Figured this would be a good time to start, seeing that @LastAstronaut wrapped up his excellent list the other day. If you’ve read this far, you all know the drill by now, the only tweak I’ve given it is that I’m not allowing more than one album by any artist (although there is one exception that I will make a pathetic justification for when the time arrives).
I’m following in some pretty big footsteps, but I’ll be happy if I can evince half the level of fun and smarts that previous listees have shown.
I first came across Eon when John Peel played “Fear: The Mindkiller” one night. The title was enough to make my nerdy little ears prick up, and sure enough there was Kyle McLachlan reciting the Litany Against Fear over beats somewhere between industrial and techno. I bought the 12” the next day, and then a year or so later, the album dropped. It sits right on the border between techno and rave, but with a dark twisted sensibility that couldn’t be further from the smiley faces of acid house. The fact that it’s stuffed with samples from loads of excellent genre movies (Dune, The Outer Limits, Dune again, Basket Case…) is just the icing on the cake. Nightmare rave.
The first goth-adjacent album on this list. It won’t be the last.
I discovered these via an eMusic subscription*…alien synth textures, drum machines, spiderwork guitar and wordless ethereal vocals take you for a ride through the infinite depths of space, nothing but cold and darkness forever. Numbing and ghostlike, the Cocteau Twins or Mazzy Star reflected in a dark mirror.
You’ll see as this list goes on that I am a sucker for something heavy or rocky that also has a melodic hook, and this album basically wrote the manual. Swaggering glam, punk attitude and choruses you can sing for days, with riffs dripping out of every pore. They never really went anywhere, partly because of record company politics, partly because they were an incredibly volatile bunch who seemed intent on repeated self-sabotage, partly because they were all deeply troubled individuals (to paraphrase the old tabloid headline, you wouldn’t want your daughter marrying one of them), but for these forty five minutes they were kings.
When you’re a shy and unconfident eighteen year old, but are desperate to show everyone that you’re really an edgy unconventional cool outsider where do you go? You go to the Violent Femmes’s debut. Punk played by people who only had access to a limited range of acoustic instruments, it’s a cocktail of desire, fear, uncertainty and embarrassment. Writing that in 2023 makes it sound like an incel’s charter, but it really isn’t. The only object of loathing here is the songwriter / listener, and it’s confused and lost instead of angry. That didn’t stop these songs ripping up the dance floor in the alternative clubs of Plymouth. I have an incredibly vivid memory, just a snapshot, of a crowd caught in a strobe as we danced to Add It Up sometime in the early 90s. Liberation and exhilaration through repression.
I think I had this CD, remember the track Spice was played a few times at a club I used to go to. Anytime it came on my friend and I would run to the dance floor and then stand awkwardly because we didn’t know how to dance to it (or to anything let’s be honest). The track just always got us excited.
A showcase for master guitarist Diblo Dibala, who had played with Kanda Bongo Man previous to this. Incredibly effervescent upbeat music, relentlessly joyful and danceable (Loketo means ‘hips’!), with some absolutely killer guitar playing. I am naturally a gloomy sod, but this makes even me smile. I believe they were from Zaire, ended up based in Paris and broke up in the 1980s, so I was never going to get to see them, but I dearly wish I had, think I would still be dancing now.
This is Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton of Global Communication under another alias. This is more Warp-y than those ambient classics, an early forerunner of IDM. Lots of sci-fi soundscapes, quasi-industrial beats, and some exquisite floaty melodies. The original pressings came with a booklet of short stories that you were supposed to read along with the music, but as I only ever obtained it, ahem, unconventionally, I’ve never read them. Hopefully it’ll get a(nother) reissue one day, it’s a great album that seems to have been largely forgotten. This is one of the mellower moments, and it is quite quite lovely
94. Black Sabbath - Paranoid
The root of so much of my later listening. I know some might argue that the debut is the true classic, and it’s certainly hard to look past that tolling bell, but it’s still a little too in thrall to blooze boredom for my liking. This one is pure Sabbath - slow, menacing and stuffed full of riffs. Oh my god, the riffs. From the stuttering groove of War Pigs to the amphetamine rush of Paranoid to the spooked eeriness of Planet Caravan and the titanic Iron Man…and that’s just the first side.
This is probably the only record on this list that my dad will appreciate. In fact, the LP of it I have was nicked from him. This early 80s live show sees the good Doctor in full Nawlins RnB mode, cooking up a stew of barrelhouse piano, funk, soul, and rock’n’roll. As I will probably end up writing about every live album on this list, I wish I could have been there. But I was there twenty odd years later, when Dr John came to Bristol and I took my dad to see him, part penance for stealing this record and part acknowledgement of one of our few shared enthusiasms. It was a special night, one might even say such a night.
This one has a complicated release history. It was originally released as 3 10” records in 1954, then as 2 12” LPs a few years later, on 2 CDs in 1987 with the same tracks as the 12”s but in a different order, and then again in 2001 with the correct running order restored. Don’t even get me started on the changing artwork. But what’s important here is the music, of course. It kicks off with an introduction from notorious Birdland MC Pee Wee Maquette namechecking the band - and what a band it is. Art Blakey on drums of course, with Horace Silver on piano, Lou Donaldson on saxophone, Clifford Brown on trumpet and Curley Russell on bass. Four musicians there who would go on to become bona fide jazz legends (sorry, Curley). There’s a track on volume one called Quicksilver, and that sums up this wonderful, thrilling, fluid sound. It flows and darts and changes direction frequently, but the musicians are always together, locked in on chasing the music.
I came late to jazz - it’s one of those things that’s waiting for you in your forties, like hair loss and having to get up in the night to have a wee - but I quickly realised that hard bop was my favourite corner of that world, and this is a great example of that driving energetic music. I could listen to the rhythm section alone for hours.
91. Pop Will Eat Itself - This Is The Day, This Is The Hour…This Is This!
I will go to my grave maintaining that the Poppies were years ahead of their time. There weren’t many other white indie acts messing about with sampling and hip hop in 1987, but the music press of the time dismissed them as comedy Brummies. More fool them, because this record is glorious, a deranged collision of glam rock guitars, hiphop beats, movies and comics, with samples flying everywhere. It’s one of those records that constructs its own little universe that you live in for the duration, a dayglo triumph of low culture where Alan Moore and The Terminator rub shoulders with James Brown and DJ Spinderella. Imagine Public Enemy raised on 2000AD, or Paul’s Boutique’s nerdy British cousin and you’re halfway there.
I remember standing in a record shop when it was released, weighing up whether to spend my limited funds on this or Disintegration by The Cure (which tbf does have a 50/50 chance of appearing later in this list). I chose the Poppies, I still have that same vinyl copy, and I’m still sure I made the right decision.
Wonderful album. I always found the mix of heavy beats and blissful ambience incredible. It was fairly challenging to get into - way more than any Global Communication or Jedi Knights release - but hugely rewarding, and was my first exposure to Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard.
Le Soleil et la Mer is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard.