Guest entry exploring cherished albums courtesy of Francis Swift
It should be noted that the following list was incredibly difficult to compile, and took quite some time to finalize.
Why? Well, certainly not because of my encyclopaedic knowledge of art and music history, as will become quite evident. Rather it is due to the way that I have, and still continue, to consume music. Also because I have ME/CFS which causes a number of cognitive and memory-recall issues that make writing and compiling incredibly difficult. So, apologies in advance for the coming abomination.
In my formative years, my knowledge of and access to music (and TV) was uncommonly restricted: my household never had, and still does not have, access to cable or satellite TV (amongst other things)….and up until I was perhaps fourteen, had no internet connection. Even then, access was limited by dodgy second hand PC’s and cheapo dial-up internet. Even for those in the know who shared that experience, it’s easy to forget now how much harder it was in those ‘dead-years’ in the 90’s/2000’s – popular culture had moved lock, stock and barrel from radio and terrestrial TV onto the internet and premium channels….but many people still had no access to this. Even the weekly school homework schedule was all pushed to the weekend so that it could be done at an internet cafe or library computer lab for the cost of a cup of coffee and 50p per A4 printout.. .and the £7.50 ’roundabout’ bus ticket. In hindsight it was quite disgusting that the teachers just assumed everybody had access to computers and the internet for research projects….but, I digress.
Initial exposure to music thus consisted of hand-me-down LPs (Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Bowie, Blondie, Cher, ABBA etc) that were quickly cast aside as ‘old people crap’ once the other kids at school started transferring Limp Bizkit and Blink 182 albums onto poor quality tape back-to-backs. I won’t bother covering any of those two areas; what’s worth posting has already been dissected more times than Wuthering Heights and all of Jack the Ripper’s victims combined….and that which isn’t worth posting isn’t worth posting.
Later, when I did find ways to access the internet whilst learning to play and repair guitars, I found that I rarely had much interest in listening to entire albums. Instead, hours upon hours would be spent obsessing over one or two artists, flitting between a handful of different tracks from different albums, trying to understand how the songs were put together, how the instruments were played, how the equipment rigs were built and modified etc. This would lead down various rabbit holes not for finding albums or genre links, but tracks…and more importantly, the song structures and techniques used to create them. This could mean listening to the guitar work in a handful of Metallica or Ozzy Osbourne tracks over and over again before tracing it back to one or two tracks by Focus…..then one or two tracks by Django Reinhardt or Stephane Grapelli….or a composition by Bach….before swinging onto the soundtrack for ‘Last of the Mohicans’. (No prizes for working out the links on that chain, but possibly an award for contributions to forensic psychology).
So picking 10 albums and having anything pertinent to say about them is….awkward…painful….wrong….and some choices really are an attempt to pin down something that marks out one or more ‘phases’ or ‘strings of research and learning’. Indeed, some of the albums here…well, I probably still haven’t heard some of the tracks on them…and probably never will……because…I just don’t care.
Some more recent album choices do represent a more mature and less schizoid approach to music, but still represent a more general pattern of anachronism and cultural abstraction. If you don’t already understand what I mean by this you soon will.
So, dear reader, now that I have bored you to tears…but before the raven calls and the wolves scratch at your door…..a list of 10 albums that have influenced me and still get played from time to time…..as opposed to the others that only meet one of those two criteria.
Just, do it, do it now!
Exhibit A and B: A pathological obsession with the techniques of Randy Rhodes, Zakk Wylde and Ozzy Osbourne.
Yeah, Ozzy fucking Osbourne. You don’t get a medal for pointing out that his lyrics were an artistic and linguistic dead end. It doesn’t matter. Ozzy and his musicians knew how to craft songs and put on a god-damn amazing show. Ozzy’s pedigree and history for this is well known, the others less so.
Randy Rhodes, much like Josh Homme of QOTSA, had a ‘classical’ music background which ran all the way back to the roots of orchestra and classical composition across multiple instruments. Academically, not literally….obviously. This resulted in some very well crafted and often peculiar song compositions, melody crafting and intricate fretboard techniques. The recordings are a mixed bag, it was all put down in the late 70’s/early 80’s, but, there’s so much to learn about music theory, guitar rigs and live performance from the work he and Ozzy did before that fatal plane crash.
