With the album becoming ever more cherished and end of year lists on the horizon, Getintothis dedicates one day to the format as staff offer reflections on records which hold a special place in their hearts.
We love albums here at Getintothis. It’s a hot, lusty affair. A hundred cold showers could never dampen nor extinguish our ardour.
We celebrate the album officially each month in our Album Club dedicated to the newly released, the fresh meat.
We don’t discriminate over formats, there’s no physical versus digital snobbery here. Instead, we celebrate the pleasures of the album listened to as the artist intended it, from start to finish, no shuffling or playlisting.
There’s no playing DJ, dipping in and out or skipping a song too angular for the ears. The artists painstakingly chose which song goes where, which one to greet us with and the ideal one to send us on our way afterwards, a musical happy ending, if you like.
But to celebrate our passion and devotion further, we’ve got together and created this, our very special ode to the album.
Here you will read Getintothis contributors’ love letters to albums closest to our hearts. These are not muso reviews about guitar solos and drum patterns or constructions of soundscapes, but instead a series of personal stories around and about records that mean the most.
Music has many functions. It entertains, comforts, surprises and adds warmth and colour. It’s a painkiller. In the following stories you will find out how significant albums have reflected, marked and embellished or complemented our lives in some way.
Please enjoy these billets-doux alongside journeys of self-discovery, albums pulling us out of the shadows of our parents and carving out identities.
Read about emotions and revelations attached to live performance of songs on precious records, relived upon each listen; eye-opener experiences; we even include a tale about a game changing Chrimbo lunch.
There’s a joyful reconnection with a genre fallen by the wayside, a forgotten link with lost loved ones reestablished, and perhaps most poignant of them all, an album as a beloved and reliable old friend. – Cath Holland, Getintothis news editor
The Beach Boys: Shut Down Volume 2 (1964)
The Beach Boys’ Shut Down was the soundtrack to my childhood. The album my siblings, my parents and I grew up with as a family and the album that I will always have a special connection with.
The famous harmonies of The Beach Boys could be heard on repeat through the walls of our first family home and even travelled with us in the car on our family adventures. We would sing along to Fun Fun Fun on the long journeys to the sunny coast for the weekend and beg for it to be played “one more time”. The Beach Boys even sang us to the hospital to visit our new baby brother when he was born and again when our youngest sibling joined us. It’s the first album that I listened to and realised the strong connection between music and my emotions, that beyond the catchy choruses and California style riffs the music could make me feel a different way, make me feel better.
Through the years as things began to change, the blissful naivety of childhood began to wear off and I started to develop my own taste in music, the songs on Shut Down stayed the same and the memories would always come but they would take me by surprise in the way a familiar scent or photograph couldn’t; there would be a different memory every time.
As I’d grow older and the album was beginning to collect dust it would still put a smile on Dad’s face as I’d scope it out from the collection and we’d give it a listen for old times’ sake. Three family homes down the line, year after year that album came with us too.
20 years on, I’ve had my own favourite ‘car CDs’ and lived in different places experiencing all the musical journeys I can manage but I can still trust Don’t Worry Baby, the second track from the album to cheer me up like an old companion. It’s the song that never fails to make my heart race and raise the hairs on the back of my neck, the song that I can listen to over and over with Mum, reminding her of the ‘“romantic ending” in her favourite movie Never Been Kissed and to me resembling those carefree days when I would listen to it night after night until I fell asleep.
It’s still my comfort blanket now, still the album I share with those around me that need a little light in their life. Even though I don’t know where the album came from, if it was a gift, borrowed from a friend or passed down from a family member I know it will always be a part of our home. Perhaps it doesn’t mean as much to my parents or siblings as it does to me but it will always be my personal favourite.
Maybe it will make it into my own family’s music collection one day, who knows? – Naomi Campbell
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: B.R.M.C. (2001)
Fed on a musical diet of The Beatles, ELO, The Who and No Doubt, my parents got cable TV around 2000 and I discovered music channels – my go to TV viewing for the next 4 years. The best ones being MTV2 and VH2, I’d endlessly flick through the selected few until I found something once stopping mersmerised on a fuzzy black and white video on Kerrang!. It was just complete cool with stomping bass lines, driving drum beats and super fuzzed out guitars. It was like a light went on in my head.
‘This is the music I want to listen to’ my first though flashed up as the credits at the end told me this was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Spread Your Love and I was hooked to find other stuff that sounded like it. At the weekend a trip to HMV had me sniff out the album B.R.M.C. which started off a 17 year strong love affair. It’s an album which has shaped my life since.
I know the whole album inside out, from learning the bass line riff to White Palms and echoing chorus laden guitar parts to Rifles to shouting the lyrics to Whatever Happened to My Rock n Roll whenever I felt frustrated. It started me off on getting interested in guitar pedals (how the fuck are they making a noise like a jet engine?) and hollow body basses. Head Up High reminds me of a stuffy hard to breathe 40 minute bus ride to Stourbridge for college every day in blazing sunshine.
