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Music Index

The starting point for an index of all my musical sections.

 

Historic Album Reviews

I am gradually building up my reviews of historic albums from America to U2

 

The Music Years

Albums reviewed by years from 1963 until the present day.

 

The Gig List

A list of concerts and gigs I have attended over the years with reviews when I can remember what they were like.

 

Music Writing

My music writing - both published and unpublished.

 

Here and Now

Details of Eastern Evening News Here and Now columns I was involved in.

 

2009 Album Reviews

Major 2009 albums reviewed and rated.

 

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Free music - Best of 2009

 

Free music - Best of 2010

My favourite tracks from 2010 compiled as a playlist.

 

 

 

 

 

Favourite 50 Rock/Pop Albums

What makes a classic album? That's a question virtually impossible to answer. The word classic means different things to different people. And of course it's all subjective. I doubt whether anybody else in the universe shares my view that Once Again by Barclay James Harvest is the finest album ever produced. It doesn't feature in the top of anything that I have ever read. But it maintains a unique place in my heart.

So I decided to revisit artists and start the time consuming job of reviewing albums artist by artist. You can read reviews by clicking here

As I review individual albums I will be placing reviews of what to me are classics. This will, by nature, be a mixture of great albums that are universally accepted as being trend-setting (Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon springs to mind) and those that have special meaning to me. You will find no albums from the last 10 years here. It takes that long for them to incubate and stand the test of time. All the albums below have lived with me for a very long time and have a special place in my heart.

1 Barclay James Harvest - Once Again 

There may not be such a thing as the perfect piece of music or the perfect album and of course it's all down to personal taste and opinion. For me this is simply sublime. I have written more about this album than any other. It is simply by far and away my favourite album of all time as you will find if you follow my musical links throughout our pages. It is hard to put into words the importance of this album to me. It contains my favourite three BJH songs - Mocking Bird, She Said and Galadriel and has an overpowering beauty. I just have to listen to this album to be reduced to tears - and that doesn't happen lightly. There has never been an album to equal this one for mood setting. It reminds me vividly of a part of my life long since gone. I love to play it late at night on headphones and with all the lights off. Then the swirling melodies remind me of great times. To me this is as perfect as rock music gets. Virtually ignored by the critics, it is a wonderful collection of prog rock that in my eyes will never be equalled or surpassed. In addition Mockingbird remains my favourite pop/rock song of all time.

Play Once Again through we7.com

 

2 David Bowie - Hunky Dory 

This was the first of an amazing trio of albums from Bowie that continued with Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. I can't think of a mainstream artist who has produced three such perfect examples of their art in succession. For me Hunky Dory was the pinnacle of Bowie's songwriting ability. I first saw Bowie live in Harlow, Essex, somewhere between Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust. I have memories of Bowie playing the first half of the set at the piano featuring much of the material from Hunky Dory before unveiling the Spiders From Mars Band for an electric Ziggy set for the second half. This album attacks the senses like virtually no other. It has a feel of greatness about it. Great albums have no weaknesses. This is a great album. For sometime I never got past the first side of the album - it was that good. I continually played Changes, Oh You Pretty Things, Life on Mars, Kooks and then went back to play them again. It was only later on that I realised that there were gems on side two as well. Songs of passion - the art school feel of Andy Warhol and Song for Bob Dylan and The Bewley Brothers was just one of those songs that confused but amazed. Above all the thing that makes Hunky Dory a great album is the atmosphere it emits. 

Play Hunky Dory through we7.com

 

3 David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars 

Every song a gem. Every song important in the history of rock music. Every song dripping with class. This was where Bowie had been heading for - the weird androgynous character, the space artist insisting that we lose our sensibilities and enter his world with 11 songs about space, time and a new world. All you need to do to realise the greatness of this album is to transport yourself back to the early 1970s - a time of political unrest, three day working weeks. A time of rebellion where the fanciness and experimentation of the 60s had given way to the harsh realities of a rather aggressive decade. This album is released and you play the opening track "Five Years" and the lyrics "News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in, News guy wept when he told us, earth was really dying." One of the most apocalyptic songs to be written and all this with a melody more akin to a love song - pure magic. The great music just continues throughout the album. Soul Love, Starman, Lady Stardust, Star, Ziggy Stardust and the sheer brilliance of Rock N Roll Suicide. These are the songs that are quite extraordinary in their power. Alongside them are the great rock efforts like Suffragette City, Moonage Daydream and Hang On To Yourself. This album has a brilliant balance. Bowie said it all in Ziggy Stardust with the immortal line "Ziggy played guitar" and how. 

Play Ziggy Stardust through we7.com

 

4 Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells 

Tubular Bells is one of the most original pieces of rock music ever penned. Sadly it was the peak of Oldfield's creativity. He trod a similar path with some success with Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn, but then the whole thing became rather tired and dull. The result was simply that Oldfield soon ran out of ideas and today is still trotting out the same tired old stuff with dull regularity. Tubular Bells, however, is magnificent. It turned me onto a whole new style of rock/contemporary music and is still unique amongst what I would refer to as the borderline prog rock catalogue. Thanks to film and television, virtually everyone is familiar with the opening sequences - irrespective of whether they know where they actually come from. The whole work builds and builds - occasionally dropping down to produce a sublime melody. Music can evoke a taste, a smell, a period of time or a memory. Tubular Bells achieves all of this. There is one pastoral part that to me is one of the perfect passages of music. It makes me think of walking along a particular riverbank in Norfolk on a lovely hazy warm summers day with boats tied up to the bank. I have never found out quite why. Tubular Bells scored heavily on originality and sheer beauty and I would liken it to Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony and a number of Mahler's symphonies in being a perfect illustration of the landscape - a tone poem of immense power wrapped in a fragile framework. It is difficult to see how Tubular Bells could ever be bettered in its particular field.. 

Play Tubular Bells through we7.com

 

5 David Bowie - Aladdin Sane

This was the third of Bowie's classic albums that seemed to role so effortlessly through the early 70s. After Aladdin Sane I felt that Bowie's prowess as a songwriter of quirky and catchy rock/pop songs dropped off. Over the years he has had other high spots but never reached the excellence of Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. Well over 25 years on this one still excites with the jazz piano of Mike Garson on Lady Grinning Soul maybe suggesting some of the experimentation that Bowie would be undertaking in the future. Drive In Saturday, Time, The Prettiest Star are all seminal Bowie. This album showed a man at his creative peak and reminds us that Bowie was a great artist. Listen to these songs and you can see exactly where bands such as Suede come from. Ziggy had gone, Bowie had moved on but everything was still okay with the world. Every track here is another absolute gem - as good as anything Bowie wrote. Ironically the one track I'm not fond of is Let's Spend the Night Together - a song borrowed from the Rolling Stones. This album is about the human condition with songs such as Panic in Detroit, Cracked Actor and Time. Again there are so many highlights. The Prettiest Star is one of my favourite Bowie songs. Many many years later when Bowie's input had sunk through experimentation. I looked back on the trio of albums as Bowie at his peak and thought "why can't he write songs like those any more?" But time passes and Bowie's journey had many miles to run. 

Play Aladdin Sane through we7.com

 

6 Rod Stewart - Every Picture Tells A Story

A great rock anthem - one of the finest pure rock events of all time. This is where Stewart combined everything that was good about his persona at the time and reached heights that he would never again live up to. It trod the same mixture of rock, blues, folk and country as previous albums, but in a much more grown-up way and included three Stewart classics and a bunch of others that weren't far behind. The first two albums suggested a singer trying to come to terms with a style that would suit his throaty lyrics. Here he found that style with a vengeance. The cast list on this album reads like a who's who from 1970s rock and included The Faces, Maggie Bell, Madeleine Bell and the glorious mandolin playing of Ray Jackson from one of my all-time favourite groups Lindisfarne. Stewart's ability as a songwriter came on leaps and bounds, particularly with the two classics Maggie May (co-written with Martin Quittenton) and the glorious Mandolin Wind (my all time favourite Stewart track), the latter evoking so much atmosphere within its perfectly crafted five and a half minutes. The title track is another masterful, punchy and raunchy Stewart winner and elsewhere the album overflows with great songs that seem to mesh. He returns to the Dylan catalogue with "Tomorrow is a Long Time" does an excellent job on Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right" hacks into his arrangement of "Amazing Grace" and then finishes off with the stunning Tim Hardin "Reason to Believe." It seems incredible to think that "Maggie May" and "Reason to Believe" were released as a double A side single. Surely this has to be the two greatest songs ever put together on a 45. Without a doubt this was Stewart at his peak.

Play Every Picture Tells a Story through we7.com

 

7  Dan Fogelberg - The Innocent Age

I returned to this album after a number of years, fearing that it would no longer hold the power that it once did. I needn't have worried. It still reduces me to tears, For sheer poetry I regard it as the greatest piece of pop/rock music ever written - comfortably eclipsing anything by Dylan. It is hard to see how The Innocent Age could have been improved. A song cycle taking us from the cradle to the grave, it still sends shivers down my spine. Individually the songs are poignant and simply wonderful with an engaging wistfulness that it is difficult to describe. Collectively they make one of the greatest comments on life and love. The poetry, the great songs just keep coming with three in particular meshing together with a huge wow factor. Run for the Roses is the haunting story of a horse and the Kentucky Derby, Leader of the Band is simply the greatest song ever written about a father-son relationship and Same Old Lang Syne is about a broken relationship and the author coming across a lost love at Christmas-tide. And if those three are the highlights, the remainder aren't far behind in both power and beauty and the whole album rounds off with the brilliant Ghost that just leaves you feeling stunned for  quite some time afterwards. You will see from my musical favourites list that Leader of the Band comes in at number 10 and Same Old Langs Syne at 37 in my top 100 all time tracks. 

Play The Innocent Age through we7.com

 

8 Neil Young - After the Goldrush 

Neil Young found some kind of style with one of the greatest albums of all time. Gone is the waffle. Everything on Goldrush is stripped down to its bare essentials This album regularly appears in top 100 lists and it is easy to see why. I defy anybody to listen to Goldrush and not end up singing along. Every single song is a gem in its own right. Here Young had created a style and feeling all of his own. This was near genius at work as the list of songs shows: Tell Me Why, After the Gold Rush, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, Southern Man, Till the Morning Comes, Oh Lonesome Me, Don't Let It Bring You Down, Birds, When You Dance I Can Really Love, I Believe in You and Cripple Creek Ferry - virtually unsurpassed songs. The brilliance is that so many people have heard these songs but probably don't realise that every one of them was penned by Young apart from Don Gibson's Oh Lonesome Me which Young still manages to twist into his own. Young's voice was never better, his songwriting superlative and arguably the height of his career.

