Monday, November 21, 2005

89 albums: revisited

In some respects the more we thought about this Tim de Lisle "89 essential albums", the more ridiculous the task became. After my initial response here it all got muh more complicated. In some instances, we loved specific songs on certain albums, but didn't necessarily feel they best represented the artiste. And even having compilations to represent certain artistes felt equally crazy. I ended up returning to the copy of Q that I purchased last summer (2004) with its 1001 essential songs and thinking that - as bonkers as that was - it still seemed more legitimate than what we were trying to do with the album selection.

Tim de Lisle ducked a key issue by selecting to include compilations by specific artistes without specifying which particular compilation he had in mind (let's face it some are just dire; others take you away from thinking about the album as a conceptualised entity - I know this is becoming less important in the i-Pod age of mixing and matching, selecting and ommitting, but compilations are problematic.) However, to ignore compilations is equally difficult. Let's say that some artistes are essential (or some periods/labels) and that you should aim to get something by each of those listed.

Some things we immediately agreed on. Bryan Ferry is not required, though feel free to get some Roxy Music if you feel you need it. George Michael? Oh please... you may as well have included the ubiquitous Robbie Bloody Williams if that's how you're going to respond. Where things got harder was when it came to disentangling our personal - in some cases VERY personal - selections from those we felt everyone should have. Amongst those recognised as things we loved in our record collection, but which may not translate to fighting for a place in a general list were acts such as Ballboy, Camera Obscura, DJ Shadow, several female vocalists and groups (Ladytron, Melys, Lauras' Cantrell and Veirs, PJ Harvey), Low, Misty's Big Adventure, Gram Parsons, Rachels, and Underworld. We probably made a rod for our backs in even trying to include the ommitted categories from de Lisle's list (classical came off especially badly as we couldn't quite decide on specific recordings and there were so many composers we really wanted to include: perhaps that really does have to be a separate list?) The more we strayed away from the waters of identifiably pop/rock music, the more difficult it became to choose representatives: there is no where near enough piano jazz on this list (Monk, Bill Evans trio etc), and swing doesn't get a place either. Where are all the great blues artistes that everyone should have? Clearly 89 choices just isn't going to do the trick for all the ones we felt should be there, even trying to push aside the quirks of our own music collection.

ABC - Lexicon of Love--Awh, you know you want it!

Arcade Fire - Funeral --For me the best album of the year and further proof that Canada is where its at --- apart from Scotland of course ;)

The Avalanches - Since I Left You--Fun, twisty, bonkers. Sampling taken to new heights.

Bach/Yo-Yo Ma - Cello Concertos--I'm with Donna Moss. Impossible to listen to without feeling overwhelmed by their beauty.

John Barry - Themeology--Film music writ large. Grand songs; grand scores.

Beach Boys - Pet Sounds--Because, well, actually, it really IS up there as one of the best ever albums.

Beatles - Revolver--The move from pop to more than that.

Beatles - 1962-1966 (The Red Apple collection)--The best intro to the FabFour even though the transfer of tracks was lousy. Get the tracks as they appear in this collection from better sources.

Billy Bragg - Back to Basics--Best collection of his early work, though I would also recommend Worker's Playtime as the most emotionally complete of his albums.("The Only One" includes the wonderful line "here I am, a victim of geography" - the most perfect way of describing separated lovers).

Blondie - Best of --I'd go for Parallel Lines but would be deprived of too many of their great tracks. This is still a much played album and for its pop purity deserves its place on the list.

David Bowie - Best--I know he needs to be on here. I just need to choose.

Jeff Buckley - Live at Sine--Yes, I know Grace is THE album. But in Buckley's short life, "live performing" was what made him. Funny, silly, touching and graceful/Grace-full.

Buena Vista Social Club--You want a party? Play this. We do.

Johnny Cash - American IV: When the Man Comes Around--Even less perfect tracks become wondrous alongside the most awesome ones here.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - The Boatman's Call--Bitter and lush. Perfectly miserable. The best kind of darkness.

