The Beatles - Rubber Soul
The Beatles. It’s hard to put into words what this band means to me. I owe a lot of who I am to these mop-topped geniuses. They soundtrack my life, from the friends I have, the music I make, and even the hair I wear on my head (that’s just a turn of phrase, I don’t actually wear a wig!)
My first real exposure to The Beatles happened when I was a teenager, in a time when music wasn’t as accessible as it is today. To listen to a Beatles album your parents either had to have a stack of vinyl handy (mine didn’t) or you needed to save up £15, go into your nearest HMV and choose which album to buy with your hard-earned paper round money.
The first Beatles album I bought was Sgt Peppers, and 16-year-old me hated it. Songs about Henry the Horse dancing a waltz, or Fixing Holes in Blackburn just didn’t do it for me. It sounded old, and it certainly wasn’t hip or fashionable. One play was all I needed to realise The Beatles weren’t for me. I was too busy playing the new Travis album, now that was real music. Or at least that was what I thought until Rubber Soul came into my possession a few months later.
I’d started a weekend job at the local supermarket and a box of CDs needed putting onto the shop floor, most made it, some accidently ended up in my bedroom. I’m not proud of that, but, in this particular instance, crime certainly did pay as Rubber Soul was in my haul. The cover looked interesting and this time the music had the correct effect and blew my tiny little, petty thieving mind. I was in and, thankfully, I’ve never looked back. It wasn’t long before I was a full-blown Beatles obsessive, driving around my village blasting out the opening bars to Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My in my clapped-out Nissan Micra, but Rubber Soul was my gateway into everything Fab Four so it will always have a special place in my heart, and it still sounds as fresh and exciting today as it did all those years ago.
The La's - The La's
Lee Mavers, the mercurial reclusive much heralded genius, the writer of There She Goes, the leader of The La’s, and whose myth and legend have become so intertwined it’s hard to know where one begins, and the other one ends. Am I a disciple of the church of Mavers? I most certainly am. I went through a phase in my early 20s of being utterly obsessed by The La’s. Scouring the internet for long lost tapes of kitchen sessions, or recordings from ghetto blasters hidden behind sofas. Lee Mavers was god, and The La’s were my religion. I celebrated every newly unearthed version of Man I’m Only Human like my beloved football team Leicester City had won the premier league (like that was ever gonna happen!). BBC Sessions, you say? Take my money. World War Three could have been on the verge of breaking out, but the only news that mattered to me was if The La’s were going to release a second album. Raindance, Let’s Go For A Ride, Minefield. Tantalising titles of unreleased songs burnt into my brain, and consumed my everyday thinking. I’m not ashamed to say I did try and tune my guitar to the hum of a fridge as well (I later found out it’s just tuning to 432 hz rather than 440 hz, but that’s a great Google wormhole to go down if you want to read about third eye chakras!)
My obsession has faded somewhat in the intervening years, and I’m now happy that the self-titled debut is their legacy. I’ve made peace with it. I even managed to meet Mavers on his last known official tour. I say tour, he played a couple of tiny venues as a two-piece and promptly disappeared into the ether again. I bought him a beer, he told me to get my hair cut. I can now die happy. I still absolutely love that one and only album though, it’s the blueprint for me. Rhythmic, Hypnotic, Beepra.
Shack - HMS Fable
Bit of theme here isn’t there, there is definitely something in the Liverpool water that’s for sure. This was one of the most difficult picks. I’m a bit of a Michael Head obsessive you see and it’s like picking your favourite child. I’ve got a hard drive full of demos, alternative versions and everything he’s ever released in all his guises, whether that’s The Pale Fountains, Shack, The Strands or with The Red Elastic Band. Yeah - obsessive doesn’t begin to cover it.
I’d never heard of Michael Head, or Shack, until I was dragged to an Oasis gig by an ex, circa 2005, where Shack were the support band. Oasis were rubbish and Shack were even worse. I just remember their singer shouting “We’re Shack from Liv-er-pool” over, and over again. They were ramshackle, out of tune, and eminently forgettable. A few days later I spotted an album called HMS Fable by said ramshackle band in a bargain bin for £2.99, I still don’t know what possessed me to this day as it really should have been £2.99 too much, but I think it was the fact they were from Liverpool that made me take a punt. It really is the best punt I’ve ever taken.
