The dreaded question… that said I suppose I deserve to answer it, for over the years I have posed the same teaser to an array of artists for an on-going feature on the Louder Than War website.
Some have been somewhat curt in their responses, others have expanded outlining the rationale for their choices, whilst berating the confinement of just 10 selections.I’m hoping to pitch my answers somewhere in between the two.
Sadly I can’t play a note, and my singing voice is even worse, so none of them can influence me on a musical level, but each album has influenced me emotionally, has guided me in a particular direction (often a rabbit hole) and has sound tracked periods in my life. There isn’t much new stuff in there, that’s not because I don’t believe anything new merits being in a Top 10, it’s just that by reason of age new albums have not benefited from considered reflection.
I have not compiled this in any chronological order, the release date, and when I became familiar with the album are largely irrelevant.
Oh, and this list is correct and accurate at the time of going to press. Probably…. But ask me tomorrow.
So, by way of an introduction. I was 13, and regularly watched Top of The Pops, and was always drawn to the glam acts; The Sweet, T-Rex, and a certain Mr Paul Gadd. For inexplicable reasons even to this day I retain a fondness for Chiccory Tip’ Good Grief Christina single.
I had been searching around for some music that I liked; my father had a collection of albums from the likes of Focus, but they didn’t really hit the spot. A school friend had an elder brother who learning of my search lent me some albums by Rainbow, Kiss and Black Sabbath; I did him a favour and burnt the Rainbow and Kiss albums. The Sabbath album, I forget which one impressed me; he then lent me a copy of The Velvet Underground & Nico debut – now things were beginning to fall into place.
Living in the Granada TV region I would also watch ‘So It Goes’, as such I saw the Sex Pistols very first TV appearance. Lydon wailing “get off your arse” as Jordan wriggled stage left. I was genuinely stunned as the wall of noise fell from the crap single speaker fitted to our 20” TV.
Sex Pistols “Never Mind The Bollocks” (Virgin Records: Rel October 1977)
I bought this when I was 14 years old and obviously still at school. I’d seen them on ‘So It Goes’ and had heard John Peel playing various tracks on his late-night radio show. Then the Bill Grundy TV show happened, and the Sex Pistols were a national phenomenon – a phenomena I had to watch from my early teens side-lines.
I remember buying the album from Virgin Records in Liverpool, the shop was located in the monstrosity that was St John’s Precinct, buying it actually seemed like a mini act of rebellion, playing it equally so. From the day-glo artwork to the ferocious wall of noise, that even now retains all the savagery, the aggression and bite.
I have multiple copies of the album; original, repress, colour vinyl represses, US import etc. I’ve bought original artwork, numerous books relating to the album, the DVD’s. It seems I will never tire of this wonderful record.
The Cramps “Songs The Lord Taught Us” (Illegal Records (UK): Rel 1980)
For me, The Cramps are rock ‘n’ roll, pure and unadulterated. Yes, towards the end they became almost a caricature of themselves but those first couple of albums are just magic. The life-long love story of Lux & Ivy, their journey from Mid-West USA to the underbelly of New York. Their genuine commitment to a life of rock ‘n’ roll, the perfect marriage of US punk and the earliest birthing of rock music regurgitated for no-one but their own enjoyment.
Recorded at Sam Phillips studio in Memphis with a frazzled Alex Chilton at the over-night controls, across the 13 tracks The Cramps paid homage to Link Wray, Jimmy Stewart, Dwight Pullen and their own belief in the danger of real rock music.
The artwork was equally fantastic, from the B-movie font to those figures couched in shadow radiating total alienation from everyone else. I recall buying a copy in Probe, Liverpool, gaining approval from staff member Pete Burns.
DEVO “Q. Are We Not Men? A. We Are Devo” (Virgin Records: Rel 1978)
It’s hard to believe but back in the late 70’s Virgin Records was both a credible record shop and also a decent record label, a label that whole heartedly embraced the emerging punk scene; as such you paid attention when they announced a forthcoming release in the music press.
I recall being intrigued by the name DEVO, not fully understanding the whole de-evolution theory, and what was with the Booji Boy?
The album is a masterpiece, most of it being written long before Virgin became involved. It’s an album that expanded my horizons, I always had (still have) a fondness for electronic music; ‘Oxygene’ is a bona-fide classic, but DEVO showed that you could combine keyboards with the speed and aggression of punk and new wave, whilst also lyrically challenging the audience.
