Greatest Records
Begin The Begin

The NME’s all-time top 100 of 1985, which marks the cut-off point for our second poll and the beginning of our third, fixed in the public imagination both the concept and the content of The Canon. There had, of course, been similar lists before  – not least the NME’s initial one in 1974, which set the boundary for our first poll – but they had been comparatively few and seemed to cause few wider ripples.

The 1985 list, though, cast up a barrage of talking points of talking points and set the template for innumerable future lists, including NME reruns, although many simply appeared to shuffle the same albums into a different order and freshen it up with a few more recent releases.
But crucially, its also opened up a raft of, for many, hitherto obscure or unconsidered influences to be plundered  for years to come. It often seems that albums which recur on these lists are more often talked about than played, and those who claim their influence sometimes appear to have only half-heard them through a haze at 5am on numerous mid-’90s Sundays, but curiosity was undoubtedly piqued and that decade, in particular, would prove to be ripe for reinventing the funk, rusticity and hallucinations of another age.
Love Goes On!
The following decade and a half passed through three or four distinct phases and the landscape by the end of the millennium bore as little resemblance to the mid-80s as the mid-80s to the early 70s, or the Jazz Age to the Edwardian era.

In 1986, things were as fragmented and as polarised as they had ever been, with a particularly garish mainstream, the C86 scene which proudly defined itself against rock at its most troglodyte and pop at its naffest alike and the burgeoning house and hip-hop sounds which would come to conquer the solar system. Others didn’t fit into such tidy boxes – The Smiths, Prince, REM, Madonna – but their reward was to epitomise the era.

A lack of cohesion of this kind usually means a blank canvas and so it was that we saw the celebrated and extraordinary blizzard of creativity of 1988.  My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, Talk Talk and Pixies were among those who, independently but simulmtaneously, hit redoubtable peaks. Better still, they all sustained it with their follow-ups.

Also part of this glorious stampede was Happy Mondays’ Bummed, a cool-as-February bacchanal of physical possibilities, terrifying realities and scrambled visions. Early in 1989, I expressed the hope that it would shape the ’90s; it would, but not as I imagined. Like the Pogues and the Specials, for all their own brilliance, the Mondays’ influence would prove to be largely malign as they spawned a battery of hapless and sometimes horrible imitators. As did their Manc yang, the Stone Roses, of whom more later.

The alignment of both, particularly the Roses, to dance and acid house was, musically if not otherwise, occasionally vivid, more often vague, at times plain spurious. Those scenes were, as its staunchest  advocates were quick to remind us, an entirely different language which had no more in common with rock in any form  than Sanskrit has with Finnish. It came in on a wave of Chicago glory, unleashed drum and bass and delivered well over a decade of thrills, with or without pills.

But for a couple of years in the early ’90s, the nosebleed sound – which made so few demands on the listener that it barely seemed to exist – threatened to derail the whole thing. It coincided with a procession of bands whose primary influence was not the Who or the Clash or the Smiths or Pixies but the Wonderstuff, like a writer inspired more by Jeffrey Archer than by Dickens. Meanwhile, Nirvana brought a sound an attitude to the mainstream that had led from Black Flag, Minor Threat, the Minutemen and Husker Du – and led to Alice In Chains and Stone Temple Pilots.

Aye, they were a bleak time, the early ’90s. There was an upturn in the middle of the decade; Britpop may not ultimately have proved to be much more than a sugar rush but it did clear the air, although its own mould began to grow fast. The real action, though, was happening elsewhere.

After The Flood!

So what do we all see over the millennium bridge of 1986-99? It’s a vast horizon, broad enough to accommodate Paul Simon and the Aphex Twin, Lucinda Williams and the Wu- Tang Clan, Slint and Air. Plenty in here that you could lose yourself in – for me, the likes of Laughingstock, Mezzanine and Ladies & Gentlemen…in the words of Robert Christgau”(repay) prolonged listening with new excitement and insight.

Many I love. Many I like a great deal. None I actively dislike. Quite a few I’d like to explore further. But naturally, some I look for in vain; personal favourites such as the Band Of Holy Joy, High Llamas and Blue Aeroplanes have, despite  my own efforts, failed to gain the required support.

It’s gratifying to see my own number one, Spirit Of Eden, in the top 10. Its magic and mystery had been widely acknowledged long before Mark Hollis’ premature death last year and had even longer since been detached from the disbelief on its release that such a rich, complex and dazzlingly beautiful record had been made by a band peddling tracing paper-thin synth tunes a few years earlier (though we now know Hollis had aspired to these heights all along but limited resources had thwarted his ambition).

Pleasing as  well to see showings for the likes of Galaxie 500 and Mary Margaret O’Hara, both of whom had magnificent mayfly careers in the late ’80s and early ’90s but are now at risk of being lost to history. We’ve covered the latter and should have the former in the pipeline; that’s our job.

It wasn’t a great surprise to see the Stone Roses’ debut at the top; its popularity and influence aren’t in any doubt but I’ve always found it more than somewhat overrated. This isn’t to say that I thinks it’s a bad record; at its best, it proved that, after years of indie discos filling floors with music that could only be twitched to stiffly, they proved that this music could still be dance music. I just think there’s any number of records in a similar field that have better songs, more imagination, more guile – and haven’t  had the life sucked out of them by unending plays on Absolute Radio and XFM.

But I’m with former NME editor Steve Sutherland, who always maintained they were “a pretty good band” while remaining bewildered by the fuss, and your vote stands. Many thanks for taking part (PG).


Like many of the other contributors to this, the third TNPC poll, I found the task of selecting my own personal Top 30 an extraordinarily uncomfortable one. That contrasted sharply with the previous polls. A considerable amount of time has passed since 1985 and the distance from then until now made it comparatively easy to remain objective in one’s analysis of the music made before then. But for my TNPC colleagues and I, just as for many of you, on this occasion objectivity did not and could not, enter the equation: this was our time, straddling the period between the twilight of our teenage years and ending well after the clock had struck thirty and we’d suddenly transformed into those hoary guys who create conspicuous little spaces around themselves at the odd gig they still manage to limp along to. It was a time which witnessed the golden era of hip-hop, an explosion in electronic music, the grunge phenomenon and something which came to be known as Britpop, most of which was so crassly opportunistic it had us reaching for the sick bag. The era was littered with records by cult favourites such as Felt, Low, Guided By Voices, The Durutti Column, The Chills and The Lilac Time, but unsurprisingly those artists seem destined never to feature prominently in this type of list. Likewise, my faint hopes that Mettle, It’s Time For Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers, Mercy Street and Stop Your Nonsense might dent the chart were soon vanquished by a steady stream of votes for more familiar fare. But the fact that one or two others voted for them at all felt like a small victory. It has been a pleasant surprise too to note artists such as Stereolab, Galaxie 500 and Mick Head / Shack move in from the margins to compete with the big hitters, and if I feel more than a little disappointed by the predictability of the top two, that is partly compensated for by the inclusion of some unheralded cult gems such as Rise Above and Forever Breathes The Lonely World in the Auxiliary Chart, both of which contrived to outscore the bazillion-selling Goliaths that are What’s The Story Morning Glory? (which finished up at no. 221!) and The Joshua Tree. Which is of course very much the spirit of TNPC, where on these pages – for the rest of the year at least – we continue to champion the music of the underdog.

Finally, just remember, whether the poll enthuses or enrages you, the only list that really matters is the one inside your head. Next stop the 21st Century…a whole new world of sound beyond the ‘canon’. Coming soon… (JJ)

[As is customary, the Auxiliary Chart of those albums placed 101-200, follows at the end of the main list, while the ‘One Vote Wonders’ list will be published soon.]


The Top 100…

100. Yerself Is Steam – Mercury Rev (Mint Films / Jungle Records, 1991)

99. Sister – Sonic Youth (SST, 1987)

98. Infected – The The (Some Bizarre / Epic, 1986)

97. Ragged Glory – Neil Young & Crazy Horse (Reprise, 1990)

96. Darklands – The Jesus & Mary Chain (Blanco y Negro, 1987)

95. Radiator – Super Furry Animals (Creation, 1997)

94. You’re Living All Over Me – Dinosaur (SST, 1987)

93. XO – Elliott Smith (Dreamworks, 1998)

92. Harvest Moon – Neil Young (Reprise, 1992)

91. Miss America – Mary Margaret O’Hara (Virgin, 1988)

90. The Colour Of Spring – Talk Talk (EMI, 1986)

89. Car Wheels On A Gravel Road – Lucinda Williams (Mercury, 1998)

88. Dots & Loops – Stereolab (Duophonic, 1997)

87. The Low End Theory – A Tribe Called Quest (Jove, 1991)

86. Today – Galaxie 500 (Aurora, 1988)

85. Copper Blue – Sugar (Creation, 1992)

84. Dog Man Star – Suede (Nude, 1994)

83. In Utero – Nirvana (DGC, 1993)

82. Blood & Chocolate – Elvis Costello & The Attractions (Demon, 1996)

81. Jordan: The Comeback – Prefab Sprout (Kitchenware, 1990)

80. Definitely Maybe – Oasis (Creation, 1994)

79. Nowhere – Ride (Creation, 1990)

78. Goo – Sonic Youth (Warner Bros, 1990)

77. Waterpistol – Shack (Marina, 1996)

76. Odelay – Beck (DGC, 1996)

75. The Boatman’s Call – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (Mute, 1997)

74. California – American Music Club (Demon, 1988)

73. I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One – Yo La Tengo (Matador, 1997)

72. Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot – Sparklehorse (Capitol, 1995)

71. Giant Steps – Boo Radleys (Creation, 1993)

70. Document – REM (IRS, 1987)

69. HMS Fable – Shack (London, 1999)

68. The House Of Love (Creation, 1988)

67. Liquid Swords – GZA (Geffen, 1996)

66. Reading Writing & Arithmetic – The Sundays (Rough Trade, 1990)

65. Tilt – Scott Walker (Fontana, 1995)

64. Spiderland – Slint (Touch & Go, 1991)

63. Bend Sinister – The Fall (Beggars Banquet, 1996)

62. Songs For Drella – Lou Reed / John Cale (Sire, 1990)

61. Graceland – Paul Simon (Warner Bros, 1986)

60. Nevermind – Nirvana (DGC, 1991)

59. Slanted & Enchanted – Pavement (Matador 1992)

58. Moon Safari – Air (Virgin, 1997)

57. Secrets Of The Beehive – David Sylvian (Virgin, 1987)

56. Warehouse: Songs & Stories – Hüsker Dü (Warner Bros, 1987)

55. Parade – Prince (Warner Bros, 1986)

54. The Magical World of The Strands – Michael Head & The Strands (Megaphone, 1997)

53. Fear of A Black Planet – Public Enemy (Def Jam, 1988)

52. She Hangs Brightly – Mazzy Star (Rough Trade, 1990)

51. If I Should Fall From Grace With God – The Pogues (Pogue Mahone, 1988)

50. Emperor Tomato Ketchup – Stereolab (Duophonic, 1996)

49. Songs From Northern Britain – Teenage Fanclub (Creation, 1997)

48. Selected Ambient Works 85-92 – Aphex Twin (Apollo, 1992)

47. Disintegration – The Cure (Fiction, 1989)

46. New York – Lou Reed (Sire, 1989)

45. Maxinquaye – Tricky (4th & Broadway, 1995)

44. Automatic For The People – REM (Warner Bros, 1992)

43. Laser Guided Melodies – Spiritualized (Dedicated, 1992)

42. Mezzanine – Massive Attack (Circa, 1997)

41. Green – REM (Warner Bros, 1988)

40. Paul’s Boutique – Beastie Boys (Capitol, 1989)

39. The La’s (Go!, 1990)

38. Bummed – Happy Mondays (Factory, 1988)

37. It’s A Shame About Ray – The Lemonheads (Warner Bros, 1992)

36. Grand Prix – Teenage Fanclub (Creation, 1995)

35. If You’re Feeling Sinister – Belle & Sebastian (1996)

34. Liberty Belle & The Black Diamond Express – The Go-Betweens (1986)

33. Hats – The Blue Nile (1989)

32. Isn’t Anything – My Bloody Valentine (Creation. 1988)

31. Grace – Jeff Buckley (Columbia, 1994)

30. Endtroducing – DJ Shadow (Mo Wax!, 1996)

29. Blue Bell Knoll – Cocteau Twins (4AD, 1988)

28. Music Has The Right To Children – Boards Of Canada (Warp, 1998)

26. Laughingstock– Talk Talk (Parlophone, 1991)

26. Time Out Of Mind – Bob Dylan (Columbia, 1997)

25. Deserters Songs – Mercury Rev (V2, 1998)

24. Life’s Rich Pageant – REM (IRS, 1986)

23. 16 Lovers Lane – The Go-Betweens (Beggars Banquet, 1988)

22. Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) – Wi-Tang Clan (Loud, 1993)

21. Crooked Rain Crooked Rain – Pavement (Matador, 1994)

20. Heaven Or Las Vegas – Cocteau Twins (4AD, 1990)

19. Dummy – Portishead (Go! Beat, 1994)

18. Blue Lines – Massive Attack (Wild Bunch / Virgin, 1991)

17. On Fire – Galaxie 500 (1989)

16. OK Computer – Radiohead (Parlophone, 1997)

15. Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space – Spiritualized (Dedicated, 1997)

14. Daydream Nation – Sonic Youth (Blast First, 1988)

13. Bandwagonesque – Teenage Fanclub (Creation, 1991)

12. Technique – New Order (1989)

11. Screamadelica – Primal Scream (Creation, 1991)

10. The Soft Bulletin – The Flaming Lips (1999)

9. Sign O The Times – Prince (Warner Bros, 1987)

8. Spirit Of Eden – Talk Talk (Parlophone, 1988)

7. 3 Feet High & Rising – De La Soul (Tommy Boy, 1989)

6. Surfer Rosa – Pixies (4AD, 1988)

5. Loveless – My Bloody Valentine (Creation, 1991)

4. Doolittle – Pixies (4AD, 1989)

3. It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back – Public Enemy (Def Jam, 1988)

2. The Queen Is Dead – The Smiths (Rough Trade, 1986)

1. The Stone Roses (Silvertone, 1989)


The Next 100:

101. Mogwai- Come On Die Young

102. St. Etienne – Foxbase Alpha

103. Neutral Milk Hotel – In An Aeroplane Over The Sea

104. Silver Jews – American Water

105. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Your Funeral, My Trial

106. The Breeders – Last Splash

107. Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man

108. Plush – More You Becomes You

109. Pulp – Different Class

110. Dinosaur Jr. – Bug

111. Bjork – Debut

112. Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking

113. The Cure – Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me

114. Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible

115. Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs

116. Wilco – Summerteeth

117. Julee Cruise – Floating Into The Night

118. Eric B & Rakim – Paid In Full

119. Kate Bush – The Sensual World

120. The Chills – Kaleidoscope World

121. The Fall – Extricate

122. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Tender Prey

123. Underworld – Dubnobasswithmyheadman

124. XTC – Skylarking

125. The Triffids – Born Sandy Devotional

126. High Llamas – Hawaii

127. Belle & Sebastian – The Boy With The Arab Strap

128. Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand

129. Radiohead – The Bends

130. Johnny Cash – American Recordings

131. Electronic – Electronic

132. Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

133. The Costello Show – King Of America

134. Depeche Mode – Violator

135. Hüsker Dü – Candy Apple Grey

136. Tindersticks – Tindersticks (first)

137. The Lilac Time – The Lilac Time

138. Wilco – Being There

139. Epic Soundtracks – Rise Above

140. Felt – Forever Breathes The Lonely Word

141. Big Black – Atomizer

142. Paul Weller – Wildwood

143. Sebadoh – Bakesale

144. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Good Son

145. Bonnie Prince Billy – I See A Darkness

146. Spacemen 3 – Playing With Fire

147. Tom Waits – Frank’s Wild Years

148. Beastie Boys – Ill Communication

149. Beastie Boys – Check Your Head

150. Edwyn Collins – Gorgeous George

151. Blur – Modern Life Is Rubbish

152. Tindersticks – Tindersticks (second)

153. A Tribe Called Quest – People’s Instinctive Travels…

154. Elliot Smith – Either Or

155. High Llamas – Gideon Gaye

156. The Orb – Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld

157. NAS – Illmatic

158. Stereolab – Mars Audiac Quintet

159. AR Kane – 69

160. The Chills – Submarine Bells

161. Spacemen 3 – The Perfect Prescription

162. David Bowie – 1. Outside

163. Blur – Parklife

164. U2 – The Joshua Tree

165. Suede – Suede

166. The Replacements – Pleased To Meet Me

167. Mogwai – Young Team

168. The Cramps – A Date With Elvis

169. Grant Hart – Intolerance

170. Goldie – Timeless

171. The KLF – Chill Out

172. George Michael – Listen Without Prejudice Vol.1

173. PJ Harvey – Rid Of Me

174. REM – Out Of Time

175. The Go-Betweens – Tallulah

176.. Whipping Boy – Heartworm

177. Daft Punk – Homework

178. Public Enemy – Yo! Bum Rush The Show

179. Beck – Mellow Gold

180. St. Etienne – So Tough

181. Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Session

182. Radiohead – Pablo Honey

183. U2 – Achtung Baby

184. Etienne DeCrecy – Super Discount

185. Leftfield – Leftism

186. Nirvana – MTV Unplugged

187. Felt – Me And A Monkey On The Moon

188. Julian Cope – Peggy Suicide

189. Stereolab – Transient Random-Noise Bursts…

190. Happy Mondays – Pills ‘N’ Thrills & Bellyaches

191. The Fall – Shiftwork

192. The Breeders – Pod

193. The Wedding Present – Seamonsters

194. Gang Starr – Step In The Arena

195. The Durutti Column – Vini Reilly

196. Momus – The Poison Boyfriend

197. Slowdive – Souvlaki

198. Arthur Russell – World Of Echo

199. Thin White Rope – Moonhead

200. Throwing Muses – The Real Ramona


Strange, Sublime or still loved by some… (One Vote Wonders 1986-99)

Barry Adamson – Oedipus Schmoedipus

Apples In Stereo – Tone Soul Evolution

Autechre – Tri Repetae

B12 – Time Tourist
Baader Meinhof – Baader Meinhof
Basic Channel – BCD
The Bodines – Played
Bongwater – Too Much Sleep
Black Science Orchestra – Walter’s Room
Bronco Bullfrog – Bronco Bullfrog
Brian Jonestown Massacre – Their Satanic Majesties Request
The Cardiacs – Sing To God
The Chamber Strings – Gospel Morning 
Chorchozade – Made To Be Devoured
Coil – Astral Disaster
Bobby Conn – Rise Up!
The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover (OST)
Current 93 – Swastikas For Noddy
Holger Czukay – Rome Remains Rome
Damon & Naomi – More Sad Hits
Richard Davies – There’s Never Been A Crowd Like This 
Miles Davis & Michel Legrand – Dingo
Dead Moon – Unknown Passage
DreamWarriors – And Now The Legacy Begins
EPMD – Strictly Business
Eno / Cale – Wrong Way Up
John Fahey – Red Cross
Tav Falco’s Panther Burns – Red Devil
Field Mice – Snowball
Robbie Fulks – South Mouth
Godspeed You Black Emperor – Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada EP
Jean Luis Guerra – Bachata Rosa
The Gun Club – Mother Juno
A Guy Called Gerald – Black Secret Technology
Half Japanese – The Band That Would Be King 
Roland S Howard – Teenage Snuff Film
Hugo Largo – Drum
Zakir Hussain – Making Music
Jazz Butcher – Cult Of The Basement
Daniel Johnston- 1990
Jungle Brothers – Done By The Forces Of Nature
Katherine – Les Creatures
Kreisler String Orchestra – 226
Laughing Hyenas – Life Of Crime
LL Cool J – Radio
Low – Christmas
Luna – Penthouse
Lush – Scar
Luxuria – Unanswerable Lust
MC Solaar – Prose Combat
Madder Rose – Bring It Down
Kirsty McColl – Kite

Grant McLennan – Fireboy

Mekons – The Mekons’ Rock’n’Roll

Missy Elliott – Supa Dupa Fly

Morphine – Cure For Pain

Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares – Vol. 3

Negativland – Escape From Noise
Olivia Tremor Control – Black Foliage

Opal – Early Recordings

Orbital – In Sides

Augustus Pablo- Rising Sun

Paragon Ragtime Orchestra – On The Level, You’re A Little Devil

The Pastels – Mobile Safari

Pere Ubu – The Tenement Year

Lee Perry – From The Secret Laboratory

Louis Philippe – Azure

Prince – The Black Album

Steve Reich – Different Trains

Jonathan Richman – I’m So Confused

Kevin Rowland – The Wanderer

Royal Trux – Cats & Dogs

Salt ‘n’ Pepa – Hot, Cool, Vicious

Scott 4 – Works Project

The Sea & Cake – The Fawn

Shop Assistants – Shop Assistants

Silver Sun – Silver Sun

Spectrum – Soul Kiss

Stars Of The Lid – Avec Laudenum 

The Stone Roses – Second Coming

Sun Ra Arkestra – Mayan Temple

James Taylor Quartet – Wait A Minute

Martin Taylor – Don’t Fret

Til Tuesday – Everything’s Different Now

To Rococo Rot – Amateur View

Truman’s Water – Spasm Smash XXXOxox Ox & Ass

Maureen Tucker – Life In Exile After Abdication 
UNKLE – Psyence Fiction
Alan Vega – 2007
The Verlaines – Bird-Dog
Volcano Suns – Bumper Crop
Gillian Welch – Revival
Jim White – The Mysterious Tale Of How I Shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus
Wild Swans – Bringing Home The Ashes
The Wolfhounds – Blown Away
The Woodentops – Giant
Robert Wyatt – Shleep
The Young Gods – The Young Gods
John Zorn – Naked City

Thank You!

As ever we are greatly indebted to the following list of contributors:

Bill Ainsworth, Camilla Aisa, Andy (Birmingham’81), David Ayling, Michael Bailey (Soft Hearted Scientists), Billy Bell, Caroline Binnie, Nick Blakey (Underground Jukebox), Chris Bounds, Stephen Boyd, Johny Brown (Band Of Holy Joy), Johnny Browning, David Bruce, Colin Brunton, Helen Bull, Kevin Byrne, Paul Callanan, Chris Canham, Chris Coleman, Iain Conroy, Mike Convery, Dave Coulter, Marnie Coulter, Brian Crandall, Campbell Davidson, Laura Lee Davies, Jon Dennis, Mick Derrick, John Dickie, Andrew Divine, Neil Douglas, Seamus Duggan, Maureen Dunlop, Matthew ‘Doc’ Dunn (Cosmic Range Records), Matt Elliott, Peter Ferguson, Jason Finch, Declan Flanagan, Feargus Flanagan, Mikki Francis-Lawton, Paul Gallagher, Alfie Gildea, Paul Gildea, Darren Grayer, Theo Hakkert, Andrew Hall, Mark Harrison, Jeff Hartley, Mark Hillier, Sophie Jay, James Johnstone, Johnnie Johnstone, Martin Johnstone, Peter Johnstone, Allan Jones, Jukebox Rebel, David Kelner, John Kilbride, Harris King, Graham Kingsbury, William Knott, June Lewins, Paul Lowman, Huw M, Alastair Macduff, Gary Mackenzie, Marc (Captain Howdy), Jon Marcus, Leon Massey, Will McAlpine, Jim McCulloch, Paul McLoone (The Undertones), Grant McPhee, Fiona McQuarrie, John Medd, Graham Meikle, Rob Morgan, Greg Morse, Tony Mulraney, Paul Murray, Peter Murray, Jason Myles, Kris Needs, Huw Neill, Brendan O’Leary, Jake Palmer, Thomas Patterson, Mark Paytress, Andy Pidluznyj (New Apostles), Nick Portnell, Mark Raison, Steve Rhodes, Don Richmond, Chris Roberts, Matt Rogers, Marco Rossi, Alice Salvesen, Chris Sawle, Jo Scollin, Paul Scollin, David Sharp, Simon Shaw, Angela Slaven, Jason Spence, Iain Stansfield, Theo Stockman, David Stubbs, Andrew Thompson, Daniel Thompson, James Timoney, Terry Tochel, Ben Travers, Paul Turnbull, Ian Wade, Judah Warsky, Stevie Watt, Richard Watterson, Dominic Whittingham, Peter Wilson, ‘Winna Ding’, Sandy Wishart, Colin Wright, David Wright.


