The album is, in many ways, a bit of an odd concept today. Digital downloads have enabled people to pick and choose tracks rather than possess a whole album. Similarly, the music that I like nowadays - techno - tends to be released as 12" EPs with two or three tracks. So my favorite albums - the ones that I would run for first when an earthquake hits - are all from the 70s and early 80s when the album really meant something. I still love albums but it's a pity that their relevance has been so diminished. Here are my favorites, in no particular order whatsoever:
Throbbing Gristle - 2nd Annual Report
The debut album of Throbbing Gristle was released in late 1977. It was my go-to listening for when I had homework to do as a teenager because it really enabled me to concentrate. Similarly, when I wanted to relax, I would turn off the lights in my bedroom and put it on loud. Most of my friends found it annoying and disturbing but I totally loved it. The B-side was the soundtrack of the film "After Cease To Exist" which was shown during TG's Rafter's gig in Manchester. The initial release, on Industrial Records, had only 785 copies (of which I own one), but it has since been re-released multiple times.
Yellow Magic Orchestra - XOX Multiples
This is perhaps the most joyful record in my collection with a bunch of tracks that make you want to dance, listen intently to, or simply laugh at. It starts brilliantly and illustrates their mastery of electronic instruments together with the traditional. How many Japanese bands do you know that have made it outside Japan? YMO were certainly the only one in the late 70s.
Human League - Travelogue
I spent the entire summer of 1980 following the Human League around Britain. They always began their set with The Black Hit Of Space from the Travelogue album. As Phil Oakey moved his head from side to side to watch the slide show behind him, the entire audience would mimic his actions. Travelogue was a brilliant piece of work with Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware's tunes perfectly complimenting Oakey's satirical lyrics. It was such a pity that they parted ways just when it was getting so good.
Kraftwerk - Computerworld
Like many teenagers in the late 80s, I had a BBC microcomputer in my bedroom and I was learning to program. Kraftwerk's album came just as the personal computer boom happened and it became the soundtrack of the age. Flawless minimal electronic music with a hint of lyrical irony, Kraftwerk yet again predicted the future.
Magazine - Secondhand Daylight
It is touch and go whether Real Life, their first album, or Secondhand Daylight, their second, are better. They're perhaps equally brilliant. Howard Devoto, with his inimical voice fronted a set of musicians of amazing capability. The tight drums and bass of John Doyle and Barry Adamson perfectly complementing the keyboards of Dave Formula and the lead guitar of John McGeoch.
Wire - Chairs Missing
Wire's first album, Pink Flag, was utterly brilliant. Shortly after it was released, Wire were my first gig when they played at PG's in Harrogate on 29th April 1978. But Chairs Missing showed a totally different Wire where the lyrics made no sense and never seemed to fit with the music but every song was executed with precision. I just love the variety on that album.
Thomas Leer & Robert Rental - The Bridge
If you're looking for early raw analog electronica with huge influences from the new wave era, look no further than The Bridge. Thomas Leer and Robert Rental created a series of tracks in two weeks at home that feel nervous, raw and full of energy. The stand-out tracks, Attack Decay and Day Breaks, Night Heals are utter classics of the early synth age.
Soft Cell - Non-stop Erotic Cabaret
Growing up in Leeds and being at the Warehouse, I was surrounded by Soft Cell and knew them well. From my time at No. 27 (mentioned in the credits) this album was the perfect soundtrack to the seedier side of life in Leeds. And what's wrong with a bit of seediness? I like seedy!
David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust
There isn't a bad track on this album but my favorite has to be Five Years. I love the lyrics, love the drummed beginning, and love the way Bowie's singing goes from balanced to desperate within a matter of 2 minutes. Oh such joy in so sad a song.
Cabaret Voltaire - The Voice Of America
Just like the Cabs, I also wore an old man's overcoat and crimped my hair. I also experimented with fuzz boxes to synthesize my voice out of all recognition. The Cabs delivered a masterpiece in The Voice Of America - simple songs delivered in the trademark Cabs disjointed and disorienting way. Love it!
