As a new year starts, Getintothis’ Banjo looks back at 20 classic albums reaching significant birthdays.
Whether it’s leaving your teens, starting your twenties, being in your thirties or anything further along the road, a birthday with a zero at the end is a big deal.
It is a time to perhaps take stock, to look back and see how far you’ve come and what you’ve actually done so far in life, and as we grow older, we have memory milestones that can also make us realise how much time has passed.
And yet it is. In a cruel twist of consciousness, the older you get the quicker time seems to go and suddenly you realise that it is 50 years since The Beatles released Let It Be.
Manchester legend Tony Wilson had a theory that there was a musical/cultural revolution every 11 years, starting with rock n roll in ’55, progressing to rock in ’66, punk in ’77 and acid house in 88.
Subsequent years seem to have disproved this theory, with seismic shifts being sadly absent since then, but for a while, it seemed like he had a point.
But there also seems to be something in the musical air at the start of a new decade. Maybe the start of a new era inspires us to imagine what the future may hold and to, creatively, move towards that future, to bring it into existence by our own artistic endeavours.
Whatever the case, 2020 sees a series of influential, classic and brilliant albums reach significant birthdays.
We wonder if the current decade will produce a clutch of records that are still talked about in 20, 30 or even 50 years? Chances are that much will have changed by then; the way we consume music may be completely different to the current preferred methods such as streaming. The way music is made will also be massively different.
We await the future with much eagerness.
Until then, we look at 20 albums that reach their own milestones this year.
Some of these will be examined in greater detail throughout 2020, so keep coming back if you want to read more of the stories and scandals that lead to the music they contain.
Radiohead: Kid A
Released: October 2000
Radiohead‘s Kid A turns 20 this year. Their previous album OK Computer was successful way beyond their expectations and catapulted them into the major league. It is fair to say that this is something Radiohead were initially uncomfortable with.
Their reaction was to retreat, regroup and reconsider how to respond to this enormous mainstream success.
The answer was Kid A.
Kid A reshaped Radiohead for the future. In a sense everything they have done since is a result of the transformation they made here. It changed them as a band forever.
It could easily have been commercial suicide, but instead, Kid A was a worldwide hit. Perhaps carried by the momentum from OK Computer, Kid A took Radiohead still higher.
It was their first number one album in America, it went platinum in Britain in less than a week and won a Grammy for Best Alternative Album. Radiohead‘s attempt at killing themselves off may have been the making of them.
George Harrison: Everything Must Pass
Released: November 1970
In George Harrison, The Beatles had an underused and perhaps even unappreciated songwriting talent.
Despite the fact that Harrison wrote some of The Beatles best and most loved songs, including Taxman, Here Comes The Sun and While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Other songs such as My Sweet Lord were still being routinely rejected by John and Paul right up to the band’s end.
Little wonder then that his first solo effort after The Beatles disbanded brimmed with so many songs that it was released as a triple album.
Admittedly the third album was just a jam session, but he had also recorded another two albums worth of songs that were left off All Things Must Pass, most of which remain unreleased to this day.
All Things Must Pass is the sound of a singular talent finally being allowed to flower.
Echo and the Bunnymen: Crocodiles
Released: July 1980
More accurately, the seed that was planted in the city’s punk scene in the 70s had now blossomed in magnificent style.
By 1980, The Bunnymen had grown from their original incarnation, with their drum machine replaced by the wonderful Pete De Freitas and their slight songs replaced by huge surging epics.
For a band that formed out of mates who met at Eric’s, the Bunnymen had managed to include a ridiculously talented singer in Ian McCulloch, one of the finest and most inventive guitarists of his generation in Will Sergeant, the smooth, steady basslines of Les Pattinson and De Freitas‘ incredible drumming.
Couple this with an ambition matched only by their songwriting skills and you realise that it was impossible for the Bunnymen to fail. Crocodiles is an assured triumph.
Sonic Youth: Goo
Released: June 1990
Sonic Youth were a long way from the mainstream when they were signed by Geffen.
Their previous album, Daydream Nation was hugely critically acclaimed and Geffen thought they could help them crossover to the mainstream.
In truth this was always going to be a hard sell, even though Goo was their most accessible album to date.
In terms of chart positions, Goo only managed to get to number 96 in the American charts, although it made a healthier 32 in the UK.
What the album did do was to cement Sonic Youth‘s position as the best true alternative band in the US.
It can be said that Goo paved the way for Geffen to try again with Nirvana, and for the success that their Nevermind album achieved.
Deep Purple: In Rock
Released: June 1970
In Rock was the album that broke them into the big time and the first to feature their classic Mark III lineup.
Tracks such as Speed King, Child in Time and Black Night are rightly regarded as classics of the genre and broke the band into both the singles and albums charts.
Further classic albums were to follow, but In Rock is where Deep Purple first got it right and rock music would never be the same again.
Miles Davis: Bitches Brew
Released: March 1970
Bitches Brew is one of those albums that still regularly features in the Best Albums Of All Time type of features and, listening to it today, it is easy to see why.
