Readers of the excellent Spend Matters blog will know that its European leader, the terminally-hip (or is that tragically-hip – sorry, Peter) Peter Smith, regularly supplements his procurement blog with entries dedicated to his listening habits. We hear his recommendations of new bands or ‘artistes’, all of which are young, uber-cool and part of the zeitgeist (or something) but are mainly loved by spotty, gel-haired kids that wear their jeans halfway down their a***.
Well, here at Four Pillars, we love our music too. The office CD collection is larger than HMV’s (or soon will be) but we’ll be concentrating on the REAL stuff: vinyl. We thought about our Procurement and Sales demographic; side-partings, steadily-growing paunches, pale-blue shirts, cufflinks, crease-ironed denims, sensible shoes and golf clubs. Then we decided that they’ll be playing their Celine Dion CDs exclusively in the car or on their Smart Phone. Years ago, they’ll have gotten rid of their Tina Turner and Spandau Ballet LPs and, these days, they’ll be too busy watching ‘X Factor’ and ‘Strictly’ to be bothered about our musical ramblings.
So instead, we’re going to serve the vanishingly-small number of music anoraks; the fans who actually went to gigs; where the bands were ugly, but could play their instruments. Who, on Saturday afternoons, would hang around their local independent record shop swapping recommendations and looking jealously at the really cool guys that worked there. Some of these anorak-wearing blokes (yes, it’s almost exclusively men) are getting old now but many still have their vinyl and occasionally dig it out as they recall the halcyon days of prog rock, heavy metal, punk, classic rock and Debbie Harry.
We’ll be posting recommendations from our vinyl vaults and we’ll cover all the genres just mentioned but, as these musical anoraks are renowned for their open minds, there’ll be the occasional foray into jazz, classical, country, disco, folk and easy listening (well, not easy listening). So come along for a spin and be inspired to dust off your vinyl (or at least sell us the rare collectables you have, cheaply).
If you’re one of these music anoraks, then make yourself known. Share your recommendations. We need to stick together and do our best to keep vinyl alive!
Here goes….not in order of ‘quality’….but numbered anyways….
#20 Martin Simpson ‘Prodigal Son’ (2007)
I first saw Martin Simpson live in Leamington Spa just a few years ago and was bowled over. I’d only recently discovered him via the ‘That’s Proper Folk’ compilation which included ‘Never Any Good’ the ‘Song of the Year’ at ‘The British Folk Awards’ and immediately began hoovering-up Martin’s back catalogue.
If someone had told me that he was a guitar virtuoso with a folky voice, I would have ran a mile expecting his albums to be pleasant but dull. However, they’re nothing of the sort. What strikes me is the range of styles that are present on his albums. They’re rich in detail, broad in the sense that many genres are expertly covered and, so far, every album contains a moving tear-jerker.
The Prodigal Son album sounds simply gorgeous. As well as ‘Never Any Good’ there’s the traditional ‘Little Musgrave’, an instrumental ‘She slips Away’ composed as he sat with his dying mother, and an excellent cover of Randy Newman’s ‘Louisiana 1927’.
It’s full of unforgettable songs and instrumentals that’ll you’ll be humming quietly whilst (cue poetic interlude) staring at the rain or the approaching dusk.
No room for cynics here. Simpson is a great talent and tours regularly. Get this album and go see him.
#19 Van der Graaf Generator ‘Still Life’ (1976)
Van der Graaf Generator were early-70s prog merchants, huge in Italy but not that successful elsewhere. They were definitely poor relations to Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd, perhaps due to the absence of electric guitar (substituted by David Jackson’s saxophones) from their sound. Far from easy listening they were together for a short time before splitting in 1971. They reformed in the mid-70s to produce a couple of superb albums, this one and ‘Godbluff’.
Most definitely led by Peter Peter Hammill who writes all the songs and has a voice that is truly unique, able to rise from a whisper to a scream and back again in a single line. In my judgement, Hammill is the most intelligent, prolific and interesting songwriter to emerge from the U.K. in the last 40 years.
‘Still Life’ displays all the literary and deep-thinking intelligence of Hammill at his best. The astonishing title track tackles immortality so brilliantly that you could file it away as philosophy rather than rock n roll. This masterpiece must be heard.