Shortly after, I saw BRMC play live around 2003 and the Brian Jonestown Massacre were on support duties. It was back when Anton Newcombe was still kicking band members around onstage (who the fuck are these people?) which meant buying that one album has connected me to many other bands I religiously listen to now- The Black Angels, Night Beats, The Jesus & Mary Chain etc.
For me it’s never grown old and the songs have almost become comforting to listen to. I guess you could say it’s an album I grew up with and shaped the person I grew into. – Lucy Mclachlan
The Clash: London Calling (1979)
It was an unwritten (I assume) rule that Christmas Day was spent at my grandparents’ house. Nobody dared suggest a rotation or a different venue. That was how it was while they were alive.
Anything else would have been a heresy. Later on, after my grandparents had died, the venue moved to my aunt and uncle’s house in Sefton Park. Similarly, it was as though this right was hereditary and the baton had been left in a will.
There was no discussion as far as I was aware. It just was. But for the change of venue, all stayed as it had been previously. There was a pre-lunch sherry. The conversation was always the same: which route did you take to get here? What time was the turkey put in the oven? Did you make the bread sauce last night? It was all designed to make the family know who was in charge and the others to take their place lower down in the hierarchy.
Until The Clash came along.
I was 15 and London Calling had been released just before Christmas, on December 14, 1979, presumably hoping for the coveted number one turkey dinner slot. It didn’t quite make it, but I was an eager recipient of the album as a Christmas present. I can’t remember who it came from, but I knew it was coming as I’d specifically asked for it. And, anyway, it’s a bit tricky to disguise a 12” record no matter how you wrap it.
The tradition was lunch first and then presents. Excruciating torment for a small child and pretty annoying for a 15 year old. But the turkey was dispatched along with the bread sauce and whatever else. The other family tradition was carols after lunch. My grandfather was a decent pianist so back in the day, he would take to the piano. My uncle and aunt carried on the carol thing by playing a Kings College record or two. They couldn’t tell one end of a piano from the other. It was fine.
Until The Clash came along.
I saved it to the last of my presents to open. It was the best one, even before I knew what the others were.
And there it was. Penny Smith’s iconic shot of Paul Simonon smashing his guitar on the floor and a thing of pure beauty was in my hands. I couldn’t wait to get home and play the records in my bedroom. I just had to navigate the Christmas cake and I’d be away for a date with Joe and the guys.
But then my uncle noticed I’d been given a record as a present. “What’s that?” “Oh, nothing really” (I was 15 remember). Then the inevitable happened. “Let’s put it on the record player and see what it sounds like”. Instead of the usual carols, the soundtrack to our Christmas that year was London Calling played at FULL VOLUME.
There was a piece of me that died that day. Sealed when one of my other uncles pressed a tenner into my hand as we were leaving and made me promise to buy something nice and not spend it on any more crap like that. I blame the post lunch liqueurs. – Peter Goodbody
The Courteeners: St Jude (2008)
I remember music being a retrospective thing, for me. It was something to look back on, and reminisce despite not actually being there in that moment, and at that time, a nostalgic force. The first time a band really grabs you, therefore, introduces you to a whole different type of music appreciation. When a typically confident, arguably gobby, Manchester band arrived in my ears in 2007, exactly that happened.
That band released their debut album, St Jude, the following year. A burned CD and a car journey later, I was hooked. The haze of opening track Aftershow, the chime of Bide Your Time and its foul mouthed chorus, the bopping No You Didn’t No You Don’t and the now immortal intro to Not Nineteen Forever. It was enough to pick 12 year old me out of a town in Cumbria and drop me into inner city Manchester, where anyone who was anyone had ever been from.
In among lyric photo captions on Facebook from Flo Rida and Jason Derulo there’d be one user posting about a Fallowfield Hillbilly, with a profile picture of Liam Fray’s black and red interpretation of Audrey Hepburn. St Jude had kickstarted an obsession.
So we went to Manchester, and went again, and again, and again. We went to Blackpool and to Preston and to Blackburn and to Leeds. We went to two on the bounce, three in a week, four on a tour. First with Dad, latterly with what now seems to be hundreds of devotees. We heard the songs at Castlefield Bowl, a bold attempt at a big outdoor gig, before Heaton Park topped it, and Old Trafford again. Festival slots, at home and abroad, as they and those tracks climbed the bill.
St Jude has taken me from 13 to 23, those gigs peppered throughout those years. The same kid that was lifted up and spiritually dropped into Manchester started going there, for real. Into the places those songs were about. That band leads to another band, and another, and another. And it all started with that album. With each passing year the album ages but never dates, it becomes more significant in more ways. It’s not only an album, an instant pleasure, but a timestamp and a symbol of pride. It was slated, mocked almost, by some in the music press: “I confidently predict that exactly no one will be listening to it in 10 years time.”
Well, I am, and we are. And in 10 years time we still will be, and it’ll mean something different each spin, and that’s something no critic can take away. If anything, it sounds sweeter. It’s a part of me and has been since its release. It has soundtracked highs and lows throughout, and through the latter has always, always, dragged me back up.
