It’s a wonderful feeling, getting to know an album, being able to recite every lyric and hit all the right notes with your air guitar. When you’ve become so familiar with an album you enjoy, it can feel a little bit like returning home. You hear the resounding whine of Tony Iommi’s (Black Sabbath) guitar at the beginning of War Pigs, the shuttering percussion and rumbling build of Coshise by Audioslave and it’s almost as if your muscles relax, soothed by the knowledge you have some serious eargasms ahead of you.
Now while I can safely say that I will never again repeat the word ‘eargasm’, I wanted to talk about a few of the albums I have persistently revisited over the years. These range from (somewhat) recent to (relatively) old, rock to folk to indie – there’s even a soundtrack or two in there. I’ve tried to be economical and varied in the genres I’ve gathered to compile this list, so hopefully there will be something for everyone (unless your music tastes sucks. Sorry.) Without further ado, this is a list of my top ten favourite albums.
1. I Brought You My Bullets, You Gave Me Your Love – My Chemical Romance (2002)
The reader should be extremely thankful that I have the presence of mind enough to know that not everyone wants to see all five of MCR’s studio albums on this list (though it was a tempting idea.) Instead, I’m restraining myself to just one, the most important in my humble opinion. Before the Danger Days of Na Na Na and that three year period around 2006 when it seemed nothing graced the airwaves but those hauntingly memorable notes preceding Welcome to the Black Parade, there was the band’s very first album. Frequently referred to by fans as ‘Bullets’, this release was wonderfully rough around the edges. To this day, it remains to be my favourite of all their works. The lyricism, a component of music that I find extremely important, is laced with sweeping metaphor and vibrant, violent imagery. It’s clear to see the influences of alt-punk bands like the Misfits and Black Flag in the sharp, fast-paced rhythms as well as epic, almost orchestral guitar solos reminiscent of Iron Maiden. I loved this album because the whole feel of the thing was so visceral, unapologetic, as romantic as it was furious. It’s not much of a secret to anyone who knows me that My Chem were my first true love when it came to music and have continued to have an effect on the way that I write and make art to this day.
Honey, This Mirror Isn’t Big Enough for the Two of Us
Headfirst for Halos
Early Sunsets Over Monroeville
2. One, Two, Three, Home – Clayton Blizzard (2009)
When I first moved to Bristol, I house-shared with a guy called Big Will (there were two Wills in Flat 203, guess what we called the other one?) He and I became fast friends and in the very first week that we all moved in together, he tapped on my bedroom door one day armed with a CD and said, “I know a guy who knows this guy. You should listen to it, it’s a pretty good album.” So I did. The first thing I picked up on about this gentleman’s music was the entrancing mix of piano, string and drum beats. Together, each instrument lends something different to the musical canvas being stretched out and from the first evocative notes of Sad Music is Uplifting, the listener’s interest is already peaked. In my opinion, however, the triumph of this album is its scripture – the lyrics are the brushstrokes of this artwork that make it decisively beautiful to behold. The guy’s a rapper but he doesn’t sing about money and women; he writes about politics, love, the creation of art and music itself. As plentiful and poignant as his words are, he also maintains a level of self-deprecation that translates to humour as people identify with the honesty of what he says. This is a witty, intelligent and talented individual and I am still currently in possession of his CD – sorry, Will.
New Strings on an Old Guitar
Winning A Raffle, Losing the War
War on Words
3. Elizabethtown: Music from the Motion Picture [Volumes 1 & 2] (2005)
As promised, a soundtrack. It was an accident how I came to know and love this album. I watched the film (directed by Cameron Crowe) and as a dreamy, impressionable eleven year old I became obsessed with the concept of road trips and music and romance. On buying the soundtrack, I would become just like quirky and beautiful female protagonist, Claire Colburn, or as critic Nathan Rabin coins this particular type of stock character, ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’. Though it is regrettable to think I was caught out by clever marketing (hey, I was a kid, alright?) I’m happy to say it’s a move I don’t wish to amend. This soundtrack is, quite frankly, boss as fuck. The instrumentals are simple yet beautiful, the original score solely composed by Nancy Wilson (Heart). The predominant genres you’ll find on this album are mostly rock and country. Two artists whose work clearly had a lot of influence within the film’s musical direction are country folk musician, Ryan Adams (not to be confused with Bryan Adams of Summer of ’69 fame) and classic rock icon, Tom Petty. Performers both famous and obscure can be found on this record. The music is so carefully selected not just to fit in with the film, but to give you a feeling of immersion into the deep American south, a connection to your own hurt and healing, and, above all, a sense of gripping wanderlust. This album makes me want to drive for miles and miles and miles.
