Thursday 28 February 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 44. Exodus

Top 102 Albums. No 44
Exodus. Bob Marley and The Wailers
"the Wailers will be there
the Damned, the Jam, the Clash 
Maytals will be there
Dr. Feelgood too"
I have just had a long hard night of soul searching. I have been improvising this list up to now from a list of favourite albums around 200 strong. It was always going to be difficult to get 200 into 102 but quite how difficult I didn't fully appreciate. As I went along I had been marking some for my Top Ten and others for my Top Thirty (although some of these have appeared already as the mood has taken me). However when I decided it was time to actually try to fill the remaining 44 places I found that my Top Ten had twenty albums in it and my Top Thirty another sixty or so. And all this without doing a flick through my record collection to remind me of those that have somehow gotten forgotten.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Silver's City

Silver's City - Maurice Leitch

This is the second Maurice Leitch novel that I've read after The Eggman's Apprentice, which was good enough to have me coming back for more. Silver's City, which won the 1981 Whitbread Prize seemed like a good bet and although I didn't enjoy it quite as much as The Eggman's Apprentice I will certainly be reading more.

Silver's City is a grim thriller set in the early days of the 'Troubles'. Silver Steele is a high profile prisoner who fired the first shot in the  Troubles and his name is spelt out across the walls of Loyalist Belfast. Ten years of prison have changed Silver. Military discipline, reading and solitary thinking mean that the man who is busted out is far different form the young man who went in. Even more striking is the difference between what the city was and what it has become. "It began to seem like a crazy planet out there, beyond the chicken wire, with politicians roaring on, off, hot and cold, ordinary people in the grip of violent and unreasonable action for its own sake."

Top 102 Albums. No 45. On the Beach

Top 102 Albums. No 45.
On the Beach. Neil Young
"It's easy to get buried
in the past
When you try to make
the good thing last."
I remember looking at this album regularly in the window of a second hand record shop for £50, at a time when that was a lot of money. Too much for me to stretch to buying it although I came close. For years this album was out of print due to a foible of Mr Young, which was why it was so damned expensive. When I finally got it on cd I was primed to enjoy it but it exceeded all my expectations. There are quite  few albums by Neil Young that could sit comfortably in this list although I was late enough to warm to his charms. It wasn't really until the mid to late eighties that I really got him. I spend more time trying to catch up on what I missed than keeping up with what I'm missing. Why wouldn't you, when there are back catalogues like this? Am I buried in the past? Neil wouldn't approve.

Monday 25 February 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 46. Your Funeral, My Trial

Top 102 Albums. No 46.
Your Funeral, My Trial - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

I had this put aside for my Top Ten but as there is a new Bad Seeds album out now seems like the perfect time to write about it. These posts often become like an itch that wants to be scratched. They won't listen to my arguments that they should wait until later.

Saturday 23 February 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 47. Songs for Swinging Lovers

Top 102 Albums. No 47.
Songs for Swinging Lovers - Frank Sinatra

This is not the late night whisky drinking Sinatra of previous album In The Wee Small Hours. which I was considering. This is a favourite in the car, with songs like  Makin' Whoopee singalong favourites with adults and kids alike. Here Sinatra seems to ride the crest of his second wave of success, confidently showering his benedictions on those lucky enough to be young and in love.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 48. Psychedelic Jungle

Top 102 Albums. No 48. 
Psychedelic Jungle - The Cramps

What do The Cramps do? They take the corpulent CORPSE of rock music and brought it down to Dr. Frankenstein's lab. He flicked the switch and they became ELECTRIC flies and their songs the high VOLTage maggots who ate away the rotted FLESH! right down to the ROCKIN' BONES.