Miles Davis threw convention to the wind and recorded the music he thought he ought to make.
The band that played on on Bitches Brew consisted of two bass players, up to three drummers, three keyboard players and Davis himself.
The album almost single-handedly gave Jazz the high profile it enjoyed in the 70s and led to the accepted fusing of Jazz and Rock as well as influencing scores of other contemporary artists such as Radiohead, who said the album was ‘at the core of what we were trying to do‘
Bauhaus: In The Flat Field
Released: November 1980
Bauhaus are widely regarded as the original Goth band, but to think of them in purely these terms is to do them a disservice.
In The Flat Field is a startling, inventive and atmospheric debut that marked Bauhaus out from the pack and started their unlikely journey to the mainstream.
On a personal note, I first saw Bauhaus at the 3rd Futurama Festival in Stafford Bingley Hall. There were so many people with their name and image on the back of their leather jackets that it was clear they were going to make it to the big time before I’d even heard them play a note.
Such a groundswell of support could only lead to greater things.
They did not disappoint. Minimal guitar lines, wonky bass and tribal drumming roared off the stage in one of the most exciting gigs I had ever seen and Bauhaus worked their way into my heart, a position they have held ever since.
In The Flat Field remains one of the most thrilling albums of all time.
The La’s: The La’s
Released: October 1990
The story is irresistible.
A band form, create one of the most beautifully perfect albums of all time only to hate it and spend their time slagging it off (and actually begging their fans not to buy it!) instead of promoting it.
The resulting fall into drugs, disappearance and rumour only adds to the legend of this seminal album.
The La’s spent two years recording and re-recording this album, working through producers such as John Leckie, Mike Hedges and Steve Lillywhite.
At one stage, leader Lee Mavers is reported to have sent back a vintage mixing desk as it did not have ‘original 60s dust on it‘, from such chaos, a classic record was born.
Although the band themselves may hate it, The La’s has legions of fans who would hold it up as being as close to pop perfection as it’s possible to get.
The Charlatans: Some Friendly
Dead Dead Good
Released: October 1990
Few would have predicted that when the bubble burst on the indie-dance ‘baggy’ crossover in the early 90s, it would be The Charlatans who were left standing.
They have had more than their share of tragedy along the way, with Keyboardist Rob Collins and drummer Jon Brookes both sadly passing away, but The Charlatans just keep going.
Some Friendly is where it all started and remains a classic of the baggy times we enjoyed so much.
Released: September 1990
Ride burst onto the scene with a series of Eps that set a high watermark for 90s guitar bands.
Classics such as Drive Blind, Dreams Burn Down and Unfamiliar set the bar high for their debut album but, when it came, Nowhere was nothing short of a total triumph.
Opening track Seagull started things off as they were to go on, with a funky bass line and squalls of noise squeezed from their twin guitar attack.
Alan McGee introduced the band to The Byrds and their music changed dramatically over their subsequent album, but Ride were superb and Nowhere remains one of the greatest debut albums of all time.
Young Marble Giants: Colossal Youth
Released: February 1980
The post-punk years were an incredibly inventive and fertile time for new music, with new approaches to music being discovered by many bands.
One such approach was found by Young Marble Giants, whose minimal music and serene vocals presaged the likes of The XX, who took this sound overground with their debut album.
Muted, negligible guitar lines, occasional bass and haunting vocal lines characterise their work.
Given the barely-there nature of much of Young Marble Giant’s music, some of the names who cite them as influences are quite surprising.
Kurt Cobain was a huge fan, stating Colossal Youth was one of the five most influential records he had ever heard. Courtney Love’s Hole covered Too Much Credit in the Straight World on their Live Through This album.
Young Marble Giants were proof that introspective music made by introspective people can still be uplifting and beautiful.
Colossal Youth is an album of fragile beauty.
Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet
Public Enemy’s 2nd album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, saw them take hip hop to the world.
It is a ridiculously good record that brought to fruition the promise of early hip hop and saw them dubbed the black Sex Pistols and, more pertinently, the black CNN.
Most bands would take such a statement as their peak, but Public Enemy had more up their sleeves.
Fear of a Black Planet is a simply stunning album. A sonic collage of noise, the music is put together from literally hundreds of samples.
Chuck D’s lyrics broadcast the plight of African Americans and simultaneously raising awareness of situations and spreading them across the globe.
The most vital and important record on this list by a country mile.
Black Sabbath: Paranoid
Released: September 1970
Black Sabbath are rightly regarded as pioneers and innovators of Heavy Metal and are lauded as such. But it wasn’t always this way.
At the time, their albums were heavily criticised for a supposed lack of imagination and a reliance on heavy powerchords.
Thankfully, the public ignored such ill-judged criticism and Sabbath became hugely successful. Paranoid was their 2nd album and by this time they had perfected their sound and it catapulted them to stardom.
It is also proof that they were more than a one-trick pony. Planet Caravan shows a slower, more chilled-out side and has actually appeared on several Café Del Mar type mixes over the years, while Fairies Wear Boots is just plain weird.