Ray Charles - Best--Too good to exclude this great voice.

Chemikal Underground compilation - Out of Our Heads on Skelp--Label collections can be gorgeous. This has a truly inspired selection, and has pretty much my favourite ever Delgados tracks on it.

Clash - London Calling--Close call with Sandinista, but this wins out. Just.

Constellation Collection/GodSpeedYouBlackEmperor - Song of the Silent Land/Yanqui UXO--You need at least one good example of modern post-rock. The new classical all wrapped up. Go for the collection or the focus.

Sam Cooke - Best--A great voice, and great soul material.

The Costello Show - King of America--Yes, I adore "I Want You" from Blood and Chocolate, and many other tracks besides, but this is the album I feel best pulls together his wit and bile.

CSNY - Deja Vu--Not really a band as such, but a beautiful and strange collection of songs from 4 great talents. "Letting my freak flag fly..."

Miles Davis - Kind of Blue--Tough call to not go for the compilation The Essential Miles Davis which across two albums DOES bring together a great representative selection from one of the most difficult to sum up jazz artistes of the 20th century.

De la Soul - 3 Feet High and Rising--Funny and sharp.

Nick Drake - Way to Blue: An Introduction to Nick Drake--A beautiful selection and hard to beat, even though any of his albums could have been here.

Ian Dury and the Blockheads - New Boots and Panties--Knocks the spots off any Sex Pistols album

Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited--For "Desolation Row", undoubtedly one of my favourite Dylan tracks, and for the being so darn important.

Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde--Acerbic analysis and tender sentiment. The live version of "I Want You" from Live at Budakhan may be more lyrically paced, but this album overall is brilliant from start to finish.

Elgar/Du Pre - Cello Concerto--Obvious, I know, but this piece still makes my heart sing.

The Fall - (you choose an album)--Love him or hate him, Mark E Smith has to have a place: they're always different, but always the same.

Ella Fitzgerald - The Cole Porter Songbook--One of the best writers; one of the best interpreters. Class all ways round.

Gang of Four - Entertainment!/Post-Punk Collection--Because you have to. Supplement this with any good Post-Punk collection (Rough Trade have some neat selections).

Marvin Gaye - What's Goin' On?--Without which there would be no Massive Attack...

Emmylou Harris - Best--Red Dirt Girl was the big recent comeback but she has been brilliant throughout her career.

Billy Holiday - Lady in Satin--Sweet and striking.

Michael Jackson - Best of--Off the Wall and Thriller, whatever you may think of this damaged person, are incredible albums and over the years there have been too many great disco/dance tracks to ignore him.

Jam - Snap!--Even if Paul Weller is living Eric Clapton's career in reverse, when he was good he was very very good. Could I roll in with this the Style Council collection? Ah go on...

Joy Division/New Order - Best of--You can choose which you prefer, but at least one of these has to have a place

Led Zepplin - Physical Graffitti--The Rock Album to beat all Rock Albums?

Tom Lehrer - An Evening Wasted with...--Does satirical music count? Witty and intelligent. I say it does.

Kirsty Macoll - Best--Kite has some of her best tracks on it, but a Best Of also brings extra goodies.

Madness - The Definitive Singles/Two-Tone collection--This gets re-issued about once every 10-18 months, but every home should have a little Madness in it. However much I loved The Specials, for me Madness were at the heart of Two-Tone. Perhaps to be complemented or substituted by a Two-Tone collection?

Magnetic Fields - 69 Love Songs--Even though this 3 album extravaganza of offers copious amounts of melancholia and joy for your bucks, the collection of Stephin Merritt's by the Sixths Hyacinths and Thistles has too much perfection to be ignored. Basically though, SM needs to be in your list.

Bob Marley - Legend--The best Marley collection

Massive Attack _ Blue Lines--This may be indebted to Marvin gaye, but this is still a beautiful album. Shara Nelson on vocals at her best...

Mingus - Mingus Ah Um--You have to have some Mingus in there.

Enio Morricone - Best of--I would happily go for the score from Once Upon a Time in the West but a representative collection may be needed.

Randy Newman - Best--More acerbic brilliance.

Augusto Pablo and King Tubby ---The album that Cloud cannot recall the name of, thinks is probably now unavailable, and which we do not own. Nice one dude, well justified. Still makes the list.

Pere Ubu - The Modern Dance--You have to own some Pere Ubu. May as well have this. Avant-everything.

Lee Scratch Perry - Arkology--The definitive 3 CD collection of Dub works from the maestro of production.

Pixies - Dolittle--Indisputably their best (don't care what you say...)

Pogues - Best--You could just go for Rum, Sodomy and the Lash or for If I Should Fall From Grace With God but a collection may be best.

Prefab Sprout - Steve McQueen--Yes, you could go for a "Best of" which would also give you tracks such as "Cruel" ""Wild Horses", "We Let the Stars Go" "Talking Scarlet" "Nightingales"... oh shucks, even I'm talking myself out of this selection. No, no, stick with it. This is perhaps the most complete of their albums, and the most bittersweet.

Elvis Presley - No. 1s--'Cos it's true: you have to have Aaron.

Prince - Sign O'The Times--The album by the little guy with the big ego. Perfect social commentary. Great tracks.

Pulp - Different Class--Would their single collection represent them better? Not when this contains the viciously brilliant "I-Spy." All together now: "In the midnight hour, I will come to you..." Shudder.

Radiohead - The Bends--I do think that Radiohead are one of the best bands from the 1990s. As much as I can admire OK Computer and their more recent work, maybe I like 'songs' too much? This has them breaking out beyond "Creep" (still a brilliant song) but retaining a link to approachable songs that started getting lost on later work. "Fake Plastic Trees" rips me up every time, but the album does work as whole.

Ramones - Anthology--A two disc collection that pulls singles and other tracks from across the various Ramones incarnations.

Lou Reed - Transformer--Insiduously dark, made palatable by melody.

REM - IRS "Best of"/Warners "Best of"--In their own ways, both are worth having. You can chose which, but I'm too torn to decide. I also have an alternative 'Best of the Rest' which I can't really include because its more of a Number 89 album [you'll see what I mean].

Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers - 19 greatest hits--Well, not really, but Richman should be in all music collections. Perfect quirkiness.

Rolling Stones - Hot Rocks--Surely the best ever Stones compilation.

The Roots - Things Fall Apart.--Had to have something from the 'Illadelphia gang. This has the wonderful Erica Badu track AND the heart-wrenching "Return to Innocence Lost" by Ursula Rucker.

Simon and Garfunkel - Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme--Many to choose from, and any good collection may suffice, but this is a rather special album. Harmonies to die for.

Nina Simone - Gold--The best collection of her work. Silky and tough.

Frank Sinatra - Songs for Swinging Lovers--THE collection for lovers everywhere.

Sleater Kinney - All Hands On the Bad One--Female pop should be on any good list.

The Smiths - The Queen is Dead--The height of their powers...

Phil Spector--He's mad and bad, but he produced some of the most perfect pop songs and performances ever put on disk.

Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run--His best album?

Bruce Springsteen - The River--For me it's a tough call as I have intimate memories of first hearing The River. Would be tough to choose.

Squeeze - The Big Squeeze--I grew up a huge fan of Squeeze and their story telling is just gut-wrenching. I can bearly think of "Up the Junction" and "Labelled with Love" without bursting into tears.

Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense--Best live band performance on film? Possibly. Alive with genius.

They Might Be Giants - A User's Guide--Not so much a 'greatest hits' as a sampler of their quirkiness.

David Thomas and the Two Pale Boys - Surf's Up!--Because one chunk of David Thomas is not enough. Worth admission for the title track and "Man in the Dark" (which Thomas himself says includes the verse he is most proud of writing in all his works...)

