Last year, Carl Wiser of SongFacts asked for people to make a list of their top fifteen songs and top fifteen albums. I knocked out this list in 8 or 9 minutes; I believe he stipulated 10 minutes maximum. The notes were added later and took quite a bit longer!
My Top Fifteen is as follows in approximate chronological order (my order, not the dates in which the albums were actually released):
Donít Shoot Me Iím Only The Piano Player (Elton John)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John)
Shades Of Deep Purple (Deep Purple)
The Third Album (Deep Purple)
Moontan (Golden Earring)
Bad Reputation (Thin Lizzy)
Year Of The Cat (Al Stewart)
Live Dates 2, (Double) - (Wishbone Ash)
Strangers In The Night, (Double) - (UFO)
Fully Qualified Survivor (Michael Chapman)
More Miles Per Hour (John Miles)
As Midnight Approaches (White Lightning)
After Foreverís Gone (Marino)
Flying In A Blue Dream (Joe Satriani)
Donít Shoot Me Iím Only The Piano Player - the first album I ever bought, and I never thought Iíd ever hear a better one untilÖ
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Ė I canít remember if this was the second album I bought, I think not, but it remains on my list to this day.
Although apart from a handful of songs I donít really like much of what heís done in the past twenty-five years, I could include four more Elton John albums in this list: Madman Across The Water, Captain Fantastic..., Honky Ch‚teau and Caribou - not necessarily in that order.
Itís incredible to think that he brought out his first greatest hits album in 1974! In spite of his longevity and the rightful critical acclaim he has received, for musicals, etc, I still think that those first few albums with Bernie Taupin are the best music he has ever created, and if Man still exists a thousand years from now - which I very much doubt in view of that BP oil slick - they will still be playing those.
Shades Of Deep Purple was I think the second of their albums I bought. In Rock was probably the first one. It wasnít until I read a press report, probably not music press, which said theyíd smashed their way across Europe and America selling 28 million records, that I realised I hadnít heard even one of their tracks. Impressive though In Rock was, I found their debut album with the original line up intriguing. Shades Of... had a few covers on it, including one of Help.
Their third album, which is self-titled but which I always refer to as The Third Album, is even more intriguing; Anthem and the orchestral April are two of my favourite tracks, and although Ian Gillan became central to the band, I canít help thinking that if Rod Evans and Nic Simper had stayed on board we would have seen an even more impressive Purple emerge.
Moontan - I bought this after hearing Radar Love; the rest of the album is nothing like it; it took some time to get used to but it really is something else. I was very disappointed when I bought my second Golden Earring album, Switch. It took me ten or twenty years to realise this was because Moontan is so exceptional.
Bad Reputation is not an easy choice, most people would opt for their live album. I actually saw Thin Lizzy live, in Leeds back in the early 80s, and it was just about the best concert I ever went to. Although this album rocks, it also has a slightly jazzy feel with Dancing In The MoonlightÖ, and I like the finish, Dear Lord, especially. Lynott is a vastly under-rated lyricist, and this shows him at his best with the veneer of arrogance removed.
Year Of The Cat - this was the first Al Stewart album I ever bought, and the only one on this list, but as with Elton I could include more, many more. Unlike Elton, I think Al has continued to produce exceptional material thirty years and more on, but the albums that stand out - for me - are Zero She Flies; Love Chronicles - with that epic title track; Orange; Past, Present & Future; and Modern Times - all early material. Iíve seen Al Stewart five or six times, the first time involved a four hundred mile round trip from Leeds to Hammersmith and back.
Caravanserai - I got into Santana after hearing Black Magic Woman played in a public house in Villiers Street, near Charing Cross. I just loved the sound, which I always think of as orange, if you can imagine a guitar sounding orange. Like Elton John I think the earlier Santana albums are head and shoulders above the later stuff, although also like Elton heís produced some good later material. I actually saw Santana in concert, at Wembley in 1976. I should have gone in 2006 too, but didnít. This album is so exceptional because of the guitar solos. Waves Within and Song Of The Wind are two tracks that stand out.
Live Dates 2 was issued as a single album but there were also some which had an extra disk, and I bought this. An absolutely incredible piece of guitar work. Ash are one of those bands you have to see live; I did at Catford in the 90s. Thatís the 1990s!