If it weren’t for St Jude and The Courteeners, so much of what I value and have valued in my youth wouldn’t have happened. The people, the days, the nights, those moments that last a lifetime. Surely that’s music at its most powerful. – Lewis Ridley
Janet Jackson: The Velvet Rope
I was ten, browsing a supermarket when I found The Velvet Rope. I knew Janet Jackson from MTV specials, and occasionally soundtracking gym and dance evenings at the local secondary school. But it was the cover, that expressionless face hidden beneath a sweep of hair, which grabbed me most.
Back in the car, I bedded down with the lyrics and a McFlurry and hit play. I was prissy and uptight about swearing and adult themes, but for once I must have missed the explicit content sticker. I guess the nipple piercings and latex catsuit in the liner notes didn’t give anything away either.
Only when I trailed Got Til It’s Gone word by word did I realise that Q-Tip was seconds from uttering “Let me just fuck with it for a minute”. Oh! That wasn’t on the radio edit. Like a cannonball I shot across the car and slammed the eject button. “We can listen some other time!” I screamed.
If my parents were confused by my sudden eagerness to hear the very best of Chris Rea, they didn’t mention it.
So I primly acquired headphones and got started playing this melancholy, introverted and joyful tape to death. The sugary Together Again, dedicated to friends who had died from AIDS. Free Xone, with its zero-nonsense take-down of homophobia. A breathy serenade to threesomes via Rod Stewart(yep). Mirror-gazing moments like You, which painfully attacked her self-denial, and Special, a letter to a younger Janet complete with saccharine children’s choir. As someone very into writing letters to my future self, I found this comforting.
There was the strangely prescient Empty which explored online romance, questioning if a stranger’s “textured words” could be any substitute for a face-to-face encounter. “Damn, disconnected!” she murmurs as the song fades out. Since it’s Janet, there was also the booty call blues of My Need and I Get Lonely. And Rope Burn. But anyone hoping for wall-to-wall slow jams got a reality check in What About, whose moonlit, flamenco-accented wedding proposal abruptly gives way to the recollection of emotional abuse and manipulation.
Even with this level of subjectivity, The Velvet Rope is still a party album. Go Deep is blueprint sexy-getting-ready-song, with percussion that sounds like it’s bulging with bottles of wine. With scratchy production and cartoonish sound effects, it also sounds deceptively home-made. Producing songs on Casio keyboards was my main job in the 90s, so I could really get behind the illusion.
This constant “edit” mode is maybe the best thing about Janet Jackson, and The Velvet Rope in particular. She keeps her songs sounding like they’re under constant revision by planting interruptions all over the place. Phone calls, shocked laughter, failed takes, chatty asides, blasts of AWOOGA! or commands to dance. It’s a tactic Britney Spears later borrowed, but rather than the stagey “I thought the old lady dropped it into the ocean in the end”, Janet’s soundbites are more like fragmentary Notes To Self, as though she might return later to delete or adapt them. No matter how polished the final product, she keeps it sounding like a work in progress.
This was long before Janet had been recast in the public imagination as a voracious auntie striding off into the night without a coat. This is a different Janet: the questioning, hard-working innovator, best mates with her dancers and sort of at odds with herself.
I’m glad I was able to overcome my allergy to adult content, because this wasn’t the stuff of gym and dance presentations after all. It was messy and regretful and introspective and, ultimately, forgiving of the past. – Orla Foster
Meilyr Jones: 2013 (2016)
I think when you’re past a certain point, a sense of complacency sets in about all manner of things.
A smug satisfaction you’ve heard and know it all, and whatever gets served up is the past rehashed in some way, a sloppy seconds remix of the past. Lukewarm leftovers, if you like. It’s a feeling partly arrogance but also nostalgia, a longing to recall when things were easier, more straightforward.
It takes something quite exceptional to yank you out of that smugness, laziness, can’t be arsed-ness. And such a thing happened to me at a Richard Hawley show a fraction over three years ago. It was at the opening night of Liverpool Music Week in The Dome at Grand Central Hall, a stunner of a venue rarely used back then for much apart from, bizarrely, wrestling matches.
When Hawley’s support rocked up and set out instruments, my heart plummeted at the unpacking of a violin from its case and the placing of a trumpet to rest diagonally on the seat of a chair.
The bar beckoned as a grim inevitability imagined itself; a music college band.
We’ve all seen them, with about a dozen members, they don’t know or even like each other, not really, and every instrument ever invented is in the band and each of them play a solo and the songs go on forever and it’s so desperate and awful.
Only that didn’t happen this night.
This wasn’t a gaggle of students but instead, quite the opposite.
I was thrilled and so excited by Meilyr Jones and his group, the songs and delivery. Chamber pop, baroque pop, whatever you want to call it, is a form remorselessly harvested, orchestration creeping into pop records and performances in a bombastic manner.
But this – oh my word, there was none of that nonsense here.
The songs on Meilyr Jones‘ precious debut album are a mix of songs with orchestration, others with a pop band arrangement, one with a simple piano. They sketch out his actual 2013, a year of endings and new beginnings and freedoms in Rome.
For me, they take me to places too. Lead me down adventurous avenues of my own, musically and otherwise.
