RetroRam’s Favourite Albums: A Few That I Forgot To Mention And Now I Remembered Them, So I’m Mentioning Them Now

You may not have read my previous, recent, posts about some of my favourite albums through my life. If you haven’t, well done. You’re one of the cool kids. Here I will recount a few life favourites that I forgot to mention at the time. Each of these albums has a particular person from my past tied to the memories they evoke, one person per album, which in itself makes them kind of special.

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Pop Will Eat Itself: Dos Dedos Mis Amigos – Any of their albums really, they were one of my favourite bands for a few years in the mid-90s. But it’s Dos Dedos Mis Amigos that stands above them all. A new direction, supposedly influenced by Clint Mansell’s friendship with Trent Reznor (he provided backing vocals on NIN’s The Fragile), this saw a previously upbeat, generally happy, positive band move away from samples and towards a more industrial sound. Lyrical themes became darker. Everything about it is what I needed in my early teens. I’d heard of the band through friends, but not really heard them until Donkey Kong Country came out on Super Nintendo… it shipped with a CD called Go Ape! which a friend leant me. As far as compilations go that was a key one for shaping my musical listening for a while thereafter. Radiohead’s Creep was on there, and PWEI’s Everything’s Cool – still two of my favourite songs. The whole album is solid, telling tales of a dystopian nature. It deserves to be heard. Until I learned Spanish some 10 years later, I thought the name meant “We’re Dead My Friends”.

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The Wonder Stuff: Hup! – Around the same time as Dos Dedos, I was heavily into The Wonder Stuff. Someone gave me a copy of this on tape (such was the way back then), highlighted a few of his favourite tracks, and left me to fall in love with it. A greatest hits compilation, this has songs from across their career and highlights everything that was right with them. From crowd pleasers such as Dizzy (with Vic Reeves), to darker songs like On The Ropes, and my favourite, Unbearable, this works better as a full album than many singles collections. Every time I listen to this it takes me right back to playing Stunt Race FX (again on Super Nintendo) for which this was my chosen soundtrack.

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Ned’s Atomic Dustbin: 0.522 – When I stumbled upon this album in Strawberry Fields, the record shop on Rickmansworth High Street, it had a Strawberry Fields price label of £15.99 (CDs were really expensive in the first half of the 1990s). Next to it was a publishers label “Pay no more than £5.22 for this CD”. A minor argument ensued. I won. I went home with this great collection of songs. The band got their break by supporting The Wonder Stuff (who were from the same town) on tour, and this here is a compilation of B-Sides and rarities, including the rather excellent killyourremix, a remix of their most famous song Kill Your Television. Not their best album, but the one I’m most glad I picked up at the time. They also have two bassists, which is mental.

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Supergrass: I Should Coco – I haven’t heard this in years. I never really liked the direction the band took after this album, but as a debut this is superb. 70s stylings (my mum once said they reminded her of Supertramp, but that may have just been the name) in both their look and their sound, there’s a rawness in the recording that many bands in the 90s were erasing with shimmery production. Great songs help make this a classic.

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Suede: Coming Up – I was never a massive Suede fan, but I always enjoyed their songs when I heard them. I had a very close friend when I was 16, and I remember calling her once and we’d both picked up this album. We were both listening to it. We’d pressed play at the exact same time… I’ve always believed we’re all intrinsically linked, and this event served as proof enough. The song still pricks the hairs on the back of my neck. The band had made their name by this point, and the confidence that comes with that is apparent in the songs on offer here.

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Ash: 1977 – This is a strange one, in a way. I kind of don’t like it much. But I love it. I can’t explain exactly what I mean by that. There are some fantastic songs on here, especially the singles, but really I bought it primarily because the band shares my name..! I still have my leaver’s book from school, where a couple of the girls signed it to “Ash, The Boy From Mars”. These are the memories that make us. I have plenty of other bittersweet memories tied to this album, because everyone associated it with me.

