Right. I’m going to do something I’ve always wanted to do: A near-300 LP DJ set over several months. The lockdown LP-a-thon. We are going to play ALL OUR RECORDS in the order we find them and in full. Our records are not alphabetically organised, they are in four squares representing four eras:
1) The beginning of time > 1980s
3) The glorious 1990s
4) 2000s > present
Here we go… it’s starting in the poptastic 1700s. We are not classical nerds so forgive the lack of detail on conductors and orchestras. Obviously when we get to the 1990s I’ll give you chapter and verse on Candida Doyle’s keyboard settings.
p.s. If you fancy some dessert, I’m now serving up my 12-inch singles collection here.
1) Mozart – Piano Concertos (Deutsche Grammophon)
The end of March and the start of our second week in lockdown. Mozart’s light but icily precise piano concertos and the tragic glory of the Elvira Madigan theme (1967 film, concerto number 21). It’s hailing outside with bright sun.
2) Mozart – Symphony number 40 and 41 (Decca)
Amazing how familiar these tunes feel. This is one of Liza’s records and it sounds big and beautiful. Frankie sneaks up behind me while I am listening intently and makes me scream. In her defence she is “just asking for a margarita pizza”.
3) Beethoven – Symphonie number 3 – Eroica (Deutsche Grammophon)
An injection of gothic drama. We find ourselves singing questions to each other as if in a German opera. “Is the soup ready? Yes. It. Is!”
4) Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata (Deutsche Grammophon)
Frankie’s doing maths. I’m on Zoom. Liza’s making veggie bolognese. And all the while we are being lulled by the Moonlight Sonata. Why did we never work this way before?
5) Vivaldi – The Four Seasons (Fidelity)
At first it made me feel like I was in a market town cafe ordering a scone. But things improved and to be fair our Classic FM-style classical record collection is unpretentiously lovely. Violins with the crackle of vinyl are a great combination. We eat rice pudding during the spring allegro.
6) Verde – La Traviata (World Record Club)
Another total classic picked up for pence in Rat Records, Camberwell, aka the best second-hand record shop on Earth. Gentle, romantic duets are here. Another tragic love story, like all operas.
7) Puccini – Madame Butterfly (World Record Club)
It’s me that likes opera (Liza). Wonderful crackly record. Trills of passion and gorgeous rich voices. Also tragedy. It’s another top pop hit of the classical world and you will recognise lots of it. Also, good while working unless you understand – and can be distracted by – Italian.
8) Holst – The Planets / London Symphony Orchestra (Ace of Clubs/Decca)
Well this woke us up. Crashing hot planets on a cold day in March. I vow to thee my country!
9) Dylan Thomas – Under Milk Wood (Argo)
We’re in the imaginary Welsh village of Llareggub… a “moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobbled streets silent…” Issued on vinyl in 1954 “with the co-operation of the The British Broadcasting Corporation” we tumble through the play, crackled and dappled with “peppery fish-scraps” and made-up words. It’s really great.
10) The Kings of Rock and Roll – Various (Pickwick)
Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and more men with quiffs saying things like “roll over Beethoven”. No Elvis. Johnny Cash is a cut above the rest but it’s just dawned on me that this whole list so far is male, male, male.
11) Nat King Cole – 20 Golden Greats (Capitol)
It’s not Christmas but Nat King Cole is on. This is a beat-up greatest hits record, probably from a charity shop, with a naff cover (two lovers on a shoreline) but it’s nice to release these songs into the room on the last day of March. “Let there be birds to sing in the trees, Someone to bless me, whenever I sneeze…”
12) John Barry – Stringbeat (Cherry Red Records)
My mum has a great story of going ice skating in Leeds in the early 1960s where the John Barry Quartet were playing in the middle of the rink. And so every time I hear Barry’s epic James Bond strings I think of her at age 15, swooshing around with her auburn bob.
13) The Shirelles – Greatest Hits (Golden Hour)
Welcome to the party, women. A cheap compilation but what riches in these soulful voices beamed in from the late 1950s/early 1960s. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? is one of my all-time favourite songs.
14) Phil Spector – Echoes of the 60s (Phil Spector International)
More lasses. The Ronettes! Tina Turner! Honestly, it feels like a moment of great release to HEAR FEMALE VOICES. In your face Beethoven and Orbison. Liza reports that her first big gig was Tina Turner at Wembley in the mid 1980s. There may be some singing happening right now in Herne Hill 🙂
15) Phil Spector – Christmas Album (Warner/Spector)
Odd like a Baileys in summer. Also strange because we played it just three months ago in the Before Time. “Outside the snow is falling…” It’s sunny but still cold here on the 31st March, 2020.
16) A Man and a Woman (Un Homme et une Femme) – Motion Picture Studio Orchestra (Hallmark)
The soundtrack by composer Francis Lai for the carefree uber-sixties French film, it reminds me of watching subtitled European films as a child with my parents. I was about 14 before I realised that not all films are in someone else’s language. Around the same time I got picked on at school for calling the French sweet stuff (nougat) “noo-gah” rather than “nugget”. Yorkshire.
17) Tamla Motown presents 20 Mod Classics Volume 1 (Tamla Motown)
Marvin Gaye and Martha Reeves, yesss please. It is 6pm and I have stopped work to open a small can of beer. In lockdown this is akin to a wild night out.
18) Tamla Motown presents 20 Mod Classics Volume 2 (Tamla Motown)
More delicious Motown. These are great compilations. The stove is lit and we’re having a little dance. Feeling grateful to be healthy and happy. I hope everyone else is ok. These songs are all classics. What a time to have been young.
19) The Northern Soul Story – Volume 1 (Soul Supply)
Wednesday morning, 1st April, and we notice there are more garden birds about than normal. It’s not just that spring is springing, they seem to be enjoying the quieter sky. I haven’t seen a plane for days. Great names on this LP: The Fabulous Jades, The Radiants, The Vontastics. I love Northern Soul and its yearning mood; as if the musicians were feeling nostalgic for the music they had yet to make.
20) Dusty Springfield – Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty (Phillips)
Oh Dusty, take a seat and stay awhile. The first guest at my fantasy dinner party, every time, is Mary O’Brien. And not just because she was famously a starter of food fights. I think she’s my favourite female vocalist ever.
21) Dusty Springfield – Stay Awhile (Wing/Phillips)
Some proper classics here. I Only Wanna Be With You booms across the room – and I send a clip to my workmates on WhatsApp. Everybody agrees: Tune. There’s a Q&A with Dusty printed on the back of the sleeve. It’s kind of Smash Hits before its time (this release from 1968). Q: What do you like to eat? A: Steak. Q: What do you dislike? A: Getting up in the morning. Getting up at any time.
22) Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis (Phillips)
Stone cold classic time. One of the best albums of the 20th century. You can feel Dusty’s personal melancholia running through the songs. It’s so emotional: I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore, Breakfast in Bed, Don’t Forget About Me.
23) Dusty Springfield – Golden Hits (Phillips)
I put this one on just as it’s announced that Wimbledon 2020 is cancelled. Not postponed, actually scratched out of history. Much bigger stuff going on, of course, but those of you who know how much I love tennis will know what this means. “I’m all cried out! All cried out. All cried out over yooooooooou.”
24) Dionne Warwick – Golden Hits, Volume 1 (Wand)
“If you see me walkin’ down the street, And I start to cry each time we meet…” Ridiculously good tunes wafting around our house today.
25) Dionne Warwick – Golden Hits, Volume 2 (Wand)
Funny hearing all the Bacharach and David tunes that Dionne and Dusty both recorded. Dusty usually later, for the UK market. Love the idea of them squabbling over these legendary songs. Bread roll in the eye!
26) Gladys Knight and the Pips – 30 Greatest Hits (K-Tel)
A proper Sue Ryder bargain bin purchase, this, but you just can’t argue with Midnight Train to Georgia.
27) Diana Ross and The Supremes – 20 Golden Greats (EMI)
Stop! In the name of love! This is a lovely rush of sugary hope beaming at us from the 1960s/70s. I first bought Diana on CD at the age of 17-ish in the mid-90s. It was a weird thing to get into in the age of Britpop, but it made sense as proper verse-chorus-verse pop songs were winning the charts again.
28) Eartha Kitt – C’est Si Bon (International)
I’m just an old fashioned girl typing on my laptop, writing a blog about records, while I watch for the millionth case of Covid-19 in the world. Better tunes here than in my usual workplace.
29) Joy Webb and The Salvation Army Sunbury Junior Singers (1969) – Gospel Songs and Spirituals for Little Children (Sacred)
This is the oddest but cutest record so far – love the cover, love the flutes, clarinets and cheerful little 1969 voices singing to us about the “battle of Jericho”. Some absolute schooldays classics here too. Go tell it on the mountain!
30) Nina Simone – Black Gold (Victor)
I don’t normally like live recordings but I love this: time travelling into 2020 from the Philharmonic Hall, New York City, in 1969 are Nina’s gorgeous deep vocals and mischievous quips to the crowd. Here in the future, Frankie is slogging away at science classwork and Liza is print making.
31) The Beatles – 1967-70 (Apple)
The Beatles! This feels like a big moment in the journey. This is the collection (1967-70, the “blue album”) that got me through my GCSEs in 1995. I had it on cassette, borrowed and copied from Knaresborough library. I made my own DIY front cover and played it over and over again as I revised. It starts with Strawberry Fields and takes me back so vividly to learning chemistry and maths in my parents’ loft. We break the rules for this one and play the whole double album twice.
32) The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour (EMI)
The hottest day of 2020 so far – at least 19 degrees celsius in London. Frankie has converted the trampoline into a den with a load of blankets and cushions. Liza is making prints again – a huge production line now. I am listening to Fool on the Hill and remembering how I used to play along to the recorder solo. I’d still be able to do it but I don’t keep a recorder about my desk these days.
33) The Kinks – Greatest Hits (BR Music)
Another cheap compilation but it has all the good ones: Sunny Afternoon, Dedicated Follower of Fashion and Waterloo Sunset, which sounds amazing on vinyl. I actually found Ray Davies via Damon Albarn in the 1990s, but Liza has always loved The Kinks good and proper. Not all the lyrics stand up to 21st century scrutiny… “Checkin’ out the ladies, Tickling their fancy, Pouring out your charm, To meet your own demands, And turn it off at will.” Hmm.
34) Bob Dylan – Greatest Hits (CBS)
Dylan’s voice really cuts through like a powerful drug after the sherbert of The Kinks. This is a completely battered copy of his greatest hits but the vinyl is fine and sounds weightily good. I think I’m getting blurry flashbacks to hearing these songs – The Times they are a ‘Changin’ and Mr Tambourine Man – on my dad’s booming speakers in Headingley, Leeds, in the early 1980s. My sisters and I used to sit beneath the speakers and let the vibrations physically pass through us for the thrill of it.
35) Simon and Garfunkel – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (CBS)
Music is the most direct path to memory. I am back in early 1980s Leeds again and my mum is playing this record. This is exciting because my dad is the Record Person of the house. Feelin’ Groovy (full name The 59th Bridge Street Song) is our favourite but it’s so short we want it again and again. The room is sunlit, the curtains are orangey brown in William Morris leaf swirls. I am four and Claire is eight. Kerstin, my younger sister, is a baby. Hello lamppost, watcha knowing…
36) Simon and Garfunkel – Greatest Hits (CBS)
The Sound of Silence. America. Homeward Bound. I absolutely love these songs. Hazy nostalgia can bring a feeling of sadness, but I find this collection really joyful. It’s the 8th April here in 2020 and we are doing ok.
37) Jimi Hendrix – Hey Joe (Rock Giants – hmmm)
Over to Liza for this one.
I had a record player for my first two years at Glasgow Art School and found this along with some actual rubbish on the street. My mum used to have it and so I already loved it. It still sounds phenomenal. Hey Joe & Crosstown Traffic – all of it so totally sexy and alive.
38) The Rolling Stones – Let it Bleed (London)
We are absolutely baking on the first of several “summer” days of the year (it’s only Good Friday) and the lockdown has filled us with a desire to fix and mend and tidy and clean. We’re scurrying about like the Borrowers. Liza has decided to paint the back gate. A quick job has become an epic task and she’s toiling in a straw hat. She does not Paint it Black. It’s now lichen green. Jumpin’ Jack thrums in the background.
39) The Rolling Stones – Some Girls (EMI)
My sister Kerstin pops round to pick up documents and eggs and stops for a socially distanced Sunray Ale. We have perfected the art of ushering her in down the side return, leaving a deck chair out and keeping well back. First we three sit “caged” in the trampoline enclosure, but now we are more relaxed and sit at opposite ends of the garden in the yellow deck chairs. Mick Jagger is shouting something from the living room. Probably “Hey, You, Get Off of My Cloud!”
40) The Rolling Stones – Get Stoned (Arcade Records)
It’s Liza here. My mum was obsessed with Mick Jagger in the 1960s and ’70s so I grew up with lots of her drawings of him on the wall. She did occassionally play a Stones record and I loved it but she mainly played (and sang along to) opera. So I really rediscovered them myself when I heard Gimme Shelter on the radio – it is just completely wonderful and still my favourite track.
41) Joni Mitchell – Blue (Reprise)
We’re playing “the Christmas one” (River) on a beatingly hot Easter weekend but “I wish I had a river I coul skate away on…” feels appropriate in this lockdown time. We are very lucky: lazing on the trampoline-hammock, reading, pottering and jigsaw puzzling together. Frankie is wearing a massive sombrero while she paints. We can’t help feel guilty, though, as we know that NHS staff just over the hill are dealing with the hardest work of their lives.
I text my dad about Joni. He says A Case of You is his favourite on this LP. “I love the humour of the first verse and the way she stretches the notes on ‘Oh Canada’…”
42) Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark (Asylum Records)
Liza here. We’ve popped into 1974. You feel close to Joni while listening. She’s funny and very clever. This record gives you more, the more you listen to it.
43) James Taylor – Greatest Hits (Warner Bros)
It feels right to play James Taylor off the back of Joni, her “broody and moody” ex. They gigged and dueted together back in the day. I’m cooking a Thai green curry (cheating a bit with ready-made paste). Carolina in My Mind, which we all really enjoy in the warm twilight, always reminds me of a Leeds university flatmate, Amy. She was obsessed with the song, her dad’s favourite, so we had it on all the time in Lupton Flats, block E, in 1998.
44) John Cameron – Kes (Trunk)
A very special piece of vinyl. Singled-sided and just 19 minutes long. For anyone who grew up with this legendary film (released in 1969) hearing the soaring flutes again will be emotional. The hope, joy and sorrow. We’re going to watch it again with Frankie.
45) The Velvet Underground featuring Nico (MGM)
Tuesday 14th April. First day back “at work” (the living room). After the 48-hour mirage of summer we are shivering again so I light the stove with the beginning of the end of the winter wood. Frankie is practising anatomical drawings. Not homework, just her current thing. Lou Reed is warming us up. The gatefold is sticky and hasn’t been opened for a while, if ever. We prise it open…
46) The Velvet Underground and Nico by Andy Warhol (Vinyl Lovers – eh?)
I bought the banana picture disc on a whim in Fopp a few years ago. My dad always said picture discs aren’t as good for sound quality and he’s right. Hissy. But the steaming New York sidewalks are hissing too. All Tomorrow’s Parties. I’ll Be Your Mirror. Are they the coolest band of all time?
47) Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen (CBS)
St Leonard, you are here. A spiritual figure in my family. He was of course, just a man. But his poems and songs punctuate my whole life: from hazy childhood listening – again on my dad’s giant hi-fi – through to pensive earphone communion in my 20s, then an incredible (now seems dreamlike) 2013 gig in Leeds attended by my parents, my sisters and me (a rare concert-going combo). More recently I binged on Cohen for seven hours straight during a flight home from Montreal. During my trip, I sat on his doorstep and ate a strudel in his favourite cafe with my friend Marion who’d just moved into the neighbourhood.
48) Leonard Cohen – New Skin for the Old Ceremony (CBS)
This from 1974 is the one my parents played a lot when we were young, I think. Who by Fire (that percussive interlude, the best middle eight in music) and Chelsea Hotel especially. “I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel / That’s all, I don’t think of you that often,” was a lyric that made us all laugh. I had no concept of the X-rated lyrics earlier in the song, of course.
49) Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker (Columbia/Sony)
The eagle eyed will spot that this is Cohen’s last album, from 2016. Once I start an artist in my filing system, I continue their whole catalogue there if I have more of their music. Kraftwerk and Kate Bush throw up similar anachronisms. LC’s music was present across the decades from the sixties right until just before his death. You Want It Darker, a gift from my dad, is an incredible, velvet heavy album where Cohen seems to be finding peace with his own flaws. He’s dry-witted as ever and very funny: “I struggled with some demons / They were middle class and tame.” And his deeply rich voice, at age 82, is more captivating than ever. You could compare this to Bowie’s carefully crafted goodbye to the world (Black Star) but I find this album much less bleak. St Len: for all the times we’ve played you and will play you, thank you.
50) Nick Drake – Made to Love Magic (Island)
The delicate voice of Nick Drake takes me back to my early 20s and my first job in radio. By day I was listening to power tracks and pop cheese on a commercial station (97.2 Stray FM, Harrogate, where I read the news), but by night I was submerged in making long, sprawling (and quite mournful) mix tapes. I badly missed university life. Drake’s beautiful and fragile songs summed it all up for me.