2013 was a personal shock. It’s so human, with breaths and whispers and warmth, field recordings of chatter in rapid Italian tongue, and birdsong in Italy and in the garden of Jones‘ parents’ home in Aberyswyth, Wales. This album is like a living thing. It’s got a wildness to it, and a sense of calm as well.
And though I’ve witnessed these songs performed many times, in formal venues, a church, a library, a field, each one is different, unique and special. Because that’s what a true artist does, isn’t it, makes it special every time?
But yet, each time I listen to the album at home or it’s performed right in front of me, I’m reminded of that rainy October night in Liverpool, when I heard it for the first time and how it threw open all the closed windows in my world. – Cath Holland
Katatonia:The Great Cold Distance (2006)
Forever the nostalgic, I spent too much of the 90s mourning the passing of 80s metal to fully appreciate Pantera, At the Gates, Emperor and all those acts expanding metal’s boundaries. The likes of Marilyn Manson aside, the bands shoe-horned into the ‘nu metal’ category largely left me cold. By the end of the 90s previously loyal journalistic publications treated ‘heavy metal’ almost as a dirty word, while bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were cannon fodder to most so-called ‘rock’ magazines.
The first decade of the new millennium was a time when I reconnected with metal. The mid 2000s in particular were a creative high point for the likes of Killswitch Engage, Rammstein, Arch Enemy, DimmuBorgir, Nightwish and Within Temptation. All of these were never far away from my stereo (or off my then new tiny i-Pod shuffle) for long.
I even started buying metal magazines again and it was in 2006 when I happened upon a Peaceville Records sampler CD stuck to the cover of Metal Hammer. Loud, Proud, Punk & Metal was a promo CD in association with Virgin Megastores (remember them) and it showcased Peaceville’s depth of talent for all things heavy. Not that I cared at the time. I used to merely skip to the second track and listen repeatedly to Katatonia’s mesmerising Soil’s Song.
Never before had a track had such a hypnotic appeal. The riff during the chorus felt like an overdriven transcendent guitar lick was being smothered and wrapped in an elegiac fog, causing it to splutter and eventually die. Jonas Renske’s vocals were the perfect foil for the despair evident in the song’s timbre; almost a whisper in places, their resigned quality affected me in a way no voice had before or since.
The track belonged to the album, The Great Cold Distance, which I sought out as soon as humanly possible. For months I was obsessed with this modern metal masterpiece. 2006 was a difficult year on a personal level and I sought shelter in this record. Its fusion of progressive soundscapes, elements of Paradise Lost-inspired modern Goth and the band’s icy, introspective, but suitably aggressive delivery was enchanting.
For sure, individual songs were breathtaking, most notably menacing opener Leaders, and singles My Twin, July and Deliberation. But this was an album that demanded to be listened to from start to finish and to take me on a sometimes unsettling but always compelling emotional journey.
That I sought solace in such a dark album was testimony to the band’s power. Themes of despair, alienation and loss were articulated in music that was exhilarating and richly layered. As a metal musician suggested to me recently, heavy music is heavier when there is light in the dark. The Great Cold Distance helped me to find the light in the dark and I will always be grateful. – Ned Hassan
Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
Looking back in my earlier life and trying to pick an album that heavily influenced who I am today, I found it impossible not to instantly think of Dark Side of the Moon.
Some may say it’s a cliché, but there’s a reason this album is so legendary. Pink Floyd has a lot of love/hate relationships with music lovers today, but even those who can’t stand that “psychedelic hippy crap” can’t refute that the structure, sound and pure energy that runs through this album is impressive to say the least.
My earliest memory of this album takes me back to my ten-year-old self sat in the front seat of my Dad’s car, a familiar setting for me when I think back on a lot of the music I still cherish today. That clanky mechanical intro to Money literally blew my mind. Making music and rhythm with everyday sounds… is that even allowed? How amateur of me.
I feel as I grew (matured some might say…I disagree) I came to appreciate so many different things throughout the album. As a kid it was stuff like the intro to Money, the clocks in Time and the hyperactive rhythm in On the Run that caught me. Over time, I started to appreciate its deeper qualities. Its creativity, Nick Mason’s effortlessly fluid drumming, that rugged, heart wrenching guitar solo in Time. Thirteen years on and I still love every second.
My teenage years consisted of an emotional nightmare riding on a self-conscious cloud of “life’s not fair” which went hand in hand with the album’s exploration of barely keeping your head above water in the pool of insanity that is reality. At the height of my fixation with this album, I’d listen to it at least four or five times a day (the joys of having an obsessive personality). Working as a cleaner in a hospital, the job is repetitive, easy going and pretty relaxing. My routine consisted of sticking in my headphones, grabbing a mop and letting my ears to all the work, pure bliss.
“Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way” – this lyric spoke to me so much, even before I fully understood it. I’m not the most poetic person so you can keep your fancy metaphors to yourself, but this lyric spoke to me. Straight to the point…. We’re all fucked.