Play After the Goldrush through we7.com

 

9 Paul Williams - Just an Old Fashioned Love Song

Waking Up Alone/ I Never Had it So Good/ We've Only Just Begun/ That's Enough for Me/ A Perfect Love/ Just an Old Fashioned Love Song/ Let me Be the One/ Simple Man/ When I Was All Alone/ My Love and I/ Gone Forever

A lovely collection of under-stated ballads from a very fine songwriter who penned many hits for the Carpenters from We've Only Just Begun (the original of which is included here) to Rainy Days and Mondays. Along the way Williams also wrote the score to Bugsy and managed an appearance on the Muppet Show. There is a beautiful simplistic feel to the material here with a very laid back collection of songs that illustrate how the art of songwriting can be so wonderful.

 

10 Matthews Southern Comfort - Matthews Southern Comfort

It may be country music, but it has a lyrical and folksy feel to it and some excellent and original songs.

Play Matthews Southern Comfort through spotify.com

 

11 John Stewart - California Bloodlines

John Stewart was a very under-rated songwriter not even remembered for his best known composition - Daydream Believer. This beautiful album oozes California sunshine. It's an album about the state, about friendship, about old people but above all a beautiful evocation of the American landscape and a country celebration.

Play California Bloodlines through spotify.com

 

12 Lindisfarne - Fog On the Tyne 

Gloriously Geordie, gloriously out of tune - a fusion between folk and rock but with a  identity all of its own from the opening harmonies of the brilliant single Meet Me on the Corner to the last chords of the title track. This album included many of the most endearing Lindisfarne moments. Alan Hull's sharply observed songs, Ray Jackson's excellent musicianship were very much to the fore on an album you felt warm and cosy about playing in the local pub at the beginning of the 1970s. Great albums have a feel of their own. This has feeling and atmosphere in spades

Play Fog on the Tyne through we7.com

 

13 The Strawbs - Grave New World 

The Strawbs entered a golden period with an album that showed they could mix stark realism and powerful melodic music with whimsy. In parts this is one of the bleakest albums I have ever heard. Then there are some deliciously lighter moments. Vocally Dave Cousins had found his niche. Songs like Benedictus and New World are stark and desolate and Queen of Dreams played havoc on my ears when I first listened to it on headphones and was the track I always played to test out new stereos or speakers. Amongst all the angst and even bitterness Tony Hooper manages to conjure up a piece of vaudeville with Ah Me, Ah My. This was a band capable of writing stunning material that held the listener enthralled whilst at the same time showing that they were still developing. On the previous album this mix didn't quite work, here it did totally. For me it conjures up memories of a time and place, just where I wanted to be.

Play Grave New World through we7.com

 

14 Richard Harris - The Yard Went On Forever 

Richard Harris' collaboration with the genius of Jimmy Webb produced some stunning songs on two albums - Tramp Shining and The Yard Went on Forever. Tramp had a more pastoral feel to it and included the classic MacArthur Park. But of the two Yard is more experimental. Here Webb's music has more complexity to it here and there is a thematic feel holding the project together. The title track is a strange affair written almost in the style of MacArthur Park. Elsewhere there is great beauty in the pieces which weave melodies in a complex fashion as in The Hymns from the Grand Terrace and the whole thing rounds off with one of Webb's most plaintiff songs in That's the Way It Was.

Play The Yard Went on Forever through we7.com (tracks 10 to 17 on this album)

 

15 Deep Purple - Deep Purple In Rock 

The album by which all heavy metal music should be judged and quite simply the most perfect record of its genre ever released. This album has virtually everything - guitar riffs to kill for from Ritchie Blackmore, exceptional vocals from Ian Gillan and wonderful keyboards from Jon Lord. The album still sounds fresh almost 40 years after it was released and in Child in Time, Purple hit heights that they were rarely to achieve again. Child in Time is one of those blistering pieces of rock music that builds and builds and is in the same league as the brilliant Emerson, Lake and Palmer track "Take a Pebble" and King Crimson's "In the Court of the Crimson King" as arguably the finest trio of prog rock tracks ever written. The great thing about this album is the way the band manages to capture the highs and lows, the quiet almost soulful sections written alongside the banshee type vocals. It's almost as if the band have stepped outside themselves to write such classics as "Speed King" et al. This is the bands' incomparable legacy to its genre.

Play Deep Purple in Rock through spotify.com

 

16 Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon 

Floyd threatened for some time to re-write the rock music history books and that's what they did. Dark Side of the Moon became not only Floyd's most successful album but one of the most successful albums of all time period. So what is it that sets it apart from many other Floyd album? Well from the start you get the feeling that this is the album the band had been working towards. Previously there had been hints. But here the sounds and the instrumentations are all harnessed towards giving the album meaning. Likewise Roger Waters began to find his voice and songwriting skills. Virtually every track on this album could and has found itself in a Best Of situation. The twin tracks Speak to Me and Breathe set the standard - strong melodies interwoven with sound and texture. On the Run is a swirling package of noise that fits right in and gives way to the famous clock chiming that introduces Time with its strong bass and drum passages and wonderful life and death struggle lyrics that say so much and can speak to us all individually. Time is one of the great rock poems of the 20th century. The great thing about Dark Side of the Moon is its sparsity. There is nothing extraneous about the material here, it's almost as if its a celebration of life itself. But the great success of the album is the beautiful way it all hangs together and all you have to do is luxuriate in its brilliance and drink in the mood and textures. This is perfectly illustrated by Us and Them where the quietly delivered vocals help the piece to swirl and comfort and then reach a blissful crescendo.  Put simply this album makes you feel good.

