Thursday, April 28, 2005

Top Ten Albums Part Deux

After much deliberation and knee scraping as a result of scrambling around in a darkened attic looking for environmentally unfriendly vinyl, here are the remaining five records that made it into my top ten greatest albums of all time ever.

Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run
This was the first record that made me want to pick up a guitar and write songs. It was July 1982 and I’d just left high school to work a summer job at the docks – see, I was already right in the middle of a Springsteen drama. Disappointingly, I wasn’t a New Jersey longshoreman but a lugger of suitcases on and off tourist coaches down south in Felixstowe. Back home in Scotland, a bunch of friends were enjoying the holidays by sitting round gardens, playing guitars, writing songs and recording a bunch of albums that would become the famous Allan Hendry Band anthology.

There are only eight songs on ‘Born To Run’ but each one is an epic story of widescreen proportions driven along at breakneck speed by the thundering E Street Band; ‘Jungleland’ alone is almost ten minutes long. As an 18-year old listening to chrome wheeled, fuel injected stories of graduation dresses lying in rags on the porch as the screen door slams, this was stirring and evocative stuff. In particular, I remember feeling genuine anxiety for the two protagonists in ‘Meeting Across The River’ as they get ready for a night meeting with a man on the other side. “Here stuff this in your pocket, it’ll look like you’re carrying a friend.” Yikes!

A few years later in a thinly veiled swipe at Springsteen’s subject matter, Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout would write, “Some things mean more, much more than cars and girls.” Perhaps, but not many.

John Cougar Mellencamp – The Lonesome Jubilee
There are multiple scenes at the beginning of ‘The Glenn Miller Story’ when James Stewart is searching for ‘the sound’ for his big band; something that’ll match the musical image he’s had in his head for many years. I felt the same when I started singing and playing with Falkirk rock legends The Signals in the mid 1980s but when I heard ‘The Lonesome Jubilee’ for the first time in 1987 I knew I’d found it.

It’s a perfect blend and balance of guitars (both acoustic and electric), mandolins, banjos, accordions, fiddles and simple, straightforward percussion. And the songs are pretty impressive too; ten vivid tales of love and life in small town America delivered by an artist who’s hitting his best stride and on the point of losing the record company enforced ‘Cougar’ persona once and for all.

Few artists are able to combine sharp social commentary and unforgettable melodies in their songwriting but to this day John Mellencamp, along with perhaps Steve Earle, still delivers better than most. Now if he’d only get himself a f#cking passport and play somewhere other than f#cking Indiana, I’d be a much happier bunny.

Oasis – Definitely Maybe
Say what you like about 1990s, post-pub, Friday night, car crash television show ‘The Word’ on Channel 4 but they always had the best bands of the day playing live in the studio. When I saw Oasis play ‘Supersonic’ in March 1994, I thought my tv was going to start bleeding such was the level of attitude and swagger blasting from their guitar amps and Liam Gallagher’s vocal chords.

The beauty of ‘Definitely Maybe’ for me is that it sounds like that the band just turned up at a recording studio for a few nights, plugged in and started thrashing away. ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Star’ and ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ are EVERYTHING that songs called ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Star’ and ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ should be about and sound like. If you don’t want to smash a guitar by the end of these two or ‘Up In The Sky’, there’s something terribly wrong.

‘Live Forever’ is probably the most memorable hit from the album but ‘Supersonic’ is still by far and away my favourite Oasis song. The drums begin on their own, immediately raising your excitement level at what’s to come followed by some agonizing scratching on the guitar strings making you feel like you’re chewing tin foil. And when the riff kicks in you’re swept away in a soaring, malevolent, dirty, rock ‘n’ roll tsunami.

Oasis have had many highs and lows since 1994 - personally, I think “Don’t Look Back In Anger’ is an absolute shocker. In a recent television interview Noel Gallagher said that he’s constantly asked by fans as to how the new album is coming along and when it will be released. When he tells them that it’s sounding good, the follow up question is ALWAYS, “Yeah, but is it as good as ‘Definitely Maybe’?”

Maria McKee – Maria McKee
The year is 1989 and I’m spending most of it working just off the northern coast of the Scottish mainland on the Orkney Islands where unfortunately its still 1969. Ike & Tina’s ‘Nutbush City Limits’ is the number one floor filler at both Kirkwall nightclubs (seriously, there were two) so one Friday night, in an effort to see if the rest of the civilized world still existed, I eluded the cheery villagers and their flaming torches and hopped the ferry for a weekend of culture and what not in Aberdeen. No, really.

