Saturday, September 13, 2008

not my favourite albums

There's a game that's good for passing long journeys called oojah-ratha. You name two people and say which one you'd rather have sex with.

It works best at extremes, which of the sexiest you'd turn down or which of the most repulsive you'd least like to shag. You can retain the discounted option for the next round, and you eventually end up with someone's least fanciable person on earth. For nearly everyone, it's Margaret Thatcher.

I mean, Paul Daniels or Margaret Thatcher? See?

Anyway, the real enjoyment of the game isn't to see the choices but to hear the explanations and argue the toss about it (so to speak).

So it was really really boring to find myself on a coach journey sat in front of some lads playing oojah-ratha just naming girls they knew and only choosing a name. No explanation, no inquiries, nothing.

It seems to me that blog memes operate on the same sort of principle as oojah-ratha. When you're asked to name seven tunes that are really doing it for you right now, you want to be told a little bit about what and why.

There was one going round recently where you name a favourite album for every year of your life (here's one or two people who did it).

Thing is, nobody's going to write 20 or 40 or whatever little explanations, so it comes out as little more than a list, and as such is kind of like those lads on the coach.

Like every other blogger, I love chestbeating about my opinions and have the requisite quasi-autism that makes me order it into words and write it down even though nobody might read it.

That's what's great about blogging, the pinballing around someone else's mind. A straight list of album titles doesn't really let you in very far. So I'm not going to do that meme.

Also, I'm not sure I'm that qualified anyway. I’ve bought less and less new music in the last ten years so my choices after about 2000 would be somewhat forced and ill-informed.

Not that I’m being one of those nostalgia tossers who thinks all modern music is crap compared to when they were young. If anything, I’d guess the opposite is true; it’s got easier and cheaper to make music, so in all likelihood there’s more great music being made now than ever before. But I no longer find myself frequently spending hours on end sitting listening to music as a sole activity in itself.

More of an issue is the fact that most of what I do get is old stuff. Way the majority of music I’ve discovered in the last couple of years is older than I am. I strongly suspect we could go the rest of our lives discovering great black American music of the 60s and 70s and still not properly scratch the surface.

And it's not just the lack of explanation in the meme either, it's the way it only picks a top album for each year. Oh look, everyone loves OK Computer. Again.

I think it'd be more interesting to, say, pick your favourite four-star albums. Something flawed but that's nonetheless really got something to it. You'd get told about something that's gone under your radar, you'd learn something new.

For instance, for 1992 I, like most people with ears, would go for Automatic For The People as my top album. But ask me for a four-star and we'd be on to Leonard Cohen's The Future, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy's Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury, Julian Cope's occult epic Jehovahkill or All About Eve's Ultraviolet.

That last one scares people cos they think it'll be whimsical goth folk like the other All About Eve stuff, but it's not. It's a huge textural brooding eerie beast, great washes of guitars, sometimes bright sometimes glowering, always ethereal.

They toured it with 60s style blobby oil projections and encored with a cover of See Emily Play! It sold fuck all (too different for the fans, nobody else taking any notice cos it was All About Eve) so their record label dropped them immediately and it hasn't been reissued to this day.

My big album for 1985 would be Psychocandy, but the four star would probably be Strawberry Switchblade's eponymous album. Often dismissed as frothy one-hit wonders, there's a strong darkness in their mix, a delicate angelic richly morbid undertow that counterpoints the harmonies and shiny pop perfectly. The luscious melancholy sweep of Being Cold is just gorgeous.

Or maybe I'd go for The Style Council's Our Favourite Shop. They get written off as faux-jazz, but there was actually a lot of guts and diversity in the early Style Council stuff. But more importantly, on this album Paul Weller hit a lyrical clarity that he never matched before or since. It's powerfully and unashamedly political (it was, after all, written during the miners strike). Try the chilling A Stones Throw Away and tell me it's all jazzy affectation.

See, I'm already off. The 'one per year for your whole life' thing is too much to ask to someone to write or read, but still, I think there's the germ of a good idea there. Perhaps it's to pick a year and reel off, say, five albums for it. Hmmm.

Thinking about it, loads of these memes come as lists of five or seven, and I think there's wisdom in that. It's enough to really get stuck into a topic without over-running, and with that many there's bound to be summat that you weren't expecting and/or haven't heard of before.

I note that the year I picked at random is the year I left school. I suppose it's not surprising that, in a teenage intensity of focus, I've got some albums that the sharper, more knowledgable and more dismissive music lovers of the time would've passed on.

Yes, after all that meander, I think that's it. Give us five albums from the year you left school. Not necessarily the five 'greatest', but five that really do it for you.

I've already done Our Favourite Shop and Strawberry Switchblade.

