Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 13

No 13. REM – Automatic For The People. (1992)

automatic-for-the-people-by-rem

Football analogy #327: in the first weekend of the 1987-88 season, Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool, arguably the greatest team ever to play in the English Football League, eviscerated Newcastle United 4-1 at Anfield. One of the Liverpool players scored a hat-trick, but it was not John Aldridge, John Barnes or Peter Beardsley, their immensely prolific three way strike force, but Steve Nicol, the right back. An example of when the collective is so strong, amazing feats come from the most unlikely of sources, like when Bill Berry, REM’s drummer, sat down and wrote Everybody Hurts, one of the world’s finest ever lullabies.

Sad without being morose, tuneful without being twee, Automatic is the musical equivalent of a reassuring hug from a loved one at a funeral. Eleven string-drenched folk-rock songs and one instrumental. Along with Oasis’s Morning Glory, it is the most ubiquitous album of my generation. Everybody had it. The songs are so sweet and gentle, and the musical palette so rich and resonant, it’s not hard to see why this album appealed to so many millions of people.

Michael Stipe, REM’s singer and to this day the best frontman I’ve ever seen live, was disturbingly thin and pallid during the promos of this album and it was heavily rumoured at the time that he had AIDS, and songs about death, suicide and uncertainty did little to dispel the talk. He didn’t have AIDS, obviously, but the subject matter of the songs, for example Try Not To Breathe’s story of an old man preparing to die with his favourite memories in his mind, is clearly a rumination on mortality. Everybody Hurts, surely now a song that everybody under the age of sixty knows off by heart, is a lyric of hope written after a sharp rise in suicide levels in the U.S, and they also manage to sneak a little political diatribe in with Ignoreland (1980, 84, 88, 92 were election years in America.)

Elsewhere, in a High Fidelity-style survey, pretty much everyone is naming Drive as one of their “Top 5 Side One, Track Ones,” and Sweetness Follows and Nightswimming emit the kind of comforting melancholy as the last scene from Lost In Translation. I’ve had conversations about this album with complete strangers in chip shops and round at my closest friends houses. It is language, it is currency; everyone has find a favourite here, whether it’s The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight with its strange, twangy vocal in the chorus (he’s singing “Call me when you try to wake her up,” in case you didn’t know) or their glorious homage to Tim Buckley, Find The River. If you’re one of the fifteen people on the planet who doesn’t own this album, do yourself a favour…

Best Tracks: Drive, Sweetness Follows, Find The River

Best Moment: 3:50 into Everybody Hurts, after the pause, the impossibly sad “soooometimes…”

Like this? Try: Deserter’s Songs by Mercury Rev, 1998

profile b and wAllen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 14

14. Jeff Buckley – Grace (1994)

grace

 

You often find that people who have an undeniably towering talent and/or position in society generally have to suffer some sort of adverse affect, in the same way that the most beautiful places on Earth are often found on seismic faultlines. For example, Bill Gates is the richest man in the world, and the indisputable leader of the software industry, but whenever he walks down the street, this happens. Simon Cowell has manipulated the music industry to make him a fortune, but he has no artistic credibility, and, as we all know deep down, no friends. Lionel Messi is the best professional footballer on the planet, and will go down as one of the top five of all time when he retires, but he looks like a water vole. These paradoxes are what keep me and you, the average people, from running into our respective workplaces, dropping our trousers and throwing home-made ninja stars at our colleagues. But sometimes you look at certain things in life and think “Well, that’s just not fair.”

Jeff Buckley had it all. He was a magnificent guitarist, impossibly good-looking and a brilliant songwriter. He had great musical heritage in that his father (who he only met once) was Tim Buckley, the brilliant folk-rock-jazz-soul singer who succumbed to a heroin overdose in 1974, and the influence of Grace can be found in Muse and Radiohead, two of the biggest bands in the world.

Jeff Buckley was arguably the greatest rock singer ever to have lived.