Before being recaptured and dragged back to the islands for the annual Wicker Man festival, I managed to fit in a bit of shopping and picked up this wonderful album almost by chance. I’d heard of Maria McKee from her days with LA rockers Lone Justice but nothing prepared me for the quality and depth of the songs on this album.

From the bright and breezy opening guitar strings on ‘I’ve Forgotten What It Was In You’ (a Signals classic) to the heartbreaking closing plea of ‘Has He Got A Friend For Me’ her voice traverses the full gamut of emotions. Rarely does an artist portray such ballsy attitude one moment and aching vulnerability the next.

Sadly, Maria hasn’t quite matched the heights of this album since (a tough assignment in anyone’s book) but I noticed she released a new album last week called ‘Peddlin’ Dreams’ which is being touted as a “return to her organic roots”. Which reminds me, I haven’t been to Orkney in a while.

Roddy Frame – Surf
The only Scot in the top ten, Roddy Frame is one of the few artists who’s work I’d buy unconditionally, every time, without hesitation. Through six albums with original band Aztec Camera in the early 80s and two solo efforts, Roddy Frame has never written a bad song; period. His lyrics can be a bit impenetrable at times but the melodies are timeless and his virtuoso guitar playing is unlike any other.

‘Surf’ was released in 2002 and all eleven songs are simply his voice and an acoustic guitar. Never was the ‘less is more’ theory so brilliantly demonstrated. And as Forrest Gump would say, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Close But No Cigar
And finally, listed below are the contenders who got very careful consideration for inclusion in the top ten but who had to remain firmly in their seats grinning inanely and applauding politely whilst someone else’s name was read out.

The Signals – Days To Come
Barenaked Ladies – Stunt
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Big Country – The Crossing
Jeff Buckley - Grace
Coldplay – A Rush Of Blood To The Head
Shawn Colvin – Cover Girl
Crowded House - Woodface
Deacon Blue – Raintown
Del Amitri – Waking Hours
The Signals – Familiar Scenes
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
Hootie & The Blowfish – Cracked Rear View
Michael Jackson – Off The Wall
Pink Floyd – The Wall
The Pretenders – Pretenders
Eddi Reader – Angels & Electricity
REM – Green
Simply Red - Stars
Status Quo – Live At The Apollo, Glasgow
Wings – Band On The Run
The Signals – Live At Grangemouth Town Hall Arena Stadium


At 28/4/05 7:59 pm, Blogger DC said...


Good choices mostly, but where's the following ;

Steve Earle - Copperhead Road - I recall you being in Orkney ( the Siberia of the banking profession),contacting me - " Hey DC you'll like this guy - sounds like he's singing & chewing tobacco at the same time" How true!.He has done other great albums - Train a Coming, I Feel Alright etc.

Shaky- anything.

Lucinda Williams - Car Wheels on a Gravel Road - if you don't have it I'll arrange to rectify that.

AHB - a greatest/ best/ worst of would be excellent - I think I saw one on Ebay.

The King - Gravelands ( Belfast postie/ Elvis impersonator sings the songs of dead rockers in the style of Elvis). Most are better/different than the originals- Whisky in the Jar, Blockbuster,Little ole wine Drinker Me,Song to the Siren, All or Nothin'. Best enjoyed when not sober !

Altered Images - Happy Birthday !

All the best for tomorrow - 40 something !


At 29/4/05 6:29 am, Blogger carl said...

Where in the world is your Johnny Cash? Don't tell me you traded your one LP for something by The Felixstowe-5!

At 2/5/05 10:02 am, Blogger Neil said...

Yeah, 'Copperhead Road' should have gotten more consideration. As for Johnny Cash, he presents the same problems to me as Bob Dylan... can't get past the annoying voice. Sorry.

At 14/5/05 1:25 pm, Anonymous Hazel said...

Roddy Frame? Ah, Neil, I remember sitting in that dodgy pub down the side of Waverley Station pretty much blind drunk with you singing "The secret is silver, it's to shine and never simply survive..." to me. Good to see all your stuff out there.

At 14/5/05 8:59 pm, Blogger Neil said...

Blind drunk? Surely not? If only I wasn't still churning in neutral, turning in a circle, just like the USA. Are you?

At 14/5/05 9:17 pm, Anonymous Hazel said...

Absolutely not. A Vision of Love, me.

At 14/5/05 9:26 pm, Blogger Neil said...

Good for you. I'd sack the world and make a second start.


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