David Bowie - The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974
First things first, I don’t like compilations. This is not an Alan Partridge-esque choice of my favourite album of his. I don’t own many. I don’t listen to them. I rarely ever get into bands/singers through compilations. Having got that off my chest, my first choice is this David Bowie compilation. I could have picked any number of Bowie’s (studio) albums I love, but this was the first of his I bought, so that’s the reason.
Thinking about it now, this purchase was probably the big bang moment which led me into an obsessiveness when it comes to music and being a completist for the artists I love. It didn’t take long to hoover up all I could about Bowie. Buying all the albums obviously, but also the lyrics, biographies, movies, videos, seeing him live a few times - and even having his name in an email address that I still use to this day. I’d repeat this pattern over and over again with many others, including some on this list. But Bowie was the first.
Like some religious zealot, I would convert some friends at Uni into fans. Years later, on the day he died both those friends texted me to check if I was doing alright as if I’d suffered some sort of family bereavement. It seemed like there was a lot of people who felt like that.
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On
This is probably the album I’ve listened to most times. I wouldn’t want to put a number on it, but it’s a LOT. It’s a short album - 35 minutes or so - which makes it easy to listen to multiple times I suppose. However, I can’t really pinpoint why of all the albums I’ve owned and loved, this is one that I kept playing over and over again.
I bought this whilst at Uni and back then I was a real night owl. I would often head to the computer room (making myself seem so old here) around midnight and work through the early hours until the work was finished. This album was my soundtrack. It would just stay on repeat as I attempted to work.
I know every inch of this album – every vocal run, all the whoops, vocal tics and background noises. Relistening to it now, I instinctively drum my fingers along to the bongos on the first few tracks. The more you listen to the album, the more you start focusing not on the lyrics or his singing, but instead you end up singing along to the backing vocals, basslines, orchestral arrangements, or trying to work out what certain instruments are. This is when you really know an album well.
Although his voice is obviously superb, it’s an album where the songs speak for themselves - certainly different to anything Motown had done by this stage. It feels like a proper album, rather than the usual collection of hits, and is just an all-time classic.
Suede - Coming Up
I wouldn’t necessarily argue with someone who says it’s not their best album, but that’s not the point. It was the first of theirs I bought and most likely the one I’ve listened to the most. Once again, I’ve since bought all their albums and saw them live, but this album is the one that holds really strong memories from when I was first really getting into music as a teenager.
I’d earlier bought one of the singles - Beautiful Ones - on cassette and would walk round school on breaks and at lunch listening to it on a Walkman. When I now try to picture what my secondary school looked like, all the paths and walkways, the image I have is sound-tracked by that song. That’s the weird power of music.
I subsequently bought the album on holiday, and once again it immediately brings vivid memories of the hotel that I was staying in. I can’t remember what I did yesterday, but I can picture the hallways of a hotel I stayed at in 1997. Off the top of my head, I even remember that the album had five Top Ten singles off it! Not sure my brain is wired up right.
On a side note, I’ve always loved albums, like this one, with ten tracks on them. There’s something about that number – no room for dead weight on them. You won’t forget one or two of the songs like you can with lengthier albums, and this is a great ten track album.
The Blue Nile - Hats
A band that I wasn’t aware of at all, until a friend at work introduced me to them. This was one of the few people I’ve worked with who, like me, would happily sit there and talk nothing but music all day. Swapping trivia, anecdotes, favourite gigs we’ve been to and, of course, album recommendations.
Although it was critically acclaimed at the time, it didn’t exactly set the charts alight. They’re a band who released four albums in 20 years, and it comes across that they take the releases seriously. It’s an album that somehow doesn’t seem to me to fit with the time it was released, but at the same time it could have been released at any time and would still sound great.
Not long after it was recommended to me, with it not exactly being a popular album, I bizarrely found a mint copy in a charity shop in West Kirkby on the Wirral – weirdly not far from where this friend lived (I checked it wasn’t his copy!). I’ve loved the album ever since. I even remember first listening to it on a particularly rainy day, and that kind of rainy-day-feeling has stuck with me ever since, every time I listen to it.
My friend passed away a few years ago, and this album took on even greater significance, and brings back a lot of memories – the serendipity of finding this album and of all the music conversations we shared.
Bob Dylan - Bootleg Series Vol 4 - Live 1966 – The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert.
