Tag Archive | "The B-52s"

The B-52s – Funplex (2008)

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The B-52s – Funplex (2008)

Posted on 19 April 2021 by Joe

After 1992’s Good Stuff, 16 years were to pass before the B-52s’ next and as it has transpired, most recent album release, Funplex.

Since their last album they scored a hit with the theme tune to the Flintstones movie in 1994 and Cindy rejoined them two years later.

But they were firmly entering heritage rock territory on the live circuit having formed in the 1970s. A succession of compilations, gigs and TV appearances kept them busy. In 2004 and 2006 they opened for Cher and the Rolling Stones respectively.

Eventually they decided to record again, as a quartet, and so Funplex was born in what Strickland referred to as “loud, sexy rock and roll”.

Producer Steve Osbourne was brought in, based on his helming of Get Ready by New Order.

So how did they do for what is currently their final album?

Commercially it only just broke even, despite being their second highest charting B-52s album in the US.

Artistically it features one of the worst album covers of all time. An excuse for Fred and Keith to show what buff boomers they are? Also, they dropped the apostrophe.

But its actually pretty good.

Opener Pump is essentially Love Shack reworked. Although, it is great to hear Fred, Cindy and Kate together for the first time since the 1980s.

Musically much veers between dad rock and smart electro rock, especially on Hot Corner, Ultraviolet and the title track.

Fellini film inspired Juliet Of The Spirits is a welcome high point. Strong pop. Cindy on top form. It sounds great and would have been a welcome addition to many of their previous album releases.

I’m relatively new to Funplex and given the awful cover I expected it to be worse but in Juliet of the Spirits, Love In the Year 3000 and Too Much To Think About there is some good stuff here.

What of the B-52s now? They are still touring as a three-piece with Fred, Cindy and Kate.

Keith is now their Brian Wilson or sorts, having retired from touring but still part of the band when recording . He is also available when special appearances are needed. It looks like he has found the “essence from within” that he sought on 1983’s Whammy.

Kate runs some interesting looking glamping holiday retreats and lodges with her wife.

Cindy has worked on solo projects including the excellent synth pop album Change in 2017.

Meanwhile, Fred still lives in New York and occasionally works with his side project The Superions.

That’s the B-52s immersion on Neonfiller complete. What a fantastic career and wonderful album run they’ve had.

by Joe Lepper

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The B-52’s – Good Stuff (1992)

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The B-52’s – Good Stuff (1992)

Posted on 12 April 2021 by Joe

We resume our album-by-album The B-52’s retrospective with a look at Good Stuff, their 1992 follow up to the huge success of Cosmic Thing.

This was at a time when singer Cindy Wilson decided to take a break from the band and they were carrying on as trio of Fred Schneider, Keith Strickland and Kate Pierson.

Live Julee Cruise replaced Cindy Wilson. A fine stand in, but there’s only one Cindy Wilson with her unique southern states emotional style of singing. It is their only album not to feature Cindy.

Despite their obvious mainstream appeal, they were still being pigeonholed as ‘New Wave’ and ‘alternative’. Incidentally, Good Stuff was nominated for a best alternative album Grammy – eventually losing out to Tom Waits’ Bone Machine.

Cindy, Kate and Fred work perfectly as vocalists. But take one away and its not the same. Therein lies the problem with Good Stuff.

The Tracks

Tell It Live It T-I-Is is bland rock and roll, although Kate’s vocals are great. Hot Pants Explosion is just plain stupid, rather than cool-stupid.

As with their previous album Nile Rodgers and Don Was once again share half the tracks each and the title track is perfect for one of their own albums but falls flat here.

There’s a bit of politics (to be said in a Ben Elton 80s voice) here referencing their own activism, on gay rights, Aids awareness and the environment. Revolution Earth sums this up and ends up being the highlight. Great melody and Pierson again excels. How good would this have been with Cindy too!?

The same can be said of Dreamland. It clocks in at more than seven minutes and sounds great, featuring Strickland’s increasing influences of Buddhism and meditation. Turns out his was a hippy all along. Also, Pierson carries its trance like funk along well. Once again, with Cindy involved this could have been one of The B-52’s career highlights.  

For Pierson fans this album is a must. Vision of a Kiss features another strong  Kate performance, as does Breezin’.

There’s a nod to their earlier days with live favourite Is That You Mo Dean? given a run out. Ends up a bit of a filler track though.

Despite some less than stellar offerings, there’s a lot to like here, some great songs and its got a nice laid back feel to it too.

But without Cindy Wilson there’s a vital cog to their machine missing.

By Joe Lepper

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The B-52’s – Bouncing off the Satellites (1986)

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The B-52’s – Bouncing off the Satellites (1986)

Posted on 05 April 2021 by Joe

Here’s the sad part. Not the next B-52’s album – Bouncing off the Satellites – that we are focusing on over recent weeks.  That’s full of excellent tracks. It’s the story behind it.