‘Pilgrims’ sounds positively heroic and the album closer ‘Childlike Faith in Childhood’s End’ is majestic.
Van der Graaf reformed once again with a concert at The Royal Festival Hall in 2005 that felt like a great homecoming, and are still superb today as a three-piece.
The comedian Stewart Lee once said “Hammill will free your mind, though your ass won’t be following anytime soon.” That’ll do for me.
#18 Tom Waits ‘Mule Variations’ (1999)
I’ve always found Tom Waits to be easier to admire than to love. People doubt his authenticity and, it’s true, he steals from a number of forgotten and unsung artists such as 50’s word-jazz voice-over man Ken Nordine. His junkyard hobo persona is reportedly just an act; in his private life he’s apparently a dead-ringer for David Cameron. Well, maybe not quite.
Waits’ early-years’ late-night balladeering gave way to clanking percussion and unlovely melodies with the arrival of ‘Swordfishtrombones’ and, although he then became the darling of the music press, the music that followed didn’t demand repeated listening. But this one really grabbed me as it includes some of the best music he’s ever created.
It’s full of that clanking percussion but also has plenty of heartbreaking songs with melodies to die for. Whereas his 70s tune-friendly albums now sound locked in time, ‘Mule Variations’ comes over as timeless, ancient and modern. The bluesy tunes are recorded-in-a-damp-basement rough but, after several hearings, the melodies emerge as truly memorable; ‘Get behind the Mule’, ‘Big in Japan’ will stick in your head and you’ll be growling them under your breath whilst going about your business.
One unforgettable track is ‘What’s He Building?’ little more than a monologue with eerie sound effects that provides images of the neighbour from hell. It’s simultaneously hilarious and creepy.
If those ‘songs’ represent ‘the beast’ then the beauty is plentiful. ‘Home Where Nobody Lives’, ‘Pony’, ‘Hold On’ and the incredibly-sad ‘Georgia Lee’ are all gorgeous.
‘Mule Variations’ is the one I keep coming back to and, if you’re a sometime fan of Waits, then you should have it too.
#17 Echo and the Bunnymen ‘Heaven up Here’ (1981)
This magnificent album was the Bunnymen’s second after ‘Crocodiles’ and before they went all syrupy with the strings-laden ‘Ocean Rain’ (‘The Killing Moon’, etc.).
This album represents the pinnacle of their musical, if not commercial, success.
The LP cover is splendidly in keeping with the sound: chilly, expansive and stark and, for me, evokes memories of winter walks along Tynemouth’s vast Longsands.
All four band members excel here. Ian McCulloch’s voice is rich and expressive, like he means business. The late Pete de Freitas’s drums sound massive and are relentless (listen to the marching ‘All My Colours), pausing only for the relative calm of ‘The Disease’ and ‘Turquoise Days’. Les Pattinson’s bass is high in the mix and so musical, and Will Sergeant’s guitars are metallically choppy and dynamic. The whole thing demands to be played LOUD from beginning to end in one sitting.
I can’t understand why I never saw Echo and the Bunnymen live (must have been doing my hair) and by the time their music was awash with strings and pretty melodies, I wasn’t interested anymore. I’m led to believe they were (are?) superb and McCulloch one of the most charismatic front men (still) around. Maybe there’s still time….
#16 THE CURE ‘PORNOGRAPHY’ (1982)
This is when The Cure came of age. What started as post-punk jauntiness, with the rather flimsy ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and ‘Killing an Arab’ became an aggressive aural onslaught with this album. There were some clues in the increasingly doom-laden sounds and lyrics in both ‘Seventeen Seconds’ and, increasingly, ‘Faith’ LPs but whilst those suggested ‘dark places’, ‘Pornography’ was like a leap right into pitch blackness but with everything turned-up to ‘11’.
Those paying attention would have recognised that the post ‘Faith’ single-only release ‘Charlotte Sometimes’ premiered The Cure’s new, dense, less easy-on-the-ear sound. Gone was the serene beauty of ‘The Funeral Party’ (from ‘Faith’) replaced by the dense and relentless attack of ‘One Hundred Years’, as The Cure morphed into the early 80’s version of the inferior Nine Inch Nails.
The live shows were spectacular; Robert Smith static in red light, surrounded by smoke and loud as hell. “It doesn’t matter if we all die.”
