In response to a tag from Old Cheeser I’ve been invited to share with you the ten albums that I just could not live without. The ones that saw me through the drink and drugs hell of my teenage years (I couldn’t get any for love nor money). The ones that helped patch up my achey-breaky heart (please note this post will be a Billy Ray Cyrus free zone). The ones that, joking aside, continue to inspire me, lift me and make the world seem a much better place when I listen to them.
Fire up the Quattro, guys, welcome back to the eighties!
In no particular order:
1. Killing Joke – Brighter Than A Thousand Suns.
I’ve been a long time fan of KJ, right from the occult inspired punk furore of their early releases through to the metal-esque tribal moshes of their more recent output. And yet I’ve never ever considered myself to be a metal-head. In truth I abhor heavy metal and all it stands for... Neanderthal, beer fuelled, sex obsessed, unintelligent music for spotty boys who cannot get girlfriends. Instead I’ve always leaned towards sensitive, well crafted, texturally layered music for young men who cannot capture the love interest of a beautiful gal. But KJ were the exception. There was intelligence behind the anger, a furious need to push back the boundaries, to confront everything. “Revelations” is probably the ultimate KJ album – it captures the KJ sound with a dirty purity never before or since achieved but because of that it is probably quite inaccessible to most outside listeners. Odd then that I choose “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” as this is probably their most accessible album to date and I’m sure many KJ puritans see it as a skeleton in the KJ cupboard. Critics at the time cursed it with the moniker Adult Oriented Rock. This does it a huge disservice. Oh I’m sure fans of KJ’s early punk forays were pulling out their spiked hair at Jaz Coleman’s beautifully honed vocals, the sustained chord changes, the orchestral sweep of much of the album’s content... it is after all a truly beautiful album. And this is not what KJ are supposed to be about. But the anger is still there. The occult paranoia. The conviction that the world is about to end imminently and enjoyably. The fire still burns but not now in an uncontrolled blaze... instead it has been sculpted into something truly majestic. “Chessboards” even today fills me with heart pumping exhilaration and “Goodbye To The Village” is a perfect anthem for the fight against global warming and world-wide corporate expansion. I still dig this album out on a regular basis and wallow in its unadulterated glory. Point of note: it was the amazing lyrics of this album that first got me into writing poetry.
2. Kate Bush – This Woman’s Work
What can I say about Kate Bush that hasn’t already been said? Everybody should own at least one Kate Bush album. Personally I’m the proud owner of just about every 7” single she’s ever released and have all her albums neatly lined up in chronological order on my record shelf. Everybody raves about “Hounds Of Love” and it IS a fabulous album but for me she hit her peak with “This Woman’s Work”. Lush and layered with rich depths – not unlike the woman herself – this album is amazingly evocative and emotive. “The Fog” is my all time favourite track though it is overlooked by many. Strings that catch the heart and a simple metaphor about learning to swim and letting people go all combine to get me watery eyed and blissful. The sustained emotional drive of this album is very powerful and purely feminine whereas “Hounds Of Love” has an inexplicable male energy to it – not that that’s a bad thing. “This Woman’s Work” is Kate Bush at her most complete and accomplished. It’s never been bettered.
3. Fields Of The Nephilim – Dawnrazor
OK. I admit it. I was a goth at heart. I even bought myself boots and a cowboy hat to see the Neph’s play at Birmingham Powerhouse in the mid to late eighties. This album owes more to Ennio Morricone than to true goth-dom however – full of howling wind and the ker-chink ker-chink of metal spurs. You can practically see the dust bowls rolling down the dusty street at high noon. “Volcane (Mr Jealousy Has Returned)” sees Carl McCoy’s thunder-bass vocals put to good effect with the catchy refrain “yer-hee yer-hee yer-hee”. Lyrically it’s a ridiculous album but something about the sidewinder guitars and the spaghetti western ambience just works for me. It makes me smile with fondness every time I listen to it. You gonna reach for those irons or just stand there whistling Dixie?
4. Breathless – Between Happiness And Heartache
I don’t actually know much about Breathless. I was given a copy of this album on cassette by a penfriend and fell in love with it immediately. It’s all ‘sensitive poetry boy’ kind of stuff but packaged up in jangly guitars and marvellously throaty vocals. Music to listen to when you’re reminiscing about a relationship break-up that no longer upsets you... when any upset you do feel is purely a luxury and a pleasure. This is an album of emotional indulgence for me. It’s a humble album in many ways and I doubt many people will have heard of it... but that all adds to the sense of intimacy I feel when I listen to it.
5. Danielle Dax – Jesus Egg That Wept
Danielle Dax is something of a curio and an enigma in the world of music – never quite crossing over into the mainstream despite many efforts to do so... and yet I bet most of you would recognize “Big Hollow Man” or “White Knuckle Ride” if you heard them. However, “Jesus Egg That Wept” was apparently recorded on a humble four-track before she got a major record deal and captures a rough and ready sound that is both unpolished and rawly energized. Danielle’s vocals aren’t for everybody – dipping to monster baritone and then rising to eyelash flickering angel all in the space of a heartbeat. Standout tracks here are “Hammerheads” – a nursery rhyme diatribe against the male ego and “Evil Honky Stomp” which begins with the memorable line “Up at the big house they’re branding niggers...” There was something both disarmingly charming and ineffably dangerous about Ms Dax. It’s a shame she wasn’t bigger as she would have been the perfect antidote to the Stock Aitkin and Waterman malaise that was to infect the UK music industry in the nineties.
