Monday, February 16, 2009

15 Albums

This came to me via Facebook, but I liked it so much that I thought I'd share with those who have no desire to look over on that application. The idea was to find 15 albums that, "that had a profound effect. Dug into your soul. Music that brought you to life when you heard it. Royally affected you, kicked you in the wasu, literally socked you in the gut, is what I mean. If I tagged you, try it yourself." I found it hard to limit myself to merely 15, but hey, best laid plans of mice and/or men often yadda yadda yadda. Read on.

DANNY’S NOTE: Only 15? That ain’t gonna be easy but the following 15 albums are never far from me. Mind you I could do this all day and never repeat an album. I’ve limited myself to one album by any one artist and no greatest hits. Even so I’m missing a lot of albums that I love to listen to. I couldn’t stop at 15, hence the tie for 15th spot. I'm not sure that these albums changed my life, but they've certainly had an impact and I still love to listen to them. Instead of just jotting down album titles I've given my reasons as to why I love them, along with some tracks worth listening to. Hey - don't take my word for it, go and have a listen yourself. There’s more to come, if anyone is bothered to hear my ranting on albums. Just ask for the next 15...

1. Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On. The perfect album. Marvin at the top of his game here. Tired of being labelled a love song balladeer and fighting a deep depression that saw him wanting to quit music entirely, Marvin elected to show people what protest singing and protest songs were all about. Still valid today and just as fresh after nearly 40 years. Marvin decided to then show the world what an album of love songs would sound like and released his follow-up, Let’s Get It On, an album just as good (Barry White based his entire career on it). This one, though, is the ultimate album.
KEY CUTS: All of them. Not a dud in sight. The perfect album. You’ll play it all the way through and find yourself wondering why there isn’t more. Even better on CD where you don’t have to flip the album, indeed this album is the perfect CD, created for the format over a decade before it was invented. Get the Legacy Edition for the full picture, including some great songs aimed at his soon to be ex-wife...

2. U2: Achtung Baby. Never, EVER, listen to this album whilst separating from a significant other, especially if you have razor blades handy. For a band that was fractured and on the verge of splitting, that they could make any album, let alone this one, should be considered a miracle in itself. Lost for ideas, Bono needed material and looked no further than The Edge who was divorcing from his wife. Using truisms as a valid song writing tool, the lyrics merged with the incredible noises that only The Edge can create to capture lightening on an album. Stunning album, the best they’ve ever done no matter how much they try to hype up albums. Nothing since has surpassed it, nothing before came close and I doubt anything they do will ever get near it.
KEY CUTS: Love Is Blindness, Acrobat, The Fly, Until The End Of The World

3. Depeche Mode: Songs Of Faith And Devotion. Much like Achtung Baby this could have easily been called ‘Songs To Kill Yourself To’ and shared a similar pattern. Dave Gahn’s vocals sound like flesh tearing on most tracks, and, for once, he could feel the pain behind the lyrics and it shows. Ridden with angst it’s the Mode at their most lethal.
KEY CUTS: In My Room, Judas, I Feel You, Higher Love

4. Robert Plant: Dreamland. The album where Plant shows that the band he was once in no longer exists and there’s good reason for it. Plant couldn't have made a bolder statement unless he wrote a song called "Fuck Off You Has-Been". Oh, hang on, he did do that on the follow-up, only under a different title. One listen and you'll understand why he doesn't want to do a Zeppelin reunion, and also why the other two need him more than he does them. You can forgive him Walking Into Clarksdale and Shaken’ & Stirred when you hear this.
KEY CUTS: Funny In Mind, Darkness Darkness, Morning Dew

5. Bon Jovi: Keep The Faith. Stop laughing. This was the album that could have set the band up as a serious act. By the mid 1990s they’d dropped the poodle cuts, the crappy ‘anthem’ songs and had emerged from a crisis of faith (that being Jon Bon Jovi wanting to just let the band die) with a new bass player and an all new direction, best evident on the song Save A Prayer with a guitar line that wouldn’t sound out of place on a U2 album. And, for a brief, shining moment, it worked. At its best the album is a killer, at it’s worst it’s still better than anything that came before it. The follow-up was just as good, but sadly didn’t sell all that many copies, so it was back to pumping out crap like Livin’ On A Prayer and Bad Medicine. Sad really.
KEY CUTS: Keep The Faith, Save A Prayer, Dry County, Bed Of Roses.

