Ten albums that changed my life

So this one has been doing the rounds on social media so I thought I’d do it justice by writing a blog article. The remit is “Ten albums which changed my life”. It differs slightly from what would be my top ten favourite albums I guess but not significantly so. It’s a mixed bag if nothing else. I wrote the first of what was intended to be a series of articles a couple of years ago entitled “My life in music Part 1 (1980-1991)” from which this article borrows heavily in parts.

My awareness of music began at an early age. My dad played a huge part in this, regularly putting his huge Wharfedale cans on my head as a small child. Each speaker was probably as big as my head. It was the late 1970s and it was mostly the pop music of the day but one artist of significance was Stevie Wonder. He was a family favourite and still is at least between my Uncle and me. These were my very early formative years and Stevie has been with me for all of my life. It’s difficult for me to pin down a single album of his as they were all brilliant. Although not his greatest work, I am going to go for “Hotter Than July” as my first choice. The 1970s were Stevie’s decade and everything he touched turned to gold, although I needed to be a bit older to have an awareness of this. Hotter Than July was released in 1980 and was his last great record and since I have a memory of it being played when it was new, I have decided to opt for this one as one which changed my life. I was five years old. The ballad “Lately” has been a lifelong favourite and one which I often like to attempt on karaoke. The album also spawned the hit singles “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” and “Happy Birthday”. This was years before I commenced my journey into rock music and my appreciation for Stevie Wonder has been the subject of some surprise for people over the years, especially through the “long hair and biker jacket” years. Whilst Hotter Than July is a great album, my most favourite era of Stevie Wonder is his trilogy of albums “Talking Book”, “Innvervisions” and “Fulfillingness First Finale” released 1972-1974. Quite simply, the man is a musical god and his music will stay with me whilst ever there is breath in my body.

I grew up listening mainly to pop music throughout most of the 1980s. The radio was always on at home and my dad always liked to watch Top of the Pops. It was a fantastic era for music and even the most commercial hit singles were well crafted. Long before the era of manufactured bilge, artists had to actually write their own material and do it well to get anywhere. One album which sticks out especially is Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” from 1984. Trevor Horn’s production work was legendary (in fact it was arguably more his album than the band’s) and the songs were brilliantly crafted. It was quite progressive in nature, featuring long form songs and remixes of the popular hit singles “Two Tribes” and “Relax” as well as a kick-ass version of Springsteen’s “Born To Run”. It has been some years since I listened to this record and writing this piece has inspired me to buy it again on CD.

My first favourite rock band and inspiration to start playing guitar was definitely Dire Straits. I can’t recall exactly how I came to originally discover them but I remember being 13 years old and immediately obsessing over them. I had all of their albums on cassette and played them all on constant rotation. The first one I bought was the compilation album “Money For Nothing” and so I guess I should say this is the one which changed my life. However, the Straits album I keep going back to is their eponymous 1978 debut. I guess because it’s probably a bit more miserable than the rest of them but the production is just sublime. In contrast to the huge epic production of Welcome to the Pleasuredome, it’s simple back to basics rock. Very carefully crafted and considered guitar tones just melt through you, complemented by Mark Knopfler’s evocative semi spoken vocal. “Sultans of Swing” was the hit of course but this album must be heard in its entirety and on vinyl.

In my mid-teens, many of my school friends were getting into the heavy metal of the day. It was the late 1980s and Iron Maiden, Guns n Roses and Metallica were the sounds of the day. Although I was to later catch up with them, I was on my own journey of musical discovery. My dad’s friend Paul had recommended an album to him which was to change my life forever. That album was “Trespass”, the 1970 album from Genesis. I fell in love with the band in a huge way and later bought their entire back catalogue, along with various related solo releases. It’s a significant body of work. Although not an obvious choice for fans of the band and progressive rock, Trespass was my first love and it remains to this day my favourite album of all time by any artist and unsurprisingly Genesis remain my favourite band of all time. Every track on Trespass is a masterpiece. The textures and soundscapes are beautiful from organic acoustic guitars to heavier rock passages and Hammond organ. Peter Gabriel’s amazing voice sits wonderfully in the mix taking you on a journey. From the opening line of “Looking for Someone” I was hooked. To the average Joe, the name Genesis tends to be synonymous with Phil Collins, yet he was not to join the band until the album after this and this was sadly their last with creative genius Anthony Phillips. I really can’t recommend the band enough. Every album has some absolute gems on. Fans of heavier music tend to favour the Peter Gabriel era which was pre-1975, up to and including “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” but I love all eras of the band. Genesis started my obsession with progressive rock, taking in music from Yes, King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator/Peter Hammill, Marillion and later Pink Floyd which leads me nicely on to my next choice.

I had not really paid any proper attention to Pink Floyd until around 1994. I was a regular in the Mannville Arms pub in Bradford and the legendary jukebox contained “Wish You Were Here” and their new release “The Division Bell”. I remember the first time I heard “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and I was blown away. I proceeded to regularly invest many pound coins in putting the albums on constant circulation in the pub.
For me, it’s difficult to pick between the two as to which one changed my life but The Division Bell has endured as my absolute favourite Pink Floyd album. Often derided by Floyd heads, I think it is their best work. Although I loved their earlier work with Waters, by the time they were doing the likes of “The Wall” and “The Final Cut”, the band was losing itself in Waters’ ego. “Animals” was their last great album with him. After his departure, it took the band quite some time to find its magic again with David Gilmour at the helm. “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” had some great moments but The Division Bell was on the money. Sadly it was to be their last proper album. I never tire of listening to it and watching David Gilmour play “High Hopes” live a couple of years ago reduced me to tears. Quite simply magnificent.

