Riverwise's Top 100 Albums Of All Time!

Yes. Still really enjoying this journey. I really should start my own. :slight_smile:

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Yes. Yes you should.

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Damn you!

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Let’s get this going then :smiley:

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15. The Weakerthans - Left And Leaving

I’m sorry to break it to you like this, but this isn’t the first online music community I’ve been part of. Around 2000 -2005 I was very active on the forums of Punk Planet magazine (don’t bother looking for them, they’re not there anymore). One of the buzz bands there was The Weakerthans, a Canadian quartet with their roots in spitting punk (one of them was in Propagandhi!), but who were now playing a more elegant, literary music that owed as least as much to indie pop, folk and country as it did punk. The fervour was so great that in those pre-streaming, pre You Tube days, I took a punt and ordered this CD all the way from America, and, yeah, it turned out to be just as good as my online friends were saying. I had it on constant rotation for a year, always finding some connection in it every time I listened.

Singer and lyricist John K Samson’s voice may be frail but it’s the perfect carrier for his words of melancholy introspection, with all their beautiful simplicity and directness, their tales of breakups, loneliness, and the perils of small towns, their tenderly detailed observations of the minutiae of a life. It’s an album which had, and still has, a direct line to my heart. It’s so clear, so true, so affecting.

Twenty years ago they toured Europe off the back of this record. No Irish date of course, but I was so desperate to see them that my wife & I flew over to catch the show at the Garage in London, where I met someone from the PP boards, one of my first real life meetings with someone I knew off the internet (not the very first, that honour must go to my dear friend Etain, also from PP, who took us under her wing when we moved to Dublin. It’s been far too long since I’ve seen her, I’m going to sit down and wrote her an email after I’ve done this). I had one of my favourite gig moments there, when the band started playing None Of The Above (a song which is, er, not on this particular album). The entire room sang the opening lines, and I had this sudden epiphany that this little band, whose music had come to mean so much to me but to no one else I knew in real life, had had the same impact on at least several hundred other people, and they were right there with me right then, feeling like I did. It’s still a crystal sharp memory a couple of decades later, and I still love this album.

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14. The Congos - Heart Of The Congos

Despite being produced at the legendary Black Ark by the even more legendary Lee Scratch Perry, this album was ignored on release. Rejected by Island, a few hundred domestic Jamaican copies crept out, to no impact at all. I’d never even heard of it until the mid-90s reissue on Blood And Fire, which reestablished it in the reggae pantheon.
Being recorded in 1977 as the two sevens clashed, it’s right in the heart of the classic roots era. It’s not a typical roots sound though, apart from a few flashes. Rather, this is swirling, dense and murky, the springy percussion riding on a wave of bass that is not so much fat as obese. It’s hypnotic and otherworldly, but always devotional and righteous. There are also dubbed up moos on at least two songs. While Scratch provides that marvellous production job, the heart of the album is in the brilliantly emotive vocal performances, tenor and falsetto winding around each other and anchored by a deep baritone. The lyrics are full of biblical tribulation, but they sound like soothing contentment. Like taking your soul for a really good bath, nice and deep and hot.

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13. Mercury Rev – Deserters Songs

Mercury Rev were essentially dead when this came out in 1998. Disintegrating lineups and disastrously selling albums saw them slip out of as much of the public eye as they were ever in, and very few people were interested in what they were going to do next. Turned out that their plan was to ditch the fuzz and distortion and take a right turn into orchestral whimsy. Deserter’s Songs is a cracked Disney fantasia, woozy romantic and earnest, played on eccentric instrumentation, piccolos and bowed saws, harpsichords and clarinets.