6. Skyhooks: Living In The ‘70s. God, did they get better than this? Debut albums are often hard to go past and this is no exception. From the moment Shirley purrs, “I feel a little crazy”, this album excites and still sounds clear. Everyone who grew up in Australia in the 1970s knew this album – even though the bulk of it’s songs were banned from radio play it didn’t stop anyone from buying the album like it was going out of fashion. Shirley’s voice was a talent from above, with the right prompting he’d have been as big as anyone. They didn’t come much better than this for pure sing-along enjoyment.
KEY CUTS: You Just Like Me ‘Coz I’m Good In Bed, Horror Movie, Livin’ In The ‘70s, Whatever Happened To The Revolution – hell, let’s just say the whole album and be done with it.

7. Sex Pistols: Never Mind The Bollocks. “I am an Anti-Christ!” God, did it get any fresher than this? In the era of ELP, ELO and all those other bands with initials in their name, this was like hearing someone farting during class and then telling the teacher to go and fuck himself. Brilliant!! The album that polarises everyone – you either love it or loathe it, there is no middle ground. Where Sweet would sing, “For fox’s sake!” and think they were clever, John Lydon would sing, “We’re so pretty, pretty va-cunt!” or “Or just another cunt-ry!” As subtle as a brick really, and for the time, just what was needed. I once got sent home for bringing this to school in year 9 (I believe). Singing Pretty Vacant didn’t help my cause any. I still wanna be anarchy!
KEY CUTS: Pretty Vacant, Anarchy In The UK, God Save The Queen

8. Dire Straits: Making Movies. Dire Straits did better songs than most of this album, but they never did a better album. Trust me, it makes sense when you hear it. Sure Money For Nothing has the perfect intro, Love Over Gold sold a billion more copies, as did Brothers In Arms. Still, those two albums are missing one important ingredient – an underpinning concept that ties the album together. And what was the concept? The one thing that gets everyone in, the one concept that almost everyone can identify with – yearning for lost love. This is one of those albums that is relatively short and leaves the listener wanting more, always a good sign. Knopfler never sang this good and for a shining moment showed that he wasn’t merely a Bob Dylan clone who could play some tasty guitar. Working as a three piece band, with the addition on Roy Bittan (on loan from Bruce Springsteen, and still Jim Steinman’s best keyboard player) Knopfler created some of the best songs he’s ever done. Very little he’s done since and nothing before, beats his lyrics to Hand In Hand (opening line, “The sky is crying, the streets are full of tears,”) nor the cinematic soundscape that is Tunnel Of Love. Making Movies indeed – this is a soundtrack for those who know better.
KEY CUTS: Tunnel Of Love, Romeo & Juliet, Hand In Hand, Skateaway, Les Boys

9. Queen: The Works. Picking one Queen album is nearly impossible for me. Innuendo, with its magnificent title track is always close to hand. A Kind Of Magic – hey, it was the soundtrack to Highlander, but that wasn’t all it was, it was a masterpiece. Sheer Heart Attack and the brilliance of Flick Of The Wrist, and the follow-up, A Night At The Opera. Queen were hard pressed to release crap which is why their albums all hold up and gems can still be found. The Works, however, holds a special place in my heart. I wasn’t overly fond of Hot Space (the predecessor) and I suspect that the band wasn’t either. The Works was a short album but was one of those pure rarities – an album in which every band member wrote a top ten hit. This was the album that set the band back on track, established solid bedrock and allowed them to move out of the ‘70s and into the ‘80s. Where Hot Space leapt onto bandwagons, The Works created them. Freddie never sounded, or indeed looked, better than this. Look for the non-album cuts, I Go Crazy, Thank God It’s Christmas and Love Kills – the latter essentially a Freddie solo track, but one which features all members of Queen (the trade-off so that the band could use the footage from Metropolis in the video for Radio Ga-Ga), plus the remixes. Indeed this is one album that I have where every song, bar two, is in official remixed form.
KEY CUTS: Radio Ga-Ga, Is This The World We Created?, Machines, I Want To Break Free, Keep Passing The Open Windows, Tear It Up.

10. Ryuichi Sakamoto: Heartbeat. I love Sakamoto - he's a guilty pleasure - and as such it’s another difficult choice to narrow him down to one album alone. This album saw Sakamoto show the techno heads how good techno could sound, when fused with actual music and merely found sounds. One listen and you’ll be hooked. Plus he was kissed by David Bowie! Hot damn man!
KEY CUTS: Heartbeat, Lulu, Song Lines, Nuages

11. Sade: Smooth Operator. This album got me through the entire year of 1984, along with U2’s The Unforgettable Fire. Sade’s silky smooth vocals are some of the best you’re likely to hear. The perfect late night album, especially if you put the headphones on and just float away into Sade’s world. If you don’t like jazz before hearing this you soon will, and if you like jazz then you already know what I’m talking about. All the modern jazz girls, it all comes back to this and Sade can still show them how it’s done, even today. Plus she’s ageless!!! God!
KEY CUTS: Your Love Is King, Why Can’t We Live Together, Frankie’s First Affair, Smooth Operator.

