I posted recently about Adele having taken a stand against the use of shuffling to protect the integrity and sequence of tracks on her albums so her listeners would hear her albums the way she intended. That caused me to think about the album as an art form, rather than just being a carrier bag of songs, and of albums that have remained with me as favourites for various reasons.
I have an extensive record collection, vinyl, CDs and cassettes some of which I have owned since my childhood. I have always been meticulous to care for my records, they are all still in excellent condition.
I play most of my records occasionally, some frequently, some are favourites at a particular time and are replaced in the repertoire by others as times change or to stop the record from becoming too familiar, I enjoy them all. Yet over and above these, there are some albums which have become so firmly entrenched in my life and my psyche that they are fundamental to who I am culturally and as a music lover. All are from the 1970s, my formative teenage years, all made lasting impressions on me.
Why should these be so important to me?
Some started as music discovered through the artists being support acts at concerts I’d been to, some were albums I’d bought after hearing tracks on the radio or after liking a song released as a single. One was an album from which I had heard thirty seconds of excerpts in a radio advertisement, the unique sounds intrigued me enough to buy the album. Each of them in some way came to mean a lot to me because of the appeal the music has to me, because they represent some times in my life that were special, and because they have become ‘old friends’ themselves, music that is familiar, much-loved and always inspiring.
I first heard of ‘Autobahn by hearing the 3-minute single edit on the radio in 1974 when I was twelve years old. I bought the single, as did my friend. In the days of guitar-based pop and Glam Rock, we both thought ‘Autobahn’ sounded like nothing else we had ever heard. It was the beginning of a transformation in the technology of making music, and for two 12-year-old boys, it was weird, cool and appealingly new.
Patrick Moraz: The Story of I
This was the 1976 debut solo album by Patrick Moraz, the Brazilian keyboard player who was a long-time member of prog-rock bands Yes and The Moody Blues. It is a unique combination of Brazilian traditional music, Jazz, Progressive rock and Electronic music. A concept album that plays as one continuous piece , albeit with the unavoidable break between sides of a vinyl LP or cassette, it tells a story of two lovers in a mysterious hotel where people are challenged to live the realisation of their most impossible dreams. I heard a 30-second radio advertisement for the album, its dramatic synthesizer opening and snippets of the cheerful Brazilian dance enticed me to buy it on cassette. The album has such depth, imagination, musical variety and cohesion, together with a sensitive and enthralling story, that it captivated me; 45 years later, it still does.
Illusion: Out Of The Mist
I saw Illusion playing as support to Bryan Ferry at Newcastle City Hall in 1977 and actually preferred their live performance to his. Illusion was a breakaway group with members of the Yardbirds and the original line-up of Renaissance. Their sound was a very English pastoral progressive rock, delicate, haunting and melodic, based around the beautiful voice of Jane Relf, framed in the technical piano playing of John Hawken and guitars of John Knightsbridge and Jim McCarty. Coming at a time when Punk Rock was to hit the musical landscape like an earthquake, the gentle Illusion were somewhat at odds with the times. They only made this one album, it is such a unique and lovely album that it is hard indeed to imagine how they could have followed it.
At the age of 18, I had left home, somewhat lost. I was finding my way in the world, commuting and working in a lowly job in Cardiff. I found this new album in Woolworths by a band I had liked; I bought it because of the cover and my liking for the band’s previous recordings. A concept album telling the story of the World War 2 Japanese soldier who became stranded on a desert island and lived alone for thirty years, not knowing that the war was long-over, Nude’s opening song contains the lines: “Oh, the city life, what have I come to?” Those words resonated with me at that time in my life. Most of the album is instrumental. In the central character Nude’s adventure, his solitude, and his finding of peace and fulfilment, I found comfort too. Camel’s music has been a constant companion to me.
Nigel Mazlyn Jones: Sentinel
Another support act at Newcastle City Hall in the 1970s: As the audience took their seats for a Camel concert, talking amongst themselves, a rather drunk roadie announced “Here’s somone called Nigel”. A long-haired bearded man quietly took the stage carrying an acoustic guitar. He started to play. Within moments, the audience was spellbound. Nigel Mazlyn Jones is a songwriter and guitarist like none other. His ambient folk songs of man’s place in nature, our effect on the world and the lure of the sea, with his swirling soundscapes and virtuosity mesmerised the audience. I bought both his self-produced albums at the merchandise stand. The message behind his music is as relevant today as it was then; the music itself just as unique and magical.
Hoelderlin: Live Traumstadt
In 1977, I visited the German city of Wuppertal as part of a schools exchange visit. The city’s biggest musical stars were a rock band called Hoelderlin. I was given a gift of the live album they recorded in Wuppertal the year I was there. Long compositions, meandering, melodic and rocking, Hoelderlin captured the magic and discovery of my first trip to Europe.