It’s completely out of time, but very firmly in a place, rooted in the beauties of upper New York State. When I saw them on this tour, the backdrop was a painting of the Catskils, and at a particular point in the set, a whole host of fairy lights came on in the sky above them. Simple, yes, but oh so effective, capturing the album’s whole vibe of a child falling asleep in a log cabin as stars come out over the mountains in one lovely moment. That gig, at Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms is a strong contender for the best show I ever saw, a band that knew they’d been given a second chance grasping it for all they were worth. They’s played most of DS through the main set, alongside catalogue favourites like Chasing A Bee, Frittering, and Car Wash Hair, to the point where I was wondering what they could do for an encore. What they did was Cortez The Killer. I believe I heard those opening notes and spontaneously levitated.

This is a terrific otherworldly fairy tale of an album. There’s an instrumental version of this album as well, available in all the usual places. Sometimes I think it might be even more magical, if that’s possible.

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I saw them two days after the Wedgewood Rooms show at The Astoria. Also saw them later that year at V99. Both lovely shows.

Totally agree with ^this…

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12. Isaac Hayes - Hot Buttered Soul

I’m talking about the power of love now, I’m telling you what love can do. This snippet from the last song here is the story of this record in a nutshell. It’s Isaac Hayes’ testament to the tortures of love. Utterly drenched in strings, it’s opulent and melodramatic, overblown and heightened in every respect. And also, let’s not forget, so damn funky. There’s just four tracks here, but the album runs to forty five minutes. It’s soul alright, but it’s a long long way from Motown Chartbusters.

The opening seconds set the scene, as two quick drumbeats give way to a huge swathe of syrupy strings and psychedelic fuzz guitar. It’s Walk On By, but not as we know it, Jim. The quiet poise and self restraint of Dionne Warwick’s version is blown out of the window here in a great twelve minute roar of symphonic soul, the last half of which sees Hayes on his knees, ripping the words out of his shattered heart, while massed strings, dirty guitar and Hammond organ rise to a frenzied climax around him. And that’s only track one.

Next up, Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymystic is a huge funk jam, revolving around an insistent bassline adorned with crystalline echoing piano runs. The relentless pulse is hypnotising and the forward momentum undeniable, almost an (infinitely funkier) precursor to the motorik sound that Neu! would develop in the coming decade. Afterwards, One Woman is the most straight ahead track here, and clocks in at a frankly weedy five minutes. Even at a relatively concise length, the dynamics and the build here are fabulous, as impassioned wails and swooning strings come together in the final minute, only to fade out. I certainly would not have grumbled if this one had run to seven minutes or so.

If it’s build you’re after, then the last track here is what it’s all about. The take on Jimmy Webb’s By The Time I Get To Phoenix is just short of nineteen minutes. The opening half is minimal, just a simple repeated bass pulse, organ drone and ride cymbal. Hayes spools out a monologue over the top, his spoken word telling of a young man who falls foul of love and infidelity, diving into detail (you want to know what model and year of car the subject of the song is driving? Ike’s got you covered). He is spellbinding, a master of oratory in the manner of a preacher. And then, round about 8:40, he starts to sing, and the unerring repetition of the music gives way to a simple drumbeat and the strings begin to sing. The remaining ten minutes of the song are a gradual ratcheting up of a dial, as Hayes’s singing becomes ever more impassioned, the horn riff ever more piercing, the emotion ever more explosive.

It’s a stunning record, a perfect example of where vision and ambition can take you.

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Yessss

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11. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Ragged Glory

That stupid one album per artist rule I set myself at the beginning of this makes this a very difficult decision. If I pick this one, then I can’t have Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, On The Beach, Mirrorball, Sleeps With Angels, After The Goldrush, or any of half a dozen other great NY records. So why Ragged Glory? Mainly because of all his great albums, this is the first one I came to as a contemporary new release, and also because when the mood catches you right there is no finer sound in rock music than Neil and the Horse at full gallop.

