Monday, 23 March 2009

Soundtrack of my life - first 20 albums

I was recently sent the following request: "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."

As mentioned in a previous posting, music has always been incredibly important to me. I have found, though, that I have listened to it less over recent years. The Artist didn't like television so when we lived in a one-bedroom flat, the tv was relegated to the bedroom and the sitting room became his art studio and where the music was. He constantly listened to music while 'creating' so there was always a tune happening somewhere.

P, the current Husband, values silence more. I found this quite hard to handle at the beginning and more than once found myself making an excuse to go out in my car, on my own, so I could play something raucous extremely loudly, thereby calming that particular craving. I now have a room that I rather grandly call my jewellery workshop and I have a mini hifi system set up on my desk together with a docking station for my iPod and I always have music on while making stuff. I can put headphones on if P starts getting all Dad on me and telling me to turn it down, so now I'm happy!

Music has always been there for me, providing the soundtrack to my life. I find it a powerful emotional trigger, evoking sights, sounds, smells even - a form of time travel, if you will. I have literally thousands of CDs, all of which are now on my iPod so it's easy to track down what I've got and see if the name of album sparks some synaptic connection with the past, but finding only 20 is hard. The following are not in any particular order or preference.

David Bowie - Aladdin Sane

One of the very first albums I bought. There was a market every Thursday in the town I grew up in that had a secondhand record stall. I was at comprehensive school so was about 15 (1978) when I found this, in a gatefold sleeve. Up until this point I had only heard Bowie on the radio but had bought the single 'Changes' and actually preferred the b-side 'Velvet Goldmine', so had decided to start searching out other records of his. It was the first time I'd discovered the appeal of an androgynous man who wore makeup and dyed his hair - a revelation! Some of his old stuff can still move me to tears, such as 'After All' off The Man Who Sold The World.

Siouxsie & the Banshees - The Scream

Ah, Siouxsie Sioux, the great love of my life. A total goddess to me. I don't think 'The Scream' is the best album by the Banshees, that would be 'JuJu' ('Night Shift' is the gothic masterpiece on this album), but it was their first. It was unlike anything else around at the time. I did my best to have hair like hers but sculpting wax hadn't been invented yet, so I spent inordinate amounts of time shoving handfuls of soap into my barnet and hanging upside down to dry it, but it never really worked. I wish straighteners had been around then....

Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti

I was in awe of the elder sister (Jane) of my best friend (Sue) during the 1970s. She had this album and it was the first to introduce me to the joys of guitar-based rawk especially the track 'Kashmir'. But only Led Zep and, possibly, a tiny bit of Deep Purple which she also had. I could have included Led Zep IV as well, actually.

Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here
This, to me, is the long, hot summer of 1976. Again, this was one of Jane's records and we taped it onto cassette. I can recall sitting in the shade of the trees one afternoon that summer after school, playing this on a small cassette player, just me and Sue, watching the beautiful boys in white playing cricket on the school pitch, under a blistering sun. I can still smell the frazzled brown grass when I hear 'Shine on you crazy diamond'.

Philip Glass - Akhnaten

Actually listening to this as I type. It's rare that a month goes by that I don't wallow in this. Like many others, The Artist and I came to Philip Glass through his collaboration with David Bowie and Brian Eno, and then through 'Koyaanisqatsi', the wonderful film that makes you think about what we've done to this planet. We got the VHS video in the early 80s and spent many an afternoon with the curtains shut, watching this, getting slowly more and more stoned and mesmerised by the images and repetitive music. So why isn't Koyaanisqatsi on this list? It should be really but choices had to be made. In about 1985 the South Bank Show did a programme about the staging of Philip Glass's (then) new opera 'Akhnaten', based on the life of the 18th dynasty Egyptian pharaoh, which was going to be staged by the English National Opera at the Coliseum in London. We rushed to buy front row tickets the next day. The opera was just astonishing - both The Artist and I cried at the end, it was so moving. A few years later I embarked on my archaeological studies, and the first course I did was on Ancient Egypt and I learnt just what a remarkable character the historical Akhenaten really was - husband of Nefertiti, father of Tutankhamen, he was the first to turn away from the polytheistic religion to become monotheistic, worshipping the sun god, the Aten, above all others. The track 'Window of Appearances' still makes the hair on my neck stand up.

