Tagged: list

20 Essential 90s Albums

In its ongoing bid to have more sub-brands than any other media owner, Absolute Radio recently launched a new niche-station, this time one tailor-made for those of us currently experiencing the dizzying pangs that come with realising nostalgia isn’t just something that happens to your parents: Absolute 90s. And, as part of the ongoing celebrations of the launch, they’re compiling a list of the Essential 90s Albums.

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Now, anyone who has ever read this blog before (Hi Mum!) will know that I love a good list and so, taking Absolute 90s compilation of such a list as a challenge, I thought I’d have a go myself. And here, after much thought, is my 20 essential albums of the 90s. It was hard enough keeping it to 20 (and they’re likely to change) so they’re in no-order other than chronological. I’ll happily admit that it tends to skew towards British music & hip-hop, but it’s not my fault that most grunge was shite.

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Anyway, for anyone that cares (Hi Mum!), here’s my 20 essential albums of the 90s.

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Now, the observant amongst you will have noticed that the list above only has 19 entries.So, I want you to make suggestions as to which album should fill that space and I’ll choose one of the suggestions and add it to the final list of the 20 Essential Albums Of The 90s.

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I should probably warn you now that it’s very unlikely that I’ll add any album that had a picture of a baby chasing a dollar bill on the cover. Just thought I’d mention it.


Best Albums Of The Noughties

On Friday Absolute Radio announced the result of its song of the decade vote: shockingly the top 10 doesn’t include the Arctic Monkeys, Strokes or White Stripes but does include two songs each by The Killers & Snow Patrol, a sign that whilst the station may be excellent, the average Absolute Radio listener gets most of their musical taste from the latest copy of Now That’s What I Call Indie. Oh well.

Anyway, in order to prove that this decade should be remembered for more than some sell-out Scottish Coldplay wannabes and a half-decent American 80s British indie tribute band, I thought I’d note down the albums that have made the last ten years such a musical treasure trove. As always, these are in no particular order.