Michael Head holds a mythical status in my mind, everyone should know him and it saddens me that the vast majority of people don’t. But then do I love him more because of that underdog status, tales of rotten luck and bad timing? All of those things and more crystalise his legend. His songs are life affirming, real and honest. My poet laureate. I’m happy to report I have seen him live a few times since my first encounter and they are some of the best gigs I’ve ever been too, joyous occasions with disciples like myself basking in the glory of songs like Comedy, Meant To Be and Something Like You, but secretly hoping for Uncle Jasper or Tara K. Now if someone has a spare copy of Here’s Tom With The Weather on vinyl I’ve got a kidney I’m happy to sell.
Love - Forever Changes
Possibly my favourite album of all time, from start to finish it’s a masterpiece. It’s not just a collection of songs, it transcends into something more. Song writing at its absolute best. There’s not a note or a lyric out of place, and it’s like I discover something new or interesting every time I listen. It’s what music should be - of that time, yet timeless. Flamenco flourishes, Mariachi brass. Listening to it transports me to someplace else. Unlike my first three picks I can’t pinpoint exactly when this album “changed” my life, but it has done. I used to be a British invasion ‘60s junkie, anything with a backbeat I would devour and put on a pedestal, but the more I invested in this album the more my musical gravitation pulled me towards the sound of the west coast of America. Through Love I then went deeper into the Laurel Canyon scene and discovered many amazing bands, and solo albums of band members I didn’t know existed. John Phillips with John the Wolfking of L.A or David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name to name but two.
My first knowledge of Forever Changes must have been when I was about 17 or 18, and my mate, whose dad had a huge record collection of ‘70s rock and prog, saying it was a load of hippy nonsense and promptly played a Led Zeppelin album instead. Led Zeppelin didn’t do it for me, but the hippy nonsense with a sleeve not too dissimilar to Revolver left a lasting impression. My interest was piqued. I think more than any other album this was a slow burn. I certainly enjoyed it on first listen, but since then it’s wormed its way into my hypothetical top 50, top 25, top 10 albums of all time. To a point now, almost 20 years after first hearing it, it sits proudly at the top of the tree.
Dion - Dion
Dion DiMucci. Better known simply as Dion, one of only two musicians other than the Beatles on the cover of Sgt Pepper (Bob Dylan is the other, just to stop you navigating away from this page in case you didn’t know), and better known still for being the singer in The Belmonts before going solo and releasing hit singles Runaround Sue and The Wanderer in the very early ‘60s.
The album I’m picking here was released in ‘68, after his golden period, and features cover versions from the likes of Joni Michell and Fred Neil. So why has this random curiosity ended up on my Eight Albums list. Well, this album, more than any other, transports me to a place and a time. With my job I’ve been lucky enough to work in New York for extended periods of time. The last time I went was the summer of 2019 for four weeks. I stayed in an apartment in Brooklyn, rather than living out of a suitcase in a hotel, so I existed like a New Yorker and commuted on the subway into Manhattan every morning, which was about 50 minutes door to door. I took the tube from Knickerbocker Avenue and I’m only telling you that because of its amazing name! Anyway, I digress. I listened to this Dion album every day on the commute to work, something about its gentle orchestral arrangement, and Dion’s smooth vocals, made the jam-packed subway ride so much more bearable. It was the perfect soundtrack to drown out the noise, and the hustle and bustle that is a 7:30am New York subway train. Whenever I hear the opening bars of Abraham, Martin and John I’m straight back at Knickerbocker Avenue.
The Millenium - Begin
Even though this album was released in 1968, The Millennium are something of a new discovery for me. I love that about music, when it first hooks you, you devour everything and anything, then you hone your instincts and mine a field for all it’s worth. But there’s still some nuggets that pass you by, and in a way it’s that much sweeter when you find a new obsession when you think there’s nothing left to find. Enter Curt Boettcher. I actually have Spotify to thank for this, streaming music and the undervaluation of music is something I was staunchly against for many years, but being in a band myself Spotify is a bit of a necessary evil. So, I signed up in Jan 2020. I probably put something like The Notorious Byrd Brothers on, and off I went about my daily business, what I didn’t realise is once an album finishes the ‘algorithm’ kicks in and so Spotify played me music it assumes I’ll like based on my listening history. Which was probably just The Byrds at that point. Anyway, on came 5 A.M, I was confused. I'd never heard this Byrds song before, it didn’t really sound like them? It was more like The Association but better. What was going on? So, I grabbed my phone and it was a band called The Millennium. I promptly put the album on and was blown away instantly by this ‘60s group I’d never heard of.
