Unlike many Facebook memes, I've been really enjoying the one that sees people posting up an album cover a day for a few days to give us an insight into the records that have really meant something to them over the years. The original meme suggests no explanations, but I think it's hearing what makes a particular album special to someone that really brings it to life... so, to hell with the rules, I've been busy encouraging people to explain.
I've just finished putting up my ten choices. To be honest, I think people were mostly just pleased to have a ten day break from the relentless running posts and pictures that I seem to put up.... but, for your delectation, dear reader, here's a special earworms list compliled of songs from the albums that I chose.
I haven't just chosen my ten favourite albums or the ten coolest records I own; I've tried to pick ten albums that have been landmarks in my life.
Ready? Here we go!
Earworms of the Week: lifetime of music edition.
a-ha – Manhattan Skyline (from Scoundrel Days)
I had a few albums on cassette when I was growing up. I think the very first was Kings of the Wild Frontier by Adam and the Ants, but also in there was The Riddle by Nik Kershaw, Silk and Steel by 5 Star and Scoundrel Days by a-ha. To be honest, I’ve not listened to those other albums much in the last 35 years, but I do listen to a-ha fairly regularly, and I’m constantly struck by how little the music has dated. There’s something about their sparse, melancholic Scandinavian soundscapes that seems to have stood up well. I’ve seen them live a couple of times, once playing this album in full, and they filled huge screen behind them with an image of a rolling ocean: it seemed to fit the music very well. At the age of 8, I probably bought this because I liked the singles I’d heard on top of the pops…. Or just maybe I had impeccable taste in music even then. Yeah. You’re probably right.
Iron Maiden – Run to the Hills (from The Number of the Beast)
This is an album that set the course of my musical direction for the next few years, perhaps forever. I bought it on cassette because I liked the cover, but pretty soon followed it with Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and from there into Metallica’s …and Justice for All, the Monsters of Rock festival and the comforting world of heavy metal. My first CD was the metal compilation Protect the Innocent (opening four tracks, (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, Paranoid, Fireball, Ace of Spades). Not long after, I got my first leather jacket. Good times. Maiden are probably also the band I have seen live most often, bar one other artist.
Guns’n’Roses – It’s So Easy (from Appetite for Destruction)
You know where you are? You’re in the jungle baby. You’re gonna die! For about 12 months across 1988/89, I essentially only listened to two albums: Pump by Aerosmith and Appetite for Destruction. I haven’t listened to Pump all that much recently, but this one is on a regular rotation. The other week, I watched Guns’n’Roses play live for the first time since Wembley Stadium in 1991. Unlike in ’91, they arrived onstage on time (early, in fact) and played for over 3 hours. Was it a perfect gig? No.. but at their very best no one can touch them. This remains an extraordinary album and still sounds dangerous today. They might have risen with the hair metal bands of the 1980s, but I’d imagine that Poison wouldn’t have attracted quite the same attention if they’d been headlining Download. This song opened their set and they just took it from there. I can live with an interminable Knocking on Heaven’s Door if they keep playing stuff like this. It was good to feel like a teenager for a few hours with one of my oldest friends who has been on this journey since the very beginning. Also, is Slash the most iconic rock guitarist ever?
Red Hot Chili Peppers – I Could Have Lied (from Blood Sugar Sex Magik)
Not the first album I owned by Red Hot Chili Peppers (that would be Mother’s Milk), nor is it my favourite (By The Way), but this is the album that made the biggest impression on me and took me further away from hair metal and towards bands like Faith No More and Rage Against the Machine. Why this song? The heartbreaking guitar solo. This was released in the same week as Nevermind and Screamadelica but has ultimately made more impression on me than either of those other records. Plus, you never quite realise how much swearing is on this album until you’ve put it on in in the car with your mum.
The Smiths – What Difference Does It Make? (From Hatful of Hollow)
…and now for an abrupt change of direction. In my youthful wisdom, I was scornful of lots of bands; I assumed that the likes of The Cure, The Stone Roses and The Smiths must be crap because of the type of people who liked them and because they weren’t metal. Imagine my surprise when I turned out to be one of those people. I’m hardly the first teenager to fall hard for The Smiths, but at 18 years old – later than most – they just seemed to speak directly to my soul. At the time, their back catalogue was incredibly hard to get hold of: my CD copy of this album is a French import that I bought at a record fair at the NEC. Imagine that, millennials! I like Hatful of Hollow because the session versions of these songs have an urgency that the studio versions do not, and Morrissey's voice is pleasingly growly. Of course, Morrissey is clearly now a twat of the highest order, but The Smiths are probably the one band that had the biggest impact on the music I listen to, even today.