Guitarist Ricky Wilson tragically died after the album was completed and prior to its release.

He was one of the many young brilliant men that succumbed to Aids during the 1980s. His guitar playing and song writing were becoming more assured. He had already invented his own tuning and riffed his way through the previous decade or so. But it was to be no more.

Bouncing off the Satellites was in the can and it is full of commercially pop savvy numbers, including upbeat tracks moving into the realms of dance and club music with Girl from Impanema Goes to Greenland, Summer of Love and the ridiculously silly Wig.

Tony Mansfield was on production duties for this one. That may explain why it sounds so radio friendly for a mid to late 80s audience. His credits include Aha’s Hunting High and Low.

But with the band too shocked to tour and promotional appearances limited it failed to make an impact on the charts or the media. According to Pierson, Wilson even kept his illness secret from his band mates. They pretty much disappeared as a band, with Ricky’s sister Cindy particularly affected. They would not come back together for another two years.

This was the first B-52’s album I bought when it came out and it will always be tinged with sadness due to Wilson’s death.

It’s almost as if the songs become sadder knowing about his death. But there are also some beautiful ballads on here, which are the ones I still listen to most regularly.

 

Ain’t it a Shame is a beautifully sad Cindy Wilson number, co-written with her brother and drummer Keith Strickland.

Coincidentally another of my other favourites is She Brakes for Rainbows, also featuring Strickland on writing duties, this time with just Ricky.

The band will need Strickland’s increasingly strong ear for a good tune when they convene again for their next release.

Elsewhere on the album, Theme for a Nude Beach is stupid but strong and I have a soft spot for Detour Thru Your Mind.

The fillers are from Pierson and Schneider respectively, who supplied solo tracks they’d been working on. Of the two Pierson’s Housework is the best. Schneider’s Juicy Jungle feels a little out of place – too solo.

There is some strong music here and makes me wonder what would have become of the band if Ricky was still alive.

**Cindy and her son Nolan recently shared this wonderful clip of them playing She Brakes For Rainbows in her living room from last year. This is one of the great comments that sums up her singing style – “I love the place Cindy goes to as she sings”. I think she always thinks of Ricky when she sings this.**

By Joe Lepper

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The B-52’s – Whammy! (1983)

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The B-52’s – Whammy! (1983)

Posted on 29 March 2021 by Joe

Drum machines and a greater use of synthesizers should make Whammy! a very different sounding The B-52’s album from their Duane Eddy riffed opening two albums and the largely dour David Byrne mis-step with Mesopotamia.

But even with smart 80s tech deployed, it actually marks a comforting return to their fun, live roots, which propelled them to acclaim back in 1978.

The songs are fun and the drum machines and synths work well with Cindy, Kate and Fred’s vocals.

The album also features three songs that were originally planned for Mesopotamia, Butterbean, Big Bird and one of my highlights Queen of Las Vegas, a crime thriller  script of a track from Cindy.

The highlight of the album for me and arguably across all their albums is Song for a Future Generation, featuring all five band members in a wonderful 80s version of the likes of Tinder and other dating apps. Who doesn’t warm to drummer Keith wanting to find the “essence from within”?

There’s more here. Another crime focused track in Legal Tender and in Whammy Kiss the band developed a staple live classic.

There’s another of my favourites by the band in Trism. It’s a great pop track but also shows how inventive and eclectic Ricky Wilson’s guitar work was becoming. The 50s twang was being expanded into FM friendly riffs and licks. What a talent he was.

There is a difference from the original release, which featured a cover of Yoko Ono’s Don’t Worry, Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow).

Legal issues, however, saw this removed on later  pressings and replaced by Moon 83, a synthed up 80s version of There’s a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon). A filler track, but one with merit.

The Tracks

 

 

The departure in sound here could have gone array. But thanks to production from Steven Stanley it sounds fresh and fun and I challenge anyone not to at least smile during Song for a Future Generation. Stanley’s other credits include Tom Tom Club, Black Uhuru and Grace Jones.

Keith takes additional guitar and keyboard credits on this album. Remember that guitar credit for a couple of albums down the line. Also note Ricky’s expanded guitar work here.

By Joe Lepper

 

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The B-52’s – Mesopotamia (1982)

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The B-52’s – Mesopotamia (1982)

Posted on 22 March 2021 by Joe

Half-finished album? EP? Mini-album? Call it what you will it, but Mesopotamia deserves its own place in the history of The B-52’s album releases.

It was planned as the band’s third full album with David Byrne at the helm no less. He seemed the right fit for a band that was regularly on the same touring circuit and bill as Talking Heads. They knew and respected Byrne and vice-versa.

