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Top 10 Albums – Here’s Mine, What Are Yours?

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Top 10 Albums – Here’s Mine, What Are Yours?

Posted on 10 July 2014 by Joe

We’ve covered our Top 100 alternative and independent albums, Top 10 debut albums and also compiled lists of our favourite folk and psychedelic albums. But I thought for a change I’d take away the restrictions of time and genre and present a list of my top ten albums as a way of finding out what your Top 10 Albums are. It’s a trickier task than you may think. I have constant nagging doubts that I should have included Lou Reed’s Transformer or Blondie’s Parallel Lines. You will face similar dilemmas. Feel free to tell us your Top 10 albums of all time in the comment box below.

10. Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (1989)

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Following their huge debut album Licensed to Ill the Beastie Boys second album went in a more experimental direction under producers The Dust Brothers and became one of the best ever examples of sampling. From Public Enemy to The Beatles through to Curtis Mayfield and film soundtracks there are hundreds of snippets that make up each track. The end product is a tribute to music and modern culture and an outstanding album from start to finish. To find out more about the songs and riffs featured on the album click here.

9. Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band – Gorilla (1967)

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As a child, back when there were record players and cassettes and MP3s were the stuff of a mad man’s dreams, this was one of a handful of albums I used to beg my parents to play. This debut by art college psychedelic 1920s jazz mash up specialists is fun thanks to the humour of songwriter and vocalists Vivian Stanshall. But above all its got great tunes thanks to the involvement of Neil Inness, who went on to form the Rutles and has an outstanding ear for a good pop song. With tracks such as Cool Britannia, the Intro and the Outro and I’m Bored regularly used in advertising, TV and film this obscurity from a silly age will be surprisingly familiar.

8. The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree (2005)

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There are autobiographical albums and then there’s The Sunset Tree by The Mountain Goats and its frontman and songwriter John Darnielle. Here he lays bare an adolescence in the shadow of domestic abuse where he escapes into music, romance, drink and drugs. Its an album about survival and must have taken a huge amount of courage to write. Final track Pale Green Things, recalls the death of his step father and is so emotional and personal he can’t even play it live anymore. It is an impressive piece of work that shows the courage of young people and led me to become a fan of Darnielle and his band ever since. For more about The Mountain Goats read our Top Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives article here.

7. Fairport Convention- Liege and Lief (1969)

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A running theme of the albums I’ve selected is an admiration of the effort that has gone into their writing and production. Fairport Convention Liege and Lief’s was written and recorded following a tragic motorway accident in which their drummer Martin Lamble died and guitarist Richard Thompson’s girlfriend Jeannie Franklin also lost her life. What emerged was one of the most influential folk albums of all time as their mourning, painstaking research into traditional English folk and rock roots came together to create an outstanding set of songs. From Tam Lin to Crazy Man Michael this album is to this day one of the most exciting of any genre.

6. Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

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I came late to Bob Dylan. It was something about the voice, the Christianity and whole 1980s rock star image that put me off. Then I saw Martin Scorcese’s documentary centred around his mid 1960s albums and the time he went electric. From Bringing It All Back Home to Highway 61 revisited to Blonde on Blonde it remains my favourite period of Dylan’s music. Of the three Highway stands tallest, just. Like a Rolling Stone is its most well known track but the power of Ballad of a Thin Man and Desolation Row are among those that keep me coming back to this album time and again.

5. The B-52s – The B-52s (1977)

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When Rock Lobster, one of the singles from this debut from the Athens based band, was re released in the mid 1980s, I had no idea just how talented they were. I loved Rock Lobster but after getting this debut album I was awestruck. Ricky Wilson’s guitar playing is unique and in they were also blessed with three incredible vocalists, with Ricky’s sister Cindy particularly standing out. Her emotion on Dance This Mess Around and Hero Worship alone are worth the cover price alone. For more about The B-52s read our Top Ten Artists That Changed Our Lives feature here.

