Sunday, 1 March 2009

This Facebook '25 albums' thing.

Proof that social networking sites are occasionally good for something other than simply wasting time. I've been mulling over this for about a week now, and found it quite inspiring. The brief is something like this;

Think of 25 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that no matter what they were, musically shaped your world. Not necessarily your favourite albums of all time, but the ones that shaped your life.

Now, since I don't do brevity, I'm going to post this in stages, and more or less chronologically. So, here goes...

The Beatles: Please Please Me

Or; Why I Listen To Music. My earliest, clearest memory is of my ma taking me into town to the NEMS record shop in Whitechapel (which Brian Epstein owned) and buying me this album for my fourth birthday, so the die was cast for me at a very early age. This was early 60s Liverpool, and everybody loved the Beatles, so it was a no-brainer. I know every last note of this record. I wore the grooves grey and spent hours poring over the sleevenotes and the credits, all of which seemed a bit gnomic and beyond my understanding (even though I learnt to read early as a kid), as well as the strange-looking and now iconic photo on the cover. To this day, whenever I hear that "Ah-one-two-three-FAH!" that sets off "I Saw Her Standing There", I get all "recherche du temps perdu".

Frank Sinatra: Songs For Swinging Lovers

This one just reminds me of my ma. She adored Sinatra like no other singer, and had a bunch of his records, but this one and the Days of Wine and Roses album were probably her favourites. As a kid, I'd often sit around the house listening to it with her during the school holidays or at weekends, without ever realising that that peerless voice and those lush Nelson Riddle arrangements were subconsciously helping develop my ear for the kind of music I wouldn't even discover until I was much older. Strangely enough, of all the great songs on this album, the one I love most is widely considered to be one of the fillers, "We'll Be Together Again";

No tears, no fears,
remember there's always tomorrow.
So what if we have to part,
we'll be together again.
Your kiss, your smile,
are memories I'll treasure forever
So try thinking with your heart,
we'll be together again.
Times when I know you'll be lonesome,
times when I know you'll be sad.
Don't let temptation surround you,
don't let the blues make you bad.
Someday, someway,
we both have a lifetime before us.
For parting is not good-bye,
we'll be together again.

But you really need to hear Frank sing it.

David Bowie: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

The first record that I truly felt was mine in more than just the obvious proprietorial sense. It's difficult to explain the impact that Bowie had on British teenagers in the early 70s. Like the Isleys said, if you were there, you'd know, but suffice it to say that, for an entire generation of us, Bowie was The Man. He had a minimum eleven-year hot streak of albums, most of which were stone-cold game changers. Everybody wanted to know what he was going to do next, and you could literally see the effect he was having, not only on music, but on youth culture too, such as it was then. Often these effects wouldn't become apparent until years later, but everyone knew who was in the driving seat. I remember reading the famous Rolling Stone double-header interview between Bowie and William Burroughs around this time, or maybe a little later, wherein he broke down the concepts behind "Ziggy Stardust", as well as acknowledging the extent to which Burroughs had influenced the album and his work as a whole. Having this, as well as a whole load of other stuff, laid out in such a way was mind-blowing. Up until then, I'd thought "Ziggy" was just a collection of cool, somewhat otherworldly pop songs, but after reading about cut-ups and black hole jumpers, I began to listen harder and more closely, not just to Bowie, but to everything else as well. The way the album closes out, with Rock 'n' Roll Suicide building to a spectacular, dramatic crescendo before dying on a huge, resonant D major, is up there with A Day In The Life as the best ending to a rock record ever. When it's over, you feel like you've been somewhere you'd never even have imagined existed otherwise.

Django Reinhardt & Sidney Bechet: Deux Geants du Jazz / The Mahavishnu Orchestra: Birds of Fire

The first of a few double shots. These two were the "bonding with my dad" records. He was a jazz fan, mainly dixieland, swing and big-band stuff. His cut-off point was when Duke Ellington started to get "weird", as he put it, so he wasn't into be-bop or beyond. Because I never knew there was a difference at that point, I'd go to the local library and bring home records by Charlie Parker, Roland Kirk or Miles Davis, play them to him and ask him what he thought. Invariably, the response would be, "where's the melody?", so there was still this gulf between what he considered jazz, and the stuff I was trying to find my way through off my own bat in my adolescent eagerness to absorb music which was beyond my realm, and which, perhaps subconsciously, I thought might bring me closer to him. I was trying to be a guitar player at this point, and my dad's idea of a great guitar player was Django. He had this compilation of Django and Sidney Bechet stuff, which we'd listen to a lot. My dad liked clarinetists, people like Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw or Sid Phillips. Bechet played the soprano, which isn't a wildly dissimilar instrument from the clarinet, and my dad enjoyed the style in which he played. I suppose he was trying to give me a bit of an education in where someone like Roland Kirk was coming from (even though he didn't like Kirk's music), as well as pointing me in a direction which might help my nascent aspirations as a guitarist. When I got my first electric, he hipped me to Charlie Christian and Barney Kessel too, but that's another story. The first time I heard Phone Tap by The Firm, with its sample of Petite Fleur (a song which was pretty much Bechet's theme tune), I had another of those Proustian rushes. It's a little strange to hear a piece of classic 90s coked-out East Coast (bi-coastal?) gangsta rap and be reminded, in however small a way, of your dad, but there it is.

So, anyway, I'd seen this BBC2 In Concert broadcast featuring the Mahavishnu Orchestra in about 1972, around the time Birds of Fire came out, and had been knocked out by it. I remembered seeing John McLaughlin's name on some of those Miles albums I'd lent out from the library, and I was like, OK, well this must be jazz, too. My dad hated it. Noise, he called it - no melody, just an over-amplified racket. This was when I began to dig my heels in and argue back, giving him my under-developed two-bob ideas and opinions about what I thought was jazz (or what was jazz, too). We were still having these arguments years later, when I was about 19 or 20 and bringing home records like Blue Train and Relativity Suite, or stuff by Keith Jarrett or AEC. But if I hadn't had my ear for jazz shaped and developed through the music my dad shared with me (conservative though his tastes may have been), I might never have found any of those artists in the first place. So, thanks, dad. Something else I owe you.

Roxy Music: Roxy Music/For Your Pleasure

The first band I ever saw live. In fact, the first band that I instinctively knew would be great before I'd even heard a note of their music. Richard Williams' piece in Melody Maker (the first major feature on them in the music press) had already got me hooked, and by the time I heard Virginia Plain (which wasn't even on the album), it was a done deal. Great as they were, Roxy Music were always kind of in Bowie's slipstream a little, especially after Eno left, and I don't think it was entirely coincidental that Bowie and Eno began working together just as Roxy was beginning to turn into more of a conventional rock band, and later into The Bryan Ferry Show. I like all their 70s material to some degree, but the first two were particularly extraordinary; records which left you with a sense that here was something you really hadn't heard before. Or, if you had, then not in this order. I'm sure me and my friends weren't the only ones who sought out the music of the Velvets through Roxy citing them as an influence. There used to be a tape recording of the 13-y-o me singing "In Every Dream Home A Heartache", the lyrics to which I couldn't have possibly fully comprehended, while a friend of mine played the keyboard part on a Bontempi organ. It was fucking awful, and is (I hope to God) long gone. The first two Roxy albums are anything but.

More later...

1 comment:

MsBee said...

More please!