Tuesday, 28 April 2009

20 Albums Part II

This is the second part of a rather lengthy posting on a meme I was sent way back in March that went: "Think of 20 albums that had such a profound effect on you that they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that, no matter what they were thought of musically, shaped your world."

The first 10 were dealt with then, now it's time to tackle the next 10. Are you sitting comfortably? Can you really be arsed to wade through this self-indulgent twaddle? Don't have anything better to do? No? Oh well then, we'll begin and may the best man win ....

Gilbert & Sullivan - Pirates of Penzance

My parents valiantly tried to get me to listen to classical music when I was growing up. And they succeeded (there's more about this below). Although not musically trained in any way, they appreciated that I enjoyed music very much and seemed to have an aptitude for it so I had both piano and cello lessons from quite a young age up until about 14 when fags, boys and booze became oh-s0-much-more desirable. I got up to Grade 5 on the piano which is not too shabby. I played in school orchestras and sang in school choirs. One of my mother's best friends was an accomplished amateur operatic society singer who eventually became a producer/director and every year I would be taken along to see her in whatever she was performing in. The very first show I saw her in was 'The King and I' in 1972 and I was 9 years old. If I remember rightly she played Tuptim, the King's first wife. She would also do Gilbert & Sullivan and I just loved the clever word-play and rumpty-tumptiness of the tunes. In fact, now I think about it, this was the very first live theatre I ever saw, so G&S has to go on the list for introducing me to anything at all being performed on a stage. I could've picked The Mikado or HMS Pinafore but I've gone for Pirates as it has a larger selection of hummable tunes. And the Pirate King looks good in tights.

Iggy Pop - Lust for Life

It was the late 70s, I was in love with David Bowie. Obviously I'd heard of Iggy Pop and The Stooges but, at the time, felt they were a little, shall we say, 'raucous' for my delicate teenage ears (I know, I know, and this is from someone who loved 'Never Mind The Bollocks' - hey, I was a teenager, but don't despair, there is hope...) Once again, I think I have to thank Jane Fewell (the older sister of my best friend at the time, Sue) for this one. She probably bought the album because David Bowie was on it, and you could clearly hear him doing backing vocals on tracks like 'Some Weird Sin' (at 1m50secs), so that was good enough for us. You all know stuff off this album - 'The Passenger' has been covered by everyone, and if you've ever seen the film 'Trainspotting' then you'll be well familiar with the title track so there's no excuse for feigning ignorance, people!

Klaxons - Myths of the Near Future
It dawned on me as I was putting this list together - and it hasn't escaped other people who've done their own lists - that most of the albums come from a specific decade. In my case it is the decade that covers 1975 to 1985 ... um, yeah, it is SO a decade... yeah, well, whatever...

Anyway, I got to thinking about more recent albums that I have seriously loved, one of which is the glorious 'The Trials of Van Occupanther' by Midlake. Seriously, who couldn't love lyrics about woodlands, boats and log cabins; telling oblique but moving tales of pioneering, travel and isolation. Midlake have been described as sounding as though someone has given a pair of guitars, synths and a drumkit to a Victorian orchestra and said "Here you go, make a band". Their lush harmonic melodies sound like Grandaddy mixed with a bit of Neil Young, Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, but in a good way. Here you are, check out the spine-tingling 'Head Home' or 'Roscoe'.

[While typing this, The Husband is standing opposite me trying to kick himself up the arse. I've offered to do this for him but he says he wants to practise. So unlike the homelife of our own dear Queen.]

Where was I? Ah yes, The Klaxons. Very hard band to pigeonhole. They were championed in the press as the instigators of something called 'Nu Rave' but this turned out to be completely made up. Released in 2007, the songs on 'Myths of the Near Future' are dense, highly danceable and have very interesting lyrics, often about ancient myths, magick, space/time travel and Aleister Crowley, all of which I was intensely interested in during my teens and twenties. This album made me want to go to gigs again. Just found a clip of them playing 'Gravity's Rainbow' and 'Golden Skans' on Live with Jools Holland - damn, they're cute too!

Oh hellfire, looking for Klaxon videos on Youtube I've just discovered the Interpol stuff. I LOVE INTERPOL. They sound a bit like Joy Division and have a bassplayer who looks like he's straight out of Kraftwerk. This particular track, 'Evil', has kept me awake on many a night - it's a very efficient earworm.

Lou Reed - Transformer

Songs about louche decadent New York bohemian lifestyles were just so exotic to my young ears. 'Walk on the wild side' felt dangerous when you're only 13 or so, and was the first song about a transvestite that I'd ever heard. Of course, the connection was Jane Fewell and David Bowie once more but I hadn't heard the album again for several years until in the early 80s I moved in with The Artist into the shared house in Guildford with Marilyn Girl, the Meditating Biker, the Mong Brothers and the Dominatrix, so this album connects both these periods in my life. It also has some fiendishly catchy tunes - I defy you not to sing along with "Hangin' 'Round".