But it didn’t quite go to plan. Byrne was also recording The Catherine Wheel, which he worked on by day, while recording with the B-52’s at night.

This schedule can’t have been good for anyone involved.

Whether lack of sleep or not quite understanding The B-52’s, Byrne’s mix of the album was not what the band were after. Too flat, too sad in places. Perhaps he was half asleep?

As a result, it was cut short and released as a six track collection, with three of four abandoned songs later to resurface in the far more commercially savvy next album Whammy, but more of that tomorrow.

Island didn’t help either, shunning the band’s choices of more upbeat tracks and instead going for filler songs.

The tracks

Across the six tracks here, half are good and half are a misstep. Loveland, with Cindy Wilson on vocals, followed by Deep Sleep, with Kate Pierson taking turns behind the mic, are as lacklustre an opening two tracks as you can get.

It picks up significantly with the title track, with Fred Schneider’s much needed enthusiasm making it a real highlight. Cake is a track I’ve warmed to, but the mix feels too flat for me. It ends on a high though with Throw That Beat in the Garbage Can and this mini-album’s best track Nip It in the Bud. Cindy is on fine form here.

The tracks that later emerge on Whammy are all perfect for that release.  More on that tomorrow. I’m glad they were left off Mesopotamia and away from Byrne’s tired controls.

You may love some of the tracks I haven’t warmed to and hate the ones I like, but time and again it is Mesopotamia and Nip it in the Bud that I come back to from this.

Next week, a drum machine and an album with one of, if not our favourite tracks by the band. It’ll help you find the essence from within!

By Joe Lepper

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The B-52’s -Wild Planet (1980)

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The B-52’s -Wild Planet (1980)

Posted on 15 March 2021 by Joe

Following the favourable global response to their debut album, The B-52’s were fast becoming one of Island’s biggest acts. For their second album slicker production was needed and Rhett Davies was brought in, with label boss Chris Blackwell moving to ‘executive producer’ duties.

Davies’ credits include albums by Genesis, Roxy Music, Robert Palmer, Brian Eno, Dire Straits and Talking Heads excellent More Songs About Buildings and Food. He was a big deal for The B-52’s.

The production may have been new and slicker, but a number of the tracks had been staples of their live act for a number of years. It has been reported that the Bs had some commercial acumen at the time, wanting to hold back some of the best live songs for their second album. With top 20 album positions in the UK and US in 1980, the combination of Davies and these five camp New Wavers from Athens clearly worked.

My take on the production? I actually prefer the original’s energy and agree with Rolling Stone’s review of the time saying that it sounded ‘flatter and duller’ than its predecessor.

The Tracks

Nevertheless, there are some great tracks here and the production is only flatter in comparison to their fantastic debut. It’s still a great sound.

I’m going straight into Cindy Wilson’s finest moment first – Give Me Back My Man. Remember Dance This Mess Around on the debut? This takes that raw pain and emotion and switches it up a gear. A woman pleading with her man’s new woman to give him up. It’s basically Dolly Parton and great Dolly Parton at that. In desperation she tells her man’s new woman that she’ll do anything even ‘give her fish, give her candy’. Now that’s love.

Private Idaho is another high point on Wild Planet. Ricky’s intro packs a punch. It was later used as the title song for Gus Van Sant’s 1991 film My Own Private Idaho. It’s in my top five The B-52’s tracks with the intro never failing to excite.

Among the live staple party tunes is Strobe Light, Quiche Lorraine and Party Out of Bounds.

As with Give My Back My Man there are some deeper, rawer tracks too with Dirty Back Road, perhaps the best of these.

While as an album it was a hit, single wise though Davies failed to deliver, with Private Idaho the best performer in the US at 74 in the Billboard charts, although the Aussies loved it, helping it reach 11 in the charts down under.

While good, the album lacked a little of the spark of their debut but is a great collection and made a classic by Give Me Back My Man and Idaho alone.

It didn’t quite capture their live energy though and to this day I still prefer the tracks live. Just check out this awesome 1980 live version of Give Me Back My Man.

How does David Byrne fare producing the band? Find out next week when we travel forward to 1982 and Mesopotamia.

by Joe Lepper

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The B-52’s -The B-52’s (1979)

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The B-52’s -The B-52’s (1979)

Posted on 08 March 2021 by Joe

It was some point in the mid-1980s that I first heard The B-52’s. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Rock Lobster from their eponymous 1979 debut album had just been re-released. The teenage me promptly bought the 12” at Brighton’s Virgin Megastore. With its smattering of great tracks from their next two albums, I’d found my new favourite band.

Still not a week goes by without a track from the band in my life.

Over the next eight weeks I’ll be guiding you through the array of albums from this New Wave outfit from Athens, Georgia, the US university town that has been blessed with creating three great bands: REM, Pylon and this bunch of 50s sci-fi, bee-hive wigged obsessed party-goers.