They take the initial UNKNOWINGNESS of electricated noise and make it FRESH! They shake the dandruff off the BLUE suede shoulders with a FURIOUS shrug of SINCERE! irony.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 49. Ó'Riada sa Gaiety

Top 102 Albums. No 49. 
Ó'Riada sa Gaiety - Sean Ó'Riada agus Ceoltóirí Chualann

Sometimes music has the power to take your very breathing and change it to the breathing of forty years before. It runs inside you and through you and something flickers to life just outside the range of your vision. This is one of those records for me.

My relationship with Irish traditional music is hard to pin down. I have never really been a student of it, in the way that I have gone through periods of listening and reading about other forms of music, the blues, folk, genres and sub-genres of rock music but at the same time I have heard huge amounts of it. It has always been present and some of it seems to evoke very powerful feelings. Perhaps being subjected to indiscriminate torrents in my youth caused my feelings to tend towards the bemused.

Monday 18 February 2013

If On a Winter's Night a Traveller

If On a Winter's Night a Traveller - Italo Calvino

"You know the best you can expect is to avoid the worst."

As I read I tend to make notes of quotes which seem particularly interesting and may help me in this blogging enterprise. The problem with If On a Winter's Night a Traveller is that it would take me days to type out the quotes that I have noted. If you are interested in the process of writing or reading, or both as they are inextricably intertwined, this is a kind of motherlode.

Calvino starts down one road, doubles back on himself, sprays red herrings with abandon and refuses to let us continue the wild goose chases that he sets up over and over again. But all the time he keeps certain questions to the fore: Why do people read? Why do people write? What do books do? What are words? What are books? How are we drawn into a story? Is our need to have complete narratives now outdated? etcetera...

Friday 15 February 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 50. What's Going On.

Top 102 Albums. No 50. 
What's Going On - Marvin Gaye

"Yea, it makes me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands"

This is one of those albums that critics tend to pull from the hat when asked to name 'the greatest album of all time' but don't let that put you off. This one deserves the acclaim.

I suppose the first thing to note about this album is the title. Gaye wants to tell us "what's going on", he's not asking us. There is no question mark. Our world, as he saw it, was going down the crapper. He wasn't half right, was he?

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 51. Half Orphan

Top 102 Albums. No 51. 
Half Orphan -  The Knocking Shop

I know, I know. This doesn't belong on a list of 102 Greatest Albums or 1001 or 2002 Greatest Albums but that's not what this list is about. These are 102 of MY favourite albums. and I couldn't put that list together without putting this in, my own foray into the world of making albums. I know there are other albums on this list which don't tick the box marked 'objective greatness' and if I can list those because they tick a box in my heart why not this.

Monday 11 February 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 52. Tim Rose

Top 102 Albums. No 52. 
Tim Rose - Tim Rose
"I got a loneliness I can't hide
I got a loneliness deep inside
Got a loneliness eatin' away
I got a loneliness it won't go away"

This album has some rather ripe sleeve notes (Tim Rose hits you in the belly. He comes without the trimmings-raw, tough and incredibly straight. His is a brutishly simple sexuality-passion without design. ) and between the note and the front cover  shot which has Rose styled as the bad guy from a Smokey and the Bandit movie or the other guy in a gay western may help explain why it has never had the reputation it deserves.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 53. Revolution of the Mind

Top 102 Albums. No 53. 
Revolution of the Mind - James Brown

"Make it funky!"

James Brown's reputation relies to a huge extent on his live performances and live albums. And in my humble opinion, based on barely concealed ignorance, I think this is the best of the lot. From the hi energy schmaltz of Danny Ray's introduction to his final invocation to give it up one more time for Soul Brother No. 1 this is driving, passionate, funky music. The band are startlingly good, a sweat drenched machine, and they follow wherever Brown leads, starting, stopping, chopping it up and laying down an unholy groove. That this was a collective rebuilt in a few months makes their telepathic tightness all the more incredible.

Top 102 Albums. No 54. Black Monk Time.

Top 102 Albums. No 54. 
Black Monk Time. The Monks.