One thing I take very seriously with this album is the order in which it’s listened to. Start to finish is the only way in my opinion. If an album tells a story or prompts a journey, then there’s no other place to start. It’s here I think back to one of my fondest memories with the album. Me and Hannah, an old friend of mine, are sat on the window ledge of her bedroom looking out onto the beautiful mess that is the Woodchurch estate. On came Pink Floyd. Hannah was desperate to listen to Brain Damage, fine by me, but not without insisting we hear the whole thing in its entirety. After a gentle dispute, we let the album play through and the rest is history.
This album has brought me closer to a lot of important people in my life. It’s like an old friend that you meet up with for a pint every now and then, rolling through fond memories and times shared together. Beautiful moments of pure chaos and bliss. The yearly trips with my family to see Australian Pink Floyd are where I am reminded that, despite any and all differences, music is glue. – Amy Chidlow
Prince: 1999 (1982)
Released in October 1982, the album which would change my life – 1999.
I heard it for the first time – or the majority of it – on a compilation tape my dad had made from his sister, my Auntie Val’s, vast Prince collection. The compilation opened with the title track and I can distinctly remember being fascinated by the different set of voices singing the opening verse.
They sounded alien – unlike any voices I’d ever heard and when Prince chimed in with ‘the sky was all purple there were people running everywhere’ I knew I’d started a relationship with a pop phenomenon which felt profoundly different to any other music I’d heard before.
Over the course of trips to France with my mum, dad and sister I’d pour over this compilation tape like no other recording – Little Red Corvette and Let’s Pretend We’re Married the two songs I’d listen to the most – the former the perfect pop song with ridiculous musicianship and even more ridiculous lyrics, the latter the most filthy and downright sexually perverse song ever recorded on a pop album of this magnitude.
I rewound the tape to take in the lyrics – ‘I sincerely wanna fuck the taste out of your mouth’ must have gotten passed my dad’s relatively conservative mindset. Needless to say as a teen I lapped it up.
The album wasn’t just a rites of passage lyrically but musically its ambition and progressive approach was staggering, it was the first album Prince recorded with The Revolution – his idea of a Fleetwood Mac meets Sly and the Family Stone collective – multi-racial, men and women with musical virtuosity.
Tracks spilled out to the ten minute mark riffing off James Brown taut funk and sometimes the otherworldly. The heavy use of the Linn LM-1 drum machine another feature which gave it a robotic, hip-grinding groove.
It remains a big favourite of mine as it’s like a Pandora’s box with so many hidden features that reveal over time – the nine minute Automatic is just glorious and acts as a precursor to Computer Blue which would follow on Purple Rain.
The b-sides How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore and Irresistible Bitch are two tracks that’d fit on most artists’ greatest hits – that they were lashed out on Singles is a testament to his writing at this point in time. If you’ve never explored Prince – this is as good a place to start. It’s where I did, and I ain’t looked back since. – Peter Guy
Public Enemy: It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)
The only good thing about school is that it was close enough to town to get to HMV at eight and still make it to class for nine with a bagful of new releases. I was therefore well known for being “that geeky kid who really likes music.”
I had impeccable taste for a child (Simple Minds, Pet Shop Boys, The Smiths if I was being particularly edgy). One day, one of the cooler kids who I’d hardly even spoken too (being, as I was, definitely not one of the cooler kids), thrust a cassette into my hands.
“Try this, it’s brilliant.”
I looked down to see a myriad of handwritten song titles, Louder Than A Bomb, She Watch Channel Zero, Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos. What on earth was this?
Public Enemy, it read.
My heart somewhat sank. This was not for me. I was vaguely aware of them as a rap band and I was really no rap fan. “I’ll give it a listen, thanks,” I muttered out of politeness, hoping I would just take it, pretend I’d give it a whirl and never have to speak of it again. It must have been a week or so later, and with nothing new to listen to, that I put the cassette in with no great expectations.
The next hour changed my life. I’d never heard anything like it. The horns of Show ‘Em Whatcha Got with its opening line of “Freedom is a road seldom travelled by the multitude” absolutely blew my innocent 15 year old mind. It was only years later when I upgraded to the CD, I realised that this wasn’t the opening track, he’d taped the album with Side B as side A and vice versa. I still have to listen to it this way round. Don’t Believe The Hype, Bring the Noise, I had no idea what they were about on first listen but every sentence sounded like it was the most important to them. The ferocity of the beats was like it was coming for another planet. I’d been led to believe that rap was all bravado and swearing, but this wasn’t. This was something else.
It didn’t seem to stop for breath, it was a relentless cavalcade of noise, with angry rhyme after angry, angry rhyme, I was captivated. This album changed my life, my outlook towards those different from me was formed through it, it’s that much of an extraordinary work. The only downside is that it has ruined pretty much every other rap record for me, they all sound weak in comparison. The production from the Bomb Squad sound like it was from the future, and still does 31 years later.
Every time I hear it now (and I’m listening to it as I type, rocking in my chair like a rap Val Doonican, singing along to every word – one of my few musical achievements was learning every last word of it), I’m transported back.To that daily bus journey to the school that I hated, where the soundtrack was from the mean streets of the USA rather than those of Norris Green. – Steven Doherty
Red Hot Chili Peppers: I’m With You (2011)
When I was a 14-year-old teenager a few of the lads in my friendship group formed a band and starting doing local gigs. Music was starting to become a huge part of our lives at this point and my friend and I excitedly attended every gig to support them. We shared similar music tastes and would discuss the new music we’d found at the time. We were constantly discovering new music on YouTube, even in school my friendship group and I would swap our CDs to upload to iTunes and burn them onto our iPods. Music was becoming my main interest and I couldn’t get enough of it.