From the very first seconds of this record, it’s clear that there is something different at work here, a strange, alien voice humming into your ear. Mojo Pin is an extraordinary vocal performance, a swooping, swooning, screaming kaleidoscope of chanson, over the top of music that is gently shimmering one minute, wildly thrashing the next. The tone of the album is set. Certain moments of songs stand out so vividly that they have to be instantly listened to again to make sure you actually heard them correctly; the beautiful intro chord sequence in Lover, You Should Have Come Over, followed by some of the most lucidly heart-breaking lines ever, “She’s the tear that hangs inside my soul forever,” being one; the amazing Qawaali vocal on the title track, clearly indebted to Buckley’s interest in Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and when performed live, the vibrato was so intense that his jaw would shake uncontrollably; and the moment in Last Goodbye where his voice truly scrapes the stratosphere as he begs “Kiss me, please kiss me, kiss out of desire, not consolation.”

The most famous song on the album is obviously the definitive cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, which has since been molested by one of Simon Cowell’s interchangeable genetic clones. So for all of you who have only heard the x factor take on that wonderful song, perhaps you could seek out this record, to see how an almost supernatural talent could deliver a song to us, with his sad-eyed looks and soul and voice that could rip your heart out of your chest.

These ten songs attracted such mass attention that he was able to tour all over the world, and the expectation was that his second album would have made him a major star, and elevated him to a status that his colossal gift deserved.

But he died. Of course he died. Drowned in the Mississippi River at the age of thirty.

What a waste.


Best Tracks:
Grace, Hallelujah, Dream Brother

Best Moment: The scream at 4:45 into the title track. As intense as rock music gets?

Like this? Try: I Am A Bird Now by Antony And The Johnsons, 2005

profile b and wAllen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 15.

15. The Smiths – Meat Is Murder (1985)

 

meat is murder

To use the umpteenth football analogy of this article, if you ask a casual football fan who the greatest player of all time was, he/she would say Pele. While he was surely a truly superb player, it is more the general consensus than actual analysis that has led to that opinion. And much in the same way, if you ask a casual music fan which is the best Smiths album, they would say The Queen Is Dead. The genuinely knowledgeable football fan, however, would claim that Diego Maradona is the best player of all time, just as the more devout music fan would plump for Meat Is Murder.

Meat Is Murder stands apart from the rest of The Smiths’ cannon, in that for all the introspection and doom of the debut, the kitchen sink gloominess of The Queen Is Dead and the Walker Brothers-esque gothicness of Strangeways Here We Come, this album is by far their noisiest, fastest and heaviest and there’s a reason for that. Morrissey may be the look-at-poor-me focal point of everything The Smiths ever did, but make no mistake, this is Johnny Marr’s album.

Johnny Marr was influenced by the likes of Bert Jansch and John Renbourn as well as the classic songwriters such as Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, Leiber and Stoller and Burt Bacharach, and it came through on the debut and on Hatful Of Hollow, were the tunes are to the fore and there is such a wonderful array of melody. On Meat Is Murder, however, he is indulging his obsessions with Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix and Tom Verlaine, and The Smiths would never sound like this on any other record they made. What She Said, for a start, is one of the fastest guitar riffs of all time. So fast, in fact, that the intro sounds like the rest of the band are struggling to keep up. That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore is one of the bleakest songs ever written and that is down to the harrowing spiral of the music rather than a no more than averagely miserable lyric from the Moz.

That is not to say Morrissey doesn’t contribute, far from it. The first three songs are superb examples of his acerbic lyrical humour, a style which no-one has ever replicated, and on How Soon Is Now? which wasn’t included on the original vinyl pressing, he successfully converts his inability to pull in discos into a Wildean lament. Fair enough, he makes a show of himself with the sanctimonious preaching of the title track, but you don’t have to listen to that. Instead, listen to his magnificent vocal on Well I Wonder, and enjoy the best work of the best electric guitarist that England has ever produced, only Richard Thompson comes close. And watch the following video to see the coolest footage of any musician ever. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9VVVqN_PJ4

In my opinion, The Smiths are the greatest band that ever wrote, recorded and played. But, much like The Kinks, they never produced that genuine eleven out of ten masterpiece. That is because they had too much material too soon; had they taken more time, they could have stuck London and Rubber Ring on this album and booted the quality through the roof, but youthful naivety and the enormous splurge of ideas they had meant it wasn’t to be so calculated. It doesn’t matter though, because this is still the strongest set in the Morrissey/Marr cannon.

