Monday, 19 November 2007

SOME ALBUMS: THE LETTER "A"


Well, they threw down the gauntlet, so why not pick it up and run like blazes? Yes, I know, the Guardian music section is such a dreary and easy strawman these days, on a par with the McCanns really, but we have to remember that we’re talking about a straw poll involving about twenty people, probably taken on a listless Wednesday afternoon in the office, to bolster circulation and demographic awareness a bit. Despite its avowed proclamation that this isn’t just another list of the bleeding obvious it is largely that – Rubber Soul instead of Revolver, now that’s radical! – and indeed in Saturday’s chapter alone we find A Love Supreme and Hounds Of Love, as we surely knew we must. Nice to see that it passed my personal Escalator Over The Hill/Machine Gun test, even though the subeditors couldn’t be bothered to spell Linda Ronstadt or Peter Brötzmann’s names correctly, and by the look of things elsewhere it seems pretty clear that someone has had a peek at one I made earlier. Good grief! What would the Guardian do without me to give them their ideas, eh?

Before I turn into LBC’s Steve Allen I thought I had better come up with some alternative suggestions of my own, and a quick scan of my heaving shelves revealed so many potentially missing items that the only way to do it is one letter at a time. Fittingly I am unlikely to progress beyond the letter “C” since I have one or two little tasks that I have to go off and do over the next couple of weeks – you know, fly to Canada, get married, come back here, move to new home, say goodbye to six years of grief and sadness, wave hello to a new second life which won’t be virtual – so by the time all that’s done I reckon I should get to the letter “Z” by around Christmas. I can’t promise which Christmas that will be, mind.

Let’s get it straight (from the middle); this is not a stiffening canon to be forcefed at electrified bayonet point (though there are certain writers I can think of who would benefit from such treatment – behave MC!), simply a long(ish) list of records I like which I feel would enhance any reader’s collection to the point that people will gaze at you with bulging eyes all the way down, ooh, Camberwell New Road. There is a fair amount of recent/current stuff present but it’s there because I feel that their importance will prove themselves a thousandfold in years to come (now come on, chaps, get rid of those Lily Allen and Bloc Party entries; you’re just going to look even sillier to potential 2017 readers – it’s like an equivalent 1992 survey which includes the Inspiral Carpets and Silverfish). Or in some cases they’re there simply because I dig ‘em. Harold Bloom must be shaking in his Shakin’ Stevens shoes at the prospect…and if Abba or ABC or Adam or All Saints or Aphex Twin or Aphrodite’s Child or AR Kane or Ayler or (*insert name here*) don’t appear it’s because they’re already in their rightful place in the original list…

ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE: New Geocentric World
1967 lives! The Japanese already sound as though they’ve reached 2967! A million Acid Mothers Temple albums there may be to sort through but this 2001 epic still stands as their cornerstone; freakbeat meets crunch metal meets balladry meets ambient feedback. A monster which will never be over the hill.

DAVID ACKLES: David Ackles
Gruffing somewhere between Neil Diamond and Buckley senior, but with a view as black as anything Cave or Cale could conjure up – “The Road To Cairo” and “His Name Is Andrew” tell the realer story of 1968.

THE ACTION: The Ultimate Action
The great lost British Mod band, worshipped by Phil Collins and Paul Weller alike, with all their singles and everything else they did that was interesting; few white Brits have done Motown better than their “I’ll Keep On Holding On” or their “Since I Lost My Baby.”

ADAM AND THE ANTS: Dirk Wears White Sox
No arguments with Kings Of The Wild Frontier, the unavoidable public starting pistol for New Pop, being in anybody’s list but don’t forget his 1979 either; with the band who would eventually become Bow Wow Wow and putting the sex into post-punk. Franz Ferdinand in comparison sound like Freddie Starr against Adam’s Johnny Kidd.

ADAMSKI: Liveandirect
The symbol of a time when the nineties had just been born and rave was about to seep overground; heartbreakingly optimistic uptempo beats segued into a gloriously tinny whole. Who could resist an album, even a mini-album, with a track entitled “M25”?

CANNONBALL ADDERLEY: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy
Recorded at “The Club” but actually scammed up by producer David Axelrod as a gig in front of the watered-up assembled employees of Capitol Records; the title track came within a hair’s breath of the Billboard top ten, with its patient and oddly dissolute electric piano meditations by writer Joe Zawinul which helped give birth to another time.