4. XTC – English Settlement (1982)

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On a monthly basis I kick myself for not including this in our Top 100 Indie and Alternative Albums list. Our XTC album of choice was the excellent Drums and Wires. But as the years have gone by it is English Settlement that I now believe was the Swindon band’s masterpiece. Sure it has the singles Sense Working Overtime and Ball and Chain, but it’s the lesser known tracks such as No Thugs in Our House and English Roundabout that really shine here. It was to have opened the door to fame and fortune, but sadly coincided with a chronic bout of stage fright for song writer Andy Partridge who was unable to tour following its release or indeed since. For more about XTC read our Top Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives article here.

3. The Clash – London Calling (1979)

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Of all The Clash albums none are so perfectly executed as their third London Calling. Steeped in Caribbean and US influences this manages to expertly show The Clash for what they were a London punk band with a global outlook. This topped our Top 100 Indie and Alternative Albums list and remains one of my favourite albums thanks to superb lyrics on tacks like Lost in the Supermarket and instant pop appeal of tracks such as Train in Vain. Listening again it barely ages and remains a timeless classic. Read our full review of London Calling here.

2.  David Bowie – Hunky Dory (1971)

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Last year I detailed my surprise discovery that David Bowie wasn’t just a silly man dancing in his pyjamas wth Mick Jagger. He was in fact the coolest man in music as albums such as Low, Heroes and this pre-Ziggy album clearly show. Of all his albums that I’ve recently discovered this is my favourite due to its sheer quantity of classic, inventive pop songs. Any album that has the tracks Changes and All You Pretty Things is deserving of a place on this list. But to add in Life on Mars, Queen Bitch and Quicksand as well makes this album one of the best pop albums of all time..

1. The Beatles – Revolver (1966)

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Hey what about Sgt Peppers, Joe? Well, what about it? This seventh UK studio album from the Fab Four is by miles and miles of old George Martin infused studio tape the best Beatles album and in my view the best album of all time. You want pop? It’s got it in Taxman and Dr Robert. You want stunning orchestral melodies? Well, why not check out Eleanor Rigby. Or maybe awesome rock rifts are your thing, in that case She Said She Said will appeal. It’s even got the children’s classic Yellow Submarine, and on Tomorrow Never Knows a track that quite rightly is used to herald the start of counter culture. And then there’s the production with Martin’s backwards loops redefining music. Sgt Peppers is good, but this was the real game changer for modern music.

by Joe Lepper

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Chuck Prophet  – Rescue Rooms, Nottingham (April 28, 2013)

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Chuck Prophet – Rescue Rooms, Nottingham (April 28, 2013)

Posted on 30 April 2013 by Joe

Californian underground legend  Chuck sure has paid his dues and his autobiography, should he ever write one, would be a riveting read; after three decades on the road he could give even Keef  Richards a run for his money.

He first  came to prominence in the 1980s when together with Dan Stuart they were the heartbeat of Green On Red, a hard drinking, hard rockin’ blues based boogie band. They were a magnificently ragged vision of rock n roll excess, kind of like The Rolling Stones but on a Primark budget  as they cut a healthy legacy of eight albums  before going their separate ways in the early 1990s.

Chuck Prophet (left)

Chuck Prophet (left)

Since that time Chuck has raised hell with a who’s who of contemporary music. He released the first of his at least twelve solo records in 1990, since which time he has worked as a sideman or session musician with many artists, including Kelly Willis, Aimee Mann, the late, great Warren Zevon, Jonathan Richman, Lucinda Williams and Cake. His compositions have been recorded by musicians like Alejandro Escovedo, Solomon Burke, Heart, Kim Carnes, Peter Wolf, Kim Richey, Chris Knight and Kelly Willis.

His latest band for his latest tour of the UK are The Mission Express, an ultra impressive  bunch of killer musicians  who expertly flesh out his songs with instinctive muscle and aplomb.

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With a new(ish) album out on Yep Roc, Temple beautiful, the band fire up first time and Chuck and the gang proceed to give us a set of Springsteenesque proportions. He didn’t have a set list, more like a small novel.

Highlights included, Doubter Out Of Jesus, an absolutely riotous You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp),  The Left Hand And The Right Hand (dedicated he said ‘to brothers everywhere, especially Liam and Noel’) and magnificent versions of White Night Big City and Who Shot John. All were glorious, and boy can he play the guitar, punctuating these bluesy tunes with economically violent solos pitched somewhere between Neil Young and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Man, he was grinning like a Cheshire cat; he was so in the zone it was contagious.