If I’m going to pick an album for this….it’s going to be the only live album on this list: ‘Tribute’ (1987). The guitar sound, the technical performance from Rhodes, Ozzy going beast-mode….yeah, that’s how you put it all together. (Of particular interest: ‘That’ fucking perfect ‘Marshall on the brink of going super-sonic into the great blue’ sound and those insane harmonics on ‘Crazy Train’, an otherwise awkward, novelty song.)
Zakk Wylde was a very different animal; a teenage prodigy plucked out of obscurity by posting a demo to Ozzy. Apparently that’s how things worked back then. Much of his latter day work has been drivel loosely hung off an identity of affected-masculinity and some sort of affiliation with biker gangs….in general…..fuck knows, fuck cares. However, his work with Ozzy and early solo material was beautifully monstrous. Indeed, it was whilst trying to nail down his techniques and guitar sound that I was made aware that I have a not-insignificant degree of audio ‘synaesthesia’. Trying to explain to the staff at Andertons Music Shop that I needed a pedal that had more ‘blue’ because even the Zakk Wylde signature by MXR was oddly ‘green and brown’. Yeah, don’t ask, I still can’t really tell you what that equates to in terms of frequencies and outputs, I just pick-it up when I hear it and ‘dial it in’ accordingly. Anyway, picking an album, I guess I’ll have to put down ‘No More Tears’ (1991)….even if it is the one that seems to be oddly concentrated on the subject of male sexual predators and serial killers. (Of particular interest: the insanely tight use of a variety of guitar techniques to create a blend of muscle-car rhythms, Mach-3 stabs, ripping solo’s and oddly haunting melodies……and loads of blue.).
Exhibit C: The standard Metallica thing and all the predicable affiliates.
Not a whole lot to say here, and if you’re reading this you probably did the Metallica phase too which led back, forth and sideways to all sorts of dross and glory….and we shared those same albums back and forth. So here’s Master of Puppets (1986), because of course it fucking is. Lots of orange, green and blue. Move the fuck on Mildred.
Exhibit D: A possible misappropriation of scarce resources.
Okay, so I already burned three to get some small portion of the obligatory growing pains material out of the way…but if I’m going to do this properly I need a chronological and thematic link to everything else…..so, here’s Rob Zombie’s ‘Hellbilly Deluxe’ (1998). It represents a personal step in directions away from ‘guitar magazine’ interests. It doesn’t seem like a big one, but chronologically and culturally it leads away from technical, guitar-driven rock/metal and towards….not those things….? Whatever, it’s a fucking great album full of blue, green and red, and here’s a picture of the album cover. Yeah, that’s right, you fucking love pictures. It breaks up all the tedious drivel I’m writing, doesn’t it? Yeah, yeah it fucking does. (Sit down and be quiet, I’m working)
Exhibit E: Post-rock (?)…stuff that other people think is cool…..back to guitar analysis.
Pixies, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, My Bloody Valentine, yeah, that lot. I could say intelligent things, but, I won’t. I like them sometimes. There are plenty of other people who could tell you more about these strands and this period and which bands were influenced by who. I generally don’t know and I might fall asleep. So, nailing something down…..it’s going to be ‘Bug’ (1998) by Dino. J. This album caused a long-running obsession with J. Mascis in terms of guitar technique, sound., song structures….lyrical content…..the music videos….but mostly the guitar. Not in quite the same way guitar mags approach Hendrix, Vai and Satriani, not because of the mechanical,technical technique….but the general way in which he achieved that synthesis between his distinct vocal style and his guitar work and somehow turned hand movements on the guitar into that…drifting, exploding, spiralling…something something. Have a listen, or don’t, your loss. Lots of purple, blue and red. Picture time!
Exhibit D: Yeah, really.
I fucking love Seal. I still listen to some of his albums. No idea how much he contributes to the music aside from the lyrics and vocals…..but, goddamn. Incredible voice, great song-crafting, generally good musical backing, even if some of it has aged poorly. ‘Seal’ (1991), by Seal.
Before I move on, I might as well note that I could have easily thrown in stuff by Texas under the same heading for similar reasons. I wish I had another slot for Texas. I’ll just mention it here so I’m totally not cheating…but, also, go listen to some Texas. There’s loads of great stuff from the late 80’s through to the early 2000’s which doesn’t lead anywhere genealogically, it’s just pop songs that still occasionally turn up on local broadcast radio….but vocally…and in terms of solid songwriting…you could do a lot worse than leafing through anything from the Lighthouse Family to The Beautiful South to Alanis Morisette to Catatonia. Here’s a picture of ‘Southside’ (1989) by Texas. I’m not cheating here by naming it and putting the album cover in, this doesn’t count as a choice out of ten, it just happens to be here. Move along now. (Sharleen Spiteri is a goddess).
