Al’s Top 30 Albums – No. 4

Number 4 – Van Morrison – Astral Weeks


Music journalists love categorizing things. It makes things so much easier for them. Over the years a critical cannon of the best albums of any particular genre has emerged, and is genreally accepted without recourse. If you’re talking Pop, it’s Thriller, Pet Sounds or Like A Prayer. If it’s Rock, it’s Sgt Pepper’s, Led Zeppelin 4 or Rumours. Soul’s undisputed number one is Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and Kind Of Blue has the jazz market cornered, just as Never Mind The Bollocks is the greatest punk album ever and It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Name The Greatest Rap Disc Of All Time. These are accepted facts, just like your best centre-half ever is Franco Baresi, if you’re talking out and out centre-forwards it’s Gerd Muller or Van Basten, and between the sticks Lev Yashin or Gordon Banks is your man.

Albums like these have become part of a pantheon, a cemented twenty or so records that always end up at the top of muso’s GOAT lists and have been since the mid-eighties, usurped oh-so-rarely, only in the event of a Radiohead, Oasis or Nirvana. But this one record is always there, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ziggy Stardust and Dark Side Of The Moon. The least talked-about work in these infernal lists defies any genre, which is why it’s so difficult to evaluate, certainly it is the album on my own list here that I’ve least looked forward to writing about. I do not claim to be a music journalist, or a musician, I am merely a fan, and therefore rather than picking this album apart as a true critic would, maybe I should write about this miraculous set of songs from a personal stand point. For this is a record that connects on a personal level in a way that even the very best music rarely does.

I bought Astral Weeks from Sydney Scarborough Records down King Edward Street in Hull when I was eighteen years old, in March or April 2000. It was part of one of my pay-day splurges on CDs that I did until the revolting compulsion of illegal downloading infected me about eight years later. In the plastic bag that swang from my arm that sunny spring morning were four albums: Imperial Bedroom by Elvis Costello (superb), Murder Ballads by Nick Cave (silly, but brilliant), and The Man Machine by Kraftwerk (slightly intimidating at the time), and this one. Aware of its towering reputation, it was the first of the four that I played upon my return home, and as I laid back on my single bed with the Sheffield Wednesday duvet cover and loaded it into my shitty Alba Hi-fi, I had no idea that this record would become an absolute staple of my life. The first few chords seemed like an old friend ruffling your hair, and the opening couplet, “If I ventured in the slipstream, between the viaducts of your dreams” was easily the most poetic thing I’d ever heard in a song. I let the whole album play through, as it is one of those albums, like Dark Side Of The Moon and Endtroducing, that you absolutely must listen to as a whole to truly appreciate it. The themes and images kept circling through the songs, “gardens wet with rain”, the dogs barking, the “scrapbooks stuck with glue”, I thought it was, and I still do, the most beautiful melding of words and music ever recorded.

As i spoke of in my review of Television’s Marquee Moon, certain music plays to the head rather than the heart. Astral Weeks is the exact opposite. It is music featuring an attribute so rare in a white singer: soul. Van Morrison is the greatest white male singer that has ever lived. It is important that you understand that I have used the word singer here, rather than vocalist. There is a difference between being born gifted and merely learning the craft, which is why Robert De Niro will always be a greater screen presence than say, Keanu Reeves. A vocalist is someone who learns how to sing, Morrison is someone who just pours his heart out through his larynx, often seemingly unaware that he is actually singing, chewing on words until he’s spitting the juices out. And he is accompanied by a magnificent ensemble of musicians; listen to the way that Richard Davis’ supple, almost elastic bass lines propel Cyprus Avenue, unheard in rock before or since. The astonishing jazz arrangements on The Way Young Lovers Do, a song in the same vein as Fight Song by The Flaming Lips or The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite by REM, one of such intense momentum that it is impossible to listen to without your body responding in some way; and the centrepiece, Madame George, a glorious three-chord story of a Belfast transvestite, which, even at nigh-on ten minutes, you never want to end.

I am a deeply cynical individual, and I loathe words such as transcendental, passionate, spiritual. And yet this album seems to evoke such adjectives when I listen to it. I have listened to this album at least once a month for fourteen years, and it seems to take on the role of medicine, a blanket for the soul. I would be happy to start a campaign for primary school teachers to issue it to their pupils in their final year, just so they could learn how music, above anything they will learn in high school, can strike directly into the heart.

Van Morrison was twenty three years old when he recorded this. When I was twenty three I was vomiting into a gutter down Newland Ave.

Best Tracks: Beside You, The Way That Young Lovers Do, Madame George

Best Moment:
The vocal to Sweet Thing. Like having molten happiness poured into your ears.
Like this? Try: Sea Change by Beck, 2002

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.


Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 5


No. 5 – The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)

I’m a huge fan of the cinematic genre Film Noir. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, movies of this category usually involve seedy bars, private detectives, poisonous women and hundreds and hundreds of cigarettes. The classic phase of noir is thought to have started in 1941 with The Maltese Falcon and ended in 1958 with A Touch Of Evil. As befits the time, there was no explicit sex or violence in these films, everything was implied. The gravitas in these movies came from the shadowy, angular camera work and the colossal charisma of the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre. Except for one seldom seen picture from 1950 called Kiss Me Deadly. The first scene features a screaming woman, naked under a trenchcoat, desperately trying to thumb a lift on a unlit back road. The intro titles somewhat disconcertingly roll down rather than up the screen, and there are scenes of genuinely brutal violence. The underlying premise is of an underground government plot to conduct nuclear experiments and there is a particularly sinister scene in which the protagonist effectively pimps out his own girlfriend in order to gain information. Pretty heavy for 1950, I’m sure you’ll agree. Fast forward eighteen years, and while over here the likes of The Beatles, The Small Faces and The Rolling Stones were performing minor drug-induced miracles with the music they were making, they weren’t really ramming what they were doing down people’s throats. Over on the west coast of America, it was all about the peace and love and hippiness, morons in kaftans and leather headbands proclaiming that everyone should have a hug a day and idiotically trying to convince people that The Jimi Hendrix Experience were a great band. In New York, meanwhile, a smell as toxic as that of Kiss Me Deadly could be inhaled.

The Velvet Underground are the single most influential band of all time and the coolest band of all time. There is a very famous quote from Brian Eno that I could insert here but I won’t because he’s a very boring man who makes terrible records. Quite apart from The Beatles and Bob Dylan’s nods and winks towards their drug use, The Velvet Underground were the first band ever to say “Yep, there’s lots of people taking drugs, we know cos we take drugs. Yep, there’s lots of people indulging in extreme sexual practices, and we’re writing songs about it. Yep, this guitar can make sounds other than E, A and D.” They are by a distance America’s greatest ever band and begat two of the all time greats, John Cale and the late Lou Reed.

Obviously, no-one bought this record. They were utterly terrified of it. Andy Warhol, knowing controversy when he saw it, made them the centrepiece of his arts collective The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which consisted of mime artists, beat poets and one young lady who waded into the audience wearing a leather bustier and screaming at couples “Are you happy with him? Does he fuck you good?” The band would play a set of four or five songs, each lasting between seven and twenty minutes and garner no applause at all. Warhol funded the album and put his own name on the cover, along with an certain iconic piece of fruit. So, where The Beatles were singing “All you need is love”, The Velvets were slurring “Taste the whip, now bleed for me.” The guitars were drenched in repulsive feedback and an uncommonly beautiful woman had been transplanted into the middle of this cacophony to drone away in the same manner as the band.

It would all amount to nothing without the songs. But they had the songs. They tried to smother them with the racket, but they had the songs. The album begins with the ultimate hangover ballad, Sunday Morning, with its soft echo vocal, xylophone and hopeless refrain of “It’s nothing at all”. It is the sound of being happy to be in pain. The relentless chug chug chug of Waiting For The Man follows, the narrative of a junkie desperate for the arrival of his dealer, truly seismic for 1968. They had full-on rockabilly belters (distorted beyond measure, obviously) in Run Run Run and European Son, and sweet sweet doo-wop in Femme Fatale and I’ll Be Your Mirror, both “sung” by the teutonic chanteuse Nico. The latter was played at the wedding of my colleague Dr Barnes, and when I heard about this she instantly flew into the top five of my cool list.