Psychocandy - The Jesus & Mary Chain
Out of nowhere, this canyon of noise, big pop chords and oceans of feedback, like playing a Ronettes single on 33rpm over a PA turned up to 11 in a church hall with you listening to it from three streets away. Amid the upsurge of 80s big hair, teeth whitener and attendant superficiality, having the Mary Chain's slouchy miserable ragged noise, clearly coming from a deep passion for music not stardom, was the antidote. The one proper go I had at being in a band began with me playing You Trip Me Up to the man who'd become our singer and saying 'there needs to be more records like this'.

Heyday - The Church
As long as I can hear music I will listen to the Church. The gift of finely crafted intelligent guitar tunes is a great thing to exercise, but they're so much more. On this album a deep lusciousness comes into their sound, Steve Kilbey's voice matures into the aching opiate marvel it has continued to be. Such pace, grace, and mystery, yet so clear and accessible.

Prince - Around The World In A Day
Less than a year after the release of Purple Rain, as that album was still calving hit singles, this album came out. No singles in advance, no adverts of any kind, it was just there. Recorded as recreation from the rehearsals for the Purple Rain tour it's playful, experimental, wide-eyed and yet also very intimate and confessional, being simultaneously the poppiest stuff he'd ever done up to that point yet also the weirdest. The Purple Rain stuff was catchy and rolled over musical boundaries like so much thin air. This album, though, was not only unlike what you expected to come next but unlike anything you'd ever heard. It is a great tingly pretty swirl, and a real declaration of genius.

I've surprised myself by picking quite a mainstream and poppy list there. that's another problem with doing favourites lists, you can't help but disagree with yourself pretty much immediately. I certainly wouldn't want to assert that all five of those 1985ers are objectively better than First And Last And Always or Head On The Door.

Tag time:
Five blogs I'm asking: five albums you love dearly from the year you left school, please.
Alice In Blogland
Panadola Diction
The Quiet Road
and one who's usually just politics but is clearly too interesting not to branch out into other areas, A Daisy Through Concrete.


Unknown said...

Did the "best album for every year" from 1960 to what was I think 1995 with Tim Peackock (via letter so no copy of it sadly)
Surprising how full of great albums some years are - and how tricky others are - 1966 and 1989 for me were a nightmare to pick from - so many amazing ones - this then led to a discussion as to which was the best year ever for releases as a whole. Sure to start an argument if ever there was...

merrick said...

Picking just one from killer years is another reason not to do it. I mean, in 77 there was Never Mind The Bollocks, Low, Heroes, Lust For Life, Saturday Night Fever and Exodus.

67's even heavier - 2 killer albums each from Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Love, Rolling Stones, Tyrannosaurus Rex. Then there's Sergeant Peppers and Velvet Underground & Nico. How did people cope?

Alice said...

Thatcher or Widdecombe? Thatcher would be more likely to die in the act...?

Alice said...

Oh yeah, the music - can I do random year 1994 instead of the year I left school, went abroad and listened to cheezy latin crap for almost the entire year (1997)? Everything I took with me that wasn't crap seems to have come out in 1994.

merrick said...

Alice, there's a caveat in oojah-ratha. Obviously you can't get out of it by saying 'they'd fall asleep soon'.

So, the definition is; one night, you're both right up for it, goes on for several hours.

regarding your year choice, fine, do 94. It totally fits in with my point in the post, that we want to read something interesting, something that gives us well articulated views on material we'd otherwise have missed.

Alice said...

Are you saying you'd rather have sex with Ann Widdecombe? Jesus. You realise she'd probably make you marry her first?

merrick said...

Alice, are you saying you'd prefer to do Thatcher? Imagine that voice shouting your name as you pleasure her for hours on end.

Joseph Earl-Ridley said...

1992 was my year, i chose...

Body Count - Body Count
L7 - Bricks Are Heavy
Cannibal Corpse - Tomb of the Mutilated
Ministry - Psalm 69
Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde

Anonymous said...

for 1992 I, like most people with ears, would go for Automatic For The People as my top album. But ask me for a four-star and we'd be on to Leonard Cohen's The Future, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy's Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury, Julian Cope's occult epic Jehovahkill


You're right about the format, though. There were quite a few you have so got to hear this choices on my list, and I didn't get to rave appropriately. I'll have this one, I think. I left school in December 1978, so I'm very tempted to take 1979 as well, but maybe that's just greedy.

Anonymous said...

Blimey, 1978 was a good year. I've only managed to get it down to 10 by excluding albums I wasn't into at the time (so no Dylan, Clash or Pere Ubu), and that still leaves

All Mod Cons
More songs about buildings and food
Real Life
Another music in a different kitchen
Systems of Romance
Chairs Missing
This year’s model
Shiny beast
Go 2
Disguise in love

I'll get it down to 5 later... somehow.