The (Actual) Final Countdown Part 2
The ten following albums are sheer musical perfection, and in no order, I’m going to recommend that you check them out.
Did I say recommend?
I meant damn near demand.
It’s live. Lets go.
10 – Reggatta De Blanc – The Police – 1979
The Police were, simply, a revolutionary band.
We’re not going to talk about Sting on his own, though.
Why were they revolutionary? That’s easy. They combined so many elements when making music it was as if Dr Frankenstein signed a record deal. Reggae? Check. Rock? Check. You want falsetto? Opera? yeah, it’s in there. RDB was definitely their magnum opus, the Michelangelo’s David of their remarkable discography.
There are so many remarkable tunes here. Let’s have a crash course, shall we?
Message in a Bottle is an incredible song. It’s almost transformative, as if it starts as one genre, a rock and roll record, and then becomes something else. Once Mr Copeland starts to flex his muscles on the kit it changes and becomes a Reggae-licious affair. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever heard, and it floors me every single time. Also offered here is some truly genius lyricism. Sting remarks that it “Seems I’m not alone in being alone”. How melancholy and unique is that? It’ll make your head spin, but god is it worth it.
The other knockout tune here is Walking on The Moon. Safe to say the lyrics are simple. Giant steps are indeed what you must take when you walk on the moon. Not all the lyrics are as profound as Message in a Bottle, but for me, with this song, it’s all about the drums. I fell in love with all things Stewart Copeland when I first heard this. Stewart is in his own little bubble here, and he knocks me for six every single time, especially the fill he cheekily adds before the final chorus. That is nothing short of magical. It’s a stunning performance, much like this is a stunning album.
9 – Greatest Hits of The Cure – The Cure – 2001
The Cure are one of those mythical groups that have very few bad songs. I know the musical puritans among you will slate me for including a compilation album rather than the original works (it’s not the SAME, WILL), but this is just a silly list, after all, it’s really not worth you getting so worked up over.
As far as the album is concerned it features most of the usual suspects, but a few songs stand out to me, even at 20 years old. My mother first showed me our first standout, Just Like Heaven when I was no older than ten. It was captivating to me that someone could pour so much happiness into three and a half minutes. Originally the song came during that transformative phase of the band’s career when they went from their gothic ‘I hate everybody’ origins to ‘Friday I’m In Love’.
Quite a change.
But Just Like Heaven is an ode to falling in love for the first time. It’s quite a beautiful thing to behold really. Also, my mum and I still sing it together and I’m almost 21. That still makes me smile.
Boys Don’t Cry is one of those songs that you’ll find yourself singing even if you have no idea what Robert Smith is talking about.
Boys Do Cry.
Honestly it’s gorgeous. It’s honest and emotional, which is where the best songs come from. That about sums up this album actually. It has a profound sense of emotion and a lust for life. Not one to miss.
8 – The Colour And The Shape – Foo Fighters – 1997
If you’ve had the pleasure of reading my piece about my recent, ahem, experiences at the 2019 Reading Festival, then you’ll know how I feel about the Foo Fighters. They are one of the greatest, if not the pinnacle rock band of the last 20 years, and if you’re hoping to get into them, this album is the perfect diving board.
Following the death of Kurt Cobain in ’94, Dave Grohl, the guy in the Foos who looks an awful lot like the drummer from Nirvana, channeling his inner mad scientist, started a new project. The result was The Foo Fighters.
So logically a mere 3 years later they dropped this seminal, uncomfortably incredible record.
Every song on the tracklist is a home run, but there is something truly transcendent about a little ditty called Everlong. It’s a four-minute voyage into unrequited love and not wanting things to ever change, wanting things to stay the same. That’s the perfect description for the track because once you’ve listened to it, you never want to un-hear it. It’s remarkably simple, just Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins and the rest of the band making love to your eardrums with hypersonic mastery.
Side note – maybe I’m babbling because of how much I freaking love this song, or maybe it’s just that good. I guess you’ll have to listen to find out.
