One of the questions I get asked with astonishing frequency is ‘What are your favourite albums of all time ?’. Usually this produces a fairly glib response from yours truly as I don’t spend my life worrying about something so subjective and to be honest I’ve never sat down and really thought about it. However, whilst glancing through the Radio Times my beady eye chanced upon that English institution which is ‘Desert Island Discs’ and I thought ‘What the hell…..you only live once so why not have a go?’. I can’t remember exactly what parameters are placed upon the show’s participants but, having decided to undertake this shamelessly nostalgic odyssey through and beyond my CD/record collection, I thought I would impose a ten-album maximum on myself. Sounds easy doesn’t it?
Well, let me tell you that it’s an incredibly hard thing to do when you get to my age simply because of the number of years I’ve been listening to and collecting music. So picture the scene………there I am washed up on an uninhabited island somewhere in an as yet undiscovered part of the Pacific Ocean with nothing but 20 cigarettes, a six-pack of beer, an immaculate hi-fi system and a convenient power point……..
Assuming my sense of humour was still intact (unlikely, I know but bare with me) I would definitely reach for ‘The Beach Boys’ 20 Golden Greats’ first. I can’t think of anything more perfect for lifting the spirits than sitting there with a cold beer and watching the waves roll in to ‘Surfing Safari’. I might have to skip ‘God Only Knows’ though as it’s probably my favourite ballad of all time and it wouldn’t be conducive to producing a mood of optimism.
Being in this hypothetical situation I can only guess but I would imagine a degree of sifting through one’s past is inevitable and music is the most powerful enhancer of memory, therefore I think I would use my selection of music as a sort of virtual photo album. For this reason I can think of nothing better than ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ by The Beatles to remind me of my family and my early childhood. This album captures the mood of sixties England as well as Bobby Moore lifting the Jules Rimet trophy or Harold Wilson and his pipe, not to mention the fact that ‘A Day In The Life’ is still one of the finest pieces of music ever written.
Without the luxury of a guitar I would have to have the next best thing; ‘Are You Experienced’ by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hearing this album for the first time was a defining moment in my life inasmuch as I knew what I was going to do for a living from that day on. I persuaded my poor Father to part with the necessary cash and I remained surgically attached to my first cheap Spanish acoustic guitar for the next three years, fingers bleeding in an effort to work out how the Great Man weaved his divine magic.
Speaking of defining moments the next one came along about a year later when a kid at school lent me the first Led Zeppelin album, ‘Led Zeppelin’. This coincided with my first memory of being interested in girls who up until that point were little more than an irritation, squealy things who got in the way of the lunchtime football match in the playground. I think it was due to the fact that the rush I got listening to this record was as real as the hormones that were rushing about my hapless body mischievously. That voice, that drum sound, that guitarist, those rocked-up blues songs………it was all a bit too much. I think I actually played it ten times in a row much to my Mother’s annoyance.
Adolescence was the usual mixture of feeling like a grown up trapped inside the body of a spotty mal-proportioned stick insect and not understanding my Mother’s attempts to grind some sense of responsibility into my unreasonably opinionated mind. The problem was that my opinion was constantly changing, particularly as far as music was concerned. A lot of my mates were listening to Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy and whoever else was around 1973-1975. As much as I liked all of those bands none of them have made it to the Desert Island selection. It wasn’t until I heard ‘The Free Story’ by Free that I had my next moment of revelation. Their stuff was so laid back and had this tremendous economy that nobody since has equalled. Paul Rodgers’ voice had a brooding, understated sexuality unlike most rock singers of the time and Kossoff’s guitar almost seemed to be crying, so emotional was his playing.
Becoming a more mature individual as I was at the age of fifteen (yeah right!) I was allowed to go to Reading Festival in the summer of 1975 with two mates from school (one of which was Danny) and live in a tent for three days. There were many great bands on that year (I won’t bore you with the list) but nothing excited me as much as this song that was played over the PA system during one of the many change over periods between bands. I remember sitting in that muddy field while this piece of music washed over me. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before; cool, sophisticated, jazzy even but it was also very exciting. John Peel was the D.J. that year but he hadn’t announced who’d made this amazing record. I turned to my other mate Jon who told me it was Steely Dan and that the album was called ‘Countdown To Ecstasy’ and he would lend it to me next week when we got home. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t already heard this band. Suffice to say Jon didn’t get the album back for months!!
