A friend recently threw out the question "what is your favourite album and why ?". What ? Just one ? Not possible. So I present for you here the 5 albums that have had the most effect on me, and why.
David Bowie - The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars
I'd love to be able to claim that as a hip 10 year old I remember seeing Bowie perform "Starman" on TOTP in 1972, persuaded my parents to get me a copy of "Ziggy..." and have been in its thrall ever since.
The truth is I didn't really "discover" Bowie until the early 80's. But since I first heard this record I have indeed been in it's thrall.
From the opening, swelling drum pattern to "Five Years" introducing us to crying newsmen, soldiers, cops, priests and violent young girls at the end of the world; through the hooligan guitar psych-out that is "Moonage Daydream" where Bowie lets Mick Ronson off the leash; into the proto-Punk of "Suffragette City", "Ohhh, wham bam thank you maam!" indeed; and ending with the doomed inevitabilty of "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" this album presents you with everything that was good about early 70's rock (i.e it was lean and pretty and there were no beards involved), introduced a wider audience to arguably the most important solo artist of the 1970's and beyond, and even though he lifted great chunks of it from the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, Bowie laid the foundations for what was to come towards the end of the decade...1-2-3-4...
Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run
I used to work for a professional audio/visual equipment suppliers. There, I worked with a guy called Rob who introduced me to a lot of music I'd never otherwise have heard. I got my first ever tax rebate while I was working there and said to Rob one afternoon that I fancied something different to listen to and did he have anything to recommend ? Without hesitation "Born To Run" is what he suggested and I don't think in the ensuing 30+ years I've ever thanked him for that, so, THANKS ROB !
This is music on a grand scale. The lyrics conjure up images that for an 18 year old who'd never been to America described some of it's less well known attractions vividly.
"The screen door slams, Mary's dress waves,
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays,
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely,
Hey that's me and I want you only"
"Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge,
Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain,
The Rat pulls into town rolls up his pants,
Together they take a stab at romance and disappear down Flamingo Lane"
Hell you can see it right there in front of you.
The characters that inhabit these songs have become like old friends: Mary, Terri, Wendy, the Rangers and the The Magic Rat, Scooter and the Big Man, Eddie and his friend heading for a meeting across the river that's gonna solve all their problems this time while Cherry waits at home, it feels like I know them all.
Add into the mix the hardest rockin', funkiest bar band on the planet (that's the E-Street Band to you and me) and, as I said, this is music on a grand, cinematic scale.
Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols
I remember vividly the first time I heard "God Save The Queen". I was in my Nan's living room where my brother and I were using our Uncle's Phillips music centre (it had a smoked perspex lid) to play some singles we'd bought after reading about this Punk Rock stuff in the music papers (Sounds probably, I don't think we'd progressed to the NME at that point). One of the singles was the Stranglers "Peaches/Go Buddy Go" combination and the other was the Pistols "God Save the Queen".
We dropped the needle on the groove and...it felt like I was physically hurled across the room and pinned against the opposite wall for 3 minutes and 20 seconds. When it had finished I think I was in shock.
Did I really just hear that ?
People don't make records that sound like that.
Do they ?
They do ?
So I played it again....and again...and again...you get the picture (yes, we see)...just to reassure myself that I had heard it right. And I think I knew then that some things were never going to seem quite the same ever again.
When they finally released "Never Mind The Bollocks..." friends of ours went to ridiculous lengths to keep the record out of sight of their parents. Thankfully we had somewhat more enlightened parents who bought the record for us. One of our mates had it in brown paper bags under his bed and we had to wait until his folks had gone out before we could go round and hear it.
But what a sound they made. I know many will disagree with me but I think the way the Pistols sounded was as, if not more, important than what they were saying. You couldn't understand most of what Johnny Rotten was singing anyway but the sound...it sounded like fear and rage and loathing and desperation and something slightly evil. "Holidays In The Sun" has to be one of the scariest sounding pieces of music I've ever heard. We didn't know what Anarchy was but we could hear in this music some of the way we felt about things.
To this day if I have a bad day I play "God Save The Queen" on my iPod VERY LOUD and 3 minutes and 20 seconds later I remember that someone else feels that way too and it's OK.
The Jam - All Mod Cons
This is MY band and this is their finest moment. I'm not saying they went downhill from here but this is the point where The Jam stepped up from new wave also rans to become the most important band in the UK. The point at which Paul Weller introduced himself as our generations Ray Davis (they even covered The Kinks "David Watts" for this album), a sharp interpreter of ordinary peoples lives, hopes and fears.
It's another record full of great characters. The rock star on the slide, Mr Clean, Billy Hunt, the guy and his girlfriend in trouble at the Vortex, Saturdays kids who "drink lots of beer and wait for half time results" and the tragic hero of Weller's first truly magnificent moment, "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight" (a song every bit as vivid as anything on "Born To Run" but maybe in a 22" black and white TV way rather than Springsteen's cinematic scope) waiting to get back to his wife with a curry and a bottle of plonk but having his life smashed by drunken right-wing thugs.
They even threw in 2 ballads ("English Rose" and "Fly") something unheard of in these angry young man post-'77 days.
"Down In the Tube Station At Midnight" and "A Bomb In Wardour Street" describe what a scary and violent place Britain could be back then, but to temper that Weller gives us the daydreamer "Billy Hunt" and the ever hopeful "The Place I Love" where he's "making a stand against the world" in the imaginary place he goes where everything is right with the world. "In The Crowd" addresses rampant consumerism and "Mr Clean" is a sharp pointed stick jabbed at the British class system.
Then there was the artwork. Sta-prest, monkey boots, targets, scooters and that title which Weller has admitted was just an excuse to get the word Mod on an album cover.
What's that ?
And because of what Paul Weller gave us on this record, which was much more than just the music in the grooves, I discovered soul music and The Small Faces and 501's with 1" turn ups and Ska/Blue Beat and the thrilling sound of a Hammond B3. So there is much, much more that I owe to this band than just this record...but just the record itself would have been fine.
The Clash - London Calling
We couldn't believe it when we heard. A double album ! Isn't that what rock dinosaurs do ? But then they sold it to us for the price of a single album and when we heard it...oh man...that band were having such a good time exploring where they could go you couldn't help but get caught up in it.
"Sing Michael sing
On the roof of a 19 bus"
The Clash's previous album had been none too popular after their debut's punk rush so there was an almost "have they lost it" feeling in the air. But the title track put us right on that score and the rest of the album took us on a musical journey through rock 'n' roll, jazz, soul, reggae and a huuuge Springsteen-esque (there he is again !) piano ballad. All of it had great tunes, you could feel the low slung rebel guitar poses they were pulling and there were lyrics you could quote forever:
"London calling to the faraway towns, Now war is declared - and battle come down"
"I wasn't born so much as I fell out, Nobody seemed to notice me"
"What are we gonna do now?
Taking off his turban, they said, is this man a Jew?'
Cause they're working for the clampdown
They put up a poster saying we earn more than you!"
"But I believe in this and it's been tested by research, He, who fucks nuns, will later join the church"
"I've been beat up, I've been thrown out, But I'm not down, I'm not down"
I could go on and on quoting them. Needless to say if you've never heard this album you need to, NOW. And if you haven't listened to it in a while, then go do it, NOW!
My brother and I were fortunate enough to meet Joe Strummer a few months before he tragically left us. That short meeting has left an impression on me that I'll never forget and now I know why I love that man's music so much. We lost one of the greats when Joe went.