AS I stressed in Part One last week, this list is a purely personal choice and does NOT claim to include the greatest records of all time, rather those that I have loved through the years. So here we go with numbers 90 to 81.
90 Brian Eno: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974)
As I wrote here, this album saw Eno’s first use of Oblique Strategies, which involved a pack of more than 100 cards to be shuffled and used in the event of a creative impasse. Devised by Brian and his friend Peter Schmidt, they include instructions such as ‘what would your closest friend do?’ ‘work at a different speed’ and ‘use an old idea’. These are largely responsible for the quirky unpredictability of Eno’s music and he would continue to use them on future work including David Bowie’s albums Low and Heroes. In February last year, I said:
‘The lyrics on Tiger Mountain contain many dark and surreal themes. For starters, the opening track Burning Airlines Give You So Much More refers to an air crash that year near Paris in which 346 died, the worst disaster in aviation history until Tenerife in 1977.
‘The album was inspired by a Chinese revolutionary opera and China features in several songs although Eno insisted he was no Maoist – “if anything I’m anti-Maoist”.
‘Back in Judy’s Jungle concerns a group of soldiers about to go on a guerrilla raid and begins:
These are your orders, seems like it’s do it or die
So please read them closely
When you’ve learnt them be sure that you eat them up.
They’re specially flavoured with Burgundy, Tizer and rye
Twelve sheets of foolscap, don’t ask me why.
‘Can anyone think of another reference to Tizer in popular music?
‘The Fat Lady of Limbourg concerns a woman whose sense of taste is such that
She’ll distinguish with her tongue
The subtleties a spectrograph would miss,
And announce her decision,
While demanding her reward:
The jellyfish kiss.
‘All of this sung, of course, in a cut-glass English accent.
‘Third Uncle has been seen as a precursor of punk rock while Put a Straw under Baby features Robert Wyatt on backing vocals and the Portsmouth Sinfonia, an orchestra which demanded that members be untrained on their chosen instrument. Eno made several appearances with them on clarinet and produced their album Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics. They eventually gave up when they decided they were getting too good. The True Wheel is remarkable in that its lyrics inspired the names of not one but two British bands, 801 and A Certain Ratio. It also refers to the Modern Lovers, Jonathan Richman’s band.
‘The final track, Taking Tiger Mountain, suggests the direction his work would take; a gentle near-instrumental leaning towards ambient minimalism.’
89 Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series Vol 4: The ‘Royal Albert Hall’ Concert, 1966 (1998)
I wrote about this album here in March last year. Since then the clip I found of the moment when an audience member shouted ‘Judas’ at Dylan has disappeared from YouTube but here’s a substitute. And here’s another of those brilliant Downfall parodies, Hitler Discovers Bob Dylan Has Gone Electric.
88 Guy Clark: Old No 1 (1975)
As I wrote here in February this year, Guy Clark was 34 when he released this, his first LP. I won’t go through all the tracks again but repeat that this is a sublime album, understated and beautifully played by Clark’s Nashville chums.
87 Ian Matthews: Some Days You Eat The Bear (1974)
. . . and some days the bear eats you.
I wrote about Ian here in December 2018. I said then that my all-time favourite Matthews song was the sublime Never Ending, but as far as his albums go I think Some Days takes the biscuit. It’s stuffed with great songs. First off is the great Tom Waits number Ol’ 55, followed by the much-covered Danny Whitten track I Don’t Wanna Talk About It. Ian revisits his own brilliant Keep on Sailing, which was the opening track on his previous album Valley Hi, and manages to make it even better. There are versions of Steely Dan’s Dirty Work and Pete Dello’s Do I Still Figure in Your Life? The crowning glory is a majestic version of Jesse Winchester’s Biloxi, with soaring lap steel from the incomparable David Lindley.
86 Free: Highway (1970)
Although its predecessor Fire and Water included the magnificent All Right Now and Oh, I Wept, Highway is my favourite album by Free. Highlights include The Highway Song, The Stealer, On My Way, Be My Friend, Ride on a Pony and Soon I Will Be Gone. As I wrote in March last year, Highway was a commercial failure and its lack of success was a major contributory factor in Paul Kossoff’s continuing descent into the drug addiction that killed him. Such a shame. He was a great guitarist.
85 King Crimson: In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
I refer you, m’lud, to my column of January 6, 2020. From the amazing cover to the earth-shattering 21st Century Schizoid Man, this is a monumental album rightly described as one of the greatest in the ‘progressive’ genre.
84 The Be Good Tanyas: Hello Love (2006)
I wrote about the Tanyas in 2018. Standout track on this excellent record is Sean Hayes’s A Thousand Tiny Pieces. As I said then, if the harmonies on this song, particularly on the repeated phrase ‘things keep changing’, don’t send a shiver down your back, I suggest you apply to have your spinal column replaced.
83 Gillian Welch: The Harrow & the Harvest (2011)
One of my first columns, in August 2018, was about Gillian Welch, purveyor of often-grim country songs delivered through gritted teeth. At the time her latest album was her fifth, The Harrow & the Harvest, which came after an eight-year hiatus. As I said then, it was well worth the wait. Dark Turn of Mind, The Way It Will Be, The Way It Goes, The Way The Whole Thing Ends – all excellent.
And best of all, Hard Times, about the mutual affection between an old-timer and his lady mule. Since then Welch and her pardner David Rawlings have released three albums of old material under the title of Boots No 2, The Lost Songs, many of which are very good indeed. This year came a collection of cover versions, All The Good Times Are Past And Gone, which the pair recorded at home after their Nashville studio was blown away by a tornado. Standout track is a lovely version of the classic John Prine song Hello In There. The absence of original material suggests a continuing case of writer’s block but let’s hope Gillian finally overcomes it and gives us some new songs.
82 Tom Waits: Swordfishtrombones (1983)
It was only recently that I wrote about the gravel-voiced boho so I’ll simply repeat that this is truly an album like no other.
81 Genesis: Foxtrot (1972)
I raved about this record here in August 2019. As I wrote then, track one is Watcher of the Skies, whose title is taken from On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, by my favourite poet John Keats, the last four lines of which have always moved me strangely:
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Side two’s 23-minute suite Supper’s Ready contains, as keyboard player Tony Banks agreed, some of Genesis’s finest work.
Right, so that’s the first 20 of my selections completed. Ten more next week.