Of course, The Cure’s jauntiness returned with the splendid ‘In Between Days’ and ‘Friday, I’m in Love’ in the ‘90s, and everyone loved them, even girls of the non-Goth variety. But back in 1982, ‘Pornography’ was hardcore Cure. And it still is.
#15 WAGNER ‘TRISTAN UND ISOLDE’ (1865)
If someone had said to my 16 year old self that, one day, he would take his other-half to Vienna for a romantic weekend, and that the primary purpose was to….wait for it….go see an opera, then that 16 year old would have choked on his off-licence-procured bottle of Woodpecker (note ‘procurement’ reference there). But that’s exactly what happened only a few short years ago. The opera in question was Wagner’s ‘Tristan und Isolde’.
Like most of us, I’d heard Wagner in ‘Apocalypse Now’ with the tune ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ playing over the big helicopter scene. But for years I’d owned a box set of LPs of the first of the four operas of ‘The Ring’ (‘Das Rheingold’) that I just couldn’t get away with until finally, I slowly started to ‘get it’.
Now let’s be clear, I don’t enjoy opera, but Wagner is different. Wagner’s operas (or ‘music drama’ as he called them) are much bigger than the standard opera; massive in fact. If you own a version of ‘The Ring’, you have a CD box set of 14 discs or, on vinyl, 22 LPs. Wagner’s work demands huge orchestras too, and sound effects (e.g. anvils, wind machines, etc) and the music is built not just around the voice, but a balanced blend that includes lots of big-sounding symphonic music.
After spending many an hour with ‘The Ring’ I came across ‘Tristan und Isolde’, which is only a four-hour sprint to ‘The Ring’s’ marathon. ‘Tristan’ is utterly different from any classical piece up to that point. If you’re some sort of musicologist (and I’m not), you’ll get this: almost the whole of the piece is musically ‘unresolved’ until the very final final bars. This means that the music is never comfortable, it never settles; just when you think a section is about to finish, it moves in a different direction (time after time, for nearly four hours!). It’s not until the very end, the ‘Liebestod’ (love death) that the music finally resolves and the whole thing ends in calm. I’m not kidding here: the effect is shattering. It’s shivers, elation, exhaustion, and possibly tears.
Of course, all this is predicated on your concentrated attention to the whole thing; without the cumulative impact from beginning to end, it’s easy to experience ‘Tristan’ as just another piece of classical music.
After one particularly intense performance, Sting is alledged to have said “Pwoar. That was like a reet laang tantric session with Wor lass!”
Don’t under-estimate ‘Tristan und Isolde’s importance in musical history. Wagner pretty-much invented film music before there was film, and this particular opera is legendary. The version in the picture from 1952, conducted by Furtwangler, although in mono, sounds fantastic and is still, out of the many versions recorded since then, the number one choice on Amazon. If you want a recommendation other than this one, I’ve pretty-much heard them all, so can give you some pointers. Here’s an excellent version of the ‘Liebestod’ only, with Karajan conducting Jessye Norman.
That evening in Vienna is in my all-time top 3 concert experiences. Utterly fantastic and still I don’t like opera.
#14 PRINCE ‘PARADE’ (1986)
There’s only one bona fide genius in pop and soul and this is he: Prince.
For me, my interest was first pricked by ‘1999’, although he’d already had four albums under his belt by 1982, when that particular album was released. ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘Around the World in a Day’ soon followed and both are excellent, making Prince an ‘80s icon. But then, according to the critics of the day, he lost his way with the film ‘Under a Cherry Moon’ and its accompanying LP ‘Parade’.
The stripped-back sound of ‘Parade’ seemed a world away from the (albeit varied) pop that preceded it, but in its apparent simplicity lies some of His Majesty’s best material. ‘Kiss’, ‘New Position’, ‘Mountains’ and ‘Anotherloverholenyohead’ are all superb. The album finishes with as gorgeous a ballad as you could hope for; ‘Sometimes It Snows in April’, all fragile voice, nylon-stringed guitar and piano.
The critics and the general public believe Prince has had his day; mainly because they ran out of superlatives after ‘Sign ‘O’ the Times’ and couldn’t think of anything else to write. But he never lets us down; there are gems aplenty in what he’s released in the last twenty years – you just have to go look for them.