  1. Paul Weller – 22 Dreams: Whilst, like most double albums, it would have benefited from a bit of judicious editing, this was still one of the finest albums Weller has produced in years. In fact, with its wide-ranging eclecticism & its towering sense of a man ageing yet still having an unparalleled love for music, 22 Dreams is simply one of the best records Weller has ever made.
  2. Common – Be: Kanye West may have been, along with his mentor Jay-Z, the man who stole all the spotlight in terms of noughties hip-hop, but his best work was often as a producer. Like a 21st Century Gil Scott Heron, on Be Common blended soul, funk and a stridently political view of the world to amazing effect.
  3. José James – The Dreamer: Anyone who says that jazz is dead clearly doesn’t know what they’re talking about, but if you’re determined to prove them wrong then give them anything by Soil & “Pimp” Sessions or their Brownswood label-mate José James. He brought a hip-hop swagger to his take on classically cool piano-led jazz. With the voice of an angel, James may well be one of the most exciting discoveries of the noughties.
  4. The Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not: Talking of exciting discoveries, the Arctics burst onto the music scene like a fresh Yorkshire breeze. From the dead-pan intro to the video for their début, I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor (“We’re t’Arctic Monkeys, this is I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor. Don’t believe the hype.”), to their scathing take on British bands thinking they were Californian (whatever happened to The Thrills?), they showed that they were more interested in making amazing rock music than matching any passing fads.
  5. Tuomo – My Thing: Sounds like stone-cold perfect 60s/70s era-American soul. Actually written & performed by a ginger guy from Finland in 2007. So perfect it probably shouldn’t be allowed.
  6. Marc Mac Presents Visioneers – Dirty Old Hip Hop: Better known for his role as part of hardcore & drum & bass pioneers 4hero, Dirty Old Hip Hop could well end up being Marc Mac’s best ever work. It basically takes classic hip hop tracks, and tracks famously sampled for hip hop records, and recreates them with a lush live soul band. The cover of Pharcyde’s Runnin’ is just one track that now sounds better to me than the original.
  7. Ohmega Watts – The Find: Like a mix of Visioneers & Common, Ohmega Watts, on splendid independent US label Ubiquity, used soul samples that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early-90s golden-era track with ryhmes that avoided all the nasty rap cliches. Good old-fashioned, pure party music, this deserved to be huge. Obviously it wasn’t.
  8. Radiohead – In Rainbows: Whilst Kid A may be getting most of the end of the decade plaudits, personally I prefer Radiohead when their biggest experiments are saved for their retail mechanism and they remember that there’s nothing wrong with a tune. Blended the avant garde spirit of OK Computer with the stone-cold tunes of The Bends.
  9. Amy Winehouse – Back To Black: Her 1st album was a lovely blend of old-time jazz vocals and hip-hop sass & beats. Her 2nd, produced by soon-to-be über-producer Mark Ronson, jumped forward, providing a 21st Century slant on the Motown girl-groups of the 60s. And, as with her first, Winehouse’s amazing voice was used to catalogue her ‘interesting’ private life. Unfortunately it was soon anything but to be private and I think we all wish she had gone to rehab. Whether she’s release anything as good as this in the next ten years, or even releases anything at all, we” always have this amazing record of being a young woman in the noughties.
  10. The Strokes – Is This It: If the title of this album was a question, the answer looking back from 2010 would probably have to be yes. Whilst they seemed poised to take over the world they never really equalled the brilliance of their début, but what a début it was: drenched with New York cool, it married the stripped down sound of The Velvet Underground with a glamour that was very un-indie. Did for the US what the Arctics did for the UK.
  11. Kings Of Leon – Only By The Night: They started the decade being written off as a southern Strokes, but ended it as, arguably, the biggest and best rock band in the world. As with so many American acts they first found an audience in Europe, and especially the UK. And the years of touring their first three albums were apparent in the perfectly pitched and incredibly tight tunes on Only By The Night.
  12. Omar – Sing (If You Want It): Briefly famous in the acid jazz days of the 90s, Omar resurfaced in the noughties with a beautiful album of modern British soul. The album reeks of London, blending as it does sounds & styles from around the world, a fitting tribute to the most multicultural of cities. It’s also one of the few albums to feature a Stevie Wonder duet that doesn’t sound like it’s been phoned in.
  13. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid: The band everyone wanted to succeed finally did. Their rendition of One Day Like This became the defining song of Glastonbury 2008, the album won the Mercury and now we all await their next record with bated breath. An achingly lovely record which could only have been born in Britain, and with a lead-singer who wouldn’t have made it past the auditions on the bland production line that is the X Factor.
  14. Ty – Closer: Prior to Dizzee Rascal’s take-over of the charts, Roots Manuva was probably the highest profile British rapper. But whilst his music was often dense and claustrophobic that of his protege Ty was soulful & full of melody. That’s not to say that he was any less serious, his rhymes covered every topic imaginable, but did so with an infectious joie de vivre. How this album wasn’t massive, superior as it is to any number of huge selling American hip hop albums, I really don’t know.
  15. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes: A stunning record that brought to mind everything from Gregorian chants to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s classic Deja Vu, this is the perfect winter record and manes expectations are very high indeed for their follow-up next year.
  16. Jazzanova – Of All The Things: Jazzanova are best known as producers of high quality electronic dance music, but on the showing of this record, they’re even better at producing organic 21st Century soul. With a stellar line-up of contributors from the world of contemporary music, every song on this record sounds like a single and is a pleasure from start to finish.
  17. Zero 7 – Simple Things: dismissed as mere Air copycats, they’re so much better than that. Obviously huge fans of soul producer Charles Stepney, this oh-so laid back album positively drips with strings, which act as a perfect backdrop for the lush vocals of the various contributors. Just because the swathe of ‘chill-out’ albums that came in the wake of Simple Things were mostly shit, doesn’t mean that we should discard this great record along with them.
  18. Norah Jones – Come Away With Me: Another record that has suffered because of the pale imitations that have followed it, Jones’ début was a delightful blend of jazz & country, and her stunning voice became a staple on Radio 2. But that doesn’t mean the record isn’t amazing.
  19. The Streets – Everything Is Borrowed: His first album perfectly caught a moment in time and defined a genre just as it outgrew it, his second was hailed as a modern equivalent to Shakespeare and, in Dry Your Eyes, spawned a Wonderwall-size hit, his third was shit but his fourth, with its move to a more organic sound, and intensely personal lyrics, was his finest. Apparently his fifth will be his last, I really hope it’s not.
  20. Kanye West – Late Registration: After nearly losing his life in a car crash (as he never bores of telling us) Kanye’s debut was a miracle of some sorts. Not just because it actually got made, but also because it saw a mainstream black rapper admitting to being human, rather than spitting out the same old boring ‘guns & hos’ rhymes. Jesus Walks is massive, Through The Wire touching and All Falls Down just plain brilliant.
  21. Gomez – How We Operate: Most people probably think the one-time Mercury winners have long-since disbanded. In fact they’ve gone from strength to strength, quietly ploughing their own furrow of intelligent, eclectic rock. This album is the perfect demonstration of this, packed as it is with sunny melodies and wistful vocals. Unsung heroes.
  22. Jamie Lidell – Jim: Lidell was probably signed by Warp because he was a geek creator of weird electronica. They can’t have expected him to turn into the best producer of blue-eyed soul the decade has seen. He sings like he went to church with Otis Redding but looks like he went to Reading Polytechnic.
  23. Nitin Sawhiney – London Undersound: Apparently this record was Sawhiney’s musical response to the London bombings of July 2005 and the events that followed them. If so, it’s the perfect response to the religious fanatics who try to rule us with fear, being as it is an example & celebration of the beauty that secular multiculturalism has to offer.
  24. J.A.M. – Just A Maestro: In their ‘day-job’ they make up half of experimental Japanese ‘death jazz’ band Soil & “Pimp” Sessions. But with their splinter group J.A.M., they’ve produced a record more consistent, and more listenable, than anything by the Pimps. It might be slightly more mainstream, but it’s still modern jazz of immaculate quality and would be enough to get a corpse dancing.
  25. Estelle – Shine: After being unfairly ignored by the, border-line racist, British music industry, Estelle went to the US to be produced & mentored by John Legend. She had a worldwide smash with American Boy but also produced an album that should be compulsory listening for the likes of Beyonce, Leona Lewis & Simon Cowell, who generally seem to think that R&B has to be bland. Catchy but still intelligent, this is a great modern pop record.