The B-52’s formed two years prior to this release, mainly for friends at parties. The band gradually grew in popularity, performing at legendary venues in New York such as CBGBs and then signed to Island, with the label’s founder Chris Blackwell producing their debut.

Blackwell wanted the album to recreate their live act as much as possible. This was a savvy move with each members’ particular talents allowed to shine here.

Here’s some wonderful black and white footage of the B-52s live in 1978 in Atlanta.

Before I discuss the tracks let’s meet the players.

On guitar is Ricky Wilson. Armed with his trusty Mosrite he had his own way of tuning his guitar to create a wholly unique science fiction surf sound, packed full of great riffs. Why is it tuned so differently? I think it may have been to suit the voice of this sister Cindy Wilson, who he formed the band with. Ricky was blessed with unique talent on the guitar, but as we will learn later in the immersion, it was a life cruelly cut short.

Cindy is the star for me. Her Georgia drawl and powerful voice gives many of the B-52’s tracks a real edge. So emotional. So raw.

Fellow singer, and keyboardist, Kate Pierson, is another great vocalist and then there’s a third too in Fred Schneider. Most bands are blessed with one great vocalist. The B’s had three! Fred talks and shouts mostly through the tracks, but his Georgia accent and odd lyrics strangely work, especially when combined with Cindy and Kate. A perfect blend.

Then there’s drummer Keith Strickland. He’s the one at the back who later in The B-52’s story arguably becomes the most talented and pop-savvy of them all. Once again. More on that later.

The tracks

Track time. Rock Lobster weighs in at a mighty 6:49 here. Live it keeps going, so Blackwell thought that should also be the case on the album.

Dance This Mess Around is the ultimate Cindy, Fred and Kate song here, where the pain of being a wallflower at the local dance for Cindy becomes unbearably real. This is the track where I knew the B-52s had far more to them than being just a party band.

There’s more from Cindy’s incredible vocals on Hero Worship and Lava. And on 52 Girls the simple naming of Miss America contenders through Cindy and Kate’s southern tones gets under the skin of a beauty pageant, like Harry Crews reporting on proceedings, as Betty, Brenda and the other gals are lowered into a pit of snakes while a circus freakshow passes.

Fred and Kate take vocal duties on mysterious ‘50s B Movie space oddity Planet Claire, and there’s even a chance for a cover of Tony Hatch’s Downtown.

There’s a couple of filler tracks but they more than make up the numbers. There’s merit in each of 6060-842 and There’s a Moon in the Sky.

This is the first in a series of reviews looking at the career in albums of some of our favourite acts.

By Joe Lepper

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The B-52’s kick off our look back at bands’ complete discographies

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The B-52’s kick off our look back at bands’ complete discographies

Posted on 04 March 2021 by Joe

Over the next eight weeks, every Monday morning (9:00am UK time), we are going to look back on the complete back catalogue of albums by some of our favourite bands and artists.

First up we will give our take on the eight album run spanning four decades of The B-52’s. This starts next week (March 8) with their 1979 self titled debut and finishes in May with their most recent album, 2008’s Funplex.

See you next week for our look at The B-52’s complete discography!

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Cindy Wilson – Change

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Cindy Wilson – Change

Posted on 16 November 2017 by Joe

Most bands struggle to get by with one good singer. How they must envy The B-52s, who are blessed with three great vocalists – Cindy Wilson, Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider.

Of this trio Cindy is the favourite for many, with her impassioned vocals making tracks such as Give Me Back My Man and Dance this Mess Around among the band’s best.

Cindy Wilson change

The surprising news for those getting hold of this first ever solo album from Wilson, is that the Cindy Wilson of then is nowhere to be seen here. There are no screams of love, no sultry Southern delivery. Instead her delivery is soft, whispering at times.

But that’s not to say this is to be dismissed.  In fact the opposite is the case as  this collection from a ‘changed’ Cindy Wilson is very fine indeed – full of smart electro pop and one that will please fans of St Etienne in particular.

The Tubeway Army sounding synth sounds on Mystic make this a particularly striking track, the heavy bass on Brother is a joy and there’s a lovely pop melody to the funk infused No One Can Tell You.

While this album doesn’t play to her incredible vocal strengths it does still showcase her role as one of the all time great pop artists, and one that is more than happy to embrace new styles.

7/10

by Joe Lepper

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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)

pauls_boutique

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)

Gorilla-bonzo-dog-doo-dah-band-15383680-500-500

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)

mountaingoatstree

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)

fairportconvention-liegeandlief_LRG

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)

Highway+61+Revisited+Bob+Dylan++Highway+61+Revisite

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)

b52s

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)

london

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)

Dory

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)

beatles-revolver

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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