Stephanie Finch and Chuck Prophet

Stephanie Finch and Chuck Prophet

His current band are so hot you get radiation burns. On additional guitar there’s the young, skinny cool as fuck, James De Prato, on bass there’s Kevin White, a big guy with rock solid written through his body, on drums, Todd Roper, a rhythmic man machine and on Chucks right we have his wife,  Stephanie Finch who plays keyboards, acoustic guitar  and sings mighty fine country gurl vocals.

Not content with playing two  hours of primal rock ‘n’ roll, Chuck throws in some utterly brilliant covers. ‘Sorrow’, the old Mcoys tune and the one that Bowie is so associated with from ‘Pin ups’ gets a good kicking as does the classic mid seventies powerpop equivalent  of the Mona Lisa ‘Shake Some Action’ by The Flamin Groovies. The encore includes Chuck Berry’s ‘Tulane’ and most movingly and surprisingly he rips up Dr Feelgood’s She Does It Right.

What a night, and there’s still some UK dates left on the current tour, go to Chuck church, raise up thine eyes and praise him …..Hallelujah brothers and sisters ! Hallelujah !

By John Haylock, pics by Arthur Hughes.

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National Wake  – National Wake

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National Wake – National Wake

Posted on 05 February 2013 by Joe

When the likes of Joe Strummer and Paul Weller sung about police brutality and racism in their late 1970s and early 1980s heyday thousands took notice.

But when National Wake, a multi-racial punk band in Apartheid era South Africa, sung about these themes there is an extra resonance. Here was a band that was often banned from playing live, had first hand experience of police oppression and lived in one of the most brutal and unjust societies of the modern era.  Those that managed to see them were enthralled, but the wider world never even knew they existed.

National Wake were formed in 1978, two years after the Soweto uprising,  and at it’s core were Ivan Kadey, an architecture student with a protest singing and folk music background and brothers Gary and Punka Khoza, who played bass and drums respectively on the township soul and funk circuit.

Taking those protest folk and soul influences, combining them with rock and punk as well as reggae they created something that was wholly unique. At times its Bob Marley, at others Talking Heads with elements of The Clash and Funkadelic entering the mix. It was a superb combination that begs the question were they influenced by the music around them or were the likes of Talking Heads influenced by them?

Joined by additional members at various times: including percussionist ‘One Eyed’ Mike Lebisi; lead guitarist Paul Giraud; saxophonist Kelly Petland and slide guitarist Steve Moni, they were highly accomplished musicians and that shines through just as strongly as the protest lyrics on their only album, 1981’s National Wake.

I’ve only discovered them this year, through talk on the internet about the recent Punk in Africa documentary. This wonderful mixtape of the era was also enough convince me to buy the 2011 reissue of National Wake. It’s an album that has taken me by surprise. Not only is it surprising to someone brought up on UK and US punk bands to find out that South Africa had a punk scene at all during Apartheid, but its also a surprise at just how good this remastered version of this once forgotten album is.

Musically its as good if not better than many of UK and US new wave and punk bands we’ve already mentioned, opening with Wake Of The Nation, with prog rock guitar solo merging effortlessly into a soul funk rhythm that Weller would have welcomed with open arms to The Jam’s Gift album. The Saxophone and guitar solos are particularly effective but the lyrics shine brightest, “this is the wake of the nation as we smash it away.”

International News is another punk influenced track, combining the innovative world music view of Talking Heads with the social commentary of Strummer perfectly with its superb opening riff jerking among the percussion on a track about government censorship and the struggle of South Africans to tell the world and each other about their plight. The heavy South African accent on the “International News” chorus adds to the weight of this song. Even the fast pace of the song conveys the threat of government oppression.  In this Afro-pop interview with Kadey, he explains “there’s a sense of urgency to get this out before it gets shut down.”