Summer was gone and the heat died down
And Autumn reached for her golden crown
I looked behind as I heard a sigh
But this was the time of no reply.
51) Patti Smith – Horses (Arista)
Patti Smith is one of those artists I find kind of intimidating (Anna) – she’s like the coolest of the cool girls in a very cool art college. People say this classic album influenced all of American modern punk. But hearing it again, I’m finding it much more accessible than expected and, um, fun. I can see how Smith’s lyrical drawl has influenced some of my contemporary favourites, like Courtney Barnett. And so this one deserves a double play. Frankie made us Vietnamese spring rolls tonight (delicious) and I’m baking a cake for a covert delivery to Uncle Peter.
52) Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue (Sony)
Oddly I don’t have Pet Sounds on vinyl (we seem to have two copies on CD) but really it’s this Wilson brother, Dennis, all on his own, who captures my heart. This big, bruised, soulful masterpiece was recorded in 1977, well after the Beach Boys’ 1960s heyday, and after a few years in life’s wilderness for Dennis, who sadly met a drunken and tragic end. I love him. The opening track – River Song – has me crying and feeling shivers. A muscular, gospel epic. “Oh mighty river, I would love to be like you.”
53) The Who – Quadrophenia (Polydor)
I obviously love the film, but the slightly pompous rock opera mood doesn’t get me off to a good start after Dennis. The yearning teen angst of “Love! Reign o’er me!” – a legendary part of the film – hooks me back in. I once saw Scottish indie electro-poppers Bis perform a live version of this soundtrack, with the film playing on a big screen at the ICA in London, and I confess I preferred their bleep-punk version. Anyway, it gets better when we hear less of The Who and more of the sixties classics on side four: Booker T & the MGs, The Chiffons and The Ronettes. Also there’s another visual delight in the gatefold…
54) Abba – The Singles, the first 10 years (Epic)
We’re back! It’s 23 April 2020. We had a little gap due to epic amounts of online classwork set for Frankie following the Easter holidays. Silence was required in the house. But it’s Friday and we are in the groove again. Frankie is doing medieval history with a 1970s pop soundtrack. I’m writing my World Service digital highlights email. Through my window is the bluest blue afternoon and we all think that a month without planes and heavy traffic is repairing the sky.
55) Boney M – Nightflight to Venus (Hansa)
This is incredibly fun and Rasputin reminds me of whirling nights at Duckie, dancing in a gloriously sweaty disco blur. Frankie spoke to her grandparents in Australia this morning on FaceTime. Now she’s doing her Mandarin homework after a “distanced” ride to the concrete dinosaurs at Crystal Park. We met Kerstin along the way and kept the two metre rule. Feels good to exercise but – irony – I’ve somehow hurt my left wrist after five whole weeks of *no tennis*. Anyway: Ra ra Rasputin, we’re doing ok in quarantine.
56) Geoff Love and his Orchestra – Big Concerto Movie Themes (MFP)
Perhaps the lowest low since the greasy quiff guys, we all said “It’s awful!” in unison. No-one has confessed to bringing this into the house but it seems to have been first acquired at “Mojo Cash & Carry” in the early seventies. I have the excuse of not being born. Also of never ever buying random records. The space is too sacred! It’s going in the post-lockdown charity shop bag.
57) Fingerbobs – Original Television Music (Trunk)
Salvation in the form of a puppet mouse from 1972. This is such a sweet record, bought for Frankie as a toddler by her Uncle Rowland. It arrived on a snowy day and we found it wedged behind a pipe at our old flat in Dulwich village. The music, mostly a singer and a guitar, with the odd bit of violin and comical sound effects, is charmingly bonkers in the way of all the best 1970s kids’ entertainment.
58) Neu! – Neu! (Gronland)
Some chronological wrongness is exposed here as this futuristic LP dates back to 1971, amazingly. But it makes sense being near to fellow cool kids Blondie. It’s a thrumming masterpiece of noise that is more forward-looking than most of the tunes being released today. Makes me want to live in a geodesic dome in a community of utopianists immediately.
59) Blondie – Parallel Lines (Chrysalis)
My good friend and radio superstar Paul Osbourne gave me this LP at my “90s rave” birthday party: gloriously ignoring the theme and also breaking my “no presents” rule. It sounds so good and brings some music history sanity to the mix of fictional mice, wedding cheese and art noize so far representing the 1970s. Heart of Glass shimmers through our lockdown afternoon. Thank you Paul! Frankie is working on food tech classwork. We could actually help on this one by explaining what a crouton is.
60) Pink Floyd – The Wall (Harvest)
A very scratched copy of this “classic” was hiding inside a sleeve for the Blue Note jazz club. This is not my style (obviously) so over to Liza for thoughts on this bloated, bloke-rock album ;). Liza here. Turns out Another Brick in the Wall is the only track I like on the album, but it is a classic and a total nostalgia trip for me. Children singing their angry anthem in cockney accents. Lots of samples. We all used to sing it at Bousfield Primary school and it felt very revolutionary. “Hey, teacher, leave those kids alone!”. Happy to hear it again.
61) Gil Scott Heron and Brian Jackson – Secrets (Arista)
In truth I think I picked up this record because of the cat on the cover, a blue-eyed version of our own mog Bobby Scratch. Gil Scott Heron’s mellowness is enjoyable by the fire (yes, we’re season jumping here) on a damp April evening. Frankie is doing science work – stars – and Liza is making pizza. I am about to write another Zoom family quiz, as is the fashion in early 2020.
62) Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure (Island)
Ah yes, the men in eyeliner are here. Many more of them later. I found out about Roxy Music in unusual ways. First, my parents went to Newcastle University with a young Bryan Ferry in the late sixties, so his name was known to me through numerous “he could be your dad” jokes involving my mum and her famed neon-hole dress.
Secondly, my pre-GCSE English teacher, Mr Robinson, spotted my love of music and – amazingly, because I was just 14 – entrusted me with typing up a series of sleevenotes to his favourite songs. I created all these booklets on an early-1990s word processor and, listening to cassettes as I went, tumbled through a new and sophisticated world from David Sylvian to Virginia Astley and David Bowie. I switched from Chesney Hawkes to Brian Eno in a Smash Hits backflip one grey afternoon in 1993.
Thirdly, and around the same time, my big sister Claire developed a full-blown Roxy crush which naturally lay the faggy, glittered base layer of our Britpop days to come.
63) David Bowie – Aladdin Sane (RCA)
From Roxy to Bowie, we are delving deep in the facepaint now and it feels almost disrspectful to dance between these classic albums while working. And without playing the rest of their repertoires (which I don’t have on vinyl, so that’s that). Drive-In Saturday always makes me think of my Leeds Student music journo friend Tim Jonze who went on to write for the NME and was chastised by Morrissey (yes, him) for not particularly knowing the track. Old Moz was a proper sixth form music snob on the matter. Tim’s the one laughing now. Anyway, David Bowie is soundtracking a Thursday morning in late April 2020. And he’s nicked the cat’s chair.
64) Kraftwerk – Exceller 8 (Vertigo)
Brace yourself for the next few records, we’re going down the autobahn in search of neon lights. Kraftwerk are one of my all-time favourite bands. I was lucky enough to go to one of their 3D gigs at the Tate Modern in 2013. It was literally the most awesome audio-visual couple of hours of my life: satellites swooped overhead, bright, rotating musical notes hovered close but not quite in reach, the music was all-consumingly magnificent, epic and pin-sharp. Breathing felt like an intrusion. It was really, really something.
This album, from the early 1970s, sees the digital lords in a more organic and transient state. There are panpipe sounds and squelches. It is Kraftwerk, oh yes, but a shiftingly dreamlike version of the electro pioneers yet to come.
65) Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express (Kling Klang)
I absolutely love the graphic design on these wondrous albums from the late 1970s: a winking mix of Brylcreem propaganda and an idea of the future that was already in the past. It’s Gilbert and George with QR codes.
66) Kraftwerk – The Man Machine (Kling Klang)
It doesn’t make sense that Kraftwerk were making this incredible electronic music when others were bashing away at their guitars and drums like cavemen. The original band met in the late 1960s. They are still touring. This album is a synth masterpiece – The Model, The Robots, Neon Lights and Metropolis.
67) Kraftwerk – Computer World (Kling Klang/Warner)
Computer Love is simply an all-time banger and this, I think, is my favourite of all their albums. Pocket Calculator is very funny. Frankie’s ears prick up at the lyrics: “I’m the operator with my pocket calculator / I am adding… and subtracting / By pressing down a special key it plays a little melody.” She’s busy drawing on her new iPad with an Apple pencil, an act of digital creativity I feel Florian* and the lads would back. It’s 2 May 2020. We’re all robots now.
*Very sadly we learn within 24 hours of me writing this that Florian Schneider, founding member of Kraftwerk, has died. 2020 doing its thing.
68) Kraftwerk – Electric Cafe (Kling Klang/Warner)
I’ve sneaked into the 80s and 90s here to finish off the Kraftwerk sweep. Electric Cafe is from 1986 and contains the appropriate Musique Non-Stop…
69) Kraftwerk – The Mix (Kling Klang/EMI)
If you asked most bands formed in the sixties to come back in the early 1990s and remix all their best tracks into a non-stop megamix, you’d be rightly wary of getting something borderline terrible. Not so with Kraftwerk. This is a truly magnificent revisiting of their most huge tracks – Radioactivity, The Robots, Autobahn – which land up sounding even bigger and, frankly, like the best club night of your life. The vinyl is quite rare, being from the 1990s, and it took me a while to hunt this double album down a couple of years ago. It’s really so good.
70) Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (Warner Bros)
We time hop back from the brink of the ’90s to the gloriously confident folk-rock of Rumours. Over to Liza: It’s gorgeous, cosy, cheering, friendly, clever, warm – a complete classic, of course. Not one filler, as they say. It’s exciting because it’s so good. Here comes Don’t Stop, an indulgent nostalgia trip: imagine yourself into a 1970s film or photograph of America. Cool, fun, clever America. Fleetwood Mac’s seventies were very, very good. It’s more swaggering and less whimsical than other folk of this era. Wear your flowing chiffon and dangling pom-pom ties and fly about the room in high elation! (Liza, definitely not Anna, on the latter).
71) Kate Bush – The Kick Inside (EMI)
“Oh to be in love… and never get out again!”
I am almost shocked whenever I hear this album in its entirety again because it is so complete, so sophisticated, so witty and sharp, so full of greatest hits (Wuthering Heights, The Man with the Child in his Eyes, Them Heavy People) and so impossibly the work of a teenager. And yet Kate Bush wrote much of it between the ages of 13 and 17. Just think about that because it’s crazy.
It is also impossible to listen without dancing in Kate Bushy moves. It’s all in the arms and surprised eyes.
72) Kate Bush – Lionheart (EMI)
I’m so pleased we’ve hit the Kate Bush crop in early May. The garden is wild and juicy. The skies are stretching higher. On Sunday I get up at 3.30am to listen to the dawn chorus, with my Mum and sister doing the same on the phone. KB is also the last artist in the first quadrant (beginning of time > 1980s) of the record shelves, which feels fitting. Lionheart is the one she felt forced to put out too soon after her debut. As a result it’s less complete, more of a notebook of sounds. But Wow is here and it is obviously wow. My favourite is the urgent, frantic, Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake. She makes a dad pun truly amazing.
73) Kate Bush – Never for Ever (EMI)
If you want an example of how crazy and lop-sided our cultural world can be… this was the first EVER album by a British female solo artist to get to number one in the UK album chart, which happened on 20 September 1980. Released two years after Lionheart it’s a return to complete creative perfection for KB. Babooshka, Army Dreamers, Breathing are the ones people know but the whole LP is a flowingly gorgeous opus matched by the magic realism of the artwork.
74) Kate Bush – The Dreaming (EMI)
It’s completely nuts. You only have to look at the track names to know this to be true – There Goes a Tenner, Pull Out the Pin, Suspended in Gaffa (actually about gaffer tape). At the peak of her fame, but actually yet to record her defining opus, here is a woman revelling in artistic freedom and not giving a shit about industry expectations or beating Sheena Easton at the Brit Awards. Cool cover too. Go Kate.
75) Kate Bush – Kate Bush (Mini album) (EMI America)
I think this is a Canada-only release, containing just six tracks, but we get to hear Kate singing in French (Ne T’Enfuis Pas / Don’t Run Away).
76) Kate Bush – Hounds of Love (EMI)
We were actually nervous about hitting play on Hounds of Love because it’s too good for any old day. We kept delaying until we were in a suitably reverent mood. That time has come mid morning on Bank Holiday Friday (8 May 2020). Liza is painting, Frankie is still getting up. Side A is obviously perfection (the title track, Running up that Hill, Big Sky, Cloudbusting) and you have to slap yourself to stop its brilliant familiarity from rolling too fast.
My all-time favourite, though, is Hello Earth, from the Ninth Wave on side B which is as much theatre as music. Seeing all this live at those Hammersmith gigs in 2014 now itself feels like a dream lapping into focus and away again. Her voice was incredible and it all felt quasi-religious as she literally floated in a life jacket one minute and then emerged from “under ice” the next. Our tickets were not together so there was I, about five metres from Kate, in a row of weeping grown men while Liza and Jude were up in the circle having a similarly out of body experience. My only photo (KB wisely banned phones) from that night is of a painted feather. That feels about right.
77) Kate Bush – The Sensual World (EMI)
Because it’s not quite so famous, I find I can more easily slip among the waves of The Sensual World. It’s such a beautiful record. I love the celtic undercurrent throughout and the sense of swimming or flying through sound. This Woman’s Work is just astonishing and I really think it is among the most emotional tunes ever written. The very elongated, English way she says “can’t”… sigh.
I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show
I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking
78) The Slits – Cut (Island)
Viv Albertine is one of our absolute all-round favourites (do read her brilliant books). Love this album. What’s not to like about a band with a member called Ari Up? Typical Girls is bonkers good.
79) Gary Numan – The Pleasure Principle (Beggars Banquet)
I interviewed Gary Numan in 2000 at Leeds Festival. At the time he was wearing a sequinned silver jacket and I was in a red shirt and black tie in homage to The White Stripes. In the same day I played pool with both The Strokes and Mogwai. Here in 2020 I have just made a quiche. Numan’s alien voice is slicing through the room. Everybody just knows Cars but it’s a really, brilliant complete album that takes you on a rambling electro journey, a lot like Kraftwerk.
80) Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth (Rough Trade)
We’re in 1980 with this lost and found post-punk cult classic. I got hold of it on vinyl a few years ago at Rat Records after listening to it on CD for a while and not really clocking which “era” they are from (it’s much older than I realised). Both sparse and poppy, it’s kind of how Bis would sound if they’d been mangled with Joy Division on a bleak Manchester night in the eighties. There’s a dash of Felt here too in the “no intention of getting famous”-ness of it all. Yet in fact the Giants’ DNA can be found in the minimal production (and disproportionate success) of more recent bands like The XX. It sounds incredibly crisp and contemporary. It’s a supremely cool record that could have been released 40 years ago or last week.
81) Martha and the Muffins – Metro Music (Dindisc)
A cool cover and a cool band. We play it during the second heatwave (mid May 2020) of lockdown and Echo Beach sounds hot and urban. I have just spent five minutes nerdily locating the actual Echo Beach next to Toronto harbour. It’s not named on the album cover, but there it is next to the airport.
82) Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Architecture and Morality (Dindisc)
Another grand and soaring synth classic. The timeless Souvenir (I love, love, love) and Joan of Arc (I love, love, love) are here. And it dawns afresh just how much of the sound created by these bands (Numan, OMD, Soft Cell) has been pilfered from this era repeatedly ever since. I’m looking at you, LCD Soundsystem, and I understand and forgive you.
I actually associate the title with the sample used by Saint Etienne on the So Tough album. “Non stop erotic cabaret… da, da dahhh…” In peripheral news I have a Soft Cell beer mat thanks to an unexpected night out with my good friend Debbie a couple of years ago at their vinyl box set launch party. They had Soft Cell ale! (Obviously it should have been a darkly sweet and dangerous cocktail with a sugar-salt neon rim, but hey).
84) The Human League – Dare (Virgin)
As I have told everyone all my life, I met Phil Oakey when I was two. His brother lived next door to my parents. My “memory” of seeing his majestic asymmetric fringe up close is now so hard baked into my brain that I will never know, nor care, about the actual truth. His brother was certainly our neighbour in Headingley, Leeds. And that’s enough for me. I was an electro pop toddler and in my mind I basically saw them the night after they were on Top of the Pops, at number one with Don’t You Want Me, and they came to our suburban Yorkshire street in a cloud of glitter and hairspray and they came to see me eating a banana messily in my high chair. And that’s the story. Roll forward three decades plus and I play the pulsating Love Action in almost every DJ set ever. A glorious LP.
85) Visage – Fade to Grey – The Singles Collection (Polydor)
We’re soaked in synthesizers now and we’re also on stage at Duckie soaked in other people’s disco sweat* and we don’t care. This collection is a lot of fun and reminds you that Visage did actually do some other songs. Fade to Grey is the defining opus, of course, and it’s a wonderful towering experience as ever. Listening to this LP also makes me want to dress up like Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. Lace, bangles, layers, eyeliner and irrepressible 1980s ‘tude.
*We’re also thinking, can that kind of night ever, ever happen again? Pray for Duckie.
