The NME treated us last week to “101 Albums To Hear Before You Die”. All well and good, obviously subjective but a useful list for those of us wanting to hear more music – and that’s all of us, right?
Well, this piece addresses the problem from the other angle. Read this and you will save a lot of time, which you can use to spend more time with your loved ones, watching box sets on Netflix or maybe even just checking out the NME’s list.
10 LOU REED – “Metal Machine Music”
Irritated by RCA Records and wanting out of his contract with them, Lou Reed realised that there was a clause in his contract that clearly stated that while the record company had the right to demand an album from him, they also had the obligation to release the album he provided them, whatever it sounded like.
“Metal Machine Music” was released – or more accurately escaped – in 1975. Widely regarded as a joke by fans and journalists alike, it consists entirely of guitar feedback played at various speeds.
Rolling Stone magazine described it as sounding like “the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator” (which Yes considered as a working title for “Tormato” see below)
As an exercise in hype it remains one of the most successful ever, selling over 100,000 copies in the USA. It was a waste of Lou Reed’s time making it and it’s a waste of your time listening to it.
9. HAPPY MONDAYS – “Yes Please!”
The album that pretty much bankrupted Factory Records.
The horribly appropriately-titled “Yes Please” is where it all unravelled for Happy Mondays, a band touched by genius but whose, shall we say, appetites for altered mental states brought on by Certain Substances meant they were always living on borrowed time once they’d started making enough money to buy the really good drugs.
The band and their families were packed off by Factory Records to Barbados to record the album at Eddy Grant’s studio, the theory being that while in Barbados, cut off from their Manchester dealers, Shaun and Paul Ryder would not be able to take heroin.
So they simply moved on to crack cocaine instead.
After running out of money, they sold some of the studio furniture for drugs money. Bez ended up breaking his arm after overturning a hire car.
Sounds like a lost episode of “Peep Show”, correct? I swear I am not making any of this up.
Musically the band were not gelling with producers Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz from Talking Heads. The sound they produced robbed the Mondays’ music of the ballsy, insistent riffs and “now” sound, replacing it with plinky-plonky winky-wanky synths.
8. BONEY M – “Nightflight To Venus”
Now I have nothing against the M. Nothing at all. “Brown Girl In The Ring” – great pop record. “Rivers Of Babylon” – great pop-reggae record. And especially the song whose bassline New Order ripped off for “Blue Monday”, namely “Ra-Ra-Rasputin”. Don’t believe me? Check these out.
The trouble with this album is that while the songs you know are fine if you like that sort of thing, it’s the filler that kills ya.
Are you sitting down? Not holding any hot liquids? Good.
Okay, try the M’s take on Roger Miller’s fine, wistful country classic King Of The Road. In a staggeringly kitchen-sink production, pay particular attention to the cack-handed horn riff that comes in at 1:28.
And if you’re shrugging your shoulders and thinking “So what? That wasn’t so bad” then bear in mind the other cover on the album is Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold”.
Still want to hear it? Good luck finding it. It isn’t on Youtube. It was taken down after thousands of complaints, not least from Neil Young. Possibly.
7. CAPTAIN BEEFHEART – “Trout Mask Replica”
Most people hate this album.
Most people who really love music hate this album.
Most people who really love music and take lots of drugs hate this album.
Most people who really love music and take lots of drugs and like Captain Beefheart hate this album.
I love this album but the statistics show that you probably won’t. Move on, people. Nothing to hear here.
Just so you know, that was the most tuneful and accessible track on the whole album.
6. OASIS – “Be Here Now”
Where to begin with how disappointing this album was when it came out in 1997?
Oasis ruled the musical world like nobody since the Beatles.
Not the unified United Kingdom Of Sound that the Fab Four ruled with a mostly benign hand for most of that long, blissful, peaceful century called the Sixties that we look back on with such fondness.
No, the Gallacher brothers and their ever-changing band of Oasisblokes were kings in a smaller, rockier, whiter realm, but kings nevertheless.
Their first two albums “Definitely Maybe” and “Whats The Story Morning Glory” were masterpieces. Okay, revisionist rock history will have you believe otherwise but revisionist rock history is wrong – give it ten years and everyone will be in awe of the ‘Sis once again.