The “Keep on moving, keep on fighting chorus” on Supaman, one of many Bob Marley influenced tracks, is the most emotional moment on the album. No matter what is being thrown at them the fight is worth it. There’s an added dignity to this song as Gary and Punka’s brother had been the victim of a brutal police attack. This track should have been played as Nelson Mendela took office when Apartheid was eventually dismantled.

The final track, a live version of Black Punk Rockers, is added to the reissue, and is the most overtly punk song on the album. But around half way through the band’s individualism comes through with one of the best drum and percussion solos in rock  brilliantly placed between the fierce major bar chords.

National Wake was originally released by WEA in South Africa. But following pressure from the South African government due to its overtly political lyrics it was effectively shelved.

Touring was also difficult for the band. Their Riot Rock tour with other South African new wave bands such as Safari Suits in 1979 was marred by venues refusing to allow a multi-racial band to play. They instead retreated out of the cities into township discos and small rural venues to find an audience. In the end they dissolved shortly after their album was shelved.

As for the band members they stayed within the South African music scene where they continued to influence other artists.  Kadey co-founded the record label Shifty Music and helped build its mobile studio using some of the National Wake’s sound equipment. Among those to use it was Warrick Sony of Kalahari Surfers. The Khoza brothers stayed within Johannesburg’s Rockey Street alternative scene, which featured a number of multi-racial bands, given confidence to play together by the trailblazing National Wake.

Apartheid may have ended but their lyrics of struggle and yearning for freedom are still pertinent globally and across South Africa. This is what makes the album far more than an historical artefact and we believe an essential item in any music collection.

National Wake is available direct from South African label  Fresh Music here  or to download from iTtunes or Amazon.

by Joe Lepper

 

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Chuck Prophet and the Spanish Bombs (Bristol, Polish Club, 22/7/11)

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Chuck Prophet and the Spanish Bombs (Bristol, Polish Club, 22/7/11)

Posted on 25 July 2011 by Joe

Former Green on Red guitarist Chuck Prophet’s decision to assemble some of San Francisco’s best musicians to perform The Clash’s London Calling is pretty brave.

The 1979 album that heralded The Clash’s rise from punk band to one of Britain’s best rock groups is just about perfect as it is in the way it blends punk, rock, reggae and even jazz. What on earth can anyone, even a man of Prophet’s skill, add to an album that we recently named the top alternative album of all time?

Catching Chuck Prophet and the Spanish Bombs set at the low key, friendly  and packed Polish Club in Bristol I felt assured  that the band, which features members of The Park and unheralded power pop songwriter Chris Von Sneidern, would at the very worst produce a competent tribute show.

Thankfully they offered so much more  as a key reason for touring the album was not just to belt out some Clash songs but to revisit the tracks and  draw out the American culture that so influenced it.

Written in part during The Clash’s visits to the US in the late 1970s the album is in many ways a classic US rock album.  For example the cover of Vince Taylor’s 12 bar blues track from 1959  ‘Brand New Cadillac’, the references to Hollywood stars like Montgomery Clift (‘The Right Profile’)and even the American murderer Stagger Lee, on a cover of The Rulers ‘Wrong em Boyo’ were a world away from the west London landscape that features on some of London Calling and especially their self titled  debut album.

For those unfamiliar with the album they witnessed a passionate performance by one of Neonfiller.com’s  Top Ten guitarists of all time. Those that know the album well, and judging by the largely 40 to 60 year old audience that was the majority,  appreciated the changes  Prophet brought to the album.

The most notable difference was to strip away the reggae and Jamaican influences. This transformed ‘Guns of Brixton’ into a fast paced rock song. This ethos also placed rock firmly back into ‘Revolution Rock’.

With the Jamaican swagger discarded ‘ Wrong Em Boyo’ could be  belted out full throttle. The encore of The Clash single ‘Bank Robber’ was another that free from the slow reggae bass line became a fast paced rock track. All were magnificent and given a new lease of life.

‘Brand New Cadillac’ was among many highlights, with Prophet getting so excited he broke his D string mid way and used the opening jam by the band through Jimmy Jazz to change strings.

Less effective was the track ‘London Calling’. It’s so iconic, so British sounding, that even Prophet couldn’t repatriate it. Nevertheless the band still did it justice.