Curt Boettcher and his many bands and projects became my obsession over the first few months of lockdown 2020. My very first Spotify wormhole. Sagittarius, the aforementioned Association who he produced, his solo output. Heck he even helped engineer one of my favourite records of all time, Emitt Rhodes by Emitt Rhodes. How did he pass me by for so long? Thankfully this is now rectified and for all the wrongs of Spotify and the playlist culture it has created and cultivated, I have found many a hidden gem on that platform that otherwise might have stayed undiscovered.
The Coral - Butterfly House
I always liked The Coral, but nothing more, just liked them. Good singles band, but too many songs about plant people, or dancing with lepers in a madman’s house. They were probably a bit too weird for my 19-year-old self when the NME were raving about them. I preferred Jet. Meat and potatoes rather than a multicoloured paella. As I’ve got older I’ve clearly got weirder (and wiser) as I love nothing more than a good slice of scouse psychedelia now, but the point when I really fell into The Coral was hearing 1000 Years a decade or so ago. The harmonies were something else, and the hypnotic languid feel to that song hooked me from the first moment I heard it. Sometimes a song does that, and it’s magical when it happens.
Butterfly House is just one of those albums that I go back to time and time again and I never tire of it. I talk about gateway music quite a lot, and Butterfly House was definitely my gateway album for The Coral. I’m now a superfan. More tunes about plant people please. Me and my band went to see them a couple of years ago at The Sugarmill in Stoke. They were great, such a brilliant live act, one of the best around for me. Pre-gig we were trying to find a suitable watering hole and settled on a little craft beer place that had an upstairs with a big window overlooking an identikit town centre street, the same street that is in many provincial towns and cities up and down the land. Charity Shops and boarded up Woolworths, you know the sort. Opposite was a pizza joint we had our eye on, in need to soak up the pre-gig Beavertown beers. Then, down the street wandered The Coral. I’ve probably never seen five people look more out of place than James, Nick, Ian and the two Pauls did in Stoke that day. It was like they were transported from a different universe. My band were at a bit of a crossroads at the time, we’d just parted ways with our drummer and had a load of half-finished recordings gathering dust. Whether it was kismet I don’t know, but not more than five minutes after The Coral gang wandered down the road in front of us we’d decided to rename ourselves and give it one last push to release the debut album we’d been trying in vain to finish for the last ten years.
I wasn’t going to write about this one. Luke in Eight Albums #52 has already eulogised about it, and will have done it far better than I’m about to. Also, I didn’t want to turn this into a vanity project where random members of The Mariners hijack this wonderful blog just to wax lyrical about their own music but, on the other hand, if we’re talking about albums that have had a meaningful impact on my life, then this album has shaped me more than any other.
The Tides Of Time had a difficult birth, a ten year labour of love that has encompassed many failed studio attempts, numerous name changes and more drummers than you can shake a tambourine at. I’m sure there are bands and musicians everywhere that have a similar story to us, but we’ve been unlucky. Not quite Michael Head, burnt down studios and missing DAT tapes unlucky, but we’ve never caught a break. For example, all our gear got nicked out of our practice room once, and not just cheapo gear. I’m talking Vox AC30s and Epiphone Casino guitars. Also, we were supposed to play a big festival in Germany many years ago, but had to cancel as our drummer quit days before with little or no explanation, he subsequently ‘ghosted’ us and the next time we saw him was an internet video of him being baptised evangelical style. He’d found God. True story. Some of the characters we’ve encountered along the way wouldn’t be out of place in a sitcom. We even discussed writing one once about our experiences (Luke, if you’re reading, we should definitely revisit that!)
Listening to music and the taste that you have is a very subjective and personal thing, which is why I love it so much. It doesn’t judge you, it’s always there for you and for me it’s the best way to switch off from the crazy world in which we live. It’s escapism. Performing, writing and recording music is exactly the same for me, apart from the ‘it doesn’t judge you’ bit. And I think that’s what held us back for so long. We were our harshest critics, sometimes rightly so, but we were never happy with something or another (The La’s influence shining through) So we’d start recording again, and then again, and again some more. Finally, we devised a method that suited us. We took the control into our hands. Started recording in kitchens, sheds and bathrooms. Self-record, self-release, self-promote, and then I suppose you can only blame yourself if it goes wrong. Finally, in June 2020 we released our album. The Tides of Time. Our legacy.
Paul Iliffe is a 37 daydreamer who lives in Leicester with his long-suffering partner Justine, and their menagerie of pets. He’s the guitarist and in-house producer for ‘The Mariners’ who can be found on all the usual streaming platforms, and over on Bandcamp where copies of their debut, and follow up album, can be found on vinyl. He also has a real job that funds his unhealthy obsession with vinyl, guitars and Leicester City Football Club