I’m having to restrain myself from gushing about every single song on this thing. Its one of those records that will never leave your memory once you’ve listened to it a few times. The Foos are an amazing collective of awesome haircuts, amazing instrumental technicality, and genius lyrics.
If I had to choose one other song to personally recommend (and it can’t be all of them) then I’d have to go for Monkey Wrench. It’s one of the most energetic rock songs you’ll ever hear. It’s angry, but that anger is harnessed by Dave and the boys and transformed it into a ridiculously cool song and indeed album. Kick. Ass.
7 – Black Holes and Revelations – Muse – 2006
Oh Hell Yes.
Muse, but more specifically their jack of all trades irritatingly talented frontman Matt Bellamy have always had fans. They’re a fabulous band after all, but when this album came out in the summer of 2006 Muse went from strength to strength, and it’s not hard to see why this album is held in such high esteem by die-hard Muse fans the world over.
This is Muse at their most theatrical and most powerful. The lyrics are profound, the guitars are loud and the vocals are up in the stratosphere. Its a rock opera, an odyssey of epic proportions. Also the first standout, Supermassive Black Hole gained new notoriety when it was used for that scene in Twilight where the vampires play baseball (you know the one. don’t lie).
But there are other songs here that will leave you stunned. Let’s take Map of the Problematique for example. Its a brilliant bloody song, with Dominic Howard beating the shit out of the drums to create an almost trance-like listening experience, complete with soaring harmonies from Bellamy to boot. Its so cool. Bottom line.
And before we move on there’s the tiny little tiny matter of Starlight, which is one of the best songs the band has ever written, and my personal favourite of the album. It’s soaring. A song for the ages about wanting to be with that one person that means more to you than you could ever put into words. You need to experience it, but we’ve all felt those feelings. That’s why it works.
6 – Sweet Baby James – James Taylor – 1970
Way back at the start of our list I warned that Mr Taylor may be making a cheeky appearance, and look who’s rocked up. I’m a man of my word.
This album is a family favourite, and one of the first albums that Mum and I ever listened to together. She used to sing me, Sweet Baby James, before I went to sleep every night, and I still get that same warm fuzzy feeling every time I listen to it. I’d never heard such a beautiful song before but I knew what that meant after the first time I heard some of the songs on this album. Taylor was an incredible songwriter and truly one of the greatest talents of his generation.
That talent is reinforced with our next song, Fire and Rain (tears, already). The song is melancholy and painful to listen to. But its not pain in a bad way its as if its a necessary pain to go trough because you know things will get better soon. Thats what I think Taylor was going for. The song has a certain distance to it, almost. The lyrics are desperately sad, but the instrumentation and interpretation that Taylor places round them is sonorous and achingly beautiful to listen to. The song is like an old friend after you’ve listened to it a few times. It simply will never let you down. Thats the perfect description for Taylor’s 1970 magnum opus. It will always be with you.
And side note – who knows if the ever speculated relationship between James Taylor and Carole King was real, or if it ever materialised. Frankly that doesn’t matter. If it was true that they wrote this album together, then that will only make your love for the record increase. Two people came together and made a fabulous and timeless piece of artwork. Well done them I say.
5 – Escapology – Robbie Williams – 2002
This was another album I couldn’t get enough of growing up.
Take That split up back in 1996, and Robbie Had been going it alone (and doing rather well for himself) for a good few years when this gem came out in 2002. The main reason Escapology is so resonant with me and still so relatable even in my 20 year old head is because of two things;
The honesty and realism of Williams’ lyrics
The unstoppable partnership between Williams and the albums super producer, Guy Chambers.
Escapology was a new direction for Williams. It was completely different from Life Thru A Lens (1997) I’ve Been Expecting You (1998) and Swing When You’re Winning (2000). Now don’t get me wrong. All three of those albums were great too, but this one would go down as being historically different.
