Listen To This...
Good News! Your dream has come true. Just as you were leaving for work, Elvis knocked on your door. "Lord have mercy, you're the new King of Rock and Roll. Thank you very much." So what does this new role entail? Well, apart from the enormous piles of free drugs, all the booze you can drink and all the nubile young girls (or boys) that you can eat, you also have the chance to inflict one album of your choosing on the entire population of the world. Yippee!!
But wait, just one album? How on earth can you choose from the vast quantities of music out there? Well, step back, relax and chill while I thrill, the K is back, I'm not here to ill. Also, I, the Prince of Pop, am here to give you some guidance, your majesty. Allow me to present for your consideration, eight perfectly acceptable alternatives, and the one album that I think everyone should be made to listen to.
But first the ground rules:
No Compilations - Harsh, I know, but let's face it even the best compilations contains something you can object to. And if they don't, that's because you've made them yourself at home. And if you were the King of Rock and Roll, surely you'd want to produce your own compilation containing all your favourite songs. And that's not the point of this exercise. (Perhaps, I'll revisit this later - the best compilation LP in the world.......ever!)
No Best Of's - Easy skimmings of the highlights of a band's output, without any of the dross that might have accompanied it along the way. Classic example? Abba Gold - All killer, no filler, unlike the albums it is drawn from. Sorry, but we're looking at a bigger picture here.
No Film Soundtracks - Sadly rules out one of my favourite albums (One From The Heart) and a vast amount of Elvis material, but let's face it we'd all be putting on The Wicker Man soundtrack and calling it a day, surely?
Nothing I'm not familiar with - Kind of stating the obvious, but I'm not going to recommend LPs that I haven't listened to. So I might be missing some act of genius or other, but if don't own it, there's usually a good reason, and if I do own it and haven't listened to it recently, well that tells it's own story.
Er, I think that's it, so let's start the countdown:
- The Smiths - The Smiths. Whinging guitar band to some, geniuses to others. The Smiths managed to polarise opinion on their merits, but I fall firmly into the latter category. The first in a series of remarkable albums that truly tapped into the romantic disillusionment of the awkward and socially inept. True, they never really bettered this, although The Queen Is Dead comes close. The blueprint for pretty much everything that followed in the 80's, and pretty much untouchable. Everyone knows 'This Charming Man' and 'What Difference Does it Make?', but there's so much more here and it deserves to be heard.
- The Man Machine - Kraftwerk - They'd pretty much perfected their sound by the time of this release in 1978. Perhaps not as "interesting" as earlier releases such as 'Autobahn' or 'Radio Activity' but more musically complete. And still miles ahead of the electro-pop synth bands that were to follow in the '80's. Six tracks and somewhere in the region of 35 minutes long, it's the closest thing to electro-pop perfection ever committed to one album.
- Easter Everywhere - 13th Floor Elevators - Opening with what I consider to be their finest 8 minutes in the form of 'Slip Inside This House', you might expect this LP to go downhill from there, but the Elevators are having none of that and follow it up with 8 more slices of what is pretty much perfect psychedelic-rock. Whatever planet Roky Eriksson's lyrical head was on, the tunes came from Planet Pop.
- Searching For The Young Soul Rebels - Dexy's Midnight Runners - Fronted by another individual whose head might not have been on planet Earth sometimes, but who always had his musical heart on Planet Pop. As far as I'm concerned Kevin Rowland and his ever-changing cast made three great albums, of which this, their debut, is the best, but it's a close-run thing. 'Too-Rye-Aye' has more hits and 'Don't Stand Me Down' features the phenomenal 'Listen To This', but this grabs you from the opening of 'Burn It Down' and doesn't let you go, even when Kev is getting wistful on 'Love Part One'. By turns, joyous, bitter, melancholy and celebratory. Just like life.
- The Tenement Year - Pere Ubu - they've certainly made a more influential album than this one (The Modern Dance), but I don't think they've made a better one. Probably best described as Artschool rock, although that doesn't do them justice. Funky, edgy, lyrically obtuse at times, but thoroughly splendid. Closes with my favourite track, 'We have The Technology'.
- Swordfishtrombones - Tom Waits - A former piano-based crooner, who reinvented himself with this album. Lyrically he wasn't straying too far into new territory, but instrumentally he was on the road to a whole new world. The first of the "Frank's Wild Years" trilogy of LPs and the first that set him apart from the mainstream. As an introduction to the wierd and wonderful world of Tom Waits, this is perfect. Come on in.
- Abbey Road - The Beatles - You've got to have a Beatles album on your top ten, but it doesn't have to be 'Sgt Pepper' (and sadly for the purposes of this article it can't be 'Yellow Submarine'). Having grown up with 'The White Album', which was the one Beatles LP my parents owned, I've got a soft spot for that, but it is probably one side too long. This however, despite being their final recording together, is pretty much perfect. If any other band on the verge of splitting up has made as good an album, I've yet to hear it. Let's face it, a lot bands at the height of their powers couldn't make an album this good. We can argue about the merits of 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer', I suppose, but not about the rest of it. A testament to why The Beatles were so successful.
- Unplugged in New York - Nirvana - It's not a complete recording of the Unplugged session that they did and contains a large amount of other people's material but as an album it's virtually perfect. The Nirvana songs all stand up well in the acoustic setting, Kurt picks some excellent songs to cover and proves what a good musician he was. The fact that he covers some of his mates' songs and gets them to play along also proves what kind of a generous guy he was. If only he'd shot Courtney Love instead...
But the winner is:
- Safe as Milk - Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band - plugging into the West Coast pop-psychedelic sound and giving it his own special twist, Captain Beefheart made the perfect album. Certainly a lot more conventional-sounding than any of his subsequent releases, this is absolutely fantastic from the opening of 'Sure Nuff N Yes I Do' to the closing strain's of 'Autumn's Child'. Quite why other people haven't taken the pop sensibilities of 'Call On Me' or 'I'm Glad' or 'Yellow Brick Road' and turned them into global pop hits is beyond me - boy/girl bands would surely kill for tunes of that quality. Maybe the slightly strange time signatures have put them off...It also has to be said that Ry Cooder need never have played on another record after this. If you have to sell your soul to be able to play the guitar like this, where do I sign? Absolute perfection from beginning to end. If you hear this and don't fall for it straight away, there is no hope for you.
Hey, if you don't agree, you know my e-mail address don't you? firstname.lastname@example.org, if you've forgotten.