86) Various – Electric Dreams (Virgin)
We’ll always be together… together in electric dreams. A curiosity, this soundtrack, with an amazing plastic sleeve with a TV-shaped window. It’s the music for the Giorgio Moroder film but all we need is the glorious dancefloor catnip of the title track. It’s baking hot in late May. After a bank holiday of fevered creativity (marble run building, recreating The Scream in oil pastels, printmaking and set design, phew), we are going on a bike ride to Peckham Rye. We have squash and Pringles to lure Frankie out of the house.
87) The Psychedelic Furs – Talk Talk Talk (Columbia)
Here is a rare example of me (Anna) buying a record to educate myself rather than in the knowledge that I love it. It’s how I bought tapes and CDs from the age of 13 onwards; choices based on hearsay, a reference from another band, a general sense that music fandom was an ever-growing Connect-a-Straw structure with right-angular junctions to be understood and mastered. Pretty in Pink is “the one you know” – a post-punk anthem and it still sounds great. The rest to me, I’m afraid, feels overly blokish and leaves me with memories of sticky carpets in pub back rooms.
88) Magazine – Magic, Murder and the Weather (Virgin)
Another educational purchase from the University of Rat Records and it’s the last album they released together: more post-punk but with a warmer, fuzzier, more Felt-y sound. I wish I had *actual* Felt on vinyl but the original records are notoriously hard to find because Lawrence apparently has all the boxes of old stock in a locker at a mystery location. Anyway, I love being able to hear the roots of bands like Suede and Elastica in these tunes. So Lucky nearly morphs into We are the Pigs.
89) Various – Sound of the Suburbs (Columbia)
All the really good stuff is here. The Undertones, Adam and the Ants, Altered Images, Blondie, Tom Robinson and Buzzcocks. You could DJ a great set just by playing with two copies of this LP back and forth.
90) The Associates – Sulk (Beggars Banquet)
The Associates are one of those bands you used to hear other bands talk about in the Melody Maker: the enigmatic figure of Billy McKenzie, one of many shapeshifting indie music icons you wouldn’t have recognised down the shops. So here I am in 2020 trying to listen with fresh ears. It’s quite discordant, a bit sub-Bowie. Art school, yes. Disco, no. Paul Morley wrote of “an uninterruptible mix-up of cheap mystery, vague menace, solemn farce, serious struggle…” which sounds a lot like me trying to home school Frankie right now.
91) Kim Wilde – Kim Wilde (Rak Records)
Kim Wilde seems like a nice person, doesn’t she? Gardening, singing drunk on the tube etc. This is her magnificent debut. Kids in America, woo hoo. I love the spoken word bit that closes the album on Tuning In Tuning On. With a Grange Hill voice, Kim tells us: “I really believe that sound reaches infinity, Do you know what I mean? I think it goes on and on forever.” Yep, deffo, get me some Skips from the tuck shop later, though, yeh?
92) Duran Duran – Seven and the Ragged Tiger (EMI)
I was too young for Duran Duran and by the time I was older I viewed them as a parody of the 1980s, all blouson sleeves and glossy hair and money. The “ragged tiger” is a symbol for fame and fortune, the “seven” are the band. During this period Duran Duran lived and recorded abroad – in the south of France and the Caribbean – as tax exiles. Look at the cover: it’s a better looking Bullingdon Club. Ah well, Union of the Snake is still a fun listen.
93) Joan Armatrading – The Key (AM Records)
My main memory of Drop the Pilot is that it featured heavily on the Stray FM playlist when I worked there in the early 2000s. On the afternoon of 9/11, when the DJs were scrambling to remove any “inappropriate” tracks from the schedule, guess what – it was the next song on the list.
94) Virginia Astley – From Gardens Where We Feel Secure (Happy Valley/Rough Trade)
Truly one of the most beautiful records in this collection. It’s an album mostly stitched together from the simple found sounds of nature which put you in a dreamlike state of half-remembered July afternoons. It’s evocative but meandering, like Kate Bush without the adrenaline. It’s incredibly emotional and nostalgic too and in its stillness it makes you feel the passing of time. I first learned of Virginia Astley through my English teacher Mr Robinson and I am forever grateful for the introduction. The album title haunts a little; especially as Frankie is currently reading the Endless Steppe for school and we are following the story with her. In it, the main character Esther, a Jewish exile from wartime Poland, pines for her garden and the once taken for granted simplicity of watering the rose bush.
95) Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Induku Zethu (Earth Works)
I doubt this cover would get approval these days but I love it in all its Zulu-for-tourists glory and I love this album – a celebration of the warmth and beauty of the human vocal cord. With apologies to the rest of the 300 LPs here, but you just don’t need instruments. Ladysmith Black Mambazo became global superstars in the 1980s, in part thanks to Paul Simon bringing them to attention via Graceland. But they continue through different generations of singers and the sons of the founder. It’s a beautiful record and the absolute best of South Africa. Ngiyabonga.
96) Alison Moyet – Alf (CBS Columbia)
This record takes us sashaying in heels, heavily eyeshadowed, possibly crying a bit, across the dancefloor into the 1980s good and proper. What a voice: powerful and totally poptastic but also yearning and androgynous like Antony of Antony and the Johnsons. Some absolute beauties here: Invisible, All Cried Out. My overall feeling right now – as I sit at my desk trying to do the weekly stats – is that I really should be having a relationship drama during which I look over my shoulder in slow motion.
97) Suzanne Vega – Suzanne Vega (A&M Records)
We saw Suzanne Vega at the London Palladium a couple of years ago and it was such a touching, lovely gig. Just Suzanne on her own, with a piano and guitar, being very funny in between each song. These songs and her voice as beautiful as ever.
It’s a one time thing
It just happens
Walk with me
And we will see
what we have got…
98) Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing (A&M Records)
It’s the one with Tom’s Diner on it, but my heart lies with Luka and Night Vision. She’s a singer-songwriter with as much lyrical talent as Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. We love her round these parts.
99) UB40 – Labour of Love (DEP/Virgin)
Liza in the house. Why try to be cool (this is aimed at me – Anna) when everyone secretly loves good covers of classics? Cherry Oh Baby, Johnny Too Bad, Red Red Wine and Many Rivers to Cross are all here. This era was all about being a family: black and white together. Friendship. UB40 were political and they took on the topic of poverty in the eighties when others were parading wealth. We all loved them then.
100) Black – Wonderful Life (A&M)
We’re getting into that part of the 1980s where young men walk around industrial hinterlands in black clothes looking forlorn. Wonderful Life, the single, is of course really famous and great. But we knew very little about the rest of this artist and the album (almost insultingly picked up for £2). Black’s real name was Colin Vearnecombe and when we Google him we learn that he died in a car crash in 2016, leaving behind three sons. His wife has written very movingly about her grief. Pieces of vinyl sit around your house and then all of a sudden here we are feeling tearful about a man we didn’t know. Apparently the Wonderful Life lyric was always meant sarcastically too, following a previous car accident.
101) The Dream Academy – The Dream Academy (Warner)
Our good friend Jude bought me this during a Saturday afternoon forage around Camberwell. She may be the source of The Associates vinyl played earlier too, being a fellow member of the Dundee indie-pop royal family. The Dream Academy: well I obviously love the name but I haven’t really played this melodic pop record much before. Life in a Northern Town, I learn, was written as a tribute to Nick Drake but somewhat confusingly it contains *that sample* later used by Dario G in *that club hit* of the 90s. Never did I expect Nick Drake and Dario G to exist together in any sentence ever written. It’s me who’s just done that.
102) Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Easy Pieces (Polydor)
Liza here. I just always adored the single Lost Weekend and then the other tracks reveal Lloyd Cole’s amazing, soulful, lump-in-throat voice. I could listen to this track on repeat. A lost ‘80s icon.
103) Bronksi Beat – The Age of Consent (London)
Here we go then and we’re back at the proper gay disco. I once met Jimmy Somerville at the long lost Ghetto, a club near Centre Point opposite Tottenham Court Road. I used to go there a lot in the early days of working for Independent Radio News. We’d read the 10 o’clock news and then cane it down to the dancefloor. It’s all been bulldozed now to make way for loads of unnecessary new train lines (Crossrail) but somewhere in the rubble I reckon Jimmy’s falsetto still drifts on a lonely night, bouncing off cranes and into the smoggy sky. Smalltown Boy is a song of yearning, angry survival and it never loses its bite. Those opening major to minor chords, they make me feeeeeeel every time. I’m from a small town and I know exactly what he means.
Pushed around and kicked around, always a lonely boy…
But you never cried to them, just to your soul
104) The Communards – The Communards (London)
I love that it’s Richard Coles, the voice of Saturday mornings on Radio 4, partnering Jimmy Somerville’s soaring cathedral of a voice here. We listen to this on the last weekend of May. It’s summer holiday hot and we are biking around London (across to Fulham along the river) witnessing the government’s lockdown turn into what seems like one big second spike inducing outdoor party. Stay alert? Hmm. But what an album – The Communards’ version of Don’t Leave Me This Way is one of the best “end of the night” songs of all time and an absolute gift to DJs who want to end with a heart-in-mouth banger.
Don’t leave me this way
I can’t survive, I can’t stay alive
Without your love, no baby
105) Talk Talk – The Colour of Spring (EMI)
I can’t quite recall how or when I discovered Talk Talk. I think maybe in the months between leaving university and starting my life. The yearning, hopeful yet worried tone of the main single here, Life’s What You Make It, fits with this theory. That mournful, other-worldly vocal, backed by carefully crafted synth music, belongs to lead singer Mark Hollis. It’s a unique voice and probably a bit Marmite. I’m definitely a lover. Today is the first day “back” after half term and I’m at my desk in the living room again. The weather is still blisteringly hot and sunny.
106) The Lotus Eaters – No Sense of Sin (Arista)
Well now I have heard of the genre “sophisti-pop”. A weird one, this. The Lotus Eaters only put out one album in the 1980s and this is it. Mournful, slightly flimsy new wave pop. I don’t recall buying it and suspect it was a gift. Its future lies in the Herne Hill branch of Oxfam.
107) Raymonde – Babelogue (Chrysalis)
More melodrama from boys with fringes. This one wanted to be Morrissey. No One Can Hold A Candle to You is a lost number one, though.
108) Eurythmics – Be Yourself Tonight (RCA)
Gotta love Annie Lennox. There must be an aaaaaangel playing with my heart. A Friday in early June. Amazingly we’ve been doing this album thing for nearly three months. We make a ridiculous video for Frankie’s drama schoolwork. I dress up as Miss Trunchbull from Matilda and terrify myself.
109) The Bangles – Different Light (Columbia)
It’s basically Liza’s mid-eighties karaoke party now. So we’ve got Manic Monday on a weird Saturday which began with bright sunshine but now it’s thundering with very big bouncy hail stones. We cycled into Camberwell to look at new bikes for Frankie but somehow came back with a new, and beautiful, poppy red Polish bike for Liza.
110) Bananarama – The Greatest Hits Collection (London)
Hello childhood and hello discos in people’s garages. Very specifically, I recall the 10th birthday of my friend, the milkman’s daughter, Katie. The garage was rammed with crates of juice and pop (northern for fizzy drink) in yoghurt pot-shaped cans. It was deeply exciting to be able to freely grab a cola while dancing to Love in the First Degree.
111) The Cure – Standing on a Beach – The Singles (Fiction)
This record gets played a lot because it is brilliant. It’s a greatest hits from 1986, a decade (amazingly) after the band had started out. We play it with Jo, Hari and Milo round for the first time since lockdown began. They are making magic show props with Frankie. It’s really hard to pick a favourite track from this collection – Close to Me, Boys Don’t Cry, The Love Cats are all here – but I think for me (Anna) it’s the lush, panoramic and gothic journey of A Forest. The man on the cover is a random retired fisherman, by the way, who said he just wanted to “help these youngsters break through,” 10 years into their career.
One of the most perfect albums ever. I love Tracy Chapman. We listen after a bike ride to Greenwich Park to see Debbie, Steve, Rose, Ben and Eddie. Frankie and I are back early and getting cosy after being caught in the rain. Liza has cycled to her mum’s. Tracy Chapman has a gorgeous, warm voice (one I can perfectly sing along to, exactly the right pitch) and you just know she’s a good person. There’s so much here: Talkin’ Bout a Revolution, Fast Car and Baby Can I Hold You. And with Black Lives Matter protests taking place around the world right now, after the senseless police killing of unarmed black man George Floyd (early June, 2020), the words feel painfully poignant.
Run for your life
Tonight the riots begin
On the back streets of America (Across the Lines)
113) Kirsty MacColl – Kite (Virgin)
I know everyone dies but Kirsty was young (my exact age now, I’ve just Googled) when she was killed in Mexico. It happened *20* years ago but I can never listen to her without thinking about the tragedy. She’d got through the rock “n” roll and, I imagine, the eye-bleedingly boozed up nights with The Pogues, only to suffer a random and awful holiday accident (hit by a speedboat, which was wrongly speeding in a restricted area). Her sons were teenagers. She saved one of them by pushing him clear of the intruding boat. They are men in their mid-30s now. I really do think of them, especially when I hear Kirsty’s beautiful rendition of Days.
Thank you for the days
Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me
114) Enya – Watermark (WEA)
OhmygodIlikeEnya. This is Liza’s record and I was all set to be mean about it but I find it comforting. Reminds me of being a kid and my dad playing Clannad. Also I have learned the famous one was named after the place this album was recorded: Orinoco Studios.
115) Tears for Fears – The Seeds of Love (Fontana/Mercury)
Quite a strange jazzy and gospel affair all in all (at a production cost of £1m, apparently), but there’s sweet relief when Sowing the Seeds and Advice for the Young at Heart come along. Aka the ones you know. I have a soft spot for Sowing the Seeds as it’s one of the first singles I ever bought; on cassingle in 1989 from George Heapy in Knaresborough. In 2020 it’s a Thursday and chucking it down in June. We’ve been a bit “ratty” today, as my mum would have said in 1989.
116) The Smiths – The Smiths (Rough Trade)
So we’re rewinding into the early/mid 1980s because The Smiths naturally lead us to solo Morrissey and he, the fallen deity, naturally takes us into the 1990s. Anyway, first question: how did ANYONE fall for the celibacy line pumped out by the Moz throughout this era? (I have the excuse of being an innocent child/teenager). But, jeez, the lyrics, when heard now, just don’t leave anything to the imagination about Steven Patrick’s outdoor pursuits…
Fifteen minutes with you
Oh, I wouldn’t say no
How much I love your casual way
Oh, but please put your tongue away
A little higher and we’re well away
But now you make me feel so ashamed
Because I’ve only got two hands
Well, I’m still fond of you, oh-ho-oh
It is hardly cryptic, Smash Hits.
Anyway, I love this album and these incredible melodies despite not realising it was pure filth for the last 20 years of my life.
117) The Smiths – Hatful of Hollow (Rough Trade)
Probably my favourite Smiths compilation because I associate it so strongly with discovering music on my own, for myself and for the first time in my loft bedroom in the mid-1990s. It felt like an historic artefact at the time, as I scraped back each layer and discovered the music and myself, but I realise now that Hatful of Hollow was merely a decade old then. And I came by my copy in the most quaint way: I wrote a letter to a mail order secondhand shop I’d found in the back of my dad’s Record Collector. I told whoever would listen that I couldn’t afford to buy the whole back catalogue so could he recommend which to start with. He duly replied, recommending Hatful. IMAGINE THAT, children of Google, spawn of recommendation engines.
Anyway, he was right because this record has all the early Smiths big ones – Hand in Glove, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, This Charming Man, How Soon Is Now? – but it’s also punctuated with the awkward and miserable ones which the truest Smiths fandom is all about: Accept Yourself, Girl Afraid, Back to the Old House. I love these songs so much.
118) The Smiths – Meat is Murder (Rough Trade)
“I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives and now it’s happening in mine…” I recall not getting on as well with Meat is Murder as a teenager, apart from That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore. I found it a harder listen than the other albums. How we’d love it if Morrissey had stuck to defending animal rights.
119) The Smiths – The Queen is Dead (Rough Trade)
We play this early on a damp Sunday morning in June. Liza and I know every single word, every Morrisseyian “ohhh, oh oh” and we sing along and it’s hilarious. A peerless record, it’s the most complete LP by The Smiths. The lyrics are so funny and slapstick – and they resurrect our younger brains: the desire to be dramatic coupled with inexperience and, of course, an awakening to innuendo.
I was shocked into shame to discover
How I’m the eighteenth pale descendant
Of some old queen or other
We all know it’s a great shame that Morrissey has thrown away his reputation in recent years with a curdled desire to shock us. But he once really spoke to us, didn’t he?
It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate
It takes strength to be gentle and kind
Over, over, over, over
120) The Smiths – Strangeways, Here We Come (Rough Trade)
“I started something and now I’m not too sure…” Those words so very much sum up being a teenager/20-something. As Liza eloquently puts it: that feeling when you’ve made someone fancy you, but it was just a game. See, we can all write Smiths lyrics.
121) The Smiths – The World Won’t Listen (Rough Trade)
A really good compilation from 1987 when Morrissey was feeling cross with the mainstream music charts. You just haven’t earned it yet, baby.
In 2020, we cycle to Liza’s dad for Father’s Day and eat croissants on his doorstep and we laugh lots and lots.