I can’t remember exactly how I discovered Red Hot Chili Peppers but I remember the album I’m With You changing my whole outlook on music. I think I first stumbled across it on YouTube as I hadn’t discovered Spotify yet. I’d heard Can’t Stop, Californication, and Snow (Hey Oh) at this point but I’d never heard something that made me long to be in a band so much. I fell in love instantly.
I literally adored every song on the album and was in awe that it made me want to dance to every track. Factory of Faith soon became my favourite song, simply because the chorus was so catchy. I remember going to HMV and seeing all their albums for sale.
I wanted them all but being 14 and jobless I could only afford the one. I knew it had to be I’m With You. I promised myself I’d buy the whole collection eventually. It’s the last physical CD I ever bought and I still have it now. I took it home that day and burnt it onto my iPod Touch listening to it over and over again until I knew every beat, riff and (most importantly to me) lyrics. I analysed everything they sang.
In retrospect I probably didn’t fully understand the album’s recurring themes of life and death as I do now, but I didn’t care because I enjoyed them and that was all that mattered at the time.
It made me happy, it made me understand something in my own head and it was the first album that actually made me feel something. My 14-year old self had never heard passion like that come from a band before who were so unapologetically themselves. I found their other albums and downloaded every single one from YouTube. My iPod soon became a haven for their funky-rock ‘n’ roll vibes as well as the likes of Bon Jovi, The Vaccines, The Kooks, The Wombats and Arctic Monkeys.
Red Hot Chili Peppers are still my favourite band to this day and I think they always will be. They’re the reason I love music and they had a massive influence on the music I listened to then and today. Listening to I’m With You was the catalyst to my discovery of different genres of rock.
I adore all their albums for different reasons but I’m With You holds a special place in my heart and I’ll be forever grateful for it coming into my life when it did. – Becca McGrath
Richmond Fontaine: The Fitzgerald (2005)
The late 90s, on a Sunday morning comedown in a basement flat in Brighton. The sun rose slowly over a seaside town still insistently celebrating Saturday night. To the sound of sirens and seagulls, stragglers roamed the streets searching for the next party and ‘just one more’, while in my friend Paul’s Cambridge Road flat, we were done.
The bottles were dry, the ashtrays overfull, and our teeth ground as we blinked and squinted in the sun pouring through the slatted blinds and casting bright horizontal lines across the room. The night before seemed so very far away in those grey moments between the death of the dark and the dawn of the day.
As some of us fell delightfully into the arms of Morpheus, and willingly gave ourselves over to the heaven of a sleep we thought would never come, the others took turns to find the energy to stand up and change the CD, each one of us trying to match the mood and the inescapable fug of our post-excess recovery. Something sympathetic, to soothe and cajole us through.
Somebody picked a song called Cascade by Richmond Fontaine, taken from their Lost Son album. There was something in singer Willy Vlautin’s voice. He sounded utterly broken and bereft of hope. Pained with regret. He sounded like we felt. From then, I started following Vlautin and his band, eager to hear more of these cinematic, dusty, road-worn American tales. Stories of the rural American working class, and their daily struggles just to get by.
Fast forward a few years, and the friend whose doorstep we’d darkened that night in Cambridge Road came to visit. Late summer 2005. He passed me a CD, a gift. Richmond Fontaine’s latest release, an album simply called The Fitzgerald. Good title, I thought. (Well, I would, wouldn’t I?) Within a couple of listens, it had become one of my favourite albums. I absorbed it and I adored it. It didn’t take long. I like sad songs. They make me happy. And The Fitzgerald aches with sadness.
Nothing much happens in Reno, Nevada. It’s one of those towns that cries out for a lick of paint and a hint of much needed optimism which never comes. Known predominantly for gambling and its divorce industry, it’s a town of bad decisions and unhappy endings. A place of low moments and strife. Rock bottoms.
Reno is Willy Vlautin’s hometown. It’’s where he grew up, went to school and ultimately, where he set about trying to find a way out. I’ve often wondered what occurred in Vlautin’s life that led to him checking into a hotel in his own town, but check in he did, as he does every time he goes back there, to The Fitzgerald Casino on North Virginia Street.
And for the following weeks, while the desperate and needy, the convinced and the convicted, the fixated and addicted manned the slot machines and grew dizzy at the roulette tables on the ground floor, Vlautin stayed in his room, holed up with guitar and notebook. An Irish themed hotel, with the logo a drunken leprechaun, The Fitz, as it’s known, sits on the edge of the wrong side of town. The lights and colour of the gaming rooms a stark juxtaposition to the world outside.
