The Greatest Albums Ever Recorded… according to ME
Including just one of these guys…
When I started collecting music over twenty years ago, the rules were entirely different. The most stark difference compared to now being that wanting a record didn’t mean you were going to get it. You had to physically buy it, so if it wasn’t in stock, or if it was a rare record, you’d have to wait, you’d have to save up, you’d have to hunt for things. Patience was a must. Equally, music knowledge wasn’t just a few button presses away – if pop music wasn’t your thing, you’d have to learn about music by searching for it with an open mind, absorbing information about producers or labels as you went. I used to spend hours studying the monthly list of new and rare treats at Soul Brother Records in Putney, which came through the post printed on A4 paper, held together by staples. I didn’t live in London at the time, I didn’t even visit Soul Brother Records until I was well into my 20s, but this mail out told me the names of people I should be looking out for, being that I’d decided to be an avid collector of soul music. I bought records with intensity and enthusiasm, and I still do – only these days I tend to do all of my business not in grotty basements at second hand record shops, but on sites like eBay or Discogs. It’s not as fun. Anyway, without the internet to tell me which albums were must-have, or which ones to avoid, I’ve always had to rely on my ears to decide if a record’s good or not. I’ve veered into many different genres over the years, I have healthy collections of Reggae, Jazz, Folk, Rock, Rock n Roll, Funk, Punk, Disco, Hip Hop, 80s Boogie, Pop, as well as my first love, Soul. So with that in mind, I thought I’d have a pop at recommending a few of MY favourite records from different genres. Feel free to strongly disagree with me in the comments section…
ROCK N ROLL ALBUM – Chuck Berry, After School Session
When I was very young, probably just in double figures, I was given a Buddy Holly tape for Christmas, and I LOVED it. And yet, it probably took about another twenty years before I figured just how brilliant early rock and roll records are. Little Richard was a genius, Eddie Cochrane was cooler than Elvis, and Chuck Berry was absolutely nuts. This record is one of the best, and one of the weirdest, that I own. Listen in and you can pretty much dot all the dots through soul, rock, and into punk. Check out Havana Moon.
FUNK ALBUM – Eddie Bo and The Soul Finders, Hook and Sling
Compiled and released on Tuff City Records in 1996, this is my number one collection of stripped down funk – almost every track of which would fill the most demanding of dance floors. Sandwiched between great artists like The Meters, early Kool and the Gang, James Brown’s various incarnations and numerous other funk giants like George Clinton and Fred Wesley, this funny Eddie Bo character more than holds his own. Here’s the title track.
HIP HOP ALBUM – Main Source, Breaking Atoms
There are so many great hip hop albums, particularly from the late 1980s and through the 1990s, that it’s surprisingly hard to pick out just one. A personal favourite of mine is a little known album called Uptown Saturday Night by a rapping duo called Camp Lo. Gang Starr, Brand Nubian, the first Wu Tang album, 3rd Bass, De La Soul, Kool G Rap, The Beatnuts, Bahamadia, Common, Illmatic by Nas – these I all hold pretty dear. But standing a few millimeters above the aforementioned is Large Professor and his crew’s tour du force Breaking Atoms, an album littered with personal favourites, and without a single dud. This is my favourite track.
POP ALBUM – Blondie, Autoamerican
I own plenty of decent records that could be filed under “pop music”. Headquarters by The Monkees is a load of fun, Rubber Soul by The Beatles, Purple Rain by Prince, any number of records masterminded by The Chic Organization, all of Michael Jackson’s albums, but two in particular get the most play – Young Americans by David Bowie, and Autoamerican by Blondie. Blondie nick it for being my favourite pop group when I was 12 – an age when pop music really matters. Here’s Do The Dark from the album. Oh go on then, and Rapture.
