Thursday, November 28, 2013

Years aren't Novels but December's feel like last chapters

It's December on Sunday, and busy as I will be then with hauling out the advent calendar, I thought I'd write a pre-emptive blog post. I didn't think I'd blogged much this year, but a quick glance at the side bar sees that I've blogged slightly more than last year, and pretty consistently over the last couple of years - once a week, and then a few.The last three years I've travelled a lot with work - thirty three trips by my rough calculation - which might have something to do with the numbers coming down from when I blogged every few days. Though I sometimes wonder, when looking at Facebook debates, what role the blog has nowadays. I find I like having a bit more of a considered approach to a subject than in a FB status - ironic, really, as Blogs started as a way to be quicker and less formal than the essay. The other thing is that FB is "public" but only to your network whilst Blogger lasts out there in the real world.

The poetry community seems to prefer FB than blogs to comment -and I've sometimes wondered why. Hermetic sealing? A tendency for brevity? (Though you should see the length of the posts.) Ironically, I don't actually see a massive amount of UK poetry blogs out there. I suppose that though anyone can have a blog, by keeping one going you do pretend to some sort of "authority", though from my own Point of View, I don't think I've ever set myself up to comment on each and every literary issue out there. George Szirtes, Katy Evans-Bush and Todd Swift, practising poets all, are the longrunning blogs I still go to for any sort of poetry summing up. Occasional blogger only, but always thought provoking, is Steven Waling, who, like me uses it as a bit of an extension of his FB musing; whilst Michelle McGrane's "Peony Moon" does the very simple thing of publishing contemporary poets on a regular basis.

Plenty more places to go for the poets, poetry and poetry magazines themselves (see some in the sidebar) though I think we slip into our busy little communities and stay there a little bit. Though I'd probably suggest a novelist might be best avoiding social media, for the time it eats up, for poets its perhaps a little different - an online version of the letters pages of the little magazines. What we lose in a written correspondance we gain in a dialogue. The edifices of poetry's castle remain pretty unaware of all the activity outside the walls of course. I've read some good stuff this year, but in pamphlets, magazines and online rather than in monolithic books from major publishers. The rash of recent anthologies (concentrating on the young mainly) hasn't really done a lot to define where we are with poetry one hundred years after the Imagist anthology, but the public image of poetry only really has room for a few, not the many. There's a slow, steady accretion I think from being in "Grandchildren of Albion" to co-curating a bash for the Queen at Buckingham Palace (Carol Ann Duffy.)

I'm not retiring from the poetry fray as such, more rounding up my depleted resources, and gathering them together for a full assault in the new year. (Ok, I'm at the state of preparing a collection. No publisher as yet, so get in touch if you are interested!)

2013 has been a difficult year. It began with an offer of redundancy, and it ends with us moving offices back into the Town Hall. I've worked for the council for over ten years, but its been far removed from being a council job. We'll have to see how that pans out. In the midst, I had an emergency eye operation which scuppered a few plans; made me reappraise a few things; and then, as ever, go back to the helter skelter of my normality. It feels that 2013 is a novel that is not coming to an end, so much as had a missing middle section (two months of impaired sight does that to you).

Yet in the midst of this I have written some of my finest poems (though yet to see the light of day, so that may be to be decided), recorded a new album (again, still not made public, as there are some final production tweaks required, but something of which I am inordinately proud), and may even have started a new novel (though that also got halted.) I had a story published in a book for the first time, "The Cat" in "Unthology 4".

Writers need reflective time - and I've had very little of that lately. A longer break over Christmas, and a shorter one this weekend, will hopefully move things along a little.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Roundup

Well, the poets went to the Palace, (as I mentioned beforehand). I'm not sure if anyone's done a good write up of it, but apparently a nice evening was had by most. Some rather nasty Facebook spats have taken place since the event, which have been as bewildering as any family arguments always are. For writers who know they are best with a few words, they do like spreading them around a bit sometimes. I did enjoy Adam Horowitz's take on things however. Though, like me, he wasn't on the list, so was not coming in. A bit like the Hacienda c. 1991. Plus ca  change. (There's a clip of the event here.)

I've been busy not writing anything or rather trying to write at least something during the inevitable busy period that I have every autumn. Got back yesterday from a hectic few days in Barcelona; however, struck by the thought of how much more I might accomplish just by living somewhere that's warm all the time. One's optimism is refreshed. A good place for poets, I think, perhaps less so for prose writers who probably need the long winters, and no distractions of late night cocktail bars.

It meant that sadly I was unable to join quite a lot of Manchester's art community decamping to Scarborough for Bob and Roberta Smith's Art Party conference. That this idea - a political rally cum performance event cum festival - has grabbed artists' imagination, must be because there are so few opportunities when artists - quiet and solitary by nature, like poets - have an opportunity to get together and let there hair down. I wish I could have been there. Are artists more radical than poets these days? It might well be so. (It was only Rembrandt's hanging in the Royal palace apparently, not republicans.)

