It’s been a while since I last did a rock list.
Of all the 149 articles I’ve written so far for this blog, it’s the rock lists that keep turning up in search engines and getting hits, day after day. So what better for my 150th than another list?
This time I’m looking at albums. I decided to move away from the “best of” format and simply choose my own favourites from the hundreds of records, CDs and digital downloads that I have in my collection.
Firstly I compiled a long list of 25 albums – only officially released albums were considered, not bootlegs, outtakes or unreleased albums that I’ve managed to get my hands on.
I then chose the top 10 albums that mean the most to me for a variety of reasons. These are the ones I play again and again – and in some cases have been playing for more than 30 years. I think I now have them all on CD as well as the original vinyl.
They may not necessarily be the “best” albums, however that is defined, but they are the ones I would want with me if I was exiled to a desert island.
These are the 15 that didn’t quite make the final cut:
Let It Be – The Beatles, Plastic Letters – Blondie, Holy Diver – Dio, The Doors – The Doors, The Dirty South – Drive By Truckers, Rock And Roll Station – Joe D’Urso, Pearl – Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin IV, Rebels, Rogues and Sworn Brothers – Lucero, Rainbow Rising – Rainbow, Never Mind The Bollocks – Sex Pistols, The River – Bruce Springsteen, Live and Dangerous – Thin Lizzy, The Sky Is Crying – Stevie Ray Vaughan and Who’s Next – The Who.
So on to my top 10.
I spent a while trying to put them into some sort of order, but they all have such different meanings for me that in the end I decided to cop out and go with the way my collection is organised: in alphabetical order by artist and chronological order within each artist. Well, what other way is there?
Heaven and Hell – Black Sabbath. When Ozzy left Black Sabbath it was hard to imagine who could take over from such an iconic figure. Step forward Mr Ronnie James Dio. This was the first album produced by the new line up, released in 1980, and was a massive seller, going double platinum in the UK. Heaven and Hell features the best of hard rock vocalists at the peak of his powers. The power and intensity of the songs makes this one still sound fresh today.
Southern Rock Opera – Drive By Truckers My friends in the US got me into this great southern rock band, who have a considerable following in the UK. This double album was a labour of love. It’s a concept album, a tribute to Lynyrd Skynard, although it also covers the issues and politics of growing up in the American South. Epic is the only way to describe it and loud is the only way to play it. And you have to play it from start to finish; that’s how concept albums work.
The ‘59 Sound – The Gaslight Anthem This is the most recent album on my list. I had heard of this young band from New Jersey so bought their second album to see what they were like. I became an instant fan. They deliver a fine collection of songs performed with style and passion. The Gaslights are building a reputation for themselves throughout the world and recently toured the UK to sell out audiences. And they are an excellent live band too.
Setting Sons – The Jam I got into The Jam in a big way in the late 70s and can remember buying this album on the day it came out. Paul Weller was one of the first songwriters I really got into and Setting Sons is full of great songs. I think this is the best of the Jam albums, combining Weller’s lyrics with great music.
Kids in Philly – Marah In a previous blog I described Marah as the best band you’ve never heard of. I first saw them live in New York City in 2001 on a recommendation, knowing nothing of them or their music. I bought this album the very next day.
I could write chapters on how the decision to go to that show quite literally changed my life. It led me to places I wouldn’t otherwise have been and to meet some of the best friends a man could have. Kids In Philly will always be special to me as it marks the start of so many adventures.
Bat Out Of Hell – Meat Loaf I remember hearing the title track for the very first time in Woolworth’s one lunchtime when I was at school. I had quite literally never heard anything like it before, and just had to have it. The incredible vocal deliver, the wall of sound production and the songs that everyone knows make this a classic. Unfortunately Mr Loaf has never quite hit the same heights since.
Blizzard of Ozz – Ozzy Osbourne This is the first solo album Ozzy made after leaving Black Sabbath and is probably his best. The song writing is tremendous, his voice is strong and he had a great band, featuring the late, great Randy Rhodes on guitar. I saw the band on tour to support the album (at the Glasgow Apollo) and it was one of my favourite live shows of the time, mostly for Rhodes’ incredible guitar work.
2112 – Rush Perhaps the definitive album from the Canadian three piece band. You’ve just got to love an album where the entire first side is one track. It tells a science fiction story through song, combining a theme based on an Ayn Rand novella with superb guitar and high pitched lyrics to create a rock masterpiece. And side two is pretty good too,
Darkness On The Edge Of Town – Bruce Springsteen. I’ve limited myself to just two albums from Bruce. Darkness came out in 1978 following a three year hiatus during which nothing could be released due to an ongoing legal dispute. It has a dark feel to it, telling tales of characters struggling against the odds to survive. And it gave us classic tracks like Badlands, The Promised Land, Prove It All Night and Racing In The Street, all of which remain favourites at live shows.
Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen. Released 35 years ago this week, Born To Run is simply the greatest rock n roll album of all time. Bar none.
I first heard Born To Run when I was 12 and that’s when I became a Springsteen fan. Every one of the eight tracks has great meaning. There are the uplifting anthems of escape in the title track and Thunder Road, but also the songs of loss and defeat in Backstreets and Jungleland. The latter is more of a symphony than a song and is one of my favourite live tracks.
Born To Run represents the beginning of a musical obsession that has so far lasted well over 30 years. I’ve travelled all over to see Bruce live and met some amazing people along the way. Springsteen’s music is a large part of my life and I simply can’t imagine being without it.
So that’s my selection of the 10 albums that mean the most to me. I’m sure few would come up with the same mix of artists and albums, but then it was very much a personal choice.
And it was a great deal of fun to try to come up with this list. If I started again I might reach a slightly different conclusion, although many of the top 10 were obvious choices for me.
If you’ve got a few hours spare, it’s a great way of spending your time.
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