Throughout my life I have always been a huge fan of moody and atmospheric music and so discovering Fields of The Nephilim felt like all my Christmases had come at once. “The Nephilim” was my gateway album to goth. It was 1991 and my friend Adam introduced me to this music. His older sisters had been goths throughout the 1980s and he was exposed to it first hand. I promptly went out and bought everything I could find by the likes of The Sisters of Mercy, Fields of the Nephilim and The Mission. I transferred “The Nephilim” and “Dawnrazor” onto a cassette, one album each side and it lived in my Walkman most of the time. There were never many of us who were into goth in our circle of friends and I guess in Bradford at least this largely remains the situation. My attention drifted onto other musics over the years and it wasn’t until much later in life that I rekindled my love for goth and formed a band of my own. It was really a toss-up between this album and “First and Last and Always” by The Sisters of Mercy and were I not limited to 10 albums, then both would surely be included. They both changed my life at around about the same time and in the same way.

Like many of my peers in the late 80s/early 90s I started listening to heavy metal. It took me a little while as I didn’t take to it at first but I eventually got into it at the age of 16/17, which is around about the same time I started going to the plethora of rock/alt pubs and clubs we had in our city. I guess my gateway album to metal had to be Metallica’s “…And Justice For All”, which I discovered just before the “Black” album was released. Of course the Black album became ubiquitous for many years and there are probably thousands of bands out there across the world who are playing a cover of “Enter Sandman” at any given time. I preferred the harder sound and progressive nature of Justice. I remember regularly rocking out to “Harvester of Sorrow”, “One” and “Dyers Eve” on the dancefloor of Bradford Rio’s on a Friday night. Like the obsessed music fan I was, I promptly went out and bought the back catalogue of not only Metallica but the “big four” as well as many many other bands. Out of the thrash bands, Slayer were my favourites with special mention to “Seasons in the Abyss” which is one of the few metal albums that I still listen to from time to time. That’s not to say I don’t still like metal and I particularly enjoy it live. Metal has introduced me to lots of my friends over the years and it’s a brotherhood that I still feel very much a part of even though I’m more on the periphery these days.

My love of goth and my love of metal were both serenaded in about 1993/4 when I discovered the likes of Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Anathema. They were the big three of the underground in the early to mid 90s and although I kind of stopped following their work in subsequent years, those early albums remain a big influence on me to this day. It is so difficult to pick one album from this era but Paradise Lost’s “Shades of God” was the first one I discovered. Their follow-up “Icon” was a Mannville jukebox favourite as was My Dying Bride’s “Turn Loose The Swans”. Special mention goes to My Dying Bride’s “The Angel and the Dark River” who’s opening epic track “The Cry of Mankind” was a firm favourite. I happened upon a bunch of guys one night who had been trying to get a band together for some time to play music of this style and I immediately got excited. They needed a bassist. I owned a bass. I ended up becoming the guitarist. I loved playing in Dark Embrace and my thoughts and playing often hark back to those days. 1994-1996 was an awesome time to be in Bradford and a great time for underground metal. It essentially came in three flavours, death, doom and black and any mixture of therein. My standout memory from this time was playing with Solstice and Anathema at Rio’s. It was an awesome night. We ended up taking the Anathema lads round the corner to the Underworld club for a late pint after Rio’s closed. We had to ask the tour manager’s permission and he said “don’t be too late, they have to play London tomorrow”. I think we ended up getting trashed and leaving them in there at about 4am. Great days indeed!

Many of my musical influences ran in parallel and round about the same time as I got into metal, I also liked indie. The standout album for me was The Stone Roses eponymous release. Where the metal brought dark and shade, the Roses brought light and I enjoyed many a night in Tumblers nightclub dancing away to the likes of The Stone Roses, Suede, Blur, The Smiths, The Wedding Present, Carter USM, PWEI, Happy Mondays and many more. Special mention goes to The Smiths “The Queen is Dead” which remains one of my all time favourite albums and one of those rare cases of every track being blindingly good. Much of this was before Oasis emerged onto the scene who I never really got into that much. They were a sort of poor man’s Roses in many ways with the personality of a road accident.

I have always had an appreciation of punk but it wasn’t really until about 2000 that it came to the fore. The musical style changed my life but it’s difficult to pin it down to a single album but for me I think it has to be The Adverts “Crossing The Red Sea”. It has a perfect mixture of melody, power and creativity whilst keeping it simple. TV Smith has a great voice which reminds me of Peter Hammill at times. I have an appreciation of punk in all its forms and I loved playing it in my band Wild Trash. I am more into the first wave, more melodic stuff than the hardcore stuff. Other notable albums are of course The Damned’s “Damned Damned Damned”, The Ruts “Grin & Bear It” and Adam and the Ants “Dirk Wears White Socks” as well as the most obvious example of “Never Mind the Bollocks, here’s the Sex Pistols”. Being a part of the punk scene was an amazing time and it’s something I intend to do more of in the future.

One comment on “Ten albums that changed my life

  1. Good post! Trespass is really good. I discovered Genesis when Selling England by the Pound came out around the end of 1973 during my first semester in college. Then picked up the back catalog — Foxtrot and Nursery Crymes were available for $1.98 as cut-outs, but Trepass was more expensive at around $4.99 — those other albums were so good, I didn’t have to think twice.

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