#13 VIRGIN RECORDS ‘V’ (1975)
“Go and sit upon the grass, and feel your lumps” says Ivor Cutler which, sort of, serves to describe both the range and quality of music on this sometimes splendid and certainly eclectic sampler from Virgin Records in 1975.
For young records collectors of the day, this was a treat: a double album with previously unreleased tracks from interesting artists, and all for about a quid, or some such amount. Although I suspect it sold well at the time, this LP now brings good money for a decent copy on EBay and it’s not hard to see why.
Four sides: Side One populated by artists that had already sold decent amounts – Robert Wyatt, Mike Oldfield and Tangerine Dream (and old Ivor, of course); Side Two covering legendary figures Kevin Coyne (the definitive version of ‘Marjory Razorblade’) and the mighty Captain Beefheart with a superb live versions of ‘Mirror Man’ and ‘Upon The My-O-My’.
Side Three was a rag bag of jazzy prog from Henry Cow, Slapp Happy, Jabular with light poppy relief from Tom Newman. Finally, side Four was all ambient/electric with Clear Light Symphony, Steve Hillage, White Noise and Hatfield and the North.
This LP is from a time when experimental and risk-taking record labels could put out product that would sell. Not a lot, but presumable enough. Unlike today, you couldn’t get this material from anywhere else and, frankly, some of it would be impossible to get a hold of in 2013.
Worth seeking out for Side 2 alone.
#12 GIL SCOTT HERON ‘I’M NEW HERE’ (2010)
If you’re of a certain age, in your disco years, you probably danced to ‘The Bottle’ and if, like me, you’d seen Scott-Heron live, you’ll have participated in the call-and-response chant section of ‘Johannesburg’. If you were keen, you may also remember the magnificent ‘B-Movie’; that anti-Reagan poem rap at the end of the 1981 album ‘Reflections’.
Prolific in the 70s, still touring in the 80s, Gil all but disappeared in the 90s (bar the mediocre ‘Spirits’ in ’94) and noughties due to extended periods in the slammer due to drug law violations. His long-term drug dependency meant that no one thought he was ever coming back to making music; until this.
Encouraged to come out of unofficial retirement by XL Records boss Richard Russell, he put this album together only a couple of years ago, and it proved to be his last as he died in May 2011.
Gil’s poetry, delivered and sung is washed in contemporary sound effects, making it sound incredibly modern, yet true to his core style. ‘On Coming from a Broken Home’ opens the album, as he tells his early-years story, contradicting racial and social stereotyping. On ‘Where Did the Night Go’ depicts emerging-dawn scribing of an unsent letter to a lost love. There’s so much more on this album; it’s like a single piece. After years ‘in the wilderness’ this LP has no right to be this good.
Another highlight is the title track ‘I’m New Here’ (not written by Gil, but owned by him forever); that produced a simple, but oh-so-human video.
#11 SUPERTRAMP ‘EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS’ (1977)
Coming after they hit the big time with ‘Dreamer’, but before ‘The Logical Song’, this mid-70s LP is less immediate as it includes longer songs than those, such as the title track, ‘From Now On’ and the absolute stand-out ‘Fool’s Overture’.
For those, like me, brought-up on a diet of progressive rock, ‘Fool’s Overture’ still ticked that box, but it was also melodic and very accessible. Churchill’s speech-making is sampled, as is Big Ben and, at over ten minutes, the whole song is BIG. It’s like they spent their career working up to this and it’s a triumph.
I remember sitting in the front row at Newcastle City Hall staring-upwards at the back projections whilst the music built up and up to a spine-tingling climax. It was the perfect end to a great concert, as can be heard on the version on their ‘Live in Paris’ album, and this clip from a more recent Roger Hodgson solo tour.
Incidentally, the support that night in Newcastle was Chris de Burgh who played an acoustic set based on his first two, rather decent, albums. The ‘Lady in Red’ debacle was years away.
‘Crime of the Century’ is undoubtedly Supertramp’s most consistent and best LP, but you’ll have that one already. Get this next.