The first of the end of year lists are out. From Piccadilly Records and Rough Trade shops. There's less of a consensus around records of the year these days (see that RT's number one is only #22 in the PR list for instance) but good lists if you're looking to find something new. I've already good albums by Kurt Vile, Savages and Ducktails on these lists, but look forward to exploring some more.

In books - the first "books of the year" in yesterday's Guardian seems a little dull - especially if you're looking for new fiction or poetry, chockful with biographies (mainly of Penelope Fitzgerald) and other non fiction books. Better off looking at the small publishers who do release books for Christmas, and occasionally put them on sale. I've just received "Posthumous Stories" by David Rose from Salt, and looking forward to "Beautiful Girls" by Melissa Lee Houghton from Penned in the Margins when she reads in Manchester on 5th December. There's also "Unthology 4" with my story "The Cat" if you're looking for a nice compilation. A review of it here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Erase and Rewind

Reading that the Conservative Party has not only removed past speeches from their website but apparently done everything it can to wipe past traces of them from other accessible internet sites (and in the week that the Internet archive suffered a major fire that though not threatening its existence reminds us that these things are never as permanent as we hope), brings up quite a lot of interesting questions.

Having once worked in data processing I know that data is evidence; yet at the same time its "virtual" nature means that it can somehow stop - to all intents and purposes - existing. Those researching their family tree are so dependent on those "permanent" archives such as censuses, church records, army records etc. yet nothing is ever truly permanent. (Shelley fans may recall "Ozymandias" for instance.) It is why Nicholson Baker (and others) were so up in arms about the deletion of the physical archive. Paper not only gives us the context, but can't be so easily destroyed. Its a stock feature of detective stories and thrillers where a piece of information goes missing (even in SF like "Minority Report") and has been deliberately removed. Its absence is what makes it significant.

Yet if we destroy whole archives - or make them impossible to find - then what next? The assault on the pubic sector that David Cameron (surely not by coincidence) has repeated this week is about a "smaller state". Far better for those who want to control us to control the information flow, the information archive as well? The irony of this - in a year when whistleblower Edward Snowden highlighted how much they are eavesdropping on us all - is hard to ignore. For data is information, information is power - and deletion of the truth and its context are the best ways to avoid the consequence of those actions. It may seem that in a digital world it is harder than ever to destroy information - yet taking data out of consequence can we really be sure that the raw data is understandable?

Why buy books in an age of Wikipedia and Kindle? So much is context - but so much is also conservation - what if we can no longer rely on the public bodies to conserve. Are we like those Dr. Who fans still mistily remembering the single showing of a sixties show that was erased by a BBC that (then as now) placed the news archive above the cultural one. Luckily we have the BBC recordings of the Beatles (out this week) to swell the coffers - as ever these collections don't come from one pristine source but from wherever possible. A record label that went bust like Factory has its master tapes dispersed, often lost. Our personal archives become original sources - more so than ever in the digital age. And here we come back to that erasing of the past - it happens anyhow by things becoming neglected. Archives occasionally discover manuscripts of some importance (amongst the many of no importance.)

Our encouragement to the virtual, cloud etc. means that we are somehow expecting the curation to be done for us  that there will always be a copy available. Yet caught up in extended copyright laws (this month, if I'm not mistaken, copyright on recordings extends from 50 years to 70 years, ensuring the Beatles stay protected another 20 years) things can and do disappear. Archive labels like Trunk Records and Finders Keepers scour junkshops and old archives for the oldest tracks - I know lots of people who were in bands in their twenties or teens and haven't a single copy of their music online or offline. Think of your first digital photographs - do they still exist in any format? Or have you a gap between ditching the Kodak and opening your Flickr account? And what when things close down? Old blogs, old projects.

There is often a commercial desire to erase the past - an artist like Prince stopping his music from being shared online for instance. Yet at the the other end of the spectrum all those Pearl Jam and Fugazi shows available to download. Is this an overcuration?

In "Poetry" magazine last year, they talked about going through the archive and seeing amongst the gems that are now classics, a mass of poetry that isn't, that didn't last. Historically interesting to see which poems were read at the same time as William Carlos Williams or whoever. Look at old punk footage and see the audience - mostly with long hair - as their gigs took place at student unions where the last bands had been prog rockers. I hate recreations of the 80s on television - the pretty young actors have a Now Thats What I Call the 80s view of the decade, the hair and clothes are all wrong, but often, so is the soundtrack.

We can't recreate the past - it is gone - but our archiving of it; our self archiving if you like might be the only thing that separates our own version of that past from the official version which - as the world gets catalogued online by one or two massive corporations or controlled by governments - makes it ever more important that we keep some physical copy even if a CD-R of bits and bytes. The irony about the digital is that it doesn't really exist unless it is copied, but once it is copied once it can exist apparently infinitely. Yet, our reliance on the primary copy (Conservative Party website for their speeches for instance) means that our own version becomes increasingly important. I'm clearing out my desk today; old leaflets for old projects appear and go straight to the bin; I'm assuming everything will be available on the server - yet at some point it will be lost - hidden away, not so much in an unmarked grave, but on an unmarked archive tape or disc. It exists but it is no more.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Writing Ourselves Out of the Narrative

At a time when writers seem to be ever more writing from and about the self; and a first person solipsism dominates new fiction and confessional poetry alike, why is it that I'm craving a writing that is not the death of the author so  much as their erasure? I want a name on the spine, and to know no more. I have no hunger for reality. I want the writer - and that includes myself, this writer - to be as absent as possible from it all. That the work can exist alone. Is this Barthes' Death of the Author and grown up older and wiser? Or rather am I seeing that the integrity of writing in our contemporary 24/7 culture can only really exist if it renounces ego; if it rejects the systemic autobiographical; if it erases all trace of background?