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Feeder: Polythene – When I was 16 fell into my first serious relationship. Her dad was the minister of the local Baptist church and, perhaps inevitably, got called away for work. The family moved to Bristol and we were, at the time, in deep enough to give the long distance thing a go. It didn’t work out, but for a time I’d get the National Express bus from London Victoria on a Friday after School/work and head to Bristol – a two-and-a-half hour journey (plus the hour or to to get to Victoria in the first place). I spent a chunk of my earnings from my after-school job (that I’d inherited from her!) on a Sony CD Walkman. It didn’t even have any skip protection, and the batteries lasted roughly one way there, but it didn’t matter. I had a wallet of my favourite albums, and this was one that was always there. Even now I listen to it, and I remember that crazy guy that sat next to me on one trip, talking to me the whole way there while I had my earphones in listening to this album on repeat. 22 years ago.

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Stereophonics: Word Gets Around – I was torn between this album (their first) and its follow-up, Performance and Cocktails. Both are perfect albums, but this one wins on timing. I saw Stereophonics play in 1997, supporting Skunk Anansie, around the time this was released, and they were fantastic. I knew a couple of their songs from Kerrang! cover CDs, and between that and the gig it was enough to sell me on the band.

I’m going to stop there. I could go on, almost literally, forever writing about my favourite albums. It’s criminal that in recent years my main listening time has been spent in the car. While I wrote this I took the time to listen to a bit of each album, loud and on headphones, like I used to. That’s about as close as seems possible these days to revisit those carefree days when I could lie back on my bed with my latest album purchase and just be alone with the music. And therein lies the magic of an album. A song can bring together a large group of people to a shared emotional experience, but so few people listen to albums that they can become your own, with your own, private, associations.

Find me on Twitter @BitlandComic to discuss your favourite albums and what they mean to you.

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RetroRam’s Favourite Albums: Early On

I thought I’d finish this series with a list of important albums from my very early years, albums released before or in the few years after my birth, that have stuck with me throughout. My parents’ music for the most part. Again, the criteria for this list is that these albums meant something at the time, and I still listen to and enjoy them to this day.

HighwayToHell

AC/DC: Highway to Hell – Some are quick to dismiss AC/DC, stating that “every album sounds the same”. Whilst this isn’t entirely accurate, they certainly play to their strengths, with a rock solid rhythm section fixed to a simple, but powerful, 4:4 groove. Even if you feel that way, there ought to be one album in your collection, and I was torn between this and it’s follow up, Back In Black. This album wins because… well I prefer it. This is the first of four that come from my stepdad’s record collection that I was allowed supervised access too from around age 14.

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The Beatles: Abbey Road – There are many Beatles albums that could have appeared here, but I went with my long-standing favourite. From the opening Come Together through Octopus’s Garden and on to George Harrison’s beautiful Here Comes The Sun, this is a divisive album, for reasons I don’t quite understand. It’s a far cry from their earlier rock n roll works, but shows their writing at some of its best, with something for everyone yet not sounding like it’s spread thin.

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Led Zeppelin: Remasters – Essentially a Greatest Hits package, there are so many classic songs spread across these two discs that it’s hard not to recommend. I inherited this one when my stepdad moved in and handed me all the duplicates between his and my mum’s collections, and I listened to it on repeat for weeks. The songs are laid out essentially in order of release, and so act as a journey through the band’s output. There are other compilations out there (Mothership is another strong one), and whilst this doesn’t replace the fact that you should listen to all of their albums, this as a stand-alone collection has it all.

Sabbath

Black Sabbath: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath – Again, I could have chosen any of this band’s first five albums but I settled on the fifth out of simple preference. Plenty of fine songs on here, it’s the title track that stands out for me above all others and part of my early influence to learn to play guitar.

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Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon – Once again there are a multitude of options for this band, so I went with the one that had the biggest impact in my younger years. This one is the start of my mum’s influence – she is a big fan of Pink Floyd, her favourite album being Meddle. If I had to pick a very favourite it would be Wish You Were Here, or for their older stuff the compilation Relics. Whatever you listen to, you can’t go much wrong. They produced many fine albums in their two decades.