Greatest Records

So, 1974 to 1985, right?

I suppose the first thing to do is to answer the question everyone’s been asking: “Why 74-85?” A seemingly random period of time. The rationale behind the recent pre-1974 poll was perhaps a tad easier to explain. For that exercise we reimagined the 1974 NME Top 100 albums, through 21st century eyes. For this one, we’ve drawn a line at 1985, the year the NME published their second Greatest Albums poll. There would be little point in voters duplicating some of their choices from the pre-74 list, so instead, TNPC is planning a four part feature. The next one will focus on albums released between 1986 and 1999, and the last will be a 21st century rundown. Expect to be harassed into taking part in those over the coming months.

Where did jazz go?

While this is a terrific collection of albums, there isn’t a great deal here to be surprised about. One might note perhaps how Wire’s legacy, like that of The Kinks (as evidenced by their performance in the pre-74 poll) is becoming more secure. Wire was conspicuously absent from the ’85 NME poll, pictured above. The balance and breadth of the entries was striking too: people seem more relaxed nowadays to mix prog, punk and hip-hop together in their lists, something which might not have been the case in 1985.

In 1974, few could possibly have foreseen the changes that were about to take place in popular music, and the outward ripples of punk and new wave flow freely through the list. But there’s a real shortage of soul. While reggae and dub are at least represented with a handful of entries, it was after all the golden era of JA music. Jazz meanwhile has fallen of the radar spectacularly, despite Miles making some of the most adventurous music, and Sun Ra some of his most accessibly celestial, during the period in question.

All the others you’d expect to be there – well, they’re here. And the top choice? Won by a landslide…

As with the last poll, I’ll post an Appendix of the next 100 over the next few days. Some great albums just missed the cut, Marcus Garvey, one of my all-time favourites for example. I also intend to post an Alternative Top 100 of albums which were nominated only once. I guarantee that will be an eye-opener and will set you off on new journeys of discovery.

Once again, I can’t thank enough all those who were kind and enthusiastic enough to contribute. I’m very grateful to you all. Hope you enjoy the list. Back soon. (JJ)

The Top 100:

100. Kings Of The Wild Frontier – Adam & The Ants (CBS, 1980)

99. Fried – Julian Cope (Mercury, 1984)

98. Soul Mining – The The (Some Bizarre, 1983)

97. The Undertones – The Undertones (Sire, 1979)

96. New Gold Dream [81-82-83-84] – Simple Minds (Virgin, 1982)

95. I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight – Richard & Linda Thompson (Island, 1974)

94. 154 – Wire (Harvest, 1979)

93. Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen (Columbia, 1975)

92. Imperial Bedroom – Elvis Costello & The Attractions (F-Beat, 1982)

91. Super Ape – The Upsetters (Island, 1976)

90. Desire – Bob Dylan (CBS, 1976)

89. More Songs About Buildings & Food – Talking Heads (Sire, 1978)

88. Exodus – Bob Marley & The Wailers (Island, 1977)

87. Nebraska – Bruce Springsteen (CBS, 1982)

86. Physical Graffiti – Led Zeppelin (Swan Song, 1975)

85. Grievous Angel  – Gram Parsons (Reprise, 1974)

84. Rust Never Sleeps – Neil Young & Crazy Horse (Reprise, 1979)

83. Sulk – Associates (Beggars Banquet, 1982)

82. Diamond Dogs – David Bowie (RCA, 1974)

81. Court & Spark – Joni Mitchell (Asylum, 1974)

80. Get Happy!! – Elvis Costello & The Attractions (F-Beat, 1980)

79. Lexicon Of Love – ABC (Neutron, 1982)

78. The Man Machine – Kraftwerk (EMI, 1977)

77. Let It Be – The Replacements (Twin/Tone, 1984)

76. This Nation’s Saving Grace – The Fall (Beggars Banquet, 1985)

75. Colossal Youth – Young Marble Giants (Rough Trade, 1980)

74. The Modern Dance  – Pere Ubu (Blank, 1978)

73. Rain Dogs – Tom Waits (Island, 1985)

72. A Walk Across The Rooftops – The Blue Nile (Linn, 1983)

71. Kilimanjaro – The Teardrop Explodes (Fontana, 1980)

70. Purple Rain – Prince & The Revolution (Warner Bros, 1984)

69. Reckoning – REM (IRS, 1984)

68. Don’t Stand Me Down – Dexy’s Midnight Runners (Mercury, 1985)

67. The Hissing Of Summer Lawns – Joni Mitchell (Asylum, 1975)

66. Rocket To Russia – Ramones (Sire, 1977)

65. Rumours – Fleetwood Mac (Warner Bros, 1977)

64. Sound Affects – The Jam (Polydor, 1980)

63. Steve McQueen – Prefab Sprout (Kitchenware, 1985)

62. Pacific Ocean Blue – Dennis Wilson (Caribou, 1977)

61. Singles: Going Steady – Buzzcocks (United Artists, 1979)

60. All Mod Cons – The Jam (Polydor, 1978)

59. Lust For Life – Iggy Pop (RCA, 1977)

58. Another Green World – Brian Eno (Island, 1975)

57. Hex Enduction Hour – The Fall (Kamera, 1982)

56. Heroes – David Bowie (RCA, 1977)

55. Ocean Rain – Echo & The Bunnymen (Korova, 1984)

54. Hejira – Joni Mitchell (Asylum, 1976)

53. Tonight’s The Night – Neil Young (Reprise, 1975)

52. . Entertainment! – Gang Of Four (EMI. 1979)

51. The Specials (Two-Tone, 1979)

50. Another Music In A Different Kitchen – Buzzcocks (United Artists, 1978)

49. Dare – The Human League (A&M, 1981)

48. Swordfishtrombones – Tom Waits (Island, 1983)

47. Two Sevens Clash – Culture (Joe Gibbs, 1977)

46. Real Life – Magazine (Virgin, 1978)

45. Treasure – Cocteau Twins (4AD, 1984)

44. Hounds Of Love – Kate Bush (EMI, 1985)

43. Meat Is Murder – The Smiths (Rough Trade, 1985)

42. The Smiths (Rough Trade, 1984)

41. Cut – The Slits (Island, 1979)

40. Parallel Lines – Blondie (Chrysalis, 1978)

39. Veedon Fleece – Van Morrison (Warner Bros, 1974)

38. Pink Flag – Wire (Harvest, 1977)

37. Radio City – Big Star (Ardent, 1974)

36. High Land Hard Rain – Aztec Camera (Rough Trade, 1983)

35. Songs In The Key Of Life – Stevie Wonder (Tamla Motown, 1976)

34. Rattlesnakes – Lloyd Cole & The Commotions (Polydor, 1984)

33. The Idiot – Iggy Pop (RCA, 1977)

32. You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever – Orange Juice (Polydor, 1982)

31. Neu! 75 – Neu! (Brain, 1975)

30. Rock Bottom – Robert Wyatt (Virgin, 1974)

29. Ramones (Sire, 1976)

28. The Clash (CBS, 1977)

27. Kings Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown- Augustus Pablo (Yard, 1976)

26. Trans-Europe Express – Kraftwerk (EMI, 1977)

25. Hatful Of Hollow – The Smiths (Rough Trade, 1984)

24. Heart Of The Congos – The Congos (Black Ark, 1977)

23. Rum Sodomy & The Lash – The Pogues (Stiff, 1985)

22. Chairs Missing – Wire (Harvest, 1978)

21. Fear Of Music – Talking Heads (Sire, 1979)

20. Power Corruption & Lies – New Order (Factory, 1983)

19. 3rd [Sister Lovers] – Big Star (PVC, 1978)

18. Remain In Light – Talking Heads (Sire, 1980)

17. Murmur – REM (IRS, 1983)

16. Psychocandy – The Jesus & Mary Chain (Blanco y negro, 1985)

15. Suicide (Red Star, 1977)

14. The Modern Lovers (Beserkley, 1976)

13. London Calling – The Clash (CBS, 1979)

12. Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols – The Sex Pistols (Virgin, 1977)

11. Horses – Patti Smith (Arista, 1975)

10. Searching For The Young Soul Rebels – Dexy’s Midnight Runners (EMI, 1980)

9. Metal Box – Public Image Ltd (Virgin, 1979)

8. Station To Station – David Bowie (RCA, 1976)

7. On The Beach – Neil Young (Reprise, 1974)

6. No Other – Gene Clark (Asylum, 1974)

5. Closer – Joy Division (Factory, 1980)

4. Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division (Factory, 1979)

3. Low – David Bowie (RCA, 1977)

2. Blood On The Tracks – Bob Dylan (CBS, 1975)

1. Marquee Moon – Television (Elektra, 1977)


Bill Ainsworth, Camilla Aisa, Neil Alexander, Dot Allison, Mick Anderson, Andy (Birmingham 81), Michael Bailey (Soft Hearted Scientists), Billy Bell, Caroline Binnie, Nick Blakey (Underground Jukebox), Chris Bounds, Holly Boyd, Stephen Boyd, Gerry Braiden, Johnny Browning, Colin Brunton, Helen Bull, Marc (Captain Howdy), Julie Campbell (LoneLady, Warp Records), Rob Chapman, Chris Coleman, Mike Convery, Alison Cotton (Left Outsides), Dave Coulter, Laura Lee Davies, Jon Dennis, Mick Derrick, John Dickie, Andrew Divine, Philip Downer, Spender Downes, Vincent Driscoll, Seamus Duggan, Maureen Dunlop, Matthew Edwards, Liam Elliott, Matt Elliott, Pete Ferguson, Declan Flanagan, Mikki Francis-Lawton, Paul Gallagher, Ash Grace, Theo Hakkert, Jeff Hartley, Andrew Hill, Mark Hillier, Barney Hoskyns, Sophie Jay, Johnnie Johnstone, Martin Johnstone, Peter Johnstone, Allan Jones, Jukebox Rebel, Danny Kelly, David Kelner, John Kilbride, Harris King, Graham Kingsbury, Neil Kulkarni, June Lewins, Gerry Love, Huw M, Alastair Macduff, Gary Mackenzie, John Marcus, Leon Massey, Stephen McAuley, Ryan McCullough, Grant McPhee, Fiona McQuarrie, John Medd, Graham Meikle, Andy Miller, Thom Moore, Rob Morgan, Greg Morse, Tony Mulraney, Paul Murray, Peter Murray, Jason Myles, Brendan O’Leary, Jake Palmer, Thomas Patterson, Mark Paytress, Andy Pidluznyj (New Apostles), Nick Portnell, Johnny Purcell, Steve Rhodes, Don Richmond, Chris Roberts, Matt Rogers, Marco Rossi, Martin Ruddock, David Sharp, Simon Shaw, Angela Slaven, Jonathan Small, Jason Spence, Iain Stansfield, Duglas T Stewart, Theo Stockman, David Stubbs, David Tanner, Huw Thomas, Daniel Thompson, Terry Tochel, Toni Tochel, Ben Travers, Paul Turnbull, Sughosh Varadarajan, Ian Wade, Neil Ware, Judah Warsky, Stevie Watt, Rob Webb, Dominic Whittingham, Sandy Wishart, Colin Wright.