#10 JONI MITCHELL ‘HEJIRA’ (1976)
Listen. I like Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, ‘This Flight Tonight’, ‘Both Sides Now’, and many more from her earlier albums, but I’m sick to death about reading that ‘Blue’ is her masterpiece, slaying all-comers from the rest of her catalogue. This view is perpetuated by lazy music journalists who listen to it a couple times, before plagiarising ‘100 Best Albums’ lists and old reviews from their brethren, before wiriting their own piece. Let me be clear: ‘Blue’ is good, but it’s boring. Joni still has that young, slightly screechy tone to her voice, and the instrumentation is dull and kind of half-hearted. As a record buyer, if you started with ‘Blue’ there’s a fair chance that was as about as far as you got.
This is the one to get. After the excellent ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’ she gave us ‘Hejira’, with both albums mined heavily on the marvellous live album ‘Shadows and Light’, on which guitarist Pat Metheny shines. Some of Joni’s best songs are here: the cinematic ‘Amelia’, the risqué ‘Coyote’, the wistful ‘Refuge of the Roads’ and my favourite ‘Song for Sharon’ where she compares her own independence to that of the domesticated Sharon. The lyrics are fiercely intelligent, rather like dense poems put to music. And that music is always interesting, featuring the elastic bass of Jaco Pastorius and sympathetic electric guitar from Larry Carlton and Joni herself.
A little bit of folk, more than a hint of jazz, a splendid, rich voice maturing nicely, and an overall sound that’s unique. This is Joni Mitchell’s masterpiece.
Still in doubt? Well, buy the lot here (other retail outlets are available). You won’t get ‘Shadows and Light’ though, and that’s also essential.
#9 NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS ‘NO MORE SHALL WE PART’ (2001)
Like many, I’d heard Nick Cave ‘release the bats’ with The Birthday Party on Peely’s show in the 80s, and then picked him up again via his ‘Murder Ballads’ album with the famous Kylie Minogue duet. His albums since then are all worth hearing, but ‘No More Shall We Part’ is my favourite.
The Piano features strongly throughout and, although it has a edgy feel (e.g. the opener ‘As I Sat Sadly By Her Side’) it’s essentially an album of ballads. Driving music, it ain’t. There are so many strong songs here: that opener, the title track, ‘Hallelujah’, ‘The Sorrowful Wife’ and, best of all, the sparse ‘God Is in the House’. Typical Cave, it’s all gothic and literary, and there are some memorable tunes that you’ll play again and again.
It’s a far cry from his Grinderman band albums, and their laments of unattainable kittens, but it’s a wonderful album. Highly recommended.
#8 GREY DE LISLE ‘THE GRACEFUL GHOST’ (2004)
“Did you hear that dog barking just then?” said the chap from a hi-fi dealer selling me a pair of high-end speakers a few years ago. We were listening to the CD version of this LP on his £25grand hi-fi set-up at his house and he was quietly raving about it.
What a strange album; so hard to classify. Is it country? Is it folk? Perhaps ‘spooky country-folk’ is about the best description of it.
Grey De Lisle is an American who’s main line of business is doing voice-overs for cartoons out of Hollywood, but she has this sideline; creating new music that sounds like it might have been recorded on some homestead on the Western Plains about one hundred years ago. Recorded on acoustic instruments (she plays autoharp and music box; with her band playing a host of unusual devices including celeste, pedal harmonium and an out-of-tune piano) on valve- based recording equipment. It sounds exquisite. As does her voice.
This is her at work; sadly not on this album, but it gives an insight into her method.
All the songs on ‘The Graceful Ghost’ tell stories of love, loss, death and the like, and it’s lovely. The vinyl version of this will be impossible to get a hold of now but, on a certain website’s ‘marketplace’, the CD version can be picked up for very little money. If you have any interest in Americana, then this is a must-have record.
Could I hear the dog barking? Well only just on my system….maybe. I like to imagine I can hear it, and that’ll do.
#7 Camille SAINT SAENS ‘SYMPHONY No.3 ‘ORGAN’’ (1886)
Saint Saens was a French composer who, if you know about this kind of thing, was considered the nearest thing they had to Beethoven. Perhaps, but Beethoven never played an organ like this.
I first came across this in the late 70s after a friend recommended it as a perfect introduction to a music lover brought up on rock and prog rock. Hmm. Anyway, I was told to turn down the lights and crank up the volume. The effect was, and remains, hilarious.