A parting thought; When Johnny Marr wrote this album, he was twenty-one years old. When Oasis released Supersonic, Noel Gallagher was twenty-six. What exactly kept him?

Best Tracks:
I Want The One I Can’t Have, What She Said, That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore
Best Moment: 3:52 into That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore; just when you thought the horror was over…
Like this? Try: This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello (1978)

profile b and wAllen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 16

Number 16. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (1989)

stone_roses

Madonna once came out with a great soundbite about pop music, which I can’t remember word for word, but it went something like “There is no better way to get into people’s hearts than writing a great melody.” If this is true, then it is one of the great mysteries of the world that The Stone Roses didn’t become the biggest band in the history of the universe. Beatles aside, who obviously did become the biggest band in the history of the universe, there has never been a band to record has many purely tuneful songs as The Stone Roses did on this album.

For a debut, it is incredibly confident, almost to the point of naivety, but there are moments on this album that, like certain songs in the repertoires of Oasis, The Flaming Lips and Michael Jackson, just defy any kind of negativity. They drew the confidence from the positivity, swagger and optimism of their own songs. The three big British indie bands of the eighties before the Roses hit were The Smiths, The Fall and The Jesus and Mary Chain, all bands who would revel in the bleaker side of music, and in the case of the latter two, aggressively so; and the relentless colour and vibrancy of this album, along with the fact that everyone had started taking ecstasy, is the reason that it is thought of as such a ground-breaking set.

I Wanna Be Adored, the first track on here, features possibly the greatest intro of all time. A minute or so of Eraserhead soundtrack-type chugging, then an intricate arpeggio based on a Celtic scale, then the best snare drum thwack since Like A Rolling Stone. As a statement of intent, it has no rival. Then they up the ante with She Bangs The Drums, a deceptively simple song based on a classic sixties E D A chord sequence, made unique by its fantastic Motown-derived bassline, and fittingly the lyrical proclamation “The past was yours but the future’s mine.” Everything just fits perfectly. Ian Brown, later derided for the weakness of his voice, is absolutely right for this album. His sonorous murmur adds to the ambience of the songs and brings a sense of unity rather than the pretension that a Morrissey or Tim Booth would bring.

For me personally, this is an album drenched in nostalgia. I first heard of The Stone Roses after hearing John Squire on the Oasis Knebworth show and asking my musical guru mate Mikey Jarrell who he was, and I twagged off school for the first and only time to go and buy this album the next day. From the age of sixteen to about twenty-four, Waterfall, Made Of Stone and I Am The Resurrection would be on constant rotation, whether on a knackered ghetto blaster at a house party, blaring out at an indie disco as we held our bottles of Reef aloft on the dancefloor, or being hummed by some bloke I met at work who calls himself Xavier Dwyer these days.

They blew it, obviously. Manchester bands all blow it. Joy Division, The Smiths, The Happy Mondays, Oasis… they all blew it. Dunno why. You don’t need to buy Second Coming, it’s not very good (response, Mr Taylor.) You should maybe track down the Fools Gold EP, Ten Storey Love Song and Sally Cinnamon on single, but primarily you just need this album. You’ll find some of the best melodies ever written, and songs that promise a future of endless dancing, bright colours and fresh fruit for everyone. And all those promises are here on one gloriously shiny little disc.

 

Best Tracks: I Wanna Be Adored, Bye Bye Badman, This Is The One

Best Moment: 1:29 into I Wanna Be Adored. The incendiary snare drum. The aural equivalent of a boot up the arse.

Like this? Try: A Northern Soul by The Verve, 1995

profile b and wAllen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 17

17. Oasis – This Is History – Live At Knebworth

oasis knebworth

A short disclaimer: This album is a bootleg of a Radio 1 show that was broadcast sometime in August 1996. I know that, strictly speaking, it isn’t a real album, but somewhere, in a parallel universe, some geek is sat with a pad and pencil, tallying up every time I play each album I own. This will be number one. And it’s my website, so I’ll do as I bloody well like. Yeah.