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Marillion: Misplaced Childhood – Another of my mum’s, this one is special on a few levels. For a start, that kid on the cover looks remarkably like I did as a child with his ginger bowl cut, but it’s also one of several Marillion albums my parents listened to when I was young. The first side of the record flows beautifully from song to song, including the massive hit Kayleigh, after which my sister (and quite a few other girls of 1986) was named. My best friend at school, Ben, is the nephew of their bassist, as fact that I found out later in life (after I met Ben funnily enough), which added to the mystique of the album for me. We used one of his amps at a gig.

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Genesis: Invisible Touch – Many fans may consider this a weak entry in Genesis’ library, but for me it’s the one I most remembered from childhood. It has several great songs, a great sound, and I still enjoy it from time to time today.

Breakfast

Supertramp: Breakfast In America – this one is a classic, one that many of today’s kids want to get hold of as soon as they get their first Crosley record ruiner. It’s for good reason – Supertramp had a unique sound, great songs, and don’t sound nearly as dated as a lot of bands from the time. Superb.

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Electric Light Orchestra: Out of the Blue – Or the one with Mr Blue Sky on. Plenty to love here, a band not dissimilar to Supertramp, of their time but timeless. Mr Blue Sky was the subject of an exam I took during my Music GCSE, in which I had to break it down and describe its various sections. I passed with flying colours.

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Motörhead: Ace of Spades – Released the year I was born, Motörhead we’re still quite relevant as I grew up. This album, despite the title track being probably their most recognised, is special because it was recorded in my home town of Rickmansworth, at Jackson Studios. I learned this on reading Mick Wall’s excellent biography of Metallica, Enter Night, in which he recounts Lars’ Ulrich’s story of travelling Europe following bands, and popping in to see Motörhead rehearsing there! Pretty cool for a small town outside London previously famous as a hub of the Grand Union Canal.

There you have a selection of music from around my birth year that remains relevant to me today. I hope you enjoyed it.

RetroRam’s Favourite Albums: The 10s

Bringing this exciting series up to date, let’s have a look at some of my favourite albums of the last few years. Well actually, the decade is almost over isn’t it..!

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Frank Turner: England Keep My Bones – Once upon a time I was reminiscing with a friend about the time we saw Million Dead in London. The Garage, Islington was my favourite venue. Large enough to cram a good few people in, yet small enough to give an intimate show, and then the bands themselves would sell merchandise afterwards. I’ll always remember the singer’s kindness when I was embarrassed to be buying an XL t-shirt from him. “Oh,” said my friend, “you know he’s making solo albums now?” Well, I wasn’t aware, but I went right out and bought his then latest album. As the title may suggest, the entire album is about England and his love for his country. A departure from Million Dead, this is a folksy affair. Some powerful choruses punctuate a fine collection of songs.

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Jamie Lenman: Muscle Memory – A few years ago my wife and I were guests at a Humanist wedding in the woods, and we were certain we recognised one of the guests. He was regaling others with his book of Doctor Who sketches and stories, his distinctive dress fitting well with the setting. A few weeks later, when the couple returned from honeymoon we asked who was this man? “Oh that’s my cousin, Jamie Lenman.” Jamie Lenman was once the singer of one of my wife’s favourite bands from the 00s, Reuben. We sought out his new solo album, and fell hard for one half of it. You see this is an album of two parts – disc two is a folksy affair not similar to Frank Turner above though with a distinctly American flavour, whereas disc one goes all out angry, buzzing metal. The first half is not to my taste honestly, it’s a bit…. simple as metal goes. But the second half is truly sublime, with fantastic use of harmony. A secret Easter egg exists, which is in itself quite genius – the final tracks of both sides can be combined, on top of each other, to make a third song! Here it is:

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Muse: The 2nd Law – Prior to The 2nd Law, I had but one Muse album, The Origin of Symmetry. Whilst a fantastic album, it never quite encouraged me to get into the band. Then, in a whim, I purchased The 2nd Law, one of only two albums I’ve bought through iTunes! An instant hit, I loved it. Powerful songs with a strong message of hope, the Queen influence (that some people seem so offended by) is clear, and a reason why this one stands out for me. Well-produced and with fantastic playing from the band throughout, this one deserves its place on this list.