It’s long and loose, full of arching guitar solos, informal and spontaneous. Volume and distortion are the watchwords here, but there’s room for melodies and catchy choruses as well. There are many great individual moments - the relentless pounding at the end of Fuckin’ Up, the lyrical looping guitar lines of Over And Over (this album has some of Neil’s best electric playing ever on it) - but the triumph of the album is the vibe, the atmosphere. If you didn’t already know it was born out of four guys jamming in a barn you wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out. There’s something essentially good natured about it. You can hear the friendship and camaraderie between these musicians coming out in the playing and the lyrics, which are largely concerned with hippie nostalgia and looking back, without much anguish or introspection, but a wry satisfaction. Satisfaction allied to a massive great slab of feedback, mind you.“Dinosaur” is usually a bad word when writing about rock music (sorry J!), but this record was born to roam prehistoric swamps. The earth shakes when it approaches. It’s maybe the most appropriately named of all Neil’s records. It’s ramshackle, primitive, and - yeah - glorious.

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“Farmer John…”
“OHWAHOHHH!!!”

I know it’s a cover but it’s so ramshackle it sounds like they’re making it up as they go. Definitely a track that sounds like a couple of clumsy, giant beasts staggering around.

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10. R.E.M. - Document

Another act where it is very hard to pick just one album. Any of the Bill Berry era albums could have been on this list. I’m not sure any band has ever had such a sustained run of brilliance. From Murmur to New Adventures, R.E.M. released ten albums in thirteen years, and every one of them is fantastic (okay, if you put a gun to my head I might admit that Fables and Monster are slightly less fabulous than the others, but it’s a very fine margin).

So why Document? Because it was my first, another album I fell in love with via the medium of hometaped C90s. I borrowed it off Matthew Bowden in the first year of sixth form, made a copy in the twin deck cassette player that was part of my midi stack (oh, the 80s) and listened to it over and over on the school bus in those days when my entire record collection ran to maybe twenty tapes. It was probably a good place to start with R.E.M. It had the hit single The One I Love, and it was direct enough to appeal to my adolescent taste (think Fables might have left me cold at that age), but also weird enough to make me realise that there was more to this lot than a radio anthem with catchy chorus and that investigating them would pay off. And indeed, I was there buying Green on release, and I didn’t get off the bus again for a very long time.

The album pivots on the two big singles. On either side of them, the opening run is angry politically engaged rock music (and doesn’t Disturbance At The Heron House seem all the more prescient in the light of the Jan 6th riots?), steely and somehow cryptic yet unambiguous, which is a very REM dichotomy, whereas side two is starker and more experimental. It turns its back on the political engagement of the first half, in favour of something almost post apocalyptic as we move from the Shaker rituals of Fireplace through repeated mentions of birds and departure to the eerie groove of Oddfellows Local 151’s visions of immolation.

Everybody here is brilliant. I love Stipe’s voice, Buck’s jangle and crunch and Berry pretty much being the entire rhythm section, but I have to make special mention of Mike Mills, R.E.M.’s secret weapon. Those lovely melodic high basslines and glorious backing vocals (his singing “time I had some time alone” in It’s The End Of The World will never not make me smile) are such a key part of their sound. The best band that ever came out of the USA and it’s not even close.

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9. The Sisters Of Mercy - Floodland

Floodland is the second Sisters album, but only frontman Andrew Eldritch remained from the earlier incarnations, alongside his trusty drum machine Doktor Avalanche.It’s a solo album in all but name (Patricia Morrison was nominally a member of the band at this point, but her exact level of contribution has always been shrouded in mystery), and a transformation from the earlier sound. The drum machine bedrock is still there but the music on top is all synths and sequencers, with barely an electric guitar to be heard (the most memorable riff on the whole thing is played on the bass). It owes as much to John Carpenter as it does Motorhead. It’s an epic record, one that sounds so huge it should be no surprise that Jim Steinman was involved on a few tracks, of which This Corrosion is maybe the one they are still best known for. Eldritch called it a disco party run by the Borgias, which to be honest is pretty hard to beat as a description of a ten minute dance floor thumper packed with venom. Corrosion and other big songs like Dominion are gloriously bombastic and over the top, but offset by quieter moments, like the entirely (sequenced) piano driven 1959 or the ghostly bass pulse of Driven Like The Snow.