The true core of the album lies with the genuine experiments, though. Venus In Furs is one of the most explicitly lascivious songs ever written, a candle-wax slow grind about the joys of sado-masochism with screeching viola and the most reptilian groove of all time. Listen to it now and your pelvis will automatically start to move. Heroin is obviously the spindle of the album, a song designed to simulate the rush of shooting up, a slow build spiralling into an unrestrained row where all thought of musical structure is completely abandoned as Reed chuckles and gasps and sings “It’s my life, and it’s my wife.” This song didn’t get on the radio.

The other two tracks are why I love this album so much. I went to an exhibition of underground rock art at the Tate Modern in 2005 entirely by chance and a one of the exhibits was a video of The Velvet Underground performing All Tomorrows Parties and The Black Angel’s Death Song, sometime in 1967. I’d bought the album about six years before that and instantly adored it, but after I’d toddled into this tiny booth all by myself and seen, at the age of twenty three, these five weirdos all clad in black, looking so aloof yet so threatening, I realised you could scare people with art. You could hurt them with words, you could offend them with music. The two songs in question were complete opposites; one a crushing glacial dirge and the other a howling spiralling din of feedback and atonal strings while Lou scats all those amazing lines of the most visceral imagery, and seeing them on that screen had pinned me to the wall.

Of all the white rock acts that have emerged since this album was released, arguably only Van Morrison and Rod Stewart have escaped its influence, which is probably a good thing, as no-one wants to see them in leather jackets singing about bondage, but I think the single biggest pointer I could give to the huge legacy this record gave to the world was from an exchange I had on Facebook about two years ago. I had acquired a fantastic boxset comprised of records from the late fifties and early sixties entitled The Best Of The Girl Groups. As my status update I put something like “Just listened to The Best Of The Girl Groups. Wasn’t everything sweet and innocent before The Velvet Underground turned everyone into perverts?” and a friend of mine replied “Yes, but thank God they did.”

And I agree Kelly, thank God they did.

Best Tracks: Venus In Furs, All Tomorrow’s Parties, The Black Angel’s Death Song

Best Moment: The gorgeous backing vocals in There She Goes Again, the song that Johnny Marr would rip off for There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.

Like this? Try: Psychocandy by The Jesus And Mary Chain, 1985

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.

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 11

11. Nirvana – In Utero (1993)


So, I’ve just done Closer, and here is the second album in the Holy Trinity of albums to flagellate yourself to.

I get really pissed off when brainless Nirvana-acolytes say “Oooh, Kurt was too fragile to be famous, too sensitive. He didn’t want to sell out. He had to remain true to his art.” What utter bollocks. Your man here was a phenomenally gifted songwriter who knew exactly how to write something that would sell. The system did not manipulate him, he manipulated the system. In Utero is the sound of a grown man who had the world at his mercy deliberately throwing a colossal tantrum.

Nevermind was slick, arguably the slickest record ever made. Cobain was grounded in a lot of US hardcore racket such as Black Flag and the Meat Puppets, but he was also a fan of The Beatles and lots of tuneful 70s rock such as Cheap Trick and Boston. He knew how to write a melody. The edges of his natural spikiness were sandpapered off by Butch Vig and the result was an album of pop songs that incorporated the sound of buildings being demolished; the sound that made them the biggest cross-over band of all time. But no, he didn’t like that.

So what did he do? He started omitting Teen Spirit from live shows, and gave the follow-up album the working title I Hate Myself And I Want To Die. Then he hired Steve Albini to produce it, a man who’d been in bands called Rapeman and Big Black, the latter of which made a practically unlistenable album called Songs About Fucking.

Daft old Lou Reed aside, its difficult to recall another record that shows as much distain for its target audience as this one. Scentless Apprentice, for this writer the best song on the album, is such an incredible act of reaching into oneself, its very uncomfortable to listen to. If you read the lyric sheet, the words to the refrain are “Go away, get away, get away.” In actual fact they are recorded as “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAG’WAAAAAAAYYYYYYEEEEEEEE!! GAWAAAAAAAYYYEEEEE!!! GAWAAAAAAAAAAYYY!” It is a track that has one of the best bombastic drumming performances in history, one that makes you realise that Dave Grohl is completely wasted in the Foo Fighters; the same with Milk It, Very Ape and the sarcastically-titled Radio Friendly Unit Shifter. The guitars sound like they have rust on the strings and Cobain’s vocals are sounding like he’ll be spitting blood when the songs finish. And Tourette’s, well…. its silly really, isn’t it?