The warning bells were there when the lead single from the new album came out in Feb 1997. “D’Yer Know What I Mean” was long. Very long. And it was kind of Oasis By Numbers. Still, maybe it’s a blip we thought as we all dutifully bought it anyway and sent it to Number One, although I’ve long maintained this was due to the presence of the brilliant “Stay Young” and a passable cover of Bowie’s “Heroes” among the extra tracks (bear in mind youngsters that this was pre-downloading so you couldn’t just download the one track. I know! Crazy, huh?)
The hype continued until the release of “Be Here Now”. It was going to be Oasis’ “Sgt Pepper”. It was going to revolutionise the Britpop sound and take it to the next level. It was going to cure AIDS. And cancer.
The reality was eleven tracks clocking in at five minutes plus each, plus a reprise. It’s impossible to play all the way through and maintain any sort of attention to it. The songs aren’t BAD as such, its just that they all outstay their welcome by three, four,five or six minutes. And that’s what’s really frustrating.
What this album needs is a remix where each song is cut down by 50% of its running length. If this is ever done – and there IS a precedent in the Beatles canon with “Let It Be Naked” which was a major improvement over the overproduced original version of the album – then the result will be an album as good as the first two if not better.
Go on Noel, you know you want to. If it was good enough for the Beatles, it’s good enough for you.
5. DAVID BOWIE – Forthcoming 2015 album (as yet untitled)
I respect Bowie. His seventies output is second to none in its innovation, ingenuity and variety.
I admire a man who can reinvent himself so many times over.
His comeback album of last year “The Next Day” was excellent – way better than it had any right to be
But if he was to come in here brandishing a horrible pretentious cod-jazz single with dubstep overtones I’d have to say “Oi! Bowie! NAAAAAAAAH!”
4. THE STYLE COUNCIL – “The Cost Of Loving”
Sticking with musicians fond of reinventing themselves, Paul Weller’s second band were never that convincing despite some loverly singles (”Long Hot Summer”, “A Solid Bond In Your Heart”, “The Paris Match”). The first album was an eclectic mish-mash of styles lovingly ripped off / sourced from 60s jazz and soul mostly. At least it made a change from the Jam’s monochrome sound.
And the second album “Our Favourite Shop” contained the mighty fist-in-the-air leftover Jam jam “Walls Come Tumbling Down” amongst some dubious musical decisions (like having Mick Talbot sing lead vocals on the album’s opening track – as a singer, Mick makes a great keyboard player) – and it also contained “The Stand-Up Comic’s Instructions”, which featured a working men’s club MC (Lenny Henry of all people) encouraging a young comic to tell racist and sexist jokes “cos the crowd’ll be with you”. It wasn’t a bad album by any means.
Then there was the difficult third album.
Released in 1987 “The Cost Of Loving” abandoned all the old referene points in favour of a smooth, contemporary American-style R&B.
Some have called this album a brave move in the same way David Bowie’s “Young Americans” was deemed groundbreaking a decade earlier. In fact both albums ere motivated by that most well-worn of mid-career British band cliches, the desire to crack America. One succeeded, one failed.
(although to be fair Bowie’s attempts at being funky on “Young Americans” are considerably worse than Weller’s here)
The playing is good (you’d expect nothing less from Steve White, Mick Talbot and Weller himself) and the vocals are OK. There are even some decent songs here, notably the title track. The problem is twofold – the production which tries too hard to sound black, cool and relevent and ends up sounding muddy and forced, and unfortunately the songs aren’t really up to it.
United States label Geffen Records heard the tracks and promptly dropped The Style Council from their roster. Sensible decision.
If you must listen to the Style Council (and believe me, you really mustn’t, by and large) then stick to the aforementioned singles and studiously avoid anything post 1985. Trust me on this.
3. SIGUE SIGUE SPUTNIK – “Flaunt It”
If you’ve got it, flaunt It. I see what they did there.
In the spirit of Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s laziness masquerading as creativity, I did consider simply cutting and pasting this entire article from Wikipedia.
This, after all, is a band who put adverts on their debut album between the tracks.
