Baker’s Dozen: My 13 Favourite Albums

After reading Chris Packham’s favourite albums in the latest entry in the rather excellent Baker’s Dozen album on the spiffing website The Quietus (http://thequietus.com/), I have taken it upon myself to shamelessly knick their idea and present for your dissemination my own pick of my favourite 13 records. Now, music being music and tastes changing from week to week, this is only a provisionary list and will likely change sometime in the future. But what follows is the current crème de la crème of my personal record collection.

13. Fleetwood Mac – The Best of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac

The only, and easily justifiable, compilation on the list, “The Best of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac” really does represent the very, very best of the British bluesman towering guitar talent. Though suffering misfortunate in later life after indulging on one too many acid trips which released deep seated psychological troubles, Peter Green’s tone and guitar work is nothing short of inspirational. Instantly recognisable, his playing displays an economy of style and taste, using exactly the right notes at exactly the right time in order to really express the raw emotion of his music.

Compared with contempories Clapton (who he replaced in John Mayall’s influential blues troupe the Bluesbreakers), Beck and Page, Green isn’t overtly flashy, taking a more considered approach and coaxing feelings of yearning, of sadness and sorrow that underpin some of his best work. “Albatross” perhaps the best well known song in this collection, paints a picture of a remote seaside location, sea lapping the shore, seabirds circling and crying overhead as the foam hits the beach. “Man of the World” tells the tail of how fame and fortune are never enough without the love of a good woman and “The Green Manalishi” is a simply menacing, psychedelic track warning of the dangers of greed, complete with anguished howls and simmering, spiky guitar.

Apart from the fantastic playing, augmented by fellow guitarists Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer, the thing to take away from this collection is that you genuinely feel Green’s inner turmoil and, rather than just being another white boy playing the blues (Mick and Keef I’m looking at you) Green actually has a claim for being a legitimate blues man. Recommended for fans of Cream and Led Zeppelin, but who are looking for a more refined, genuine take on Chicago and Delta blues.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Viqr6KHwJjc – Albatross Fleetwood Mac

12. Ramones – Rocket To Russia

While some people are currently thinking the Vaccines are some revolutionary guitar group and believe them to be the first band to mix pop melodies and super fast guitar, they are wrong, (s’what you get for being a slave to the NME). Come 1977 when everyone had grown sick and tired of wanky keyboardists in wizard’s gowns, singing about lambs lying down on Broadway or having Rick Wakeman involved in any capacity, rock music had gone back to basics with a bang. Three chords and the truth. Punk fucking rock.

Perhaps the finest exponents of this stripped back, hyper fast movement were New York’s Ramones, a blitzkrieg buzz saw of furious guitars, New York city attitude and a genuine love of rock n’ roll, the music of the 60’s, Phil Spector and girl groups. All these elements coalesce into one of punk rock’s most enduring classics “Rocket to Russia”.

Twining Joey’s doo-wop tinged vocals with Dee Dee’s hard edged lyricism and Johnny’s onslaught of guitars, Rocket to Russia takes all the elements that make the Ramones great and fuses them together to create an album that has withstood the test of time. Stuffed to bursting point with classics such as “Rockaway Beach”, “Teenage Lobotomy”, “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” and “Cretin Hop”, the album is an unrelenting pop assault, at once bristling with Dee Dee’s knack for social commentary and Joey’s light, romantic touch. A landmark record in both pop and rock music, Rocket to Russia cements the Ramones reputation as one of the defining artists of the 20th century.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9KfHpm4s4w Ramones – Do You Wanna Dance?

11. Who’s Next – The Who

The Who maybe louder than a war and are perhaps best remembered for their equipment smashing on stage antics but with Pete Townshend as musical director, the band really has more of an artistic bent than they are perhaps given credit for.

After 60’s pop art experiment “The Who Sell Out” and the all conquering “Tommy” The Who, and especially Townshend, found themselves floundering to follow up their late 60’s mega successes. Townshend’s answer was the ambitious Lifehouse project, a multimedia event, comprising of an album, live shows and a movie. However the project’s complex story and scale proved too ambitious for the band and was abandoned. However, most of the songs from the project turned up on The Who’s next studio album Who’s Next.

Marking one of the first times synthesisers had been used on a mainstream rock record, Who’s Next combines new electronic elements with the band’s usual brand of pounding, sledgehammer rock.

“Baba O’Riley”’ is perhaps the standout track, combining these new ideas into a chugging hard rock song, with a synth intro that creates the atmosphere of a triumphant sunrise rising over a fresh new artistic venture. Obviously, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” remains a stone cold, radio classic but bassist John Entwistle’s sole contribution, “My Wife” is a darkly humorous of a man who’s had “a bit too much to drink” and is on the run from his spouse.