His gift for melody shines through on All Apologies, Dumb and Heart-Shaped Box, but its no co-incidence that only three of the songs on this album were played on the seminal MTV Unplugged album; very few of these songs would work acoustically, they are all about the screaming, the racket, the catharsis and the sheer bloody-mindedness of a man who was in such conflict about what he had achieved that he would eventually blow his own head off. They were great. Someone should’ve told him.

Best Tracks: Scentless Apprentice, Heart-Shaped Box, Pennyroyal Tea

Best Moment: The disturbing line from Heart-Shaped Box: I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black. Best appreciated while watching the astonishing video.

Like this? Try:
The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails, 1994

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.

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

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


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.

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

14. Jeff Buckley – Grace (1994)



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.

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.

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.

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

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


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.

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.

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

18. The Beatles – Revolver (1966)



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. 20


U2 – Achtung Baby (1991)

A few weeks ago, one of my best friends told me that he overheard the following sentence in a pub: “Obviously Coldplay are the U2 of this generation.” Sadly, he couldn’t get the name and address of this person, but I have made it my life’s work to hunt him down, restrain and sedate him and tattoo across his forehead the following; “Please disregard everything you ever hear me say, for I am an idiot. I have no valid opinion about anything, and my only true value in life is to donate organs to those who will make better use of them than I ever will.” I’d also like to tell this imbecile that the U2 of this generation are, in fact, U2. They are the biggest band in the world and show no signs of slowing down.

It wasn’t always like this though. Achtung Baby arrived four years after U2’s previous offering, The Joshua Tree, had broke them in America and put them on the front of Time Magazine. Relentless touring and recording had knackered them and they needed some time to “dream it all up again.” It is also rumoured that Bono had been advised to disappear for a while after his amazingly brave/naive IRA-baiting speech during 1988’s Rattle and Hum tour and left him and his family in a unbelievably vulnerable position. So disappear they did, and having conquered the world with the earnest, chest beating gospel rock of Where The Streets Have No Name and Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, they decided to potentially commit career suicide and head in exactly the opposite direction.

Achtung Baby-era Bono is one of the most iconic rock stars ever. Gone were the vests, mullets and flag waving, in came the massive shades, black leathers and jet black greasy backcomb. The U2 of The Joshua Tree made music that had open spaces, fresh air and chiming melodies. This U2 produced a claustrophobic, smothering kaleidoscope of twisted metal, neon lights and poisonous fumes. The first single off the album, The Fly, is one of the abrasive songs ever released by a mainstream rock band, the aural equivalent of zapping through fifty TV channels in four minutes, with the volume on full. Elsewhere, Zoo Station is a pitch-perfect opener, ushering in the new FX-laden, vocoder-and-delay U2 sound;  So Cruel is one of Bono’s greatest ever vocals and Acrobat, with The Edge’s screaming guitar and the feedback-heavy production, is one of the few times this band sound genuinely intimidating.

And then… One.

I said on the last part of this series that in my opinion that There Is A Light… by The Smiths is the best song ever written, and I believe that. But One by U2 is something more than a song, it is almost a hymn. Like Bridge Over Troubled Water and Let It Be, it just seems beyond music somehow, especially the Popmart performance were The Edge goes up to the octave at the end and they do the extra verse. If this song doesn’t connect with you on some emotional level, you’re either a bailiff or an insurance salesman called Tristan.

There are people, mainly NME journalists and sixth form college students, who claim not to like U2. These are the same people who don’t like REM, Bruce Springsteen and Oasis. They are either trying to be cool, or have no taste. Either way, disregard everything you ever hear them say, for they are idiots. They have no valid opinion about anything.

Best Tracks: One, The Fly, Acrobat

Best Moment: The frantic outro of The Fly, when it seems as if a city is falling over.

Like this? Try: Violator by Depeche Mode, 1990

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. It is available here.