12. Pearl Jam: Vs. Unofficially titled ‘Five Against One’, this album, along with a few others including it’s processor, actually saved me from committing suicide in 1994, as opposed to merely contemplating the act. The perfect Pearl Jam album, even with its stolen riffs (hey – what’s a Pearl Jam album if not someone else’s songs?). From the screaming Immigrant Song update of Animal through to the tender moments such as Daughter, this is an album that captures the time perfectly. Listen to it loud and annoy the neighbours.
KEY CUTS: Animal, Rearviewmirror, Drop The Leash, Indifference

13. Neil Young: Freedom. People will now complain that there’s plenty of good Neil Young albums, and those albums are better than this. They might indeed be right, but this album served a vital purpose for me – see Pearl Jam. I still can’t listen to some songs on this without wanting to break down weeping; such is the power of Neil’s voice and the haunting melodies that he creates. The album has soaring highlights and no real lowlights at all. What you think a song is often isn’t – Don’t Cry, which starts soft and sweet and then erupts into screaming white noise and feedback, somehow it all fits. When Neil unleashes he hits the mark perfectly, and when he sings the love songs, well, it breaks the heart. The Ways Of Love will kill anyone who even has a little spark of affection for a long lost lover. Try and find the EP Eldorado, which showcases three of the songs here in rough form along with two off-cuts, one of which, Cocaine Eyes, is as good as anything Neil has ever done. Personally I’d rather hear the rough mixes.
KEY CUTS: Rockin’ In The Free World, Crime In The City, Eldorado, Don’t Cry, Wrecking Ball

14. Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti. Confession time – I always wanted to be a drummer. People would tell me to listen to this album and I seriously couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. Then I bought the remastered CD and put it on the headphones. First two tracks were damn good, and then In My Time Of Dying kicked in. About four minutes later I didn’t want to be a drummer anymore and there was still eight minutes of song to convince me I'd made the right choice. Why? Because I’d never be anywhere near as good as John Bonham. I expect that’s a common thought really (I gave up being a serious guitarist after hearing Eddie Van Halen too – God, I’m weak). The drumming on that track is worth the price of the album alone. Forget Led Zeppelin IV and Stairway To Heaven, this is the only album you need to own. Get the remastered version; don’t buy the earlier versions, or even the vinyl. You need to hear the subtle nuances in this (yep, subtle nuances in a Zep album). This is the album that everyone took influence from, from Jeff Buckley to Tori Amos to The Edge, it’s all there. Even the filler tracks are better than the music that contemporary bands such as Deep Purple or Black Sabbath were offering up at the time as key cuts. Jimmy Page might have been a damn good guitarist, but this album shows that without the rhythm section of John Paul Jones and Bonham Page wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on. Jones’s bass lines and playing are as inventive and virtuoso, if not more, than the much heralded Page’s guitar lines. The way that he underpins Dying, when Page begins to play so fast that you expect him to fall apart, Bonham’s drumming begins to overpower it all is incredible. Robert Plant’s vocals are crystal clear – after five albums the band knew exactly what they were capable of and then stopped it up a notch. You’ll hear the band in an all new light and realise what Plant, Page and Jones have been saying all along – Led Zeppelin were four parts in perfect unison. Remove one part and you’re left with Walking Into Clarksdale.
KEY CUTS: Kashmir, In My Time Of Dying, Custard Pie, The Rover, In The Light, Night Flight, Houses Of The Holy


15a. Jeff Buckley: Grace. Lord, was there a better vocalist than Jeff Buckley? The often used cliché, ‘The voice of an angel’ actually fits Buckley – his voice was gifted from above. I saw him in concert here and it still remains one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. He hit the notes, he tore the heart out of everyone present – when he sang Hallelujah and Corpus Cristi Carol I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Last Goodbye was the only time I saw an entire audience just waiting during the introduction, and then leap up and dance in perfect unison when the song finally kicked in. Incredible wasn’t the word. Could the album be better? It’s hard to know. Certainly some of the tracks discarded were as good as anything on the album. Track down the Legacy Edition for the bonus tracks, Forget Her is something akin to Neil Young’s Don’t Cry, haunting with a violent guitar passage that explodes when you least expect it. Forget the many ‘greatest hits’ and all the other cash in compilations – this is the only Buckley album you need, the only album that he fully realised and released before his tragic death.
KEY CUTS: Lilac Wine, Last Goodbye, So Real, Eternal Life