The Clash - London Calling
It was tough trying to pick my favorite Clash album as there are many to choose from. But London Calling wins it by a nose. Of all the bands of my teenage years, The Clash were the ones that matured and demonstrated their musicianship like no other. They were utterly fascinating to follow as you could see the influences around them rub off into their music. Joe Strummer proved to be not only a prolific song writer but also a philosopher of life with a unique perspective on his generation. Fabulous.
The Orb - The Orb's Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld
This album virtually knocked me off the sofa. I bought it in an Amsterdam record shop after the owner told me it would blow my mind. And it literally did. It became my go-to music for any mood. Want to relax? - put it on. Want an uplift? - put it on. Have people coming round? - put it on. It combined sampling, killer ambient beats and natural sounds of the environment so cleverly, all in a range of tracks that have no weak links. Brilliant.
The Stone Roses - Stone Roses
From Fools Gold to I Wanna Be Adored, this is the perfect album to listen to while driving on a dark and rainy night. When I revarnished my parquet floor one Saturday I put on side one and just left it to repeat over and over again for hours, partly because I couldn't walk on the floor to change the record. It made my day, and maddened the neighbors.
XTC - Drums And Wires
XTC's third album and at the zenith of their musical prowess. If you've never heard of XTC, then you'll be surprised by their odd time signatures. The bass and drums tends to be in its own little world yet is perfectly maps with the singing and guitar/keyboards. They are so good that there are a bunch of bands copying their time signatures nowadays.
The KLF - The White Room
This is one of those albums that can totally fuck with your mind. Put it on, sit back and you get an angelic track with singers who could be angels. And then all hell breaks loose with What Time Is Love. And so it goes on... calming you down and then bursting in to freak you out. Lovely stuff.
Jean Michel Jarre - Oxygene
I got this for Christmas in 1977. It's another perfect album for listening to in the dark. I was fascinated by the photograph of all the synthesizers on the back and one-day dreamed I would own one too. If you listen to the music you can appreciate that Jean Michel Jarre made an amazing solo album with extremely primitive equipment compared to today's synths. And he did it was such ease that everyone who bought a synth thought they would be able to create something similar. It only took 5 minutes out of the box to realize that it was harder than he made it look.
Heaven 17 - Penthouse And Pavement
After the breakup of the Human League, Marsh and Ware went off and created some killer 12" singles like We Don't Need This Fascist Groove Thang and I'm Your Money. And then along came their first album that proved that the musical taken in the Human League was now all in Heaven 17. I once spent a whole evening just letting the A-side play over and again on the turntable in the living room, while I cuddled with my girlfriend of the time, Laura. That album captured the age perfectly, and it doesn't seem dated if you listen to it today.
Throbbing Gristle - 20 Jazz Funk Greats
This is perhaps TG's finest moment. With an album cover that would confuse anyone browsing a record store and a set of tracks that go from electro-disco-ish Hot On The Heels Of Love right down to the menacing Persuasion, it stands out from the crowd. It was my go-to record for the winter of 1979 and if I ever feel the need to reminisce then this is the record I turn to.
The Pop Group - For How Much Longer Must We Tolerate Mass Murder
Gritty jazz-funk and slow-burning reggae dub, this was Mark Stewart's greatest hour. A political protest album of enormous power and machete-wielding style. Some tracks sound like they were recorded in a bathroom, such is the production value, but that is what gives it such style. It's raw, powerful and utterly mesmeric. Utterly brilliant.
The Buzzcocks - Another Music In A Different Kitchen
As Punk gave way to New Wave, the Buzzcocks first album showed the value of applying quality music production to the punk ethos. The result is a tour de force of powerful tracks from a bunch of musicians who certainly knew how to play. It starts with the riff from "Boredom" - the key track on the single Spiral Scratch before Howard Devoto left the band, and then just dominates the room with tracks like Fast Cars and I Don't Mind. Pete Shelley really knew how to write and sing a great lyric. And I just loved that silver cover - it stood out of my music collection perfectly.
Killing Joke - Killing Joke
If you're looking for raw energy then go no further than listening to Killing Joke's debut album at high volume. It will torment you with such power - big hammering drums, a guitar that attacks your very being and Youth's bass line that cuts like a knife. Oh so joyous. I lost the hearing in my right ear such was my devotion to Killing Joke, and I don't regret it for a moment.
