I am not too sure about this. Pop music lovers have an insatiable need to gorge on lists and make their own, only to start massive, almost intergalactic fights about them. I recently watched a definitive top ten artists of the 1970s list, which did not include David Bowie. These same list-makers did not include Roy Orbison in top male vocalists, and placed Bob Dylan at number 5 in the definitive artists list of the 1960s. I sensed the angry, dormant troll in me, but managed to close tab soon enough. On the other hand, I recently listened to Q magazine’s “worst album of all time” – Duran Duran’s Thank You – and liked it. The rapping was ill-advised on that one, but I dare you to listen to their cover of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and tell me it was a waste of your time.
Having said that, I came across this post by Sour Girl Ohio on her personal top 15 albums, in no particular order, that was in participation with an event hosted by 1001 albums in 10 years. Now, that was a list that seemed doable and argument-free! I could include the most disposable pop, the most pretentious avant garde album, and get away with it. The exercise reminds me of a scene from High Fidelity, one of my top five films ever, where the main character, Rob Gordon, arranges his record collection autobiographically. Thus, I felt the need to make an autobiographical list myself, though to make things easier for you and for me, I’ve retained the most representative albums of my favourite artists. In no particular order, here it goes:
1. Tapestry by Carole King.
Without this album and this singer-songwriter, all the pop music reality shows of the last 15 years would not exist. You may have heard one too many bad, self-indulgent covers of Carole King songs (including Celine Dion having an open singing fight with Aretha Franklin over “A Natural Woman”), but you need to listen to the Writer, to get the mood and essence of these done-to-death songs. I love it from the opening upbeat “I feel the earth move” and also adore less-massacred songs like “Home Again”. It also contains my favourite song across British and American pop music, in the version I prefer, “Will you still love me tomorrow?”
2. Actually by Pet Shop Boys.
Earlier this year, I realised I was living under a rock. I knew the name Pet Shop Boys, I knew a million songs that sound like “Domino Dancing” (not on this album) but never put the two together. When I had the epiphany, I constantly asked myself, “What have I done to deserve this?” (on this album, a duet with Dusty Springfield) at being denied this pure brilliance for so long. Now, I firmly believe they are the Mozart of electronic dance music, always leaving you in the conflicting position of wanting to dance, and rack your brains at all the intellectualism going on at the same time. “Rent” (on this album) is, in my opinion, one of the greatest love songs of all time. Sample this, “Look at the two of us in sympathy, and sometimes ecstasy/ Words mean so little, money less, when you’re lying next to me.”
3. Plastic Letters by Blondie.
I can’t believe I got to Blondie this early. But, if I made a top-five list of artists, they’ll surely be in it. I can always safely put on a Blondie album, knowing I will have a very enjoyable half-hour. I deliberately avoided the debut “authentic” Blondie album, the breakthrough “popular” one, and the later, more varied and self-assured ones. Plastic Letters is my number one album to do household chores to, because it brightens up everything mundane, and is just effortlessly cool. It won’t change your life, but it will make the one you have right now much more livable for the half-hour it is on. I recommend you carry it with you when you go to get a root canal done.
4. Rocket to Russia by Ramones.
Besides a pair of jeans, my Ramones t-shirt is the one clothing item I’ve worn the most in my life. However, I’ve listened to their music much, much more than that. They may have had the coolest t-shirts ever, but it was never nearly as cool as their music, and from what I gather through archival footage, their live performances. The Ramones are everything I want in music. The energy, specificity and impact of their artistry is unbeatable. I could have picked their eponymous début, as any list-maker wishing to be relevant would have done, but that one lacks the balance they have in their later albums of more mellow, sixties happy-pop that punk purists didn’t approve of. But, I am no punk, so keep the Joey Ramone ballads playing, thank you very much. Recommended: “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow”.
To be continued tomorrow. What can I say? I have too many opinions!