Over the past twenty years or so I have experienced many wonderful adventures in life. Many of these adventures and pleasures share a direct link with music. Music, my friends is like sex. The sex is in the rhythm. It moves you, shapes you and defines you. Along the way there have been countless artists and bands that have taken me by the scruff of the neck and excited me beyond my wildest dreams. Part of the journey has led me to discover albums that played a major impact in helping dictate my direction and views in life.
Here are the ten albums and the stories behind them.
10. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Released 46 years ago this month Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was the follow up to the progressive “Revolver” album from the previous year. Selling more than 32 million copies Sgt. Pepper sat on top of the UK album charts for a staggering 27 weeks along with a run of 15 weeks atop the USA album charts upon release.
My first contact with this experimental masterpiece came just before Christmas in 1986 when my parents bought a copy for my elder brother. Christmas that year was perhaps the last time I truly enjoyed the festive season. It was out last together as a family before my brother became a heroin addict and the last time my great grandparents and grandparents were all in the same room at the same time.
Each and every listen to Sgt. Pepper still sends chills down my spine. The first album that truly had an impact on my life. One could suggest it was the first time I realised the magic of music in all its glory.
9. The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead
One of the many advantages of being poor when I was young was learning the sounds and delights my brother would bring home from his Saturday morning record shopping sprees. He was working with a disposable income at the time and not yet into hard drugs. He returned from his regular trips into town with a regular bevy of albums from The Jam, The Sex Pistols, The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones, Madness and myriad of other bands.
Sometime in mid 1987 he laid a vinyl LP on his turntable in the bedroom we shared. It was by a then relatively unknown band from Manchester that went by the name of The Smiths. For the most part I despised having to share a bedroom with Paul. He was seven years my senior and, as much as I enjoyed the learning curve of music I found myself often struggling with sleep due to his late night listening sessions and the wretched stench from his cigarette and pot smoking habits that were rapidly developing.
Thankfully I was enlightened with my first listens to “The Queen Is Dead” which is to this day my most loved album from The Smiths. As the years rolled on Paul developed a lust for my hard drugs whilst I began to develop a passion for music and film. Despite his countless flaws I do owe him a great deal for introducing me to bands that I grew to love and adore.
8. David Bowie – Scary Monsters (and super creeps)
Christmas time once more and in 1992 I had discovered the other worldly sounds of David Bowie. One of the first albums I purchased from his back catalogue was “Scary Monsters”, a UK chart topping LP originally released in September 1980.
Often, and wrongly regarded as Bowie’s last great album I spent the tail end of 1992 and a good deal of 1993 wearing my cassette copy out from multiple plays. From start to finish there isn’t a dud track in sight. I have a deep love for this LP. It was the real beginning for me on my road to becoming who I am today. At the time of release “Scary Monsters” Bowie was given the tag line, “Often copied, never equaled” which has stood the test of time, even to this day.
7. Suede – Suede
The birth of Brit Pop has been wrongly attributed to the likes of Blur and Oasis. In 1993 and with grunge still the prominent genre of choice for the youth of Britain it took a seminal album release from “The best new band in Britain” as tagged by Melody Maker to persuade the music buying public that there was an alternative worth falling head over heals for.
Suede’s self titled debut was a sexually aural assault on the eardrums for many disillusioned teenagers, myself included. Sleazy lyrics, slick guitar riffs and the re-emergence of gender bending was enough to have me playing Suede’s debut album on constant rotation for many months. It was the first then current album I bought that made sense. Brett Anderson had made it cool to be different.
6. Blondie – Parallel Lines
The first American entry and perhaps one of the greatest disco albums ever released by any band, “Parallel Lines” found its way into the record shops in late 1978. By the early months of 1979 it was sitting atop the UK album charts and spawned six singles, four of them becoming TOP 10 hits in the UK.
I discovered this gem of a record whilst on a record shopping day in 1994. I had actually heard many of the songs beforehand on the radio however the only real way to listen to Blondie is by playing their albums in full from start to finish. By doing this you get the full picture on song development and progression.
What makes “Parallel Lines” such a sublime album is the addition of Mike Chapman as producer. Chapman gave Blondie a polished and sophisticated edge that moved them away from their New York punk roots.
5. Morrissey – Vauxhall and I
I was sat in my applied arts class on a brisk yet sunny April morning when I had learned of the new Morrissey album recently released thanks to a review in the latest Rolling Stone magazine left behind on the table. A glowing review, declaring “Vauxhall and I” an album of the year contender had set Morrissey into the stratosphere following a string of poor selling solo releases in the years that followed the breakup of The Smiths.
Morrissey may I state here and now is often undervalued for his contribution to contemporary music. He is also greatly misrepresented as the wallowing drone of misery. In fact his lyrical output is full of bravado and wit. You will find from listening to “Vauxhall and I” that Morrissey’s songwriting skills have rarely been bettered in the 19 years following its release.