While Lifehouse may have proved too much for the band, Who’s Next was a triumphant return for the group and a stunning rock record.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2KRpRMSu4g Baba O’Riley

10. Rubber Soul – The Beatles

Choosing a favourite Beatles album is like choosing which one of your children is your favourite, or would you rather keep your arms or your legs? There is no easy answer as they’re all pretty indispensible for any decent record collection.

So what can I say that hasn’t already been said about Rubber Soul? Well it was a struggle to choose between this and Revolver. As George Harrison said they could easily be volume 1 and 2 of the same album.

Rubber Soul is an important record as it represents the beginning of the band’s experimentation. A more folksy, acoustic driven album than any of their previous pop outings, Rubber Soul is such a cohesive whole, replete with lush harmonies, fuzzed out guitars and the first instance of a sitar on any of the band’s records and lays the foundations for Revolver and the pop cultural event that was Sgt Pepper’s.

Standout tracks include the joyful “I’m Looking For You”, the harmony saturated “Nowhere Man” and the introspective, Dylan-esque “Norwegian Wood”, which marks, along with the forlornly beautiful “In My Life”, a maturing step in Lennon/McCartney song writing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfWEPu0w-7w The Beatles – Nowhere Man

9.  Screamadelica – Primal Scream

Until “Screamadelica”, Primal Scream had been perennial under achievers. From Byrds influenced jangle pop to MC5, leather clad revolutionary rock; mainstream success had always eluded the Glaswegian troupe. But come Ecstasy and Acid House, all that would change.

Taking in elements from the burgeoning Acid House seen, mixing in their Detroit rock roots and Nuggets-ear psychedelia, “Screamadelica” is a melting pot of music soaked in the optimism and E induced euphoria of the early 90’s.

From the rousing “Movin’ on Up” to the clarion call of “Come Together” and the trippy, serene “Shine Like Stars”, “Screamadelica” distils the Scream’s far ranging musical interests into the perfect blend of groovy dance rock, creating a mantra for the Post Thatcher Britpop era by sampling Peter Fonda’s all conquering statement: “we wanna get loaded and we wanna have a good time.” If ever there was a record that summed up the oncoming hedonism of the mid 90’s, this is it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3O9sLkn3nz0 Primal Scream – Loaded

8. Idlewild – 100 Broken Windows

Asides from the period following “The Remote Part”, Idelwild have never really had the success the band deserves. Channelling disparate Americana and alternative influences into a uniquely Scottish sound, Idlewild’s albums have been full of interesting guitar playing courtesy of Rod Jones and insightful, literary lyrics. This does mean, however, I often haven’t got a fucking clue what singer Roddy Woomble is talking about.

But that doesn’t matter, as every so often a band will make an album where each track is as brilliant as the least, creating an iron clad sense of cohesion. 100 Broken Windows is one of those albums.

Fuzzy, heavy layered, it marks a perfect fusion of punk rock guitars with pop sensibilities, and in charts dominated by middle of the road bland rock in the post Britpop fallout, sets itself as the perfect antidote to shit rock like Travis.

At once anthemic and intimate, 100 Broken Windows features 12 tracks that each tell a story and act as a self contained unit, that, within the framework of the album, combine to create one of the great records of the 21st century. “Idea Track”, “Little Discourage” and “The Bronze Medal” are for me the standout tracks, which represent the shift between huge choruses, sweet harmonies and a low keyness that only a Scottish band can produce.

Idlewild have subsequently gone on to release a slew of fantastic albums, and it’s frankly criminal they have been reduced to playing tiny venues like Reading’s Sub 89, when they have so many great songs that deserve to be heard.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtdwhtRcw60 Idlewild – Idea Track

7. Pink Floyd – Ummagumma (Live Side)

This one is cheating a little bit, as it’s only half the actual album. However the studio album is chock full of sub standard muso-wank that would plague the Floyd until they got their shit together and made “Meddle”.

Before all their later mega successes and after Syd Barrett’s mental degradation and exit from the band, Floyd occupied a perilous place. Rather than try and emulate the light psychedelic pop sound of the Barrett era, Floyd set the controls for the heart of the sun, live at least, and turned into one of the most powerful space rock groups ever.

The live side of Ummagumma, then, displays the band at their live best, with live, extended jams of “Set the Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”, “Astronomy Domine”, “Careful With That Axe Eugene” and “A Saucerful of Secrets”.