Well, there you go. I’m sure that I’ll think of some more, and there are probably a load you think I’ve missed. But

2010 image by Doug8888 on flickr


100 Greatest Albums – Which Do You Own?

I was recently tagged on a Facbook meme which asks you to note which of the 100 Greatest Albums Ever, as decided by Rolling Stone, you own. Because I know a lot of people don’t like being tagged in these sort of things, I thought I’d bring it out on to the open web, and leave it to people to continue the meme if they would like to.

1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles YES
2. Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys NO
3. Revolver, The Beatles YES
4. Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan NO
5. Rubber Soul, The Beatles YES
6. What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye YES
7. Exile on Main Street, The Rolling Stones NO
8. London Calling, The Clash NO
9. Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan NO
10. The Beatles (“The White Album”), The Beatles YES
11. The Sun Sessions, Elvis Presley NO
12. Kind of Blue, Miles Davis YES
13. Velvet Underground and Nico, The Velvet Underground YES
14. Abbey Road, The Beatles YES
15. Are You Experienced?, The Jimi Hendrix Experience YES
16. Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan NO
17. Nevermind, Nirvana YES
18. Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen NO
19. Astral Weeks, Van Morrison NO
20. Thriller, Michael Jackson YES
21. The Great Twenty-Eight, Chuck Berry NO
22. Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon NO
23. Innervisions, Stevie Wonder YES
24. Live at the Apollo (1963), James Brown YES
25. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac YES
26. The Joshua Tree, U2 YES
27. King of the Delta Blues Singers, Vol. 1, Robert Johnson YES
28. Who’s Next, The Who NO
29. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin NO
30. Blue, Joni Mitchell NO
31. Bringing It All Back Home, Bob Dylan NO
32. Let It Bleed, The Rolling Stones NO
33. Ramones, Ramones NO
34. Music From Big Pink, The Band NO
35. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, David Bowie YES
36. Tapestry, Carole King YES
37. Hotel California, The Eagles NO
38. The Anthology, 1947 – 1972, Muddy Waters NO
39. Please Please Me, The Beatles YES
40. Forever Changes, Love NO
41. Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, The Sex Pistols YES
42. The Doors, The Doors YES
43. The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd NO
44. Horses, Patti Smith NO
45. The Band, The Band NO
46. Legend, Bob Marley and the Wailers NO
47. A Love Supreme, John Coltrane YES
48. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Public Enemy NO
49. At Fillmore East, The Allman Brothers Band NO
50. Here’s Little Richard, Little Richard NO
51. Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon and Garfunkel YES
52. Greatest Hits, Al Green YES
53. The Birth of Soul: The Complete Atlantic Rhythm and Blues Recordings, 1952 – 1959, Ray Charles NO
54. Electric Ladyland, The Jimi Hendrix Experience YES
55. Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley NO
56. Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder YES
57. Beggars Banquet, The Rolling Stones NO
58. Trout Mask Replica, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band NO
59. Meet the Beatles, The Beatles YES
60. Greatest Hits, Sly and the Family Stone YES
61. Appetite for Destruction, Guns n’ Roses NO
62. Achtung Baby, U2 YES
63. Sticky Fingers, The Rolling Stones NO
64. Phil Spector, Back to Mono (1958 – 1969), Various Artists NO
65. Moondance, Van Morrison YES
66. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin YES
67. The Stranger, Billy Joel NO
68. Off the Wall, Michael Jackson YES
69. Superfly, Curtis Mayfield YES
70. Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin NO
71. After the Gold Rush, Neil Young NO
72. Purple Rain, Prince NO
73. Back in Black, AC/DC NO
74. Otis Blue, Otis Redding NO
75. Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin NO
76. Imagine, John Lennon NO
77. The Clash, The Clash NO
78. Harvest, Neil Young NO
79. Star Time, James Brown NO
80. Odessey and Oracle, The Zombies NO
81. Graceland, Paul Simon YES
82. Axis: Bold as Love, The Jimi Hendrix Experience YES
83. I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, Aretha Franklin NO
84. Lady Soul, Aretha Franklin NO
85. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen YES
86. Let It Be, The Beatles YES
87. The Wall, Pink Floyd NO
88. At Folsom Prison, Johnny Cash YES
89. Dusty in Memphis, Dusty Springfield NO
90. Talking Book, Stevie Wonder YES
91. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John NO
92. 20 Golden Greats, Buddy Holly NO
93. Sign ‘o’ the Times, Prince NO
94. Bitches Brew, Miles Davis NO
95. Green River, Creedence Clearwater Revival NO
96. Tommy, The Who NO
97. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan NO
98. This Year’s Model, Elvis Costello NO
99. There’s a Riot Goin’ On, Sly and the Family Stone NO
100. In the Wee Small Hours, Frank Sinatra NO

So, I own 39 of the 100 greatest albums of all time: is that good or bad? I really have no idea. However the list made think a few things:

1. We really have produced an amazing amount of good music. I can’t be bothered to count how many albums are by British or Irish bands (and I’d be tempted to include Hendrix in that list, as he was the only American in the band and had to come to London to be appreciated), but there are a lot.

2. If this list had been written by a British magazine, say Q or NME*, it would have looked a lot different – probably a lot more varied and, I’d argue, more valid. Only 1 hip hop album? Where’s De La Soul for God’s sake? Or The Stone Roses? Or any Radiohead? Massive Attack? Screamadelica?