I think in our 21st century post-religious age we have identified and exagerrated the self to such an extent that our desire to understand "ourselves" is becoming a problem. We've never been so aware of the word "self" yet are we self-aware? The few survivors of the Second World War are a generation that when questioned on television are hesitant about the demands of the medium; they want no medals, no memorialising, even, to some extent to have no memory. Are we post-Freudian? Crime is going down all over the Western world, either as a result of our comfort, or the result of our carefulness - and yet the crimes that shock us are those of the person, the individual paedophile, the man who murders his family then himself. We are appalled by these solipsisms; yet we drag ourselves out and into the open with "selfies" - photographs on our mobile phones taken at arms length; or through our Facebook profile.

Writers we are expected to talk like this on our blogs - and yet it is writing that has the smallest of audiences that doesn't sell a book. A poet like Ken Goldsmith can say we don't need to write original work anymore, yet he has to be an original creation, got up as a literary oddity on a TV show, unmistakeably the writer, this writer, even if the words are not his words.

In this world I want to disappear. Mention to someone something from your life, from your past, and they say "you should write about that." But what do I know? Am I to write about what I can hardly believe in? A happened past reconstructed via fake memory and adjectival truth? I don't think so. I want a writing where I am absent. That I am not me. That I am not there. That the "I" is other. That you, reader, will not guess its me, or see its me, or need to know its me. Later, we can marvel at Kafka's diaries or Ballard's biography, or Carver's interviews but do we need to know the life? Do we need to go down that wormhole? At what point does it tire us - make us inevitably disappointing to the one audience we really crave (our "self"). Can we truly surprise ourselves any more when we are there, there, there, all the time?

I want to be invisible in the work - and I don't want you to look for me. Can you make that distinction?

Friday, November 08, 2013

By Royal Request

The ever febrile world of poetry, or at least that which camps on Facebook, has been all agog this week, as invites have landed on desks for an event next week entitled "A Celebration of Contemporary British Poetry." Nothing new or unusual in that you might think, except the inviters are Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Phillip, and the venue is Buckingham Palace.

It's one of the ever-ironies about the arts in this country that although there is a constant debate about funding the arts, "the establishment" has, now and then, a keen interest in art forms that are otherwise seen as under threat, or at least, that area of the arts which has its imprimature. There is after all a Royal Society of Literature; a Queen's Gold Medal Poetry; the Poet Laureateship. Always struck me as a little odd, as the Windsors have never been notorious bookworms. Maybe its a hangover from their German origins - or some strange formulation that means for every fifty horse races the Queen goes to she agrees to a literary event. Who knows who decides these things? Neither the Royal Family or the Government are particularly enthusiastic about literature despite this being the land of "Shakespeare and Dickens."

More curious still, is that word "Contemporary", presumably not just inserted so the Duke of Edinburgh can't bemoan the lack of some Kipling (or is Phil the Greek a Seferis fan? We should be told!) This means that it will be live poets in Buck house, hosted by the poetry world's usual host of choice, the eminently comforting (if not yet eminent - maybe that will come) Ian McMillan. The guest list is going to be a scream, of course.

My favourite story about the royals and poetry is the one about the Queen Mother, when subjected to an evening of T.S. Eliot reading, bemoaning a dreadful man reading some dreary poem called "The Desert." Apocryphal or not, I think its suitably accurate representation of the Royals' relationship to the most important poem of the 20th century.

Dressed up to the nines (or at least in the "lounge suits" of the invite) the poets will probably no more dysfunctional a bunch than any of the other groups who attend Buck house. What's surprised me a little is, that though generally left leaning, the poets seem a little desirous of this formality. Lets be honest, I wouldn't say no, myself (just to see what the loos are like - would we be able to ask which one John Lennon smoked a joint in?) but has made me wonder where's the Republican strand in this land of Keats, Shelley and Wordsworth - sadly lacking it seems.  The $64,000 question of course is whether or not Pam Ayres is invited. I really do hope so.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Knowing What I Now Know

How do I write? How do you write?
How do we write?

Been thinking a lot about this recently.

Sometimes I think creativity happens in a crevasse between large rocks, and only when you climb out of it do you realise where the sky is, what the landscape is. In the crevasse what you do makes sense, but its limited by its environment. 

And then again, I see creativity gambolling across the sky - not so much as free as a bird, but as a tree squirrel spiralling from branch to branch, ungainly perhaps, but confident enough in the trapeze act for when he lands.