Appendix 1: 101-200:

101. The Scream – Siouxsie & The Banshees

102. Talking Heads ‘77 – Talking Heads
103. This Year’s Model – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
104. Nightclubbing – Grace Jones
105. Darkness On The Edge Of Town – Bruce Springsteen
106. Songs The Lord Taught Us – The Cramps
107. Mothership Connection – Parliament
108. Spring Hill Fair – The Go-Betweens
109. Heaven Up Here – Echo & The Bunnymen
110. Crocodiles – Echo & The Bunnymen 
111. More Specials – The Specials
112. WishYou Were Here – Pink Floyd
113. Marcus Garvey – Burning Spear
114. Aja – Steely Dan
115. Damned Damned Damned – The Damned
116. Wilder – The Teardrop Explodes 
117. Leave Home – Ramones
118. There’s No Place Like America Today – Curtis Mayfield
119. The Correct Use Of Soap – Magazine
120. 20 Jazz Funk Greats – Throbbing Gristle
121. Blank Generation- Richard Hell & The Voidoids
122. Movement – New Order
123. New Boots & Panties – Ian Dury & The Blockheads
124. Young Americans – David Bowie
125. Computer World – Kraftwerk 
126. Coney Island Baby – Lou Reed
127. Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables – Dead Kennedys 
128. New Day Rising – Hüsker Dü
129. Zuma – Neil Young & Crazy Horse
130. Emergency Third Rail Power Trip – The Rain Parade
131. Fables Of The Reconstruction – REM
132. Germ-Free Adolescents- X-Ray Spex
133. My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts – Brian Eno / David Byrne
134. Risque – Chic
135. Best Dressed Chicken In Town – Dr. Alimantado
136. Before And After Science – Brian Eno
137. Scary Monsters [And Super Creeps] – David Bowie
138. The Belle Album – Al Green
139. Y – The Pop Group
140. Soon Over Babaluma – Can
141. Perverted By Language – The Fall
142. English Settlement – XTC
143. Tusk – Fleetwood MAC
144. I Just Can’t Stop It – The Beat
145. Grotesque- The Fall
146. Autobahn – Kraftwerk 
147. Red – King Crimson
148. Zen Arcade – Hüsker Dü
149. One World – John Martyn 
150. Underwater Moonlight – Soft Boys
151. The Kick Inside – Kate Bush
152. Head On The Door – The Cure
153. Street Hassle- Lou Reed
154. Red Roses For Me – The Pogues
155. Kimono My House – Sparks
156. C’est Chic – Chic
157. Double Nickels On The Dime – Minutemen
158. Swoon – Prefab Sprout
159. Handsworth Revolution – Steel Pulse
160. The Strange Idols Pattern & Other Short Stories – Felt
161. The Raincoats – The Raincoats
162. Crazy Rhythms – The Feelies
163. Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret – Soft Cell
164. Cupid & Psyche 85 – Scritti Politti
165. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes
166. Some Girls – The Rolling Stones
167. Here My Dear – Marvin Gaye
168. A Trip To Marineville – Swell Maps
169. Dragnet – The Fall
170. Live At The Witch Trials – The Fall
171. Natty Dread – Bob Marley & The Wailers
172. Inflammable Material – Stiff Little Fingers
173. The Nightfly – Donald Fagen
174. This Is The Sea – The Waterboys
175. Dirty Mind – Prince
176. Even Serpents Shine – The Only Ones
177. Machine Gun Etiquette – The Damned
178. Doc At The Radar Station – Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band
179. The Rutles – The Rutles
180. Give ‘Em Enough Rope – The Clash
181. Winter In America – Brian Jackson & Gil Scott-Heron 
182. It’ll End In Tears – This Mortal Coil
183. Fire Of Love – The Gun Club
184. Suicide – Suicide (2nd)
185. E2-E4 – Manuel Göttsching 
186. Come Away – ESG
187. LC – The Durutti Column 
188. La Düsseldorf – La Düsseldorf 
189. Gentlemen Take Polaroids – Japan
190. What’s The Matter Boy? – Vic Godard & Subway Sect
191. B-52s – B-52s
192. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway – Genesis
193. Al Green Is Love – Al Green
194. Run DMC – Run DMC
195. And Don’t The Kids Just Love It – Television Personalities 
196. LAMF – The Heartbreakers 
197. Pretenders – Pretenders
198. The Only Fun In Town – Josef K
199. Youth Of America – Wipers
200. African Dub Chapter 3 – Joe Gibbs

Appendix. 2: One Vote Wonders: Journeys of Discovery

Some of the more eye catching nominations – from the sublime to the ridiculous. Happy listening:..

A Certain Ratio – To Each…

The Aggrovators – Johnny In The Echo Chamber

Terry Allen – Lubbock (On Everything)

Amanaz – Africa

Art Bears – The World As It Is Today

Robert Ashley – Automatic Writing

Beat Happening – Beat Happening

Bee Gees – Main Course

Jorge Ben – Africa Brasil

Agnes Bernelle – Bernelle On Brecht and…

Jane Birkin – De Doo Dah

Glenn Branca – Ascension

Jacques Brel – Les Marquises

Butthole Surfers – Psychic Powerless, Another Man’s Sac

Cabaret Voltaire – The Crackdown

Cerrone 3 – Supernature

Don Cherry- Brown Rice

The Chords – So Far Away

The Church – Heyday

Alice Coltrane – Eternity

Cortex – Spinal Injuries

Miles Davis – Dark Magus

Betty Davis – They Say I’m Different

Francesco De Gregori – Bufalo Bill

Dukes Of Stratophear – 25 O’ Clock

Einsturzende Neubauten – 1/2 Mensch

Eno / Moebius / Roedelius – After The Heat

Original Soundtrack- Escape From New York

Felt – The Splendour Of Fear

Fred Frith – Guitar Solos

The Fuzztones – Lysergic Emanations

Game Theory – Real Nightime

Germs – (GI)

Richard Gotainer – Chants Zazous

Great Plains – Naked At The Buy Sell & Trade

Harmonia – Harmonia Deluxe

Eddie Hazel – Games, Dames & Guitar Thangs

Henry Cow – In Praise Of Learning

Higelin – BBh75

Joe Higgs – Life Of Contradiction

Isolation Ward – Point Final

The Jazz Butcher – A Scandal In Bohemia

Eddie Kendricks – Boogie Down

Basil Kirchin – Worlds Within Worlds

Fela Kuti & Afrika ’70 – Sorrow Tears & Blood

RD Laing – Life Before Death

Last Poets – Delights Of The Garden

Jah Lion – Colombia Colly

Lyres – On Fyre

Candy Mackenzie – Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry presents…

MX-80 Sound – Hard Attack

Indoda Mahlathini – Ngibuzindlela

Michael Mantler – The Hapless Child

Mantronix – The Album

Marine Girls – Lazy Ways

Millions Of Dead Cops – Millions Of Dead Cops

Mission Of Burma – Signals Calls & Marches

Moondog – H’Art Songs

Hugh Mundell – Africa Must Be Free By 1983

Milton Nascimento- Clube Da Esquina 2

Nash The Slash – Bedside Companion

Mickey Newbury – I Came To Hear The Music

Colin Newman – A-Z

Pauline Oliveros – Accordion & Voice

Bulent Ortacgil – Benimle Oynar Misin

Ossie All-Stars – Leggo Dub

Gilbert O’Sullivan – A Stranger In My Own Back Yard

Annette Peacock – X-Dreams

Ann Peebles – The Handwriting Is On The Wall

Pink Industry – Low Technology

Popol Vuh – Brüder des Schattens

The Radiators – Songs From The Ancient Furnace

Red Kross – Teen Babes From Monsanto

Terry Reid – Songs From Memory

The Residents – Meet The Residents

Minnie Riperton – Perfect Angel

Michael Rother – Fernwarme

Rufus – Rufusized

Sand – Golem

Scientist – Scientist Rids The World Of The Evil Curse Of The Vampires

Section 25 – Always Now

Yatha Sidhra – A Meditation Mass

Solid Space – Space Museum

The Sound – Heads & Hearts

Sun Ra – Lanquidity

Tangerine Dream – Rubycon

Teenage Head – Teenage Head

Telephone – Crache Tom Venin

The Triffids – Treeless Plain

TV21 – A Thin Red Line

James Blood Ulmer – Are You Glad To Be In America?

Van Der Graf Generator – Godbluff

Townes Van Zandt – Flyin’ Shoes

Velvet Monkeys – Future

Laurent Voulzy – Bopper En Larmes

The Wake – Here Comes Everybody

Ben Watt – North Marine Drive

Yabby You – Deliver Me From My Enemies

Zero Boys – Vicious Circle

Tappa Zukie – MPLA

TNPC presents… The 100 GREATEST ALBUMS made before 1974

Greatest Records

The Idea…

The NME’S Greatest Albums Of All-Time poll from 1985 jump-started my obsession with popular music, inspiring me to buy dozens of my favourite ever LPs. I learned soon afterwards that the magazine had published an earlier list in 1974, and in those pre-internet days, tried hard to track it down. Eventually, somehow, and from somewhere I can’t quite remember (probably a Back Issues mail order advert), I managed to acquire a tatty old copy. Coming from a definitively post-punk perspective, I found the list somewhat exotic, sometimes horrifying, but always intriguing. I dug it out recently in order to generate some discussion on social media, and – at Philip Downer’s suggestion – agreed to invite a range of music nuts, (writers, musicians, fans) to re-imagine the list today, restricting their choices to albums released before 1st January 1974. The response was surprisingly instantaneous.

Is the ‘canon’ dead?

November 11th: It’s very late in the evening. I should be in bed. I’m rustling through dog-eared scraps of paper pinning scores to roughly alphabeticised lists of albums. I wouldn’t say that I don’t trust computers, but I certainly don’t have confidence that mine will last the pace, so it’s safer this way. I’m on around my fifteenth or sixteenth list (sixty three to go), and already I’m recording the second nomination for Ralf & Florian and the third for Clube da Esquina. I’m thrilled, and for a brief moment believe that, rather than this being an exercise in great folly, what in fact will emerge from this painstaking endeavour will be the greatest list of albums I’ve ever seen. But neither Ralf & Florian nor Clube Da Esquina receive another vote. People are messaging me on Twitter, wanting to amend their selections. I am reassured by their uber-enthusiasm for the task. I’m about 40 votes in before I do a little counting – I can’t stand the suspense – convinced as I am that the tired old ‘canon’ is on its way out. But then I notice that the old favourites have not only started to creep into contention, but have relentlessly and ruthlessly gobbled up and spat out all the quirky curios and cult favourites that have caught my eye, the inclusion of which has made this such a pleasurable process.

And that perhaps is the inevitability of the block vote: there are still some interesting variations here (only 39 survive the original ’74 poll), but the end result is something that looks not unlike the ’95 Mojo poll, and in some ways makes the list of those ranked between 101-200 resemble a ZigZag poll from the mid-70s, peppered as it is with offerings by Jim Sullivan, Bill Fay, The Millenium, White Noise, Silver Apples and Amon Duul 2. As far as the quota ranked at 700 or lower is concerned, it looks a little like a cohort of refugees escaping from a Wire poll, and for some the more interesting things will undoubtedly be happening further down the list.

I make no claim for this to be regarded a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of the period – it could not pretend to be and was never intended to be. Naturally, the people we correspond with on social media often have similar tastes and so while the album which topped the poll may be a moderately surprising choice to some, if you think about the context, it may well be less surprising than you think. I did try to cast the net of contributors as far and wide as possible, and it brought me great satisfaction to read lists which consistently bore witness to the passion, wisdom and broad perspectives of their compilers, each of whom I’m very grateful to, and who are listed at the end of this article.

Anyway, hope you enjoy reading. Let us know what you think. I’m still reeling from Tim Buckley’s Happy Sad ranking a lowly 101st!