The cream of the crop here, in my ever-humble opinion, is a tie between Something Beautiful and Feel. The former is a cheerful, life-affirming ode to happiness and prosperity, while the latter is a brutally honest and beautifully written song about wanting to find happiness. Maybe there’s a theme that connects the two, but they’re different in almost every other way, and both iconic because of it.
But that’s not where the magic ends with this album. Later on, in the stellar tracklist you’ll find Hot Fudge. This is one of the funkiest songs Robbie and Chambers ever wrote, and one listen to the thing will prove to you why. Its three minutes of killer keyboards, awesome vibes and that trademark Robbie Williams tongue-in-cheek.
Basically, this album is awesome. Get the message? Check it out.
4 – American Idiot – Green Day – 2004I don’t even have to explain this one. I wrote a piece about why this album was ahead of its time.
You can find that here. This one is special, but unbelievably it’s only in fourth. So lets press on.
Oh my god
OH MY GODDDDD
We’ve reached PODIUM POSITIONS PEOPLE
Look alive sunshine
Okay okay home stretch lets do this.
3 – Hotel California – Eagles – 1976
I’ve always been in complete awe of The Eagles. They’re a bunch of freaking rockstars. Living legends. And boy do they know it.
This is the album that gave them that status.
Its a masterpiece. An absolute fucking masterpiece. I’ll try and explain why without squealing with glee.
The title track is the musical equivalent of willingly losing your mind. It’s a drug trip made of sound waves. It’s remarkable and will change the way you think about music. Probably forever. It almost goes beyond how the song actually sounds with this one, although HC does also happen to feature the single greatest guitar solo I’ve ever heard. Glen Fry, take a bow up there you beautiful man. We all miss you.
The lyrics warn you that you ‘can check out any time you like, but you can never leave’.
But let me ask you
If being held hostage by narcotics in blissful ignorance of your situation (somewhere in the desert) sounds this good, why the hell would you ever want to leave?
This song is that good. And its only track ONE.
This album is one of those mythical records that will surprise you more and more every time you listen to it. We continue with New Kid in Town and later Life In The Fast Lane. These are two equally beautiful, but vastly different songs. New Kid is quite melancholy when you first listen to it, but it grows on you. It makes sense really considering the song is about wanting to be accepted. Fry, Henley and the rest of the band really flex their instrumental muscles here, and the result is glorious.
Fast Lane is a different beast, though.
It’s my personal favourite on the album, and it features Glenn Fry at his most untouchable. A guitar hero if ever there was one. This song rocks, this song rolls and this song does basically everything in between. Its a song you can listen to in any mood and you’ll instantly feel better because of it. The harmonies here are phenomenal too.
Just like the rest of the album. Incredible.
2 – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles – 1967
The silver medal goes to the fab four.
Everything these four incredible people achieved together, every album they released, every record they broke (that’s destroyed) simply added to their mythos.
The Beatles aren’t a band anymore, people, they’re practically a religion.
If you had the unenviable task of choosing a magnum opus album-wise, then Sgt Pepper makes a fabulous case for itself. It’s my personal favourite, but of course my opinion should play no part in how you choose to discover this band. They were the greatest pop group and the greatest songwriters of the modern age. You all know the stories, believe them. They’re most certainly true.
Sgt Pepper is, to be frank, the Bayeux Tapestry of 20th-century songwriting.
It touches on some incredible subject matter. Some of it is heartbreaking, some of it is exhilarating, all of it is perfection. Where do we even start with this thing? The title track and With a Little Help From My Friends sets the tone and begins to tell a story that spans the entire length of the album. Its a story of overcoming adversity and finding solace in each other, in people you care about. For that to be put so effortlessly into an album is why this one will live forever. It had never been done before, and odds are it will never be done again.
My personal favourite song here though is surprisingly easy for an album that cannot be categorised. That honour goes to A Day in The Life. Up until I discovered the album you’ll see momentarily at number one, this was the greatest song I’d ever heard. Even at 20, the song cracks my top three tunes ever. This is why.
