Top Ten

My friend Jen tagged me with this on Facebook – “List the top ten albums that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t overthink or worry about them being “right” – just ones that touched you” It says to tag 10 people more, but I don’t like saddling people with a task or chore. If you want to do the same, do it.

The first 7 on this list are from my personal top ten list that once lived on my old personal webpage, before all this FB & twitter & YOB stuff started. So I’m putting it here now.

Here it is. My top ten.

#1. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Junk Culture
I bought this album after hearing it over the speakers in a record store, the first time I had ever purchased music on the spot like that. Rocky Mountain Records and Tapes in the 16th Street Mall in Denver was where I heard it. I had some money burning a hole in my pocket, was trolling around looking for something to buy and wanted something new. Something different. I must have been looking around for 15-30 minutes before I realised that I really liked what I was hearing over the store system. I bought the cassette tape of the album and fell in love with the sounds. Lots of people think that technology takes the humanity out of music, – I’m obviously not one of them, and this album is a great example of how technology doesn’t have to take away from the human element in music. “Tesla Girls” is a great dance track and makes great use of the technology of the time. No ProTools here, kids! But the real standout track (for me, it’s my list) is “Junk Culture”. It’s obviously synth horns, but it’s the percussion that I love the most, and there’s something about the story of the music. It’s almost classical in the way that it moves in and out of moods.

#2. Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend
This album taught me how to play guitar (okay, I taught myself by listening and playing along with this album), gave me the confidence to believe in my own songs and that if no one else believed in them, well, I’d just record them all by myself. Not a clunker in the bunch, and for me, the last two songs, “Holy War” and “Nothing Lasts”, are the best album-ending two songs ever. Don’t know why, but for me they just work.

#3. The Smiths – Hatful of Hollow
Fond memories of this album, hanging with my best friend (of that time & place) Jeff, hearing this album for the first time in Fallbrook, CA. The year was probably ’86 I think, and we were on spring break at the house of some friends of my parents. The album belonged to one of their kids, and we put it on the outside speakers so we could listen to it as we relaxed in the hot tub and drank beer. Heady stuff for a kid of 15 to digest, but it spoke directly to me. “Girl Afraid”, “Back To The Old House”, “Please, Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” are all amazing songs in their own right, but “Reel Around The Fountain” seals the deal. I love this album so much that I bought an import tape of it because it wasn’t released in America yet. Years later, I found they had reissued all of the Smiths albums on 10″ vinyl (numbered, no less) and bought that, and of course bought it on CD when it was finally released stateside.

#4. The Replacements – Tim
It comes down to this one vs. Pleased to Meet Me. For me, “Alex Chilton” is one of the best songs ever. And I love a lot of the songs on Pleased to Meet Me, but they don’t have the same urgency or despair that makes the songs on Tim so great. Tim has plenty of songs that aren’t that great – “I’ll Buy”, “Dose of Thunder”, “Lay It Down Clown” – But the great ones, whew! are you kidding? I often forget how good “Swingin’ Party” is, but “Left of the Dial”, “Little Mascara”, and “Here Comes A Regular” are classics, from any generation. And for voice of a generation, I’ll take Paul singing “Bastards of Young” over “Smells Like Teen Spirit” any day.

#5. The Police – Outlandos D’Amour
The year, as I recall, was 1984. I had gotten into the Police the year before, when I got my Walkman (the 2nd small version, a red WM-2) and was hooked by Ghost In The Machine. I was going on spring break (to Hawai’i) and wanted something new to listen to. I purchased the tape from the record store in the small town I lived in at the time, remembering “Roxanne” from when I was a kid living in California, but not knowing anything else on the record (at least, not knowing I knew “Can’t Stand Losing You”). I was caught in the throes of adolesence (I sure am making this sound more dramatic than it was, but it felt pretty dramatic at the time!), wanting to meet a girl in romantic Hawai’i to have something to tell my friends when I got back home. I listened over and over and over and over, getting what was probably my first taste of: fetishism – from “Be My Girl (Sally)”; freak-out jazzbo rock – “Masoko Tanga”; nostalgia for a time that I wasn’t alive – “Born In The 50’s”. But the song that registered strongest on that trip was, naturally, “So Lonely,” because I did sort of meet a girl. Well, sort of stalked her is probably closer to the truth. She was about my age, staying in the same condo complex as we were and I was mostly walking around with my walkman on, so I figured out which room she was staying in, a few floors up. It probably looked a bit suspicious that every time she took the elevator down to the beach the condos were on, I ended up getting on as well. At the end of the trip – the day before we left, I’m pretty sure – my sister saved my ass and ended up talking to her. She was a year or so older, and now that I think about it, we may have gotten around to talking about me liking her, and she said something about being creeped out by me, but forgave me. Nothing happened except that I have this great memory. Back to the album, however, it was also the first album I remember listening to all the way through, just listening to the guitar. Then listening again, just to the bass. And again, just hearing the drums. I always wanted to play with a drummer who could play like Stuart. He’s a master. I love the space he gives and the space he fills. Power, subtlety, rhythm, I just love his playing. I like a lot of Sting’s solo work, haven’t found much use for Andy’s (to be fair, I haven’t heard a whole lot, though) and have liked a good portion of what I’ve heard of Stuart’s solo work, but the Police are one of many examples of a group being more than the sum of it’s parts. And, at one time, Andy remained my last shining hope for joining a successful band. He joined the Police the year he turned 35. I’m well beyond that now.