Opera

Queen: A Night At The Opera – As I mentioned on a previous post regarding Queen’s Greatest Hits, I hadn’t really heard any of Queens albums besides the two Greatest Hits compilations for years, despite considering myself a huge fan based on them. When a friend at work encouraged me to dig deeper into their library, he loaned me the albums Sheer Heart Attack and A Night At The Opera. It was the latter that stuck first, though it took a while. Less of an album and more a collection of songs, it took several attempts at listening to the whole thing before the songs started to make sense together. But once they did – oh boy is this a fine one! The album contains Bohemian Rhapsody, probably the first song Joe Bloggs would think of when you say “Queen”, but there are even finer pieces of songmanship on display here.

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Metallica: Lulu – Just kidding, this is shit.

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Slaves: Are You Satisfied? – Until recently, a friend and I used to swap CDs for Christmas, and there was usually a bit of a reason behind each choice. In 2015 he gave me this one. That year I wrote and recorded a song every week, primarily punk songs, and he felt that Slaves sounded an awful lot like me. They kind of do, I see where he was coming from. Thoroughly English, with great hooks. I was less impressed by their next two albums, but this one is great.

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Queens of the Stone Age: Like Clockwork – Having not cared so much for the two albums after Songs for the Deaf, this one took a while too. The slower tempo threw me off at first, but I slowly began to feel the groove, until finally this became my favourite of their albums. Sometimes it’s worth giving something a chance over an extended period.

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Blur: The Magic Whip – This one came out of the blue one day, when a friend mentioned a new single on Twitter. Blur’s first album since they disbanded 12 years previously, it had to be worth a listen. It sure was – the single Go Out was fantastic, and a great choice for first single. Blur haven’t release two albums that sound alike, and they continue the trend here. Not strangers to dark subject matter, this album is particularly dreary at times, which fits with the general social unease at the time of its release. One of their strongest efforts and well worth the wait.

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Royal Blood: Royal Blood – A year and a half ago, as one band ended, and another rose from the ashes (myself and the guitarist), we started to write and record some songs. I played bass, he played guitar, and it was good. As he was writing the majority of the songs, he introduced me to a number of his influences to get me in the right mindset – Electric Wizard, Sleep, and Royal Blood. I knew already of a few two piece bands that had managed to create a full band sound – White Stripes, Death From Above 1979, and Slaves, but Royal Blood have something special. Watch them live, you’ll see them get lost in what they’re doing. It’s great.

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Daft Punk: Random Access Memories – Here we end on what is easily my favourite album of this decade. Beautifully produced, it’s a joy to listen to. I had a vague interest in some of their earlier albums, so when I picked this one up I expected to kind of enjoy it – instead I realised immediately that this album had been tailor made for me. Eliciting a strong emotional response with each and every song, this has become a staple part of my testing repertoire for new audio equipment. I listen to it any time I’m struggling to decide on what to listen to, or any time in need a lift. It never fails me.

That’s it then, you’re now up to date with a good selection of my favourite albums from various stages in my life, albums that remain in regular play in our house. I’ll finish up with one more post – of albums from my very early life, and before it, the albums of my parents that have stuck with me through my life.

Look me up in Twitter to continue the conversation – @BitlandComic

Gigs

I haven’t been to a “proper” gig in a long time, for various reasons. But once upon a time I went to gigs all the time. Mainly small, local ones without proper tickets, but for those that did give tickets I still have them all in an album. Here they are!

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The Music Industry Soccer Six (Mile End Stadium, London, 12 May 1996) – Not exactly a gig, this was a day-long six-a-side football tournament, starting many of our favourite bands of the time. Highlights included Blur vs Oasis (at the height of that nonsense), and our pitch invasion as Apollo 440 were crowned champions. The security staff were, I suppose thankfully, quite good humoured about it. I remember getting close to the bands before being tackled to the ground by the most muscular woman I’d ever seen. Great fun!