ADD N TO X: Avant Hard
Art of Noise meets White Noise; post-New Pop studio boffins meet up, send drums crashing, set up bucolic bleeps later to be adopted by telephone commercials, give Goldfrapp her toughest musical environment.

THE AEROVONS: Resurrection
Some kids from St Louis think they’re the next Beatles; Apple is momentarily ready to believe them, “World Of You” in itself is enough to make you understand why. Then it all fell apart rapidly and this album takes over three decades to appear, but it’s worth it.

AGE OF CHANCE: One Thousand Years Of Trouble
Disgracefully out of print – or was that the only fitting fate for a band so avidly locked in notions of nowness? – this indie/hip hop/Tackhead car crash has actually weathered rather well, especially on the closing “Learn To Pray” which sounds like Kate Bush intercepting “Buffalo Gals.”

THE ALBION DANCE BAND: The Prospect Before Us
In seventies Britain as radical in folk terms as Westbrook or Tippett were to jazz, sundry ex-Fairports and kindred spirits (including the rare sight of a happy Shirley Collins) team up with live Morris dancers in the studio and make the old music breathe and thrash again (the ending of “Hopping Down In Kent” is nothing if not punk – recorded in 1976!); the best use of two drummers on a British record in the space between Westbrook’s Metropolis and the Fall’s Hex Enduction Hour.

THE ALL SEEING I: Pickled Eggs And Sherbet
Another picture of Sheffield, beaten but not out; its stalwart spirits, from Tony Christie via Phil Oakey to BabyBird, come to life and prove that New Pop can survive all that is thrown at it, at whatever speed.

THE ALPHA BAND: The Arista Albums
Handily compiled on 2 CDs, young T-Bone Burnett and associates create a new American music whose implications were not properly picked up until, of all people, the Pixies turned up. Another 1977 it would be unwise to overlook.

ALTERED IMAGES: Bite
Clare “grows up,” Mike Chapman joins several important dots and their jouissance matures into instinctive and natural elegance. Is there really a pop single better than “Bring Me Closer”?

ALTERN-8: Full-On Mask Hysteria
Stafford’s finest make one of the key hardcore/pop rave albums complete with “Stafford Park” and General Election scams. Fourteen years later, we could still do with its Vick’s Vapour Rub 1993 “now.”

ALTERNATIVE TV: The Image Has Cracked
The original propagandist in Sniffin’ Glue and the only one with the nerve to act on what he said, Mark Perry (together with Alex Ferguson) made 1978’s most incendiary record, bravely beginning with Eno-esque synth howls (provided by Jools Holland!) being squashed by a ten-minute-plus argument with their audience before going into Zappa (“Why Don’t’cha Do Me Right?”) and the astonishing “Still Life” which on two guitar strings invents Sonic Youth nearly a decade ahead of schedule.

AMERIE: Because I Love It
Both R&B and New Pop live as Amerie injects her programme with dynamic tension, unflappable ebullience and a penetrating musical intelligence. As radical in its yellow, smiley way as Britney’s Blackout.

AMM: AMMMusic
Three young members of Mike Westbrook’s band want to go even further out, and not necessarily via jazz; they meet up with an equally impatient drummer and a curious but charismatic Marxist theorist of a classical composer, start to improvise, wrench peculiar new sounds out of their standard instruments, play white noise over cut-ups of pop records, at other times so quiet they dare each other to drop one atom of a pin; Joe Boyd produced their 1966 debut, stuck it out on Elektra, McCartney heard it and an impatient blues guitarist from Cambridge with arthouse tendencies named Syd absorbed it to extents seismic.

AMON DUUL II: Yeti
The other end of the Acid Mothers Temple bookcase; surprisingly light and even poppy in places, but 1971 through to its silver-lined boots of post-Stockhausen totality.

THE ANIMALS: The Best Of The Animals
Newcastle hard men who belt out the blues and pound the organ because they HAVE to (“We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place” after all) and help invent the Doors, only better; many compilations available but this mid-nineties one also collects their two crucial singles for Decca; hear their visceral take (even by early 1966 standards) on “Inside – Looking Out” and wonder why Grand Funk Railroad ever bothered wasting ten minutes trying to surpass it.