The popular backlash towards Oasis these days is something that completely baffles me. Look at the state of music as it is now, on its arse, in 2013. Mumford and Sons are headlining Glastonbury and a group of wimps who name their children after fruit, got bullied at school and called themselves Coldplay are the biggest band in the world. If you were told that you could preside over the peak of one of the ten best rock bands ever, with a motor-mouth frontman who had the stage presence of a Moss Side Marlon Brando and a guitarist who is the single greatest exponent of the rock and roll song that britain has ever produced, would you really slag them off for running out of ideas a few years later? Would you shite.

This record is a document of one of the very zeniths of British music. As we look back over our shoulders nearly twenty years later and sneer at the horrific things Britpop spawned (Shed Seven, basically) it is worth mentioning that the five acts at the core of the genre, Oasis, Blur, Suede, Pulp and Supergrass, still have catalogues that hold up today and haven’t dated as much as you think they might have done. As I’m sure my fellow SOTS writer, Mr Featherstone will also attest to, it is difficult to describe the sheer visceral thrill of discovering Oasis; personally I first heard them on a Sky Sports season review show in which Live Forever and Some Might Say were used as background tracks, and I instantly loved them. This was massive music that played to the lowest common instinct, you didn’t have to think too hard about it, you just put the CD in the drive and pressed play.

Despite the fact that Noel incorporates Octopus’s Garden into the end of Whatever, and the album ends with a colossal amping up of I Am The Walrus, here Oasis are more The Who than The Beatles, all slashing guitars and enormous anthemic choruses. The chorus to Acquiesce, after Liam rants in the verse that he doesn’t know what keeps him going but he knows there is something, somewhere, then Noel bellows “We neeeeeeeeed each other, we belieeeeeeeeeeve in one another.” It is one of the most obvious statements of co-dependence in all of music, and if you look at the way the Gallagher brothers careers re heading post-Oasis, it is still painfully prevalent.

The magic moments on this album are too numerous to detail. The bridge to the second chorus of Morning Glory, where Liam snarls the umpteenth f-word of the night; the outro of Some Might Say, with both brothers screaming over the top of each other; exciting new linguistic developments such as “Sunsheeeeeeiiineeah!” Alan White’s heart stopping drum break after the guitar solo in Don’t Look Back In Anger, prelude to the third reading of The Greatest Chorus Of All Time; the sheer explosiveness of the vocal to Slide Away; the little extra flourish in the solo on Live Forever; and special guest star John Squire’s unbelievable axe-work during the penultimate song, Champagne Supernova.

Daft old Robbie Williams aside, we will not see a band or artist who can put on this type of spectacle ever again, the era of the truly massive band is over now. But every facet of that era is over. Think back to 1996, just for a moment. Remember The Fast Show and Nelson Mandela coming to England and Stuart Pearce’s penalty and Adidas Gazelle and Crash Bandicoot and Father Ted and Beckham’s goal from halfway and the euphoria drawn from the fact that John Major was a dead-man walking. Oasis were your soundtrack to all of that. And now, as we watch David Cameron get porky while our society contracts anaemia and Coldplay wank on about making trade fair, we wonder what this country is lacking.

Rock and Roll.

And Oasis were real good at Rock and Roll.

Best Tracks: Morning Glory, Slide Away, The Masterplan

Best Moment: The to-and-fro between Liam and Noel as they walk on stage:
Noel: This is history! Right here! Right now! History!
Liam: I thought it was Knebworth!
(Cue the sound of 150,000 slapped thighs.)

Like this? Try: From Here To Eternity by The Clash, 1999

profile b and wAllen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 18

18. The Beatles – Revolver (1966)

The-Beatles-–-Revolver

 

As a young buck of about fourteen, fifteen years old. I hated Manchester United. They were by a street the best team in the country yet I just wouldn’t accept it, I was utterly convinced in my own mind that they were completely overrated, fluky and undisciplined. And similarly, as a young punk fan at the idiotically naive age of eighteen, I took no notice of The Beatles. The line I always used to come out with was, “If they hadn’t have done it, someone else would.” I didn’t dislike them, I just hated the general consensus that they were the greatest thing since processed loaves. Surely the rawness and attitude of Iggy, Sid, and Joe was better than the pretty melodies of John and Paul? Fast forward to my early twenties, when I grew  a brain, I obviously accepted that Eric Cantona was a genius, in both box office and professional terms, and also that every single note of music played since 1966 can be traced back, in some way, to Revolver.