Same in Any Language – I Nine
Come Pick Me Up – Ryan Adams
Let It All Hang Out – The Hombres
4. Play – Moby (1999)
This album reminds me of the good old days (or more accurately, nights) when I would stay up until 3am pulling together my GCSE Art coursework. Don’t get me wrong, I loved art, still do, but for some reason I always left it until the last second to get started on my homework. The mystery of procrastination, eh? Either way, I used to get loaded on black coffee like the idiot I am and stay awake painting to this album. And what a fucking album. An old friend of mine introduced me to Moby; we shared a lot of the same interests, including music tastes and we were both mad for this lovely, shiny-headed, techno-blues vegan. This album is full of energy; it will instantly have you bobbing your head and saying in a surprised sort of fashion, ‘Ooh, yeh!’ I defy anyone to press play and not find themselves toe-tapping in the first twenty seconds of Honey. Where there is upbeat, there is also heartfelt lyricism too, most songs having a distinct theme of loss and being lost. The record clearly has a distinct ark, starting out fast-paced and full of tracks to Bodyrock to before descending slowly but definitely into smoother, slower, more melancholy pieces such as Everloving and The Sky is Broken. Every time I reached the end of this album, I had also finished whatever adolescent masterpiece I’d been working on in my A3 sketchbook. I like to think I couldn’t have done it without the musical caffeine tablet that is Play.
5. The Sound of the Smiths [Deluxe Edition] – The Smiths (2008)
I once seriously contemplated breaking up with a guy because he just didn’t ‘get’ The Smiths. I’m sorry, but I feel extremely passionate about this band. Yes, Morrissey is a bit of a twat. Yes, Meat is Murder is a truly terrifying song. And yes, the lyrics are 9.5 times out of 10 comically grim but that is what sets this band apart from so many others. The contrast of the melancholy lyricism and the jaunty, upbeat sound is unparalleled. The lyrics come from a place of such indulgent self-interest, it would be impossible not to relate to some small aspect of Morrissey’s story-telling. He points out so many of the insecurities and faults of human nature and in caricaturing them, allows us to view ourselves in sharper relief and with a sense of humour. The concept was to create poetry about perfectly ordinary aspects of human existence and set them to a backdrop of cheerful indie-pop rhythms. The music will make you want to get up and wave wildflowers around, the words will make you question the validity of your own existence – is it all pointless? Will I ever be loved in return? Why can’t I be as good-looking as the others? And why does my girlfriend have to be in a coma? Now it may seem like a cop out that this entry is a ‘Best of’ album but frankly it was the first Smiths CD I ever owned. My dad, Manchester born and bred just like The Smiths and probably happy to know I was showing an interest in music he used to listen to growing up, bought this record for me at Christmas when I was fourteen. “What a great present,” my mum commented sarcastically. “Nothing says Christmas spirit like Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now! Or Pretty Girls Make Graves, or, of course, Girlfriend in a Coma.” We didn’t play it on Christmas Day. But I did almost every day since.
This Charming Man
The Queen Is Dead/Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty [Medley]
6. (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? – Oasis (1995)
Oasis are a Manchester band, a city very close to my heart. I remember exactly where I was on the day they broke up and I know that I thought exactly the same as every other fan on that day: ‘It’s a bloody shame, but I’m amazed they lasted this long the way Gallagher brothers have been carrying on all these years.’ People often say it is the mark of a great band, when the lead singer and lead guitarist have horrible animosity towards each other – Slash and Axl? Simon and Garfunkel? And Liam and Noel were no exception to this rule. Oasis hit the mark almost every time and this album (‘borrowed’ from my parents’ CD cabinet never to be returned) was my first experience of how good this band were. The first time I played Wonderwall in my bedroom, my mum burst in and said, ‘Where did you hear this song?’ Bemused, I looked back at her and responded, ‘Just around.’ ‘Seriously,’ she insisted, ‘How do you know about this song?’ I think this was a relief to her, a sign that I was starting down a path towards ‘decent’ music.