There’s a first movement that rises and falls, before a lovely slow second movement, where the bass pedals of the organ slowly emerge. The third movement is all urgency that ends on an extended pause before all hell breaks loose as the organ bursts forth. It sounds MASSIVE, great crashing chords. On first hearing it’ll most likely blow your socks (and anything else) off. I used to play it to girlfriends. A lot. The last movement has a melody you will definitely recognise, before building to a gigantic climax which will send a shiver down your spine, and put a huge grin on your face.
I must have heard every version of this symphony ever released and this Barenboim version is the best one; the perfect balance of sensitivity and scale, with a glorious analogue sound.
#6 PAUL BUCHANAN ‘MID AIR’ (2012)
The Blue Nile made a name for themselves in the ‘80s with the release of ‘Tinseltown in the Rain’ from their debut album ‘A Walk Across the Rooftops’. A hit of sorts, it was the prelude to a career of cult appeal to audiophiles and lovers of late night imagery, with lyrics depicting street lights, the persistent Glasgow rain, and the taillights of cars disappearing off into the suburbs. Three more albums followed, all of which are glorious in their restraint.
The phrase ‘long hiatus’ was invented by The Blue Nile, so it was a delightful surprise to see the release of this Paul Buchanan solo LP in 2012. Where one could describe the Blue Nile albums as gems of crafted precision, ‘Mid Air’ has a loose feel of home demos. All the tracks are short and mainly accompanied by piano only, with the occasional ethereal sound effect thrown in here and there. But like that gem, it is a thing of beauty. Buchanan’s voice aches with yearning (as usual) and it just seems so authentic. Listen to it in a low-lit room and it really sounds like he’s sitting just a few feet away in the half-light. Now that would be some gig.
Deceptively simple….a man at a piano….it gets better and better with each listen. Released just last year, this LP is destined to become a classic.
Watch Paul Buchanan perform ‘Half the World’ and ‘Mid Air’ at the Other Voices festival here
#5 MILES DAVIS ‘IN A SILENT WAY’ (1969)
Even if you’re not a jazz fan you’ll have been tempted to check out ‘Kind of Blue’ after reading another glowing review or seeing it, yet again, trounce all-comers in the ‘Best jazz album of all time’ polls. It is a milestone in music, never mind the jazz genre, and everyone with even a passing interest in jazz, should have a copy (especially music anoraks).
Ten years after ‘Kind of Blue’ Miles was entering his experimental jazz-fusion phase that was to last the following ten years. How do you describe ‘In a Silent Way’ to someone who hasn’t heard it? Four tracks merged into two side-long pieces. Side one’s ‘Shhh/Peaceful’ has this insistent hi-hat beat overlaid with mellow organ chords, electric guitar drifting in and out, and Miles’ trumpet echoing here and there. It’s ambient-like, easy to listen to, but not easy listening. ‘In a Silent Way’/’It’s About That Time’ on side two follows the template.
This one’s an acquired taste and there are times when the listener and it don’t click, but mostly you can sit back at this masterpiece of studio mixing-desk creation and wallow in moody meditation.
Buy it. As Miles would say “It’s as cheap as chips.”
#4 THE RUTS ‘THE CRACK’ (1979)
We all have our favourites. Here are a few punk and post-punk bands whose live impact was a cut above the one-chord-wonders: The Clash, The Motors, The Damned, The Pistols, early-U2, and The Ruts. In my view, The Ruts were best of the lot. I have memories of a storming live band who twice blitzed the Newcastle Mayfair Ballroom 30 years ago, giving absolutely thrilling performances. Whereas The Clash were super-high-energy and exciting ‘live’ as it gets, their music was somewhat loose. Nothing wrong with that, but The Ruts were different: all controlled aggression, and super-tight. Listen to ‘Dope For Guns’ on this album: punk precision even.
And the LP from which most of the songs came from is right up there with the best albums of the period. The lead-off track Babylon’s Burning is a well-known belter; ‘Something That I Said’, ‘Savage Circle’, ‘You’re Justa’, and ‘S.U.S.’ are all equal to it. ‘Jah War’ is a reggae piece outclasses anything The Clash did in the genre. Also, the production is excellent; the LP sounds dynamic and detailed.
