Sunday 22 August 2010

Fifteen Albums in Fifteen Minutes

As an obsessional user of Facebook, (understatement of the year), it is always interesting to participate in some of the viral quizzes and opinion-seeking notices that are posted, especially the musically inclined ones.

By the strangest quirk of fate, I bought a swanky new notebook a couple of weeks ago and decided to "christen" it by jotting down my top ten albums of all time with a reserve list of five. Amazingly, yesterday, a posting appeared initially from Mr Derek Dick, the piscatorial former lead singer of Marillion, asking for people to compile the 15 albums which will always stick with you - to be compiled in 15 minutes which meant instincts had to come into their own.

Well, as they say on Blue Peter, here's one I made earlier so with no apologies for being a tad self-indulgent, below are my fab 15 with the reasons behind them.

1) Fragile by Yes was the first album I ever heard by them and it totally changed my life - a tall order when you are only 13 and all your friends are into Slade, Elton John and the like. That made Roundabout my first-ever Yessong and I still consider it my signature tune. Then miraculously, I saw its words come to life three winters ago when we were en famille in the beautiful French town of Annecy which has the most spectacularly picturesque lake. Suddenly, there appeared the vision of "in and around the lake, mountains come out of the sky and they stand there." It was one of life's defining moments. My brother also has strict instructions for it to be played at my memorial service (along with the Ying Tong Song by the Goons).

2) Curved Air 2 was the first album I ever bought in 1971 from the proceeds of six weeks' baby sitting. A gentlemen from Watford whom I had met on holiday in Majorca told me about the band and got me enthused. So I got Curved Air 2 before Air Conditioning and then bought Backstreet Luv when it was a hit. Sonja Kristina was my heroine because she was probably everything I wanted to be then (and maybe still do even now) - talented, beautiful and surrounded by men! It is still an astonishing album especially Piece Of Mind and I only found out later from where the spoken poetry came (The Waste Land by T S Eliot).

3) Images at Twilight by Saga. I was originally going to select Silent Knight, but IaT was the very first album of theirs I heard which I received as a review copy when I was the "entertainment" writer for the brilliantly named Beds and Bucks Observer in Leighton Buzzard. I spent about three weeks just looking at the cover and one day, when washing up at a boyfriend's house (not a common occurrence), I put it on.....and literally dropped all the crocks in the sink. It was another eureka moment - the most stunningly sophisticated collection of prog rock songs with flashes of Yes and again, it all made perfect musical sense. I was so enamoured by them, I nearly started their British fan club.

4) Moving Pictures by Rush is the band at their very zenith with a wonderful pun of an album cover. Tom Sawyer is one of the best opening songs on any album with fantastic, mind-blowing lyrics, moving swiftly into a paean about an old banger, to a highly complex quicksilver instrumental, to a commentary on why being famous is not all it is cracked up to be, to a stunning musical snapshot of two cities, rounding off with two more superb standards majoring on prejudice and the human condition. That is just about the universe covered in one album!

5) Queen 2 is pure heavy metal heaven. Having seen the band on The Old Grey Whistle Test performing Liar, my initial thought what the hell is that!! Then along came Q2 with its black and white sides - totally overblown, magnificent and pretentious, with some absolute gems such as Ogre Battle, Seven Seas of Rhye, Father to Son and the marvellously silly Fairy Fella's Masterstroke. Check out the painting in Tate Britain. I saw them on this tour and then on the Night at the Opera tour where I had a front row seat. There will never be another Freddie - nobody did it better.

6) ELP 1 was another life-changing album from the early 70s with all that heavy duty, industrial strength jazz, rock and classical pomp and bluster alongside the more delicate spoonfuls of Take a Pebble and Lucky Man. This was taken in isolation because afterwards I did not get Tarkus at all at the time and only now finally appreciate its excellence.

7) Discipline - King Crimson only because it is the most stupendously difficult and wonderful album of all time, which takes my mind to some very complex places. I saw them on this particular tour and it was one of the best concerts I have ever attended because of all of the above and because it was the first time I had ever seen a Chapman stick being played.

8) The Whirlwind by Transatlantic has plugged a huge gap in my musical inventory because it has moved me on from my 70s timewarp, documented elsewhere. And it is all thanks to Martin! This album is the true essence of prog rock and the more you hear it, the more you hear. I cannot stop playing it (and as it is Martin's copy.....)!

9) Four Symbols by Led Zeppelin, another of my early album purchases along with a French single comprising Black Dog and Misty Mountain Hop. It is all the tracks which are not Stairway to Heaven which make it so memorable especially the ethereal beauty of Battle of Evermore and the pure, dirty blues of When the Levee Breaks, probably their finest ever.

10) The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was the first Genesis album which I really wanted to play time and time again. It was a crazy, surreal story but with some classic songs like The Carpet Crawlers, The Lamia, Fly On The Windshield and the title track of course.

11) Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was the only Sabbath album that really cut it for me because it had sensational tracks like Spiral Architect and Looking For Today, which had fantastic arrangements and melodies.

12) Spectral Mornings just showed what Steve Hackett was really made of once he had cut loose from Genesis. His albums have always been full of variety and virtuosity, and this one had everything - a crowd pleasing anthem in Everyday, a beautiful acoustic ballad in The Virgin and the Gypsy, an achingly lovely instrumental in the title track and a total rhythmic riot with Clocks- Angel of Mons.

13) Olias of Sunhillow by Jon Anderson. I remember first hearing when on a stay with the then boyfriend in the wilds of Rutland. There had been nothing else like it before and with Jon playing all the instruments in this incredible tale from another galaxy about an alien race escaping to a new world, it just broke new prog musical ground.

14) Ra by Utopia was a work of genius and that genius just so happens to be Todd Rundgren. This album completely intrigued and confounded me, because it was such a rich cocktail of themes ranging from the edgy Hiroshima, to the quirky Magic Dragon Theater to the downright bizarre Singring and the Glass Guitar. And the production of the album is just sublime.

15) Audio-Visions by Kansas is one of those albums which has two huge plusses - there is not a duff track on it and the singer is the awesome Steve Walsh. An absolute gem of an album on which No One Together is the outstanding track.

So there it is and it deliberately includes only one album per artist (apart from the Genesis/Hackett and Yes/Anderson tie-ups). And not a Pink Floyd album in sight. We shall save that debate for another time.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more about your love of Fragile. Having a very classical musical up bringing, my exposure to "modern" music was limited. Then someone at school loaned me Dark side of the moon, Hergest Ridge and Fragile. I was completely blown away by Roundabout, but in later years Heart of the sunrise has become my favourite track from tha album. My daughter (12) doesn't do prog, but she loves Roundabout and for us it all made sense walking up Snowdon a couple of years ago. Like you I've struggled with albumns -Close to the Edge took me years to get, but is now a favourite. I really must sit down for 15 minutes and make my list!