“You can look out the window at the Fitz and see all of downtown. The strip itself and Fourth Street, which runs near it, are pretty rough. There are a lot aimless men wandering around. I’m not talking about the tourists. I’m talking about these sorta damaged looking guys. Not bums, just men that have low level jobs and are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. You don’t see many women. Those sort of guys always make me feel comfortable. Being around them makes me feel normal” he once told Uncut magazine.
These are some of the characters that inhabit the stories on The Fitzgerald. Aimless, broken, just hanging on. Though there are desperate narratives to these songs, such as the discovery of a murdered kid’s body in ‘The Incident at Conklin Creek’ or the addicted gambler in ‘The Warehouse Life’, you get the feeling that by inhabiting these stories, by talking of these lives, Vlautin is trying to assure himself that he won’t become them, or couldn’t become them.
These tales are told with a sympathy that understands them to be all too real. That sympathy is there in Vlautin’s books too. There are too many in the forgotten American heartlands living these lives, stuck in these hopeless situations. Death and loneliness, violence, pain and despair all play a part here. But there is beauty in these evocative images, and the way he tells these black road tales.
If there is any hope for these characters (and to be honest, there isn’t much), it’s in the fact that they have others to share their experiences. It’s not exactly the bright and blinding, hopeful light and colour of the Casino floor, but in some cases, it’s all they have.
It’s an intense record, certainly, given extra intensity by Valutin’s matter-of-fact vocal delivery, and the desert sparseness of the production. The wide open spaces in the music, and the bone-dry mood makes it somehow more real, harsher, sadder and more devastating. This record grabbed hold of me back in 2005, and it never let me go. Which is fine, because I won’t ever let The Fitzgerald go either.
It speaks to me because I’ve never known the kind of tragedy found here in Vlautin‘s characters, and though I’ve been close, very close in fact, I’m grateful that I’ve never seen my rock bottom. But I feel for the people who are stuck forever in these stories, held for all time with no escape. Maybe it’s selfish indulgence, but sad songs make me happy. And these sad songs are some of the best. – Paul Fitzgerald
Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks 1977
I know, I know – it’s a cliché. Man who came of age in the late 70s chooses Never Mind the Bollocks as his favourite album. But the thing is, when I look back at my life, there is a clear and crucial dividing line. Everything in my life is before Sex Pistols or after Sex Pistols.
There is a reason why this album features in so many of these types of lists, whether in magazines and on TV list shows. It’s because Never Mind the Bollocks is more than just an album, in the same way that Sex Pistols were more than just a band. Sex Pistols were a line in the sand – this far and no further, everything after this is different. And just how many bands or albums can you say that about?
I first heard of Sex Pistols when a lad at my school told me about a band who were on TV ‘swearing their heads off’. This was back when it was still possible to chock people, Steve Jones was only something like the third person ever to say ‘fuck’ on tv. Everything about Sex Pistols was shocking, from their name to their look to their music.
By the time Never Mind the Bollocks came out it was October 1977, due to the Pistols’ habit of getting fired by record companies. But it is everything you need to know about them, punk and the state of the nation perfectly encapsulated in one neat little package. It was also the only proper album they were destined to release; it was always obvious that their flame would burn bright but brief, but what a legacy it left behind.
Long hair was suddenly out and if you refused to cut it you were immediately and obviously part of the old guard, you were a boring old fart. Flares were also out and you could get chased down the street and beaten for the width of your trouser leg. Questions were asked about Sex Pistols in the Houses of Parliament about whether they could be charged with treason which, when you bear in mind that treason still carried the death penalty in those days, is pretty fucking serious.
My life suddenly turned a corner and would thankfully never recover. And not just mine, but the lives of my friends, the people who became my friends, what I did with my life all changed as a result of the music contained in Never Mind the Bollocks. It was glorious.
How could this new movement fail when it had them for its house band, Vivienne Westwood as its clothes designer and Jamie Reid as resident artist. As a result, Sex Pistols also had great imagery. Anarchy, God Save the Queen and Never Mind the Bollocks all had stunning sleeves that have achieved true iconic status.
My mum hated Sex Pistols so much that she wouldn’t let me play them on the family stereo. In a bid to stop me playing them, she told me it would break the needle, which was the first time I knew for absolute certain that my parents had lied to me.
The music contained with the grooves of this incredible record is as full on a record as anybody ever heard. Steve Jones provides wall of sound guitars while Paul Cook’s drums are the steady anchor needed to tie it down, and Rotten’s acid filled sneer of a vocal is the icing on the top.
Forty plus years later I am unable to find fault with this record and unable to not feel a visceral thrill whenever I hear it. More than a record, Never Mind the Bollocks was, and is, a way of life. – Banjo
Pat Dam Smyth: The Great Divide (2012)
If you were to ask anyone who knows me what my favourite album is they would probably pick something by REM, say Life’s Rich Pageant. Dear reader, they would be wrong.
My favourite album, by some margin, is The Great Divide by Pat Dam Smyth. I met Pat many years ago in Belfast, I’m sure he played a gig I had a hand in organising but there have been so many of those over the years the memory is a little hazy.
Pat has been through the mill, he has busked across Europe, lived everywhere from LA to Liverpool, and toured with some of the best. I’ve drank with him, photographed him, reviewed his work and narrowly missed being his 4am call.
