Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run
Literally anyone who knows me will tell you that the first one HAD to be Bruce! To be honest, all eight could have been Bruce. But that would just be dull. So instead, we’ll settle for the best album ever released by anyone ever.
What can I say? I came to Bruce Springsteen initially through his classic live album, which was a collection of recordings from 1975-1985 and which culminated in the Born in the USA tour. I listened to it until the vinyl wore out and until the terrible tapes recorded from that vinyl gave up the ghost. Only when it was done - only when I couldn’t listen anymore and when I couldn’t find a replacement copy - did I start listening to the albums themselves. And so it was only then that I discovered that about 90% of my favourites from that 10-year run of live shows all came from the same album: Born to Run.
The result of an overlong, tempestuous, near-career ending period of writing and recording, the creation of Born to Run is legendary amongst Springsteen fans. After a number of massive critical hits which were also massive commercial flops, this album was the E Street Band’s last chance. Another poor seller and they were done for, no matter how much the music press might love them. The sensible thing then? Play it safe. Record what the producers and the record company want. Go middle of the road to get back on track.
So, what did Springsteen do?
Well, he did THIS.
The absolute perfect run, classic after classic after classic. None of them what the label wanted. All of them examples of the single-minded genius that would make him a legend.
In other words, when all is said and done, no one touches Bruce!
Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms
Another near perfect album, only this time from a band who only had that one shot at perfection in them. Which is absolutely not an insult: how many have even one?!
It’s sometimes hard to pick a single album from a band ahead of their greatest hits, because with the latter you get all the ones you know. Occasionally though, you get an album that basically IS the greatest hits. Walk of Life? Money for Nothing? Your Latest Trick? Brothers In Arms?! All that’s missing is Romeo and Juliet (a BIG omission, I realise...) and you’ve got ‘the hits’. And then you get ‘the filler’; the other songs which on any other album would be making up the numbers. Here, those ‘fillers’ are classics in their own right.
As a teenager I managed to talk my way into a job at Wembley, stewarding at concerts. I was way too young but I looked older and it seemed like a cool job, so I took it. During that time I got to see some big acts and some not so big ones; some I was excited to see and some I was not. Dire Straits, I have to admit, I was not. I was 14 pretending to be 16 and they were NOT cool. It was one of those ‘well if I really have to’ concerts.
At least it was until it started...
Those first notes - that first guitar riff from Walk of Life - and that was me. Caught FOR life. What a band. What an album.
Various - Rocky IV Soundtrack
Are soundtracks allowed? I didn’t ask before writing this so I guess they are now (and they need to be because there’s another one coming...)!
My previous life as a boxer is pretty well documented by now. Probably more than it should be; from the write-ups I’ve had you’d think I’d been the heavyweight champion of the world! But whilst I certainly wasn’t THAT, I did live and breathe the sport for a long period in my life and it is that happy time that makes this soundtrack so important to me.
Most boxers aren’t storytellers. Some are, I’m sure. But most are not. It’s probably fair to say, then, that I lived a little more in my own head - in my own imagination - than my contemporaries in the sport. And so the Rocky movies and the Rocky music probably fuelled my own ‘I’ll be a contender’ fantasies a little more than they did for others.
The effect the movies had upon me was massive. I bought into them completely and I bought into the music even more. And none more so than the best of them all: Rocky IV!
I look back now and I know how ridiculous it is - have you ever listened to the lyrics to Burning Heart?! “Is it East against West or man against man”?! It’s literally the most on the nose song ever written - but still, those tracks genuinely made me train harder. They fueled my imagination enough to make me run further and faster. Hearts on Fire - it can absolutely double my skipping intensity! And as absurd as I know it to be, it STILL works. Which probably says more about me than I would like....
Frank Sinatra - Duets
This one is a massive cheat because it’s basically my way of picking a greatest hits album without actually doing so.
Recorded in 1992/93, it includes almost all of Sinatra’s most famous - and best - songs. Not always the best versions, I have to admit; some of the duets work wonderfully well, others... not so much. But they are ALL here. Every one of them. And that makes the album massively worthwhile.
On a more focused level, it is also amazing to hear Sinatra singing with all of the power and verve he ever had aged 77, five years before his death. There is hardly a hint of a weakening in his voice; he smashes every song and almost every singing partner out of the park (the exception being Luciano Pavarotti and ‘My Way’, the only time I’ve ever heard Sinatra really TRY, and then it was just to keep up).
Is it a curiosity? Sure, some of it is. But is it still an amazing testament to one of the greatest talents of the 20th Century? Oh yes! Just brilliant, but then it would be, wouldn’t it? Because it’s Frank.
P.S. Turn off the duet with Bono. Because...come on. It’s Bono.
Queen - Flash Gordon Soundtrack
The second (and last) soundtrack on the list, and this one’s personal.
When I was a very small boy I was obsessed with Superman. An obsession I have never quite broken - my pseudonym Tony Kent is a bit of a giveaway on that front - but at least I no longer think I AM the last son of Krypton.