[I will post numbers 101-200 at a later date, and perhaps a post-1974 poll may be in order at some point in the future. Watch this space.] (JJ)

100. The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark (A&M, 1968)

99. Starsailor – Tim Buckley (Straight, 1970)

98. Led Zeppelin IV ( Atlantic, 1971)

97. Something / Anything – Todd Rundgren (Bearsville, 1971)

96. Dark Side Of The Moon – Pink Floyd (Harvest, 1973)

95. The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter – The Incredible String Band (Elektra, 1968)

94. Journey Into Satchidananda – Alice Coltrane (Impulse, 1971)

93. The United States Of America (Columbia, 1968)

92. American Beauty- The Grateful Dead (Warner Bros, 1970)

91. Aladdin Sane – David Bowie (RCA, 1973)

90. Chelsea Girl – Nico (MGM/Verve, 1967)

89. Small Faces (Decca, 1966)

88. In The Court Of The Crimson King – King Crimson (Island, 1969)

87. Axis: Bold As Love – The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Track, 1967)

86. Future Days – Can (United Artists, 1973)

85. Are You Experienced – The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Track, 1967)

84. Judee Sill (Asylum, 1971)

83. Roxy Music (Island, 1972)

82. John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band (Apple, 1970)

81. Liege & Lief – Fairport Convention (Island, 1969)

80. Arthur Or The Decline & Fall Of The British Empire – The Kinks (Pye, 1969)

79. John Wesley Harding – Bob Dylan (Columbia, 1967)

78. Heart Food – Judee Sill (Asylum, 1973)

77. Bitches Brew – Miles Davis (Columbia, 1970)

76. Safe As Milk – Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band (Buddah, 1967)

75. Who Sell Out – The Who (Track, 1967)

74. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (Parlophone, 1967)

73. Trout Mask Replica – Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band (Straight, 1969)

72. Innervisions – Stevie Wonder (Tamla Motown, 1973)

71. Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake – Small Faces (Immediate, 1968)

70. Ege Bamyasi – Can (United Artists, 1972)

69. The Madcap Laughs – Syd Barrett (Harvest, 1970)

68. Berlin – Lou Reed (RCA, 1973)

67. In A Silent Way – Miles Davis (Columbia, 1969)

66. Neu! (Brain, 1972)

65. Maggot Brain – Funkadelic (Westbound, 1971)

64. If Only I Could Remember My Name – David Crosby (Atlantic, 1971)

63. The Doors (Elektra, 1967)

62. Transformer – Lou Reed (RCA, 1972)

61. For Your Pleasure – Roxy Music (Island, 1973)

60. Curtis – Curtis Mayfield (Curtom, 1970)

59. Electric Warrior – T. Rex (Fly, 1971)

58. Let It Bleed – The Rolling Stones (Decca, 1969)

57. Songs Of Leonard Cohen (Columbia, 1967)

56. Gris-Gris: The Night Tripper – Dr. John (Atco, 1968)

55. Histoire De Melody Nelson – Serge Gainsbourg (Philips, 1971)

54. Scott 3 – Scott Walker (Philips, 1969)

53. White Light / White Heat – The Velvet Underground (MGM / Verve, 1967)

52. Electric Ladyland – The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Track, 1968)

51. Otis Blue – Otis Redding (Atco, 1966)

50. The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators (International Artists, 1966)

49. A Love Supreme – John Coltrane (Impulse!, 1965)

48. Abbey Road – The Beatles (Apple, 1969)

47. Kick Out The Jams – MC5 (Elektra, 1969)

46. Tago Mago – Can (United Artists, 1971)

45. Bringing It All Back Home – Bob Dylan (Columbia, 1965)

44. Who’s Next – The Who (Track, 1971)

43. Pink Moon – Nick Drake (Island, 1972)

42. Surf’s Up – The Beach Boys (Brother, 1971)

41. Loaded – The Velvet Underground (Cotillion, 1970)

40. Something Else By The Kinks – The Kinks (Pye, 1967)

39. Buffalo Springfield Again – Buffalo Springfield (Atco, 1967)

38. Sticky Fingers – The Rolling Stones (Rolling Stones, 1971)

37. Easter Everywhere – The 13th Floor Elevators (International Artists, 1967)

36. Exile On Main Street – The Rolling Stones (Rolling Stones, 1972)

35. After The Gold Rush – Neil Young (Reprise, 1970)

34. Five Leaves Left – Nick Drake (Island, 1969)

33. Piper At The Gates Of Dawn – Pink Floyd (EMI, 1967)

32. Bryter Layter – Nick Drake (Island, 1970)

31. The Band (Capitol, 1969)

30. Dusty In Memphis – Dusty Springfield (Atlantic, 1969)

29. Kind Of Blue – Miles Davis (Columbia, 1959)

28. Paris 1919 – John Cale (Reprise, 1973)

27. Younger Than Yesterday – The Byrds (Columbia, 1967)

26. There’s A Riot Goin’ On – Sly & The Family Stone (Columbia, 1971)

25. Blue – Joni Mitchell (Reprise, 1971)

24. The Stooges (Elektra, 1969)

23. The Gilded Palace Of Sin – The Flying Burrito Bros (A&M, 1969)

22. Raw Power – Iggy & The Stooges (Columbia, 1973)

21. Rubber Soul – The Beatles (Parlophone, 1965)

20. Beggars Banquet – The Rolling Stones (Decca, 1968)

19. The Notorious Byrd Bros – The Byrds (Columbia, 1968)

18. The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars – David Bowie (RCA, 1972)

17. Fun House – The Stooges (Elektra, 1970)

16. Odessey & Oracle – The Zombies (CBS, 1967)

15. Scott 4 – Scott Walker (Philips, 1969)

14. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – Neil Young & Crazy Horse (Reprise, 1969)

13. The Beatles (Apple, 1968)

12. Hunky Dory – David Bowie (RCA/Victor, 1971)

11. No. 1 Record – Big Star (Ardent / Stax, 1972)

10. Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan (Columbia, 1965)

9. The Village Green Preservation Society – The Kinks (Pye, 1968)

8. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye (Tamla Motown, 1971)

7. The Velvet Underground (MGM, 1969)

6. Blonde On Blonde – Bob Dylan (Columbia, 1966)

5. Astral Weeks – Van Morrison (Warner Bros, 1968)

4. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys (Capitol, 1966)

3. Revolver – The Beatles (Parlophone, 1966)

2. The Velvet Underground & Nico (MGM / Verve, 1967)

1. Forever Changes – Love (Elektra, 1967)


Many Thanks to all who agonised and sweated blood before submitting their contributions to the poll:

Camilla Aisa, Andy (Birmingham ’81), Michael Bailey (Soft Hearted Scientists), Caroline Binnie, Nick Blakey (Underground Jukebox), Stephen Boyd, Holly Boyd, Mark Brend, Johnny Browning, Colin Brunton, Robert Century, Rob Chapman, Si Cole, Stuart Cosgrove, Jon Dennis, Mick Derrick, John Dickie, Philip Downer, Spender Downes, Vincent Driscoll, Matthew Edwards, Russell Elder, Liam Elliott, Matt Elliott, Declan Flanagan, Paul Gallagher, Gary (Captain Howdy), Ash Grace, Andrew Hall, Oliver Hawthorn, Greg Healey, Mark Hillier, Robert Hodgens, Sophie Jay, Johnnie Johnstone, Peter Johnstone, Allan Jones, Harris King, Graham Kingsbury, Blair Liddell, Paul Lowman, Gary Mackenzie, Gavin Martin, Stewart May, Stephen McAuley, Ryan McCullough, Grant McPhee, Fiona McQuarrie, John Medd, Andy Miller, Rob Morgan, Tony Mulraney, Jason Myles, Jeremy Neal, Kris Needs, Ingrid Neimanis (Neon Brambles), Thomas Patterson, Nick Portnell, Johnny Purcell, Mark Raison, Peter Rice, Don Richmond, Matt Rogers, Marco Rossi, Martin Ruddock, Chris Sawle, Jason Spence, Arthur David Spota, Theo Stockman, David Tanner, Huw Thomas, Daniel Thompson, James Timoney, Terry Tochel, Sughosh Varadarajan, Denis Version, Judah Warsky, Stevie Watt, Sandy Wishart.

Appendix: 101-200

101. Happy Sad – Tim Buckley

102. Talking Book- Stevie Wonder

103. Countdown To Ecstasy – Steely Dan

104. Goodbye & Hello – Tim Buckley

105. Gene Clark & The Godsin Brothers – Gene Clark

106. Hot Buttered Soul – Isaac Hayes

107. Cosmo’s Factory – Creedence Clearwater Revival

108. Songs Of Love & Hate – Leonard Cohen

109. Songs Of Innocence – David Axelrod

110. The Man Who Sold The World – David Bowie

111. 5D (Fifth Dimension) – The Byrds

112. Pieces Of A Man – Gil Scott-Heron

113. Os Mutantes – Os Mutantes

114. GP – Gram Parsons

115. New York Tendaberry – Laura Nyro

116. Here Come The Warm Jets – Eno

117. Quadrophenia – The Who

118. Every Picture Tells A Story – Rod Stewart

119. Bookends – Simon & Garfunkel

120. From Elvis In a Memphis – Elvis Presley

121. Just Another Diamond Day – Vashti Bunyan

122. Help! – The Beatles

123. I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You) – Aretha Franklin

124. All Things Must Pass – George Harrison

125. Crosby Stills & Nash – Crosby Stills & Nash

126. Giant Steps – John Coltrane

127. Bill Fay – Bill Fay

128. New York Dolls – New York Dolls

129. Aerial Ballet – Nilsson

130. Nashville Skyline – Bob Dylan

131. Head – The Monkees

132. Begin – The Millenium

133. Moby Grape – Moby Grape

134. New Morning – Bob Dylan

135. Disraeli Gears – Cream

136. Clear Spot – Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band

137. Led Zeppelin III – Led Zepoelin

138. Bert Jansch – Bert Jansch

139. Silver Apples – Silver Apples

140. Nancy & Lee – Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood

141. Meddle – Pink Floyd

142. Original Soundtrack – The Harder They Come

143. Mott – Mott The Hoople

144. Oar – Alexander ‘Skip’ Spence

145. A Wizard A True Star – Todd Rundgren

146. The Marble Index – Nico

147. An Electric Storm – White Noise

148. Their Satanic Majesties Request – The Rolling Stones

149. Clube Da Esquina – Milton Nascimento / Lo Borges

150. Roots – Curtis Mayfield

151. Live At The Apollo – James Brown

152. Scott – Scott Walker

153. Aftermath – The Rolling Stones

154. Headquarters – The Monkees

155. Sunflower – The Beach Boys

156. Blue Afternoon – Tim Buckley

157. Walk Away Renee / Pretty Ballerina – The Left Banke

158. Love – Love

159. Tim Hardin 1 – Tim Hardin

160. Closing Time – Tom Waits

161. Present Tense – Sagittarius

162. Basket Of Light – Pentangle

163. Tim Hardin 2 – Tim Hardin 2

164. Underground- The Electric Prunes

165. Watertown – Frank Sinatra

166. Band On The Run – Wings

167. Sketches Of Spain – Miles Davis

168. Wee Tam & The Big Huge – The Incredible String Band

169. Surrealistic Pillow – Jefferson Airplane

170. Sunshine Superman – Donovan

171. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon & Garfunkel

172. Between The Buttons – The Rolling Stones

173. Live At The Star Club – Jerry Lee Lewis

174. Gonna Take A Miracle – Laura Nyro & Labelle

175. Back To The World – Curtis Mayfield

176. Solid Air – John Martyn

177. Dixie Chicken – Little Feat

178. Here’s Little Richard – Little Richard

179. Face To Face – The Kinks

180. Mr. Tambourine Man – The Byrds

181. Lady Soul – Aretha Franklin

182. Moondance – Van Morrison

183. A Hard Days Night – The Beatles

184. UFO – Jim Sullivan

185. Unicorn – Tyrannosaurus Rex

186. Pawn Hearts – Van Der Graaf Generator

187. Spooky Two – Spooky Tooth

188. Requiem For An Almost Lady – Lee Hazlewood

189. Yeti – Amon Duul 2

190. Goats Head Soup – The Rolling Stones

191. Moondog – Moondog

192. Space Ritual – Hawkwind

193. Superfly – Curtis Mayfield

194. SF Sorrow – The Pretty Things

195. Various Artists – Nuggets (Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era, 1965-68)

196. Aqualung – Jethro Tull

197. Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround Vol. 1 – The Kinks

198. Deja VU – Crosby Stills Nash & Young

199. In The Land Of Grey And Pink – Caravan

200. Call Me – Al Green


Folk/ Folk-Rock, Greatest Records, Singer-Songwriter

When I started out buying records, it was a fairly lonely process. There were a few books and greatest albums lists I used as reference points but for the first year or so, I didn’t speak to anyone at all. Any friends I had listened to U2, Simple Minds and that was about it. I spent virtually every penny I had accumulating vinyl, the ritual absorbing me completely, then just lay on my bed secretly enjoying the discoveries I’d made.