(Sidebar – I wonder idly, from time to time, if The Who got kickbacks from doing something similar on 1967’s “The Who Sell Out”, although I’m pretty sure those products were fictitious)
Even in the wasteland that was the late eighties, they stood out as being particularly half-baked, and half-assed, though some folk thought their stance was fresh, brilliant and an excellent satire on Eighties excess.
After leaving Generation X, Tony James, formerly sought to form a “fantasy band”. If only it had remained just that, but no, they played gigs and made records too.
The band’s sound was, according to James, arrived at by accident, when he inadvertently mixed elements of film soundtracks with their demo track “Love Missile F1-11” while putting together a video compilation from his favourite films.
This album is annoying, not because of the adverts or the silly clothes or the band’s empty arrogant interviews. It’s annoying because Sigue Sigue Sputnik actually had a plan and some decent ideas involving sound collages. They were only really missing one thing.
The songs. Ultimately, they just didn’t have the songs. Which is what it’s really all about, when you get right down to it.
If you ain’t got it, and you flaunt it anyway, you just look embarrassing.
2. YES – “Tormato”
Let’s get this clear right now. I like a bit of prog, okay? I like a lot of Yes records. Especially Tales From Topographic Oceans, which is the Yes album people slag off most, mostly when they’ve never heard it. Check out “Nous Sommes Du Soleil”. Go on. Its twenty minutes well spent, and if you’ve read this far into the piece you’ll be in credit by over six hours by now so treat yourself. I’ll still be here when you get back.
There. Wasn’t that loverly? Yes from 1973, possibly at their peak, that was.
Five years on, things have changed more than somewhat. The advent of punk in 1977, far from driving these proggy dinosaurs into their shells, actually galvanised Yes into make “Going For The One”, a fantastic record which even yielded their first hit single “Wonderous Stories”. I always liked to think the mis-spelling was a nod to punk, who knows?
It was all going so well.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go according to plan. The band’s ninth studio album, ‘Tormato,’ emerged from those sessions on Sept. 20, 1978, and represented not only a reversal in commercial fortunes for Yes, but the start of a particularly turbulent period that would eventually lead to some key departures from the lineup.
Quarrels between Yes members were nothing new, and members came and went on a regular basis, but things seemed particularly stormy during this period – both Rick Wakeman and on Anderson left the band within a few weeks of completing the album.
Wakeman’s displeasure became particularly evident during an infamous incident when he hurled a tomato at the artwork for the record, which was then titled ‘Yes Tor,’ after a geological formation in southern England,
“We had paid a fortune for the artwork, which when we were shown it, we all agreed we had been ripped off. It was a pile of brown smelly stuff. I picked up a tomato and threw it at it…” Not wanting to spend any more money commissioning a replacement cover, the band simply changed the title to ‘Tormato.’”
Overplayed, under-produced, too many notes, not very satisfying to listen to.
These criticisms come from the band themselves, and they’re correct.
If you’ve never heard Yes, on no account listen to this album. Listen to “Fragile” instead.
The last word should go to John Peel, who in the punky late 70s never liked to admit to having given Yes their first radio play. I remember him playing the minor hit single from the album, the well-intentioned “Don’t Kill The Whale”
… and saying afterwards
“Well, that’s Yes with “Don’t Kill The Whale” and I’ve got nothing against whales but frankly the thought that they’ve made a record defending them just makes me want to head for the fjords or wherever it is they live and hunt them all down. Misty In Roots now.”
1. DEXYS – (as yet untitled follow-up to “One Day I’m Going To Soar”)
All the albums Dexys have ever put out are works of genius.
“Searching For The Young Soul Rebels”
“Don’t Stand Me Down”
“One Day I’m Going To Soar”
It’s not that Dexys’ next album is going to be anything less than brilliant.
Its just that given that there were 27 years between “Don’t Stand Me Down” and “One Day …”, and given that the age of yer average Dexys fan, old enough to have bought “Geno” and sniffed haughtily at the global success of “Come On Eileen, is probably around the 50-yo mark, we’re all probably going to die before the next one comes out whether we like it or not. And Kevin Rowland will be nearer 90 than 80 by that point so with the best will in the world … I dunno.
Hey, prove me wrong, Kev.
There you have it. You may well disagree with this list, which is fair enough. Life would be dull if we all agreed on everything.
I’d love to see your list, though.