Sunday, October 21, 2007


Although something of a music nerd, I was never fully a part of the whole obsessive list-making gig promoted by Nick Hornby and his ilk. Don’t get me wrong, I like reading and debating lists of the top 100 punk albums from 1077, or the worst music videos ever, or whatever. But when it comes to compiling one of my own, I get stuck in a rut and grow bored with my subject matter. List-making is not one of my fortes, it seems inherently both too masculine and too mathematical for me to sink my teeth into. I’m currently mentally assessing the 25 or so films I’ve seen this year and wondering how many will appear on my Best of 2007 list (I hesitate to call it an end-of-year list as there’s no conceivable way I could see all the films I want by January, such a list will probably surface in February, around Oscar-time. That’s how long it’ll take me to catch up on dvds and such.) and I’m dreading the inevitable need to rank one above the other. That’s not to say I never rank things, though - I’ve just found evidence to the contrary.

Whilst going through some old files, I came across a personal list of my top ten albums of all time, circa 2004. There was no real point in compiling a list like this, but I’m glad I took the time to write it back then. It offers up some interesting thoughts. Here’s what it looks like:

1. Jennifer Warnes - Famous Blue Raincoat

2. David Bowie - The Man Who Sold The World

3. Nirvana - Unplugged in New York

4. Tori Amos - Little Earthquakes

5. Radiohead - Kid A

6. Elvis Costello and the Attractions - Armed Forces

7. Siouxsie and the Banshees - Peepshow

8. The Smiths - The Smiths

9. Velvet Underground - VU and Nico

10. PJ Harvey - Stories from the city, Stories from the Sea

Reading over it, I come to two conclusions: despite what I think, my musical taste hasn’t evolved that much in three years, and damn- I listen to an awful lot of white music. There’s not one hip-hop, jazz or soul record on that list, which would definitely change if I were making an equivalent list today. There’s nothing classical, either. At least it’s fairly evenly split between male & female and it’s not confined to just one decade, which is a plus. I’ve got to remember that back then, I had only heard a fraction of the music I’ve heard today. I was in the process of discovering new bands to obsess on and I was in my early stages of worship. The Smiths are still a band I’d swear by, but their self-titled debut isn’t their best album, their most influential one, or even my favourite one. I can barely stand listening to it nowadays, although there are a handful of classic songs, the production is so tinny and poor that it renders them almost unlistenable. I suspect that, at the time of writing, their debut was the only Smiths album I owned; but I was still able to sense that they would go on to create great things. Right now, it’d be a toss up between Meat is Murder or Strangeways for a current placing.

As I don’t distinctly remember making this list, I have no idea whether it’s meant to be in any kind of order. I severely doubt it, as that would mean I put a covers album as my number one album of all time. Famous Blue Raincoat is a great covers record though; and it certainly appealed to the my seriouser-than-thou adolescent self. Having it at number one makes a lot more sense than my number 6 placing; I don’t even own that album and I can’t remember ever liking it that much. It seems inconceivable that I’d rank it higher than Peepshow, an album which would still easily creep into my current top ten. Putting a Bowie album, let alone a fairly mediocre one, at number 2 is just plain ridiculous. David Bowie has never been an artist who I’ve gone ape-shit over - but this list begs to differ. It’s slightly disconcerting - there was once a Catherine who admired Bowie enough to place him at number two in an All-Time-Great list? Whaaa? It’s a feeling akin to meeting my long-lost twin and realising she has 20/20 vision. What a headfuck.

Okay, getting down to the business of making a similar list today, I can see three of those albums holding on (Little Earthquakes, Kid A, Peepshow). Tori Amos has probably never topped her mainstream debut (what a disheartening thought for an artist), Peepshow still gives me the shivers and Kid A is Radiohead’s triumph (stfu about OK Computer). Seven coveted spaces are left and if I wasn’t thinking about it too hard, they’d be filled with Ys, Music for 18 Musicians, Reachin‘, When the Pawn Hits…, If You’re Feeling Sinister, Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony and Rain Dogs.

Excellent. Brilliant. Completed. What's next?

But wait.

I’m still not entirely happy with that (why have I once again neglected jazz? Where is Poses?! No McGarrigles, Paul Simon or George Winston - my childhood staples? Where are Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, PJ Harvey, Bjork and The Smiths?) Even after a few minutes contemplation, even the original three seem wrong; I think Boys For Pele is a superior Tori album, I just haven’t had as much time to grow into it. I've always defended Amnesiac over Kid A. Is Peepshow really my favourite Banshees album?

I’ve never been able to fully commit to a list; my taste is ever changing and too fluid to really pin down (this could be a positive or a negative thing). Even a quick attempt at this kind of thing proves too much of a headache for a Sunday night. Even as I’ve abandoned it, disembodied voices keep bouncing off my skull, telling me I’ve forgotten them (please shut up, Buck 65). If anyone out there has a top ten list they’re perfectly happy with, feel free to share. I’ll read, comment and debate it - just don’t expect me to share mine.


Damien Kelly said...

I'd tell u my list cass, but as u know my music is pretty one dimensional so it would be a complete embarrassment!!!

Rob said...

I'm game, but only for a Top Five.

The Songs of Leonard Cohen - Leonard Cohen

The Name of this Band is Talking Heads - Talking Heads

(Where would I be without literal album titles?)

Unknown Pleasures - Joy Division

Bootleg Series, Volume 1 - Bob Dylan

The Doors - The Doors

Ann Marie said...

Same as you. I just can't pick lists. I tend to dwell on an album a while, leave it a while, and then come back to it again. I recently found my cd case and I'm looking forward to listening to some of the albums again.
I'd like to think the artists would be varied enough, I think at the mo though it's mainly singer song writers.

Ninquelosse said...

Erm...I love reading lists, but I never feel I'm qualified to write them. I can't have read, listened or watched enough yet to call anything "the best ever". For me, a good album needs a good overall atmosphere and a sense of internal coherency. Tracks should work together, themes come back or something. As such, five OF my faves are:

Trespass by Genesis, but only on vinyl.

Aerial by Kate Bush (particularly side 1, Sea of Honey)

Warriors at the Edge of Time by Hawkwind, especially if you switch it off before the last song.

I've Been Expecting You by Robbie Williams (I just love this)

DogManStar by Suede (all the songs are good, and the atmosphere is icy).

A weird mix, but a goodn.