But then I see it in another way, the fire ants, bit by bit joining together to create something that is beyond their individual capabilities, so each sentence alone would sink, but together, if you get the bouyancy right then you can create enough surface tension, not just to float, but to navigate across the water.

Knowing what I now know, I know how to do certain things: but I'm not sure I need to do them. As in life, you might say, so in art.

The two things: what you need to do to make the piece of writing work beyond yourself (to hone it, in other ways) and the other thing - the rough drafting of raw ideas...

The latter seems more important to me as an artist than the former. Yet it is the former that I now know, a little, how to do. Making the cobwebs hold the weight. That's where the two things join together. But am I spider or am I fly?

My Favourite Albums of the 00s

I was tempted to bring this right up to date - but good records need a few years to settle down in the memory. The 21st century started pretty poor in many ways - and technology has been the main story. That said there's a diversity of music out there unparalleled; if you like something then you'll find it, whatever the subgenre. Keeping up when you're in your 30s or 40s is a pointless exercise though I can't help but think that Simon Reynolds' view that we're in an age of "retromania" is the correct one - with the whole history of rock at our fingertips (you can buy the complete albums of Bob Dylan this Christmas for about £3 each - convenient I guess, but hardly the somewhat random way we experience music.) That said, there's been some good records; I just think the idea that there are major artists anymore - except maybe in the R&B and hip hop worlds - is somewhat ridiculous. My favourite artists of the decade are probably decent American rock bands like Mars Volta and Hold Steady. British music seems to have been in perpetual slump - though I'm thinking I must have missed someone or something, I kind of think that many of the bands I've gone to see have been from previous decades - and the replacement bands have tended to have one or two hit albums then disappeared or become irrelevant. Who knows? Probably too soon to tell. So a lesser list for the 00s, sixty records (or CDs or downloads) - I'm sure I've missed some along the way, but its what I've listened to, rather than what I've been told I should listen to.

1 Lyre of Orpheus/Abattoir Blues Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
2 Separation Sunday The Hold Steady
3 Sounds of Silver LCD Soundsystem
4 Deloused in the Comatorium Mars Volta
5 The Greatest Cat Power
6 Relationship of Command At the Drive In
7 Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes
8 Time The Revelator Gillian Welch
9 The Trials of Van Occupanther Midlake
10 Kid A Radiohead
11 Kala M.I.A.
12 Turn on the Bright Lights Interpol
13 The Marshall Mathers Eminem
14 Stories from the City, Tales from the Sea PJ Harvey
15 Hour of the Bewilderbeast Badly Drawn Boy
16 Speakerboxx/The Love Below Outkast
17 Boys and Girls in America The Hold Steady
18 In Rainbows Radiohead
19 White Blood Cells White Stripes
20 For Emma, forever ago Bon Iver
21 Elephant White Stripes
22 Rated R Queens of the Stone Age
23 American Recordings IV Johnny Cash
24 Whatever you say I am, I'm not Arctic Monkeys
25 Greendale Neil Young
26 Since I left you Avalanches
27 Blackout Britney Spears
28 You are the quarry Morrissey
29 No More Shall We Part Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
30 Decline of British Sea Power British Sea Power
31 The Strokes The Strokes
32 45:33 LCD Soundsystem
33 Figure 8 Elliot Smith
34 Oracular Spectacular MGMT
35 Lift your skinny fists to heaven like antenna Godspeed Your Black Emperor
36 XTRMNTR Primal Scream
37 In Ghost Colours Cut Copy
38 Late Registration Kanye West
39 Stripped Christina Aguilera
40 Stankonia Outkast
41 Tasty Kelis
42 Love. Angel. Music. Baby. Gwen Stefani
43 The Woods Sleater-Kinney
44 Funeral Arcade Fire
45 Dangerously in Love Beyonce
46 The Power Out Electralane
47 Echoes The Rapture
48 Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Flaming Lips
49 Crystal Castles Crystal Castles
50 Cuckooland Robert Wyatt
51 Asleep in the Back Elbow
52 Ladyhawke Ladyhawke
53 The Real New Fall LP The Fall
54 The Last Broadcast Doves
55 Back to Black Amy Winehouse
56 Thunder Lightning Strike Go Team
57 Kaleidoscope Kelis
58 Graduation Kanye West
59 Supernature Goldfrapp
60 Silent Alarm Bloc Party

