20 albums that changed your life – part 1

Skilfully combining the ’10 albums which changed your life’ meme with the one  which identifies ‘Your top 20 albums’ and ignoring the bit about ‘no need to comment’, here’s a somewhat self-indulgent blog doing what it says on the tin. Albums listed in chronological order of hearing them. Expect a few surprises if you make it that far…

ACDC_Back_in_Black

Whilst I grew up in a very musical household with 3 piano players (I was the odd one out) it didn’t mean I was exposed to a particularly wide range of musical influences – until the age of 10 my musical diet was classical music spiced up occasionally by my father’s wonderful jazz records. In the Seventies chart music didn’t permeate into your life in the same way that it would do in subsequent years: there was little music played in supermarkets, and we didn’t watch commercial TV so didn’t pick up stuff through adverts. My musical education changed when I got my first ‘wireless’ – a plastic blue number which spent many nights under the pillow listening to Radio Luxembourg and overseas cricket commentary. I was lucky enough to reach the age of 10 in November 1976, and quickly my musical palate leant towards chart punk, a few prog infiltrations (such as Yes, ELP and Genesis) and some of the better disco soul-spin offs such as Donna Summer and Diana Ross. Then on to new wave and the mod stuff, The Police and eventually heavy metal, which to this hormonal pre-pubescent rather struck the spot. I remember my sister presenting the ‘Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’ single by AC/DC on Christmas day to my appalled parents and defiling the family record player with its screamed vocals and turgid guitar chords. ‘Hells Bells’ was the ‘B’ side, both taken from ‘Back in Black’, which my best mate got in his Christmas stocking and became the our sole playlist for a while…

close to the edge.jpg

As heavy metal became my new religion, I naturally gravitated towards the only radio program I could find which played it – Tommy Vance’s ‘Friday Rock Show’ on Radio 1. Each year a Christmas special (a sort of HM alternative to John Peel’s Festival 50) listed fans’ Top 10 tracks, and in amongst the heavier stuff like AC/DC and Black Sabbath (more of which later) was a whole host of lengthy prog classics from the likes of Pink Floyd, Genesis, Rush.. and Yes. I loved ‘Awaken’ so much that it set me on the road to track down everything by the band over the next few years, and a highlight was certainly ‘Close to the Edge’, which also happened to be a record owned by my sister. I marvelled at the obtuse guitar lines in its title track intro and silly vocal interventions, the funky stuff on ‘Siberian Khatru’ and the general pseudo-classical composition. For a few years I was more into Yes than I have been any other band before or since – I experienced the highs of finding out in 1983 that they were to reform, and the crushing reality that was ‘90125’. I even used to have dreams at night of hearing entirely new albums, only to wake up to find that the whole thing had been illusory. Times and tastes move on but I do return to this album still (and of course continued to write about Bill Bruford in several different contexts).

black sabbath.jpg

Around the time when heavy metal had me in its filthy grasp, the same friend who had a copy of ‘Back In Black’ also introduced me to Black Sabbath’s ‘Mob Rules’. Fine stuff in its own right, but the local library, which just happened to be at the other end of our road back in Matlock had further albums I could dive into. Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut remains a classic – it’s so different from anything else they did subsequently, not least because they were still shaking off their blues and jazz roots and hadn’t yet found that winning ‘formula’ of ‘Paranoid’. And, in common with so many records from the turn of decade, this blend of ideas is breathtaking and so fresh. Rambling bass solos, unique guitar soloing, feedback and the sheer unconvention of it all – plus the chill (as in scary) factor of the opening track. And then there’s ‘The Wizard’ – a joyous harmonica-fuelled romp… Never tire of listening to any of this album – the unreleased material from this album are also a joy, from the bonus track ‘Wicked World’ to the extra guitar bits in an extended version of ‘Warning’. Hard to believe this was all apparently laid down on the way to catch a ferry to France.

vdgg

I’m proud to say that Van Der Graaf Generator’s second album was only the third LP I ever bought (the first two being AC/DC’s bluesy ‘Powerage’ and (ahem) an album by Rose Tattoo. I’d been waiting to explore VdGG for a while after hearing on a regular basis a most untypical VdGG track ‘Theme One’ as a signature tune on the Rock Show’s ‘Friday Night Connection’ segment. The same show often broadcast old BBC sessions, often somewhat incongruously in amongst the general metalfest vibe. One such session was from Van der Graaf and included a rather startling ‘After The Flood’ which introduced me to Peter Hammill’s intense, self-indulgent style, half-crooned, half-growled and backed by intricately scored but very much NOT pseudo-classical music. I can’t remember much else about that session, but on the album ‘The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other’ itself I quickly migrated beyond ‘Flood’ and the VdGG anthem ‘Refugees’ to for me, infinitely more iconic tunes: ‘Darkness 11/11’, which still, I reckon has the world’s greatest single note solo (on Hugh Banton’s keyboards) and ‘White Hammer’, a gothic exploration of the Spanish Inquisition, no less, with its thrilling ‘galumphing’ coda concluded by David Jackson’s screaming saxes. Life has never been quite the same since…

camembert

At 18, and on the point of leaving home for university, I ended up spending a couple of weeks at my grandparents in Nottinghamshire whilst my parents were away in France. I was just killing time really, but with my musical tastes warping away to the more experimental end of the prog spectrum, I was already buying vinyl in spades, and Nottingham had quite an amazing record shop (I think it may actually have been called ‘Amazing Records’) to the extent that I think I even had some sort of loyalty card there. Feeling relatively flush after a summer working on fruit farms, I took my hard earned brass down the shop and emerged with 2 pieces of vinyl: Gong’s ‘Magick Brother, Mystick Sister’ and ‘Camembert Electrique’ and a tape of Peter Hammill’s ‘Enter K’. I’d heard snippets of ‘Camembert’ at school (as detailed in my sleevenotes to one of the ‘Canterburied Sounds ‘ compilations) but the reality was even weirder than I remembered – almost 50 years on from its release it remains one of the most innovative albums there has ever been – it must have been mindblowing at the time: spacewhisper, glissando guitar and the most incredible spiky rhythms accentuated by Pip Pyle’s razorsharp drumming. In the early 90s I felt so privileged to hear the majority of this album performed by a crack Gong line-up including original performers Pip Pyle, Didier Malherbe and Daevid Allen. For many years ‘You’ took over as my fave Gong album as the perfect psychedelic funked out space jam album (!) but ‘Camembert’ is the one I always return to. Check out the alternative GAS release ‘Camembert Eclectique’, in particular ‘Big City Energy’ and ‘Hyp Hypnotise You’ for possibly even more bonkers evidence of an earlier line-up of this band…

 

 

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