Play Dark Side of the Moon through we7.com

 

17 Elton John - Elton John

I'm not a huge fan of Elton John's, although he does come up with some gems from time to time. This album - his first- came from the days when he was feeling his way and hadn't turned into the gay icon of the future. It has my three favourite Elton John tracks on the one album. I never get tired of listening to this album There is a wonderful lyrical feel to the album both in the words and the music with classical cello-based interludes weaving in and out of the songs. It is impossible not to love "Your Song" one of the most romantic pieces ever written in pop music. My other two favourite tracks are lesser known Elton John songs. First Episode at Hienton is a beautifully free-wheeling almost rambling song about a relationship and The Greatest Discovery is delightful. Throughout Bernie Taupin's lyrics are spot on. This is a beautiful album, full of unmissable melodies and even the rockier songs are delivered with panache and great skill as the weave into the overall effect.

Play Elton John through we7.com

 

 18 America - America 

Some albums just sound good, however many times they are played. Some are just part of the growing up experience. Here is one of those albums - part of my musical heritage. The album oozes class and warmth. It's full of period pieces with attitude, close harmonies and instantly hummable choruses and hooks. In the folk rock canon this album has undeniable beauty and as a first album compares with and betters most in its genre. Songs of love, songs of desire. America could at times be obtuse with their lyrics, never more so than on the hit single Horse with No Name. This track was excluded from the vinyl album I first bought but has subsequently been restored and the album is more representative of the group with it included. It's just one of those albums that sits well with the world from which it comes. Individually I Need You is one of the most romantic songs. This album made me sit up to close harmony groups like The Eagles, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young etc. It also made America enter into my consciousness as one of my favourite bands

Play America through we7.com

 

19 Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here 


If Dark Side of the Moon was the height of Floyd's achievement. Wish You Were Here was very close behind. To start with it includes the 25 minute magnum opus to Syd Barrett "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" which is to my mind the best thing the band ever did which is just as well because the other three tracks take up only 18 minutes between them. Thankfully they do not greatly diminish the album but naturally limit its scope a little. Welcome to the Machine is an nihilistic view of the world, Have A Cigar is a Roger Waters' take on the music business and Wish You Were Here deals with alienation. Floyd were by this time becoming very adept at writing very deep lyrics. The album doesn't hang together quite as well as Dark Side but it did complete a superb double for the band. 

 

20 Barclay James Harvest - Barclay James Harvest and Other Short Stories 

The first thing that strikes you about this album is the wonderful production which sounds as good today as it did in the early seventies. To me this album represents the true original BJH sound and all these songs feel like comfortable personal friends that have grown with me over the years. The album kicks off with one of BJH's best songs - Medicine Man - which still sounds fresh. Woolly Woolstenholme's Someone There You Know is much more of a straightforward song and simpler than the classical pieces that he is better known for. Harry's Song sees John Lees in an aggressive tone of voice and this is a contrast to the beautiful Ursula (The Swansea Song) one of the most stunning and evocative songs ever written by Woolly. Little Lapwing is a simple and effective Les Holroyd song and he follows this with the wistful Song with No Meaning. The only weak link is the rather strident Blue John's Blues where John's vocals are reduced to a shriek. But the best is saved to last with the double header The Poet/After the Day. Two individual songs, they dovetail brilliantly and many fans take them as one. The Poet is Woolstenholme's most stunningly poetic song and After the Day is Lees' apocalyptic prophecy. The first time I heard these two was at a concert in 1971. They finished the evening to them in a flurry of dry ice and grinding noise. One of the strongest ends to a concert I have ever seen. The overall feel of this album is one of peace and tranquillity, emphasised by the orchestra which almost brought about the band's financial ruin. 

 

21 David Bowie - The Man Who Sold The World 

I view this as a stepping stone album towards the greatness that was to follow. Bowie was defining his style. He was almost there, almost achieving his aim of taking on the rock world. Some of the songs are mini epics in their own right. The album gives the feel that Bowie was evolving his songwriting style. It is a stark album that would eventually lead to collaborations with Eno and his German experimentation period. The album starts with another epic in the form of the Width of the Circle which showcases Mick Ronson's extraordinary guitar work and also makes us realise that the 1970s are upon us and threatening to bring something frighteningly good in the world of music. The cosiness is being wrenched out. There is madness within this track and the album as a whole. To see an illustration of this just listen to the weirdness of All the Madmen. It is on this album that we first get an idea of the depth of Bowie's vocals, sometimes sung and sometimes snarled. And of course the cover changed. My early LP version has a young looking Bowie doing a high kick whilst playing his guitar. This was changed to the famous cover of Bowie in a dress. It was almost as if Bowie was battling with his demons, his sexuality and what ultimately would be his musical genius. After the early Anthony Newley style songs this came as a bit of a shock. There was plenty of rock songs - indeed this was probably Bowie's heavy rock opus. It is a thumpingly good album. When I returned to it after a number of years to write this review I was absolutely gobsmacked by its power and sense of direction. The title track remains one of Bowie's best songs - and was even recorded by Lulu!

22 Judy Collins - Judith

I fell in love with this album from the first time I heard it. An excellent fusion of folk and rock and a mix of (then) contemporary material with more traditional. I read a review that said Judith didn't quite know where it was going and Collins didn't quite know whether to cast aside the more traditional folk aspects in favour of a more modern approach. That to me is the beauty of the album - the strength of the material where Collins' songwriting is every bit as good as the more traditional numbers. She contributes three songs here, rich in poetry from the song to her son "Born to the Breed" to her tribute to Duke Ellington "Song for Duke." The album opens with a sublime version of the excellent Jimmy Webb song The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (surely the definitive version of the song). She then takes us through songs by Jagger/Richards "Salt of the Earth" and of course her biggest hit with Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns". City of New Orleans and the hyper-romantic "I'll Be Seeing You" are also excellent on one of those albums that just has a feelgood factor about it.