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The Presidents of the United States Of America (Brixton Academy, London, 8 July 1996) – I mentioned this on a previous article – this was my first ever “proper” gig, and my first night out in London. First In was Kula Shaker, a band famous at the time for their single Tattva. They put on a blinding show, fantastic musicianship throughout. PUSA followed, with a considerably stripped down sound in comparison to their support, but they were the reason we were there. Playing all our favourites from their first album and a few sneaky peeks at the upcoming sequel, I came home with a vinyl copy of Peaches with Video Killed The Radio Star on the B-side. It spent the entire show in the back of my trousers, as I had no other way to look after it. Peachy!

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Metallica (Earls Court, London, 12 October 1996) – to pay for this ticket, which was most of two weeks pay at the time, I had to sell my Oasis Knebworth ticket. Whilst that show went on to be a legendary gig with a record number of participants, I don’t regret my decision. The Load tour, we captured in the DVD set Cunning Stunts, this was Metallica at their best. Unlike the cool kids, I actually loved Load, and the Black Album before it, as well as their early albums – and here I was punching the air and singing along to many of their very best songs! Corrosion of Conformity supported, and earned a new fan that night.

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Reef (Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 4 March 1997) – Supported by Number One Cup (sorry lads, I don’t remember you at all!) and Feeder (one of my favourite, then-unknown to the world, bands), this is probably the weakest gig I’ve been to, overall. I don’t know if it was the venue. I only went there once, but it’s a large, well-known venue so I can’t imagine that was the problem. So let’s blame the band. Despite having one of the greatest albums of the year, Reef just weren’t on it that night. Or I wasn’t. Interesting aside: my sister met her husband at this venue when they both worked behind the bar, some years later.

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Skunk Anansie (The Colosseum, Watford, 7th March 1997) – Yes, I know the date is different on the ticket. Unfortunately, Skin suffered a throat infection and couldn’t sing in November, so they moved the gig. What would have become my last gig as a 15 year old – one week before my birthday – became my second as a 16 year old. Whatever that means. Support came from Stereophonics (like Feeder, few people know the band at the time, but as a collector of magazine cover CDs, I knew a couple of their songs), and Gravity Kills (again I knew one or two of theirs thanks to Kerrang! and Metal Hammer. Both support acts were superb, but couldn’t hold a candle to the headliners. Already one of my favourite bands in my mid-teens, this show is possibly the best gig I ever went to. Watford Colosseum is small enough to keep you close to the bands, and the sound in there was immense. It’s no surprise that they chose this venue to record the soundtrack to Lord of the Rings a few years later!

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Blur (Wembley Arena, London, 11 December 1999) – It’s no surprise to people that know me, I was quite the Blur fan. Their album Parklife was one of the first that got me into music proper, and indeed was the second CD album that I ever bought with my own money! This gig appears on DVD (titled The Singles Night) in the 21 box set, which also contains other live DVDs, remixes versions of all their albums in CD, and other goodies for fans (I have it of course!). The support act was some DJ or other. I was indifferent to his thing, but he ended up more or less booed off the stage, which is a shame. People can be cruel. Blur were on top form, and it was fantastic to finally see them live! We pushed up to the front and screamed along to the songs, all of the singles through their career. Some of the live recordings were released on disc 2 of their Greatest Hits album in 2000. This gig had a happier ending than most. Rather than spilling out onto the street with everyone else, we found ourselves backstage and at the aftershow party. The story as I heard it was that my then-girlfriend’s dad was an attorney and he’d represented Blur’s Chauffeur in some case or other. As thanks, he’d secured us passes to meet the band!! The bar was backstage and downstairs, and we waited patiently as various crew members came in, waiting for the band. They came in one by one, we said hello, then after what seemed like forever we found ourselves standing next to Damon Albarn and Phil Daniels. Unfortunately my girlfriend got sick at the wrong time (like seriously sick, she was in bed for a week, and I for the week after that!), and ran off to make pavement pizza. I took the initiative and interrupted their conversation, shaking Damon and Albarn’s hands. “I’m Ash, I’m a great fan, thanks for the show, now I’ve got to go!” I can still see Damon’s bemused face as I turned to follow her as he said “Ok, bye Ash!” and got back to the conversation that he wanted to be having.

