I was recently tagged in one of those ‘List 10 seminal albums which changed your life’ memes on Facebook. Instead of just replying on a social network which may or may not exist in the future, and just giving them more content to memorise, I figured I’d go into a little more detail here.
These aren’t all my favourite albums. Or those that contain my favourite singles of all time. Or what Last.fm tells me I’ve listened to the most since 2007. But they’re what I believe had the biggest impact on me, blurred by the mists of time.
My dad was a bit of a DJ and soul fan in his youth, so I associate classic soul with vinyl being carefully placed on his Sony record player. It was an early link between us, particularly as we both favoured the rawer sounds of Stax Atlantic over the superficial gloss of most Motown. And it’s a link that has lasted almost 40 years. I could have chosen Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, Sam Cooke etc, but Otis Blue is probably the album that stands out most for me, because it’s Otis Redding, it’s got a range of styles and covers as well as original songs, and it’s got ‘Change Gonna Come’ and ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ rather than ‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.
As a child, I was fascinated by ‘Marlene on the Wall’ without having a clue what the lyrics meant. As I got older, ‘The Queen and The Soldier’ remains one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs above the tragedy of love that I’ve heard. And it also opened my eyes and ears to the beauty of one person and a guitar, as well as sparking a love affair which is rekindled every time I hear a female singer/songwriter. In an alternate reality, a 20-something me is a struggling novelist in a New York loft with a beautiful songwriter girlfriend…
I was 9 or 10 when Top of the Pops played the video of ‘One’ by Metallica. Four guys in a circle in a warehouse playing music with the weight of concrete, combined with a subject and lyrics which probably led to my interest in history and war poets. After a weekend of headbanging around the living room, I went out and ended up with their first album instead, which was fortunate in terms of chronology, and also contained some of the loudest, most enthusiastic thrash metal ever. Thus began my years of leather jackets, blank jeans, long hair and playing guitar.
I bought this album on the first day a school friend took me into the local town centre to meet a group of metal fans who hung around together. It marked the first time I’d gone and joined a load of people by choice, my first real encounter with underage drinking, and my first real kiss with a teenage girlfriend, who left her mark by sitting on my then brand-new CD and cracking the case. The romance lasted a couple of weeks, my drinking became legal and virtually non-existent, but the album is still great. And now gets requested by my young son for Cowboys From Hell…
Just a brilliant album with no filler in 33 minutes which was learned by heart, sung in it’s entirety with my best friend at school as we’d walk home, and inspired various attempts at school bands which were great fun even if it didn’t lead to stardom. Led to going to gigs, discovering the earlier, punkier records, and eventually getting to interview founding and departed member Ben Deily, whose current band ‘Varsity Drag’ is also highly recommended.
Not just an album with Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Mother Love Bone, Screaming Trees, The Smashing Pumpkins, Mudhoney and Hendrix, but also some of their best songs (State of Love and Trust, Nearly Lost You and Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns). I’d heard most of them before on their own records (Ten, Nevermind, Siamese Dreams all could have made this list), but this album led to discovering The Replacements via Paul Westerberg, living near to Seattle for a year, and visiting the cinema which first opened the film. And swapping leather jackets for plaid shirts occasionally. Without this album, I might not have lived in America, met my now ex-girlfriend, and become a father to a wonderful son who loves some of the songs on the soundtrack.
The constant companion to my cousin on a family trip to Centre Parcs, only alternated with Credit to the Nation on the stereo. I’d fight for it against all the later albums, or anything by The Stone Roses or Oasis. It’s the organ playing by the late Rob Collins that does it. And the memory of causing all kinds of carnage on that holiday.
Another compact slice of heaven, in this case pop-punk. At the age of 19/20 in the South East, the combination of the music, the Northern accents and the accompanying first year of student life up North were a potent combination. Ash were also my age, but could never really be described as glamorous – Kenickie could.
In 2012 I wasn’t just trying to run a business on my own. For various reasons, it was also the year that I separated from my partner of more than 12 years, which meant leaving my young son in the family home to set up alone. So although my ex and I remained on good terms, I was left with a massive void throughout every waking hour.
I have no idea how I originally came to hear this album, or why as a non-classical music buff it’s become a regular companion to my day, but the mix of familiarity with one of the most famous pieces of classical music, along with the new twists and turns as it’s been re-assembled and composed definitely helped me to get through the last couple of years sat at a small desk in the corner of a largely empty room.
Proof that Suzanne Vega left a love of folk, along with the Irish influence of my family (e.g. Christy Moore), and the Swedish influence of my ex (Although actually her tastes were more mainstream pop, and I’ve been discovering Swedish and Scandinavian folk, punk etc due to the love she left me with for Swedish culture).
I still love unusual voices which carry emotion, rather than polished, professional and dull performances. And the whole album is pretty good, although The Gardener is the clear standout track. But really it’s a symbolic choice to cover all the new music I’ve heard over the last couple of years, and all the new music I intend to discover in the future, as I’m confident there will be a lot more defining moments and albums around. That’s what I intend anyway…..
Well, that’s how to turn a 5 minute Facebook meme into a 1200 word biography. So many songs and bands ended up being left out because although they made great music, they just didn’t happen to coincide with something happening or changing. I could have probably added in Guns n Roses ‘Appetite for Destruction’ or Skid Row’s ‘Skid Row’ as they accompanied my arrival at grammar school, my first guitar lessons and becoming a more rebellious teen. Or the likes of Therapy?, The Manic Street Preachers, Oasis, Blur etc for accompanying my teenage nights out and infatuations. But I did avoid the temptation to retro-fit perceived ‘classics’ in there.