122) The Smiths – Peel Sessions (Strange Fruit)
Recorded at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios in 1983 for John Peel’s legendary radio show, but not released until 1988. It contains a raw, pulsating version of What Difference Does it Make? And we hear Reel Around the Fountain for the third time during this LP-a-thon.
123) Morrissey – Viva Hate (HMV/Sire)
I own most of Morrissey’s heyday solo albums on CD, but only this one on vinyl. My Morrissey days were mostly in my gap year between school and university. The opus is Vauxhall and I – a thrumming, majestic, deeply emotional and moving record for me. This one, with its catty title, gave us clues about the unhinged, Marr-less Morrissey yet to come. Everyday is Like Sunday still soars, although the grammatically incorrect title bothers me, ha. And Suedehead, ah Suedehead. An indie disco floor filler once.
124) Morrissey – Very Best Of (Major/Minor/EMI)
A hairy-legged Moz sprawls from a bathtub on the cover of this greatest hits. I so strongly associate these songs with my teenage bedroom that I just can’t let them go. The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get. Interesting Drug, Interlude, they all get me singing and I played them to death in the mid-90s. Morrissey is an absolute horror on some of these tunes, of course. It’s hard to listen to November Spawned a Monster now, it’s so cruel. What’s strange is that I knew in my teens that his songs could be dark and deliberately amoral. But I always thought a poetic truth saved them. I’m less sure of that now. I think perhaps he was just… mean. The much lesser known Tomorrow is way gentler, thank heavens.
All I ask of you is one thing that you never do
Will you put your arms around me?
125) New Order – Power, Corruption and Lies (Factory)
Back to the early 1980s for this slightly tense New Order LP which forms a bridge between the wiry silhouettes of Joy Division and the pop laser beams of New Order’s later sound. Peter Saville’s gorgeous designs shine bright – unless you are one of those Luddites who wants to read a track list.
126) New Order – Technique (Factory)
Oh and now we’re in Ibiza and it’s 1989. Although, for me, these tunes bring back solo bus rides around Leeds in the early noughties. I would genuinely just ride the city buses with these songs (on minidisc) in my ears. Dream Attack is my all-time favourite Balearic wash of noise. Yesssss! Bring it all to me. In 2020, we’ve just experienced a 31 degree day in our pandemic summer.
Nothing in this world can touch the music that I’ve heard
When I woke up this morning…………………………… (Dream Attack)
127) Pet Shop Boys – Introspective (Parlophone)
This towering, neon flavoured *pop pop pop* (better than all the other pop!) music slices through the lumbering fug of this June afternoon and lordy I need it. I get up to dance to mentally shake off the avalanche of emails flying unnecessarily towards me. I’m not scared.
128) Electronic – Electronic (Factory)
“I hate that mirror, it makes me feel so ugly” is a surprisingly depressing lyric from this otherwise gorgeously optimistic and keyboard sharp album from the best ever “supergroup” (Bernard Sumner from New Order, Johnny Marr from the Smiths, Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys). It reminds me of Gunny & Showbiz playing Getting Away With It on the Stray FM breakfast show I worked on in the early noughties; one of the most fun jobs of my life. This particular copy I picked up in a sprawling antique and bric-a-brac emporium in Weymouth during one of our happy camping trips to Dorset. It had to survive a few nerve-racking nights in a tent and I’m glad to say it’s in fine condition.
129) Madonna – You Can Dance (Sire/Warner Bros)
I put this on during one of Liza’s book club nights with our lovely neighbours at Sunray Avenue, the first since the tentative easing of the UK lockdown. And of course the gentle chit-chat gives way to a party atmosphere. I end up DJ-ing through the living room window and it’s very fun indeed.
130) Madonna – Like a Virgin (Sire/Warner Bros)
I got into Madonna buying cheap cassettes from a strange underground market in Harrogate: one of those places with locked plastic carousels in multiple rotating columns. I would save up to buy three or four tapes at a time. You had to find a little man and point to the one you wanted. It felt covert but also awkward. Most of my teenage music collection is on tape or CD, so that’s why I don’t – shockingly – have Like a Prayer on vinyl. Like a Virgin (eesh, would that title *ever* get the green light today?) is the slightly hit and miss pre-runner to the *absolute classics* and I bought it years later in a charity shop. Material Girl is still a brilliant comment on the yuppy age.
131) Madonna – True Blue (Sire/Warner Bros)
Here we go then because this an almost flawless LP of perfect pop released in June 1986. It is so good and screams number ones: the title track, of course, plus Papa Don’t Preach, Live to Tell, La Isla Bonita. This is Madonna at the peak of her powers. In 2020 it’s “Super Saturday” in the UK’s weird release from lockdown. People are flocking to pubs and there are pictures of Soho thronging with crowds. Meanwhile the infection “R” rate of Covid-19 is back above one in London, which means it might spread again. People seem to be mistaking “boredom with the pandemic” for “end of the pandemic”.
132) Prince – Dirty Mind (Warner Bros)
We lurch back in time again because Prince and Madonna just have to sit side by side in the 1980s quadrant. Prince was so ridiculously prolific as a songwriter there are hundreds of songs to discover on top of the famous ones. When I visited his house – yep, I went to Paisley Park – in the snow bleached wilds of Minnesota (“a cab to Chanhassen please…”) we, and a tiny group of mega fans, were played one of his unreleased funk tunes. This album reminds me of it and that strange day we spent wandering around with white doves flitting around our heads.
133) Prince – Controversy (Warner Bros)
Controversy is one of my absolute favourite Prince tunes. I love the simplicity and those very cool descending keyboards. Kerstin is round for dinner and we play it through the window into the garden. The album comes with a giant, slightly indecent poster of a dripping wet Prince in the shower.
134) Prince – Lovesexy (Paisley Park/Warner Bros)
In case you hadn’t seen enough of the Purple One’s naked flesh, here’s more on the Lovesexy album cover which I first encountered in my older sister Claire’s bedroom. I love the “feminine” leg pose and it definitely blew my 10-year-old mind at the time. Claire used to sing along to every lyric and I learned them all too as they reverberated through the bedroom floor. Alphabet St is still one of my favourite Prince tracks and I’m laughing at the memory of my Mum’s baffled looks as we ran around the house singing the lyrics…
You jerk your body like a horny pony would
Now run and tell your mama about that
135) Neneh Cherry – Raw Like Sushi (Virgin)
A completely perfect album from 1989. Neneh has all the sexy cool of Prince but with it she’s so gloriously London. I didn’t live in the phat smoke back then, but through these songs (Inner City Mamma, Love Ghetto, Manchild) I can imagine that I too hung out on the hot tarmac of south London sucking beers through straws. I saw Neneh once in a bar in Brixton, around 1999/2000, but I was too shy to say hello. I still play Buffalo Stance every time I DJ.
That’s the girls on the block with the nasty curls
Wearing padded bras sucking beers through straws
Dropping down their drawers, where did you get yours?
136) De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising (Tommy Boy)
A masterclass in how to create an album: sounds that stitch and weave together and form something tastier than the sum of their parts. The Magic Number, Eye Know and Me, Myself and I are the famous ones but this LP actually has 24 tracks. Twenty-four! And it’s a bouncing soundscape adventure, pinballing our ears from quiz show samples to Otis Redding cheerfully whistling down hip-hop streets where life is cheeky and fun and no-one is shooting each other. De La Soul remind me of my first year at Leeds (1998), when I swapped my brown Britpop corduroys for big, baggy trousers. I rebelled against the Freshers’ Ball by going to a breakbeat night instead with my new friend Steve. He was a London boy who owned loads of trainers. Bopping around with him in my flappy trousers and velcro Adidas seemed a whole lot more preferable to wearing a dress on a Hooch sticky floor across town.
137) Young Disciples – Road to Freedom (Talkin’ Loud)
Over to Liza, who spent her teens bombing around to London clubs in the back of a van while I was playing with my Lego in North Yorkshire. We all like Apparently Nothin’ when it comes on the radio, don’t we? Except it hasn’t come on the radio for 30 years. I suppose this is acid jazz but stay with me because it plunges me back to sprawling nights in the Africa Centre (at the time in Covent Garden, late 1980s) in the heyday of Soul II Soul. In the same forgotten bracket are D-Influence; when they came to Glasgow in the early 1990s I was dancing so enthusiastically down the front, the singer spotted me and pulled me up on stage. I left my teenage London house partying to go to art school in Scotland. At a recent Roundhouse gig in north London, I recognised some of the dancefloor characters again: faces that I hadn’t seen for 30 years.
138) Cocteau Twins – Stars and Topsoil (4AD)
Swoon me backwards into pools of tears because this album is a holy relic of my emotional state, aged 22. It’s like knocking back a vial containing the silly soup of youth; that post-university feeling that life was over when it had not yet really begun. Sugar Hiccup. Here in the future, another muggy July day and I’m heading north with my sister Kerstin to visit mum and dad for the first time since March. We agree we will hug each other after reading a “safe hugging” guide in the New York Times which seems unscientific at best. But it is a wonderful moment to embrace on the platform at Knaresborough station. My mum feels smaller in my arms than I remember. She has tears in her eyes and that starts us all off.
139) Cocteau Twins – Blue Bell Knoll (4AD)
This week in July 2020 has been a strange and woozy cocktail of Elizabeth Fraser’s heavenly mumbles and the joyful spinning shock of Leeds United winning the Championship and returning to the Premier League after 16 years. I cannot claim I was loyal throughout all those wilderness times thanks to life happening: at least seven different jobs and as many addresses as I bounced my way to an existence in London. But I always kept an eye on United’s (painfully stuttering) progress because Leeds connect me to my childhood as “the only girl on the football team” and my trips to Elland Road over the last year (the last match I attended was on the eve of lockdown against Huddersfield, I high-fived many strangers) have got me back in touch with multiple school-era friends. Charlie, my match-going pal, never wavered. He kept following them through the truest of doldrum times and for that I dedicate to him The Itchy Glowbo Blow.
140) Various – Doing it for the Kids (Creation)
A dreamy shoegaze slice of a forgotten time. Released in 1988, it gently ushers in a new era none of us knew was coming. I was 10 when this came out and busy learning New Kids on the Block lyrics from the Smash Hits centrefold. Little did I know that these other kids – Felt, My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream – were waiting for me around the next corner. From 1988-90, I was at the intersection between football and pop music: an unusual crossroads for a girl in those days. I played for my school team (Castle Junior School in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire) on the left wing and the only lass in the squad, and I would collect Panini football stickers while my older sister Claire pieced together a Kim Wilde jigsaw montage in her Smash Hits sticker album. I was chasing the elusive Liverpool badge “shiny” while she was holding out for Prince. Quite fortuitously I switched to pop music around the time that Smash Hits, overnight, became awash with these new bands: EMF, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets. It was 52p a week from Maynews in Knaresborough and I dived in head first. I came for Kylie and Jason, I stayed for The Soup Dragons.
141) The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (Silvertone)
Few British bands have been mythologised quite like the Roses. Spike Island. The second summer of love. Meet you in the long grass, wear your beads, bang your tambourine, bring illegal contraband, ruffle my bowl cut, shape the future of pop, create the 1990s. And then you realise that they only released two albums: the least flabby back catalogue of all time. Beatles melodies with a whole new swagger, and here for *me* and *my youth*. I was 11 when this came out and I vividly remember Ian Brown’s pretty face popping up in my Smash Hits alongside this other alien being: Nicky Wire of the Manics. Imagine that after Bros and Big Fun. It felt like a revolution because it was. I wasn’t cool enough to fully understand what was going on and I genuinely didn’t always quite know if these pretty boys, some of ’em in eyeliner, were male or female. My football comic days were done, though, and my eyes and ears were pricked.
Have you seen her, have you heard
The way she plays, there are no words
To describe the way I feel……………………………..(She Bangs the Drums)
142) Ultra Vivid Scene – Joy 1967-1990 (4AD)
One of those albums which, to me, is less than the sum of its parts. It looks good and it has all the right connections: tracks featuring Kim Deal and the Pixies. Bought, no doubt, during one of my joint raids on Rat Records in Camberwell with our friend and music brother, Julian. We call it “Rat Club”. We meet at 10.30am on a Saturday, cash in hand, all set to rifle through the finest second hand record stocks in south London, probably the world. But this LP, at £3, is a rare example of a modern-day blind buy. My self-imposed rule is that all vinyl purchases should be dead cert winners. This probably came in with a haul of Sonic Youth 10 inches (Julian) and long-hunted Stereolab LPs (me). There’s something warm, fuzzy and Velvet Underground-ish here but Liza pops her head around the door to tell me “this is depressing me” so we move on.
143) Sonic Youth – Goo (DGC)
A cover so iconic it’s hard to imagine it didn’t always exist. It reminds me of meeting one of my lifelong friends, Steve, in first year halls at Leeds University. He had the artwork on a T-shirt but, curiously, never actually played Sonic Youth to my knowledge. He was a big beat boy by the time our paths crossed and we ended up presenting a radio show together on LSR (Leeds Student Radio), on air during student prime time of 11pm until 2am. I first saw Sonic Youth at Glastonbury in 1998: these heavy, powerful tunes slammed through the muggy air and shook us down to our incredibly muddy boots and borderline cases of trench foot. We were Britpop kids at the time, patiently waiting for The Divine Comedy and Pulp but we watched SY’s set like students of music. Years later, at All Tomorrow’s Parties, I witness Kim Gordon walking among the nodding soft toy prizes in the games arcade at Pontin’s Holiday Camp which has been taken over by indie kids in zip-up tops. At the same festival I also watch Beth Orton playing air-hockey with Will Self. Anyway. I can’t listen to any of these tunes without thinking of the hundreds of gigs I’ve attended with the other music boy in my life, aforementioned Rat Clubber Julian. As Dirty Boots crunches in I can feel his sweaty pogo-ing body right beside me.
144) Slint – Spiderland (Touch and Go)
A cult album. Almost an American Arab Strap. Experimental and sparse. It’s Sunday 26 July and we’ve lit the stove because it’s gloomy out there. Liza spanks my arse at Scrabble, as per usual.
145) EMF – Schubert Dip (Parlophone)
Ok now here were go sliding at speed into the 1990s. I’m back in the first year at King James’s School and Unbelievable is the tune of the moment. I am – literally – sliding down the long, slightly perilous railings between the sports hall and the tennis courts. A girl called Kim, who seems older than the rest of us, is leading this illegal school venture and with every dangerous swoop she is singing/shouting…
The things, you say
Your purple prose just gives you away
The things, you say
146) The Breeders – The Last Splash (4AD/Elektra)
One of my favourite albums ever and 100% the influence of the Julian School of Rock. I was largely a pop kid before Julian took me to many of these ear-bleeding gigs (The Breeders, multiple times, My Bloody Valentine, Matt and Kim) in the late noughties. The Deal sisters manage to be ascerbic and cool and warm and cute all at once. Cannonball is a DJ-ing essential. Do You Love Me Now? – the way it builds, the despair, the resignation – is my actual favourite.
147) The Breeders – All Nerve (4AD)
An absolutely beautiful record showing that very cool young women tend to turn into very cool older women. I have a photo of Liza hanging out with The Breeders’ bassist at All Tomorrow’s Parties, where we saw them perform with Deerhunter. Bloody brilliant times.
148) My Bloody Valentine – m b v (m b v)
I don’t have Loveless on LP (only CD) because it’s ridiculously rare and hard to find these days. This, from one of their comebacks, was bought after a gig at Hammersmith Apollo. The ticket still nestles inside. It’s completely fuzz-drone-rock and it makes you check the record is playing at the right speed but I love their lush soundscapes: they feel fleshy and fluid, like you are journeying through your own veins.
149) Primal Scream – Screamadelica (Creation)
1991 was a spectacular year for music. Screamadelica surely leads the way but also Loveless (My Bloody Valentine), Blue Lines (Massive Attack), Leisure (Blur) and in the US, REM’s Out of Time and Nirvana’s Nevermind. I was 11 and trying to find my own route into the enormous, wondrous, unfurling music scene via videos on The Chart Show and a weekly dose of magazines (mostly Smash Hits and the forgotten Pop Shop, which always seemed to come with a cassette, the delight).
Screamadelica is a staggering, incredible record but I didn’t actually discover it properly for another whole decade, in my cramped student loft bedroom in Meanwood, Leeds, aged 21. I seemed to have a bit of spare money for buying CDs by this point and set out hungrily to acquire some of the missing links in my collection. The huge ones – Movin’ On Up, Loaded, Come Together – are awesome, in the truest sense of the word. Unbelievably we reach this record on the day news breaks of the death of Denise Johnson, whose epic soul vocals are all over this gloriously uplifting album. Don’t Fight It, Feel It: that repeating whistle (wrong band, I know, but I always imagine it’s Bez) and those amazing chords that transport you to the clouds. It’s the introspective ones that feed my emotions the most: Slip Inside This House, Higher Than the Sun and Shine Like Stars. These ones vividly capture that 3am feeling at the club: friends somewhere else, alone, stumbling, but enjoying it. Seriously, all cool, no worries, just enjoying the tunes. I’ll text you again in a bit. Actually, leave me in the chill out room forever. Waaaah wooosh.