The Cure - Three Imaginary Boys

This album taught us - me and my friends - that we could make our own music and play in a band if we wanted to. Of course The Cure made it sound deceptively simple. Check out 10.15 on a Saturday Night - or Three Imaginary Boys - who wouldn't think they could play songs like that? Certainly we did and, er, we did - if you see what I mean!

Magazine - Real Life

Released in 1978, this album is one of the first genuine post-punk albums. Lyrics that were arty but without being overly pretentious - an album with catchy hooks by a band who treated their audience as being intelligent. This album, on a more personal note though, takes me back to the basement room where The Artist and I first lived together, in 1981. It had black and red walls, with a giant cartoon painted along one wall. It was damp beyond belief though, and you couldn't put clothes in the wardrobe because they'd go mouldy! The band had already split before I discovered them so you can't imagine how excited I was to find out last year that they were reuniting for a short series of gigs in February this year (and, yes, I've already posted about it!). "The Light Pours Out Of Me", "Motorcade", and "Shot By Both Sides".

Birthday Party - Junkyard

This is a visceral, uncompromising album by a band that had just come over from Australia in the early 80s. The Birthday Party was one of the few bands, though, to survive the disappointment so many Australian bands suffered when they realised that, despite what they hoped to be true, London's streets were far from paved with gold and they'd be better off back home. The Artist's band at the time, Space Accident (I think it was), also supported The Birthday Party when they played at the local university in October 1981, just after the, er, release of 'Release the Bats', the biggest selling single off the album. The subsequent music of Nick Cave played a very important role in both my and The Artist's life after that. I love his mix of Old Testament fire and brimstone, and achingly beautiful love songs. A Gothic genius.

Brian Eno - Before and After Science

I love all Brian Eno's albums but this one has the most especially catchy tunes. I was introduced to Eno's work when I first moved in with The Artist to a shared house in Guildford in 1981. Everyone was older than me and, in my eyes, were all exciting and bohemian. There was a girl who dressed exclusively in secondhand 1950s dresses and had a thing about Marilyn Monroe - she also slept with both boys and girls which I found impossibly exotic. There was a guy who was vegan, meditated in the nude in the garden and rode a motorbike every summer across Europe to Greece. Upstairs lived Marilyn Girl's sister and boyfriend - he was quiet and sweet, she was amazingly stern and scary, I don't think I ever saw her smile once. She'd have made a great dominatrix. Upstairs upstairs were two guys known, for some reason in the house, as the Mong Brothers. They had a dog. I never saw them or it. This album = this house. It was damp and cold but it was my first place away from home and I loved it. "Backwater", "King's Lead Hat" (which is an anagram of 'Talking Heads', fact fans), and "By This River" will give you a flavour of this wonderful album.

Capt Beefheart - Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)

One of the most accessible of Don Van Vliet's albums, you can actually whistle along to this entire album. Clever, touching, funny. This is the late 80s for me, when The Artist and I moved into our own flat and our circle of friends expanded to include people who were friendly with both of us as a couple rather than 'my' friends or 'his' friends. It was a very sociable time that I remember fondly. "Bat Chain Puller" is the only thing on YouTube that I can find from this album.

I think this list is too lengthy for a single post and I have stuff to say about each album, whether you want to read it or not, so I'll split it here (it's taken me over a week to write this half already!) and post the second half at some point in the future.


Helen said...

In great haste so this will make up in brevity what it lacks in wit: LOVE your selection. completely brilliant. And i love the reasons why too

Red Shoes said...

Not bad!