Throughout the gig Prophet’s humour, including inviting the whole audience back to the band’s hotel and chastising then ironically praising the UK for failing to join the Euro, kept this hour and a half set alive. Von Sneidern, who provided the support act, also deserves credit for handling the Mick Jones vocal parts well, especially my favourite on the album ‘Lost in the Supermarket’, written by Strummer about Jones’s tower block childhood.

For The Clash fans present this was also a very special night with the band’s former road manager Johnny Green introducing the Spanish Bombs  with anecdotes from the time about how London Calling was recorded and the influence that the US had on it.

The Bristol location also gave the night an added sparkle. The Clash’s Joe Strummer spent the last years of his life in Bridgwater, just a few miles down the motorway. Some of those there had met him and clearly felt an extra special connection with the music and Strummer due to this.

One couple I spoke to were due to meet Strummer at a party held by a mutual friend on 22 December 2002. Strummer never showed up as he suffered a fatal heart attack that night just before he was due to head out.

If he was still alive I’m almost certain Strummer, who never denied the huge influence America had on his music, would have made the short trip up the M5 to see what Prophet had done to his masterpiece.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

See Also: Top Ten Guitarists (featuring Chuck Prophet)

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Top 100 Albums (The Top 10)

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Top 100 Albums (The Top 10)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

So here it is. After two months of releasing this list in stages we’ve finally arrived at our Top 10 indie and alternative albums. Hope you enjoy this final instalment. Feel free to browse through the rest of the top 100 here and leave a comment about some of your favourites.

10. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses


This debut by The Stone Roses is an old fashioned album, full of 1960s influences. This is perhaps unsurprising given it was produced by John Leckie, whose previous efforts include two albums by XTC’s psychedelic alter egos Dukes of Stratosphear. Yet in 1989 when it was released it sounded like the most exciting and different album for years.  Decades on and it’s lost none of its energy and is arguably the best album to emerge from the so called ‘baggy’ scene of late 1980s Manchester. Highlights include the indie-dancebility of final track ‘I Am The Resurrection’, ‘Waterfall ‘and its backwards companion piece ‘Don’t Stop’, and ‘She Bangs the Drum’. In an interview with Quietus Leckie, who is the most name checked producer in our Top 100, explains that the album’s success was down to the band’s confidence and open minded approach to making music. “They seemed to have had experience, they were very well rehearsed and they wanted to try lots of things. But they weren’t frightened,” says Leckie.

9. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

After an underwhelming debut with 1995’s AM Jeff Tweedy’s post-Uncle Tupelo band have released a string of brilliant records from 1996’s Being There through to 2009’s Wilco (The Album). Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the album that demonstrates all that is good about America’s best rock n roll band. Recorded with a line-up that featured the late Jay Bennett, the multi-instrumentalist who would leave the band prior to the albums release (tensions during the recording are brilliantly documented in Sam Jones’ film ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’). The album earned the band the tag of the alt-country Radiohead due to the more experimental production techniques and sounds used by producer Jim O’Rourke. The albums reputation as being challenging is more down to the record labels reaction (and refusal to release it) than it is to the songs themselves. ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’ has a weird feel and an erratic beat and ‘Radio Cure’ has an uncomfortable starkness but most of the record is very accessible and features some of the bands best realised songs. ‘Kamera’, ‘War On War’, ‘I’m The Man That Loves You’ and ‘Heavy Metal Drummer’ are all great catchy tunes that sit comfortably with the more cerebral tracks.

8. Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand

Bee Thousand, originally released in 1994, represented a turning point for Robert Pollard’s Guided By Voices. It was intended as the band’s swansong due to the lack of attention and money their previous five albums had garnered. The album was recorded in various basements, rather than the studio, and was primarily the work of Pollard and Tobin Sprout (with various members of the “classic line-up” pitching in). The songs were recorded in just a few takes on to simple 4-track equipment and the rough and ready sound is one of the album’s charms. Guided By Voices albums from this time are an acquired taste, with half formed song snippets sitting alongside  rough diamond pop classics like ‘I Am A Scientist’ and ‘Echos Myron’. However, this is all part of the magic formula that makes Bee Thousand so special. There are no songwriters out there like Robert Pollard, no bands like Guided By Voices and no albums like Bee Thousand – this is a pretty special record.