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Bloodhound Gang (Astoria, London, 21 June 2000) – Bloodhound Gang were, at this time, enjoying their five minutes of fame thanks to their album Hooray For Boobies, and more prominently the singles The Bad Touch and The Ballad of Chasey Lain. My friend Ben and I were already big fans. After hearing Kiss Me Where It Smells Funny on a Kerrang! cover CD, I had bought their first two albums and listened to them to death. They were supported here by a band called Tung (not to be confused for the English folk band, Tunng). A rapcore band not dissimilar to Rage Against the Machine, as soon as they started to play the crowd went crazy! We got caught up in the mosh and stayed there for the rest of the evening, pressed against the barrier for the main act. I left that show drenched in sweat, with a black eye from being kicked by a crowd surfer, soaked in wine and whiskey that had been poured on us by the bassist, Evil Jared, at various tones through the show, buzzing like never before. Their show included the fattest guy in the audience being covered in jelly, with pretty girls called up to lick it off, another being given several cartons of vindaloo to eat through the show, culminating in being offered money to take Jimmy Pop’s fingers down the throat and puke on the singer’s shirt…. it was disgusting, and yet SO MUCH FUN! Never before had a gig felt so much like a private party. I came home from the show with a Bloodhound Gang hoodie that became my favourite item of clothing – I still have it – and a condom with packaging emblazoned with the name of one of their songs Yummy Down on This! There’s also a blurry, out-of-focus photo of me behind the band in Kerrang!’s review of the show, after the photographers were pulled on stage to take a photo of the audience.

Oasis

Oasis (Wembley Stadium, 22 July 2000) – One of the last gigs at the Stadium before they knocked it down and rebuilt it, Oasis were supported by The Happy Mondays, which was nice. Well past their prime in terms of album releases, this was at least a fantastic, powerful show. The “fans” did their best to ruin it, strutting around in their stupid hats, desperate to all look the same, pissing in bottles and throwing them into the crowd. But get past that and it was a good show.

Deconstruction

Deconstruction Tour (London Arena, 28 May 2001) – This was something special. Ten bands, ten hours, £15. When you consider that the Oasis ticket above cost £27.50, this was a bargain of a show. Besides the bands, there were skateboarding and BMX displays in between. Some of our favourite bands played this show, but one of the main things I remember from it was the inclusive nature of it. There was every kind of “punk”, split off in their groups. We were skaters, there were “proper” punks with their colourful Mohawks and tartan, safety pin and piercings types, skinheads in their Ben Shermans and Doc Martens…. it was a posers paradise! Pennywise came on last and towards the end of their set they announced that the venue had a problem with their selling of merchandise, wanting a cut of the profits. That’s not right, they said, we’re here for you, not for them. We were told to leave early and the bands would be selling their merch on the streets – hurry before the police came! We were naturally pretty exhausted by then, and with a trek home to the extremities of the Metropolitan line we didn’t want to miss the last train, so we went and bought our t-shirts. It was a good feeling, seeing a band actually stand by their principles and sacrifice an audience for the final songs for their cause. The following year Deconstruction was part of Download Festival and cost £120.

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Poison The Well (The Garage, London, 27 August 2003) – I went to this one not knowing the band, or their support, but came home with two new CDs and two new favourites. Whilst Poison The Well haven’t been on my radar for years now, their “special guest” went to release my album of the year in 2017. Thrice. Their twin guitar work left me in awe, and a lifelong fan. They’ve since stripped their sound back, and perhaps are better for it, their latest album being my favourite so far.

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Million Dead (The Garage, London, 2 December 2003) – Support for this show came from Jarcrew and Minus – two great bands whose albums I bought soon after. This gig was a few weeks after I’d moved out of my mum’s house into a cottage with my best friend Ben and his girlfriend after they’d come back from University, and this gig was an outing for the housemates. We were there, of course, for Million Dead, who didn’t disappoint. After the show I went to buy one of their t-shirts from the band themselves, which is always a bonus, having the chance to thank them and declare your love!