Dark. Sprawling. Heavy. Trippy. Spacey. The collection of tracks may not even the best live recordings of these tracks (those would be Live at Pompeii) but they never the less transport the listener to the darkest depths of the universe, powered by Gilmour’s searing guitar and Mason’s colossal drumming. The freak out sections of “Careful With That Axe” and “A Saucerful of Secrets” create swirling, raging colleges of sound; the aural equvilant of the storm of Jupiter.

For those looking for more of Pink Floyd beyond dark side of moons and 30-foot high walls, I highly recommend checking out these barnstorming live cuts.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPgAM31N5Co Pink Floyd – Careful With That Axe Eugene

6. Manic Street Preachers – Everything Must Go

The tragic, razor blade figure of Richey Edwards will always leave an eyeliner tinged stain on the Manic Street Preacher’s career. Their primary lyricist and cultural focal point before his disappearance in February 1995, “Everything Must Go” marks the bands first tentative, post Richey work.

And what a comeback. Remarkably different from the band’s harrowing “The Holy Bible”, “Everything Must Go” is a record marked by tragedy, and yet so full of melody and triumph that reaffirms the Manics as one of Britain’s best bands.

Though three of the tracks are built from lyrics left behind by Richey, it is Nicky Wire who rises to the occasion penning the majority of the album, working alongside James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore to create and intelligent, melody driven record.

The Manics managed to score of the great coups of the mid 90’s with “A Design For Life”. Disparaging the beer swilling, lager lout image of the working class in mid 90s, the song never the less became a terrace rousing anthem and a number 2 single, a triumphant return for a band on the precipice of breaking up.

But the anthems don’t stop there. Along with the title track “Australia” and “Kevin Carter” display the bands knack at combining heavy cultural and intelligent themes into slices of hard driving, melodic rock, which makes “Everything Must Go” an absolutely towering return to form.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBYUqYPy0tU Manic Street Preachers – Everything Must Go

5. Oasis – Definitely Maybe

While the Manic Street Preachers may have been subverting rock during the Britpop era, Oasis had no such grand ideals, which to me, is key to their appeal. There is no pretention, only an outrageously huge sound, psychedelic nonsense lyrics which mean nothing, and yet somehow mean everything and a swaggering attitude that was missing from the world after grunge’s dominion over guitar music.

The big dilemma is wether to choose their churning debut, or their soaring sophomore effort “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?” but their debut represents Oasis at their purest.

Lazy and inaccurate Beatles comparisons aside (if you think this, get your fucking ears checked), Noel certainly is able to distil his influences, from the Sex Pistols, the Kinks and glam-rock onwards, into a storm of guitars and huge choruses, perfect for those drunken nights out. And of course Liam’s vocals are a massive part of this record. Still sneering, still confrontational but also retaining sweetness in his voice, which is now sadly gone after years of rock n’ roll excess.

This will probably be the most controversial entry on the list, as Oasis hasn’t been en vogue since 1998. But compared to what’s in at the moment, who gives a flying fuck? Music needs bands that are arrogant and as fuck and now how to have a good time. Not every band has to be some twee, Morrissey worshiping melancholy jerk offs in their grannies cardigans and NHS specs. Some times music can, shock horror, be simple, fun and loud as all hell. Oasis, and Definitely Maybe, perfectly encapsulates these feelings into their music and I, for one, am happy they existed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nu31JuIZ5xc Oasis – Up In The Sky

4. The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead

During a discussion In one of my music journalism classes last year at uni, my tutor made the the point that, on the whole, The Smiths never really made the great leap from singles band to album act. On the whole, I agree. The Smiths are one of the best singles bands ever, and it was a toss up between “The Queen Is Dead” or their fantastic singles and b-side compilation “Louder Than Bombs” making it onto the list. But as I already had chosen the Peter Green compilation, and the fact it’s a stunning record, The Smiths’ third album makes it onto the list, and into the top 5!

The phrases I seemed to have used most during this post are about cohesion and the coming together of all the elements that make a band great, and “The Queen Is Dead” is no exception.

Apart from having a fantastic title, the record marks the perfect marriage of Morrissey’s hilarious and whip-smart lyrics and Johnny Marr’s innovative, melodic and technically incredible guitar prowess. Couple these two elements with Rourke and Joyce’s astonishing rhythm section and frankly brilliant songs, and you can see “The Queen Is Dead” proves that, apart from being fantastic at the 45 rpm single, The Smiths could make a brilliant album as well.

The eponymous opener is a master class in rhythm guitar, while “Cemetry Gates” and “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” demonstrate how peerless the Smiths are when it comes to breezy, melancholic pop. But they could be fast and heavy too, as shown by the bombastic “Bigmouth Strikes Again” while Morrissey’s dissatisfaction with Manchester, love and life can be heard in the yearning “I Know It’s Over” and “Never Had No One Ever”.