….’White on Blonde’ (1997) is also fantastic. I’m just trying to push Texas on people now. Fight me.
Exhibit E: I can pretend I’m a cool kid again…well, cooler than you…probably.
Not sure exactly where I can pin this down chronologically, listening to their albums seems to have intersected one or two relationships, break-ups…breakdowns…..it’s School of Seven Bells. Beautiful voices, finely crafted sounds that shift from lovingly uplifting to eternally haunting in a masterclass of ‘no more, no less, just right’ melody crafting and layering. Pretty sure the guitarist died way too young from cancer a year or three back. Genuinely a crying shame. Anyways, all their albums are top notch but I’ll whack down ‘Disconnect From Desire’ (2010). White, blue, pink and orange, variably.
Exhibit F: Nobody else listens to Band of Horses, do they?
I have no way to connect this to anything or anyone. Most of my adult life has been ‘hilariously’ insular and out of phase with….everybody and everything. Anyways, Band of Horses…lyrically…hit and miss….but the overall composition leads to a product that is greater than the sum of all parts. Those guys know how to put together good songs that people become lovingly attached to. Just not in the UK apparently….and not for anybody else I know. This choice is a toss-up between ‘Cease to Begin’ (2007)….
….and ‘Infinite Arms’ (2010)…so…both. You’re in my wheelhouse now kiddo, I make the rules down here. Notable shout-outs to The Decemberists, which leads us to lyric-centric songwriting in the form of…
Exhibit G: The Mountain Goats
John Darnielle is one of those talented folks we need to wrap up and place in a secure location because the world will be an emptier place without him. Great songwriter, catchy tunes, finely tuned sensibilities, songs that transport you from teenage angst, to childhood memories watching professional wrestling, to retired goth musicians going back to the rainy streets of Leeds. Moreover, another one of those artists that follows me from relationship, to breakup…to breakdown. Anyways, hard to think of a bad album to pick, but one that never wears out it’s welcome would be ‘The Sunset Tree’ (2005); a perfect remedy for every heartache…and most neck-aches. Sounds like autumn, lots of browns, reds and orange.
Exhibit H: Even the briefest of relationships can lead to long-lasting connections.
I’d never heard of Listener before meeting one particularly wonderful and beautiful individual, but talking about the Mountain Goats led to Listener. Mostly built around the lyrics and vocal delivery which is probably marmite or kryptonite for some people reading this. ‘Wooden Heart’ (2010) is one of those albums that had an instant emotional impact and is now tied around my heart like a set of emotional water-wings….and is all the more important for being anchored around an individual who had a profound and ongoing impact on me for the better. Another album for surviving whatever life throws at you.
Exhibit I: Squeezing in on a technicality.
Ok, technically I’ve already gone over ten even by my own rules….but, this bit matters if you got this far, and I’m making room for one more. The last few years have been a living hell for me. A life I was already pretty bleak about slipped even further down the toilet; starting off with blackouts, lost sections of time, ongoing migraines that precipitated an 18 month medical investigation from brain scans to blood tests and dehumanizing gestures in a DWP assessment office…punctuated along the way by getting knocked off the road by a truck, losing my career, my academic pursuits, several friendships, a relationship, my independence and much of my own identity. Most of my physical capabilities have been drastically diminished, I have ongoing issues with short-term memory function and can go weeks on end barely leaving my own bed, let alone leaving my flat or seeing people or taking part in things.
You might think this leaves plenty of time and energy for reading books, listening to music and watching films, but it really doesn’t. Even when I have the cognitive capability and energy to consume something fully and properly, chronic pain, depression and anxiety can ruin all sorts of things.
…but somewhere along the line I somehow found this album, and it felt like it had been directly delivered to me as an audio aid-package…or some better words than that; it was a great find and a perfect pick-me-up. I don’t know much about them, but, here’s The Weeks with ‘Easy’ (2017). Southern-fried rock meets indy with exquisite trash sensibilities. I like it, I really hope you do too.
Thanks/congratulations/commiserations for reading this. Leave now.
Written by Francis Swift