Mike Oldfield - Ommadawn

Everyone knows "Tubular Bells", one of the most massive albums of the 1970s, selling possibly as many as 17 million copies worldwide and appearing on the soundtrack of 'The Exorcist'. I actually prefer "Ommadawn". Released in 1975 this is one of the most trance-like pieces of music I know. I used to listen to this in my bedroom, alone, in the dark, aged about 12. To me it's the musical equivalent of a person's journey through life. It's hard to describe, it builds and builds to a dramatic crescendo which, to me, sounds like someone passing through the gates of death to the enormity of heavenly brightness beyond. Yes, it's that big and, for an avowed atheist like myself, is an extraordinarily affecting piece of music. It instantly takes me back to my darkened teenage bedroom, grappling with concepts of life and death, to a time before my parents divorced and my life was stable and secure. I'd not heard it for many, many years and recently remembered how much I had loved it once, so I got hold of a copy just before last Christmas. Playing it again was instant time travel for me and I sobbed and sobbed. Plus there's a song about the joys of horse riding - "Hey, and away we go, through the grass, across the snow, big brown beastie, big brown face, I'd rather be with you than flying through space" which is delightful and touching. Buy this album if you don't have it. Seriously.

Nirvana - Nevermind

An album which changed the musical topography for a generation, 1991's 'Nevermind' brought the sound of American disaffected youth into all our living rooms. The track 'Come as you are' has a special resonance for me for reasons I'm not really going to divulge here. Kurt Cobain acknowledged the importance of the Pixies to him in writing this album, and they're mentioned further below. This album, to me, is the sociable flat in central Guildford that The Artist and I lived in which was, more properly, his art studio. Everyone knows about Nirvana, what more can I add?

Carl Orff - Carmina Burana

As mentioned above, my parents successfully introduced me to classical music before pop. The first vinyl albums I had bought for me were Dvorak's New World Symphony (also known as 'that one with the music from the Hovis ad with the little lad pushing his bike up a steep hill and freewheeling back down again'), Holst's Planet Suite, Ravel's Bolero, Saint-Saen's Danse Macabre and some Tchaikovsky. At some point in the early 70s the BBC showed a production of Carmina Burana on tv which we all watched at home, totally spellbound. I don't recall that much about it now except that, at one point, there were loads up people up trees, singing ... as you do. It was mental. And brilliant.

The well-known 'O Fortuna' was used at some point during the 70s in a TV advert for Old Spice aftershave that featured a surfer and some blonde bimbo tossing her hair around (found out later that she was the girlfriend at the time of the world motorcycle champion Barry Sheen - a heart throb of mine and therefore meant I hated her). It also appeared in the original 1976 film of 'The Omen' whence it has been associated with all things evil, which is a bit of a shame really, as it's a song about life being a continually revolving wheel of fortune and nothing satany at all. 'Whence' is a toothsome word that doesn't get used enough.

Anyhoo, in the late 80s, I sang in a scratch performance of this at Guildford Civic Hall - hundreds of voices singing, a small orchestra, it was sublime. I was quite brave - I'd seen posters stuck up about the town asking for amateur singers to come along to perform Carmina Burana in one day from scratch (hence the name) and thought that this was something I'd love to do. So I plucked up the courage to go along, on my own, to sing with a vast room full of strangers. It were grate!

So Carmina Burana again reminds me of my childhood and life with The Artist.

Pixies - Doolittle

This 1989 release was the second album from the Pixies and has the immaculate single, 'Monkey Gone to Heaven'. A massively influential band who never really made it to the mainstream, they sang songs about animals and UFOs, and often in Mexican Spanish. They instigated the quiet-loud-quiet style of song construction that Nirvana took to a larger audience. They were brilliant live, too. I saw them a couple of times in the early 90s with friends Nick and Anna who lived upstairs but one from The Artist and I. This was a pretty happy time for me.

Talking Heads - Fear of MusicThis was the first Talking Heads album that I'd heard, it belonged to The Artist. Brian Eno was the producer (can you spot the David Bowie/Brian Eno thread here?) and it was the first album I'd heard that flirted with mixing World Music into western styles (specifically the song 'I Zimbra'). This was released in 1979 and David Byrne and Brian Eno collaborated in 1981 on 'My Life in the Bush of Ghosts' which was the first time that samples were used on anything, so I was tempted to put that in the list. But I've yet to find a better track than 'Cities' (live footage, the track 'Air' is first which also good but hang on for Cities') off 'Fear of Music' to hoover the house to. Try it - you'll see what I mean!

Portishead - Dummy

'Trip Hop' was a musical style originating in the mid-90s among bands based in the Bristol area. Downbeat electronica music with a laidback ethereal feel, Portishead had an extraordinary sound. Spacey and filmic, this was the first 'new' musical style that I discovered with The Husband. Released in 1994, 'Dummy' for me represents the first year of blissful cohabitation with the (then) new man in my life. We were renting a (to me) huge 2-bedroomed bungalow with vast front and back gardens near Aldershot, within gunshot range of Ash Ranges. It was a time of intense loved-upness and new beginnings. Check out 'Sour Times' off the album

Anyway, if you waded through that lot you deserve a medal. And I'm sick of writing about myself so I'm going to shut up for a bit and continue encouraging The Husband in his self-punting activities.


Anonymous said...

Love, love, love the Pixies. Debaser, brilliant tune. Here Comes Your Man. Ah! Bliss.

Mari said...

Wow, you have really fantastic taste in music!