ANNIE: Anniemal
Perfect pop which neither its creator nor her record label seemed especially keen to push as pop but it remains a marvel – life and colour out of bleak hopelessness; 1982 helps to make 2007 live. Sally Shapiro’s record company, please take note.

ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS: I Am A Bird Now
The Ferry to Rufus’ Bolan (when both were still hungry believers); is even the Guardian that quick and ready to forget the difference to pop this has already made?

APOSTLE OF HUSTLE: National Anthem Of Nowhere
Such lists are also going to have to pass my Broken Social Scene test in future, I think; one of many fertile spinoffs from that ensemble, led by guitarist Andrew Whiteman, a blend of world music rhythmic schemata, post-Gen X gay torpor and the kind of thoughtful improv-post-rock that SST sometimes put out in the eighties, and a road to everywhere if anyone wishes to follow it.

FIONA APPLE: Extraordinary Machine
Bitching, sorrow, rage and liberation – plus a broken restaurant window or two – Jon Brion started it, Mike Elizondo polished it up and in the process made it sound even more radical; dear Kate Nash, this is what you have to beat.

AQUA: Aquarium
Cartoon characters as pop; a dangerous exercise at times, a marvellous, knowledgeable revelling at others. Where ABC’s third album might have gone had they been Swedish.

ARAB STRAP: Mad For Sadness
Falkirk’s nobly ruined storytellers; even if they only had the one story to tell (get drunk, fail to pull girl, get drunk again) they had a thousand ways of relating it, best captured at this Queen Elizabeth Hall concert from 1998. Their inflammatory reading of “The Girls Of Summer” is one of the key recorded performances of the last decade.

THE ARCHIES: Sugar Sugar
Cartoon characters as pop; a sentimental choice perhaps (especially in its very literal if luridly coloured British sleeve) but one of the great bubblegum albums with quality tunes (“Bicycles, Rollerskates And You,” “Scooby-Doo”) worthy of the actual Monkees; with Andy Kim, Jeff Barry and Toni Wine among others involved, this is hardly surprising.

THE ARMENIAN NAVY BAND: New Apricot
Now coming across as a more sober, studied Gogol Bordello, this album – absurdly already out of print – is one of the finest and least expected World Music triumphs of recent years; improvisatory, delicate, forthright and terribly poignant, Arto Tunçboyaciyan is something of a visionary organiser worthy of ranking alongside Zorn and maybe even Ellington.

THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO: The Paris Sessions
Useful French 2-in-1 reissue of the group at their arguable 1969-70 peak; the soundtrack to Les Stances Á Sophie featuring Fontella Bass taking soul to its sonic and carnal extremes on “Theme De Yoyo” coupled with 1969’s gruelling but fantastic People In Sorrow. Free jazz’s equivalent to the Band; when all else seemed to be collapsing, they quietly revealed a third way.

ART OF NOISE: Daft
Collating the Into Battle EP, all of the (Who’s Afraid Of The?) Art Of Noise album and other remixes, and therefore perhaps the most important album of the last quarter century in terms of sheer influence; Trevor Horn’s team mess around with samples left over from Duck Rock, Morley gives it a structural/theoretical frame, NY B-Boys refuse to believe they are breakdancing to the music produced by well-heeled thirtysomething suit-sporting English citizens, the world explodes.

ASIAN DUB FOUNDATION: Community Music
It starts with the end of the world (“Real Great Britain”) and ends by “Scaling The Heights” – righteous, angry and years ahead of its critical time (now it sounds absolutely 2007), a furious flourish of feedback, shattered beats and insane Bollywood strings from some of John Stevens’ most distinguished workshop alumni. The line continues - and Martin Amis should be made to listen to this record at Bulgarian Army surplus cattleprod point.

ASSOCIATES: Fourth Drawer Down
Sulk of course deserves to be in every list – especially since it contains the song which eventually begat our particular beginning of time and thus the reason why I won’t be able to blog for a week and a half – but a word for Fourth Drawer Down; the fearless Scots boys, living off nicked milk cartons and scammed record company advances, giving them the liberty to experiment every which way, sometimes at the risk of their own lives (or sanity), and their findings come out on singles every two months or so, eventually to be collected on this extraordinary album which seems both to predate and postdate all other pop. Has anyone yet caught up with the implications of “Kitchen Person”?