This list is essentially the most well known music of the 60s & 70s and is really quite lazy. How can a serious music magazine include Best Of albums (or Meet The Beatles, not a true album but a record company bastardisation) in a Top 100? Why not just include Now That’s What I Call 60s and be done with it?

3. What I think would make for a much more interesting insight into how good albums really are would be to ask which of the 100 albums you’ve listened to over, say, the last 12 months. Doing a very quick estimate, I’d guess that I’ve listened to around 11 or 12 of these albums in the last year (as in actually listened to the album, as opposed to individual tracks from the albums), with only U2, Marvin Gaye, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder & John Coltrane in the last month or so.

Certainly, according to last.fm, none of the albums selected feature in my most listened to list, with What’s Goin’ On coming in at #21. Which just goes to show that it’s very easy to buy the appearance of being cultured/cool/whatever, but it doesn’t actually mean that you are. James Joyce’s Ullyses is regularly voted the best novel ever and, whilst its weight causes many a middle-class book-shelf to groan, I doubt that more than 10% of those who own it have actually read it.

Anyway, whatever the case, it is, after all, only meant to be a bit of fun. So feel free to fill in your own ‘How Cool Am I?’ questionnaire by continuing the meme in the comments or on your own blog/Facebook profile/wherever whilst I leave you with Jimi Hendrix, who features 3 times in the list, covering the title track from “The Greatest Album Ever”™. He originally covered it just two days after its release, and Paul was in the audience – talk about ‘anything you can do, I can do better’. Amazing.

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*The Q list was voted for by readers and so is open to the Angels Syndrome**, where the most recently popular albums get an undeservedly high ranking.

** A few years back Robbie Williams’ Angels was voted the best song of all time by, I think, listeners of Radio 1. It’s not.

100 image by Paul Keleher on flickr


The Best Albums Of 2008

Not that long ago I put out a call for help to find more new music so that I could write a Best Of post for 2008.

I felt like I hadn’t really listened to, or bought, that much new stuff. Quite a few people came up with suggestions and after downloading and listening to quite a few of these I realised that 2008 had actually been a pretty good year in terms of its musical crop. And the most ridiculous thing? Many of the best albums & singles of 2008 were ones that I already had before I asked for suggestions. Anyway, let’s start at the top.

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  1. Paul Weller – 22 Dreams: The Modfather released his best album since Wild Wood, if not his best solo album ever, and found himself firmly back in the critics’ good books. Ranging from soul to folk, rock to jazz, with excursions verging on beat poetry & German lift music, 22 Dreams was truly an opus which proved why Paul Weller is one of the best artists of the last 30 years.
  2. The Streets – Everything Is Borrowed: After a foray into moaning about being a celebrity Mike Skinner finds his peace and returns with an amazing album. More organic in feel than his previous works it sees him looking inside himself for inspiration, rather than penning tunes about characters from modern Britain.
  3. José James – The Dreamer: Another amazing discovery from the 21st Century’s John Peel, Gilles Peterson, José James showed that jazz can always be made relevant. At times utterly beautiful, at others perfectly soulful and blending classically traditional jazz with elements of hip hop, The Dreamer is surely the opening salvo from an artist destined to come up with much more in the years to come.
  4. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One: I’ve never really got Badu, fearing that she was simpler a slightly cooler Alicia Keys. This album, with tinges of everyone from George Clinton to J Dilla, shows that she is much more than that. Truly epic in its ambitions, and searing in its anger, I really can’t wait for New Amerykah Part Two.
  5. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes: The first album from those recommended to me to make the list, I still have trouble classifying this. Imagine Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu crossed with Gregorian chanting, and you still probably won’t have a clue what I’m talking about. Fleet Foxes’ eponymous debut is utterly beautiful though and demands repeated listening.
  6. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend: Closely following Fleet Foxes is another album from those recommended to me. As with the Foxes at first I couldn’t really get Vampire Weekend: I found their blend of preppy alternative rock (think Talking Heads) with African rhythms (think Paul Simon’s Graceland) a bit self-consciously wacky. And then I listened to it. A lot. And realised that it’s brilliant.
  7. Jamie Lidell – Jim: When I discovered Jamie Lidell it was like I’d suddenly found the artist I’d hoped Ben Westbeech would become (which Westbeech may well still do). Sounding like a life-weary black American soul singer, Lidell is actually an eccentric beat-boxing techno producer from the Home Counties. The album is a joy and you should buy it immediately.
  8. Nitin Sawhney – London Uundersound: The multi-faceted Sawhney probably should have won the Mercury Prize in 2000 (though Badly Drawn Boy’s debut is pretty good too) and London Undersound is as good, if not better, than Beyond Skin. Charting the changes in London over the last few years, and particularly since the 2005 bombings, the album features stand-out collaborations with the likes of Natty, Imogen Heap & even Paul McCartney and blends genres ranging from soul to dub to bhangra. A true musical representation of our capital city.
  9. Q-Tip – The Renaissance: After what seems like a lifetime since his creative peak in the late 80s/early 90s, Q-Tip’s comeback was a real statement of intent. Eschewing the “which producer is cool this month” trend common amongst hip hop artists these days, Q-Tip stuck to what he does best: smooth beats, soulful samples and great rhymes devoid of guns & bitches. Pure class.
  10. Estelle – Shine: In a shocking inditement of the British music industry Estelle had to move to the US under the patronage of John Legend for people to realise how ace she is. American Boy was the killer track but the rest of the album proved, a la Erykah Badu, that making intelligent 21st Century soul is very definitely possible.
  11. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid: Before this year Elbow were the band that everyone loved but whose records no-one seemed to buy, but performing One Day Like This at Glastonbury (and having it used by the BBC for their Euro 2008 coverage) & winning the Mercury Music Prize soon fixed that. The songs on The Seldom Seen Kid are both intelligent & tender and prove that sometimes the good guys do win.
  12. J.A.M. – Just A Maestro: Another album from the Gilles Peterson Brownswood stable, J.A.M. make jazz music which is nowhere near as experimental as Soil & “Pimp” Sessions (who the members of J.A.M. also play with) but are a good example of when keeping things simple can be the best bet. There’s not a tune on here that won’t make you want to dance, the use of soul & funk influences is perfectly done, whilst the collaboration with José James is simply amazing.
  13. Ladyhawke – Ladyhawke: Take the 80s. Distill all that was great about the over-the-top electro-pop of that decade. Give it an off-kilter arty feel. Hey presto, Ladyhawke. An album I really expected to hate ended up being one of my most played of the year.
  14. Kings Of Leon – Only By The Night: The band many derided for being the Southern Strokes or the commercial White Stripes ended the year on top of the world (with The Strokes nowhere to be seen and Jack White duetting with Alicia Keys for a Coke ad, sorry Bond theme). It took me a while to get into this album but, like killer single Sex On Fire, it rewards closer attention.
  15. Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires: If you can imagine a younger, hipper version of LCD Soundsystem then you can probably summon up a pretty good picture of Friendly Fires. You probably wouldn’t guess that they’re from Hertfordshire though. Like James Murphy Friendly Fires manage to make modern, danceable rock that still manages to sound rather sad and wistful.
  • Various Artists – Brownswood Bubblers 3: Compilation of the year without a doubt. Gilles Peterson’s role as arbiter in matters of music is safe as far as I’m concerned. The third in the unfailingly great Bubblers series sees Gilles jumping genres like there’s no tomorrow but always picking winners.