#6. aMiniature – Depth Five Rate Six
I lived in San Diego from 88-94, during one of the best musical times on the planet. There were many places that were anointed “the next Seattle”, and San Diego was one of them. Rocket From The Crypt, Deadbolt, Drive Like Jehu, Uncle Joe’s Big Ol’ Driver, Buck-O-Nine and Lucy’s Fur Coat were among the best. For my money, though, aMiniature was the best. John Lee, the singer/guitarist/songwriter for the band was a very cool cat, modest, loads of fun to hang out with and a crazy good musician. Probably still is, I have no idea where he’s ended up. (Actually, I do know, he’s here on Facebook & I went to see aMiniature play the Live Wire Bar’s 20th anniversary show in 2012. SO GOOD) John played with his back to the audience most of the time, wrote songs with lines like “Got lucky but there ain’t no feel/Got hugged and loved by steel” (from “Featurist”) and “Didja feel good/when it felt good?/and it looked like maybe you could peddle it/quick with the terrain” (from “Towner on the B-Side”) and loved the Bay City Rollers, just like yours truly. The solid beat was overlaid with dueling, sharp, jagged guitars, a lovely sound. His desperate voice screamed out the words, cryptic and sweet.

#7. Billy Bragg – Workers Playtime
I bought this album for “Waiting for the Great Leap Forward”. I heard it on the X – 91X, that is. Back when radio could be counted on for introducing you to stuff you hadn’t heard before. I already knew Billy Bragg (“Greetings to the New Brunette” is a great song), but didn’t quite know how political he was. Interestingly enough, it’s not his politics that make this album great. I was dating a girl in 88-89, my first year in college. We dated for longer than I had seen any girl up until that point – 7 months. We lived across the hall from each other in a private dorm. I thought I loved her. I thought she loved me. I can’t really say why it all ended (her meeting a guy over spring break had something to do with it – then again, I probably did too), but I had this album to console me when I returned to my dorm room in the early mornings, drunk, angry and crying. Like all good love-type songs, every lyric seemed to be about me or my situation: “‘Cos I can’t sleep with something I can’t fight”; the whole of “Must I Paint You A Picture” but especially “The most important decisions in life/Are made between two people in bed”; “Not a day goes by that I don’t sit and wonder why/Your feelings for me didn’t last forever”; again, the whole of “Little Time Bomb” and especially “And he stands and he screams/What have I done wrong”; “For the girl with the hour glass figure/Time runs out very fast/We used to want the same things but that’s all in the past”; “I hate the arsehole I become/Everytime I’m with you”; “If you don’t get here soon/I’ll tear that clock down from the wall”; and “So we went our separate ways but does she still love me/She still has my door key…You’re never happy with what you’ve got/Till what you’ve got has gone”. I can’t tell you all the great things Billy Bragg has done for me, but this album pulled a drowning man out of the water. Buy it, listen to it, and you’ll understand what I mean. Thanks, BB.

#8. Big Country – The Crossing
Everyone knows the hit “In A Big Country”. Some might know “Fields of Fire”. Not many people ever got to experience the tenderness of “Chance,” a story about a woman swept away from an abusive father and then abandoned by her man, left with her sons. “Oh Lord where did the feeling go/Oh Lord I never felt so low” Stuart Adamson’s voice plaintively wails her story. “A Thousand Stars” then starts with a quick tom rhythm and Stuart’s chiming guitar returns, the signature of the whole album. From the funky syncopation of “Harvest Home” to the extended prog bombast of “Porroh Man,” I can’t get enough of this record.

#9 Otis Redding – Best of Otis Redding
Sure I heard Otis growing up – my parents are from Memphis. Duh. But I won’t lie – it was The Duckman from Pretty In Pink who *really* got me into Otis. Jon Cryer’s showstopper lip sync of “Try A Little Tenderness” was my doorway into the best of 60’s soul. My cassette tape of this record (it may be called something else, I couldn’t find the cover art on Amazon or Spotify) then introduced me to the heartbreak of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long – To Stop Now,” “Pain In My Heart,” and “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember”. “Mr. Pitiful” and “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” are more upbeat but still emotional songs. I learned that “Respect” is an Otis song, not an Aretha song. I learned that soul singers could cover a rock song and still make it work – with horns! I learned that one of the great singers – one of the great artists of the 60’s was only 26 when he died. That old voice, the voice of a man who had seen & done it all, was only 26 years old. I’m glad we still have his songs.

#10 The Vapors – New Clear Days
Mod. Mod mod mod. I never heard The Jam before I heard the Vapors, so this is what I knew of the Mod scene of the late 70’s. The single is “Turning Japanese” but there’s a lot of good songwriting here. “News At Ten” looks back at a life wasted, “Spring Collection” tells the story of a flash young girl he sees right through – “I could’ve been there and back/but I don’t wanna go home with you.” Check the record out – there’s lots to like. I keep coming back to this one as well.

I’m sure there’s records I’m leaving off/forgetting, but these are the 10 Jen asked for. Let me know what you think in the comments here – agree or disagree or leave your own top 10!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s