Various - I'm Your Fan: Songs of Leonard Cohen--You're gonna hate me for not going for the man himself, but this is such a good collection of covers. Get it if only for Cale's simnple piano cover of "Hallelujah". Is it possible to do a bad version of that track? Second thoughts, do not tell me...

Various - Festival in the Desert--A brilliant collection of recordings from some of the most inspiring artists from across the world (and Robert Plant... sorry, only joking: he too is brilliant here)

Various - Sounds of the New West--Probably a cheat as you can only get this via... well, it came free with UNCUT magazine and remains THE collection of alt.country. Am sure you coudl get access to it somehow....

Velvet Underground and Nico--Pretty difficult to justify excluding this classic - even though the recording is less than perfect/'in-tune'...

Rufus Wainwright - Want (One and Two - now available as a double pack)--Possibly cheating to go for the coming 2 disc collection of these last two albums, but these are fantastic value. You may loath him of course, and I won't hesitate to acknowledge he is an acquired taste, but these are sublime.

Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones--First? Best? Bleakly wonderful

Wedding Present - Bizzaro--You can all make your cases for other albums by this band, but for me this remains their best. Spiralling guitars, rasped lyrics, bitter thoughts. Brilliant. So what if "Every Song Sounds The Same"? (Their 'in-joke', not mine...)

Barry White - Best Of--Oh you know you need it...

Hank Williams - 40 Greatest--The dude of country music.

Wire - The A List--Selected by fans, this is the best collection of Wire tracks you could hope to hear.

Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life--Uplifting.

Neil Young - After the Gold Rush--You could get the latest "Best of" but it duplicates this album of concise brilliance.

Various - The home compilation--There has to be room for at least one home made compilation. For me its some tough calling dependent on whether we are on about tapes or CDs. The original "Now That's What I Call Dead Baggy" compilations that a former colleague's husband used to make me remain one of the best sets of themed collections I have access to. However, in my time I have developed a reputation (hi Chrissie!) for well-honed collections of my own. My friend George manages to select and present songlists that I know we would never have otherwise have heard of and from which many new passions have been inspired. On these grounds I think we must admit to the hall of 89 at least ONE great home selected compilation. You go choose.

Already looking at some of the lists appearing on the web I am ashamed of the things missing here: I guess it will always be a partial view and we can always yelp "how could I miss that?!" but that's the nature of lists I guess...

8 comments:

HolyhosesRob said...

Doh! I did it again. I completely forgot Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground when compiling my own list. Not the first time I've done this.

Durrr... comes from having played-to-death and then sold my entire Lou Reed collection, but that's a feeble excuse.

I'd probably have 1969 by the VU and Coney Island Baby by Lou.

HolyhosesRob said...

Oh, and instead of "your own compo" I included Now is Then by Roy's band The Windmills - because you should always have at least one record by one of your mates.

Gordon said...

Wow, that's some list.

Now, can you provide a link to what this "89 albums" thing is all about (for your new readers).

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Gordon - multi apologies on the lack of links. I had such plans but they got busted by having to rush upload the post at work first thing...

Skuds said...

Wow. You have certainly thought about this.

With the move towards digital music, collections probably will be defined by songs rather than albums.

I never imagined I would think that way, but I am increasingly viewing my fairly large CD collection as just a security backup for my mp3 player.

Marie said...

You can't have *two* Springsteens when there wasn't room for so many of the great people listed in your own intro. Swap one for PJ Harney 'Dry'! Still, you know your Pixies albums - why don't more people agree with us?

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Marie - I know I know, PJH should be in there and I am ashamed I didnt squeeze her in. Though I would go for the majestic "To Bring You My Love" I have to say. Ohhh, too many of hers to choose from...
And in terms of Springsteen, sorry, but I'm wedded to those to albums...

Reidski said...

Wow, that is one hell of a list. I shall now and forever bow at the altar of the great god Lisa.