My Favourite Albums of the 1990s

The 1990s gave me more money to spend - but less time (as I was working) to listen. Besides, the music that was peaking was usually more accomodated on a 12" dance record or multiple mix CD single than on an album - some dance, hip hop and house haven't lasted, but others have. Then there was the remnants of baggy ("Pills, Thrills and bellyaches" and "Screamadelica" were slow to emerge), which led into Britpop at the same time that grunge was happening. In retrospect the 90s seems, as one commentator noted, "seven years of plenty", with our pick 'n' mix approach to music showcased by the way that festivals began to have dance acts and rock acts on the same stage (and sometimes on the same song.) Its interesting how bands become attached to decades - rock and roll gives longer careers these days - so two, three or more years between Radiohead albums for instance isn't a surprise. The internet wasn't yet transforming how we listened to music (though Napster came out late in the decade, the iPod was a few years off), yet we knew it would. Out of nowhere an "indie" band became the biggest in the world - Oasis, or was that Nirvana? The split between mainstream and alternative seemed ridiculous when worldwide the biggest selling albums were by the Beastie Boys or Pearl Jam. All good stuff of course, and like the previous two decades, ample albums for a top 100. Surprised how few artists lasted from the 70s or 80s into this decade - its more since the millennium that the heritage artist (Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen) has come into their own, though there was always Neil Young, dreadful for much of the 80s, but retooled and touring with Sonic Youth in the 1990s. In retrospect, its a diverse decade, where unlikely records - Belle and Sebastian, Jeff Buckley - could gain near universal acceptance. (And I know that its a bit amazing that I've room for Lisa Lisa or Birdland rather than "Ok Computer" or "Different Class" but those are albums I never really listened to much, though I appreciate their importance!)

1 Loveless My Bloody Valentine
2 Definitely Maybe Oasis
3 Doggystyle Snoop Doggy Dogg
4 Fear of a Black Planet Public Enemy
5 Entroducing DJ Shadow
6 To Bring Me Your Love PJ Harvey
7 Exile in Guyville Liz Phair
8 If you're feeling sinister Belle and Sebastian
9 Maxinquaye Tricky
10 Rage Against the Machine Rage Against the Machine
11 Slanted and enchanted Pavement
12 In Utero Nirvana
13 Midnight Marauders A Tribe Called Quest
14 The Soft Bulletin Flaming Lips
15 In the airplane over the sea Neutral Milk Hotel
16 Sound Verite The Make Up
17 Ladies and Gentlemen we are floating in space Spiritualized
18 Crazy Sexy Cool TLC
19 My Life Mary J. Blige
20 Dubnobasswithmyheadman Underworld
21 Heaven or Las Vegas Cocteau Twins
22 Grace Jeff Buckley
23 Generation Terrorists Manic Street Preachers
24 So Tonight that I might see Mazzy Starr
25 Elastica Elastica
26 Black Sunday Cypress Hill
27 Whats the Story Morning Glory? Oasis
28 Suede Suede
29 Extricate The Fall
30 Transmissions from the Satellite Heart Flaming Lips
31 Nevermind Nirvana
32 The Holy Bible Manic Street Preachers
33 Dust Screaming Trees
34 Cats and Dogs Royal Trux
35 Transmissions from the Satellite Heart Flaming Lips
36 Screamadelica Primal Scream
37 The Infotainment Scan The Fall
38 Quality Street World of Twist
39 Ill Communication Beastie Boys
40 Pills, thrills and bellyaches Happy Mondays
41 Homogenic Bjork
42 Tindersticks Tindersticks
43 Mezzanine Massive Attack
44 Efil4Zaggin NWA
45 Achtung baby U2
46 Ritual de la Habitual Jane's Addiction
47 Goo Sonic Youth
48 Time Out of Mind Bob Dylan
49 Timeless Goldie
50 Ray of Light Madonna
51 Puressence Puresessence
52 Liquid Swords Genius/GZA
53 Siamese Dream Smashing Pumpkins
54 Music for the Jilted Generation Prodigy
55 Play more music Consolidated
56 Snivilisation Orbital
57 Homework Daft Punk
58 Let No Live Here Rent Free In Your Head Nicolette
59 The Predator Ice Cube
60 Death Is not the end Shut up and Dance
61 Urban Hymns Verve
62 XO Elliot Smith
63 I can hear the heart beating as one Yo La Tengo
64 Vs Pearl Jam
65 Californication Red Hot Chilli Peppers
66 Park Life Blur
67 Music has the right to children Boards of Canada
68 Accelerator Royal Trux
69 Dummy Portishead
70 Bubble and Scrape Sebadoh
71 I Wish My Brother George was here Del Tha Funkee Homosapien
72 Maya Banco de Gaia
73 Life with Brian Flowered Up
74 Sketches for my Sweetheart the Drunk Tim Buckley
75 Blood Sex Sugar Magic Red Hot Chilli Peppers
76 Sleeps with Angels Neil Young
77 Giant Steps Boo Radleys
78 Crooked Rain Crooked Rain Pavement
79 1. Outside David Bowie
80 Debut Bjork
81 The Bends Radiohead
82 Enter the Wu Tang Wu Tang Clan
83 When I was born for the 7th time Cornershop
84 United Kingdoms Ultramarine
85 Emperor Tomato Ketchup Stereolab
86 The Miseducation of Lauren Hill Lauren Hill
87 Done by the forces of nature Jungle Brothers
88 Copper Blue Sugar
89 Your Arsenal Morrissey
90 Tricks of the shade Goats
91 Back in  Denim Denim
92 Red Medicine Fugazi
93 The Slim Shady Eminem
94 Happiness The Beloved
95 The Writings on the Wall Destinys Child
96 Adventures beyond the Ultraverse The Orb
97 New World Order Curtis Mayfield
98 Deadline for my Memories Billy Ray Martin
99 LL77 Lisa Lisa
100 Birdland Birdland