Billy Bragg – Between the Wars (From Back to Basics)
“Pay no more than £4.49 for this record!”
I think I owe my love of Billy Bragg to a cassette copy of this owned by my friend John in about 1989. He made some impression during my heavy metal years, but it was only really a little later, when my ears were open, that he sank into my heart. I’ve seen Billy performing live far more often than anyone else… I think about 20 times at Glastonbury alone… and I never get tired of him. He’s famous for his politics, but all of his best songs are about love. Love him or hate him, and he’s very polarising, he’s a genuinely warm voice in an increasingly cold world. He is the Milkman of Human Kindness. He will leave an extra pint.
Manic Street Preachers- 4st 7lb (from the Holy Bible)
Prickly, difficult, wordy… this might just be my favourite album of them all. I saw the Manics perform this at the Reading Festival in 1994 and stopped at Milton Keynes on the way home to pick up the album on its first day of release.. but as it was a bank holiday, every shop was shut and the shopping centre was locked. Remember those days? Record shops, shops that closed…? I think this really hits my musical sweet spot with ferocious guitars and hugely ambitious themes and lyrics (this song was inspired by a BBC documentary on an anorexic/bulimic girl close to death and features clips of her talking about her illness and desire to fade from existence). It’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s catnip to me. Everything Must Go came next and made them famous, but this is the essence of the Manics for me. I used to listen to this on cassette on my Walkman (with Dog Man Star on the other side) as I walked back through the deserted streets of Venice at 2am in the morning as the fog rolled in off the Lagoon at San Marco when I was studying there. Magical.
Scott Walker – The Seventh Seal (from Boy Child)
It was my housemate Mark at University who first introduced me to the honeyed bass-baritone of Noel Scott Engel and I can’t possibly begin to thank him enough. He insisted that the Manic Street Preachers were “Welsh heavy metal” and tried to show me there were different paths, introducing me to Walker, to “The Man Who Saved the World” and to Johnny Cash (just before the American albums began to be released). It was in his room, over the corridor from mine, that I first discovered the extraordinary collision between *that* voice and his songs of love, existentialism and death. It’s a short step from there to his magnificent first few solo albums and his Jacques Brel covers (I think that Jackie was my gateway song, actually... before the Seventh Seal closed the deal). Walker stands alongside Iron Maiden and The Smiths in a highly unlikely trio of acts that completely changed my musical life. Thanks Mark.
Coldplay – Politik (from A Rush of Blood to the Head)
I fell out with Coldplay at some point after Viva La Vida: after that point, although they were bigger and more popular than ever, they seemed to me to have lost an important part of their identity. Before then, there was something about their gawky, wide-eyed “music for bedwetters” that really struck a chord with me. I liked Parachutes, but here the scope and ambition felt so much bigger. Yes, Chris Martin always seems to lyrically have puzzles missing pieces and things that are broken he cannot fix, but there’s something so English about this apologetic grandeur. They mailed it at Glastonbury 2002 too, headlining the Pyramid Stage a few months before they released this album and when almost no one believed that they had it in them. Perhaps this isn’t a choice for musical connoisseurs/snobs, but my love of bands like Elbow, The National and Everything Everything probably started here and it would be dishonest not to include them. I suppose I can probably just relate to being gawky, awkward and uncertain. I haven’t had a Gwyneth Paltrow phase, mind.
Fleet Foxes – Your Protector (from Fleet Foxes)
As the owner of a Medieval Studies masters degree, the cover of this album alone was probably enough to pre-dispose me to like this record, even before you get to the singing that sounds like it could have come straight from the lips of a medieval choir. Hell, White Winter Hymnal even sounds like a medieval rondel. Looking back at this list of records that have shaped my life, I’m very aware that there’s not very much from this century. The Coldplay album was 2002 and this was released in 2008, although to be honest, it sounds like it could have come from 1508. Oh well. At times, most notably on By The Way, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have produced some beautiful harmony work, but they’ve got nothing on these guys. Even the bloody drummer (Josh Tillman, now much better known as Father John Misty) has a lovely voice to add to the layers of harmony. This is a quietly lovely record. Perhaps it’s out of step with the modern world, but then again, so am I. You can’t listen to grime all day every day, can you?
So, there ends a nice little jaunt down my record collection. Tag yourself, if you're interested in such things.
Reading to escape
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