It was one of those silly Facebook challenge things. I saw my friend Ramona was posting 10 albums in 10 days and challenging one of her friends every day to do the same. “But there’s no way she will pick me,” I thought.By coincidence, I had just been listening to Human League Dare when I saw on FB that it was Ramona’s album of the day. A quick comment that we obviously shared great musical taste and the next day she tagged me for the challenge! Great!The actual challenge is to post 10 albums that influenced your life but with no comment. I hate that. I want to comment the hell out of it but it’s not in the interest of the challenge so I’m posting my comments here.So here are the 10 albums I picked.
1. ABBA Arrival
I always nominate this album as the first album I ever bought. I’ve said it so much I’m not even sure if it’s true, but if it’s not it should be. I was a crazy little ABBA fan in my single-digit years, and Arrival was certainly part of the soundtrack of my youth. ABBA dress ups with my friends (in my Mum’s old nighties) and miming along to this album were amongst my favourite childhood entertainments.
2. Tears for Fears Elemental
I bought this on cassette (yes that ancient analogue technology) just before I left India when I was there in 1994. There wasn’t a lot of choice of music that was familiar to me, but cassettes were cheap at the market and my only music playing device was a Walkman (possibly not an actual Sony product). I bought this album on spec, and it’s moody grey melodies was a soundtrack to my early days in the UK, when I spent a lot of time on trains, back and forth between Lancashire and London. This album became part of my taking a train ritual: get on train, sit down, press play when train leaves the station, look out at the grey sky. I still like to listen to this album now when I take a long train journey.
3. Amy Rigby Diary of a Mod Housewife
The first Amy Rigby album I bought. I bought it in New York City on recommendation from someone in a Kirsty MacColl fan group. (“I’m going to the US, what tips do you have for good American singer songwriters I should look up while I’m there?”) This album also reminds me of my time in New York, because I use a backpack instead of a handbag and was constantly being chased by store security guys to leave my backpack at the front of the store. So the opening line of the song “Knapsack”: “He took my knapsack just inside the revolving door,” takes me back there. (And it’s also a great song about those crazy crushes you get on someone – on your bus, or at the gym – you see them and know nothing about them but already in your mind you’ve moved in together and had babies.) My husband is always sad when he hears that song because he expected a different ending.Anyway it’s a whole album, not just one song, and the songs are all good, all about things any grown up woman could relate to. And it’s proof that sometimes taking a chance on a random recommendation can work out for you. I’ve followed Amy’s career since 2001, seen her in concert twice, and her autobiography is on my 2020 reading list. If you’re interested to find out more about her, she blogs here.
4. Carmel The Drum Is Everything
I was in another room when I heard the most amazing music coming from the TV. The (non-mainstream) music show Rock Arena (ABC Australia) was playing a song by Carmel: More, More, More. This great song was followed by another amazing song: Bad Day. I was entranced by the stripped back sound and Ms McCourt’s vocal style, swinging between sweet and angelic, and dark and smoky. This was their first album and the first one I bought. I suppose this could be the start of my grown up musical tastes outside the teen pop that was most of what I’d listened to before then. And apologies to people at my high school about this because I think I wrote the lyric “Bad days come but bad days go away” on every desk on the Year 11 floor. Amusingly, some years later when I got this on CD, I found myself feeling uneasy about five tracks in. I realised it was because this was when I was cued to get up and flip the vinyl over to side two.
5. Florence + the Machine Ceremonials
This is a bit of a sad choice as this was the album I listened to when going to bed when my Dad died. After a busy day with family sorting out funeral stuff, at night when I went to bed, I had a chance to cry in private, and crying while listening to this album helped me get to sleep. Especially as track one (“Only if for a Night”), is about talking to a ghost: “And I heard your voice as clear as day / And you told me I should concentrate / It was all so strange and so surreal / That a ghost should be so practical.” Back when the grief was all to real and raw, I couldn’t stand listening to the radio, people were just too LOUD and too happy. So I listened to this album at night and let Florence’s mournful singing voice cushion the sorrow I was feeling. It helped me let go and go to sleep. For at least a week, my life soundtrack was Florence by night and Neko Case during the day.