JAZZ ALBUM – Thelonius Monk, Brilliant Corners
The greatest pianist of all time can’t be ignored. Being a painfully middle class white boy, I like nothing more than Jazz on a Sunday. My earliest Jazz love was Donald Byrd, who is a shade more contemporary, I love Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the rest, and I’ve even got a corner of my heart thumping for Dave Brubeck, who managed to be the world’s coolest man whilst simultaneously looking exactly like your dad’s librarian. But Thelonius is THE Lonius. The best of the lot. Check it out!
REGGAE ALBUM – The Sensational Gregory Isaacs
I was a student once, which means that I have a fairly healthy devotion to reggae music – the most popular soundtrack to skiving lectures and smoking dope through a coke can. My love has only grown stronger over the years, so I was left umming and arring between Big Youth, anything by Sly and Robbie, or the soulful voices of Dennis Brown or Gregory Isaacs. In the end I went for the man Isaacs, because he has one of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard. Here’s Lonely Man, the opening track on the album.
ROCK ALBUM – MC5, Back in the USA
It was a tough one, picking my greatest ever rock album. I love rock, to the point where I once lost a regular DJing gig because I couldn’t stop putting on records by The Who. This was a problem because I’d been advertised as a “rare groove” DJ. Which I was. Just one that might veer into a bit of Can’t Explain from time to time. Anyway, just missing this accolade by a pube were Jimi Hendrix (Axis: Bold as Love), Moby Grape (Moby Grape), and Janis Joplin (I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama), because MC5 are basically my favourite rock band of all time. Observe.
PUNK ALBUM – Suicide, Suicide
When it comes to punk music, I tend to favour the American stuff. It’s a bit more nerdy, probably a bit more tuneful, and not as overtly aggressive as the British variety (which, I must stress, is also excellent) – so massive hipster favourites like The Modern Lovers, Patti Smith and Television are all good with me. But, if I had to choose one album it’d be Suicide by Suicide, which sounds a bit like a nervous breakdown set to synthesizers. Only brilliant. This is my top choice from the album.
FOLK ROCK ALBUM – David Crosby, If I Could Only Remember My Name
I thought I’d shoehorn some folk rock into this, because it rounds up the albums to a nice TEN, plus I’m a sucker for this stuff, thanks to my dad’s old Neil Young and Crosby, Stills and Nash records, which played continuously while I was growing up. It was a close run contest between Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks (for Buckingham Nicks), Stephen Stills (for the ingeniously titled Stephen Stills) and his old pal David Crosby – the man who penned my favourite ever Byrds song, Lady Friend. Crosby stole it by a whisker, this might give you an idea why.
SOUL ALBUM – Stevie Wonder, Talking Book
The hardest decision of the lot, akin to Sophie’s Choice, only in this case Sophie has to choose her favourite child from thousands. It’s near impossible, and I’ll change my mind about this one from now until the end of time. There are too many great soul records to mention, so rather than go for my favourite Marvin Gaye (I Want You), my favourite Bill Withers (+’Justments), my favourite Curtis Mayfield (Give, Get, Take and Have), my favourite Minnie Riperton (Come to my Garden), my favourite Donny Hathaway (Everything is Everything), my favourite Aretha Franklin (Aretha Now), my favourite Isaac Hayes (Black Moses), my favourite Esther Phillips (From a Whisper to a Scream), my favourite Bobby Womack (Roads of Life), my favourite Chaka Khan (Rufusized), my favourite Temptations (Cloud Nine), my favourite Gil Scott-Heron (Bridges), my favourite Gwen McCrae (Melody of Life) or my favourite Leroy Hutson (Love oh Love), I’ve gone for my SECOND favourite Stevie Wonder album (behind Music of My Mind). And the reason for that is simple – this was my first soul record, pilfered from my uncle’s record collection. It was the album that kick-started the next twenty years and counting of rabid record buying, and unflappable dedication to building an entire tower block made from vinyl records. So far I have one wall. Here’s my favourite track from the album.
GREATEST EVER SOUL COMPILATION – The Smoocher
Released on a French label called Big Cheese Records in 1994, this is as close to the perfect soul compilation as I’ve heard. Here’s the opening track, by a former beauty queen called Kelee Patterson.