster; in this case Phil Oakley’s lust for lucre was the impetus for this classic.
These are the things that dreams are made of.
7. Dexys Midnight Runners – Searching for the Young Soul Rebels – 1980
OK so there are times when Kevin Rowland gives the impression of being one Scotch egg short of the full hamper but his musical vision, at least what there is of it, is inspired. The first three Dexys albums represent the apogee of Celtic Soul which, on and off and in a different way, has proved fertile territory for another musical genius in Van Morrison.
There are those who believe Dexys were/are a novelty outfit. They are idiots and can be safely ignored. Please own and cherish this.
8. Talking Heads – Fear of Music – 1979
Back to 1979 and perhaps the finest example of the period when punk/new wave met the funk of the 1970s against the backdrop of the New York art scene and with lyrics of real intelligence. Fortunately there are bands today experimenting with rhythmic structure but TH remain the masters to my ears.
“This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around … ” though it sometimes sounds like it.
9. Wire – 154 – 1979
You would think I would tire of this art punk thing. You’d be wrong. Most of my favourite bands are still making new music but Wire are probably the most vital. It is clear to me that my musical brain thrives on repetition. Wire understand this.
So stop reading about them being name-checked as a “seminal influence” on all sorts of white boys who have picked up guitars and go and actually listen. In this case Granddad knows best.
10. Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth – 1980
There isn’t much of this. Alison Statton’s ethereal voice over the bass and clipped guitar of the Moxham brothers and a bit of drum machine and occasional electronic organ chords. It couldn’t be simpler. But it will get to you. I promise.
This is all they ever did. It’s all they ever needed to do.
11. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II – 1969
Hold up Tourist. You said Top 10.
Well I did but guess what. I’ve turned it up to 11. And what better what to do that than Zeppelin. Obviously the greatest heavy rock band of all time. And this for me was their finest hour.
Anyway if you are a serious student of popular music you already know this.
Knebworth 1979. Still one of my greatest memories.