15b. Leo Sayer: Just A Boy. Again, stop laughing. This is a killer album, albeit the complete opposite to the Sex Pistols. Leo managed to create a concept album that crept underneath everyone’s radar. It also managed to become one of the most beloved hidden pleasures for a lot of people, which is why Australia loves Leo. Brilliantly sublime.
KEY CUTS: Long Tall Glasses, Train, The Bells Of St. Marys, Giving It All Away


Anonymous said...

I don't even know where to begin with this one. Queen is one of my most favorite bands of all time. I own every one of their albums. My personal favorite albums are: The Works and The Miracle. However, The Game is a very strong album, definitely top five for me. Hot Space gets a bad rap. Listen to it again Danny. Focus on the following four tracks: Action This Day, Put out the Fire, Las Palabras De Amor, Under Pressure. People think it's a disco influenced album, but it's not. Actually, it's my understanding that Michael Jackson was in studio with them during some of the sessions, and he was a big fan of theirs. Good album.

Pearl Jam vs. is also my favorite album from Pearl Jam, who in turn is one my favorite bands of all time. I had to work my way through college (which I am now, several years later, very proud of) and I had a cassette walkman with the song WMA on a continuous loop. I'd listen to that song for hours as I scraped dishes and scrubbed pots in a hospital dish room. That album (and particularly that song) got me through a very angry period in my life. It really helped me cope.
Neil Young - Great. Led Zep - Great. Robert Plant - Great! Dire Straits - Great. What an awesome list. The only artists I would have included that you didn't would have been Yes, The Police and Sam Cooke.

Danny said...

Don't get me wrong, I like Hot Space, just that it's an album in search of a cohesive direction, which it lacks. It moves from the hard rock of Put Out The Fire, to funk and just plain odd. Michael Jackson was involved and he wrote, I believe, two songs with Freddie. Actually Freddie was the original vocalist on State Of Shock - go figure - until the Jacksons removed him and replaced with Mick Jagger. It's a damn good album, just not as good as their best. Still, as a bad album, I'd take it anytime.

Never liked Yes - shoot me now. They did nothing for me at all. Police, well...if I get the chance I might do another 15 Albums entry. Sam Cooke...well I missed the Righteous Brothers, the Temptations and a host of others. Plus I also missed what I believe is the best Springsteen album...but that's for the follow-up.

geoff b. said...

Has the time come at last to rehabilitate the reputation of Leo Sayer? Brave man!

I loved Long Tall Glasses and its predecessor Silverbird as a young teenager growing up in country Queensland in the 70s. But then along came ... well, ahem ... Alice Cooper. And later, the Pistols ... and etc.

Those Leo Sayer albums wouldn't have been on my turntable for more than 30 years, but you've inspired me to dig 'em out and give 'em a spin!

Thanks, I think!

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree with you more for picking What's Going On as your 1st choice. This is the album I probably play more than any other on my ipod.

Booksteve said...

I just recently listened to WHAT'S GOING ON (on cassette!) for the first time in years and I told my wife, "This may be the perfect album!" From the iconic pictures to the still more-than-relevant but not overbearing lyrics and the relentless sound assault of the music. It's almost really ONE non-stop musical speech that touches on a number of different subjects important to this one man, each in a different tone but always impassioned. Amazing. There's no reason in the world it shouldn't be horribly dated (like GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW) but it certainly isn't.

On another subject, my local public library for years (its better now) had the complete discography of Leo Sayer...but no Beatles music at all. What th...!!?

Danny said...

The complete Leo Sayer yet no Beatles eh? Perhaps they knew something that no-one else did.

I heard an interview recently with Leo where he was asked about that awful 'All This And World War II' album. The interviewer asked why did he ever agree to it and Leo responded, "Well, if your manager comes up and says, 'Hey, how would you like to cut a couple of Beatles songs with George Martin?' you just say yes, you don't worry about bad it's going to look down the track."

Leo is a damned good songwriter with a very distinctive voice. I like him. And it's a killer album.

Marvin's album will never date because what Marvin sang about - racial issues, war, child abuse...they're still with us today. Until we live in a perfect world Marvin's message will always be relevant. That album could top the charts if it was released today, even the music is perfect.