Hello everyone, and welcome to the first in a series of blog posts listing my favourite album for each year of my life (so far).
This initial entry is perhaps the most tricky as it’s clearly retrospective. Nonetheless, a rule of this series is that I own and appreciate each of the albums listed.
1970 – Death Walks Behind You by Atomic Rooster
This album was born in the same year as yours truly. Like much music of that time, it anticipates the still-developing prog rock era while also echoing the dying chords of the bold and experimental psychedelic movement. Tracks like Seven Lonely Streets and Vug could easily be mistaken for early Pink Floyd, while the unsettling artwork was perhaps a portent of the turbulent decade to come. Like all great music, it doesn’t beg to be liked, and this uncompromising stance is vindicated with a wonderful classic rock experience.
1971 – Hunky Dory by David Bowie
Never one to follow convention, while popular music was pushing the boundaries of what an album could be, Bowie was already anticipating the post-punk and new romantic movements which weren’t as yet a glint in the record company’s eye. With a track listing boasting the incomparable Life on Mars and the almost sixties sounding Oh you Pretty Things, Hunky Dory is a hint at the creative flexibility and self re-invention which were the enduring hallmarks of Bowie’s long career. It still lifts and gladdens my heart to hear this album more than four decades after its first release.
1972 – Close to the Edge by Yes
In a similar vein to Atomic Rooster, Yes still retained an echo of sixties psychedelia in their fifth studio album, while Jon Anderson’s folk minstrel voice instantly evokes the smell of wood smoke and ancient fireside tales. Close to the Edge is a true prog rock production, with the title track weighing in at over eighteen minutes. Some of the solos and instrumentals might be regarded as self indulgent, but that’s kind of missing the point. This was a time when rock musicians really began to spread their wings and demonstrate they were every bit as creative and talented as their classical cousins. Yes were one of the bands leading that charge, and Close to the Edge is a glorious background for any gathering of good friends, good food and fine wine.
1973 – The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
So much has already been written about this iconic album that there’s really very little to add that hasn’t already been said. Boasting by far the most famous artwork ever to grace a record sleeve, Dark Side of the Moon is perhaps the single most important creation of an age when the ascendant album was king. Although not my personal Floyd favourite, it’s nevertheless an essential component in music enthusiast’s library. It truly deserves its place in my all time rundown, and I’m sure it would feature in hundreds of thousands of similar lists.
Yet another album from the 1970s which is still discussed, debated and listened to today. The 22 minute title track continues to divide opinion, with some commentators referring to it as a “soundscape” as opposed to a music track per se. Either way, this groundbreaking (largely) electronic offering appeared at exactly the right time to flourish as the album continued to supplant the single as the serious music fan’s preferred medium. Perhaps less user friendly than Pink Floyd or Yes, Kraftwerk began their rise first to music stardom and then to cultural artefact with this brilliant production. Put it on the turntable, spark up a French cigarette and follow that concrete road to a bright and orderly future of mass transportation and increasing automation.
All in all, the years 1970-1975 contain a disproportionate number of albums and artists that are still played, debated and celebrated to this day. This period was a golden age for musical and production creativity which has never been matched. It represents a quantum leap forward in the way popular music was created, consumed and understood at a cultural level.
The worst part about this period was the fact that I wasn’t old enough to experience it first hand. My best memory of this time was being taken to the barbers, the place where I first encountered those exotic musical creatures with long, lustrous curls, trimmed beards and lovingly groomed moustaches. Mysterious beings from a world I could not yet fully understand or appreciate. Looking back, I’ve come to realise that despite the obvious problems, in many ways those years were more culturally liberal and socially honest than our current state sponsored and ruthlessly policed pluralism.
Next time I’ll look at the years 1975-1979, and my dawning realisation of a cultural and political world outside of myself.