As a kid, though? 100% convinced. And so, inevitably, I would regularly try to fly. And just as regularly I would end up in A&E. What, then, to do with a child like that?
One answer would be ‘intervention’. But my Mum was smarter than that. Because there’s nothing wrong with a little boy thinking he’s a hero, provided that hero CANNOT FLY!
Which is why the film Flash Gordon came along at just the right time! My Mum went out and bought one of the then new-fangled video cassette machines. Then she got hold of a copy of Flash Gordon and that was that. New obsession and no more flying accidents.
I must have watched it twice a day at least, every day. I knew every line. I knew every piece of music. And for four years - from three to seven - I point blank refused to answer to ANY name but Flash. By the time I went back to using Tony, I had been Flash for longer than I’d been my given name. And so it is perhaps inevitable that with some family members - my brothers and sister particularly - the name STILL gets used, at 43 years of age.
Even today I can’t see that movie on a screen without stopping to watch it all the way through. I missed the Dead Good Readers Awards at the most recent Harrogate Crime Writing Festival for exactly that reason, as I spotted Flash fighting Prince Barron on a tilting platform just as I was about to leave my hotel room. An hour later...
And equally unmissable is the soundtrack. A few bars of ANY of that amazing score and I’m a kid again, back on Mongo with only fourteen hours to save the Earth.
The Highlander soundtrack was almost certainly better. But it will never, ever mean what Flash Gordon means to me.
Elvis Presley - ELV1S
Another complete cheat, I’m afraid. Because it really is quite blatantly a greatest hits album (or Number One’s, anyway). But come on. This is Elvis. Two and a half decades of pure genius: the Muhammed Ali of music.
A brilliant showcase of an artist whose incredible versatility seems always overlooked, every single U.K. Number One is on there.
What more can I say? As John Lennon once said, before Elvis there was nothing. And why I don’t quite agree with that, it’s pretty close to the truth.
Marvin Gaye - What’s Going On
This one feels like a bit of an attempt at clawing back some credibility, since What’s Going On has been voted as the greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. But since I didn’t know that when I picked it, I’m standing by it.
It’s genuinely hard to choose between self-penned Marvin Gaye albums. The man was talented beyond all reason, turning out all time classics from the beginning to the premature end.
But if forced to choose - which I guess is the point of this whole thing - then it has to be What’s Going On. Not just because the title song is the best thing he ever wrote, but also because every single track on this album was written to matter. There are many worthy songs out there. And there are many great songs. Rarely are they one and the same. And yet somehow, What’s Going On manages to combine the two again, again and again.
The term genius is used far too loosely in music but sometimes it really IS deserved. And perhaps Gaye had a point when he said ‘the only thing between me and Beethoven is time’.
Flight of the Conchords: Live in London
I couldn’t get through a whole eight albums without something funny, and music doesn’t come any funnier than these guys.
Musical comedy seems to be a little frowned upon and in many cases I can absolutely see why. But when it’s done well, by uber-talented (in this case Oscar winning) musicians, it can be as striking and memorable as even the very best ‘serious stuff’.
I’ve avoided live albums so far - if I hadn’t then we’d have had another two Springsteen’s on here: Live 1975-1985 and Live in Dublin with the Sessions Band - but as this is the one album that includes (most of) their best stuff, it had to be the choice.
My wife and I had tickets to go to this very concert, until Brett McKenzie hurt his arm the day before and they had to postpone. We couldn’t do the new date and so we gave the tickets to a friend (bastards!), and I have regretted it ever since. I have, however, made up for it by listening to it on shuffle every time I’ve showered for the last 18 months. Which is only a very slight exaggeration.
14 years ago I had to explain who Brett and Jermaine were when I spoke about them. These days there is - rightly - no need. And yet still I can’t help it. Their stuff is genuinely just so, so clever and so, so funny; each song has a good ten listens in them before you’ve caught all the jokes, and even then the re-listenability is endless.
I’m fairly sure they could be writing brilliant serious music if they wanted. They are THAT talented. But thank God that hadn’t crossed my mind, because when they are still producing stuff like Stana (seriously, go on YouTube and watch Stana) it would be a crime to stop them.
Tony Kent is a 43-year-old thriller writer, criminal barrister and former heavyweight boxer.
He began his day job 20 years ago at the leading criminal chambers in the country and he now specialises in defending serious crime in crown courts across England and Wales.
As a writer he is behind the Joe Dempsey / Michael Devlin series of thrillers which began in 2018 with Killer Intent, continued with Marked For Death and Power Play and which will grow again in October 2021 with his fourth book ‘No Way To Die’. His books have been selected for both the Richard and Judy Book Club and ITV’s Zoe Ball Book Club.
Tony was born into a stereotypically enormous Irish family in West London in 1978. He now lives somewhere a little more green with his wife Victoria, three-year old son Joseph and their Jack Russell terrier Maximus.