I got talking to someone I recognised from school at a football match one Saturday, and was invited round to his house the following week to borrow some LPs. I thought he had perhaps exaggerated, but when I got there, I met with an Aladdin’s Cave of delights. I recall my heart racing as I headed home with a bundle of LPs tucked under my arm, including albums by The Electric Prunes, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Jonathan Richman, Buffalo Springfield, Wire and Orange Juice. It was a life-changing moment. That there were other people who appreciated the kind of music I loved was reassuring, but now suddenly I would have access to all these wonderful sounds I had only read about.

A few years down the line, my friend and I were gradually finding we had less in common than we had at first, and when he began to extol the virtues of the latest Deacon Blue album I knew the small batch of albums I was returning to him would be the last. By then I had other friends whose discernment of all things musical I trusted more, yet I remain eternally grateful to him for being an important part of my musical education.

At the bottom of that original pile of borrowed records had been the first Leonard Cohen album. It was probably the last one I took out of its sleeve. It didn’t look psychedelic, punk or sufficiently interesting enough to bother with, but there was something mysterious about the sepia-tinted portrait on the sleeve. The photograph looked like it could have been taken in 1902. I had never heard of Cohen before and my first thought was that he looked like a young Al Pacino. Upon first listen its cryptic poetry, set to some largely uninspiring folk guitar, completely failed to register. Nevertheless, like everything else I borrowed at the time, it was quickly copied onto one side of a C90 cassette, for which I made a little cover with a Canadian maple leaf on it before shelving it (After The Gold Rush took up the 45 minutes on the other side). As autumn began, in a moment of boredom I played the album again. By the time winter had arrived I was playing little else.

To this day, it remains one of my all-time favourite records and so I am always mystified by Cohen’s absence from greatest albums lists. I tend to attribute this oversight to the steadfast unrock’n’roll-ness of his stage persona, and the fact he was in his mid-thirties before he recorded his first album. To paraphrase Joseph Cotten in Citizen Kane, he “was always too old.” Perhaps others simply find him too depressing or pretentious. But as a wordsmith Cohen was incomparable. In fact using that expression seems wholly inadequate. After all by 1967, he was a well established author of two novels and several volumes of poetry before deciding that the best vehicle for its expression was through music.

It is not always easy to deconstruct the meaning of his songs – they are so richly nuanced and highly personal – it can somehow seem a disservice to try at all. Take ‘Suzanne’ for instance, a remarkable piece whose lyric Cohen laboured over for four to five months in order to ensure each word ended up in its proper place. “I’m really in the middle of writing a wonderful song and I never said that before or since to anybody” he told Sam Gesser, a Montreal producer in 1966. Composed after he had first met Suzanne Verdal, a dancer he had already written poems about, and inspired by a visit he made to her loft apartment near the St. Lawrence river in Montreal, the language is unabashedly poetic, precise yet oblique, mysterious and arresting, and the voice so quietly hypnotic that it draws you inexorably into the unbearable beauty of his verse. He first played the song tentatively to Mary Martin who would go on to become his manager, after which he visited Judy Collins whose approval he sought, singing for her several of his compositions, amongst them ‘Suzanne’. Collins was instantly smitten with it and recorded the song for her ’66 outing In My Life. Leonard was thrilled and it provided him with the confidence to perform his songs in public for the first time (30th April ’67. He froze during the first song and walked off stage)

Collins would record three more of Cohen’s songs on her next album, by which time Mary Martin has secured for him a deal with Columbia Records, whose A&R chief executive John Hammond was immediately won over. “Leonard had his own rules and was an original” he said. Cohen entered Columbia’s Studio E on 52nd Street before the ink on the contract had had time to dry. He had never set foot in a recording studio before and – conscious of his own technical shortcomings – was overawed by the proficiency of the session musicians hired to accompany him. He burned candles and incense to build the appropriate atmosphere for the songs, then requested a mirror be placed between himself and the other musicians, so that he could watch himself as he played. The bass player Willie Ruff had an innate understanding of the songs and Cohen was able to struggle through the recordings with Ruff’s gentle encouragement providing the spur, recording ‘Suzanne’, ‘Sisters Of Mercy’, ‘Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’ and ‘Master Song’ during the very first session.

Leonard was determined to avoid overworking the material, a task which became harder when Hammond fell ill and John Simon took over as producer. He and Cohen had sharply contrasting ideas about how the songs should be arranged. Simon added strings and horns to them and on ‘Suzanne’, even piano and drums. These were later removed by the singer who alluded to the tension in the note on the lyric sheet: “The songs and the arrangements were introduced. They felt some affection for one another but because of a blood feud, they were forbidden to marry. Nevertheless, the arrangements wished to throw a party. The songs preferred to retreat behind a veil of satire.” The melodies, deceptively simple on the surface, contained some fairly unorthodox key changes and timings such as on ‘Stories Of The Street’, where Cohen recalled the sense of dislocation he experienced during his early days in NYC (“I lean from my window sill / In this old hotel I chose / One hand on my suicide / One hand on the rose”) and ‘Sisters Of Mercy’ where the company provided him by two hitchhikers he allowed to stay in his Edmonton hotel room during a blizzard was mirrored here by the delightful addition of calliope and bells. This Simon got right, perhaps more so than the backing chorus on ‘So Long Marianne’, which nevertheless remains one of his most enduring songs. The recent BBC documentary about the love affair between Leonard and his muse (Marianne Ihlen) was a genuinely moving piece of filmmaking, which demonstrated great compassion for its subjects. Observing them drift in and out of one another’s lives, the intervals between growing in length, the distance apart expanding was heartbreaking to behold. But breathing in the atmosphere of Hydra in the early ’60s helped provide greater insight into the mind of the author and the world from which these songs were conceived. It’s a song of its time and yet for all time. In the ’70s Cohen sang it on stage under the influence of LSD, and a vision of Marianne materialised before him. He turned away from the audience sobbing to find each member of the band behind him also in tears. Think of that next time you listen to it.

Then there was the dark rolling lines of ‘The Stranger Song’, it’s confessional pessimism filled with such ‘stop you in your tracks’ verses as: “And then sweeping up the jokers that he left behind / You find he did not leave you very much, not even laughter / Like any dealer, he was watching for the card / That is so high and wild
He’ll never need to deal another”, and then of course there’s the maniacal wail at the end of the closing track ‘One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong’. Individually the songs are masterful portraits, collectively a gallery of riches.

When the album appeared in it’s final form, Simon’s arrangements could not overwhelm the delicacy of the verse. Cohen’s final mix jettisoned much of what he deemed unnecessary. Bring the whole world inside and the house might fall down. Cohen knew his own songs and what they needed, but some of Simon’s embellishments could not be erased from the original four-track master tape. On his next album the arrangements would be stripped back even further. The reviews were not entirely positive with many accusing the singer of being self-absorbed, depressive or pseudo-intellectual – the kind of charges which were continually levelled at him throughout his career. But there’s nothing to fear with a little erudition when it comes to writing pop lyrics, and these songs are little miracles, and a match for anything written by Dylan, Lou Reed or Joni Mitchell. Oh, the treasures you find at the bottom of the pile. (JJ)

133. SETTING SONS – THE JAM (1979)

Greatest Records

We’ve heard a lot in recent years about the prescience of Radiohead’s OK Computer. It captured a very precise pre-millennial moment, released right at the, as yet unsullied by military action, start of the Blair era, immediately before Diana’s death and the referendums that brought devolution to Scotland and Wales. But it also cast an unwavering retina on the burgeoning expansion of the internet; if Harold Wilson proclaimed a technological revolution of “white heat” before he reached Downing Street, the one at the time of his successor’s
arrival would soon be something akin to the surface of the sun.

As musicians often admit, sometimes ruefully, once a record is out, it ceases to be their property and how it is perceived and deployed passes far beyond their control, and so it was that OK Computer became not just a soundtrack but an accessory to, and commodity of, the lifestyle lampooned in the speak-your-salary Fitter Happier. But – to the point – while the technology-induced paranoia, dependency and delusion depicted by the album has made more  sense in each of the 22 (how?!) years since it emerged, its prescience doesn’t begin to come close to Setting Sons, a record whose time has, after 40 years, come again in the 2010s.

Agonisingly, frustratingly, tragically regrettably.

Paul Weller’s idea of an album based around the theme of friends ending up on opposite sides of a civil war seemed fanciful in 1979 – but not that much, particularly as it’s also a starting point for broader themes of growing apart, shifting priorities, transformed ideals. The incipient Thatcher era was already unleashing its defining themes of industrial attrition, atomised communities and fiscal despair, while extremism as insidious as dry rot and ten times as pernicious was making its beery, bilious countenance known on marches, on football terrace, at gigs; the Jam seem to have escaped the worst but many of their contemporaries and successors – from the Specials to Madness to Sham 69 – saw the pantomime of bigotry performed below them in their audience, even though, despite appearances in some cases, it wasn’t something any of them actively courted.

Such was the clenched, touchpaper-ready environment Setting Sons entered in November 1979. Around half of the songs were migrants from Weller’s storyboard (not for the first time, but possibly the last, there was a parallel with the Who; Who’s Next was partly made up of excerpts from Pete Townshend’s internet-prophesying song cycle Lifehouse). Some of the rest didn’t feed into the story but are still yeast-smeared slices of life that act as a sub-plot and add further frames to the album’s depiction, not so much of the state of the nation as a nation in a state.

Thick As Thieves reflects on friends – maybe two, maybe more – who might not be literally light-fingered but, in the true meaning of the simile, are closely bonded – and pilfering from the unlikeliest of targets, from “the drink that made us sick,” “autumn leaves and summer showers” “the burning sun in the open sky” but at every turn, with every new theft on an even grander scale, “it wasn’t enough/and now we’ve gone and spoiled everything.” The approach is typically muscular and visceral Jam – thanks in no small part to the adroit, thoroughgoing and to this day undervalued rhythm section of Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler – but this only partially disguises the rueful lyric and an emotive melody, which breaks cover when Weller stays his guitar hand and delivers one of his most poignant lines: “We stole the silent wind that says you are free.” Then the commotion resumes and the parting is complete: “We’re no longer as thick as thieves, no/We’re not as thick as we used to be.” Conclusion is reached with a three-chord figure repeated twice; a lesser band would have bludgeoned us with it another four times to make sure we got the point but the Jam had an economy and lightness of touch that their legions of imitators would still be attempting to figure out today.