My Favourite Albums of the 1980s

I bought "Still" by Joy Division in 1981 and it changed my life.  I'd heard a whole side played on Peel - one of the live sides - and didn't know a thing about this band but was intrigued. The album, in its stark industrial packaging gave no clues. I had to wait for friends to tell me that they were the same band as New Order when that band released its debut shortly afterwards, or that the lead singer had killed himself. Seems odd now, with all the biopics etc. but there was no "heritage music" industry at that point so all you had was the record racks and the occasional rock A-Z, most of which had only just been updated to include punk and new wave. The previous record I'd bought was novelty Beatles medley "Stars on 45", so it was quite a change. I soon got given my dad's old music centre as it was either that or they'd have to listen to this new unpalatable music downstairs. That's why "Still" is so high in this list though its not really a "proper" album. Better than the first 2 LPs I bought with my own money, B.A.Robertson and Boomtown Rats, neither of which have stood the test of time. Whereas my fave records of the 60s and 70s owe a lot to "best of" lists this was the first time I was making my own decisions - which is why Marc and the Mambas, Virgin Prunes, "Autoamerican" by Blondie and "Pornography" by the Cure are so prominent. I was so engaged with music during this period (at least until I started work in 1989) that its rare for me to find something from the 80s that I didn't know about - there's a few of course, and some bands that I overlooked then, I can see how good their records were. Later, but not too much later - maybe 1984 or 1985 I started listening to hip hop, dance, soul, funk - and though black music rarely makes "best of" album charts, I found plenty of stunning albums along the way. Again, I've had to be quite cruel to my favourite artists - time was when this would have consisted of Cocteau Twins, Cure, New Order, the Fall and not a lot else.

1 Psychocandy Jesus and Mary Chain
2 Treasure Cocteau Twins
3 Pornography The Cure
4 Parade Prince and the Revolution
5 3ft High and Rising De La Soul
6 Surfer Rosa Pixies
7 Songs about Fucking Big Black
8 Still Joy Division
9 The Smiths The Smiths
10 Youth of America Wipers
11 Sign o the Times Prince and the Revolution
12 Torment and Toreros Marc and the Mambas
13 Perverted by Language The Fall
14 Pirates Rickie Lee Jones
15 Daydream Nation Sonic Youth
16 Medicine Show Dream Syndicate
17 Low Life New Order
18 Paul's Boutique Beastie Boys
19 Violent Femmes Violent Femmes
20 Control Janet Jackson
21 Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables Dead Kennedys
22 Swordfishtrombones Tom Waits
23 Sulk Associates
24 New Gold Dream Simple Minds
25 Autoamerican Blondie
26 See Jungle! See Jungle! Bow Wow Wow
27 Appetite for Destruction Guns n' Roses
28 Ocean Rain Echo and the Bunnyman
29 High Priority Cherelle
30 Sextet A Certain Ratio
31 The Queen is Dead The Smiths
32 Foundation Steppers New Age Steppers
33 Power Ice T
34 Scary Monsters David Bowie
35 It will take a nation of millions Public Enemy
36 The Stone Roses The Stone Roses
37 Famous Blue Raincoat Jennifer Warnes
38 If I Die, I Die Virgin Prunes
39 Red Mecca Cabaret Voltaire
40 High Land Hard Rain Aztec Camera
41 Doolittle Big Black
42 Fishermans Blues  Waterboys
43 Blood and Chocolate Elvis Costello
44 Music for a New Society John Cale
45 Travelogue Human League
46 Suicide Suicide
47 Songs to Remember Scritti Politti
48 Closer Joy Division
49 Music Madness Mantronix
50 Hot Cool and Vicious Salt n Pepa
51 Diana Diana Ross
52 Computer Games George Clinton
53 My Life in the Bush of Ghosts Eno and Byrne
54 Penthouse and Pavement Heaven 17
55 Spring Hill Fair Go Betweens
56 Heaven or Las Vegas Cocteau Twins
57 Radio  LL Cool J
58 Tom Tom Club Tom Tom Club
59 Bizarro Wedding Present
60 Paid in Full Eric B and Rakim
61 First and Last and Always Sisters of Mercy
62 Micro Phonies Cabaret Voltaire
63 New York Lou Reed
64 Big Science Laurie Anderson
65 Playing with a different sex Au Pairs
66 Dare Human League
67 This Nations Saving Grace The Fall
68 Nebraska Bruce Springsteen
69 Hallowed Ground Violent Femmes
70 Soul Mining The The
71 Days of  Wine and Roses Dream Syndicate
72 Warehouse Song and Stories Husker Du
73 Whos gonna save the world Cindy Lee Berryhill
74 Just The Way You Like It SOS Band
75 Le Mystere De Voix Bulgares Various
76 Clan of Xymox Clan of Xymox
77 The Sky's Gone Out Bauhaus
78 The Scream Siouxsie and the Banshees
79 Junkyard Birthday Party
80 The Jaws of Life Hunters and Collectors
81 Straight out the Jungle Jungle Brothers
82 Like a Prayer Madonna
83 Hole Scraping Foetus off the Wheel
84 Plastic Surgery Disasters Dead Kennedys
85 Disintegration The Cure
86 Kilimanjaro Teardrop Explodes
87 Itll end in tears This Mortal Coil
88 The Art of falling apart Soft Cell
89 All over the place Bangles
90 The Hurting Tears for Fears
91 Club Classics vol 1 Soul II Soul
92 Nightclubbing Grace Jones
93 New York Lou Reed
94 Smell of Female Cramps
95 IV Zapp
96 The Clock Comes Down the Stairs Microdisney
97 Tin Drum Japan
98 Children of God Swans
99 Sister Sonic Youth
100 This is the Sea Waterbooys