    OK, so I know that there are more than the 10 albums you’re meant to include on these lists, but as I was writing this I kept remembering other albums that deserved a mention. And I’ve still probably managed to forget a few that I’ll want to add in a couple of days (in fact I’ve just added Nitin Sawhney’s London Undersound: too good to omit). And I’d probably change the order of most of the albums outside of the top 3 tomorrow and again the day after. And I didn’t even include Radiohead’s In Rainbows which I only got hold of this year and which should therefore get the Ohmega Watts/Visioneers award for the album I got into a year after everyone else.

    Anyway, that’s what I think – what do you reckon?

    Image (entitled Paul Weller Sea Spray) by visualpanic on flickr


    10 Most Underrated Songs Of The 90s: Part 2

    I’m in the process of sticking up for the 1990s, a much maligned decade (probably too recent to be cool yet). Here’s part two of the most underrated songs from the 90s..

    1. Teenage Fanclub – Everything Flows: Bandwagonesque was the album that was going to make them stars, topping most Album of the Year charts when it came out (beating Screamadelica & Nevermind in many cases). But this slice of melodic feedback from their debut album, A Catholic Education, with it’s heart-wrenching lyrics, is surely their finest moment to date. Absolutely beautiful.
    2. Happy Mondays – Dennis & Lois: Pills ‘n’ Thrills & Bellyaches was, for me at least, the album of the decade. And whilst (the rather weak) Step On is the track that everyone remembers, this twisted little tale from Shaun Ryder, with its amazing blend of Italian house-style piano, baggy guitars & Carribean rhythm is a truly awesome track. This album saved U2′s career as it allowed them to pinch all the ideas and make Achtung Baby.
    3. Tricky – Hell Is Round The Corner: This probably doesn’t really count as underrated, but it certainly wasn’t as popular as it should have been. Coming out at the same time as Portishead’s track Glory Box (which used the same Isaac Hayes sample), it didn’t get the same amount of acclaim. Yet in many ways it’s much better; more inventive, more soulful, just more! And exactly the same comparison could be made between the respective albums they came from. Portishead’s Dummy – hugely successful, really only one song repetated several times over. Tricky’s Maxinquaye – amazingly inventive, cult hit. Oh well..
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    I’ll be back with the final installment of this muli-part post, soon… (part 3 is now here, whilst part 1 is here)


    Favourite Songs Of Summer 2007

    I’ve barely had time to blog this summer, so thought that I’d just give you some of my favourite tracks of the last few months.

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    Common – Drivin’ Me Wild (feat. Lily Allen)

    Ben Westbeech – So Good Today (feat. The Dap Kings): Ben’s best tune to date gets another airing to celebrate the anniversary of Brownswood Recordings. US funk band The Dap Kings give the song a whole new twist, making it sound utterly fresh, yet entirely retro.

    Little Dragon – Scribbled Paper: A haunting lament from Swedish band Little Dragon. A bit like La Ritournelle. But without any percussion. Or something.

    Tuomo – My Thing (album): This LP of perfect soul by Scandinavian singer/musician Tuomo should have been number one in every country on the planet. The fact that it wasn’t is just another indication of the inherent unfairness of life.