“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. It’s a funny quote, but an idea I happily ignore. I love reading about music and especially love a bit of music trivia. I can happily spend hours down a Wikipedia wormhole when discovering a new band or album.
I’d already been a big Dylan fan for years by the time I bought this album, but even a casual fan of his will likely be aware of this infamous concert. The name comes from early bootlegs which incorrectly stated it was from the Royal Albert Hall, when it was in fact recorded in Manchester. Dylan was heckled throughout and it’s where someone shouted “Judas” at him for ‘going electric’.
The first CD is all acoustic – just Dylan by himself and some of the best versions of his greatest songs (Visions of Johanna, It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, Desolation Row). The second CD, has Dylan with a full band playing either new songs or unrecognisable versions of some of his earlier songs. After the abuse from the crowd, his clearly audible instruction to the band to “play fucking loud” before crashing into Like A Rolling Stone is just fantastic.
The album stands out to me for a few reasons; It’s still one of my favourite Dylan albums, and I’m really not one for live albums normally; it’s a great story, one of the most important times in Dylan’s career documented in album form; it also brings back memories of when I bought it. I had a part-time job in a video shop and the best thing about the job was forcing customers to listen to whatever music I chose – and this album seemed to be on constant rotation at the time.
Prince - Purple Rain
I actually came to this album via the film it’s technically a soundtrack of. It’s probably seen as kind of embarrassing compared to the music he made, but I love a cult film, and this is definitely one. Quotable dialogue all the way through, acting which is so bad it’s good, a film you can watch over and over again and spot new things. I must’ve watched it with a fellow Prince fanatic a dozen times in quick succession when we got it. The music and movie together established my love for Prince, and once again was the catalyst for buying up all the albums I could get through on a student’s finances.
Prince is one of those performers where the word genius would genuinely apply. Someone who could do everything and have that mystique only the very best seem to have.
The album itself is a great showcase for everything Prince was great at. It plays like a Greatest Hits and the nine songs absolutely fly by. It has classics like ‘When Doves Cry’ and the title track on it, but as ever with your favourite albums, you end up preferring the ‘other songs’, such as ‘The Beautiful Ones’ or ‘Darling Nikki’ (famously the reason for the Parental Advisory sticker).
Prince was known for being extremely prolific and that’s one of the things I particularly love about him. All my favourite artists seem to be ones that have produced 20+ albums. Once you love a band/singer, I personally want to hear more and more from them. I want them to not only make a great album, but do it again and again, which he certainly did.
Nick Cave - Murder Ballads
He’s a singer whose voice I just love and would happily listen to him read the phone book. The first track just sucks you straight into the story, and the rest of the album doesn’t let up. As the title suggests all the songs are about death and specifically murder. You may or may not think this is a suitable idea for an album. However, if there’s one person who it seemed perfect for, it was Nick Cave. The songs can be dark, disturbing and at the same time genuinely funny. What more do you want?
Once this album hooked me, it led me to all his other albums, and I’ve been obsessed ever since. He’s someone who is as prolific now as he ever has been. He doesn’t leave more than a couple of years between releases and continues to issue amazing albums (listen to CARNAGE, released just a few months ago).
He’s someone who doesn’t seem to be anything other than creative. This isn’t a job for him or a way to make money. The passion he has shown to continue making music even through tragedies is inspiring, almost like he has no choice in the matter, he just does it, because that’s what he does. A true artist
Bruce Springsteen - The Rising
I’d not long discovered his first few albums, when he released this album. My first new album as ‘a fan’ At the time it was called his response to 9/11 – probably more than half the songs could be interpreted to be about it. You would think that making an album about such a subject matter would be ghoulish at best and just a terrible idea. Springsteen is probably the only person who could pull it off and be respected for it - and not seem like he was cashing in on a tragedy.
There’s just something about Bruce that people respect. A work ethic and a sincerity about him that people are drawn to. Helps to be a fantastic songwriter too and once again, as a singer, I can listen to him do anything. He can do no wrong in my eyes. I’m from Liverpool and I see him as some kind of hero. I can only imagine how people from New Jersey must think of him.
The album led me to see him live a number of times, and the gigs are as legendary as you read about. The album always brings back memories of eagerly waiting for the release date and seeing the songs live at my first Bruce concert. Still one of his best albums too.
Chris Molyneux is 39 and lives in Liverpool with his wife and 2 daughters. As an Everton fan he gets no enjoyment out of football, so gets as much as he can from music instead.