150) Various – The Best of Dance 91 (Telstar)
This record is physically filthy. I have no idea of its origins but Liza thinks she picked it up in a charity shop. It is a bit warped, tacky all over and scratched: certainly it has seen some nights. I readily crack out my vinyl cleaning fluid which smells like meths and soon enough I resurrect this album of “meet me at the service station” rave classics. Such compilations normally start well and trail off but not this one. Each of the four side builds to a heady peak of tops-off podium euphoria: Seal – Crazy, The KLF – Last Train to Transcentral, Snap – The Power and Alison Limerick – Where Love Lives. I’m also noticing the samples like never before. The Smiths on Hippy Chick!! We dance around the kitchen holding utensils of domesticity – me with a mop, Liza, a washing basket, because we are horribly and definitely 6 Music’s precise target market now. I honestly do feel thankful and very lucky to have been a child/teenager when all this stuff was new. The back of the sleeve helpfully informs us of the UK chart position of each track. You Got the Love, only a number four. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s Summertime, aka the greatest summer song ever, a mere number eight. Mental. Also here, the cheeky Cola Boy. That’s Saint Etienne’s “secret” rave tune. It also got to number eight. In your face, Will Smith.
151) Saint Etienne – Foxbase Alpha (Heavenly)
We have arrived at my favourite band of all time. Unquestionably. If you took everything I like about every other record here – hope, beauty, humour, poetry, dancing, history, emotion and a good amount of arms-in-the-air-like-we-just-don’t-care – and then squished all that into an Oxo cube of pop, the resulting magic soup would be Saint Etienne. The samples, the mournful melodies, the dancefloor joy, the patchwork glimpses of other lives and strange places… I’m so glad I found them when I was young.
Rather fittingly, in a Pulp song kinda way, I nicked them from my older sister Claire. She had already discovered the Et’s mysterious pop majesty after buying So Tough on cassette in our home town record shop, George Heapy’s of Knaresborough. She played that tape to death, and it beamed through the floor into my room, intoxicating both of us. The twinkling, eternal summer of London Belongs to Me is one of the reasons I was drawn to a life in the Great Wen. I too wanted to “walk down Parkway (Camden) and settle down”. About 15 years after first hearing this, I did. It’s a flawless album really: Only Love Can Break Your Heart, Nothing Can Stop Us, Spring. My favourite is probably Like the Swallow: a sprawling forest of a tune, it climbs heavenwards and you want to stay in its foliage forever.
152) Saint Etienne – Foxbase Alpha/Remains of the Day (Box set edition) (Heavenly)
We’re fully into nerd territory now and will be in the land of Saint Etienne for a while; ordering buns, gazing at lemon-flavoured clouds and flicking our lovely Mod haircuts that always fall back into the right place. This bountiful vinyl extra contains some of the gems that fell between albums such as the heavenly Kiss and Make Up, which comes with the insect hum of the best summers you ever had. It’s actually a cover version, nicked from their mates The Field Mice. The madly soulful yet ravey, spiralling Speedway is also here with its beautifully bellowing vocal, instantly stirring the podium dancer in us all. And then there’s all-time fan favourite Filthy with its cute urban cool. In 2020 we are again baking in a UK heatwave. My sister Kerstin comes over and we all cycle west to Teddington Lock to discover 300-plus teenagers amassed in swimwear, taking it in turns to jump from the footbridge into the river. I hope their mums don’t know.
153) Saint Etienne – Foxbase Beta (Heavenly)
Very few remix albums truly stand up against the original. In this list we’ve already enjoyed the bouncing beats of Kraftwerk’s The Mix, one of the rare winners in this genre. Here, Richard X does the near impossible and makes tunes like Only Love Can Break Your Heart even more danceable. This 2009 revisit is joyous in a more serotonin-infused way than the innocently sunny original. Other tunes, like the already trippy Wilson, also benefit from a 21st century rave make-over. The only bum note is the unnecessary addition of a children’s choir to the flawless Like the Swallow. In 2020, schools have finally gone back in the UK after the pandemic summer. Frankie returns from her first day back full of beans.
154) Saint Etienne – So Tough (Heavenly)
It’s scary writing about these albums because they mean a bit too much. So Tough is the album that opened a very important pop doorway first to my older sister Claire and then to me. This portal, like a pop version of the Mr Benn changing room, probably with a 1970s beaded curtain in front of it, led to a colourful maze wallpapered haphazardly with torn up pages of an A-Z of London. Beyond lay a land of secret discos disguised as small 1960s cafes where tea is sugary and sausage, eggs and beans is still £1.20.
See? It’s taken me a week to write the next sentence. We’re now heading for late August and the gentle whiff of Autumn is ever so slightly blowing in on the breeze. The picture I have taken of the album cover is a bit grainy because it’s taken in the Leafhound twilight at the end of an end-of-summer day. This is also the first un-lockdown LP, really, as we have been away camping since Foxbase Alpha. Most people, and all my colleagues, are still working from home, though, and it feels as if the true undoing of these strange 2020 lockdown times will be the morning we all commute again. Cue the train carriage sounds on Railway Jam.
So Tough is a sacred scrapbook of intelligent, perfect pop. Avenue is my favourite of all the songs I have ever loved: tumbling clouds of sound that bring to mind loss and sadness but also friendships forever and sisterhood too – thank you again, Claire! – and all these scenes played out in the green back gardens of an England we used to love. It’s all so good. The timeless yet forever sun-faded mood. The mysterious lyrics. Oh how many years, is it now Maurice? The samples! A cigarette, a cup of tea, a bun (from a Dirk Bogarde poem). The comedy moments: Lose himself in the London! (From Billy Liar). Hobart Paving, another towering classic almost too amazing to try to describe.
p.s. This blog excellently hunts down the various samples taken from old films.
155) Saint Etienne – Tiger Bay (Heavenly)
The strangest, perhaps least understood of Saint Etienne’s undulating green hills of sound. I remember first listening to it in the mid ’90s, a bit baffled, but instantly in love with tunes that could be Kraftwerk messing about with Vaughan Williams’ string section. And the titles, so mesmerising just to read: Urban Clearway, Marble Lions, Cool Kids of Death. Like a rave on National Trust property… which I really did then attend a few years later – Bedfordshire, early 2000s, waking up in the woods staring at the sky with my friend Rose, bemused morning joggers trotting by, thinking, err, we might be dead. Surprise! Anyway, I love this album and saw it performed with a full orchestra at the Barbican a few years ago. I wish I had a better memory for recording these most lush of gigs to the inner hard drive. But all I remember is the hushed audience and the dark and twinkling stage.
In the tentative post-lockdown (the first one) world of 2020 it’s early September and today we go to see the Aubrey Beardsley exhibition at Tate Britain. A bemasked and hand-sanitised affair but otherwise comfortingly like the old world: people politely shuffling around each other to view dimly lit Victorian ink drawings. It’s beautiful and Frankie gets a lot from it, really taking in the detail and looking up close. She’s now sporting an AB T-shirt like all the cool 12-year-olds.
156) Saint Etienne – Tiger Bay/Remains of the Day (Box set edition)
Told you we’d be here a while. I own a lot of special Saint Etienne records, not least because they are experts in re-releasing old stuff with gorgeous extras and obscure gems seemingly found down the back of Bob Stanley’s sofa. This extra disc, from the 25th anniversary box set, contains some of the B-sides I always lapped up, because they felt more intimate and “mine” than the A-sides. Hate Your Drug is woozy and reminds me of pensive late-teen afternoons, waiting for life to begin. They’re my lifetime soundtrack, this band, and I’m really pleased to be cracking these tunes out of their too-nice packaging.
I’ve made a ton of very special friends through the Et web too. Marion, whose first words to me at Leeds University in 1998 were “Do you know if Tim (Burgess) and Sarah (Cracknell) are going to turn up?” (It was a student indie night, I was in a Good Humor-era T-shirt, they didn’t). I’ve just chalked up my 21st year of friendship with Mazza, as she is never called, but me and Rose, who I also met that year in student halls, continue to try. Across the way at Lupton Flats, was our “actually in a band” (Electrelane) friend, Debbie, who also loved Saint Etienne. Seems so lucky now, that I found these people at the age of 19. Thank you, snobbish Leeds accommodation staff, for ignoring our wishes for nicer rooms and shoving all the state school kids with good music taste in the halls with nylon curtains and a squirrel problem.
157) Saint Etienne – I Love to Paint (Heavenly)
Once the holy grail of Saint Etienne rarities, I Love to Paint was available only to “Clenbuterol” fan club members in 1995. I looked in vain for it for years and then acquired a bootleg CD copy. Eventually it was re-released on vinyl for the middle-aged former ravers with gardens and spare cash. It’s a mad mess of lost B-sides, studio in-jokes and excellent oddities. The sample at the start of Studio Kinda Filthy is priceless and ever so slightly reminds me of my Leeds granny’s comic frankness:
How dare you? How dare you say such filthy disgusting things? You filthy upstart!
You come into the house, drunk, filthy drunk. You’re filthy.
You talk filth, you are filth…
In 2020 it is mid-September and the pandemic is back. There’s talk of a second UK-wide lockdown incoming. I have now seen every season through my home desk window. And the foxes who own the place. And Bobby’s strange daily ritual of jumping over the wall and under the neighbours’ conifer bush in pursuit of whatever it is that cats pursue.
158) Saint Etienne – Too Young to Die: Singles 1990-1995 (Heavenly)
This is the Saint Etienne compilation to grab when the apocalypse comes: a flawless two sides of the band’s sun-dappled heyday singles. Hobart Paving and Avenue are surely the tunes that play as you go down that tunnel to the afterlife. Who Do You Think You Are? – a cover of a fairly unknown 1970s band, Candlewick Green – is my favourite because it’s the one my sister bought on cassette single in Asda in Harrogate in 1993. It got played to death, wafting up from Claire’s room to mine. We loved it and raced to the TV one Saturday morning when the video was played – in full! Hysteric Glamour! – on the Chart Show.
This premature greatest hits was a bit of a mid-career pause that teasingly suggested it might all be over for the trio of Bob, Pete and Sarah. And we, innocents abroad in Melody Maker’s inky pink pages, genuinely worried about their hiatus from the world of pop. A couple of decades later, hundreds of pounds spent on gigs, LPs and cheekily unignorable box sets, and I guess we should have taken the hint that more was to come. The “famous one” – He’s On the Phone – sounds mournful these days and I realise I haven’t appreciated it enough for a while because it got so overplayed at university-era indie discos. And Like a Motorway: for two decades or more, I thought she sang “He said her skin / smelled just like pebbles“. It’s a lyric I always loved, but actually it’s, err, the far less mysterious, “petals”.
159) Saint Etienne – Good Humor (Heavenly)
By the time of this album’s release in 1998 I was a fully-fledged music snob, devouring the NME, Melody Maker and Select Magazine and holding court (or so I thought) on all matters musical. I had just left school, having won all the sixth form arguments about which posters stayed up on the common room wall. Chemical Brothers, yes, Jamiroquai, no, no, no. And the Stone Roses were definitely better than Oasis, since you ask. Meanwhile, this was the long-awaited Saint Etienne comeback – a beautifully organic album, hewn in a nice Scandinavian studio somewhere, with flutists and everything. Sylvie, the big single, even got onto Top of the Pops.
This record reminds me strongly of my self-imposed gap year: lonely yet free, I was working by day in now-defunct Threshers off licence on Knaresborough high street, selling sloe gin and navy cut fags to old ladies and elderly gents in suit jackets. Some of them were market traders – the famed “pound of mush’ 50 pence” guy*, among them. In between I was zooming around by train to buy records and attend gigs, mostly in Leeds and York. Claire and I made an exciting cross-pennines journey to Manchester to see Saint Etienne perform this album at the twinkling Ritz Club on Whitworth Street. It was a special day all round because after we’d gorged on vintage clothes in the legendary Affleck’s Palace, we happened upon the band doing an album signing in HMV. And they were lovely, phew. I’d already bought the album so I got them to sign a CD copy of Tiger Bay.
*Mushrooms. 50p for a pound.
160) Saint Etienne – Sound of Water (Heavenly)
I reviewed this lesser known gem of an album for Leeds Student newspaper in 2000 shortly before the band performed at Leeds Met. When I did a pre-gig interview with them, it turned out they had actually bothered to read my piece. I already loved Heart Failed in the Back of a Taxi – a funny title, a twinkling tune. And How We Used to Live I had recognised as a low-key Bohemian Rhapsody-style, multi-faceted masterpiece. Sitting here now it still sends disco shivers down my spine. Anyway, later, during the show, Sarah spotted me in the crowd and – like something from a movie where, for once, everything comes together – she dedicated Nothing Can Stop Us to me: “This one’s for [points to me], Anna!” It really happened. I remember it vividly because I was snogging a boy called Joe at the exact moment.
161) Saint Etienne – Finisterre (Heavenly)
This album always reminds me of taking a train through London suburbia after my first trip to Wimbledon in summer 2001 with university friend Paul. It was incredibly exciting, a childhood dream realised. We queued up for a ground pass and got in at around 11am. We saw Goran Ivanisevic walking by with his bags and we got onto Centre Court in the golden evening light to watch doubles. The magical green and purple land of Sue Barker and ivy-clad balconies really existed.
I had this album copied onto minidisc and on the way back from this great London adventure I listened while slicing through lush back gardens and parks. It all seemed exotic and southern because it was. Being in your own pop video on public transport is a lost sport that I was good at. Finisterre is a really beautiful album which resurrects the classics, Foxbase Alpha and So Tough, in its dreamlike mood, peppered with funny samples: “A consigment of white gold has arrived for Mr Anderson”.
In 2020 we are into “Lockdown 2” in many places across the UK. A strange mish-mash of rules pervade and there’s a national mood of obedient grumpiness, other than in Liverpool where the reaction to new restrictions is an instant street rave. The phrase “that’s so 2020” has become the standard response for anything a bit disappointing. Back in the green sunlit suburbs of 2001, my headphones are all that matters and I am young and in my own pop video. Ooooh this is our wall of sound.
162) Saint Etienne – The Misadventures of Saint Etienne (Heavenly)
I’ve never actually seen the (1997) film this album soundtracked, The Misadventures of Margaret, which is apparently a lesbian love story set across two continents and three centuries. Simon Price’s sleevenotes describe a main character who moves from New York to enlightenment Europe to enjoy the “steady annihilation of her inhibitions and scruples”. He also makes a joke about Fox’s Glacier Mints. Saint Etienne are minty fresh on this album which feels extremely familiar, so guess I must have played it to death (on CD) during my own journeys of sugary enlightenment in the late 1990s/early noughties.
163) Saint Etienne – London Conversations (Heavenly)
Yep, still going. I told you I liked this band. This is the second greatest hits (after Too Young to Die) but is already 12 years old itself, because time is a terrifying juggernaut and none of us can get off. It overlaps quite a bit but I don’t mind, of course, and I’m glad the band have milked their quintessential London-ness in recent years. It used to be such a mysterious Monopoly board for me. Today on my mid-priced square in Herne Hill it has rained and rained, preventing me from travelling to Bob and Pete’s homeland of Croydon for a tennis match. Instead I spend the day with Bobby who is asleep. Frankie and Liza are on a rare sortie outside London: beating around the streets of Brighton to visit Frankie’s friend Camille. Autumn lockdown rules prevent socialising indoors so meetings in parks, damp ones, and on pebbly beaches are the new normal.
Footnote: You know that thing they always say about losing your love for the things you love? Well, this weird pandemic year is smothering us in different ways, at different times. Please hold onto the things you really enjoy. It’s taken me WEEKS to get back to this blog. I honestly don’t know why. It was so easy at the start. But here I am at the end of October, listening again and buying new records too (Working Men’s Club, fierce northern electro punk, yes please, take me back to my roots, plus the polar opposite: Mary Lattimore – sublime, heavenly Virginia Astley-in-a-lift-with-the-Cocteau Twins harp music. Take me away on a cloud, thank you very much). Anyway, my message to you is to hold on, best you can, and do the things you love.
164) Saint Etienne – Words and Music (Heavenly)
So we’re well into Saint Etienne’s later period now: bouncing between teen bedroom nostalgia and the Eurodisco doorways of Old Compton Street. It all seems a bit too sunny with a backdrop like 2020 and the map of pop seems a distant terrain. It’s half term here and raining incessantly on Sunray Avenue.
165) Saint Etienne – Home Counties (Heavenly)
The end of the Saint Etienne marathon. Home Counties, a bubblegum colourful ode to pop released in 2017 and it feels like a fan club album. Its titles are in-jokes. The artwork is the suburban disco stuff of Saint Etienne dreams. I miss going to gigs. I miss sparking up friendships with fellow fans while queuing for beer – hi Carl! – fellow fans who become proper life friends.
In 2020 I am exhausted. The US election happened on Tuesday. It is now Sunday evening. Joe Biden has beaten Donald Trump after a drawn-out count and there’s a palpable mood of nervous relief across social media. The UK is now in its second lockdown so all exchanges of emotion are digital. Trump is refusing to accept defeat. In years to come I will read this back and know what happened next.
166) Saint Etienne presents Pete Wiggs – How We Used to Live (Heavenly Films)
It’s freezing cold but we cycle up Forest Hill and gaze across London which is shimmering in pale metalic light. In this latest pandemic lockdown, you can really sense the empty streets afar. The only movement, a distant Deliveroo rider in the glint of city glass. There couldn’t be a better record to play now. The soundtrack to the 2014 Paul Kelly film of the same name: what a poignant name. Pete’s mournful piano, the pulses of electro, the memories of London, a metropolis, thronging with people unfurling their brollies in another time.
167) Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs present English Weather – Various (Ace)
168) Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs present the State of the Union (Ace)
169) Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs present the Tears of Technology (Ace)
Pete and Bob are the blokes in Saint Etienne which is why these mysterious and educational compilations sit here (in the 1990s section) but contain tracks ranging from the 1960s to the 1980s. We start hunched over the jukebox in an English pub at the fag end of the sixties (Caravan, Van De Graaf Generator), then we travel on dirt roads in the American desert with a Coca-Cola mirage up ahead (The Beach Boys, Elvis) before landing on another planet with the stark synths of China Crisis and OMD. The overwhelming feeling is “oh, I thought I knew quite a lot about pop music but I realise now I’ve been very much mistaken…” But it’s an enjoyable magical mystery tour of un-hits.
170) Various – Precious (Dino)
A 10-inch indie compilation from 1992. It’s really good – The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, My Bloody Valentine, Lush, Jesus Jones, House of Love, Blur, The Sugarcubes and loads more early 1990s scenester bands. The cover, I vaguely remember, probably from adverts in my sister’s music magazines: a vision of an unreachably perfect suburban childhood, its soft sweet curves ready to be smashed up by teen angles.
I was 13 in 1992 and railing against being forced to run for my school in freezing cross-country races. I much preferred being at home listening to my tapes. On one occasion my mum travelled with me to a competition in another part of North Yorkshire at a posh school in Great Ayton. Her being there made me feel so much better. Older girls swished around the changing rooms with their boobs out. I was thin, skinny and late to develop, hunched in my Airtex shirt trying not to be noticed. This picture of the kid reminds me how I felt then: still a child but staring wide-eyed at the world of teenagers.
171) Blur – Leisure (Food)
Whooosh. I’ve given up cross-country, I’m drinking halves of cider and my favourite band is Blur. This is their debut album which, uncoolly, I bought on cassette four years after its release. That’s because I discovered Blur through Parklife, aged 16, and hungrily worked my way back through their previous releases. Leisure was unfairly dismissed as the “least Blurry” Blur album at the time because it wasn’t until later that Damon developed his more distinctive lyrical style – the intricate Kinksy vignettes of British life that would form a central pillar of Britpop.
On Leisure they were still shoegazing boys with bowl cuts bemoaning the boredom of life. But on top of the obvious ones – the always glorious There’s No Other Way and She’s So High – there are many hidden classics here: the soaringly poignant Sing which was overlooked for years until it appeared on the Trainspotting soundtrack. Bang, an early and forgotten Blur single, is everything you want in a leisure centre moshpit when you are 16 and well up for it. “Bang goes another year, in and out of one ear” sings an already world-weary Damon. Bang also has a brilliant video featuring a sped-up night time London: frantic traffic criss-crosses Oxford Circus, the moon shines on Tower Bridge, people rush through tube station barriers without face masks. It’s the busy, stressful old world we pine for in 2020.
172) Blur – Modern Life is Rubbish (Food)
My favourite Blur album. Clever, sarcastic, urban, very cool. Everything I wanted to be and be associated with at 16, staring out of my loft window at a town I had (unfairly) presumed was entirely made up of Phil Collins fans and people who went out without coats in winter.
These townies they never speak to you
Just stick together so they never get lonely
Feeling lead, feeling quite light-headed
Had to sit down and have some sugary tea (Chemical World)
Pre-internet, the feeling of being “not like these people, here” was a strong, addictive drug that probably made me quite obnoxious to my perfectly nice Jamiroquai and Friends-loving teen circle: “It makes me hateful, and I say stupid things” (Resigned, side B). It took until I was 19 and at Leeds University to discover there were loads of people who liked the same music, wore the same trainers and had no desire to freeze while swaying at the bus stop with their chips and gravy.
For Tomorrow is totally beautiful: a soaring ode to London that secured me as a spritual southerner in the Blur-Oasis wars. Then Sunday Sunday is a hilarious brass-horned romp that foretold Country House-style mayhem ahead. Villa Rosie and Starshaped were – and still are – my favourites, almost because they were not singles and therefore mine. Totally optimistic, funny, sharp. Something to keep wanting to be, something that not everyone is.
173) Blur – Parklife (Food)
I bought this on cassette the day I got my GCSE results in 1995. Uncool, yes, because it was released a year earlier, but I didn’t have much money and my mum gave me a tenner for getting nine As. I remember aimlessly running across the school fields in an act of jubilation, like a footballer running towards an imaginary crowd, with my exam results fluttering in the breeze. And then it was straight to George Heapy’s (the brilliantly named Knaresborough music emporium, which smelled of mouse droppings, and is now a chemist – boring) to buy the album I’d been hankering after for many a month. It’s true, kids, being forced to wait makes things better.
I must have seen Blur at least 25 times, must have pogo’d up and down to Parklife in a sweaty throng another 25 times. It still sends a bolt of sunny optimism through me. This album really is the pinnacle of the Blur good times, even though it felt like the start at the time, it would never truly be bettered. Girls and Boys, a lost number one, along with Pulp’s Common People, and To the End, a shimmering beauty. London Loves, the mystery of a speeding car, it’s all so confident and tightly packed in its Adidas zip top. Trouble in the Message Centre is actually kind of glam pastiche, not that I knew then.
“And the mind gets dirty as you get closer to 30” sings Damon on End of a Century. We all agree that this sort of talk is from a time when young people thought 30 was old, and of course everybody has revised that now and of course he meant 50.
It’s Christmas in the future and today we’ve been for a family Covid test trip. We queued up on a back road of Brixton, awkwardly swaying in our masks before self-swabbing at a tressle table in a car park. It’s a JG Ballard short story out here, without any of the exciting bits.
174) Blur – The Great Escape (Food)
Hello from the future via the past. It is New Year’s Eve 2020. I started this project in March, imagining that I would need three months or so to play every LP. Here we are nine months on and I’ve only just reached my personal pop heyday: the mid-90s. We’ve popped into the future a few times already but back we land into the hot optimism of 1995. I am 16 and this is the first Blur album I’ve actually bought on the day of release. It’s Damon at his most (over) confident and a band at the peak of celebrity and self indulgence bordering on self harm (drunk Graham asleep on traffic islands, Alex and his champagne addiction).
There are loads of amazing tracks here – The Universal, Best Days, Yuko and Hiro, He Thought of Cars – but sandwiched between the indisputable high point of Parklife and the fuzzy rebirth of Blur (the eponymous album), The Great Escape is anything but: like running around a theme park trying out every ride in the hope it’s the best one. I still love it, though, and it will always remind me of playing tapes very loud in late summer/early Autumn with the roof windows wide open.
I saw Blur live twice in this era in the cavernous Sheffield Arena (once with my schoolfriend Jenny and again with my tiny little sister, Kerstin, aged 13) and loved every Beatlemania screaming minute of it. I still have the ticket and coach reservation (!) for the November 1995 gig for which I wrote my own review afterwards, for an audience of one: myself. I noted that the Sheffield crowd booed mention of London. I also make jokes about Prozac and Chelsea pensioners.
This week in 2020 it was my birthday. I am no longer 16. We’re under Tier 4 pandemic restrictions (in short, don’t mix with other humans) in London (boo!) and so I cobbled together a Spotify disco on Zoom. It was surprisingly synchronised and fun: everyone dancing away in their separate digital rectangles. The sort of future Damon used to write about in 1995. I never see you, we’re never together, I love you forever. (Yuko and Hiro).
175) Blur – Blur (Food)
A completely different sound from Blur and a scratchy, fuzzy cool I fell in love with, aged 17. This was released in 1997 and I won my copy in a Radio 1 competition. It was Jo Whiley’s show and the question was “In which European city does Damon Albarn own a bar?” Standing in my parents’ living room, on the landline and flustered, I stuttered “Err, Iceland.” Jo said “I’ll give you it, it’s Reykjavik, Iceland.” A few days later the album arrived along with a promo interview disc which I still have. Eighteen years later I would get a job at Radio 1 doing their news coverage online and in one of the meeting rooms, in amongst the Ed Sheeran gold discs, there is still a corner featuring Blur and other Britpop bands.
The blurred image of a patient on a hospital trolley – and the plain “Blur” eponymous title – tells you that this was Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave hitting the emergency reset button after the soap opera trilogy (Modern Life, Parklife, The Great Escape) that had come before. At 17 I was more than happy to dive into this messier world. The woohoo of Song 2 cut right through with the mainstream too, played to this day when teams score goals in various sports. Beetlebum, about heroin, is probably the most lushly mournful number one there’s ever been. The secret gems are Death of a Party: a bleak epic led by a driving, vibrating organ, and Essex Dogs: a really beautiful poem-song about “the smell of puke and piss on your stilettos”. It’s still Damon, but he’s no longer sipping tea and listening to the shipping forecast.
176) Blur – 13 (Food)
In my top three Blur albums, this one. Released in March 1999, it accompanied me through the spring of my first year at Leeds University. I had it on CD in a fancy white box set edition and its earthy, trippier sound (Battle, Caramel, Trimm Trabb*) carried me through many late night essay-writing marathons. My new friend Rose, who lived across the blocks from me in Lupton Flats, Headingley (the very least salubrious halls, seemingly dished out to state school kids, while the private school kids got tudor beams), also loved Blur. We didn’t care about the squirrel infestation, the wiry brown carpets or the tumble driers that melted people’s pants, because we had music. A funny fact: after meeting Rose, going to various indie discos with her and generally hanging out in freshers’ week, I realised with horror that I’d forgotten her name. I panicked and while she was in the loo, frantically grabbed her purse from the kitchen table and rifled through for her student card. Rose! Of course. And then she sauntered back in.
Rose’s flat was full of ravers, always talking about the previous night’s pills. My flat – Block E – featured a lot of Bristolian chillout (Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead) sessions, occasional visiting nursing students (all of them always on a bender of some sort) and me blasting out a mix of guitar bands and Dusty Springfield down the hall. 13 is bookended by emotional anthems: opening with the beautiful arms aloft Tender, which later became the standout live favourite, and ending with No Distance Left To Run, Damon’s extremely moving ode to the end of his relationship with Elastica’s Justine Frischmann. It also features Coffee and TV, Graham’s song, and a timelessly enjoyable little tune still loved by kids thanks to its cute milk carton video.
*Adidas trainers, I already had a pair in navy/light blue. A good sign.
177) Blur – Think Tank (Food)
This may be the most mournful Blur album but it reminds me of funny days living in Luton after getting my first job away from home in 2003. I was a reporter for Chiltern FM, riding my motorbike around Bedfordshire finding stories about Christmas lights and wannabe Jihadists. I lived on Stanley Street in a little house with Rose whose dad lived in nearby Dunstable. It was during this era we attended countryside raves where you’d be text-messaged the location at midnight and scramble into the hills. Rose and I often frequented the only indie music pub in town, The Well, and had various mad and rambling nights out together during that year, often involving a kebab shop that secretly sold vodka.
Out of Time is a really beautiful song, possibly about the absent Graham, and the lead single on the album. I managed to get it played on Stray FM in Harrogate, where I worked before moving down south. It shone out amongst the 1980s cheese and I’ve no idea how I managed to persuade the presenter to put it on. Later on the album Sweet Song is heartbreakingly poignant and at the time it meant a great deal to me as I pushed myself forward into a new life and, ultimately adulthood, but still felt pained about some of the people I was leaving behind.
I’m a darkened soul
My streets all pop music and gold
Our lives are on TV
You switch off and try to sleep
People get so lonely
178) Blur – The Magic Whip (Food)
Whoosh, it’s all going to be alright. It’s 2015 and Blur are back after a long hiatus (12 years!), Graham has returned, they’ve all made friends and this is the cartoon neon album that we can also play to our children. New World Towers takes us on a twinkling tour of Hong Kong. Pyongyang is eerie and epic. Ice Cream Man is funny and sweet. Massive gigs follow in Hyde Park, London, and Frankie, aged seven, comes with us, sits on my shoulders, sings along to all the new songs, and marvels at the giant ice cream cones gyrating on stage. An actual ice cream van appears and Damon hands Mr Whippys to the front row. It’s mad and lovely.
Today in 2020 it is 2 January and we ride to Battersea Park to see Liza’s dad at a safe distance. Everyone is hoping the vaccine will save 2021 and mean we can actually sit down with our older relatives inside again. Chatting safely across a table with a cup of tea is the ambitious hope for the year ahead.
179) Blur – The Best Of (Food)
This is what a really good greatest hits should be: songs from different eras that click together like puzzle pieces. End of a Century into No Distance Left to Run into Tender. I worked at Leeds Student newspaper as a music reviewer when this album was released (October 2000) and the record label sent the LP to give away as a prize. I completely failed at corruption and didn’t win it myself. Years later I finally paid £25 for the satisfyingly weighty vinyl with its brilliant pop art cartoon cover by Julian Opie. The original now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.
180) Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots (Parlophone)
More of mournful Mr Albarn. This is his first solo album, which I have filed alongside Blur, zooming us briefly into 2014. Reviving the melancholy mood of 13 and Think Tank, the title track describes the modern condition of infinite scroll:
We are everyday robots on our phones
In the process of getting home
Looking like standing stones
Out there on our own
Yet even this bleakly familiar image seems quaint. In 2021, we don’t need to kill time on our commute. Liza, Frankie and I use up our one permitted trip outside per day to cycle to Peckham Rye in the low winter sun. It’s packed with people going round and round and round (Parklife!) so we thread our way through the streets of East Dulwich to Dulwich Park where the Spanish busking band is playing again, cheerfully perched on their amps. They seem to be there whenever we ride by and we’ve bought their CD for our kitchen so I’m half tempted to make a request for the “la la la la la” one.
181) Pulp – His ‘n’ Hers (Island)
It’s snowing at last in London after weeks of being taunted by our friends in the north. It’s a very necessary distraction from lockdown three and the streets are full of mischief and slushy snow sculptures. We walk down a snowglobed Camberwell Grove and it’s reminding us of Frankie being a toddler here. I suppose that’s the thing about time passing: the nostalgia comes in layers, like the snow with little pointy tips of grass pointing through. It’s therefore a strange day to play Pulp’s His n Hers, vibrating as it does with hot Sheffield summers of 30 years ago.
The air humming with heat whilst the trees beckoned us into their cool green shade.
And when we reached the stream I put a bottle of cider into the water to chill,
Both of us knowing that we’d drink it long before it had the chance (David’s Last Summer)
This album is one of those which heralded the Brit invasion of the mid-1990s but really it owes more to the 1970s: the disco pulse, the Roxy eyeliner, the shimmering glitter and lipgloss. It’s the moment Jarvis Cocker arrives as the suave/seedy sage who knows all about being an outsider in a northern town; one who will cast aside his cardigan to reveal a snarling, sweaty sex symbol, but one who still wants to talk about the net curtains.
My older sister Claire was obsessed with Pulp. It all began at the Heineken Festival, Leeds, in 1995 – it was free to attend and Pulp headlined the indie music day. I was deemed too young to attend and was seemingly happy enough to stay at home with my Blur tapes and hear all about it when Claire got back. Within a couple of years I was going to as many gigs as possible, mostly in Leeds, plus all the festivals I could afford. Claire and I saw Pulp together many times – including the famous Finsbury Park concert in north London (another coach ride) where the security staff relentlessly soaked the mosh pit with water to the point where fans were screaming at them to stop. We were freezing-wet-drenched-to-the-skin and had to ride all the way back up north with damp everything right down to our knickers. A very Jarvis situation.
182) Pulp – Different Class (Island)
Oh, is this the way they say the future’s meant to feel?
Or just twenty thousand people standing in a field? (Sorted for E’s and Whizz)
Aged 18, I took it for granted that I’d spend most summers pressed up against the front rails of a massive gig watching an iconic band, singing until my voice went hoarse with thousands of strangers. That’s what we did. Glastonbury 1998 was a very muddy one but we didn’t let the military field trip conditions dampen the party. A local farm boy riding a horse bareback (really) carried in our bags for a quid. We were offered acid marmalade before we’d even pitched our tent. It honestly felt like our Woodstock, only I was in Adidas trainers and we’d packed some cheese sandwiches. Friday night: Primal Scream. Saturday night: Blur. Sunday night: Pulp. With England playing in the World Cup (on big screens) and some old dude, Bob Dylan, in between. That’s how lucky we were.
Different Class, what a collection of tunes: the existential party crisis of Sorted for E’s and Whizz, the sprawling darkness of I-Spy, the still jubilant Disco 2000, the pulsing wig-out of F.E.E.L.I.N.G C.A.L.L.E.D L.O.V.E. The greatest song of the 1990s is track three, Common People. The lyrics seem angrier and more political to me now: You’ll never fail like common people / You’ll never watch your life slide out of view. Back then, I’m pretty sure I sang along like it was all quite funny, just like the girl in the song. Art school, screwing and pool: class war, yes, but jolly and doused in rum and coke. Tonight I manage to hear it fresh and it’s an intense and immense listen.
Dear historians, living through this time was really good and we enjoyed ourselves a lot. These songs soundtracked everything: from festival adventures to sixth form drama getaways (my friend Helene, whacking up the volume as we sped off in her dad’s car). Sitting here, on a dark January evening in 2021, deep in the grimmest part of a pandemic winter, time-travelling to the nineties, I’m feeling a rush of guilty gratitude that I was 18 then, not now. I hope something close to this is waiting for today’s teenagers when all this is done.