Arranged by Marr, the albums many layers of instruments, working together with the powerful, funny and poignant words, create and enduring indie classic.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYp2LGKOF_M The Smiths – The Boy With The Thorn In His Side

3. The La’s – The La’s

Before rushing to dub Oasis as Beatles rip off merchants, perhaps the only band on the list worthy of that branding are Liverpool’s the La’s, but even then only due to the cities unearthly ability at churning out acts with a light melodic touch, peerless arrangers and generally excellent songwriters.

The real heir to Lennon/McCartney’s pop throne isn’t Noel Gallagher at all but the enigmatic genius Lee Mavers, whose baffling dismissal of his only studio release (so far) only increases the mystique surrounding this record.

Apocryphal stories about Mavers needing “genuine 60’s dust” on the recording desk to be truly happy with the sound of the record not withstanding, The La’s self titled debut is a work of pop genius.

Taking queues from Rubber Soul and the rest of the Merseybeat acts, luscious melodies, shimmering acoustic guitars and songs that range from uplifting to heat warming to downbeat coalesce to create another chunk of brilliance from the north. There must be something in the water up there.

Asides from the lovely “There She Goes”, the album contains gem after gem after gem. “Timeless Melody” is a highflying Mersey soarer, whereas “Feelin’” is a genuine rocker while “Looking Glass” is one of the finest pop laments ever written. An astonishing record.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eus8vzjBVaQ The La’s – Timeless Melody

2. The Verve – A Storm In Heaven

Before “Bittersweet Sympathy” and other terrace pleasing tunes, The Verve were one of the finest psychedelic bands that this country has produced for years.

Swathed in a blanket of reverb, Ashcroft’s ghostly voice flits in and out of your mind with lyrics telling seeing inner fires, and the touch of a lover’s hand like the mixture of water and sand, producing a cushion of gentle weirdness. But the real star of the show is guitarist Nick McCabe.

Taking inspiration from the Durutti Column’s Vini Reiley, McCabe creates an ethereal bedrock of echo laced guitars. Layer after layer of stunning guitar work transport the listener to the furthest reaches of the solar system, through space storms with the pound “Blue” and the chugging, African tinged “Butterfly”. From the first, ripping chord of album opener “Star Sail” it’s clear to see that McCabe is the driving force of the record, sitting astride Simon Jones and Peter Salisbury’s rhythm section, who keep the recorded grounded while McCabe takes us on a journey round the outer reaches of your mind.

“Slide Away” lays the groundwork for “Urban Hymns” massive anthems, but “A Storm In Heaven” is a lot more laid back and triptastic than their later work.

A highly recommended album for those who shy away from the bombast of The Verve’s later work; a stunning, atmospheric guitar record.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5g_j32RL1KY The Verve – Slide Away

1. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses

After having just returned from Manchester and witnessing my favourite band ever play the best gig I’ve ever witnessed, I have been playing this album non-stop. But the again, I have been playing the album non-stop for the past 6 years.

An absolutely towering achievement, taking in mid 60’s psychedelic freak out, George Clinton P-funk, Acid House and Jimi Hendrix, The Stone Roses have created one of the most enduring and beloved British albums of all time.

Beginning in a purple haze of mysterious, reverb feedback and shimmering, sparkling effects we launch into the titanic “I Wanna Be Adored” then keeping roaming through pop masterworks “She Bangs The Drums” and the calypso tinged “Waterfall”. A better opening to an album there is none.

The whole record shaped by candyfloss guitars, funk laced bass and an unstoppable groove that permeates through every song. “Made of Stone” is simply brilliant, and the lazy Jazz tones of “Shoot You Down” are inspired.

“This Is The One” is the blueprint by which all Britpop anthems are to be created, while triumphant, towering album closer “I Am The Resurrection” plays to all of the bands strengths; sugar spun yet antagonistic lyrics from Ian, spiralling, tumbling guitar from John Squire, and come the psyctastic breakdown, Mani and Reni lock into such a tight groove as to be unshakeable. The album is only improved when played live, each member playing off each other in mesmerising runs, held together by a Mancunian swagger and a firm belief that this is one of the greatest records ever produced.

I can’t adequaltly put into words how much I love this record. Needless to say it is an essential part of any rock music fan and I couldn’t be more happy that the band are back and brilliant as ever.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=—X12mY14Q The Stone Roses – She Bangs The Drums

Well that’s It. My thireen favourite records. Honourable mentions go to Lemon Jelly’s “Lost Horizons”, Glasvegas’ self titled debut and Weezer’s Blue Album. Let me know what you think, if you agree or disagree or what you would put in your top albums list!

Tattie bye

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