Echo & The Bunnymen “Ocean Rain” (Korova Records: Rel 1984)
I was born and raised on Merseyside, it’s the law that I include a Bunnymen album!
Echo & The Bunnymen could arguably only have come from Liverpool, a city that welcomed punk, Eric’s hosted the Sex Pistols and just about everyone else; yet aside from perhaps The Spitfire Boys and later Public Disgrace Liverpool hasn’t really produced many readily identifiable punk bands. We seem to have gone for the more esoteric, off the wall artists.
The Bunnymen drew on their fondness for Bowie, & The Doors, Will Sergeant’s outstanding guitar work providing the platform for Ian McCulloch’s (still) expanding ego.
“Ocean Rain” was released in May 1984 and spawned a couple of singles in the shape of Silver, Killing Moon, and Seven Seas. McCulloch (ever so modest) is quoted as saying The Killing Moon contains “the answer to the meaning of life”, now whilst not wanting to upset Mac I prefer ‘Ocean Rain’ – it’s just glorious, a huge tower of a song, that live just hits every time.
In November 2008, The Bunnymen alongside the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra performed Ocean Rain in full at Liverpool Arena; this was recorded and self-released by the band in 2009 in a CD/DVD package. That album could easily have taken this place.
Jesus & Mary Chain “Psychocandy” (Blanco y Negro: Rel 1985)
I recall buying Upside Down upon release in 1984 (still in the collection, first pressing with the contact address. Years later I was able to get it signed by both William and Jim which I guess adds to its value).
I took the single to Planet X, an infamous Liverpool basement nightclub. At some point club owner Kenny waved me over to the DJ box, he needed a piss (well that’s what he said!) and asked that I DJ’d for a few minutes, he had already lined up the next track. I took great pleasure in swapping The Temple Of Love for Upside Down and inched the volume up ever so slightly… that pounding drum refrain, moments later the ear splitting feedback ahead of the bored as fuck vocals. 181 seconds of sheer delight.
I emptied the dancefloor.
Could any band recreate that energy across a full album? Well the Sex Pistols had done it, as had The Cramps and with ‘Psychocandy’ The J&MC proved that they were more than capable. The entire album is essentially a collision of the Beach Boys surf tunes, the art drama of The Velvet Underground shot through with the Sex Pistols raw incendiary aggression. It wavers between the seduction of Just Like Honey to the frenetic Living End and the verge of collapse In A Hole without pausing for breath.
A terrifying snarling masterpiece.
Adam & The Ants “Dirk Wears White Sox” (Do It Records: Rel 1979)
I first saw Adam & The Ants when I was 14, they played a matinee show at Eric’s, Liverpool – great idea from Roger Eagle, who clearly acknowledged that those of us under 18 both deserved to experience live music and were a ready audience.
“Dirk” remains a unique album, then it sounded like nothing else, to be honest little else has sounded like it since. Punk at the start all sounded different, and was the greater force for it; Adam Ant somehow combined art school sensibilities with post-punk (before punk had past its sell by date), then brought in elements of Roxy/Bowie and glam- but the real key was the bizarre lyrical wordplay. Yes, the sound is primitive, the musicianship is at best described as naïve, but for me it’s the sheer unbridled ambition that drew me to the album… and the hardcore Ant Warriors. As a 14-year-old seeing these weird heavily tattooed (often facially) beings in their leather jackets sprayed green was eye-opening. Their loyalty to Adam Ant was legendary.
Kings Of The Wild Frontier had some great tracks, live it was fantastic… but then it went to shit – Prince Charming and Stand & Deliver are just insults to the Ant Warriors.
Killing Joke “Killing Joke” (Malicious Damage: Rel 1980)
As I write this piece I realise that Killing Joke’ 1980 debut is now 40 years old! Playing it once again its is clear that four decades of passing time have done nothing to diminish the impact of this album.
By 1980 a lot of the variances of the initial flourish of punk had petered out, replaced with multiple shades of Wattie Buchan’s mohawk; don’t get me wrong it’s a stunning haircut, but the music to me at least seemed to dumb down.