6. Propaganda – P-Machinery
Ah Claudia Brucken and her fabulously sexy German nose! Propaganda delivered – with the help of Trevor Horn – one of the most perfectly polished and lush albums of the eighties. “Duel”, “Dr. Mabusa” and the title track all stand out as immaculate examples of synth driven eighties pop. My personal favourite is “The Murder Of Love” which features Claudia’s sexily Teutonic vocals put to good effect as she convicts a love-rat to some terrible fate. Sadly Propaganda’s follow up album was a huge disappointment - mostly because the wonderful Claudia had left (I think) to pursue a solo career that was just as equally disappointing. Alas we shall not see the like of her nose again. It made her look like an exotic bird woman. An eagle faced Valkyrie. Coupled with her cold Germanic demeanour and a fetish for outfits made out of metal lattice work... well, let’s just say she launched a few fantasies from the closeted comfort of my adolescent bedroom.
7. Wendy and Lisa – Eroica
Talking of adolescent fantasies, I’m a huge fan of Wendy and Lisa. Most people will know them as being members of Prince’s original backing band, The Revolution. When Prince disbanded the Revolution in the late eighties he lost, in my opinion, much of the beauty and the oddly delicate touches of much of his sound. He descended into self indulgent soul-funk and I bailed out of the whole Prince ‘thang’ when he released the God-awful “Graffiti Bridge”. Wendy and Lisa, however, decided to form a duo and go it alone together. If that makes sense. They released 3 superb albums here in the UK and developed a robust and respectable following... but alas they just couldn’t quite hit the big time which is a great shame. “Eroica” is their most accomplished album and features some gorgeous classics – “Mother Of Pearl” would have been an immediate smash hit if someone at their record company had had the brains to release it as a single and “Valley Vista” for some reason makes me melt at the knees. My God did I have a thing for Wendy when I was growing up. Sigh. Anyway, enough of my teenage bedroom daydreams – Wendy and Lisa are still plugging away at the music scene though have diversified into atmospheric and aurally textured sound worlds. Those of you that watch Heroes will know that Wendy and Lisa supply the incidental music and the theme. It’s far removed from the groovy-disco-pop-funk tracks that they were producing in the eighties. As a critic at the time memorably wrote – some people make music for people to dance to; Wendy and Lisa make music that dances.
8. XTC – Skylarking
As with Kate Bush everybody should own at least one XTC record. And as with Kate Bush I’m the proud owner of much of their vinyl output. I could have picked any one of XTC’s marvellous albums to grace this list: “Black Sea” with the classics “Sgt Rock” and “Generals And Majors”; “English Settlement” with “Senses Working Overtime” (possibly the greatest pop single ever) or even one of their later offerings, “Oranges And Lemons” with the heartily clever “Mayor Of Simpleton” and “Poor Skeleton Steps Out”. “Skylarking” however is the one that brought XTC some kudos and success in America thanks to the track “Dear God” (which initially didn’t appear on the UK release, pop-pickers). “Dear God” was a woeful lament about the state of the world and a loss of faith set against an almost medieval sounding acoustic guitar. Allegedly some disgruntled student in America forced his Uni radio station to play the track over and over again at gun point. But “Skylarking”, I have to say, is hardly a reactionary’s dream. It’s a warm, languorous, fun, ultimately English summer cocktail of an album that is best played outside when the sun is low and the barbeque is high and the beer is cold. If “Mermaid Smiled” doesn’t make you grin then your heart needs to be thrown onto the barbie to warm it up. Pop pure and simple, unpretentious and divine.
9. Siouxsie & the Banshees – Twice Upon A Time
It’s probably a cheat to have a compilation album on here but I don’t care. I love this album. “Swimming Horses” is hauntingly beautiful and is possibly my favourite Siouxsie track of all time followed closely by “Song From The Edge Of The World” which alas doesn’t appear here and “Dazzle” which does. The musical output of Siouxsie & the Banshees was an odd mix of experimentation and fixedness. No matter how avant garde they tried to be they only ever sounded like themselves. The reason for this I’m sure lies in Siouxsie Sioux’s distinctive vocals. Both a curse and a gift. Personally I’d veer toward the latter. What can you say about Siouxsie? Formidable. Intelligent. Uncompromising. Passionate. Individual. Wonderful. A must have.
10. Bjork – Debut
I was on holiday in Canterbury when I first bought this and initially bought it on cassette so I could listen to it on my Walkman. I didn’t take it out again for the entire summer. “Debut” caught a charm, a knowing naivety, a gentrified naughtiness about Bjork that was never quite seen again in her follow up albums. “Venus As A Boy” is, of course, the stand out single – the video made frying eggs seem somehow incredibly sexy – but “Come To Me” is by way and afar my favourite track from the album. A warm, bath towel hug of a song, you can almost feel Bjork’s arms around you, holding you close as she croons / breathes the vocals intimately into your ear. Ah if only. How perfect Canterbury would have seemed if that had really happened! Instead I had to make do with Bjork on my Walkman and a collection of Roger McGough poems in my hand. An odd mix to be sure but it worked for me. And all of Bjork’s mispronunciations have never seemed so cute! Ah Bjork. How do you like your eggs in the morning? Oh. Fried. OK... do you want a sausage with that?
There you go folks, my top ten albums as picked today. Trouble is tomorrow I dare say I could easily give you a different ten. And a different ten the day after that. I’ve missed out loads but a top hundred would be totally impractical. Right I’m off for my lunch. May have to delve into some of these on the old MP3 player. Technology may have changed but my taste in music hasn’t. I guess I’ll always be an eighties boy at heart!