Around the ages of fifteen, sixteen and seventeen I seemed to spend every other Saturday night at a party. You know how it goes; “My folks are away for the weekend. There’s a party at my place.” Like everyone else I would usually arrive with a bottle of something ghastly (Blue Nun, a Party Seven, Cinzano Bianco, Strongbow or whatever) and spend the rest of the night desperately trying to pull some girl who was more interested in the Rugby playing types from school or inflict my taste on everybody else by taking over the record player. The music being played at these teenage parties would oscillate between Punk and Rock during the early part of the evening and then when the vomiters amongst us had passed out or been picked up by some irate parent who’d had to leave their weekly appointment with Match Of The Day, it would become ‘Ballad Central. We’ve all been there; that time in your life when you think that turning in badly described circles desperately clinging to some poor young girl while attempting to eat her face off is the height of masculinity. Whenever I wasn’t lucky enough to be one of the circling snoggers and gropers I found myself listening to the usual selection of 70’s soul ballads that were playing; ‘Easy’ by Lionel Ritchie (a big favourite of mine but we’re talking albums here, not singles), ‘Let’s Stay Together’ by Al Green or ‘Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye. Gradually I began to get into more soul stuff but it wasn’t until I heard a song called ‘Hope You Feel Better’ by The Isley Brothers on the radio that I’d found the kind of soul music that moved me as much as rock had done a few years earlier. After some hasty research I found an Isley Brothers compilation called ‘Forever Gold’ in the local record shop that had the afore-mentioned song on it along with classics like ‘Harvest For The World’ and ‘Summer Breeze’. This became my ‘welcome to my bedroom’ album for some years so it would be extremely useful for jogging the old memory cells during those long, lonely nights on my desert island………….
It’s just occurred to me that whilst I wouldn’t be in possession of a guitar on my island, I could always revert to ‘air’ guitar. Yes, it’s very sad I know but when you think about it, there wouldn’t be anyone there to see me make a complete twat of myself. I could prance around to my heart’s content pretending to be Pete Townsend
which is a neat little segue into my next choice ‘Quadrophenia’. I was a bit of a latecomer to The Who and it wasn’t until I listened to this album at deafening volume that I really got what they were about. This coincided with me beginning to write songs seriously and Townsend’s genius was something to aspire to. Brutally powerful music and genuinely inspired lyrics that weren’t about the usual romantic Mills & Boon vision of love; this guy was ANGRY and I loved it. I admired the attitude of Punk but it was always too crude musically for my sophisticated palette (just joking) and The Who had both rage and accomplished musicianship in equal amounts. Townsend looked dangerous, like he really wanted to hurt the guitar. I’ve never been an angry kind of bloke but P.T. looked to me exactly like what a rock’n’roll guitar player should look like; all arm twirling and star jumps. Naturally a lot of these moves were incorporated into the Morley book of rock-star posing. Benny then nicked all the same moves from me years later….oh well ! At least I was unoriginal first !
Just when I felt like I was getting to grips with playing the guitar (about ‘79/80) along came a band that changed the map of rock’n’roll forever and caused every aspiring lead guitarist to contemplate an alternative career working in McDonalds ……Van Halen. Just the name creates equal amounts of envy and excitement to six-stringers of my generation. As well as Eddie they also had one of the truly great frontmen (he couldn’t sing but when you’re that funny who cares!) in David Lee Roth and their debut album is an American rock classic. It’s inventively called ‘Van Halen’ and I don’t think they ever bettered it.
I wasn’t a big fan of a lot of 80’s music probably because the guitar all but disappeared from most of the records made at that time. There were a few rock bands coming out of America like Foreigner, Bon Jovi and Motley Crue but I thought they were all a bit lightweight and poppy. It wasn’t until I heard ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ by Guns & Roses that something clicked. They were nasty, cool and uncompromising and ‘Appetite For Destruction’ was full of great rock’n’roll songs. I remember when we were starting Thunder I found that album very inspirational and original. They had a distinctive sound unlike anything else coming out of America at the time and they looked great. They also opened the door at record labels for other rock bands like ourselves at the time.
Well, there you have it. I’ve finished my six-pack of beers and my pack of cigarettes, contemplated my life up until 1990 and I’ve already run out albums. Only one thing left to do then...................Hang on, is that a ship in the distance?............................HELP!! HELP!! HELP!! etc..............................................................