My Favourite Albums of the 1970s

I was nearly 13 by the time the 1970s ended but my "record collection" - played on my dad's Sanyo Music Centre (soon to be mine!) - consisted of children's music, odd presents, and Greatest Hits. Yet the seventies seems now to have been the golden age of the album. How I came to it was secondhand though (literally so in some cases, though "midprice" might be the best word to describe why I got so many seventies records so early on.) So artists such as Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Joni Mitchell were still making just-about-acceptable music by the 80s, or I'd hear an old track - say, by Neil Young - and investigate further. I was a little young for punk, so most of the punk and post punk records I've got - like my 60s collection - are on CD - so came along later. That's why you won't find "The Ramones" or "Never Mind the Bollocks" in this list - I get the feeling you had to be there to truly love them. It was such a fecund decade that a top 50 wasn't enough - after all how do you encompass reggae, disco, funk, punk, early electronica, prog rock (in small doses), heavy metal, glam, singer songwriters etc etc? It was also the golden age of the album really - and even minor artists would release at least an album a year. More recently I've been picking up things from secondhand record shops and I'm amazed at the decades diversity. A few artists - Joni, Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Marvin, Neil Young, Steely Dan - could probably have filled a top 50 on their own so I've been relatively selective there, but it still required a top 100 to do it justice - and I've still missed things out! My number one might come as a surprise, but its been pretty much my all time favourite albums since I first heard it in the mid-80s.

1 Rock Bottom Robert Wyatt
2 Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust David Bowie
3 Blue Joni Mitchell
4 After the Goldrush Neil Young
5 Horses Patti Smith
6 There's a Riot Goin' On Sly and the Family Stone
7 Innervisions Stevie Wonder
8 Unknown Pleasures Joy Division
9 Funhouse Iggy and the Stooges
10 For Your Pleasure Roxy Music
11 A Wizard a True Star Todd Rundgren
12 Fear of Music Talking Heads
13 Mott Mott the Hoople
14 Superfly Curtis Mayfield
15 Loaded Velvet Underground
16 Whos Next The Who
17 Here Come the Warm Jets Brian Eno
18 Solid Air John Martyn
19 I am Earth Wind and Fire
20 Entertainment Gang of Four
21 Headhunters Herbie Hancock
22 Trouble Man Soundtrack Marvin Gaye
23 Berlin Lou Reed
24 Bitches Brew Miles Davis
25 Diamond Dogs David Bowie
26 Aja Steely Dan
27 Rust Never Sleeps Neil Young
28 Luxury Liner Emmylou Harris
29 Court and Spark Joni Mitchell
30 Low David Bowie
31 Exodus Bob Marley and the Wailers
32 Stretchin Out in Bootsys Rubber Band Bootsy Rubber Band
33 Motor Booty Affair Parliament
34 B-52s B-52s
35 Travelogue Human League
36 Live at the Counter Eurovision 79 Misty in Roots
37 That’s the way of the world Earth Wind and Fire
38 Man Machine Kraftwerk
39 1st Big Star
40 Rufusized Rufus and Chaka Khan
41 Here, My Dear Marvin Gaye
42 A nods as good as a wink Faces
43 Another Green World Brian Eno
44 Hunky Dory David Bowie
45 Hell James Brown
46 Pearl Janis Joplin
47 Handsworth Revolution Misty in Roots
48 Desire Bob Dylan
49 All Day Music War
50 Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs Eddie Hazel
51 John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
52 Tumbleweed Connection Elton John
53 Tapestry Carole King
54 Hissing of Summer Lawns Joni Mitchell
55 Harvest Neil Young
56 Risque Chic
57 The Placebo Syndrome Parliament
58 Tusk Fleetwood Mac
59 Back in the USA MC5
60 Marquee Moon Television
61 Wish You Were  Here Pink Floyd
62 Lark Tongues in Aspic King Crimson
63 The Payback James Brown
64 Parallel Lines Blondie
65 Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy) Brian Eno
66 The Royal Scam Steely Dan
67 Clear Spot Captain Beefheart
68 The Captain and Me Doobie Brothers
69 Electric warrior T. Rex
70 Machine Gun Commodores
71 Fly Like an Eagle Steve Miller Band
72 All Things Must Pass George Harrison
73 Talk of the Town Rod Stewart
74 Roxy Music Roxy Music
75 Radio City Big Star
76 Roxy and elsewhere Frank Zappa
77 Sister Lovers Big Star
78 Psychedelic Shack Temptations
79 Rickie Lee Jones Rickie lee jones
80 Stranded Roxy Music
81 The End Nico
82 Holland Beach Boys
83 Music of the Mind Stevie Wonder
84 Lick my decals off baby Captain Beefheart
85 Performance Soundtrack Various Artists
86 Slow Dazzle John Cale
87 Neu 2 Neu
88 Grievous Angel Gram Parsons
89 Todd Todd Rundgren
90 Something/Anything Todd Rundgren
91 Station to Station David Bowie
92 Approximate Infinite Universe Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band
93 Sunflower Beach Boys
94 Zuma Neil Young
95 Argus Wishbone Ash
96 Hejira Joni Mitchell
97 Blows Against the Empire Jefferson Starship
98 You Can Tune a Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish REO Speedwagon
99 Sunfighter Paul Kantner & Grace Slick
100 Exposure Robert Fripp