Footnote: I start a late night WhatsApp chat with my sister Claire and she reminds me that we spent one of our Glasto nights roaming around kind of aimlessly looking for adventure; still buzzing after watching an amazing set from Underworld. It was otherworldly: dotted encampments of firelit raving, as Claire puts it, “floating on vast biblical lands of mud… awesome, epic, a one-off experience and time.” I play the clip on YouTube and, sitting here at my keyboard, I fold into an exhilarating, nostalgic happy-cry.
183) Elastica – Elastica (Deceptive)
I’ve got a lot of songs but they’re all in my head is one of the most perfect lines in pop music: so many of the most creatively talented people are sitting out there, or lying in bed, with writer’s block. Justine Frischmann famously struggled for motivation despite helping to create this absolutely perfect 38 minutes of indie punk, an album that truly captures the experience of being at a gig in a small venue buzzing with anticipation and stinking of fags (it was the 90s). I can feel the pint of cider from the bloke behind me sloshing onto my neck and that’s fine. Connection, Waking Up, Vaseline: they’re all pogo classics and while I really wish Elastica had put out more music (just one other LP, five years later), it’s also very cool that they burned so bright and then combusted in a blaze of glory while rocking bloody good hair.
184) Suede – Coming Up (Nude)
We’re deep in the love triangle of Britpop now with Brett Anderson singing about Justine Frischmann a few albums after Damon Albarn did the same. In real life it happened the other way round: Brett and Justine were a couple first in the late 1980s. Anderson’s autobiography Coal Black Mornings tells the inside story of this most delicious of indie soap operas but I warn you he’s not nice about Damon.
Coming Up, from 1996, is the album where the critics began to turn up their noses but I, having just got into Suede, loved it the most. It’s poppier, Bowie-er and less wiry than the more lauded first two albums, Suede (eponymous) and Dog Man Star. These were the stadium days of Britpop and I was more than happy with the shiny hugeness of it all; that Top of the Pops was awash with guitars and the tabloids were full of drunk people in Adidas zip tops with excellent hair. The monobrowed Gallaghers soon crashed the party with their Beatles karaoke but it was genuinely anarchic for a time. Trash, the brilliantly jangly opener, feels like an anthem of this era: the kids from the music block had become the beautiful ones and carried out a highly successful coup. I saw Suede at Manchester Apollo during this era: either just before or just after I’d seen Kylie on the same stage.
185) Stereolab – Switched On (Too Pure)
I’ve jumbled up the 1990s here because strictly speaking Stereolab came before Suede and Elastica but in my personal music journey they were one of those magical discoveries made through other bands – a reference in the Melody Maker, a festival support slot, a duet: lead singer Laetitia Sadier appears fleetingly on Blur’s French chanson, To the End. This record is from 1992 and it’s already a “greatest hits” of thrumming post-rock, dappled with disco light. The titles, which filled me with intrigue and still do, come over like a utopianist’s cryptic crossword: The Way will be Opening, Au Grand Jour, The Light that will Cease to Fail.
186) Stereolab – Mars Audiac Quintet (Duophonic)
Stereolab are one of the bands I own the most on vinyl, partly because they released such a vast array of gems inside a 20 year period (1990-2010) and each with artwork almost too good to be filed away: beautiful, weighty artefacts with delicious cardboard inlays and a hand-printed feel every bit a match for the strange 1960s-futurist textures and bleeps within. I first bought Mars Audiac Quintet on CD from Jumbo Records while studying in Leeds: Wow and Flutter, International Colouring Contest, The Stars our Destination. A magical DIY universe, like Button Moon for grown-ups.
187) Stereolab – Emperor Tomato Ketchup (Duophonic)
The other reason for this precious cargo is my friend Philippe who runs Rat Records, a portal to second-hand vinyl heaven, in Camberwell. I went through a phase of buying at least three LPs every Saturday there in what became something of a spiritual ritual (“Rat Club” as mentioned in my Sonic Youth sorties with Julian earlier). Emperor Tomato Ketchup was one such find.
I already knew Laetitia lived in south London (more on that later) so it should have been no surprise that the local French music fraternity were connected, probably via stardust and Moog cables. I have no proof of the following theory but one day Philippe texted me to say “come into the shop”. I duly turned up to find him grinning and presiding over a freshly procured stack of wondrous, in some cases mint, Stereolab albums. I asked him how on earth he’d stumbled upon such a treasure trove. “My sources are secret,” he replied with a twinkle. So that’s good enough for me: Laetitia’s spare room.
188) Stereolab – Refried Ectoplasm, Switched On: Volume 2 (Duophonic)
This is the one with the pulsating, anthemic French Disko: Stereolab’s secret mega-hit, number one for eleven weeks in a hidden universe between Paris and Neptune. There are still things worth fighting for. I interviewed Stereolab for Leeds Student when they played Leeds Cockpit in the autumn of 1999. Laetitia and bandmate Tim Gane had a toddler together by this point and they chatted about the trickiness of touring with kids. I didn’t fully relate, being 19, but I was in awe of their travelling entourage of vintage sixties synth equipment and Tommee Tippee cups.
Frankie has just wandered in and, like kids do, has rapidly calculated that the baby in the story is now 22 and therefore I must be old, which I dispute. But nearly 200 records into this marathon it is clear to me that many of these memories and stories are only accessible through music. Every record is a door and behind each one is a tunnel to a different time and place. I’m very grateful I still have the keys.
Though this world’s essentially an absurd place to be living in
It doesn’t call for…bubble withdrawal (French Disko)
189) Stereolab – Aluminium Tunes, Switched On: Volume 3 (Duophonic)
A lounge-fuzz album flecked with flutes, an Astrud Gilberto Brazilian groove and Laetitia’s heavenly voice. When Frankie was three-and-a-half, we went to a fundraising night at her nursery. It was a place with a very good natural atmosphere, in an old Victorian community hall with an impressive circular central chamber on the edge of a pretty south London park. Googling it now, we discover it was once home to the UK’s first Arts Council-funded black-led theatre company, the Dark and Light, in the 1970s.
One rainy evening in November 2011, we are gathered there with other parents at this dinner. Long tables are set with coloured paper napkins. Streamers criss-cross overhead. I’m enjoying really good chats but I notice the stage is being set for an unadvertised performance. Red origami pom-poms hang suspended as a microphone stand is adjusted. Guitars and keyboards appear. And then it happens: Laetitia from Stereolab is playing tonight, here.
It turns out her son, Alex, the baby I met in Leeds who is now 22, went to the nursery. The room is split between people who know her, so aren’t gobsmacked and people who have no idea who Stereolab are, so aren’t gobsmacked. And then there’s me in between: mouth open-wide, completely, delightedly gobsmacked. It’s a beautiful performance. A few years later I meet her again at All Tomorrow’s Party, a super hipster alternative music festival at Camber Sands on the south coast of England. She chuckles to hear I was there at the underground secret nursery event where we raised money for crayons.
190) Stereolab – Margerine Eclipse (Duophonic)
One of Stereolab’s later albums, 2004’s Margerine Eclipse is a gorgeous and sunny listen. It really is a cheerful, optimistic set of songs and it’s reminding me of bombing around London on trains and buses with my headphones in, going places, doing things. Margarine Rock! Margerine Melodie! But there is a sadness at the album’s heart. It’s dedicated to guitarist Mary Hansen who was tragically killed in a cycling accident in 2002. She was just 36. Laetitia has spoken about never really getting over the loss. These songs are such a loving and hopeful tribute to her. The last track is called Dear Marge.
Today in 2021 we count the birds in our garden – jays, pigeons, parakeets, great tits, blue tits, robins, blackbirds, house sparrows. If you keep still, they come.
191) Stereolab – Not Music (Drag City/Duophonic)
They still write the best song titles in pop music: Everybody’s Weird Except Me, Delugeousie, Pop Molecules. It’s Stereolab’s last outing, from 2010, and it’s another overflowing feast of, well, pop molecules. I’ve just binged seven Stereolab LPs back to back, nearly 100 tracks, and still they come; vibrating, exploding, re-arranging shapes and sounds. There are many more albums too. Imagine being that creatively prolific? It’s Sunday night, the last day of January. None of us want the weekend to end but there’s something odd about the way time is passing. People say it’s dragging: nowhere to go, separated from friends and family, no school, no commute, no shops, no holidays. Endless local walks through puddles. Forever Zooming. My confession: despite everything, time is speeding by double fast for me. Maybe that’s what happens when you overdo the time travel.
192) Laetitia Sadier – Silencio (Drag City)
It’s always a sign of humility when artists think scrawling across the front of their own album will spoil it. Which is why “Yo Anna, Liza & Frankie!” is written politely across the back cover of Silencio, a moodier, more pensive version of the Stereolab sound from 2012. “Des baisers des Camber Sands and love too,” adds Laetitia in lo-fi Biro. I bought this LP after watching Laetitia’s gig at All Tomorrow’s Parties in one of those strange carpeted rooms at Pontin’s holiday camp. ATP, as it was known, took place by the sea each year for around a decade and it was always funny to see indie-punk royalty milling around there. That’s Sonic Youth wandering past the fake ye olde England pub and there’s Jarvis Cocker exiting the Nisa supermarket. Both those things really happened but the best was stumbling upon Will Self playing a ferocious game of air hockey with Beth Orton.
193) Suzanne Ciani – Lixiviation (Finders Keepers)
A classically trained musican who, in the seventies, created soundscapes for Xenon pinball machines and Atari TV adverts, Ciani’s strange retro-futurist sounds make sense bubbling away right next to Stereolab. I’ve ruined the chronology of this list (again) because these bleeps were brewed 1969-1985, but I told you that would happen. A dystopian hum underpins a debate about Frankie’s homework which is all home work anyway, because it’s 2021.
194) Radiohead – The Bends (Parlophone)
It’s dark, there’s condensation on the windscreen and we’re listening to The Bends as it crackles in the tape slot of my friend Yorkie’s pale blue Mini Cooper. The light beams pick out the drizzle and we flick ash from the windows. Well, Yorkie does: a proper teenage chain smoker who also plays guitar and always wears Vans. She’s into Nirvana, I’m into Blur. We both love Radiohead. Just, Nice Dream, Fake Plastic Trees, all the Radiohead sad bangers are here. It’s 1996 and we spend many nights driving around like this in country lanes with nowhere to go, but quite sure where we don’t want to go: sticky-floored pubs awash with Knaresborough Man; older, shorter, always trying to snog you. We choose Thom Yorke and the back roads.
Yorkie was the first person in our gang to get a pager and then an actual mobile phone. It’s hard to imagine it now but up until that point all teenage rendezvous had to be organised on a landline which meant a lot of awkward chats with other people’s parents. Yorkie was our own little Silicon Valley, leading us into the future, and also the first person I knew who could write computer code. You’ll be unsurprised to hear she stopped smoking, became a developer, set up her own business and currently runs a successful company which uses AI to connect businesses. Back here in the dark ages, I’ve just put a log on the fire and I’ve turned over the record to hear it again.
I call up my friend, the good angel
But she’s out with her answerphone
She says that she’d love to come help but
The sea would electrocute us all…
195) Portishead – Dummy (Go! Beat)
This album takes me right back to my bedroom in 1995, listening to Sour Times on cassette on repeat. It was one of those tracks I got strangely obsessed with, flipping it over every time it ended, wallowing in its descending chords. It’s sad as hell, this record, in the most haunting and enjoyable way. A perfect set of tunes to accompany a teenager staring out of a window at dusk. Cool music fact: singer Beth Gibbons and producer Geoff Barrow created the seedlings of this album in Neneh Cherry’s kitchen (while Barrow was working on her album Homebrew) in 1991. And it went on to become one of the defining sounds of the late nineties. Its main single, Glory Box, is all over TV shows and film soundtracks to this day. Timelessly, brilliantly, miserable.
196) Manic Street Preachers – Everything Must Go (Epic)
I’m right at the front of a Manics gig at Doncaster Dome in 1997. My friends are further back: only I want to wriggle my way forwards to the front row and here I am squarely in front of Nicky Wire’s bass guitar just as the lights dip. It’s hot and sweaty and the crowd surges as the band walks onto stage. The opening chords of Australia boom and we all sweep as one towards Nicky. My feet lift up from the floor. Wire is doing scissor kicks and wrapping a black feather boa around his microphone stand. There’s another surge of bodies. And the next thing I know I’m in a muffled underworld. It’s all too quick to panic. I’m just… gone.
I wake up some time later and I’m propped up against the back wall of the venue, at least 100 metres from where I’d been. Motorcycle Emptiness is playing so we must be near the end of the set. And I look down at myself: I’m covered in black feathers.
I discovered the Manic Street Preachers through a boy at school, Patrick, who lived on a farm. He had older brothers and had been tutored by them in the heavy, angry rock of Generation Terrorists and the melancholia of The Holy Bible and Gold Against the Soul. He made tapes for me and I fell in deep: the poetry, the politics, the Plath. By this time Richey Manic was already a missing man and Everything Must Go was the painful return without him. Richey’s self-lacerating lyrics pepper the album (Kevin Carter, Small Black Flowers that Grow in the Sky, The Girl Who Wanted to Be God) but it’s the anthems Design for Life, Australia and Everything Must Go that define the times they were in: grasping at new beginnings. I listened to it on my Walkman incessantly one family holiday in Robin Hood’s Bay: I’m laughing now at the incongruity of sitting in the sunshine, painting lobster pots for a school art project, thinking about my next ice lolly, with this existential crisis in my head.
A couple of years later I had a university holiday job working at the Northern Exams and Assessment Board (NEAB). I was lucky to be picked for a role in what was viewed as the elite division: data input. The job involved just that; inputting GCSE and A-level marks into a huge database. We signed a declaration of secrecy first, in case we came upon someone we knew*. All sorts of funny things happened in this era involving F keys, incredibly slow computer terminals and the giggles. All the while my love of the Manics bubbled away and I found a fellow fan and friend for life chuckling away opposite me.
Emma was the best data inputter in all of Harrogate town: ferociously smart and able to get through five times the work I was doing. She did it all with a snorting and infectious laugh. One of us only had to whisper “Click click click click” for the other to burst into a comedy version of Kevin Carter. I absolutely fell in love with Emma that summer. The best of it was the time she got a weekend job pulling pints at one of the V Festivals where the Manics were headlining. Among the thousands of Scrumpy drinkers, I managed to find Emma and steal away with her to watch the gig. It felt like a rock n roll heist.
The happier I am when I’m with you
The harder it gets when I am alone…. (Further Away)
*I actually found Prince William’s A-level results one day. He sat them under a pseudonym. Beyond this my lips remain sealed.
197) Belle and Sebastian – Tigermilk (Electric Honey)
I have an abiding childhood memory of my mum kneeling to lay the fire with kindling and old papers, then sporadically pausing because a newspaper article she was about to burn caught her attention: a stolen moment in the middle of a mundane task*. It’s early February 2021 and I catch myself doing exactly the same (a piece about “cancel culture” by David Olusoga) and it makes me feel a little connection to my mum, who I haven’t seen since last August because of the lockdowns. We’re all holding out for early summer and I’m pleased to say both my parents have just had their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
I light the fire and go over to the record player. We’ve reached Belle and Sebastian’s 1996 album Tigermilk which reminds me of very happy visits to Glasgow: walks in Kelvingrove Park, exciting tea at Tchai-ovna and fun nights out. We always stay with Jude who knows pretty much everyone in the Scottish indie music scene. Belles singer Stuart Murdoch gave his scooter to her daughter. Tracyanne from Camera Obscura’s been texting. Jude once took us to the most Belle and Sebastian night ever: a disco in a bowling club called the National Pop League. It could have been the shoot for Pulp’s Misfits video: hair slides, corduroys and shy dancing.
Tigermilk blasted through the sometimes smug Englishness of mid-90s Britpop with an earnest and lyrical Scottishness. Funny and humble, depicting a world I could recognise: school dramas, awkward kissing, the C&A cafe. Just now in the living room, I’m so happy to hear Frankie singing every word.
I was surprised
I was happy for a day in 1975
I was puzzled by a dream
It stayed with me all day in 1995 (The State I Am In)
*Have we stumbled upon some kind of cavewoman therapy, here? As you are about to burn a source of mental nourishment, you want to save it. Live in the moment, people, because the flames are coming. Or maybe I’ve been stuck indoors for too long 😉
198) Belle and Sebastian – The BBC Sessions (Jeepster)
And now he’s throwing discus for Liverpool and Widnes is one of the best rhymes ever in a pop song. It’s from The Stars of Track and Field which sits on this live album alongside gorgeous renditions of Lazy Line Painter Jane and Sleep the Clock Around. I bought this LP for Liza a year after Frankie was born in 2008 but the recordings come from John Peel and Mark Radcliffe radio sessions of the late 1990s. These versions of familiar songs are really delicate and special. We’re sitting by the fire after a good day in which we cycled to Chelsea to see Liza’s dad. He’s also had the vaccine and things are looking up.
199) Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country (Merge)
More chronology crimes here but Camera Obscura (who also started out in the mid-90s but these albums are from the 2000s) have to sit next to Belle and Sebastian whose singer Stuart Murdoch has produced some of their records. Both deal in whimsical, Glaswegian pop and listening to them makes me feel as though Sauchiehall Street is just beyond the coats in the back of my wardrobe. There’s a windswept fairground mood as tearful Wurlitzers weave around singer Tracyanne Campbell’s lovely Scottish vowels. During the tour of this album, we saw them at Camden Koko when Liza was pregnant. Frankie did little baby somersaults.
