My friend Tom challenged me a while ago to list my top 10 most influential albums. Not favourites but albums that have been influential in my life. For me that probably means albums that have made me see music differently.
I then mentioned the idea to another friend Gareth who probably gave me a lot of the albums in my list when we were in school and he recently published his, thereby shaming me into actually doing mine.
So here they are, in chronological order:
1. Michael Jackson - Bad
I was never that into music as a kid. I learned a couple of instruments but pop music just wasn’t something I was really aware of until my best friend took me to the cinema to watch Moonwalker. I suddenly became a huge MJ fan. For a year or 2 at least.
2. Lemonheads - Its a Shame About Ray
Even though I liked Michael Jackson and a few other things, I had never made any effort to listen to music. Then in the early nineties I started seeing kids in the 6th form wearing James t-shirts and I started to hear about this thing called Indie. I didn’t really get it until a friend gave me a tape with this on it. I was never all that bothered about James but this I loved.
3. Blur - Modern Life is Rubbish
What can I say about this? One of the biggest albums of my life. I have the album cover on my bedroom wall still. It signalled the start of a new movement in music, Britpop, that was the soundtrack to my youth. Plus it had the lyrics and guitar chords in the cd booklet just as I was learning to play the guitar. What more could you want?
4. Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dreams
The same tape that Gareth made me that contained songs from It’s A Shame About Ray and Modern Life Is Rubbish, also had a few tracks from Siamese Dream. They probably took a bit longer to get into as it was noisier than anything I’d listened to before. But it grew on me over time, helped by a concert of theirs I taped off the TV late one night that blew my mind. The band I joined in my first year at University mostly took me in because I could play Cherub Rock.
5. Tindersticks - The First Tindersticks Album
When I finally realised that music was my thing and that there was an infinite world of music out there to explore, I started to buy magazines (NME mostly) and listen to the radio (Mark and Lard mostly). I first came across the song Marbles by Tindersticks on an NME cover tape and then Mark and Lard started playing it on the radio. It didn’t sound like anything else. Still doesn’t. I remember a friend saying that Blood / City Sickness / Patchwork / Marbles was the best 4-song run on any album. I still don’t disagree 20 years later.
This is the one album I’ve felt compelled to put on while writing this. God it’s good.
6. Radiohead - The Bends
This is probably the one. I could have picked OK Computer or Kid A (or even arguably the My Iron Lung EPs) but it had to be The Bends. It came out at exactly the right time and was exactly the right record for me. I remember sitting staring at the stereo the first time I played it. It’s amazing how normal it sounds now but at the time it sounded like the future to me.
7. Manic Street Preachers - The Holy Bible
Another album that came out at exactly the right age for teenage me. Difficult, challenging and political. In a 6th form-y, poorly thought-through kind of way. As I said, perfect for a suburban teenager. The whole Richey thing helped too.
8. Mogwai - Ten Rapid
Most of what I listen to these days is instrumental, ambient, atmosphere-over-melody kind of music and this is where it began. This album together with Labradford’s self-titled album helped me study and also understand that music didn’t need vocals.
9. Charlie Parker - vol. 1 on Jazz Reactivation records
This is the cheapest, lowest quality record I’ve ever come across. I got it for pennies (or possibly free) in a charity shop because I was intrigued by the idea of jazz and had heard the name Charlie Parker. The live recording combined with the tinny sound of the cheap vinyl somehow works and the first song just jumped out and slapped me in the face. Energetic and vital. Very little jazz I’ve heard since has lived up to this.
10. Bonnie “Prince” Billy - The Letting Go
Still one of my favourite albums. His voice carries complex emotions perfectly and the music is heartbreaking. It’s country but not country. Folk but not folk. Beautful and human. Perfect.
I can’t believe there’s no Supergrass or Super Furry Animals on here. There are, appallingly, no women. Where are Alela Diane or Broadcast? No Pulp! Damn.