With money hard to come by I had taken to the habit of trekking by bus to a store that rented CDs for next to nix, in turn giving me access to a greater deal of albums by the vast array of artists I was discovering at this point in my life. Once home I would record the albums onto cassette tapes and from there they would spend their days in my school bag or on my walkman.
“Vauxhall and I” sits head and shoulders above as a British classic. Even today when I play the album it sounds fresh, vibrant and just as important now as it did upon release all those years ago.
4. Suede – Dog Man Star
As you can see the period between 1993 and 1994 was one of enormous musical discovery for me. It seemed as though every other week there was an album released that I fell in love. Suede were the band of the 90’s for me. With a body of work unchallenged, Suede released “Dog Man Star” towards the end of 1994. Every new single was bundled with cracking b-sides and cover art. They had become the darlings of the British media. And rightly so!
So what is it about “Dog Man Star” that appealed to my 17 year old ears I hear you ask? Where do I start? Swirling guitar solo’s from Bernard Butler and some of the greatest lyrics ever put to music with beautiful falsetto vocals made this record an epic masterpiece regarded by many as Suede’s greatest offering. John Harris from the NME had this to say in his full page review. “a startling record: an album surrounded by the white heat of something close to genius”.
“Dog Man Star” became one of my early connections to the disembodiment of life in a disjointed London that I would discover in the years to come. It became a main stayer on my hi fi late at night through 1995 at times when it hit home that I wasn’t one to fit in with the Australian way of life.
3. Johnny Cash – Live From Folsom Prison
By late 1967 Johnny Cash had kicked his drug habit and was looking to evolve. Something he had been wanting to do for some time was perform at a United States prison. His wish came true in January 1968 when he played two shows at Folsom Prison in California. The result was a double live album brooding with a dark, raw and edgy sound.
From the opening bars you can feel the heat bursting from these recordings. I acquired my copy in 1999 on the recommendation by a good friend at the time who was only, himself just discovering the back catalogue of Johnny Cash. As far as live albums go I don’t think there are many better recordings available and what Cash brings to the table with this offering is an experience you will never forget.
My advice to a first time listener of “Live At Folsom Prison”? Turn the lights off, crank the volume as high as you can, sit back and set yourself in for a magical listening experience.
2. Sarah Blasko – What The Sea Wants, She Will Have
There are few artists alive today who can match Sarah Blasko for sheer beauty in vocal delivery. Her second studio release that appeared in 2006 was “What The Sea Wants, She Will Have” and it quickly became a personal favourite that sits proudly in my collection.
By this period of my life I had already discovered almost all there is to discover in music. At the time I was working as a travel agent and on a daily basis the other staff members subjected me to the commercial drone of top 40 music. The repetition would drive me to the edge. One afternoon I turned off the radio, popped “What The Sea Wants, She Will Have” into the CD player and subjected my colleagues to am impromptu form of musical education. It failed to win them over though it did reinforce my views that the vast majority of people are conditioned the horse shit they are force fed from commercial radio and when they actually hear an album of style, substance and quality their ears struggle to come to terms with the delights they are being introduced to.
A few months ago I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah Blasko and the short time we spent sharing a drinking left me with a deeper appreciation of her music after she described in some detail how she writes and the methods she utilises to ensure her songs are as good as they will be upon release.
1. David Bowie – The Next Day
I’d been feeling a little stale and bereft of inspiration from music over the latter stages of 2012. On January 8th this year I was sitting at a bus stop on my way home from work when I began to check emails and Facebook, as you do when killing time. At first it seemed impossible to believe. With a little investigation it soon became apparent that it was not a joke but in reality the best news I had received in a long while.
Following a ten year absence David Bowie had dropped a surprise single on his 66th birthday that left the music world in shock. A new single, “Where Are We Now” had been unexpectedly dropped for us to enjoy. News soon filtered through that Bowie would also be releasing his first studio album since 2003’s “Reality” which left me in a state of excitement I had not felt in many years.
Those who know me realise just how important Bowie has been in shaping my life over the past 21 years. On the back of this splendid news my zest and passion for music had returned. I was pulling albums out of the blue from bands I had not listened to in years. My enthusiasm was growing with each and every passing day in the lead up to March 8th and the release of “The Next Day”.
In the months since its release I have felt more alive than I ever have before. With my 36th birthday fast approaching I feel as though my own private world has turned a full circle. And with “The Next Day” topping the album charts in no less than 22 countries whilst becoming a treasured favourite with critics is it any wonder why I have fallen in love with music for the first time all over again?
One of the greatest gifts once can give is music. When you dig deep into the back catalogue of an artist or band you will not only find a goldmine of beautiful albums you will enjoy life defining moments on the back of your favourite releases.
These 10 albums may not be the greatest albums ever released, yet for me they trigger memories and moments that shaped my destiny and had a enlightening role in developing me into who I am today.