The three tracks that stand out for me are Persephone, Lorelei, and Living Proof. Persephone has probably the most gorgeous ďlazyĒ guitar soloing Iíve ever heard, and Living Proof has a terrific solo which always sounds great, but never as good as this version.
Strangers In The Night is along with the Wishbone Ash Live Dates 2 (Double) the best live double rock album ever made. In my humble opinion. Rock Bottom has to be the favourite track, but there is lots of other good stuff on here.
Fully Qualified Survivor - Michael Chapman is both one of the most influential and under-rated artists in folk music, not just British folk but anywhere.This is the only of his albums I ever bought, but it really is exceptional.
More Miles Per Hour is the fourth album by John Miles; some terrific axework and great songs. Like UFO, Miles was not afraid to back his lead guitar with strings, or in his case a full orchestra. This is an album without even a half duff track. It opens with the blistering Satisfied, and fades out with We All Fall Down. Mindblowing stuff.
After Foreverís Gone - who has even heard of Marino? But this guy from Hull - the elder brother of Lisa Dominique (whoís heard of her now?) - released a blistering debut album, all instrumental, a decent follow up album, and a third album which although not as impressive as the first two was thoughtful. He also had a newsletter, Marino Sound Archives. Then I heard no more of him, although heís big in the States, including producing albums.
I think I first heard him on Radio Free London or possibly The Friday Rock Show. Amazing stuff. I actually saw Marino live, he was supporting Al Stewart, believe it or not. That was one hell of a concert. This was in 1992 at the Dominion Theatre, Tottenham Court Road.
As Midnight Approaches - I first heard of White Lightning from The Friday Rock Show. London Nightlife got a lot of airplay at the time, but the band fizzled out after two albums. I saw them live at the Marquee, and after the show I asked vocalist Noel Jones why they hadnít played London Nightlife. He said it was because their first guitarist had left and he didnít want any of his material performed. Years - heck decades - later when I contacted Noel through MySpace he remembered talking to me!
He said Simon Pengilly is now a heroin addict and his talent totally wasted, which is a great shame.
In my humble opinion, this Home Counties/London band released arguably the best debut rock album of all time; terrific axework and thoughtful lyrics. But who now has ever heard of them? What a waste.
Flying In A Blue Dream - The most recent album on this list! This was Satrianiís third album and it is no insult to his subsequent work to say it is head and shoulders above even the excellent Surfing With The Alien - his second. This album has everything; The Forgotten (Part 2) has a special memory for me. In 1990 I went to Blackpool twice in quick succession for the party conferences. I used to run in those days, and one night I was running along the seafront with the headphones on and The Forgotten (Part 2) blasting in my ears with the waves crashing onto the sea walls. Man, it was like something out of a dream sequence. The vocal tracks on this album are also exceptional, including Big Bad Moon, The Phone Call with that megaphone effect, and the metaphysical I Believe.
This was not an easy list to compile, and there is a lot of material that I could include. There are no female artists here, but the first woman I ever loved was Lynsey de Paul, enormous talent, and I would like to have included her. Ditto Kate Bush. I bought her first three albums on vinyl.
More recently, Bic Runga is an enormous talent, and I must have played her Get Some Sleep literally hundreds of times. Her elder sister Boh is also enormously talented, and a rocker.
With one exception, this list is also entirely Anglo-American, but I can honestly say that is not bias but due to the enormous reservoir of talent in both our countries. Well, Santana is technically Mexican, but that is still the Americas if not US of A.
There are also no ďblackĒ performers on this list, unless one includes Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy. Although I acknowledge the black roots of rock music, and will listen to good songs by black songwriters here and there, there are not that many black artists per se I would include on my list.
Michael Jackson - er, we did say black, didnít we? - well, Thriller of course, eclectic and breaking all barriers; Lionel Richie has written some terrific stuff - Running With The Night would not be out of place on any heavy rock album. And of course Chuck Berry. Though not thought of as the nicest of human beings, without him, none of this would have happened.
I could write a lot more, but Iíve probably written way too much already.
September 2, 2010
Updated and first published June 8, 2011
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