What impact does an influential album need to make it be so?

When short on ideas during the fallow months between releases and the festivals of the European summer, magazines trot out Top 100 albums, 100 records to hear before you die and How To Buy Free Form Jazz and other minority genres. For many music fans they’re dull lists of records we know intimately or just in passing. We tend to know what we like and are very rarely informed by such lists, but if you’re new to the grooves of free form jazz then a rundown is a prerequisite before handing over your readies.Revovler WP

Usually it is the same records, as the longevity of The Beatles and Pink Floyd has failed to decrease, in 2013 the chances of a new record giving so much for 40 years is slim, the climate is too different. More modern classics from the over lauded Radiohead to the can’t-escape-from-the-ubiquitous Nevermind have bored enough people in the past 20 years that we’ve pretty much given up on these lists varying from rundown to rundown.

But we are interested though, perhaps just enough to flick through the pages in the newsagent and saving our money for actually buying the albums instead. So seeing the influentialalbums.com list I couldn’t help myself. This loose collection of cornerstones of rock and key releases do not figure prominently in my albums which are important and influential to me, but what I saw left me astounded. There were some really rotten records on this list. Who compiled it? Was it some self-important teen in their room wanting to show off their cool collection of albums? Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm? Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Searching for the Young Soul Rebels? Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self titled effort? Really, people were influenced by these releases? Some little androgynous wet pants could have their lives shaped by Belle and Sebastian, fair enough. But to be one of the 100 most influential albums is stretching its importance to the wider world. Up against The Clash’s London Calling, The Beatles Revolver and Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions…, those albums mean very little to the general public.

Oasis’ debut Definitely Maybe was an influential album. WTSMG? WPIt didn’t just spawn many poor guitar bands riding the Britpop’s mod coat tails aiming to cash in, it changed the demographic of the male record buying public. Geezers with season tickets to their local football team started buying music, their clothes reflected the Gallagher brothers’ wardrobe and they started going to gigs. There was a huge shift in society by the time the second record came out, What’s The Story Morning Glory, and I consider this collection of songs hugely influential, but only by proxy. I didn’t join in the Britpop style, I enjoyed the atmosphere of going out so much more with music increasingly integral to our nights out, but it didn’t influence me directly. Other albums did this.

These lists need to state why these records are influential, directly or otherwise. A list of 100 records means nothing, what was the wider impact of Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm?

So rather than be a sourpuss, here are my most personally influential albums and why.

Simple Minds: Live in The City of Light
Key Track: Book Of Brilliant Things

I was 13 when this came out and it has been informing me ever since. That’s two thirds of my life. Simple Minds Live was my musical dawn, ground zero, the starting gun had sounded. The album is big, full of huge tunes, stadium vocals, soaring guitars; everything I hold dear to my musical heart. It’s also full of pomp and bluster, bombast and more production than a live album should really contain. Regardless, I cherish it and it started my love for Simple Minds, a band who are still my favourite today. They’ve bought me good times, and around the turn of the century, some bad ones too, Neon Lights honks! But Live In The City of Light is still a beacon.

Del Amitri: Change Everything
Key Track: Sometimes I Just Have to Say Your Name

The title is in fact up for debate, this record was a continuation of the Dels ability to a Change Everything WPfind acoustic and electric guitars cosying up with great melodies, where backing harmonies join the songs about waiting at a train station, being at somebody’s wedding or some other sorry state of love affairs. There are similarities with Eagles but these stories are set in the Glaswegian rain not in the Californian sun. The predecessor, Waking Hours, set the influence in motion, Change Everything made it vital to my late teenage years. If Jim Kerr made wearing cowboy boots cool, Del Amitri made it a necessity. More importantly, this LP taught me how to drink whiskey. And red wine.

Billy Idol: Rebel Yell
Key Track: Rebel Yell

When I was 11 there was a girl in the church youth group who I adored, my mother thought I’d marry her. She was a couple of years older than me, as many of my friends were at the time, but upon hearing I liked Billy Idol she said, “If you like Billy Idol, you’ll love The Cult.” So not only has William Broad influenced a curling lip and several spiky haircuts over the years, but also a light-hearted, but no less serious, love of cock rock. The next record is his fault too.

The Cult: Sonic Temple
Key Track: Fire Woman

Quite simply another reason for wearing cowboy boots, but made wearing skinny jeans and standing with my legs so far apart my balls nearly touch the ground cool too. Between Astbury and Duffy I’ve gained long hair, a love of air guitar and some of the greatest student disco moves of all time. From the off, The Cult were a visually more exciting band than either Simple Minds or Del Amitri. Astbury’s was a look I had little hope of pulling off and often felt my futile efforts failed to match. Looking back, all things considered, I actually did a very good job. My hometown had appalling shops, it was hard work mimicking my idols.

Primal Scream: Vanishing Point
Key Track: Burning Wheel

Screamadelica is the more obvious choice for many lists, but VPWPVanishing Point not only sounded better and grooved harder, it opened my ears to more influences. I got into dub, primarily King Tubby, due to this record. The dub producers’ skills heard within the reverb, the echo and the vocals which all filled a vacant space in my musical brain. I also noted Krautrock in the Scream Team’s swag bag of magpied tunes and reference points. Vanishing Point extended my sonic horizon like no other record I’ve ever bought. It was a gateway to understanding the next record.

Massive Attack: Mezzanine
Key Track: Black Milk

Trip hop beats had previously just given me a headache. I understood verses, a chorus, middle eights and guitar solos. But years of expanding my palette allowed Mezzanine to be hit from the first bass notes of Rising Son. The group added guitar to their sound further enhancing its accessibility for me. Then came a love of Safe from Harm and Karmacoma’s rumbling bass, something that had passed me by until Vanishing Point helped out. Further dub records were bought and other trip hop acts too, and I owe my purchases to this record.

Depeche Mode: Songs Of Faith and Devotion
Key Track: I Feel You

I’d struggled to digest whole DM LPs and considered them a great singles band. The hardening of their sound, the growing of hair certainly alerted me to the new Mode offering. A more complete record for me, and the whole presented more electronica in one sitting than I’d had since the Pet Shop Boys Introspective. The dirty, deep throb of I Feel You shaping a fondness for the dark and deviant that wasn’t considered goth rock.

Lo Fidelity Allstars: How To Operate With A Blown Mind
Key Track: Vision Incision

An amalgam of beats, samples, electronica, rap and live drumming with Lo Fi's WPmodern beat poet mumbled vocals all drenched in Tennents Super birthed in dirty clubs became an instant top ten album in my all time countdown. The flow from Depeche Mode, Primal Scream and Massive Attack leading me to this solid set of so many disparate elements, yet so cohesive, was a joy. As rock was struggling under a lack of invention, electronic music took me under its growing influence. Using pseudonyms and liner notes thanking Eddie Wearing and Guinness, to more obviously, Bootsy Collins and George Clinton, they were a one off. When the Wrekked Train departed he took the darkness leaving the Lo Fi’s to get poppier and funkier, and they sadly lost their way. This standalone document to D.I.Y. bedroom germinated electronica is unrivaled. This record completed my journey into a new sound, an electronic sound.

And no, I didn’t marry the girl, we moved away before I hit thirteen.

2 Responses to “What impact does an influential album need to make it be so?”
  1. garythespud says:

    Great piece and one to get us thinking… I’ll have a think and get back to you.

  2. mrdoops says:

    Really good read, thanks for writing.

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