    Jay Dee – Rico Suave Bossa Nova: I realise that I only came to appreciate rapper/producer Jay Dee’s brilliance after he died, but for anyone else who hasn’t heard of him yet, it’s not too late to find out. This off-beat Brazilian number from the LP Welcome To Detroit is proof of his genius: can you imagine Diddy trying to pull of an acoustic Latin track?!

    Common – Drivin’ Me Wild (feat. Lily Allen): The stand out track from Common’s latest release sees producer Kanye West using Lily’s voice as an instrument whilst Common’s awesome rap includes nuggets like ‘driving herself crazy like the astronaut lady‘ & ‘ They was one of them couples, people said they were the it; Unbreakable, like Bobby and Whit’.

    Quantic – Apricot Morning: The amount that producer Quantic has achieved in the 20 something years he’s been alive makes me feel utterly pathetic. This track off his 2nd album (just made available on eMusic) is a perfect example: funky, housy & effortlessly brilliant.

    Soil & Pimp Sessions – Sahara: A slice of pure dance-floor jazz from the second album by the Japanese band. Put this on the iPod and just try to stop your feet tapping.

    Hopefully I’ll have more time to write properly over the coming months; in the meantime check out all of the songs above – they should brighten up your day even with this crappy British summer!


    The Top 10 Best British Soul Songs Ever

    The BBC series Soul Britannia and the accompanying set of concerts at The Barbican traced the growth of soul music in Britain…

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    Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy

    Soul music has probably effected Britain more than any other country outside of the US or the Caribbean, which probably has a lot to do with our close ties with both these places. The BBC series Soul Britannia, and the set of concerts at The Barbican that went with the series, traced the influence of soul on British culture, and the growth of a very British type of soul music.

    As I am myself British, and would say that most of the music I love could be defined as soul, I thought that I would pick out the 10 songs that best meet both criteria – the 10 best British soul songs ever.

    1. Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy: A truly ground-breaking record, and one of the 1st that could be considered entirely British in its sound, mixing soul, hip-hop, reggae and just about everything in between. Spawned a genre, a boundary defying career and at least one copycat video. Still sounds fresh today, and more vital than just about anything that’s been released since. The album it came off, Blue Lines, would get my vote for best British soul album of all time.
    2. Cymande – Bra: If not British by birth, they were definitely adopted. Made up of members who had moved from the West Indies, Cymande mixed soul, funk & reggae to make truly beautiful positive music. One of the most sampled bands ever, this track was used heavily by De La Soul and sounds like the best song that Curtis Mayfield never made.
    3. Goldie – Inner City Life: Jungle, or drum & bass as it would become, was the 1st truly British music genre. This epic 12″, mixing sped up break beats, heavy bass and soaring vocals stretched to 7 minutes and, renamed Timeless, a mind blowing 21 minutes on the album version. It’s like a mini-symphony. Never had British dance music had this much ambition – or so much reason to be ambitious.
    4. Atmosfear – Dancing In Outer Space: A tune that proved that the best disco wasn’t necessarily American, Dancing In Outer Space mixes funk, ska and a beat that wouldn’t be out of place on most house records. Probably because it influenced so many of them!
    5. Soul II Soul – Back To Life: Jazzie B’s crew showed the world that the UK could do hip hop influenced music as well as the Americans, if not better. Starting life (like Massive Attack) as a sound system, Soul II Soul produced songs that mixed great beats, sweet strings and amazing (mostly female) vocals. Back To Life was their anthem – and in true disagreeable Brit-style it didn’t even feature properly on their debut album: an accapella mix was included instead – a nod to their sound system days when accapellas came in handy for mixing maybe. And it has been suggested the cover of the album Club Classics Vol. 1 inspired the ads for a certain portable music player.
    6. The Specials – Ghost Town: The Specials took the ska music that their parents had loved in the 60s and mixed it with the attitude of punk. The result? Classics like Ghost Town. A love/hate song to their hometown of Coventry, Ghost Town became the unofficial national anthem as riots tore through Thatcher’s Britain. The band were also a shining example of the easy mix of black & white that was taking place across the country to the disgust of the far right (and in doing so became a template for many of those to come, including Massive Attack & Soul II Soul).
    7. Average White Band – Pick Up The Pieces: Dismissed by many as being little more than pale imitations (literally) the very Scottish Average White Band made a very un-Scottish sound. If James Brown’s backing band The JB’s had come from this side of the Atlantic, this is what they would have sounded like. Pick Up The Pieces is 4 minutes of pure funk, proving that soul is definitely colour blind.
    8. Freeez – Southern Freeez: This was an absolute classic of the 80s soul weekender scene (see the soundtrack to that time here). Mixing a slightly off-beat, an infectiously funky bass and a fantastic keyboard solo, this song still sounds like an entire carnival every time it plays. Jazz-funk has had a bad reputation since the 80s as it was supposedly the music of Thatcher’s south (whilst the North had The Smiths). But this was the sound of black & white Britain coming together, which is more than you could ever say about Morrissey.
    9. The Style Council – Shout To The Top: There is no better example of the unpredictability of British music than Paul Weller’s move from The Jam to The Style Council. Having showed off his love of Britain’s rock history with his 1st band, The Style Council owed more to Motown than The Beatles. Shout To The Top is an amazing blast of strings, soul & style and is another reason why Paul Weller is Britain’s most underrated musician.
    10. Omar – There’s Nothing Like This: It may be dismissed as wine-bar soul, but Omar’s classic again showed that anything America could do, the British could do just as well – but with a twist (and in some ways paved the way for Acid Jazz). Whilst the Americans were in thrall to tinny 80 production, Omar harked back to a golden age- great vocals, beautiful tune and a whole lot of soul. Why he was never able to follow up this hit is a mystery – his recent new album sounds as fresh as those of musicians half his age.
    11. Roots Manuva – Witness (1 Hope): Part of a strong UK hip-hop scene, Roots Manuva’s lyrics, accent, style and sense of humour mark him out as definitely British. With a backing track that owes more to dub than anything else, this cult classic features lines such as the brilliant: Cause right now, I see clearer than most, I sit here contending with this cheese on toast. Not much bling there – or in the brilliant pastiche by Pitman.