The The - Soul Mining
If there ever was an album that represented my early 20th, this is it. I can relate to all the lyrics on this album. From the beauty of Uncertain Smile with its catchy rhythm and Jools Holland's amazing piano solo, right to This Is The Day, which reflects on the desperation of loneliness. Oh what a wonderful collection of songs.
Public Image Limited - Metal Box
I did my Dad a deal with this one - I asked him if he would like to invest in a collectors item that would be worth something one day. And that is how I got my hands on Metal Box. It cemented my love of Jah Wobble and confirmed to me that reggae was far reaching in influencing other genres of music. The blending of guitar, synthesizer and bass on this record is phenomenal. John Lydon's singing enhances the experience. Funnily enough, I find the drums utterly forgettable, but the rest is pure magic.
LFO - Frequencies
This record literally blew me away when I was listening to it in the car on the way home from the record shop. LFO worked out how to add more low-end bass into a track than anything I had heard before, and my car was buzzing as a result. The warehouse mix of the track LFO just knocks your socks off. As does the rest of the album. It's raw synthetic electronics at its best.
Big Audio Dynamite - This Is Big Audio Dynamite
With Mick Jones from The Clash playing the guitar and singing, I first encountered Big Audio Dynamite on an obscure Dutch TV show singing Medicine Show. Next day after work I had the album in my hand and I was hooked. B.A.D have made clever use of sampling in all their records and it pays off immensely when combined with their sense of humor in the way they arrange their music. There isn't a bad B.A.D album, in truth, but this one was utterly brilliant from start to finish.
Ryuichi Sakamoto - Heartbeat
A master of the piano and a man who knows his way around knobs and faders, Ryuichi Sakamoto delivered a very classic album in Heartbeat. His mastery of the beat on each track is phenomenal but the continuous variation in the music in order to keep you interested and wanting more is what sets this album apart. In the early 90s I was a software developer and we used to play music wheel we worked in the office - this was a firm favorite to all of us.
Jack The Tab - Tekno Acid Beat
This is Psychic TV playing early acid under various guises. It was before the Roland TB303 became the key acid instrument of choice. I would listen to this in the car on the way home from work and it got me in the mood for a night out on the town. It is all rather simple when you listen to it nowadays, but it is still raw and hard to not tap your foot to.
A Certain Ratio - MCR
A Certain Ratio were one of my favorite bands right from the start of their career - there was just something about their blend of jazz-funk. But they also had an amazing ability to evolve. From their early tracks such as Shack Up through to MCR shows an incredible growth not only in their musicianship but also in their song writing. MCR starts with Spirit Dance, a brilliant piece of electronica and then diversifies into three varying musical styles. It is easy to listen to and utterly compelling to delve into and dissect.
Kraftwerk - The Mix
After years of waiting for a new album, Kraftwerk released The Mix and it turned out that they had spent years re-recording all their old songs. And they had even re-written history by changing the credits of those who wrote the songs in the first place! Kraftwerk had become curators of their own material, stuck in a museum of their own creation, with nothing new? But no, The Mix was utterly new and different. Every track is totally amazing. And clever. And unique. No one creates a metal beat like Kraftwerk, to this day. This album stands the test of time so well.
Pet Shop Boys - Please
Ah The Pet Shop Boys. Kings of the gay disco movement. Masters of electro-disco. This was their first album. They were obscure and unheard of by many people when it came out. I bought a cassette of it to play in the car as I drove from Holland to England in 1986. The first thing I notice is that they have mastered drum programming like no other before them. Then I listened to the synth lines and realize that you are hearing something very special for the first time. Pet Shop Boys write fabulous songs and this album was the start of so many great albums.
Astrid Monroe & Genesis P-Orridge - When I Was Young
Rather obscure and definitely not mainstream. Astrid Monroe is a polish musician who created an album of dreamy dark electronica and then had Genesis P-Orridge talk over the top of it. Listen to it for the first time and it seems strangely familiar. Listen a few times and you'll find yourself craving to hear it again. It is perfect for a specific mood. But you need to work out which mood you're in that craves it.
Solomun - Watergate 11
Killer mix album of house and disco tracks, all beautifully mixed to create a soundscape that is hard to not dance to. I particularly like Family Business by The Supermen Lovers, and Forms And Shapes by Sascha Funke. There is just something really well done about this album.