 

23  Janis Ian - Between the Lines 

One of my favourite albums by a solo female singer-songwriter. It's one of those records that seem to have been with me for ever. It was a huge international success and includes the stunning single At Seventeen - a song about teenage angst and living with imperfections in the American Dream. It's a rights of passage song. Elsewhere Janis Ian manages to mix ballads with more soulful and jazz orientated songs. There's straightforward love songs (When the Party's Over), homely pieces ( Tea and Sympathy ), smoky bar room pieces (Bright Lights and Promises). songs about loneliness and old age (In the Winter), broken dreams and relationships (Between the Lines). Its in equal parts a sad and uplifting album - one to be cherished from start to finish.

 

24  Lou Reed - Transformer

I can remember a friend of mine telling me about this amazing new single from Lou Reed. He was referring to Walk on the Wild Side - one of the great anthems of modern culture. I don't use the word anthem in the usual overblown sense for Walk was full of trendy riffs and hooks. It just seemed to be out of the anthemic mould, On the strength of the single I bought the album. It was weird to say the least. A list of characters that could only have come from New York - gays, lesbians, leather. It conjured up an Warhol styled art scene all of its own - "Precious you hit me with a flower." And of course it also included the sublime Perfect Day which was eventually to become Read's most enduring love song. Reed never hit these heights either before or after

 

25 Charles Aznavour - Aznavour Sings Aznavour Volume 3 

Accepted this is another strange choice but an album that once again has been with me for so many years. Aznavours French accent is perfect on some beautiful songs of love, hate, relationships and broken promises. It almost has a French Leonard Cohen feel about it. It is full of torch songs that was to be so influential on artists such as Marc Almond et al.

 

26 Harry Chapin - Short Stories 

Short Stories arguably saw Harry Chapin at his songwriting best - with all the rough corners smoothed out. It is full of classic heart-wrenching Chapin songs including the brilliant WOLD - the story of an over the hill disc jockey. It's a story of lost opportunity and confusion and contains my all time favourite lyric "Sometimes I get this crazy dream that I just took off in my car, but you can travel on 10,000 miles and just stay where you are." Chapin's ability to invent characters that we love and feel sorry for in equal measure are never better underlined than in "Mail Order Annie" and "Mr Tanner."  Mail Order Annie has much in common with Better Place to Be from Sniper and Mr Tanner tells the story of a singer who is ridiculed for putting on a public concert that he is talked into doing. This song introduces us to the rich backing vocals of Big John Wallace. Song for Myself brings in elements of gospel. A beautiful album of angst and tears.

 

27 Kate and Anna McGarrigle - Kate and Anna McGarrigle

Another stunningly beautiful album full of memorable songs and including the exquisite Talk to Me of Mendocino. I once visited the Californian seaside town purely on the strength of this one three minute song. This may be the stand-out track on the album but many of the others aren't far behind. It is a magnificently moody feel with that strange Canadian-French feel that Kate and Anna injected into their records.

 

28 - Don McLean - American Pie 

Occasionally a song comes along that is so unique in its delivery, its originality and its power. Such was the case with American Pie. I first heard this song in a pub in Harlow, Essex, whilst at journalism college. Somebody put it on the jukebox. I was amazed. Here was a song of epic proportions, a song that said so much, a song with so many interpretations that somehow seemed to sum up music of the 1970s - but music from before and music to follow. Few songs deserve to be called epic - American Pie certainly does. It's simply one of those songs that you soon learn by heart, soon becomes part of the psyche but still sounds fresh on very play. And the thing about this album is the other songs all have their own power and relevance. There's considerable beauty here in the form of the wonderful Vincent and the almost incomparable Crossroads and also social conscience with the Grave. Once again McLean hits all the right spots.

 

29 Barclay James Harvest - Barclay James Harvest

This was the first BJH album but the third of the band's offerings to be added to my collection. I have documented elsewhere how I became a fan of the band after attending their gig at Harlow Technical College on 13th November, 1971. For those wishing to read this account please follow the following link by clicking here. At that time the band had either just released or were in the process of releasing Barclay James Harvest and Other Short Stories. This I bought along with Once Again which still stands today as my favourite album of all time. It was a short while later that I completed my collection of BJH by adding the first album. I still believe those first three albums all have their own unique feel. Other Short Stories is perhaps the most commercial of the three, whilst Once Again has the three outstanding BJH tracks - Mocking Bird, She Said and Galadriel and is also full of stunningly beautiful mood music. The first album falls somewhere in the middle. It is getting on for 40 years old and of course belongs to another period in time. Some of its charm comes from the dated almost pompous feel - and I mean that in the nicest way. Here was a band following in the best pretentious traditions of the very early 70s when music was more of an explosion. The album is full of monstrous Gothic splendour and the orchestral sounds that at times threatened to bankrupt the band. All the great BJH early trademarks are here - Sweeping classical arrangements, quirky lyrics and a great richness. Barclay James Harvest is music for a winter's night - music for curling up around the fire. It was a band willing to experiment, to take themselves into areas where they knew they might be vilified. They were never a fashionable band, they were never mainstream and this album, more than perhaps any other, illustrates just why.