Then I heard the opening synth line of Requiem, that iconic guitar riff, the glacial paced drum and then that gruff vocal holler; this is what it was all about! The pummeling pace of Wardance, the chopped tight guitar riffs, the sheer darkness of the music, the tribal chant of the chorus, the use of dub effects during Tomorrows World, and Complications and the weird almost Moroder(ish) rhythmic synth to the likes of Bloodsport.
With this release Killing Joke signaled a new way forward, a path they have continued to forge to this day.
This is an album that hasn’t dated in iota, and its influence is difficult to calculate, some many bands have drawn their entire creative output from this one release.
Joy Division “Unknown Pleasures” (Factory Records: Rel 1979)
Entire careers have been forged writing about this album and the individuals who made it, as such to try and describe it is pointless. If you don’t know what it sounds like you are on the wrong website.
I bought my copy, one of the translucent red ones the week it was released at Skeleton Records in Birkenhead. It looked fantastic, the monochromatic artwork, the front cover devoid of band name and title, just these weird squiggles I later discovered were from a radio pulsar. It even felt special, the textured sleeve seemed to add gravitas and weirdly seemed to reflect the stark sound of the band.
Every element of the music is integral to the sound, Peter Hook’s foreboding bass, Stephen Morris’s Hannett insistent “make it faster, but slower” drum patterns, the cold shards of Bernard Sumner’s guitar all priming you for that voice.
There isn’t a weak track on the album, its raw, yet down to Martin Hannett’s exquisite production it’s also perfectly complete and deserves its position as one of the greatest records ever made.
And that translucent red vinyl? This currently trades for anything from £100 to £500 pending on condition. When I last saw mine, I was handing it to a school friend, doing a lending swap for The Damned “Machine Gun Etiquette”. He stalled on returning the record, and I left school weeks later, not to see him again. I returned to Skeleton, and bought another copy, sadly this one was on the standard black vinyl. Whilst “Machine Gun Etiquette” is good… well it didn’t make it anywhere near this Top 10.
Swans “White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity” (Young God Records: Rel 1991)
Swans first material was released in 1982, a head fuck of noise that seriously challenged a listener’s tolerance levels. Since then Swans have never really stood still, their output can be broken down into distinct periods that reflect the changes in personnel.
By the time the double album “White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity” was released Swans were essentially Michael Gira and Jarboe; Gira however was in clearly in charge, and called upon musicians, and friends to contribute to fulfill his vision.
It’s a huge piece of work, a work that encompasses both the savagery of their earlier recordings and a new folk tinged edge, yet under Gira’s direction even an acoustic guitar had the capacity to terrify.
Girls In Synthesis “Now Here’s An Echo From Your Future” (Harbinger Sound: Rel 2020)
A new release! – “I liked the shaver so much; I bought the company” a quote attributed to Victor Kiam speaking about Remington razors. “What the fuck is he waffling about”? you are no doubt saying.
Well, I sort of did the same thing; I had been fortunate enough to get two out of Girls In Synthesis first three 7” releases, each selling out in a matter of hours. I went to see them live, got there early, spoke to the band and struck a deal to combine the three singles alongside a debut digital release and to release the lot as a limited edition compilation album entitled “Pre/Post: A Collection 2016-2018”. – It sold out in a matter of weeks.
What was clear from the outset was that this band were important, they had real motion, urgency, a visceral sound.
“Now Here’s An Echo From Your Future” has all those elements, the simple yet complex song structures, moments of ambiance conflict with blatant aggression, its physically exciting to listen to, the moment if finishes, you replace the needle and go again.
Had it not been for Covid-19 Girls In Synthesis would have toured, they would have undoubtedly been forced to upgrade to larger venues and with luck would have secured release deals in Europe and beyond.
Buy this album.
I’ve just looked back at all of this, its way more than I intended to write. It dawned on me what had happened, and in turn further justified each entry. As I considered my selection I became excited by each of these releases, the same buzz came over me as when I first heard them, and as some of these go back decades I believe I have been able to genuinely compile my Top 10.
There were others in the running: maybe next time.
Siouxsie & The Banshees “The Scream”
Throbbing Gristle “Second Annual Report”
Donna Summer “I Feel Love” – but it’s not an album
David Bowie “Low”
Sinead O’Connor “How About I Be Me (And You Be You)”
The Lovely Eggs “This Is Eggland”