Advantages Passes the time
Disadvantages You'll probably think I'm a bit sad
Top Ten AlbumsHaving recently written about ten of my favourite songs I am led naturally towards thinking about ten of my favourite albums (LP's in old money). Listing Top Ten's is an essentially frivolous exercise but there is real pleasure to be gained from the process of revisiting the past and thinking carefully about things that have faded in the memory.
Not surprisingly, albums are a very different kettle of fish to singles. While all of us will have songs that have a particular resonance, this is largely an emotional response and you only need to hear a snatch of that song to be sent on a spiral of pleasurable reminiscences. Albums induce a more intellectual response. Firstly, there is the time investment involved; most albums run to more than an hour and only very few can be encapsulated in a single line or riff so to fully enjoy them you need to set aside that time. Secondly, beyond the artistry of the individual tracks there is the skill required in the compilation. Such things as running order and the balance between fast/slow, melancholy/upbeat tracks may often be taken for granted but have a huge influence on the overall quality of the record.The problems of making a list such as this are manifold and certain editorial decisions need to be made. I could go for a straight list which may include multiple entries by a single artist, or try and cover all aspects of my record collection by only picking one entry from any genre. To give myself some boundaries I'll only have one entry per artist but beyond that I've left it open, I've included a couple of soundtracks which is probably cheating and one Greatest Hits which is a real cop out (but what a Greatest Hits though!). Another problem I've found with publishing these lists is that you tend to be judged by your choices so I'm caught in the dilemma of whether to include a couple of obscure or outrageously cool choices just to enhance my kudos, but luckily I can't think of any that fit those descriptions so rest assured the list is all me, good or bad.
As with my choice of singles I am indebted to my older brother and sisters for introducing me to some great music at a young age. While my brother didn't get a look in with the singles his taste for glam/rock/concept albums may fare better here.
Anyway, that's enough preamble so, in no particular order, here are ten of my favourite albums. Enjoy.
By 1994 Blur were already a couple of albums to the good, 'Leisure' and 'Modern Life is Rubbish' having set the stage for the outbreak of BritPop, but it was 'Parklife' that really made them. Typical of the music at the time, the tracks are a mish-mash of influences from around the decades riding on jaunty tunes and topped with Damon Albarn's distinctive vocals. Tracks such as 'Girls and Boys', 'End of a Century' and the incomparable 'Parklife' provided a soundtrack to the times and were almost parochially British in their outlook.At one and the same time this album is both synonymous with the times in which it was released and timeless in its durability. It has humour and musical quality in spades, the follow-up album 'The Great Escape' tried to continue the theme but Ken Livingstone will never be the draw that Phil Daniels is and 'Parklife' is likely to remain the high point for Blur.
Oasis - (What's the Story) Morning Glory ~
Following on the theme, next up is Oasis's best album (obviously in my opinion as it's my list). Having traded blows with Blur for a while this was their response to 'Parklife', and what a response. Following the effective but shallow 'Definitely, Maybe' this album really raised the bar for British pop/rock. The writing and performance of the Gallagher brothers explodes out of this album and catapulted Oasis to a global audience that Blur could only dream about. While Blur would call on The Kinks and The Small Faces for their influences Oasis made no bones about aping The Beatles, much was made of this at the time but really, who cares? This album has so much quality in its own right that it doesn't deserve to have praise diluted with references to earlier times.
The three anthemic tracks: 'Wonderwall', 'Don't Look Back in Anger' and 'Morning Glory' could carry many an album but to have them all in one place is just being spoilt. Oasis may lack the wit and intellectual pretensions of Blur (I can't see them rhyming Balzac/Prozac anytime soon) but then with tracks like these why would they bother.
Pulp Fiction Soundtrack ~
Moving on with the theme we now cross the Atlantic for what is possibly the best soundtrack album ever. Beyond his skill with dialogue Quentin Tarantino also has a gift for selecting the music to score his films; he manages to pull together an eclectic mix of styles and artists and blend them into the film so that both are enhanced. By inter-weaving the songs with excerpts of dialogue from the film he has also managed to make the soundtrack an integral part of the film experience.
The result is a melange of such disparate artists as Ricky Nelson, Chuck Berry, Dusty Springfield and Kool and the Gang; how these all hang together is a mystery, but it does and creates a whole so much better than the sum of it's parts.
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong - Porgy & Bess ~
This 1957 recording was produced to coincide with the release of the film version of Gershwin's opera but in many ways it outstripped the movie and has become, for many, the version of choice. I first bought this record when I was fifteen, which was something of a pleasant surprise for my dad (a professional jazz musician himself) as it was something of a departure from my usual fare, and I have loved it ever since. Fitzgerald and Armstrong are two of the most popular and distinctive jazz musicians ever and their collaboration here is amazing. Armstrong may not have the best voice in the world but it is perfectly suited both to the character of Porgy and to this piece, never more so than on the track 'Bess, You is My Woman Now'. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, possibly does have one of the best voices around and is one of the reasons I had to qualify my praise for Aretha Franklin in the previous selection. Hers is a voice of precision and beauty that few can match, but if there is one reservation about her work here it is that she is too good. She sings the songs to perfection but does not necessarily play the role. That's by-the-by though, her rendition of 'Summertime' is sublime and she is never less than brilliant. It would be easy to file this under easy listening dinner party music but really it is too good to be left in the background. Play it and give it your full attention, you'll feel better for it I promise.
Beach Boys - Pet Sounds ~
It came as no surprise when I learnt recently that Brian Wilson had written, and intended to release, this album entirely as a solo project. So many of the songs are of such a personal nature and so far removed from the Surfing USA sound of earlier records that it is much more of an individual piece. Tracks such as 'Caroline, No' and 'I Just Wasn't Made For These Times' are just so much more personal than the collective memories of earlier works about Californian Girls and borrowing daddy's T-Bird. The album has a wilful melancholy running through it which is probably reflective of the disillusionment of the late sixties, but I wouldn't know as I wasn't there. While this is clearly Wilson's record, it was a wise decision to involve the rest of the band as together they create a wall of harmonies that is just sublime. Sandwiched between the Beatles releases 'Rubber Soul' and 'Sgt Pepper' this album trumps them both.
Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Welcome Back my Friends ~
There are many advantages to sharing a bedroom with a brother ten years older than you. You get to witness first hand the perils of teenage drinking, as evidenced by copious vomit out the window and on the floor over your Dinky cars. You also get access to their substantial 'stash' and, not least, you get exposed to music far beyond your years and often played very loud. From T-Rex and Black Sabbath through Yes and oddities such as Mud ('Tiger Feet' anyone?) there was some weird and eye-opening stuff to be sure. Perhaps weirdest of all was the supergroup behemoth that was Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Part of the wave of post-sixties self indulgent pomposity that did more to encourage punk than anything else, ELP were a group that took themselves very seriously but managed to produce some amazing music at the same time. Almost to the point of self-mockery they produced a string of records that grew in their pop-opery with each release. At the peak of this nonsense was the triple (count 'em) album 'Welcome Back My Friends' a collection of live recordings from 1974. Despite the self-reverence, Keith Emerson, Carl Palmer and Greg Lake were three very talented musicians and none were going to take a back seat, especially in concert. For this reason few of the tracks run less than five minutes and most are over ten. The third album is entirely taken up with one track (Karn Evil 9) split into three sections and includes the longest drum solo I've ever heard. For some reason I've never go round to getting this on CD and I keep a very old turntable almost exclusively to play this record. Solid gold nonsense.
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