 

30 Tom Waits - Closing Time

This was Waits' first album and oozes charm and beauty. I never get tired of hearing some of these songs. Indeed it is one of the most laid back albums that I possess. Waits fuses jazz, soul and pop with plenty of hints of the boozy, cigarette ridden voice that emerges in later albums. This is my favourite Waits album due to its accessibility. It also has two of my favourite Waits' songs in "Ol' 55" his paean to Americana and the superb "Martha". "Martha" is arguably the best song he ever wrote with its lost opportunity angst, haunting melody and wonderful lyrics. This song was a few years ago murdered by Meatloaf but I noticed that recently British and ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler nominated it as the one he would like to have played at his funeral. Elsewhere there are so many highs and so few lows.  A subdued and highly melodic treat.

 

31 The Who - Tommy

This album probably more than any other got me into rock music and gave me the ability to in many ways think outside the musical box if you'll pardon the pun. I was absolutely astounded the first time I heard Tommy and it has remained one of my favourites ever since. It was just the concept of a rock opera that left me gobsmacked. Not only that but the excellent way Pete Townshend fused rock with classical music and the haunting way Roger Daltry delivered those See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me lyrics. Many fans of the Who (indeed probably most) seem to prefer Quadrophenia as being more worldly and more realistic and in many ways it was but Tommy has a magic all of its own. The plot may be slightly ridiculous but that is almost its main charm. It takes us away from reality for a while and surely that's what musical theatre is all about. It's one of those albums that I know so well that I can instantly sing virtually every track. The Who were pushing the rock boundaries (remember this was released a year before the golden 70s hit us). It was almost a farewell to the 1960s and a progression from everything that had been happening from 1965 onwards. It has its moments of high musical drama and even the more slightly silly songs had a starkness and blackness to them. And there are plenty of underlying themes from corruption to exploitation and disillusionment. Here the Who had done something distinctly different. It was to be a blueprint for much that followed.

 

32 Neil Young - Harvest 

I'm sure many people waited eagerly for this release and I was certainly one of them. The fear was that it would be a huge disappointment after After the Goldrush - well it wasn't. Harvest has taken on almost a mythical feel over the years. Many consider it his best work and certainly it met with critical acclaim and is still talked of today. When Young releases a low key, tuneful album it is always described as "The New Harvest" and the composer also references the album many times in his subsequent offerings. It was more progressive than Goldrush. To me the songs aren't quite so effective but there is no denying the power and beauty of an album that once again contained some outstanding music with the likes of "Harvest", "A Man Needs a Maid" "Heart of Gold" (I can hear you singing it now) and two songs with much stronger messages "Old Man" and a foray into drug culture "The Needle and the Damage Done." 

 

33 Love - Forever Changes

It seems difficult to come to terms with the fact that this classic album is over 40 years old. It sounds as fresh and vibrant as ever. Think of rock psychedelia and only a handful of albums and bands come to the fore. Yes the Beatles, yes The Beach Boys and yes Love. Somehow they were the epitome of Los Angeles chic. Forever Changes was the band's third album - somehow you always feel it was their first. It shows them at their artistic highpoint. Few songs on any level can compare with the exquisite feel of "Alone Again Or" or the sheer beauty of "Andmoreagain." Quite rightly this album regular makes it into greatest albums ever list. It just has something extra about it. A feel, a mood. It fostered many similar albums from lesser bands but has always risen above criticism and quite rightly so.

 

34 Pink Floyd - Meddle

Sometimes memories can deceive. Whilst people were singing the praises of Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here I always viewed Meddle as my favourite Floyd album. That was due as much to the sands of time as the music - in other words I remembered it from an era that held particularly happy memories for me. So how would it sit when I returned to it for the first time in many years? The tone of the album is set by the opening track - one of those that starts so quietly you wonder whether there is something wrong with the computer or the stereo. Then it gives way to one of those rollicking instrumental passages that hurtle along, gathering pace as it goes and giving way to real rock riffs and occasional caveman like grunts. It all gives way to another piece of Dave Gilmour/Roger Water's whimsy in the quietly beautiful A Pillow of Winds - the kind of soothing music that became something of a signature for the band. Fearless is a rather throwaway song that for some strange reason ends with the Anfield football choir singing "You'll Never Walk Alone." San Tropaz sounds as if it could come from the Syd Barrett era and Seamus is a silly blues song complete with dogs howling. Which just leaves us with Echoes - another magnum opus of 23 minutes plus. In true Floyd style it starts quietly and then builds with some lovely melodic vocals. Overall I would describe Meddle as a very low key harmonius album with a distinctive feeling of peace about it - some outstanding music, some more throwaway. Returning to it is like meeting an old friend, although over the years it may have lost some of its power it's still a fair achievement.

 

35  Harry Chapin - Danceband on the Titanic

Even by Harry Chapin's exacting standards this is a superb album with so much happening and it ends with the epic There Only Was One Choice - a brilliant song that  continually changes tempo and tack and even at over 14 minutes seems to end all too soon. This is a highly evocative album.

 

 36 10CC - 10CC

Just occasionally an album that should be badly out of date sounds really fresh despite the ravages of time. So it is with 10CCs first album which has always been one of my favourites. If you don't end up singing along with this album, then there is something seriously wrong with you. 10CC have always been one of the most idiosyncratic British bands - always original, always clever in a ultra quirky way. I remember buying the vinyl album when it came out from a small independent shop in Norwich called Mouse Music which is long since gone. I took it home and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now returning to it after 36 years it seems just as fun and vibrant as ever. It spawned  four hit singles including the classic The Dean and I and covered so many genres from doo wop to pseudo death songs (Johnny Don't Do It). Here was a band cutting across styles with some beautifully irreverent music.