    Before anyone starts posting disgusted of Tunbridge Wells type comments, I know that I chose 11 not 10 songs (I struggled to keep it under 20!)

    I also have to say that I have excluded all those bands who might be considered part of the British R&B/Blues scene of the 60s, and have only picked 1 song from any particular band, even when you might argue that some should have had 2 in this list.

    Why not check out the video for the 5th best British soul song ever and let me know what you think I missed, or songs that shouldn’t be in the top 10 (OK, 11).

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    Soul II Soul – Back To Life


    The Top Ten Best James Brown Songs

    The death of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, made me think about all the great music he created and influenced. Here’s my pick of the ten best songs he had a hand in….

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    Jesus, he could dance…

    1. Talkin’ Loud & Sayin’ Nothing – James Brown: The song that gave Gilles Peterson the name for his legendary Sunday afternoon club and award winning record label. James & his band were rarely tighter or funkier whilst the lyrics cover the familiar subject of minding your own business before you mind anyone else’s. And that break in the middle is the coolest thing ever!
    2. I Know You Got Soul – Bobby Byrd: The lead vocalist in James Brown 1st band, Bobby Byrd ended up as James co-vocalist & band leader. This song was co-written by Brown but sung by Byrd. It’s been sampled countlessly and is sure to make anyone feel funky.
    3. Unwind Yourself – Marva Whitney: Originally one of James’ backing singers, Marva Whitney went on to release a string of brilliant songs (none of which really made the big time). I’ve written about this track before, and it’s still bloody brilliant.
    4. Cross The Tracks – Maceo & The Macks: An impossibly funky song driven by the wailing sax of Maceo Parker – long-time member of James Brown’s band. Brown produced this record and it tells.
    5. Get Up (I Feel Like Being) A Sex Machine – James Brown: Probably his most famous song, and one that has fallen vitcim to many pastiches. But actually listen to Sex Machine and you realise what an amazing song it is. James Brown makes explicit what others had hinted at – funk is only one letter away from fu*k.
    6. It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World – James Brown: Before he invented funk, James Brown was all about the soul and Man’s World has that in abundance. Despite the apparently sexist nature of the song it is of course a hymn of praise to the women of the world. Beautiful. And it has one of the greatest intros ever.
    7. Think (About It) – Lyn Collins: Another of James Brown’s backing singers who went on to record her own material; this song (produced by Brown) has what must be one of the most sampled drum breaks ever. And it’s been sampled because it’s funky as hell, especially with Lyn belting out the words.
    8. Say It Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud – James Brown: Whilst James Brown was known as the black Elvis, nothing the King ever did had half the impact this did. Not really one of James Brown’s best songs, I’m Black & I’m Proud actually entered the language as a statement of defiance for African Americans in a country which had was only just leaving segregation behind.
    9. Soul Power – James Brown: A song that most of the population of the Western world would probably recognise and be unable not to dance to if they heard it. James Brown was funk, pure & simple. And he wanted to go to the bridge…
    10. The Message From The Soul Sisters – Vicki Anderson: Another former backing singer, Vicki Anderson was considered by James Brown to be the best backing singer he ever had. This song (released under the pseudonym Myra Barnes) has a great groove, and a dark undertone with uncompromising lyrics – “If you don’t give me what I want I’ve got to get it some other place.”

    I probably could have chosen any 10 from hundreds of great tracks, but these are the songs written, produced or performed by James Brown that I feel have had the most impact and which, quite simply, rule.

    Have a look at him performing Sex Machine whilst you think of your own ten, and also about how much the music world lost this Christmas.

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    Nice ‘tache James…..


    Best Music of 2006

    The best albums, singles, artists and gigs of 2006 – all decided by me……

    I’ve been very busy recently so haven’t been able to spend any where near as much time as this on I would like. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been listening to music – just not writing about it. So I’ve decided to list what I think has been the best music of the last 12 months or so…

    Best Albums

    In reverse order…..