I almost don’t consider this a song. It’s a narrative. A script, if you will. Lennon, McCartney, Starr, and Harrison guide each listener through exceptionally ordinary activities, catching the bus, oversleeping and waking up late for work, watching television.
Therein lies the genius of the piece, because what’s the best way to make a song memorable.
Easy. Make it relevant to everyone all at once.
I feel like the song gives off a profound sense of loneliness as if while you’re listening you’re just drifting, blissfully unaware. But it makes it so strikingly relevant to everything we do collectively in society today. Everyone has these feelings. Everyone knows where The Beatles are coming from.
Truly outstanding songs talk to you. You don’t listen to them as such, they speak to you, and you listen. I think A Day in The Life is the epitome of that. The song will affect each listener differently. But eventually, you’ll realise why it’s so resonant, so incredible. You’ll understand what it means to you, and you alone.
That is what Sgt Pepper as an album facilitates. Each listener will judge it how they see fit, but to me, it is truly almost perfect.
But it isn’t my greatest album of All Time.
1 – Fleetwood Mac – Rumours – 1977
What do you all know of heartbreak?
Simply, you don’t forget when your heartbreaks.
If you don’t immediately understand the significance of that then odds are you haven’t felt it yet.
Fleetwood Mac were the first band that truly changed my life. Once I understood Rumours it changed my outlook on where the future would take me.
Honestly the first time I listened to it I didn’t understand it. It took a few tries. But one fateful day I started it and everything clicked into place in my head. I was captivated, and sobbing uncontrollably by the end. I knew I wanted a career in music because of this thing.
The album was released in 1977, and it came at a turbulent time in the lives of the members of the band. The married Mick Fleetwood began a torrid and publicised affair with Stevie Nicks, who was married to Lindsey Buckingham. Meanwhile, the other members of the Band John and Christie McVeigh were also on the brink of divorce.
So basically everything was going wrong.
Rumours was the band’s response to the chaos, the eye of the hurricane and the light at the end of the tunnel.
Each song here is more like a thrilling story, and two of the most memorable are Dreams and Go Your Own Way. The incredible thing here is that these two songs are written from the perspectives of Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood respectively.
ABOUT THE SAME ARGUMENT
Dreams is brutal. Nicks’ lyrics tear into an unknown (but known) person who doesn’t want the same things as she does. It’s angry, bitter and painful stuff.
But even with the darkest subject matter, there’s an undeniable beauty to it. The lyric ‘women they will come and they will go’ will undoubtedly tear you to pieces. Its as if Nicks knows she isn’t good enough, but sings through the pain and uncertainty anyway.
The song, and album, almost reminds me of the music played by those brave musicians on the Titanic. They knew the inevitability of the ship going down but played on with courage. This song makes you feel desperately sorry for the circumstances under which it was written, but it will captivate you from start to finish.
But all stories have two sides
Go Your Own Way is the equally spiteful response to the story of Dreams. Fleetwood lays into an unknown (yet known) woman about how he’s feeling. Again the pain telegraphed here will leave you breathless, just as before.
The lyrics here are what makes the song so remarkable. Fleetwood almost begs for forgiveness but doesn’t back down. He tells the recipient that ‘packing up, shacking up’s all you want to do’. That line destroys me because again its a story of how both parties must have known what was coming.
Yet they bravely knew that the show had to go on.
Every song here is much like these two highlights. Just as heartbreaking, just as melancholy and just as stunning. The adjectives I could use to describe this seminal album just go on and on, so I’ll be blunt.
After almost 21 years Rumours is (thus far) the greatest album I’ve ever heard. I hope you find something to love within it too.
Rest those eyes
We made it
It’s been a pleasure, and it’s been a wild ride. I sincerely hope that each person reading this was happy to dive into my head and pick my brain for a few albums.
I may be a professional musician, which means I’m probably biased, but that’s the amazing thing about music. It means different things to different people.
That means each person can react to this list however they want to.
But either way
Thanks for coming along for the ride.
I think you’ve got some listening to do.