Eldritch’s lyrics come to the fore throughout, an intoxicating mix of pun and allusion, stealing from TS Eliot and riffing off Dylan and Shelley. Throughout the record, the words are dense and multi-layered, rewarding careful consideration. They are much concerned with apocalypse, armageddon, floods and love gone bad, but there’s a knowingness and a half glimpsed smirk that stops it becoming an entirely po-faced affair. Eldritch is acknowledging that we’re all doomed, but inviting you to pull up a chair and enjoy it with him.

A theme I’ve returned to throughout this list has been the idea of band as gang, and the Sisters fit right into that, no matter how many of them there actually were at this point. There was a totality of package to them. All the records have a common design template which means they stand together, but not with anything else. It’s part of their appeal, the gang mentality that had served the likes of The Clash so well. You either get it or you don’t, and if you get it, you really get it. There’s a constant tension between simplicity and complexity in their music, monotonous and relentless beats paired with clever lyrics and complex instrumentation. They can construct epic melancholic grandeur and at the same time revel in big stupid rock music. They’re intellectual and also gloriously dumb, and one of the finest British bands of my lifetime.

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That was put better than I ever could.

On another note, I have my top 50 chosen. I just have to put them in order…

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yeah that’s a better write up than mine in my top 100 list! :grinning: Great album.

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8. Levellers - A Weapon Called The Word

We go back a long way, the Levellers and me.

It all started in Nottingham in autumn 1990. I saw a cassette of this album in HMV, and I recognised the name from knowing that they’d supported my beloved New Model Army on their most recent tour. I took a shot in the dark and bought it. When I got back to my little room in a hall of residence and stuck it in the little tape player that was all I could fit on the train when I moved, it was love at first listen. It absolutely clicked with me right away, and it’s still my favourite album of theirs to this day (I’ve been playing it as I write this, and I know every word of every song). My mate Steve flipped for it as well, and we finally got to see them a few months later when they played at a free festival nearby. At the time, it was probably the best gig I’d ever seen in my life (you have to remember I’d come from the deep southwest where no bands ever venture), just walking on air afterwards, complete euphoric bliss.

And then after that summer they put out the One Way single and Levelling The Land album, and they weren’t mine and Steve’s little secret anymore. No moaning or looking for indie points from me though, I was still most definitely on the bus. The gigs on the LTL tour were the first time I’d ever properly followed a band, and Steve and I did plenty of consecutive shows, sleeping in train stations or on strangers’ floors (fond memories of a house in Birmingham where the housemate of the girl who had put us up seemed awfully confused as to why two lads with long hair and army surplus boots had been to see Level 42). Those gigs were so much fun, a group clearly on the up with a real buzz around them, and every night felt like a victory lap for our little band.

After that, real life and gainful employment came knocking, and the enthusiasm had to be tempered. I still went to see them when they were playing anywhere I was living or working. I kept up with the albums as well, which stayed strong up till the fifth, Mouth To Mouth. I didn’t like the next one much though, and I started to drift away, not helped by living abroad for a fair chunk of the 00s and missing the live shows. That separation was helped by the next few records being pretty forgettable (not joking, I literally forgot Truth & Lies existed until I went to dig out AWCTW just now). In the late 00s, back on these shores, I finally gave up pretending I was anything other than a hippy and started going to likeminded festivals again. Inevitably I saw the Levellers a few more times, and really enjoyed them. They didn’t really do a lot of new, and it was certainly a little bit of a nostalgia trip, but it was also a lot of fun. Their own festival, Beautiful Days, is a great experience with good vibes throughout. They play twice each year, kicking off with an acoustic set in the tent, and then closing the main stage on Sunday. I have some really fond memories of my daughter jumping up and down waving a glow stick and absolutely losing her shit to them there when she was nine or so (she would now completely deny that this ever happened). Yeah, the setlists didn’t have a lot of material later than 1994 or so, and perhaps they were creatively spent, but the gigs were always fun. But then they put out the Peace album in 2020 and somehow it is an absolute stormer, the best thing they’d done for twenty five years or more, sounding like a revitalised band.