Revolver is one of those rare albums, like Screamadelica and London Calling, in that it is definitive of a time and place yet has not dated at all. Liberated by the retirement from live performances, The Beatles became the first band to really use the studio to great effect. And LSD to great effect. And cannabis to great effect. And whatever the fuck else was available down Carnaby Street in 66 to great effect…

You’ve got songs on here that people still haven’t replicated. They pretty much invented dance music with Tomorrow Never Knows, post-punk before punk with Taxman, and in And Your Bird Can SIng, one of the greatest guitar songs ever, yet one that is never mentioned alongside the likes of Layla and Whole Lotta Love.

She Said She Said is probably the best song on the album, and it is Lennon’s, but McCartney is playing an absolute blinder all the way through. He is a phenomenal bass player, and it could be argued that his single greatest contribution to the medium of pop music was the idea that bass could be used as a melodic engine, listen to Doctor Robert on a decent stereo and you can understand how much Mani and Andy Rourke, to name but two, owe to him. He was also majorly responsible for Eleanor Rigby, Here There and Everywhere and For No One. Only one song on the album goes over three minutes, and that’s only by a second. This is what pop music used to be. Tunes, tunes, tunes.

Yes, it’s weird, even now. I’m Only Sleeping sounds literally like a song that has been written in his sleep and the afore-mentioned Tomorrow Never Knows must have sounded like a communiqué from another planet in 1966, and the world only caught up with it when The Chemical Brothers sampled it in 1997. “Listen to the colour of your dreams.” They say drugs were involved…

 

Best Tracks: Here, There and Everywhere, She Said She Said, For No One

Best Moment: Ringo’s brilliant shuffles on She Said She Said. People who say Ringo was a crap drummer are the same as people who say Bob Dylan was a crap singer. They’re imbeciles.

Like this? Try: Fifth Dimension by The Byrds, 1966

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 19

19. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call (1997)

 

boatmans call

In 1982, with his genuinely intimidating new-wave band The Birthday Party, Cave wrote and screeched the following lyric; he was probably on stage in nothing more than a pair of jeans, just about to belabour a paying punter with his mic stand as he did so:

Sex horror sex bat sex sex horror sex vampire
Sex bat horror vampire sex
Cool machine
Horror bat. bite!
Cool machine. bite!
Sex vampire. bite!

In 1997, on The Boatman’s Call, he is, in a parallel universe, recognized as the finest lounge singer to have ever lived and plays 200 nights a year in Las Vegas. He drinks expensive whisky with the ghosts of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, and wears a suit that cost five thousand pounds. He sits at his piano with a cigarette smouldering in the ashtray and opens the show, and this album, with the following lines, which he croons with a voice as deep and dark as mahogany:

I don’t believe in an interventionist God,
But I know darling that you do,
But if I did I would kneel down and ask him
Not to intervene when it came to you.

Even over the course of fifteen years, that is one hell of a transition. It was a gradual thing; on the early Bad Seeds albums, amongst the hell fire and brimstone there would always be one or two songs where you would properly pick the lyric out and realise how head-spinningly brilliant it was. The title track of Your Funeral, My Trial, The Mercy Seat off Tender Prey, which reads more like a Shakespearean monologue than a song, and Sorrow’s Child off The Good Son, the album of orchestral piano ballads which is the prototype for The Boatman’s Call.

It is effectively a Nick Cave solo album about the break-up of two relationships, featuring the best collection of lyrics ever committed to tape. As with three of the godfathers of the doomed romantic ballad, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash, the songs are dominated by themes of Love, Death and God. The imagery is unbelievably vivid; in Brompton Oratory for example, he sings of how his taking of Holy Communion is tarnished by the smell of his lover on his hands as he drinks the wine. In the impossibly sombre Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere, the following verse:

The kitten that padded and purred on my lap,
Now swipes at my face with the paw of a bear
I turn the other cheek and you lay into that,
O where do we go now but nowhere

Words that are the equal of anything in the very best literature, let alone pop music.
The album’s best track and centrepiece is Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For, a song of uncertainty and anticipation set to a minor chord piano sequence that features an incredible moment where the end of verse refrain blooms into a truly beautiful middle eight. When he sings the line “The stars will explode in the sky, but they don’t do they?” It is the only time his voice struggles on the entire record, yet all the more bewitching for it. The Bad Seeds are unintrusive throughout, just there to add soft rhythms and atmosphere to the staunchly black and white palette. The only true band performance is on West Country Girl, where low bass rumbles and gypsy violins decorate the story of his romance with Polly Harvey.

This album would have flown in to my top ten but for the disastrous final track, Green Eyes, which in my opinion is the worst Cave song of all-time. It seems to be aiming for a self-parody schtick in order to lighten the atmosphere, something like The Piano Has Been Drinking by Tom Waits. Cave however, is not a natural raconteur like Waits, and it is a colossal error of judgement for this song to be included. It’s not a major problem, though, as CD/MP3 technology can be used to edit it out, and we are left with a wonderful set of wine-sodden, tear-sodden lullabies, that tell us through all these beautiful words, that love may ruin lives, may rip your heart to shreds and fuck you up to the point of no return. But at the end of the day, we all need it.

Best Tracks: Into My Arms, Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For, Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere.

Best Moment: The afore-mentioned middle eight in Are You The One… a truly beautiful passage of music.

Like This? Try: In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning by Frank Sinatra (1954)

 

profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 2 year-old daughter who is into Queens Of The Stone Age. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/8d2pysx

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 21

The-Smiths-The-Queen-is-Dead-1986

The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead (1986)

Ah, record shops. How we loved record shops and record shopping. Those grey, overcast days in February and March where we were absolutely adamant that we would walk home with a bag containing a CD or two dangling from our wrists as our hands were thrust in the pockets of our overcoats, even if there was nothing there we particularly wanted. But how curious we were about this band as pre-millennial seventeen year-olds, how we’d read the stars of the moment say how wonderful they were, how we would come to revere them, to this day, as The Greatest Band Of All Time. We would walk three miles home from our mundane part-time jobs, sharing an earphone each from a Walkman, listening to a tape on which a strange man sung of the soil falling over his head and knowing how Joan Of Arc felt and never ever wanting to go home. How we felt like we understood everything life could possibly be at that tender age. How we fell in love with The Smiths.

A personal approach, yes, but there really is no other way you can evaluate this band. In many ways, ranking Smiths albums is pointless because you consume the entire package rather than their works. No other band in the history of music has inspired such devotion, worship and adoration.

You could live in a Smiths song, you could feel the drizzle in your hair and kick through the puddles and you could do as ten thousand grubby indie kids have done and barricade yourself in your room and listen to Morrissey’s glorious vocal on I Know Its Over as the one you’re meant to be with dumps you for the twentieth time. I remember when I had started gigging with Sal Paradise and Xavier and I were sat in Sharkey’s Bar one evening. A barmaid came over to us with some promo postcards on which you were encouraged to scrawl whichever vodka-drenched nugget of wisdom that you saw fit and then give them it back so they could post it. I addressed it to our boss and wrote “I want to leave, you will not miss me, I want to go down in musical history.” Didn’t happen.

The Queen Is Dead, the track, is ferocious. The most frantically garbled vocal since Subterranean Homesick Blues and guitar-work that left Johnny Marr shaking upon leaving the booth. Cemetery Gates has some of the finest word-play of any lyric ever and The Boy With The Thorn In His Side is home to a musical composition entirely unique, with no comparison in rock. And then we have There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, in this writer’s opinion, the very apex of music itself; The Greatest Song Ever Written. It is effectively a love song to a friend (Morrissey to Marr, allegedly, actually, not allegedly) and, like a great episode of Twin Peaks, there are so many levels and hidden secrets to it that you will never get tired of hearing it. When I saw Morrissey solo at the MEN in 2004, he ran offstage before he sang the final refrain, as if he couldn’t handle the immense emotion of it all, and if you youtube Noel Gallagher covering it at his Teenage Cancer Trust benefit, he strums his guitar so delicately he looks like he’s delivering a baby, like he’s completely terrified of not doing the song justice.