Lead singer Ozzy Osbourne has stated that he does not know what the song is about, even though he has been told he wrote the lyrics.
Joy Division: Closer
Released: June 1980
Closer was, unfortunately, a posthumous release for both Joy Division and their haunted lead singer Ian Curtis.
Released just two months after his suicide, it is tempting to take Closer as a musical suicide note, but it is so much more than this. Closer is a stunning, beautiful, sad, desolate, original and influential album. It is easy to go on heaping adjectives on it, it is an album made for praise.
Lyrically it contains some of the most heart-wrenching lyrics you will find, as Curtis sings of crisis, fear and pain but also of love, help and devotion.
Musically it is a fragile, shimmering beauty, As inventive as it is magnificent, Closer finds Joy Division moved away from their punk roots and searching for new sounds.
Finding rhythm and melody in the unlikeliest of places, Joy Division have lived up to the praise that was theirs following Unknown Pleasures and had already charted their future.
It is a shame of unimaginable proportions that the world was denied more records from them before their end, but what they left us was perfect.
The Who: Live at Leeds
Released: May 1970
The only live album in or list, Live at Leeds catches The Who at their incendiary best.
Following the success of Tommy, The Who booked a show at Leeds University with the intention of releasing it as a live album.
The resulting album has been described as the best live album ever made and captures the band at their hard rock best, away from such arty diversions as rock operas and film.
Several versions of this concert now exist with extra tracks added, but the original is a lean and mean document of a band at the peak of their powers.
Released: August 1990
Pixies found fame in the UK long before their homeland came round to their charms. An early tour with label mates Throwing Muses brought them rave reviews and gave them a high profile in the UK.
While 2nd album Doolittle may be regarded as their classic, but Bossanova has much to recommend it and personally is my favourite Pixies album.
Written largely in the studio, Bossanova is a tour de force, playing to Pixies strengths of surging surf punk guitars and obtuse lyrical turns.
Lead track Velouria‘s lyrical themes include Atlantis, a love song and the inventor of velour. Straight forward this is not.
Pixies peaked with Bossanova, as next album Trompe Le Monde was disappointing and an acrimonious split was just around the corner. But what a great run they had had until then.
Dexys Midnight Runners: Searching for the Young Soul Rebels
Released: June 1980
Dexys Midnight Runners were an odd fit even in the late 70s and early 80s. Fusing punk with soul was not an easy move, but Dexys took to it with passion.
Kevin Rowland formed the band as more of a gang. They went out jogging together before rehearsals, much to the amusement of the other bands in their rehearsal space.
However, the last laugh was theirs as they turned into a tight unit capable of performing together incredibly well.
Before their debut album was released, they had already topped the UK charts with Geno and their album made the top 10.
Unable to rest on his laurels, Rowland led the band through many changes of both image and sound, but Searching for the Young Soul Rebels remains their defining statement.
Depeche Mode: Violator
Released: March 1990
Depeche Mode started life as a seemingly precious synth-pop band, but it didn’t take them long to change. Soon they had incorporated S&M items and leather dresses into their image and taken to bashing bits of metal together for percussion.
Lyrically, their themes also changed, taking in drugs and religion. Where once the seedy undercurrent was better hidden, now they were open about what concerned them.
Perhaps oddly, it was this album that broke them worldwide.
It was their first album to make the top ten in America and was, for some reason, hugely popular in Russia.
The accompanying Violation world tour saw Depeche Mode become the biggest band in the world.
Inspiral Carpets: Life
Released: April 1990
Perhaps regarded as underlings in the Madchester scene of the late 80s, Inspiral Carpets were underestimated, but Life is choc-full of bouncy, dancey, baggy punk-pop.
They soon progressed and second album The Beast Inside saw them turn to long drawn out rock epics.
Caught up in a fashionable scene, Inspiral Carpets took their songs right to the top, selling out Manchester’s G-Mex and headlining Reading Festival in 1990, a concert that lives in this writer’s mind as the very best I have ever seen.
Life is an encapsulation of the times and a classic of the genre.
Singer Tom Hingley and bowl-haired keyboard player Clint Boon created some of the most perfect vocal harmonies ever committed to vinyl.
An under-appreciated band, Life was part of one of the most enjoyable times in modern music.
AC/DC: Back In Black
Released: June 1980
AC/DC‘s Back in Black is nothing short of a miracle.
After the sad passing of their singer Bon Scott, nobody would have blamed the band for licking their wounds and closing up shop.
Instead, they recruited new singer Brian Johnson and worked on a new album. the title and sleeve refer to the band mourning their fallen comrade.
But nobody could have predicted what happened next. Back in Black became a success in the wildest meaning of the word.
Selling over 50 million copies, it has become the 2nd best selling artist album of all time, with only Michael Jackson‘s Thriller ahead of it.
It is rock’s best selling album and it deserves to be. It’s riffs, energy and songs mark it out as a time when everything came together to make a record that chimed with the world.
That AC/DC managed to do this under such circumstances is just incredible.