ATARI TEENAGE RIOT: 1992-2000
One of the great pop groups of the last twenty years, and virtually ignored or sidelined into Wire-type ghettos by those who should have known better…and yet, as Alec Empire points out in his sleevenote to this definitive compilation of their finest moments, their songs have survived and mutated into revolutionary anthems all over Europe and beyond. Mixing noise, speed, anger and petulance with a ferocious intent that has scarcely been equalled; imagine if “Sick To Death” had been the new Girls Aloud single, and ATR should have hit equally big.

THE AU PAIRS: Stepping Out Of Line – The Anthology
Collecting both of their studio albums in full plus non-album singles and B-sides, this was uncompromising feminism which seemed exceptional even in the context of 1981; Lesley Woods eventually ran away to only she knows where, but the barely suppressed anger of songs like “Dear John,” “It’s Obvious” and “Armagh” still sound raw in a world of Electrelane politesse.

BRIAN AUGER: Get Auger-Nized! – The Anthology
The devil to Georgie Fame’s bouncing angel, Auger could make the Hammond organ sound the dirtiest thing ever (“Tiger” as subsequently sampled by Bentley Rhythm Ace); with Julie Driscoll he drove blues boom psychedelia to the point of Blow-Up; and then with Oblivion Express he more or less invented Acid Jazz in the seventies. What’s not to like? Listen to his demonic “Indian Rope Man” (with Julie already exceeding herself on vocals) and wonder why the Charlatans ever bothered.

AUTECHRE: Tri Repetae
A dozen or so years ahead of Burial, beats so skeletal and structures so innately alienated that one searches fervently for human involvement, and one of Warp’s masterpieces; an ideal soundtrack, I found, for visiting Safeway’s in Shepherds Bush Green of a cold Monday evening in November.

AUTOUR DE LUCIE: Immobile
“Chanson Sans Issue” was very nearly a hit in the UK, but since then the band seem to have been lost to English audiences; a shame, since this excellent album marks them out as the French Saint Etienne – feathery vocals and carefully expansive music, though always retaining a tangible sting.

KEVIN AYERS AND THE WHOLE WORLD: Shooting At The Moon
Begins with Kevin sitting at a café table in Paris attempting to chat up the girl (or boy?) sitting at the next one and then dissolves into a wonderland of discontinuous folk-rock, post-psych and improv interludes involving everyone from Mike Oldfield and Robert Wyatt to Lol Coxhill and Bridget St John. Certainly the most consistent album of his Harvest years, though Whatevershebringswesing runs it a very close second.

ROY AYERS: Destination Motherland
Dreamy but subtly threatening vibes-led jazz-funk from the decade which deserved it; whether the angular blue lines of “We Live In Brooklyn, Baby” (which I’m about to retitle “We Live In Fulham, Baby”) or the deceptive atomic bliss of “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” or the oxymoronic “Running Away” which works because everybody involves knows that they’re glued to the spot, this reminds me of Glasgow in the sunny late seventies; blue skies, abandoned shipyards, bountiful unknowing.

CHARLES AZNAVOUR: She: The Best Of
Piaf’s most beloved and belated pupil, Aznavour defied his appearance and his early audiences to carve charisma for himself, singing of subjects previously barely, if ever, touched upon in popular chanson, in some cases ahead of both Brel and Brassens. In English he sounds even more like the poisonous fly in showbiz’s ointment.

And apologies to Annie Anxiety Bandez, Herb Alpert, Aswad, Animal Collective, American Music Club, Muhal Richard Abrams, Alcazar, Anthrax, Antipop Consortium and too many others!

3 comments:

mike said...

Three thumbs up from me at the three albums on that list which I've enjoyed listening two within the last three weeks: the Ayers (I have finally learnt to love "Pisser Dans Un Violon"; there is hope!), the Aznavour (a Freaky Trigger related impulse buy) and the Amerie (currently enjoying a second lease of life, particularly and surprisingly for its second half).

Only one "huh?", which is the Fiona Apple I'm afraid. LOVE the title track, but could get nowhere with the rest of it. Maybe I'll give it another go...

david said...

Ah, those Au Pairs singles. Still pull them out from time to time, still sorry I never got to see them live. According to Wiki, 'Woods formed an all woman band called the Darlings in the late '80s, but then left the music industry. She now works as a lawyer.'

mark e said...

ahh marcello.
ta for the AoC drop, nice to know i aint the only one giving the album some airspace.