200) Camera Obscura – Desire Lines (4AD)
Mournful and wintry pop tunes that fit well with the frozen ice streets around our house. We’ve been drawing huge letters by walking around crunchy neighbourhood pavements and tracking our steps on a running app. C-H-A so far. Frankie’s school name (Charter). Liza and I love snooping around suburban streets at twilight. It’s long been a hobby of mine: as a child I used to look into people’s windows and imagine I had to spend Christmas in that room. A strange imaginary game but I loved it and visualised myself for hours in an alternative life.
201) Air – Premiers Symptomes (Virgin)
The one before the massive one, Premiers Symptomes is the 1997 EP that ushered in the blockbuster Moon Safari a year later. It’s less complete but equally beautiful and contains the heavenly Le Soleil est Près de Moi. It reminds me of my cramped second year student bedroom in Meanwood, Leeds. I was under the eaves and it was the smallest space in the house, but it was on the sunny side and I remember spring mornings when the light would flood in.
202) Air – Moon Safari (Virgin)
Everyone talks about Oasis and Blur but it’s Air’s Moon Safari (1998) that actually soundtracked the end of the nineties. Sexy Boy. Kelly Watch the Stars. All I Need. Every shop, every TV food show and car advert seemed to feature the French duo’s cosmic sound. Before it became ubiquitous, I remember being so excited about Moon Safari’s release that I took the day off work (my gap year job) to travel into York to get my copy. Like everyone I played it to absolute death, entranced by the sonic journeys it seemed to offer from Versailles to the edges of space. I haven’t played it in full for at least a decade and today it sounds incredibly fresh and hopeful with a backdrop of snowflakes through the window.
All I need’s a little sign
To get behind this sun and cast this weight of mine (All I Need)
203) Air – The Virgin Suicides (Virgin)
The soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s haunting 2000 film, I reviewed it for Leeds Student newspaper where I was one of three music editors from 1998 to 2001. It’s probably the best job I ever had: free music, free gigs, meeting your idols and getting to mess about in a newspaper office until 3am. Press Gang with free pizza. I describe The Virgin Suicides as a “lurch from major to minor, from the Starship Enterprise to Twin Peaks”. And it’s true this is Air dabbling with the dark side. It is deliciously spooky. The film itself owes much to another tale of schoolgirl tragedy, the legendary Picnic at Hanging Rock. The track listing tells you the story: Bathroom Girl, Cemetary Park, Dark Messages, Ghost Song, Dead Bodies…
204) Boards of Canada – Hi-Scores (Skam)
These are the minimalist bleeps I need tonight after a strangely hectic 24 hours in lockdown. Frankie lost her phone yesterday but I managed to hunt it down on a harrowing quest through the frozen streets of Peckham. Today, Bobby, the cat, managed to sustain head and ear wounds in a cartoon furball fight with a local rival: funny, if it hadn’t set me back more than £100 in vet’s bills. Boards of Canada create synth music that feels at once familiar and alien: the perfect soundtrack to a science video explaining cell replication, but also for peering through the viewfinder of an old camera at a slowly retreating sunset. Turquoise Hexagon Sun. My friend Adam bought me this album for my birthday one year and I love it.
205) Boards of Canada – Music has the Right to Children (Skam)
It’s the one with Roygbiv – Boards of Canada’s big hit in a parallel world. This quietly celestial synth anthem is one I devoured repeatedly when it was released in 1998. It mixes spooky vintage synths, odd samples of distantly babbling children and hip-hoppish beats which deliciously trip over themselves. It’s Four Tet scrabbling around with a drum machine under your school desk with De La Soul. I see it has since been listed in various “best albums ever” countdowns so I’m sending a message to my 19-year-old self to say well done. It’s still icy cold in London. Today Frankie and I went to Greendale to kick a ball about after home school. With groups of teenagers and kids in each corner of the large square pitch it was good to be among people who aren’t us.
206) Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest (Skam)
This one has a more brooding, expansive feel as the Scottish duo behind Boards of Canada swap sepia playground scenes for something more like burning plastic at the edge of a beautifully symmetrical European motorway. A distant, sun-bleached cityscape is just visible on the cover. I realise I haven’t been into the centre of London for months and months and months. Is it still there?
207) Low – Christmas (Kranky)
I’m forcing myself to play a Christmas album in February, just to see how wrong it feels. Very wrong, it transpires. Listening to Christmas songs in flaming June has a perversely cheerful quality but this, due to the recency of the festive season, is faintly depressing. Not least because this Christmas just gone a false optimism abounded: that the simply tick-tock of 2021’s arrival would herald the end of the pandemic. Here we are in the sub-zero depths of winter, still seeing more than 1,000 deaths a day in the UK. Sorry, Christmas cheer, you must go back in your sleeve.
208) Broadcast – The Noise Made By People (Warp)
One of those bands that you remember first hearing. I was introduced to Broadcast by a boy called Robin who was in the second year as I was about to start Leeds University. We met at a gig in the long-gone but forever legendary Leeds Cockpit. He instantly understood the kind of music I loved and guided me to the B section in Jumbo Records in Leeds. Geometric swirling sixties sounds, as if heard through the corridors of an abandoned power station, but recorded here and now and a band for my time. Come on Let’s Go.
A strange lonesome vocal: part It-Girl, part girl giving out tokens for the dodgems. Trish Keenan. I met her when I interviewed the band during this album’s tour. They were playing Leeds Duchess and invited my friend Debbie and I backstage as they got ready for the show. We interviewed them for Leeds Student Radio and somewhere the audio must still exist on a tiny dictaphone tape. Amid the soft Brummy hum of the band chatting with us and each other, Trish suddenly sparked up her pre-show vocal exercises: scales sung to a recorded piano track. It sounded truly astonishing in amongst the slamming doors and shunting of equipment. She seemed so shy and yet so confident.
Trish Keenan died in 2011, aged just 42. She’d caught swine flu on tour in Australia and never got over the pneumonia that followed. The day she died I was decorating our old flat in Camberwell. I played her music all day. Then I wrote a piece about her and that night in the back of the pub.
The writing for pleasure you wouldn’t let me read
The things you miss out when you try to mislead
You said you wrote a page about me
In your diary (Papercuts)
209) Broadcast – Haha Sound (Warp)
A spooling masterpiece of psych-pop, Haha Sound is the one to take to a desert island. Preferably an island with an electricity generator, some ageing waltzers and a cooling tower. Colour Me In is one of my all-time favourites: sweet, like the melody in one of those jewellery boxes with a dancing ballerina, but shifting around with a sense of scratchy unease. Today it was -3 degrees in Herne Hill. We went to the park and Frankie, along with a bunch of children, climbed over the fence around the pond, fished out huge chunks of ice and delighted in smashing them back into tiny shards, skittering across the frozen surface. In the evening I caught up with Emma from the Manic Street Preachers story in entry 196. We pick up straight where we left off: random chat interspersed with laughter and enquiries after brothers, sisters and parents. We make a plan to meet in a beer garden by the river at the earliest opportunity.
I return to this haunting record. Before We Begin and Lunch Hour Pops featured on many a mix tape of mine in the early noughties. These songs are cascadingly beautiful, like diving into a perfect blue pool at the back of an LA mansion. But they bubble away with menace and someone, somewhere, is probably coming to a sticky end.
I wait on the stairs for my thoughts to be kind
What better view will I find (Lunch Hour Pops)
210) Broadcast – Berberian Sound Studio (Warp)
There was a fashion for a time for describing music as “hauntological”: derived from a French philosophical concept of the same name and meaning a literal haunted quality; the combination of dreamlike electronica, found sounds and samples. It’s exactly the type of creepy, sample-laiden ghost music that Broadcast make here. It’s the Wicker Man hooked up to an eight-track recorder or the boy from Kes messing with your old laptop. This album was completed after Trish Keenan’s death which, of course, gives it an even more tragic and ghostly quality. It shimmers with strange whispers and gothic bursts of church organ. I was listening to this one holiday eight or nine years ago when we stayed with my parents in a medieval house that had once been a small nunnery. It was a unique circular building with a chapel at the centre. To test my nerve I listened to this album there, in the dark, on my own. It was thrillingly terrifying. I lasted all of 10 minutes.
211) Delia Derbyshire – Electrosonic (KPM)
Completely and utterly on the wrong shelf, this one, but you’ll see why and it’s my system to break. Delia Derbyshire is variously known as the mother of electronica, the great granny of Aphex Twin and Orbital, the sister of Kraftwerk and the forgotten genius you never knew arranged the Doctor Who theme. A BBC Radiophonic Workshop pioneer in the 1960s, she’s the kind of icon I’d like to see on a £10 note. This compilation is listed as “an album of library samples of electronic music for radio, TV and film industry”. It’s fun and weird and totally belongs next to Broadcast who she also surely influenced. And the electronic noodling goes well with our actual Valentine’s Day noodles.
212) Goldfrapp – Felt Mountain (Mute)
I spent a happy hour with Alison Goldfrapp in 2000, stealing her chips and sharing ideas about our dream concert venues: from stages in the middle of ice rinks to secret velvet-lined theatres in Berlin. She was very funny, particularly about her displeasure concerning the Trainspotting-esque loos at Leeds Cockpit. I was interviewing her for Leeds Student and that gig was one of the best of my life: I’d never seen a singer use sound effects pedals quite like this before; mutating and warping her voice, thrilling and gorgeous but disturbing. I took someone with me who I was falling in love with but I couldn’t tell them. It was that kind of time in my life. Felt Mountain is one of my favourite albums ever: it soars upwards like an ice shelf about to snap, it scares you with its weirdness and its beauty. Its utopia theme makes you wonder if you’ve joined a cult. But it’s all fine because Alison Goldfrapp is the leader and we can trust her… right?
I’m wired to the world
That’s how I know everything
I’m super brain
That’s how they made me (Utopia)
213) The Avalanches – Since I Left You (Modular)
I’m back in the Leeds Student Radio studio at 1am with the first friend I laid eyes upon at Leeds University. It’s Steve, sometimes known as “tall Steve” and he’s got bleached blonde tips in his hair. I talked about Steve when I played De La Soul (record 136) and I’m still pleased about our joint rebellion in shunning the cheesy Freshers’ ball for a fun night of proper dancing to better tunes. Steve is the person who beckoned me over to sit on the grass on my first day in my first year halls. I was convinced he was a second year because he seemed to be more confident and already at ease with everything. My room was on top of his in block E and we soon decided to take over the Leeds musicverse together. First the student paper, then the radio. Our show was called Little Big Tunes and the idea was that we played lost bangers as well as new music. It was incredibly fun and I’m in awe now of the fact LSR had a proper licence to beam itself into student kitchens across the city.
The Avalanches remind me of the joyous sonic patchwork of that era. We felt like we’d been granted access to press all the buttons and, just like this album, we layered up everything we liked and just swam around, grinning. Our friends in Hyde Park would record the show for us on minidisc for us to listen back later. It was chaotic and brilliant and I’m so glad we did it. Since I Left You is the track you may remember (ah, that Madonna sample at the end) but really The Avalanches only truly work as a whole mad wash of sounds fitting together like a triple-decker jigsaw puzzle. It’s an hour-long journey well worth taking.
214) The Strokes – Is This It? (RCA)
I played pool with Julian Casablancas and Albert Hammond Junior for 10 minutes in 2001 but unfortunately Mogwai spoiled our game by potting all the balls with their hands. It was Leeds Festival and I was writing for Yellow Magazine, a publication staffed by student journalists from around the country. As the home university we were kings of the castle and sashayed around backstage, flaunting our Leedsness and multiple lanyards. Access to our “yellow tent” became the hottest ticket precisely because we had a pool table, plus fridges stocked with booze and big comfy couches. All the bands wanted to come in, which suited us just fine.
So in stumble The Strokes, at that point not yet headliners but very much aware they were the next big thing. In fact festival organisers moved them to the main stage from a tent because of worries about overcrowding. Julian, high on the spirit of stardom and beauty and possibly a few sherries, shouted “who wants to play?” while grabbing a cue. Excitement and nerves suppressed, a rock ‘n’ roll game kicked off involving me, a couple of other student writers and Julian from The Strokes. A few minutes later Mogwai drifted our way in their tracksuits and like the Scottish urchins they are, they climbed atop the table and shoutily ended the game. Ah well. Eminem was also on the bill that year but he did not darken our yellow door, nor take any interest in potting our balls.
Is This It? was the record that saved the music world from the wall-to-wall ubiquity of Oasis. I loved them for that but I was destined to like them anyway because they were Blondie and Lou Reed and Manhattan, although I was still only plotting a visit to the rock dreamland of New York. I bought Hard to Explain, the first single, on release day in June 2001 and took it with me to meet friends in the park. It became a talking point and a boy and girl I knew suggested I bring it back to play at theirs in the evening of a long summer’s day. This turned out to be more than an offer of musical appreciation and I sneaked off into the hot Leeds night.
215) The Postal Service – Give Up (Sub Pop)
We’re messing about in deep snow on Fifth Avenue in New York City. There’s been a blizzard and all the actual residents are sensibly indoors. We three Brits are, of course, out in it, making snow angels, dodging a telling off from the NYPD and getting ready for another night at the Red Bench, our new favourite bar in SoHo. I’m there with Ed and Sarah (I call her Showbiz, a radio thing), the breakfast team I work with at 97.2 Stray FM back in Yorkshire. I’m the newsreader who has to keep a straight face while they try to put me off through the studio glass. We decide to go for a holiday in New York together in winter 2003 to stay with Showbiz’s friend Polly. Give Up is my current obsession. I listen to it throughout the flight and even now I associate these songs with the thrill of touching down on the frosty tarmac of JFK.
It’s a one-off album by members of other more famous US indie groups, including Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie. Verse-chorus-verse guitar tunes are carefully embroidered with Jimmy Tamborello’s sometimes delicate, sometimes glowsticks aloft, electronic production. Add in vocals from Jenny Lewis and you have the perfect kind of male-female call and response song structures that lift them to the clouds. We Will Become Silhouettes and Such Great Heights are gloriously emotional anthems. Brand New Colony’s “e-e-e-e-verything will change” brings tears to my eyes. Interestingly, the United States Postal Service initially tried to block the band from using their name but thankfully relented and even got them to play a gig at one of their national conventions. It’s one of the best albums of the noughties and after this, everything did change.
I’ll be the phonograph that plays your favorite
Albums back as you’re lying there
Drifting off to sleep… (Brand New Colony)
216) Bright Eyes – Digital Ash in a Digital Urn (Saddle Creek)
We’re well and truly into noughties emo now with this utterly beautiful hidden masterpiece. It was released as a digital sister LP to the acoustic I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. As so often, my heart went with the bleeps. But there are soaring strings here too. The opening drums on Gold Mine Gutted do something to me. It’s a song that captures everything you feel when you’re young and emotional. It’s clever, funny, sweeping and epic and it’s both heartbroken and hopeful. Conor Oberst’s lyrics, sometimes wobbly with feeling, are almost too good to be lost in song.
And the smoke came out our mouths
On all those hooded sweatshirt walks
We were a stroke of luck
We were a goldmine and they gutted us (Gold Mine Gutted)
217) Cat Power – the Greatest (Matador)
A perfect set of tunes that beam out hope and warmth. Singer Chan Marshall’s lilting, husky voice is dappled with piano and her vowels feel like sunlight pouring through a window. This album, with its stripped back simplicity, just never gets boring. Chan was at one time notorious for being awkward at gigs: I’ve seen for myself weird moments where she’s had to restart songs and asked for the main lights to be turned on to quieten down the crowd. Hearing these tunes, it’s hard to imagine her being anything but completely laid back but I guess that’s why she becomes “Cat Power” on stage. I’ve been helping house hunt tonight with my sister Kerstin who is hoping to move to east London. The overland trains seemed busy for a city still in lockdown: people are itching to get back to normality.
218) Cat Power – Sun (Matador)
The fragility is gone: this album brims with confidence. It’s still mellow but with an urgency. And the artwork has Beyoncé-level balls to it too. We saw her on this tour at Camden Roundhouse and Chan was a woman transformed. Cropped blonde hair and a no-nonsense stage presence. I liked her awkward days but I like this too.
223) Arcade Fire – Funeral (Merge)
Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains
And there’s no end in sight
Is playing at the same time, it’s absurd
And it reminds me, we’ve got everything now
I still feel strange
Things that I’ve done that I can’t say
I followed a voice that called my name (Green Knight)
Were you ever lost?
Was she ever found?
Fall back into place
Fall back into place (Space Song)
My mother said to me
“Don’t stop imagining, the day that you do is the day that you die”
I remain the same
You stay at your age
And I know how old I am (Everybody’s Changing)
They were in factories
They are in graves now (Death in Midsummer)
I’m resentful, I’m having an existential time crisis
Want bliss, daylight savings won’t fix this mess
Under-worked and over-sexed, I must express my disinterest
The rats are back inside my head, what would Freud have said?
If you can’t see me, I can’t see you
Men are scared that women will laugh at them
I wanna walk through the park in the dark
Women are scared that men will kill them
I hold my keys
Between my fingers (Nameless, Faceless)
Checked into my heart and trashed it like a hotel room (Multi-Love)
Like the distant bodies in the solar system
We’re all astral travellers
Space is a dance floor and we’ve been abducted (7th Dynamic Goo)
With extra bits from Liza Brett
29 March 2020 – 29 March 2021