7. Nevermind – Nirvana (1991)
Probably Nirvana’s most renowned album, every track on Nevermind is a single in its own right. Born from the Seattle punk scene, many say that Nirvana were a key founder of the grunge movement. I believe it is an extremely important rite of passage for every teenager to get down and dirty with this album, kicking off with the best known hit Smells Like Teen Spirit and ending with the underrated, understated, haunting Something in the Way. Encompassing some of Nirvana’s best known songs, this album frankly doesn’t put a foot wrong and despite the punk undertones and often sarcastic, unforgiving lyrics, it’s a record that can be listened to at any time, in any mood just to give you that boost to get through the day.
Something in the Way
8. Rotten Apples – The Smashing Pumpkins (2001)
Ah, the Pumpkins. Billy Corgan. That whining voice that irritates my dad so much. I played this album on repeat for at least a year when I was a teenager. It was angry and animalistic at times, tentative and moving at others. All that can be said about this band is that they are a tour de force of alternative rock. Today mixes elements of heavy metal and gentle, tuneful electric guitar. The lyrics are equally as romantically delicate as they are innately angry. Their sound is weird, it’s visceral, it’s unlike anything you’ll hear elsewhere. There is also a beautifully alternative version of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide on this record. Just do yourself a favour and listen to it… especially when you’re feeling angsty.
Bullet with Butterfly Wings
The Everlasting Gaze
9. Back to Black – Amy Winehouse (2006)
The first time I heard Amy was at a childhood friend’s house. She said to me, “Has this person got soul or what?” Rehab was the song. I was struck by how low and rumbling the tone of her voice was, the sheer depth of her singing. I adore Amy Winehouse’s music; my parents, who were more interested in her social scandals and drug exploits, were a little uncomfortable that I held her on such a pedestal but I steadfastly held that her music talent was the most important aspect of her character. This album has so many clear influences from the jazz world and brings these genres into a contemporary mainstream era. Her lyrics are sharply honest from everything about her vices to destructive relationships. In spite of the tragic ending this woman met, it’s important to remember that she was brave and true in her art; Back to Black was such an overwhelming success as a stand alone album and will always be an inspiration to me.
You Know I’m No Good
He Can Only Hold Her
Tears Dry On Their Own
10. Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam – Ghostpoet (2011)
There’s always that one album that gets you through ‘the big break up’. This one was mine. I’d been aware of Ghostpoet for a few years before I really started listening to his music; he was performing at a local festival a friend from school was attending and she recommended I check him out. It was until *ghost story voice* ‘the big break up’ *ahem* that I began to play this album regularly. When I was feeling low – usually at 10.30pm, sleepless and sober – I would pull on a hoodie and find this album on Spotify, plug in and wander for twenty minutes in the rain towards the shops to buy a bottle of shitty wine. I mean, it was a pretty bleak scene but the time and space to think was good for me. I really needed to feel the sadness in order to move on from it and lyrics like, ‘I love you like chicken soup and biscuits and lemonade, and sometimes my heart’s deaf, it must need a hearing aid’ pretty much put me in contact with my pain. Subtle, understated but so relatable. And it’s not bad to nod your head to either. Also, can I just say how much I love the album title?
Us Against Whatever Ever
Cash and Carry Me Home
Thus concludes my top ten albums. I won’t lie, it’s been a struggle to narrow it down. I’ve been forced to bump several entries in the interests of diversity but just for the hell of it, here are a few honourable mentions:
Rumours – Fleetwood Mac (1977)
Greatest Hits – Red Hot Chili Peppers (2003)
Garden State: Music from the Motion Picture (2004)
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and found it to be a diverting pastime. Every album detailed here has had a profound influence on my personality and the way I create art to this day. I strongly recommend you have a listen to one or two!
Take care of yourself and until next time, I wish you the best in all of your endeavours.