Many people who know my taste in music may have thought I would have put this album much higher up in this list, and despite the high points being as good as popular music has ever got, the album as a whole has some noticeable lows; Never Had No-one Ever doesn’t really go anywhere and Vicar In A Tutu is lightweight, while Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others is rumoured to be the song that started the demise of the greatest songwriting partnership ever seen, and yes I am including Lennon and McCartney in that. The peaks far outweigh the troughs, and although it deserves its constant place in Best Albums Ever lists, The Smiths made a better album than The Queen Is Dead.

Best Tracks: The Queen Is Dead, I Know Its Over, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

Best Moment:
The vocal outro to I Know Its Over. To idiots, the carping of a self pitying drama queen. To everyone else, the emotional peak of one of the most moving songs ever written.

Like this? Try: The First Tindersticks Album by Tindersticks, 1993

profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 20 month-old daughter who is into The Ramones. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written by someone from Hull. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/8d2pysx

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 22

sam cooke

Sam Cooke – Live At The Harlem Square Club (1963)

I’m a miserable sod by nature, and already in this list I’ve written about albums made by manic depressives and artists for whom nervous breakdowns were merely an occupational hazard. Xavier Dwyer mentioned in his recent article that he doesn’t like writing about music, and can barely even tolerate talking about it much anymore, and I understand where he is coming from in many ways; we all too often over-intellectualise music as a medium, sit and scrutinize lyric sheets and chord sequences, argue about what statement the artist is trying to make and shake our heads as we wonder if Thom Yorke really thinks the MI5 are after him. What is forgotten for the most part amongst all this bluster and theorising, is that a lot of the time, music is meant to be enjoyed. Sometimes there doesn’t need to be a statement or a introspective undercurrent. Sometimes you don’t want to think, you just want to press play and enjoy it. I defy anybody to find a more infectiously enjoyable album than this one.

Sam Cooke is one of those rare artists who, although you might not know anything about him, you’ll know loads of his songs without even knowing who sings them. On any Saturday night, in any disco where the crowd is generally aged mid thirties-upwards, you are guaranteed to hear Cupid, Chain Gang and Twistin’ The Night Away. And everyone will be dancing. It is music that one as to be either in a coma or a goth to resist reacting to. It’s a live album, obviously (don’t tell me I can’t include live albums, it’s my list, and I’m going to bowl an even bigger off-spinner in a little while) and it’s difficult to recall a recorded performance where the frontman is obviously so completely in control of the crowd. He is absolutely shredding the stage, and his vocals are beyond compare; to these ears Cooke is the greatest singer to have ever lived. You can tell that there is not a single person in the crowd sitting down, they’re all up and jiving, the girls have grabbed their boys and they’re slinging themselves all over the shop. His band are tighter than a camel’s arse in a sandstorm and as with that other great live album of the early-soul age, James Brown Live At The Apollo, the bits in between the songs where he whips the punters into a frenzy with his vamping and scatting, are nearly as good as the songs themselves.

Sam Cooke had been heavily involved in the civil rights movement in America in the late fifties and early sixties and had he not have died in 1964 (apparently shot by a motel landlady while his pants were round his ankles) you wonder how much more influence he could have had on the political stage in and in other fields beyond music. The whole world would have listened to every word he said, because this was soul, charisma, and magnetism on the most supernatural level. They simply do not make pop stars like Sam Cooke anymore.

Best Tracks: Chain Gang, Twistin’ The Night Away, Bring It On Home To Me

Best Moment: In For Sentimental Reasons, where he leads the adoring crowd in a sing-along “I think of you every morning, and dream of you every night. EVERYBODY!!!”

Like this? Try: NBC TV Special by Elvis Presley, 1968

And, I know this track is not on the album, but just take three minutes of your life to appreciate what a great singer this man was.

 

profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 20 month-old daughter who is into The Ramones. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written by someone from Hull. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/8d2pysx

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 23

No. 23. Manic Street Preachers – Journal For Plague Lovers (2009)

journal

The Manics were on dangerous ground in 2009. After hitting a seemingly irreparable artistic low with the turgid and faceless Lifeblood in 2004, they stumbled upon a career-saving single in Your Love Alone Is Not Enough, and salvaged their reputation with the up-tempo and up-beat Send Away The Tigers album. Given the wildly varying quality of the band’s recorded output, the obvious option would have been to play it safe and churn out another set of crowd-pleasing anthems. Of course, being the most contrary band of all time, The Manics instead elected to hire one of the most avowedly uncommercial record producers ever and craft an album based on the unused lyrics of their missing, presumed dead rhythm guitar player; a de facto sequel to The Holy Bible, their coruscatingly dark masterpiece of fifteen years earlier. Without doing any promotion, and without releasing a single.