 

 

37 Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Emerson, Lake and Palmer

How often do we find with classic groups that their first album is arguably the best? That certainly holds true with what is a classic prog rock album before the flights of fancy overtook them and they began to produce rather bombastic over the top rock. It shows without doubt what a great band this trio could have been. Okay they stayed pretty good but at times they allowed their virtuosity to run away with them. Here it is more or less kept in check although there are signs at times of Keith Emerson running away with himself. Overall there's just enough discipline to keep this album together and that's what makes it an all time classic to be celebrated alongside the likes of Deep Purple in Rock. Many of these pieces are timeless and I'm a big fan of Greg Lake's voice which is absolutely sensational on the classic "Take a Pebble" which lasts well over 12 minutes but somehow never manages to run away with things and is beautifully brought back on track by Emerson's keyboards. "Lucky Man" isn't quite as effective but elsewhere there are certain hints of where the band is likely to go but in a more responsible less over the top style than on later albums. This will always be one of my favourite albums of all time and quite an achievement for an album released in 1970.

 

38 Richard Harris - Slides

If there was ever a reason for travelling this album is it. Harris takes off on a journey and returns with regrets. I hate to admit it but this Tony Romeo written album reduces me to tears virtually every time - talk about a weakness. November Song is full of beautiful imagery and the title song - mainly spoken is hugely haunting. A teacher is under threat for his teaching methods and the fact that he connects with his children. So he shows them slides of his journey , the places he visited and the people he met. This album is haunting in the extreme. At times Harris' voice breaks and often he doesn't reach the high notes - but really who cares. A beautiful hidden gem.

 

39 My Boy  - Richard Harris

This album is one of my guilty secrets. For a hellraiser, Harris did more than his fair share of navel gazing and My Boy takes us through his relationship - falling in love, the birth of a son, the broken relationship, the divorce, the disillusionment. A beautiful summation of love and failure and much of it is seen through the words and music of Jimmy Webb who provides four of the songs here. It is an album that has to be listened to in order and in its entirety. There is starkness but considerable beauty. And how many people know that Harris recorded the original version of the Phil Coulter/Bill Martin title track a long time ahead of Elvis Presley's version

 

40 The Beach Boys - Surf's Up

Don't Go Near the Water/ Long Promised Road/ Take a Load off Your Feet/ Disney Girls/ Student Demonstration Time/ Feel Flows/ Lookin at Tomorrow/ A Day in the Life of a Tree/ Till I Die/ Surf's Up

I guess that in most circles Pet Sounds is generally thought to be the Beach Boys greatest achievement. I prefer their ecology album Surf's Up which seems to be able to encompass ecological themes within some typical BB harmonies even if a couple of the tracks like Take a Load Off Your Feet are rather corny if you'll forgive the pun. Disney Girls is simply wonderful and the title track is possibly my favourite all time BB track - a wonderfully evocative collaboration between Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks. You don't have to be able to understand the lyrics to know that something special is going on here.

 

41 King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King

21st Century Schizoid Man/I Talk to the Wind/ Epitaph/ Moonchild/ The Court of the Crimson King

The title track is probably my favourite prog rock track of all time and the remainder of the album is a shining example of progressive rock at its best with a sprinkling of jazz fusion and that wonderful swelling sound that all the best prog bands seem to have mastered.

42 Lindisfarne - Nicely Out of Tune

Lady Eleanor/ Road to Kingdom Come/ Winter Song/ Turn a Deaf Ear/ Clear White Light/ We Can Swing Together/ Alan in the River with Flowers/ Down/ The Things I Should Have Said/ Jackhammer Bluse/ Scarecrow Song.

Lindisfarne's debut album introduced us to a crazy Geordie Band who produced music that was exactly what the title suggested "Nicely out of Tune" From the wonderful mandolin infested title track to the northern blues, Lindisfarne chucked plenty into their albums with this and Fog on the Tyne typically English and typically brilliant.

 

43 The Strawbs - Bursting at the Seams

Another wonderful atmospheric album to follow the brilliance of Grave New World. This album was full of powerful vocals from Dave Cousins and musical excellence. It included some of the band's strongest material and one of their greatest achievements with Tears and Pavan, a true fusion of rock and classical. Dave Lambert joined the band to bring a stronger rock element and the band survived despite allegations that they had forsaken their folk roots for a more progressive rock sound. Ironically Bursting at the Seams contained their most successful single - Part of the Union - a pretty dire singalong written by Hudson and Ford and totally unrepresentative of the band's material. The album showed the band to be emerging as original stylists and, although not having the power or feel of Grave New World, it proved to be more accessible to many fans, reaching number two in the UK album charts, compared with the previous album's high point of number 11.