The original story emerges more explicitly on Little Boy Soldiers, a compressed epic in approximately four movements which owes a good deal less to Bohemian Rhapsody than to Buffalo Springfield’s Broken Arrow. The comparison would probably have found little favour with Weller – and most Jam fans –  at the time (Neil Young? That fa’in’ hippy?! Don’t think so, mate) but the way his narrator berates the politicians who have summoned him to do their bidding (“Why the attention now you want my assistance?/What have you done for me?/You’ve gone and got yourself in trouble/And now you want me to help you out”) could have come from any number of ‘Nam-damning diatribes of a decade earlier.
But a (very British?) resignation prevails and battle commences – it could be any battle, any war, the vicious quagmire that the ‘big picnic’ of the first world war proved to be, the imperial death rattle of the Boer War (as depicted on the label on the vinyl album’s side two), even the Crimea or Waterloo. There, we hear cannon fire, Buckler’s military tattoo and Weller strumming hastily as if he really were in a trench and it really could be the last thing he does, as he presents the officer class’ side of the story: “Think of honour, queen and country/You’re a blessed son of the British Empire/God’s on our side and so is Washington.” Cut to, for the first and only time on the album, an acoustic guitar, and Weller whispering to a future generation “a tale of how goodness prevailed” before he’s cut short by Foxton’s bass volley and a heads-down charge to the cruel, if inevitable conclusion, set to another throat-blocking melody: “They’ll send you home in a pine overcoat/With a letter to your mum/ Saying: Find enclosed one son, one medal and a note to say he won.” There were innumerable letters; this is just one of them.

Woodwind has always had a needlessly fraught relationship with rock music. The oboe gets a pass, through the collective endeavours of Andy Mackay, Amanda Brown and Kate St John but consider the ocarina in Wild Thing, the recorder in Satellite of Love and the flute in Moonage Daydream, all of which don’t so much intrude as squat in the songs, gambolling tweely and frivolously as if a maypole had been installed. The strife continues on Setting Sons’ Wasteland, which used to close side one of Setting Sons, and it undermines almost fatally a desperate sketch of friends meeting at a tip which seems barely distinguishable from its surroundings. Weller recounts a polluted Kim’s Game, a grotesque Generation Game conveyor belt of detritus jettisoned from innocent lives: “The dirty linen, the holy Coca-Cola tins, the punctured footballs/The ragged dolls, the rusting bicycles.” Mostly items of play but that innocence has been banished: “We’ll smile but only for seconds/For to be caught smiling is to acknowledge life/A brave but useless show of compassion/And that is forbidden in this drab and colourless world.” It barely matters that these elegant, almost formal lines sit alongside the trite clunkers of: “Watch the rain fall/tumble and fall/like our lives/just like our lives.” The title inevitably invokes TS Eliot and, while the song’s spiritual reach is nowhere near the poem’s, it still achieves a touching resolution through a gently but assertively seesawing melody and the notion of holding hands which escalates swiftly but subtly and emotively from “maybe” to “probably” to “we’ll have to” – the type of almost imperceptible shift which doesn’t become apparent until after several listens.
Burning Sky is bookended by a couple of marginally corny bursts of cod-Eastern exoticism, perhaps alluding to the runaway success of  the Japanese economy, but in between it looks to the shorter-term future. It recounts, in the form of a letter, the misplaced pragmatism and condescension towards an estranged friend of what would soon be known as a yuppie. The blue serge glints and the Moet dribbles with each line as he offers his apologies for his social absence: “In any case, it wouldn’t be the same/’Cos we’ve all grown up and we’ve got our own lives/And the values we had once upon a time/Seem stupid now, ‘cos the rent must be paid/And some bonds severed and others made.” But that mention of rent, and the lament that, “the taxman’s shouting ‘cos he wants his dough/And the wheels of finance won’t begin to slow” suggest a doubt, a fragility, a sense that whatever the width of the lapel or the value in today’s money, this In The City slicker dwells in a castle built on sand that would subside time and time again – on Black Monday, on Black Wednesday, in the puncturing of the dotcom bubble and the crunching of the credit. A couple of years earlier, Burning Sky had, give or take a rock ‘n’ roll apostrophe, been the title of a Bad Company album; here it’s evidently a metaphor for a capitalist system that gives light and heat but takes far more and ultimately only scorches. Weller’s suit, for all his bravado, is plainly being ground down by it, one minute offering worship but the next lambasting it as “the greedy bastard who won’t give up.” The bluster of the verses is matched for lucidity by the chorus, which runs: “doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo/doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-oo-oo.” Musically, it’s as dextrous and granite-hewn on an album where these qualities abound but, once again, lets a chink of pathos through with the cadences on the closing line: “Then we’ll all be happy and we’ll all be wise/And together we will live beneath the burning sky.” A promise of happiness, wisdom, harmony  -things we’d all covet – but on the condition that we throw in our lot with the rat race.
Eton Rifles, then. By far their biggest hit to date, it made number three, after three consecutive singles (a mighty run of Down In The Tube Station At Midnight, Strange Town and When You’re Young) stalled in the mid-teens but the combined forces of Dr Hook and Queen barred its way to pole position. As the now told to death anecdote has it, Weller wrote this story of literal class warfare after hearing of Etonians braying at a Right To Work march as it passed their school; David Cameron, a pupil there at the time, would choose it among his Desert Island Discs while he was still leader of the opposition and before he took a short-term measure for the sake of his party which would have permanent consequences for his country. Weller, naturally, was incredulous and incadescent: “What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?” “I’d prefer the plague to the Eton Rifles.” Contrary to some evidence, a good deal of intelligence is required to make it to Downing Street yet somehow these sentiments sailed over Cameron’s straw-boatered bonce as he mourned that the left’s privilege of having all the best tunes. This particular one seethes with discontent and injustice, Foxton discharging single-note cannons throughout a coda which has a good crack at simulating the perilous disorder of battle, while the organ of Merton Parka Mick Talbot – Weller’s future Style Council adjunct – takes flight from enemy fire. As we’re often reminded, the new wave’s commercial impact was largely marginal; only a handful – the Pistols, Blondie, Costello and, at a push, the Police and Gary Numan –  had by this point invited themselves to the very highest reaches. Sales, of course, were not the point but they do go a long way towards helping to communicate a message and by now the Jam were, with the Clash and the Specials, the foremost chroniclers of an Albion getting more perfidious with each passing hour.
Those sub-plot songs are the equal of their counterparts for incision and empathy. The plight of women trapped in domesticity (I refuse to use the pernicious term “housewife”) has long been as much a stock subject for rock songs as touring or the socialite on their uppers (the Stones’ Mother’s Little Helper, the Kinks’ Two Sisters, Squeeze’s Woman’s World). There’s always an uneasy air of incomprehension and condescension – how much insight could Mick Jagger really have into the life of a struggling mother? – but Weller achieves real empathy and compassion on Private Hell. “The fingers feel the lines, they prod the space, your aging face/The face that once was so beautiful/Is still there but unrecognisable” may seem unflattering but her husband hardly comes off much better (“The man that you once loved/Is bald and fat/And seldom in/Working late as usual”) and there’s a genuine pathos in the depiction of her isolation even from her family (“Think of Edward, who’s still at college/You send him letters which he doesn’t acknowledge), excursions away from home which bring not freedom but exposure and agarophobia (“The shop windows reflect, play a nameless host to a closet ghost”) and the, literally, breaking point when, “alone at six o’clock,” she drops and smashes a cup, the small, isolated incident which brings the threat of the precipice. All to the most abrasive music on a record where pugnacity isn’t in short supply.
Smithers-Jones is convincingly Foxton’s best song and, as a study of Home Counties white collar misfortune, takes its place alongside the best not only of Weller but also Ray Davies. It could even be a sequel to Mr Clean, the further adventures of the very same prim-on-the-surface-nothing-close-below city drone ridiculed and threatened by Weller in that song on the previous year’s All Mod Cons. Foxton has a shade more empathy as he follows Smithers-Jones at the eager start of the working week (“Here we go again, it’s Monday at last”), diligent, at least outwardly respectable, politely rebuffing the advances of an unidentified evangelist and arriving in the offices just before the clock strikes nine – to be told he’s out on his ear. The last verse suggests his reaction is to make the most of it and keep a lid on the despair (“It’s time to relax now  you’ve worked your arse off/But the only one smiling is the suntanned boss”) but tellingly, it’s sung by Weller rather than Foxton, making it seem like a well-intentioned but crass, worse-things-happen-at-sea gee-up from a drinking mate. The song performs a quick-change artist’s routine three months on from its first appearance as the B-side of When You’re Young; there, it’s a fine, agile barnstorming band performance, like so many other Jam songs. On Setting Sons, with strings reigning supreme, it’s unlike anything they or practically any other new wave band had done up to this point. They took a step which had been unconscionable ever since Joey Ramone derided any notion of “flugelhorns and strings” a couple of years earlier (of course, the Ramones were about to issue End of the Century which, Spector-helmed as it was, had strings to spare). By issuing two diametrically opposed versions, they even did what the Beatles couldn’t or wouldn’t with Strawberry Fields Forever; with Lennon unable to choose between band and orchestral versions, George Martin was compelled to pull off one of his most extraordinary feats of studio derring-do by splicing the two together, despite them being at different tempos and in different keys. For the Jam and producer Vic (Copper) Smith (Heaven) to have done the same would have run the risk of mirroring Little Boy Soldiers too closely and anyway, traumatic as it can be, Waterloo station stands little comparison with the events at its battlefield namesake in 1815.

This leaves us with Saturday’s Kids, a musically slight but lyrically rich, almost Hogarth-like  tableau of small-town weekends which are unremarkable in themselves but incalculably essential to the sanity and survival of those involved, those who”live life with insults.” The vanished period detail tumbles like an off-balance Spacehopper rider – Lite-a-Bite, Woolworths, Babycham, Capstan Non-filters, Cortinas with fur-trimmed dashboards, baggy trousers – but this isn’t a Peter Kay stand-up show; for all its wit and good-natured delivery, it’s much more World In Action or Nationwide probing the lives of “the real creatures that time has forgot,” as Weller calls them at the one moment he lets anger into the song.  They would remain forgotten, their votes would be taken for granted, they would by extension be taken for granted themselves. Many would then choose to vote differently – and here we are in 2019.

The two least distinguished songs open and close the album, which at least brings a sense of unity to  the songs in between. Girl on the Phone could have been an opportunity to get into the mind of a stalker but Weller, a little worryingly, seems flattered by her unrelenting attention and the music is perfunctory. Only the closing couplet (“The girl on the phone keeps ringing back/She’s telling me this and she’s telling me that”) appears on the lyric sheet, underlining the song’s apparent status as an afterthought. The same applies to the cover of the Vandellas’ Heatwave – or, more precisely, the cover of the Who’s cover, which closes the album in a fit of bathos. It’s not bad, exactly, but it is almost completely pointless – there’s little of the verve and gusto they brought to their version of the Kinks’ David Watts a year earlier and, like much of Motown’s ’60s output, the Vandellas’ version is close to unimprovable, so why the Who, let alone the Jam,  attempted it is unclear, even as an undoubtedly sincere homage. Furthermore,  it’s a retrograde step – with the Jam scaling towerblock-high peaks of their own, you’d have thought they’d finally have got out of their system the youthful fixation which even led them to do the Batman theme on their 1977 debut In The City – Just Like The ‘Oo Once Did. Instead, they sound like they’re back at the Red Cow in Hammersmith, pulling out an incongrous and surely unnecessary filler to get the album over the half-hour line.

But quibbles be silenced. Setting Sons caught the Jam in the very middle of their time of magic, a patch as purple as any, heightened a few months later when Going Underground pulled off the then-rare feat of entering at number one. For a year and a half, like many British youths, I had been  scribbling down the top 40 when Paul Burnett announced it at Tuesday lunchtimes on Radio 1; having decided some time earlier that I would retire when my spiral notebook was full, it was a glorious moment to be signing off: 1. Going Underground – The Jam (-) and to editorialise with a parenthetical ‘yeees’ while Liquid Gold and Rainbow languished  far below.