They were also a massive gateway band for me. I found them at exactly the right time, and from them I branched out deeper into folk music, deeper into anarchopunk. Maybe if it wasn’t for the Levellers I would still be into Christy Moore and Culture Shock, but maybe not (and it says a lot that I can hold one band largely responsible for pushing me in two such separate directions). I don’t think I would have discovered the free festival scene without them either, which led to some of the best weekends of my life circa 1992 (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen someone breathing fire off the roof of Wango Riley’s Travelling Stage while Poisoned Electrick Head are rearranging your DNA live onstage). There’s something else about them I love, which I’m finding quite hard to articulate, which is that they celebrate Englishness, without all the shit that goes with that idea. Not the England of the Daily Mail or the Conservative Party of course, but a strand of outsider creativity, not doing what you’re told and loving the land that chimes very strongly with me. And the Steve that I went to the gigs with all those years ago is still a really good mate, and we went out for a few drinks just a couple of weeks ago. It’s been a thirty year friendship largely soundtracked by the Levellers.

Fundamentally, they’re a part of my life. We have been entwined for three decades and more, sometimes at a distance, sometimes right up close, and I can’t see that ever changing.

tl;dr: I bloody love the Levellers.

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This is something I love about the Levellers. And I say this as an outsider, there’s a pride and a joy celebrating the best parts of England in their music. It’s a hard line to walk, but they do it well and the rage against everything that’s terrible about it.

I’ve had so much fun watching them live over the years. I saw them once in the Olympia in Dublin and you could tell they weren’t sure how the crowd were going to react but the place went wild. So much crowd surfing, many years after it was banned.

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Can’t say I’ve ever tried anything post-Zeitgeist, but those first four albums were such a massive part of my teenage life and remain absolute gold today

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7, Massive Attack - Blue Lines

This often gets lumped in with the “Bristol Scene” or trip hop, but I don’t think it’s really either of those things. It might well be a foundational text in those genres, but to my ears it’s a UK hip hop record, albeit one with huge dollops of reggae and soul in the mix. We’ll get to the headliners in a minute but my own favourite songs here are the ones in the line of the title track and Five Man Army, hushed intimate whispers right in your ears, sparse low key production that pulls up loads of samples and puts them in just the right place. They’re skeletal but never cold, playgrounds for the voices on the mics. It’s a great ensemble effort, with so many different voices floating in and out, playing off each other, picking up lyrics, responding to and finishing lines. So many of those couplets are memorable and quotable - it’s a rare week where I don’t sing to myself “hip hop you don’t stop cos I’m not sloppy, I like the beat so we need another copy” (which doesn’t even really mean anything, but nonetheless has been stuck in my head for thirty years). Likewise Daddy G’s Fiddler On The Roof interpolation from the same song never fails to make me smile. And as for rhyming Subbuteo and Studio One…
It’s not all mellow hip hop vibes though. Blue Lines features two bona fide modern soul classics, powered by Shara Nelson’s terrific vocals. Safe From Harm opens the record, riding that huge Billy Cobham sample, and you all know the towering Unfinished Sympathy. Those strings, that piano, that nagging little glockenspiel (?) riff…it’s such a powerful and influential track that people even ripped off the video. The album closes with the gospel reggae of Hymn Of The Big Wheel, Horace Andy’s sweet falsetto promising hope and renewal in the face of struggle and ecological disaster.

Blue Lines is the album as comfort food, something to put on and lose yourself in, another one of those records that brings you into its own world, a stoned late night ramble through a fantastic record collection, a melange of genres and influences bought together by wit and weed. It’s one of the best and most British albums ever made.

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Agree with ^this massively. Trip hop always felt like a reductive term coined by music journalists desperate to hang a tag on a wide ranging outbreak of early 90s creativity.

Would love to have been a fly on the wall for the studio chat about this - see, I’ve got this weird chimey little riff that I think we should loop through the entire song see…

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