"Let's go, it's beat time, it's hop time, it's monk time now!
You know we don't like the army.
What army?
Who cares what army?
Why do you kill all those kids over there in Vietnam?
Mad Viet Cong.
My brother died in Vietnam!"

I came to The Monks as a result of  Black Monk Theme on The Fall's Extricate. Gradually, information on the originators of this track became available and I became more rather than less intrigued. Five G.I.'s dressed as monk's complete with tonsures playing the same beat clubs in Germany that the Beatles had but arriving at a very different destination. The Monks spewed invective at a world they had no belief in. The name, the tonsures and the music seem all to reverberate with a profound sense of dislocation. The lyrics at times sound like random voices from the terraces, observing rather than participating. But then there will be a howl of pain that puts the singer smack in the middle of it all, trying to find a foothold. And then his passion will be undercut again - "Hey, well, I hate you with a passion baby, yeah I do!
(But call me!)"

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 55. George Best.

Top 102 Albums. No 55. 
George Best - The Wedding Present.

"I thought we said all the things we had to say"

Today's choice is inspired by the choice of a later Wedding Present album over at Cathedrals of Sound. I did a little listening and then listened to the albums that followed this, Bizarro and Seamonsters, both of which have their supporters in the title race for best Wedding Present album. Maturity, a less 'tinny' sound, more variety....

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 56. Loveless

Top 102 Albums. No 56.
Loveless - My Bloody Valentine

With the excitement surrounding the eventual release of another My Bloody Valentine album a mere two centuries after the last one I suppose that it is apt to focus on their previous, sophomore album which only took two decades to record while bankrupting Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and tipping the world's economy into a recession from which it may never recover.

This is an album that I consume as a single piece of music, or two on vinyl. I often used to leave this on while I was going to sleep. I've always found the washes of sound soothing and dream inspiring. I didn't play it at the ear splitting levels which are apparently obligatory but to make up for this I would stab at my eardrums with knitting needles.

Monday 4 February 2013


Out - Natsuo Kirino

"It didn't make much difference where the man was from, she thought, there was no cure for the kind of depression that came from working in that factory."

The opening section of this novel builds a picture of four women (Masako, Yoshie, Yayoi and Kuniko) who work side by side on the night shift on an assembly line putting together packaged meals. The work is hard, the hours disruptive of their lives outside. Other things are clearly not right in the lives of the four women and one, Yayoi, has a large bruise on her torso on the night when we are introduced to them. Her beauty, for she is the most beautiful of the women, has not brought her luck. "Her looks were so conspicuous at the factory that a number of women had taken to bullying her, though others were nice to her."

Sunday 3 February 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 57. Babble

 Top 102 Albums. No 57 
Babble - That Petrol Emotion

First there was the rumour that the O'Neill brothers were together again. Then there was Keen, and quite possibly my favourite band name, That Petrol Emotion which paid its respects at one and the same time to improvised devices and incendiary passions. The first time I saw them the tension was generated by a rump of Undertones fans who just kept on calling for Teenage Kicks. But it was clear that this was a very different band to The Undertones, darker, murkier, angrier with Pere Ubu the closest thing to a benchmark. They regularly played Ubu's Non Alignment Pact, a song that would form part of The Knocking Shop's small repetoire of covers*.

Friday 1 February 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 58. Moanin' the Blues

Top 102 Albums. No 58. 
Moanin' the Blues. Hank Williams

"I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get? 
Hank Williams hasn't answered yet 
But I hear him coughing all night long 
A hundred floors above me 
In the Tower of Song"
(Leonard Cohen)

After writing up Dustbowl Ballads I found myself moving on to listening to Hank Williams. They are both foundational artists. I was wondering what to include by him, having come to him through songs rather than albums. I possess a number of compilations but none stands out from the rest. I thought I'd give myself two guiding rules - look for an original album released before his death and look for one that included the spectral, haunting Ramblin' Man, a song that, alongside Son House's John the Revelator, seems to be evidence of a strange, parallel universe.