    7. Spanky Wilson & The Quantic Soul Orchestra – I’m Thankful: A late addition. Will Holland puts the funky backing sounds to the awesome voice of original soul queen Spany Wilson.
    6. Barefoot – Barefoot: Lounge jazz covers of house & hip hop tunes. What’s not to like?
    5. Ty – Closer: Billed as the new Roots Manuva, I think he’s better. Certainly more tuneful, with excellent lyrics, and guest stars to die for (De La Soul, Speech from Arrested Development).
    4. Lily Allen – Alright, Still: Ignore the hype and this was a gem of an album. Ska-lite with Streets style lyrics.
    3. Soil & “Pimp” Sessions – Pimp Master: Actually released in Japan in 2005, this finally saw a UK release on Gilles Peterson’s new record label in ’06. Awesomely crazy jazz.
    2. Radio Citizen – Berlin Serengeti: Amazing blend of styles – from hip hop to soul to dance floor jazz. Reminds me of Rae & Christian’s iconic debut, Northern Sulphuric Soul.
    1. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black: I wondered whether she could beat her debut Frank and she did so resoundingly. A voice a million times that of Miss Allen’s, and music to match.

    Best Compilations/Mix Albums

    In no particular order..

    Gilles Peterson & Patrick Forge – Sunday Afternoon At Dingwalls: Legendary club commerorated on an album mixing everything from A Tribe Called Quest to Mica Paris.
    Various Artists – Brownswood Bubblers: Compilation of the best bits that are up & coming on Gilles Peterson’s new label – hasn’t left my stereo in weeks.
    Mr Scruff – Big Chill Classics: Does exactly what it says on the tin – classic chill out tunes from Mr Scruff.
    Various Artists – The Shape of Things to Come: Similar to the Bubblers CD, except that this download only album showcased some of the amazing music that was (is) coming out of Ubiquity records.

    Best Album That Came Out In 2005, But Which I Missed First Time Round…
    Ohmega Watts – The Find: Seriously, this album is so good it is a crime that it’s not sold billions. Bitch & bling free hip hop that harks back to the golden age. Like Lupe Fiasco, but even better.

    Best Singles

    And in reverse-reverse order…

    1. Ben Westbeech – So Good Today: Finally came out after an age on vinyl. Was the sound of my Summer, and should have been as big as Lily Allen’s Smile. Like Jamiroquai before he became shit.
    2. Iman – Who Was I Trying To Fool: Taken from the Bubblers album this is a truly beautiful little bit of soul. Just been released on 7″ – get it.
    3. Soil & “Pimp” Sessions – Pimp Master EP: Dancefloor jazz that actually makes you want to dance.
    4. Lupe Fiasco – Kick Push: Refreshing to hear a hip hop star talking about getting into trouble with the Police for skateboarding, rather than shooting someone. Kanye’s protege comes of age.
    5. Amy Winehouse – Rehab: A true revelation; a celeb who decides not to go to rehab for her drink problem and then writes a storming tune about it. Like Diana Ross if Shaun Ryder wrote her lyrics.

    Best Record Label

    It’s almost impossible top pick between these two – I reckon that they’ve been responsible for about 60% of the music that’s rocked me in 2006…..

    Brownswood – Gilles Peterson’s first record label since Talkin‘ Loud releases some of the best contemporary soul of the year. Ben Westbeech’s LP promises to be one of the releases of 2007.
    Ubiquity/Luv n Haight – San Fran based label whose compilations always introduce me to new & exciting music, from funk to hip-hop & everything in between.

    Best Music Store

    emusic – Beats iTunes by a mile. Launched a UK version which put my prices up slightly, but still boasts the best choices at the best price (and I’m happy to take gifts if anyone from emusic reads this)

    Best Music Website

    For people talking about music – MOG: like MySpace for grown-ups….
    For people playing music – Mixed Moods: German DJ releasing awesome podcasts….

    Best Festival

    It was the only one I went to, but it still rocked..

    Lovebox – Gilles had his own tent, I discovered the excellent DJ Spiritual South, the sun (almost) shined, and I remembered that I liked Bacardi……
    I’m sure that most of you disagree with most of this, so let me know what has rocked your world this year…..


    Soundtrack To Your Life

    Let iTunes decide the soundtrack to your life – no really, why not?!

    OK, so I totally pinched this from julie at MOG, but I think it’s the sort of thing that you should share (and this stops me from cluttering everyone’s email inbox).

    If your life were a soundtrack, what would the music be?
    1. open your library (iTunes, winamp, media player, Zen, iPod)
    2. put it on shuffle
    3. press play
    4. for every question, type the name of whatever song comes up
    5. new question—press the next button6. don’t lie and try to pretend you’re cool


    opening credits:
    “Painter Song” Norah Jones

    waking up:
    “Sideman” Lonnie Smith

    first day at school:
    “Two Way Monologue” Sondre Lerche

    falling in love:
    “Hindi Sad Diamonds” Nicole Kidman, John Leguizamo & Alka Yagnik

    breaking up:
    “Your Song” Marius DeVries

    prom or similar:
    “Cannonball” The Breeders

    life’s okay:
    “Dig Dr Woody” Sonny Sitt

    mental breakdown:
    “Up, Up & Away” 5th Dimension

    “Nevertheless” Frank Sinatra

    “All You Good Good People” Embrace

    getting back together:
    “Chico – Death Of A Rock Star” Goldie

    “What You Waiting For (Elevator Mix)” Gwen Stefani

    birth of child:
    “The Rolling People” The Verve

    final battle:
    “Starstruck” The Kinks

    death scene:
    “Twisted Logic” Coldplay

    funeral song:
    “Quixote” Polygon Window

    end credits:
    “Step It Up” Stereo MCs

    Ok, so what are yours? I promise I didn’t lie, even when it came up with two songs from the soundtrack to Moulin Rouge (falling in love & breaking up)….