I say narrowly as Barrett Lahey, who recorded and produced The Great Divide, snapped my telephone number out of Pat’s hand and gave it back to me with a stern warning that opening that door was the path to chaos. And 4am calls. To say I love Pat and his work is an understatement. That he created this album with a team that he didn’t really know, one he met when he was just about to hang his musical hat up, makes it all the more remarkable.
Pat gave me a copy of The Great Divide sometime before it was released, again, the exact memory is a little hazy. Regardless, by the time it was released I knew every note, every line and every break, or at least I thought I did. Reader, if you haven’t heard this album, go find it now, this instant and spend some time taking it in. It is a thing of wonder, from Slip John all the way to Candy, it doesn’t miss a beat.
For me, the moment it really clicked as my favourite album happened as I walked up Bold Street not very long ago.
We lost our Dad a few years ago, as you can imagine it was tough on all of us. Knowing Pat, I knew that The Great Divide was about his late father and the many tales they shared, I just hadn’t bargained for how much of an impact the record would have on me.
I was walking through town, minding my own business when Hole In The Sky came piping through my headphones, a song I’d heard a thousand times. Apparently not, the lyrics, about a ray of sun poking through a gloomy sky being his father watching down on him, utterly floored me. I’d heard this thousands of times but for whatever reason I hadn’t actually heard it.
When I did, well…
The long and short of it is, if you saw a grown man wearing black on a sunny day, carrying a satchel and balling his eyes out in the vicinity of Fact about 18 months ago, it was probably me. The Great Divide is that good. Buy it. – Christopher Flack
Super Furry Animals: Fuzzy Logic (1996)
One of my most important albums in my collection has to be Fuzzy Logic by Super Furry Animals. It came out at one of the happiest and carefree times of my life. It also epitomises my life’s quest to be different and worship the unusual. Following the crowd was never my thing.
Back in May 1996, Britain was in the midst of the Britpop phenomena. Indie music ruled the waves. It was a good time to be young and into music; I was busy bolstering my CD collection with the likes of Blur, Pulp and The Prodigy. I was also getting into the thriving dance music scene thanks to a certain local mega club called Cream. Avidly reading the NME each week, I caught sight of an article about a new band; all wrapped up in tin foil, and called Super Furry Animals from North Wales.
Instantly liking the band by the ridiculous sound of their name, like someone blindly backing a horse in a race I bought their debut album, Fuzzy Logic. It proved to be a winner for me, and I never grew tired of it. Up until this point, I had not considered Wales to be famous for successful indie bands. It was day trip land and that mysterious and mystical place that took the hit with extreme weather conditions, cushioning the Wirral peninsula and protecting its microclimate. Super Furry Animals were about to make Wales fashionable along with Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Catatonia and Manic Street Preachers.
Ever in search of something that sounded different, I liked the distinctive nasal voice of lead singer Gruff Rhys; it made him sound almost dopey, a pretty accurate analogy going by the bands image and love of the green grass of home. Thanks to the electronic keyboard wizardry of band member Cian Ciaran, the group was more of an alt rock, acid techno outfit rather than your standard Britpop and I was hooked. I couldn’t stop playing it and my Welsh boyfriend, whom I later went on to marry, liked it so much we declared SFA “our band”.
Fuzzy Logic, released on the iconic Creation label went as high as 23 in the album charts; perhaps it merited a higher rank than that. It is a mixture of full on fuzzy guitars, catchy bounding melodies contrasting with acoustic ballads. A number of memorable videos accompanied the singles. God Show Me Magic, saw actor Rhys Ifans dressed up as a TV compere and then as a pirouetting vicar.
Pre-Notting Hill, no one outside of Wales knew this actor or knew that he was a former member of the band. Ifans was also the solo protagonist in the video for Hometown Unicorn with its memorable “Will you ever return just like Frankie Fontaine?” refrain. Not much hope of that, having died in 1978. Later on, Ifans was to feature as the lead character in The Importance Of Being Idle video for Oasis.
The video for one of the singles on the album, Something For The Weekend, had nothing to do with barbers shops, but rather recreational drugs, and so as we were completely sure, it was cheekily set in a laboratory with bubbling flasks and test tubes.
The fun lyrics in many of the songs was their unique selling point, notably so in Mario Man. The unforgettable “I bought myself a chip pan and sailed it to the Isle of Man for a holiday, standing in a vortex in my jacket made of gore-tex”. I mean where does the inspiration for that come from?
Hanging Out With Howard Marks, was the ode to the famous narcotic smuggler whose 12 different mug shots adorned the album cover. I had no idea of who he was, pre-Fuzzy Logic.
Fuzzy Logic set the standard for a plethora of albums full of perfect ear worms of singles that followed hard on each others heels. Sadly absent on Fuzzy Logic, although released as a single in 1996 is one of my favourite anthems, The Man Don’t Give A Fuck, with the offending word repeated about 50 times. I will never forget seeing it performed live at the Royal Court as a finale, the band all dressed up in various weird animal costumes, the crowd delighting in shouting out the words. – Jane Davies