 

44 Don McLean - Tapestry

I suspect like many people I turned to Don McLean's first album after hearing the single and album American Pie. That in itself is no bad thing. Tapestry is full of home spun Americana philosophy and a fine introduction to the man's work. From the opening strummings of Castles in the Air, you just know that here is a special singer songwriter - an engaging voice allayed to some stunning lyrics. Castles in the Air is a fine opener - containing many personal statements. General Store and Magdelene Lane bring us down to earth with songs about small town America - almost story songs with the introduction of the latter reminiscent of the opening chords of a child's song. MacLean then changes direction completely with some wonderful ecology poetry on the title track.. Orphans of Wealth follows a similar pattern - overtly political and caring. Here was almost a protest singer who could write love songs like And I Love You So and powerful ballads, but also make personal statements and cover so many different genres with equal ease. This is a gem of a debut

 

45 Supertramp - Crime of the Century 

The essence of a classic rock/pop album is atmosphere. The whole needs certainly to be more than a sum of the parts. The album has to have a wow factor. Often you cannot describe in words just what that wow factor is. Certainly this is the case with Crime of the Century. Genuinely good songs merge together to produce a stunningly good album of the mid seventies. Somehow they seem to steal from the times. It was no fluke that many of these songs became part of a staple Supertramp set. You could be forgiven for believing that this was the band's debut album and not their third brought out four years and a few financial worries after their first. It is a richly rounded offering. From the opening wails that start School you know that something special is brewing. No pointless experimentation here - it all feeds in effortlessly to produce some powerful songs with the indelible Supertramp style. School hammers along at some pace, Bloody Well Right is perhaps a little too overblown whereas  Hide in Your Shell is my favourite all time Supertramp song - a wonderful marrying of music and lyrics. Dreamer is quite rightly one of the band's most popular pieces and the title track is another example of their art form.

 

46 The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds

Wouldn't It Be Nice/ You Still Believe in Me/ That's Not Me/ Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)/ I'M Waiting for the Day/ Let's Go Away for a While/ Sloop John B/ God Only Knows/ I Know There's an Answer/ Here Today/ I Just Wasn't Made for These Times/ Pet Sounds/ Caroline No

Having said that Surf's Up is my favourite Beach Boys album I have to nod in agreement that Pet Sounds is a classic, full of some of the sunniest and greatest pop music ever written. God Only Knows has to be the most romantic pop song ever written and this album is choc full of classic tracks. Little more needs to be said as most of the album is just so instantly recognisable.

 

47 Moody Blues - Days of Future Passed 

Some of my albums take on an almost mythical proportions due to not being played regularly. Sometimes the legend of an album will far outweigh its reality. So I returned to Days of Future Passed for the first time in many years and found it an interesting introduction to the group. Denny Laine was long gone and here we were faced with a fusion of classic music with pop/rock and poetry (the kaftan effect). At times it tips the nod to Gershwin's An American in Paris and at others is an amalgam of styles. Somehow it maintains its freshness and never lapses into dull repetition. It doesn't take too much imagination to see how the band would move from this classical phrase into more mythical areas.

 

48 Chicago - Chicago Transit Authority 

I first heard this at grammar school and it sounded so different - so American with that blend of horns and brass section and some wonderful music. Chicago were later to morph into a primarily pop/ballad band but this was them at their pompous best, continually churning out what seemed to be a never ending series of double and even triple albums.

 

49 The Enid - The Spell

Another of my strange choices. The Enid are/were a strange hybrid prog rock group who produced a series of classically inspired albums. I picked this up very cheaply in a second hand CD shop and loved it from first play. Strange vocals, over-blown orchestration and a thematic story - in other words all the things I really love about rock music

 

50= The Beatles - Abbey Road

Now I expect to get some flack for not having a single Beatles album higher than number 50 in my top 50. Especially when I accept that without doubt the Beatles are the most important band in the history of pop/rock music. Their contribution to popular culture will never be equalled let along eclipsed. Their entire body of work is wonderful and that's what makes it virtually impossible to single out any one album.. They didn't record anything approaching a bad or even average offering. So to pick one out is difficult. I have gone for Abbey Road because it's one of their lesser acclaimed albums but perhaps my favourite. I found the White Album a little too perverse, a little too jokey, whereas Abbey Road keeps the fun element without ever allowing it to run away with the music.

 

50= The Beatles - Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Many critics regard Sergeant Pepper as the greatest rock album of all time. I would fall short of that appraisal but it was certainly a groundbreaking album in a pivotal year for rock music. Other critics claim 1967 as the birth year for popular music. Again that is tragically unfair to what has gone before. There is no doubt, however, that the evolution of the Beatles which began with Rubber Soul and continued with Revolver climaxed here. Famous songs, famous album cover. Whilst not being a full concept idea, the Beatles did use their alter Sgt Pepper egos to construct a framework that in many ways was a precursor to the strange feel of the White Album which was to follow a year later. One of the mind-boggling things about the Beatles was their ability to produce such quality in a very short space of time. Now it's hard to realise that Sgt Pepper came out just four years after Please Please Me. The albums are so different despite the ease with which the natural progression can be clearly seen. Sergeant Pepper is a mixture of serious song writing ("She's Leaving Home," and "A Day in the Life") with the rest of the album which seems to be a set of wonderfully idiosyncratic songs that work on many levels. There was evidence of blossoming psychedelia in the shape of George's "Within You Without You" In some ways the success of Sergeant Pepper was simply was a collection of songs without any notable singles. The great Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane were left off the album and released instead as a double A sided single. A shelved project to produce an album linked to childhood and everyday life saw a number of songs with that theme appearing on Sgt Pepper. There is a huge dollop of everyday life and growing up in "She's Leaving Home," "When I'm Sixty Four", "Lovely Rita" and "A Day in the Life." At this point in their career the band had become tired and disillusioned with touring and that turned them into a studio band and presumably gave them more time to experiment with mysticism etc. That is one of the things that made Sgt Pepper such a highlight in recording history as the band had extra time to try out new ideas. Beatlemania was in effect almost finished and that turned the group into much more mature songwriters.