The fact is, based on music alone, there are several contenders for singles here. The second track has huge chiming riff and a lovely swelling chorus which you could easily imagine on the radio. It has been used in its instrumental form on Match Of The Day. The problem is it’s titled Jackie Collins Existential Question Time and features the opening verse “Tonight we beg the question: If a married man fucks a Catholic and his wife dies without knowing does it make him unfaithful, people?” Viking FM decided not to take up the option.

Richey’s blood is all over this album, but where horror and death and misery were branded onto the twisted grooves of The Holy Bible, here is to be found warmth and occasionally even levity (“We missed the sex revolution when we failed the physical.”) It is far from a happy record, She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach describes a woman so controlled by her lover she will burn her skin to please him; Virginia State Epileptic Colony details a One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest-style mental asylum; and the album as a whole is filled with astonishing imagery (Bruises on my hands from digging my nails out.) but where The Holy Bible was bleak, Journal For Plague Lovers is blank, tired and sad.

It is clear from the first track that James Dean Bradfield is playing out of his skin, elevating the staccato prose with riffs both muscular (Peeled Apples) and tuneful (Me and Steven Hawking) but, perhaps fittingly for such a sombre album, it is the acoustic tracks which provide the stand-outs. The stately This Joke Sport Severed is the closest the Manics have ever got to Achtung Baby-era U2, and Facing Page: Top Left is a gorgeous wistful Nick Drake-style lament for a world obsessed by appearance and flippancy. Then we have Doors Closing Slowly. When they previewed the album on MTV, rather than play the song, they simply had Bradfield read the words to camera, as if the audience wouldn’t be able to cope with the sheer gravitas of the music. A thudding march and the incredibly sensitive vocal deliver one of the greatest lyrics of modern times. The final battered snare drum coda and sampled outro fade into the sound of a ticking clock. It is one of the most utterly hopeless songs ever written.

Tucked away at the end of the album is William’s Last Words, and the question will forever remain, “Is it a suicide note?” It could be taken as such, but it is apparently a song based on the Laurence Olivier film The Entertainer, about a music hall performer who refuses to accept that no-one wants to see his show anymore. Nicky Wire sings it, his first vocal performance since the disastrous Wattsville Blues, and on this occasion it fits perfectly. He is clearly absolutely terrified at being in the vocal booth, as his voice shakes and tries desperately to lose its accent, but that gives this most human of songs its human touch. It is an unbelievably direct song and for all the Manics desire to shock and wind people up, if nothing else this album proves that they are at their best when conveying emotion, no matter how difficult to handle it may be.

One final aside that exemplifies why this album is so important; if you scroll back up to the top you will see the album’s sleeve. A Jenny Saville oil painting of a boy with a blood splattered face. When I wandered down to my local branch of Morrisons to buy the album, this image had been censored to the supermarket shoppers and the CD was encased in a plain blue sleeve with minimalist type on it. Next to it festered an album by something called The Pussycat Dolls. The sleeve to this record featured four or five surgically sculpted women with a post-watershed amount of flesh on show posing with fingers suggestively in mouths/on thighs having been painted orange by a computer programme. This was apparently acceptable. But that little boy, cover star of an album that explained so eloquently why the world doesn’t work anymore, had to be covered up.

Deary deary me.

Best Tracks: This Joke Sport Severed, Doors Closing Slowly, Marlon J.D.

Best Moment: From William’s Last Words: I’m really tired/ I’d love to go to sleep/And wake up happy/Wake up happy.
If you don’t get a lump in your throat, then you are probably Kim Jong-un.

Like this? Try: Candy Apple Grey by Husker Du, 1986

profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 20 month-old daughter who is into The Ramones. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written by someone from Hull. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/8d2pysx