My Favourite Albums of the 1960s

Apologies for the indulgence, regular readers, but over on Facebook I've been listing my all time favourite albums, following my raised eyebrow at the NME's list. It started small and then sprawled. So ignore the next few posts if you're not interested.

When it comes to favourite albums - well, they differ by decade. I was only 2 at the end of the sixties so these were picked up later, usually be a circuitous route. I was a "fan" of the Beatles in the 70s but the actuall albums meant very little to me compared with the 62-66 and 67-70 compilations where I first encountered the tracks. It was in the early 80s that my dad borrowed the records from his boss and taped them for me - and quite a bit later before I bought them myself. I came across "Aftermath" and "Beggars Banquet" by the Rolling Stones in a bargain bin on cassette whilst in Australia in 1985; other artists I'd read about in rock history books without having any way of hearing - and it took a lot of courage to pick up "Trout Mask Replica" or "Forever Changes" unheard as that might be the only album I'd afford that week. (That said, I'd play it until I loved it!) I came to Love via Aztec Camera, Capt. Beefheart via the Fall, the Velvet Underground via Bowie and Joy Division. Later; it was hip hop samples or retro compilations that got me listening to albums by the Temptations or Sly and the Family Stone (and - to be fair - magazines like Mojo, and the whole CD reissue phenomenon.) I still come across good 60s albums - and there are plenty of things missing. I don't really know the Kinks and Small Faces albums from the period, as I've generally listened on compilations, and a truly accurate list would surely include "best ofs" for the Shirelles, Marvelettes, Shangri-las, Supremes et al. It appears that my late 80s love of psychedelia (via the Paisley Underground) has survived the years - see Country Joe and the Fish and Jefferson Airplane - and more recently I've grown to love the English folk revival, especially Fairport Convention and the Incredible String Band. The order isn't arbitrary but I guess the top twenty I couldn't live without, the next twenty or so I've loved at various times, and maybe the last few are just good albums.

1 Velvet Underground and Nico Velvet Underground and Nico
2 Forever Changes Love
3 Blonde on Blonde Bob Dylan
4 In a Silent Way Miles Davis
5 A Love Supreme John Coltrane
6 Trout Mask Replica Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
7 Pet Sounds Beach Boys
8 Unhalfbricking Fairport Convention
9 Crown of Creation  Jefferson Airplane
10 Kick out the Jams MC5
11 Velvet Underground  Velvet Underground 
12 The Beatles The Beatles
13 Alice's Restaurant Arlo Guthrie
14 68 NBC Comeback Special Elvis Presley
15 The Band The Band
16 Everything Playing Lovin' Spoonful
17 Aftermath The Rolling Stones
18 Electric Music for the Mind and Body Country Joe and the Fish
19 Dusty in Memphis Dusty Springfield
20 SF Sorrow The Pretty Things
21 Absolutely Free Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
22 Da Capo Love
23 Revolver The Beatles
24 Highway 61 Revisited Bob Dylan
25 In the Court of the Crimson King King Crimson
26 Beggars Banquet Rolling Stones
27 Sketches of Spain Miles Davis
28 Bookends Simon & Garfunkel
29 First Take Roberta Flack
30 Happy Sad Tim Buckley
31 The Who Sell Out The Who
32 Younger than Yesterday The Byrds
33 Live at Folsom Prison Johnny Cash
34 The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter Incredible String Band
35 Abbey Road The Beatles
36 Basket of Light Pentangle
37 Liege & Lief Fairport Convention
38 The Stooges The Stooges
39 Love Love
40 Tommy The Who
41 Surrealistic Pillow Jefferson Airplane
42 Silver Apples Silver Apples
43 Fifth dimension The Byrds
44 All Summer Long Beach Boys
45 Eli and the 13th Confession Laura Nyro
46 Cloud Nine Temptations
47 White Noise White Noise
48 Cruisin' With Ruben and the Jets Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
49 Ummagumma Pink Floyd
50 Let it Bleed Rolling Stones