6. Kirsty MacColl Titanic Days
I was all ready to put Galore, the best of, as my Kirsty album of choice, but at the last minute switched to Titanic Days. It’s another album that’s not very happy; a lot of the songs were written while she was going through a divorce. I bought it on cassette in my early days in the UK when I didn’t have financial resources for CDs or CD players. I was living in bleak Blackpool, and after a horrible day at work (and most of my days in Blackpool were horrible) I would walk by the sea and listen to music to calm down. This was an album of choice because I felt very much alone at that time – a long way from family and friends, and I’ll tell you about my horrible work situation some other time. This album is a lot about being alone, even the songs about relationships are about being alone. I felt that Kirsty and I were both going through similar kinds of misery.If you ever pass through Soho Square in London, look for the bench with Kirsty’s name on it. It was crowdfunded by fans after her death in 2000.I sound like such a gloomy muggins! I should have picked Electric Landlady which does have some chirpy and happy songs on it. It’s also easier to find on streaming services (due to record company issues with Titanic Days). And if you like Latin music, and want to hear a happy Kirsty, listen to Tropical Brainstorm, the album she wrote when she started a new relationship with a younger man. Also widely available on streaming services.
7. Public Service Broadcasting Live at Brixton
One of my local pubs runs a comedy night from time to time. We often go to these comedy nights – after all who doesn’t need more laughter in their life, and only 25 minutes walk from home? The sound guy for the comedy gigs has great taste in music. There was a song I’d heard a few times but didn’t know – some great music with a very clipped English voice speaking over it. One night we sat behind him and I was able to lean over his shoulder and see the name of the band ond the song. The band name was Public Service Broadcasting. The song was “Spitfire’. I looked it up at home. Husband and I both liked it. In fact we liked the whole album. We played it a lot. And a year or so ago, when we were planning a trip to Belgium to see Carmel in concert (see album no.4) we saw these guys were playing in the back room of an Irish bar in Montmartre in Paris a few days later, and decided to make it a two-gig trip.Considering they had played (and sold out) the Royal Albert Hall in London the week before, we felt very lucky to see them up close in such a small venue. And despite their heavy use of technical wizardry, they are very competent musicians, and a very tight unit live. This album is here because it reminds me it’s still possible to find new music that is interesting and exciting enough for me to go out and see it live.
8. Soundtrack Chess
This is here for so many reasons. For teenage me and the failed attempt at the junior school talent show. For being amongst the geeks in the school chess club. For twenties me and every break up that had me singing “Nobody’s Side”. For the sweeping melodies, the charm of Florence and Anatoly falling in love in “Mountain Duet”, the Cold War machinations, and the crazy idea of making a musical out of chess. Put the CD on now, and I will sing along all the way through. And probably still get a bit wobbly at certain songs.
9. Neneh Cherry Raw Like Sushi
This came into my life at a bad time (I’ll tell you about it some other time). I spent a lot of time in my car and had this cassette (yes, cassettes again!) in my car constantly and sang along with it. Maybe you saw me at the traffic lights, shouting, “So you think you’re gonna win this time Manchild?” At a time when I felt fragile and broken, it was so good to have Neneh with me, sounding so strong and so fierce. You can see from the album cover she is 100% attitude. “You better watch, don’t mess with me.” Singing with her helped get me through, helped me reset, helped me carry on.
10. The Sixteen Renaissance: Music for Inner Peace
And so, to bed. This is my go-to going to sleep album of choice. Pure vocal magic. No instruments, just singing. In Latin. Or at least mostly in Latin. So you can’t be distracted by the words. It starts with Allegri’s Miserere, which is 12 minutes long. You are probably drifting off by then. But if you’re still awake after that, the second track is Barber’s Agnus Dei which is 8 minutes long and that will send you off to dreamland for sure. I think there are more songs after that but I don’t really know them. Usually I’m asleep by the end of track two and I wake up later in the night, switch off the CD with the remote control and go back to sleep. It’s strange to pick an album that has influenced me by me being asleep for most of it, but that was the whole point. Inner Peace, good sleep.
If you had to pick 10 albums that influenced you, what would they be?