7. The B-52s- The B-52s


Two years after performing their first gig at a Valentine’s Day party in 1977 in their hometown of Georgia, Athens, the B-52s self titled debut hit the stores. It was a sleeper hit in 1979 reaching 59 in the US Billboard 200 but has since been widely recognised as one of the best alternative albums of all time. Blending new wave, punk, 1950’s sci-fi kitsch and Duane Eddy style guitar playing the tracks have a strange timeless feel. Above all they are fun. There’s some silly stuff like ‘Rock Lobster’, but tracks like ‘Hero Worship’ and ‘Dance This Mess Around’ are serious, emotional stuff and showcase the powerful vocal talents of singer Cindy Wilson. For more about The B-52s read our Top Ten Artists That Changed Our Lives feature here.

6. Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise

Sufjan Stevens probably regrets his claim that he would release an album for every American state, a feat that would be difficult to achieve and probably not an enjoyable or ultimately successful task. Illinois is his second and, thus far, last in the series. Nobody likes a show-off but it is hard to resent Steven’s ability to play every instrument under the sun when he produces music as wonderful as this in the process. The album covers a sprawling 22 eccentrically titled tracks ranging from the soft and sombre (‘Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois’) to the exuberant and celebratory (‘Come on! Feel the Illinoise!: Pt. 1: The World’s Columbian Exposition’). The album tells an expansive story about the people, places and history of the state and listening to the album is like being taken on an exciting road trip. The brilliant ‘Chicago’ has been used on many a soundtrack, but for me the desert island pick from the album is ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’ a song so sad and beautifully played that it made it to number 1 in our Top 10 Tearjerkers chart.

5. Lemonheads – Shame About Ray

Shame About Ray from 1992 is a masterclass in making two to three minute pop songs. Across its tight-as-you-like 12 tracks (bumped to 13 on reissues to include their excellent cover of ‘Mrs Robinson’) each is perfect indie pop. An album you can listen to from start to finish can be rare thing, but an album with 12 (13) potential singles that still retains an alternative edge is worthy of a Top Ten place in anyone’s indie and alternative books. The title track is an undoubted highlight, but each has its own merit, from the hooky ‘Alison’s Starting to Happen’ to the cover of ‘Frank Mills’, from the film and stage play Hair. We’ve been listening to this a lot in preparing for this list and are staggered each time at the energy and consistency of  this fifth album from the band

4. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes

When Gordon Gano, Victor DeLorenzo and Brian Ritchie took their busking trio intro the studio to record their debut album it is unlikely that they could have realised what an iconic record they were producing. Their acoustic blend of Lou Reed, the Modern Lovers and punk crackles with youthful angst and pent up anger over the tens songs here. ‘Blister In The Sun’ must be the most shamelessly ripped off tune in advertising and bursts the album into life, and ‘Add It Up’ stands as an indie disco classic due to the stark dropping of the f-bomb early on in the track. The album has more subtle moments and album closer ‘Good Feeling’ is sad, simple and honest. The band would release more good songs throughout their career but they could never quite match up to a debut as perfect as this one. The 20th anniversary reissue is a lovely package with demos, early singles and a live concert on the second disc.

3. XTC – Drums and Wires


Following the departure of keyboardist Barry Andrews in 1978 XTC opted for guitarist and fellow Swindon resident Dave Gregory to replace him. It turned into the making of the band, transforming XTC from a quirky, tight new wave outfit to a bonafide great English rock and pop act. Drums and Wires from 1979 was the first album to feature Gregory and his 1960s influenced electric guitar style as well as a new bigger drums sound, hence the title. It also gave the band far greater chart prominence through singles such as ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ , while losing none of their creativity.  Tracks such as ‘Complicated Game’ and Roads Girdle the Globe’ are among the most inventive you will hear in this Top 100. Amazing what a band can achieve with some drums and a bunch of wires. For more about XTC read our Top Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives article here.

2. Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs

Stephin Merritt originally conceived this album as being 100 Love Songs before scaling back the idea out of practicality as well as adopting the rather appropriately more salacious number of tracks. Released as triple album, each disc containing 23 songs, it was an incredibly ambitious undertaking. Each track deals with a different aspect of love and relationships and the album covers a wide range of styles from piano ballads to synth-pop to jazz to noise and beyond. Merritt’s wry gay new Yorker personality could overwhelm you over so many tracks and he wisely uses a team of vocalists (two male, two female) to record a selection of the songs. This adds depth to the record but also a more universal feel; relationships are kept unclear so that as a listener you can’t tell if the protagonist is singing to another man or woman. The result is that songs like the sprightly ‘I Need A New Heart’, the downbeat ‘I Don’t Believe In The Sun’ or the vicious ‘Yeah, Oh Yeah’ can speak to anyone.

1.The Clash  – London Calling


Tommy Tomkins excellent book on London Calling sums up the album perfectly as being about ” roots, with a sense of place.” For the band the roots were not just in London, but across the globe, especially through singer Joe Strummer and bassist Paul Simenon’s love of Caribbean and US culture. The range of styles on London Calling from punk to rock to blues to reggae showed The Clash to be arguably the most mature and musical act to emerge from the UK punk scene. This double album has gone on to receive widespread critical acclaim and we are delighted to add our voices to that. From the pounding bass line of the title track, heartfelt lyrics of ‘Lost in the Supermarket’ and pop savvyness of ‘Train in Vain’ London Calling still thrills us decades after its 1979 release. Read our full review of London Calling here.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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The Clash – London Calling 30th Anniversary Reissue

Posted on 20 September 2010 by Joe

The 30th anniversary re-issue of The Clash’s London Calling offers nothing new in terms of extras (the same set of ‘making of’ documentary and videos that were released for the 25th anniversary release) but does offer a welcome chance to revisit one of the greatest albums of all time.

London Calling was the third album by the band, showing a far broader range of styles than on their self-titled debut and second album Give ‘Em Enough Rope, and setting them firmly apart from their 1970s punk contemporaries.

Reggae, calypso, blues, jazz, rock and roll and punk are all there across the 19 tracks. It is partly because of this breadth of styles coupled with the album’s simplistic production, having been recorded in a matter of weeks, that gives London Calling its timeless quality. Opener ‘London Calling’, with its familiar pounding bass line, lyrics of urban decay and Strummer’s gravelly vocals is as fresh as ever.

Well received when it came out and achieving top ten spot in the UK album charts in 1979 it has since gone on to be quite rightly recognised as a classic. It has now sold over two million copies worldwide, gone platinum in the US and received accolades such as number eight slot in Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Consistency across its 19 tracks is one reason for its longevity. Each song has its merit and offers something different; from bassist Paul Simenon’s love of reggae to guitarist Mick Jones keen sense of melody and Joe Strummer’s rockabilly roots.

Among the highlights of the first half of the album are ‘The Right Profile,’ a rare rock tribute to the actor Montgomery Clift and ‘Lost In The Supermarket’, written by Strummer about Jones’s childhood, growing up in a block of flats with his grandmother in west London. “I wasn’t born, so much as I fell out,” and images of listening to “the people who live on the ceiling, scream and fight most scarily” are among the fantastic lyrics on this track.

Among the instantly appealing songs is ‘Clampdown’, one of only a few that would have seemed in place on the band’s previous albums. Jones’s ‘Train in Vain’ is another. This was the band’s first hit in the US and only added to the album at the last minute after a deal for it to appear as a free promotion with the NME fell through.

The growers include bassist Simenon’s reggae track ‘The Guns of Brixton.’ What Simenon lacks in vocal prowess on this track he more than makes up for with its instantly recognisable and often copied bass line.

On CD and MP3 the album lacks the careful attention to placing of each song across its four sides. What was originally side four starting with ‘Lover’s Rock’, including ‘I’m Not Down’ and ending with ‘Train in Vain’ is as good a side of an album you will ever hear.

Given the joy of the album it doesn’t matter that this latest re-issue offers little new. Who cares when you’ve got 19 songs of this quality to listen to.

10/10

by Joe Lepper, December 2009

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