I’ve always felt that the Jam and two of my other favourite bands, the Velvet Underground and Echo and the Bunnymen, followed similar trajectories. Each followed a dense, complex, unimpeachable masterpiece (All Mod Cons, Banana, Heaven Up Here) with a record of overpowering intensity (Setting Sons, White Light/White Heat, Porcupine) and then something much calmer and more reflective, like a cooling  rain shower (Sound Affects, Third, Ocean Rain). Finally came albums which had some of each band’s strongest individual moments but which lacked real cohesion and would prove to be, temporarily at least, swansongs, (The Gift, Loaded, ‘Grey album’). Weller has since, with the Style Council and solo but, laudably, never with a reformed Jam, followed a path that has been capricious, often obdurate, as predictable on some occasions as unpredictable on others, sometimes tedious but rarely without value.

He’s always been least interesting when, paradoxically, he’s been most and least politically engaged. The well-intentioned but ill-fated Red Wedge venture of the mid-’80s was explicitly, capital P Political, at least as much specifically opposed to one party as in support of another, and proved that, while it can be pulled off, something as unregulated and ungovernable as popular music at its best isn’t necessarily the best platform for inherently compromise-driven and inconsistent party politics. Within a decade, his music was almost entirely inward-looking, an understandable reaction to just how far those political compromises and inconsistencies had taken hold, but what was left was a philosophy which appeared to amount pretty much to “I just believe in me, man” and the sound of barbecue-and-cider personal contentment which is a fine state to aspire to but seldom makes for gripping music.

A reawakened musical curiosity and a set of external circumstances impossible not to respond to have rekindled a good deal of his musical and political ardour in recent years but it’s never been more eloquent, more discerningly furious or more torrentialy compassionate than on Setting Sons, a record that’s relevant today as at any time in the past 40 years. I wish it wasn’t, though (PG).


Greatest Records

I think it was Charles Shaar Murray who once penned a pithy one word ‘review’ of Lee Hazlewood’s 1974 album Poet Fool Or Bum. I suppose the content of that review is hardly a mystery and it’s fair to say that at times Hazlewood cultivated that aspect of his character to his own advantage.

Take for instance ‘My Autumn’s Done Come’ an exquisitely supine moment from his fourth solo outing The Very Special World Of Lee Hazlewood. Not yet half way through his life, here was a man whose body appeared filled with lead, and whose mind, reeking of Chivas Regal and Marlboro, was wasting away endless days on a hammock. “Kiss all the pretty ones goodbye / Give everyone a penny that cry / You can throw all my tranquil’ pills away / Let my blood pressure go on its way / For my autumn’s done come.” Nothing to do, nothing to live for. It’s certainly an evocative piece. One can imagine him relinquishing those loaded heels onto the earth, the dustcloud wafting skywards the perfect companion to the glorious weightlessness of the melody. Bum.

A leathery baritone with neither the luxurious glaze of Sinatra nor the passion, poise or gravitas of Scott Walker – but a match for Cohen or Cash in its lugubrious familiarity – Hazlewood was busier than it might have seemed. Indeed, by 1966 he was undoubtedly a veteran of the music business. From his early collaborations with Duane Eddy in the mid-‘50s, he had composed dozens of songs – some for movies – and had made a penny or two writing hits for the likes of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. He had recorded three solo albums of unremarkable country music. Each had bombed. But it was his partnership with Sinatra’s daughter Nancy which brought him to international prominence, and his authorship of their runaway smash ‘These Boots Were Made For Walking’ which yielded more tantalising opportunities: first of all it sealed him a contract with MGM, but it also ultimately enabled him to establish his own label, Lee Hazlewood Industries. At LHI he oversaw the emergence of Gram Parsons’ fledgling International Submarine Band as well as producing dozens of records for up and coming younger artists, few of which were, by then, as successful as those under his name. After three LPs with MGM, his later ‘60s albums would appear on his own label, two of which, the soundtrack to the surreal dreamlike television special Cowboy In Sweden and the stark and mournful (or completely self-indulgent, depending upon one’s mood) Requiem For An Almost Lady would have been be equally worthy inclusions in TNPC. 

The case for choosing Very Special World over the others seems straightforward enough. Many of the songs, such as the dizzily hysterical opener ‘For One Moment’ benefit from Billy Strange’s superb orchestral accompaniment, the big sound one might have expected to hear on contemporaneous records by Gene Pitney or The Righteous Brothers, and which here provides the perfect antithesis to Lee’s deadpan miserabilism. “Big expensive demos”‘ Hazlewood called them. He had something of a way with words. How about about that for an opening couplet?: “The hurt I hurt is nothing like the hurts I’ve hurt before/ The things I feel do not feel like things I’ve felt before.” Poet.

In stark contrast, while the heartbreak stories continue on ‘When A Fool Loves A Fool’, on this occasion the emotional rupture is paralleled by a comedically jaunty melody (as if Herb Alpert has knocked up some gag accompaniment for The Benny Hill Show) racing furiously in the opposite direction from the solemn sentiment.

Here as elsewhere on the album, Hazlewood is ably abetted by incredibly versatile playing from the Wrecking Crew (Knetchel, Kaye, Blaine et al), and there are marvellous moments aplenty. The ticklish Jobim-like bossa nova of ‘Not The Lovin’ Kind’ is barely whispered, and this time reveals a man in total control, effortlessly keeping the feminine interest at arms length. And if his own version of ‘Boots’ turns into a self-congratulatory smugfest, he makes amends with the wandering travelogue ‘I Move Around’ and the epic smouldering ‘Sand’, adopting the slightly camp persona of guitar-slinging outlaw – here the vocal accompaniment provided by the woman who would break his heart, the muse for many of his most forlorn moments, Suzi Jane Hokom. The song – like many on the album – would be made more famous by others: this one appeared as a 45 with Nancy Sinatra and featured on the ’68 Nancy & Lee album, the knowing innocence of Nancy’s delivery making Suzi’s contribution sound matronly but simultaneously majestic.

Strange’s string arrangements are drowning in opulence on the marvellous redemptive ballad ‘Your Sweet Love’, but instead of roses and love letters it’s broken hearts which are being bartered on ‘My Baby Cried All Night Long’, which resurrects the avenging karma of ‘Boots’, loaded once again with Lee’s boozy barfly humour: “And the moral of this story is that you shouldn’t be caught messin’ / Where you shouldn’t been messin’ or you’ll end up cryin’ all night long.” Fool.

Hazlewood succumbed to renal cancer in 2007. He leaves behind a superb body of work, which despite his unapologetic claim (“The only thing I listen to is my bank account”), has entertained and influenced generations of musicians, and a biography written by longtime confidante Wyndham Wallace, Lee, Myself & I, which Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce declares to be one of only two books he’s ever read from cover to cover. Look up maverick in the dictionary- and there’ll be a photo of Lee there. Lee Hazlewood – Poet, Fool or Bum? I’d simply suggest ‘Very Special’

Running order:

The 1969 reissue, the sleeve of which us pictured above, contains a slightly different running order from the original issue, with ‘My Autumn’s Done Come’ closing the album out. Somehow I feel it suits being there a little better. (JJ)


Dub, Greatest Records, Reggae

Gibbs had been active in the JA music scene from the early ‘60s, working alongside Lee Perry and Bunny Lee as well as producing rocksteady hits for the likes of The Pioneers, The Heptones and The Ethiopians, but rose to international prominence with his production job on Nicky Thomas’ 1970 global top ten smash ‘Love Of The Common People’. An impressive résumé certainly, but one undoubtedly overshadowed by his ’70s partnership with engineer Errol (ET) Thompson (aka ‘The Mighty Two’) which – with the help of a crack team of session musicians aka The Professionals (Sly & Robbie & co) – delivered over 100 Jamaican chart toppers for a host of singers and DJs including Big Youth, Dennis Brown, Prince Far-I and Black Uhuru. Some of reggae’s most enduring albums such as Two Sevens Clash by Culture also bore his fingerprints, and along with Coxsone and Scratch he rightly competes for the title of greatest reggae producer of all.

However it is his groundbreaking ‘70s experiments in dub which lend his claim to that accolade the greatest weight. In particular his four volume African Dub Almighty series represents dub music at its most revelatory, with the third of those Chapters the pick of the bunch, a rival to King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown, Blackboard Jungle Dub and Pick A Dub as perhaps the key album of the genre.

The first two Chapters (from 1973 and 1974 respectively) were pioneering for the time, yet offered little clue as to what would come next. But four years was a long time during what was the most fertile period in reggae’s history, as Kingston rocked to the roots train, basked in the glory the Wailers’ international success, sweltered while DJs competed for dominance on the street corner sound systems and observed dreadlocks disappear into clouds of ganja smoke as the culture of Rastafari grew more fervent in the wake of Haile Sellassie’s removal as Emperor of Ethiopia.

By the mid-’70s dub had surged forward in its sonic development from the kind of primitive instrumental remixes and edits knocked out by Coxsone and Tubby initially as the most economical way of filling the B-Side of a 45, becoming latterly, far more experimental sonic excursions for increasingly enthusiastic audiences on club nights. Crucially for Gibbs however, in the intervening period (between Chapters Two and Three) he acquired a new 16-track recording studio and record pressing plant at Retirement Crescent. Tubbys by contrast had a mere four tracks and Thompson must have felt like a four year old let loose in a sweetie shop, although the first LP released after the move, State of Emergency, was not an especially significant step forward from Chapter Two – perhaps instead it merely served the purpose of allowing the duo to get their bearings and prepare for what was to come.

Some of the sounds and samples on Chapter Three will be familiar to you if you have at least some interest in reggae and dub music. For instance, the backing track to Jacob Miller’s ‘Baby I Love You So’ has been a much sampled dub staple and along with the echoed skanking guitar, provides the raw material for the album’s title track ‘Chapter Three’. But others almost defy description, so it is vital you give it a proper listen from beginning to end. There’s crazy stuff happening all over the place, not least on the aforementioned title track, where at one point it sounds as if a large grate has been removed from the earth, only to reveal a yawning pelagic catacomb; later in the same track, could that be a double decker bus or another HGV grinding abruptly to a halt?

Lloyd Bradley in his superb history of the genre, Bass Culture, devotes a few pages to ‘Tribesman Rockers’ an otherworldly borrowing of ‘Why Do Birds Follow Spring’ by Alton Ellis, where channels shift and screech over horns, flutes and digital bleeps and squeals which sound like they’ve come from some futuristic arcade game.

For good measure, leavened into the mix on ‘Freedom Call Dub’ are some Clangers-style recorder and insanely distorted UFO sound effects, while the guitar groove on ‘Jubilation Dub’ seems to tailspin off the edge of a cliff beneath some seriously phat bass, the whole thing descending into anarchy, the dial grips on that mixing desk having a house party to themselves. Elsewhere, door bells ring, sirens blare and water pools bubble and froth. One’s head begins to melt.

Best of all is ‘Angolian Chant’ – a heavyweight twist on Dennis Brown’s gorgeous ‘Love Me Always’ reinterpreted as “I wanna dub you, dub you always” – with the sustain on Brown’s “wooh-ooh-ooh-ooh” a stroke of genius, the work of a master engineer, one who understands how to fasten divergent musical fragments together, drape silent shrouds over familiar rhythms and brush and polish others until they gleam anew, radically reinventing with echo, splice and overdub.

Lloyd Bradley identifies parallels between dub and the African beliefs and practices which migrated to Jamaica known as obeah, which divides the body into seven centres or selves (eg digestive system, respiratory system, the brain) and prescribes herbs and potions in order to bring forward, push back or heal and realign those different aspects. Bradley noted how the best dub contains those medicinal even magical qualities, excavating, transfiguring, purifying, shredding, even amputating where necessary. African Dub All-Mighty Chapter Three delivers on all of those fronts, in addition to being one of the most authentically psychedelic records ever created. The likes of Scientist, Dub Syndicate and African Head Charge would rewrite the dub rule book, psyching into the FX and detaching it more and more from its roots. By contrast, the music of Gibbs, Thompson and the Professionals was steeped in reggae’s rich heritage. It holds body and soul, past and future, earth and the cosmos in perfect balance. (JJ)