Sadly, singer Malcolm Owen died of an overdose. There would have been much more to come from him in this band. After Malcolm died, they renamed themselves ‘Ruts D.C.’ and were very good but…..not great. They still tour today, once again as ‘The Ruts’.
#3 GENESIS ‘THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY’ (1974)
My first ever concert.
The band was scheduled to play Newcastle Odeon in the autumn of ’74 and I was going to miss them as, outrageously, my parents wouldn’t allow their kid son to go. Fortunately the band cancelled the gig (don’t know why), and soon were to re-schedule at Newcastle City Hall in April ’75. This time I didn’t ask permission and bagged a ticket, four rows from the front, slightly to the right of the stage. I’ll never forget the opening section of that gig: the hall suddenly thrust into darkness, a roar louder than that at St, James’ Park, the tinkling of Tony Banks’ keyboard opening the title track of the recently-released album; and then the sonic BLAST, the lights, and Peter Gabriel, centre-stage belting out “and the lamb lies down on BroadWAY!” Two mesmerising hours later, after an encore of ‘The Musical Box’ and ‘The Knife’, it was all over, and I was soon back in my bedroom crawling over the album sleeve and lyrics, whilst trying to commit every moment of the concert to memory.
‘The Lamb’ is far from the easiest Genesis album but it is well worth the effort. Highlights like the title track, ‘In The Cage’, ‘Counting Out Time’, ‘The Carpet Crawlers’, ‘The Lamia’, ‘The Colony of Slippermen’ and ‘It’ are surrounded by sometimes mediocre instrumentals but the overall effect is very satisfying, even nearly 40 years later. The LP is regularly placed near the top of prog polls and firmly warrants that position, with so much in it to discover and savour. Melody, dynamics, an undecipherable concept, and a thrilling climax: it’s an absolute winner.
Part one of its story is here.
#2 DONALD FAGEN ‘THE NIGHTFLY’ (1982)
My first Steely Dan record was ‘The Royal Scam’, purchased from a mail order record club. It was a regular on my Sanyo Music Centre turntable and tracks like ‘Sign in Stranger’, ‘Everything You Did’, the title track, and ‘Haitian Divorce’ were all easy to get into, and yet had a sophistication way beyond Barclay James Harvest.
But it’s this album ‘The Nightfly’ that is the peak of all things Dan. If you get to hear the Walter Becker albums, you’ll know that it’s Fagen that has the all the tunes, with that unforgettable voice. No one sounds like him and no one ever could.
The quality of musicianship on this LP is astonishing; almost inhuman. The band is tight as a drum, and its 38 minutes seemingly breeze by, in a foot-tapping joyful instant. ‘Green Flower Street’, ‘New Frontier’ (see great video here), ‘The Nightfly’ and ‘Walk Between Raindrops’ are all stunning.
Fagen continues to make superb records. His latest ‘Sunken Condos’ is worth anybody’s money, but ‘The Nightfly’ is the one you’ll keep going back to.
#1 BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN ‘DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN’ (1978)
Possibly the greatest rock album ever made.
Into prog and punk at the time, I was chatting to a work mate who asked if I’d ever heard Springsteen. I muttered something about hearing a song called ‘Born with the Runs’ or something, and he then recommended I hear ‘Darkness, and promptly lent it to me the next day.
It’s not an LP I immediately fell in love with. The songs took a long while to emerge from its ever-so-carefully-crafted, yet austere production. What I was struck by was its intensity. Here was a singer who meant business; he had a message and the listener was damned-well going to hear it. The songs are about ‘real’ working people, struggling to get by and maintain fragile relationships the face of a society that didn’t care.
If you listen as intensely and the band plays, then it envelopes you, and you can really feel the characters’ lives. ‘Badlands’, ‘The Promised Land’ and ‘Darkness’ are concert staples for Bruce but listen to them on this LP and it’s like you’re hearing them for the first time, and hearing Springsteen’s righteous anger.
It’s still my favourite Springsteen album and, in my opinion, the most fully-realised of his career. When I hear it, I’m that angry young man, and he’s singing to me; not some huge crowd, but me, sitting there with the album sleeve in one hand, clenched fist in the other, singing….
“Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and a king ain’t satisfied ‘till he rules everything….I wanna go out tonight, and I wanna find out what I got….” Listen