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Metallica (Earls Court, London, 19 Dec 2003) – Supported by Godsmack, this show left me feeling somewhat hollow. Another housemates outing (I may have forced them to buy tickets), I was disappointed by Metallica’s performance. Perhaps I was comparing it to the 1996 show, when they (and I) were much younger, or perhaps it was because we couldn’t help laughing at Rob Trujillo’s crabwalk, this just wasn’t as good a gig as I hoped it would be. It didn’t help that St Anger was a weak album, or that the band’s reputation with me had been forever tarnished by the Napster debacle. I’ve seen videos of their shows since, and even now they display ample energy and drive, so I guess I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this one.

GreenDay

Green Day (National Bowl, Milton Keynes, 19 June 2005) – The last big gig I went to, I had formed a strong preference for smaller venues by this time. Still, this was a fantastic show! Support from Hard-Fi (who we missed), Taking Back Sunday (who were great), and Jimmy Eat World (who were excellent). Green Day put on an amazing show, engaging with the audience and giving a strong performance throughout. Despite the huge size of the venue, and the fact we were standing some way back from the stage, we felt part of something special – something not every band can achieve. As the sun went down and they closed with two of their slower numbers – Wake Me Up When September Ends and Good Riddance, I had that unmistakeable feeling of a perfect gig. I then had to drive home, dropping of friends over a vast area, finally home and in bed at 2am. I then had to be in a London for a 9am medical exam to secure a new job. I passed, somehow.

That’s it, my entire collection of gig tickets. A treasured possession, it’s been fun to look back on the good times that they represent.

Want to chat about your best gigs? Perhaps, by some “it’s a small world” coincidence you were even at one of these shows? Then find me on Twitter @BitlandComic

RetroRam’s Favourite Albums: The 00s

Moving on into adulthood, this list is of albums that had an impact on me during the 2000s, also known as my 20s. Again, the basic criteria of this list is that the albums meant something to me during this period, and I still listen to them today. This one has been more difficult, because there is less music from this period of time and my life that remains with me. A lot of it is hard to listen to now; either cheesy, or very much stuck in its time, or simply haven’t had the lasting effect that music from my teens has had.

RustInPeace

Megadeth: Rust In Peace – Ok, so this first pick is from 1990. But this list isn’t about that, it’s about when the album hit me. In this case 2004. As you’ll know from my previous two posts I am quite a fan of metal, but somehow Megadeth had passed me by. I know why. The first songs I heard of theirs were 99 Ways To Die from The Beavis and Butthead Experience, and Vortex from Cryptic Writings, though I heard it on a cover CD from Metal Hammer or Kerrang! magazines. I didn’t care for either song, finding the guitar work to be fantastic, but I couldn’t get past the guy’s voice. Well, someone convinced me to listen to Rust In Peace, and I was quickly hooked. So much so that for my 30th birthday I bought myself a Dave Mustaine signature guitar bearing the artwork.

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Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP – I first heard this one in the car on the way to Alton Towers. It was a long drive from home to there, 2 ½ hours or more, and I sat in the front where I took over the stereo. Someone had copied this album onto cassette for the journey and we listened to it repeatedly. Having recently experienced the (rough) end of a relationship with all kinds of nastiness thrown about, certain songs on here provided a much-needed catharsis. It still resonates today, and I consider it one of the most honest, open recordings of all time.

Boobies

Bloodhound Gang: Hooray For Boobies – Another one from 2000, I was one of the few people who already new the band. I had their first two albums, and worshipped Jimmy Pop Ali and his lyrical wit. A group of us went to see the band in London in the Summer; an experience like no other. Besides the fantastic show, and the creepy weird girl grabbing at me during Kiss Me Where It Smells Funny, I left the venue at the end and wrung out my shirt. A black eye, crushed ribs, and covered in whiskey and wine that Evil Jared the bassist had poured on us as we moshed against the barrier. What a night. I’m also in the photo Kerrang! used to illustrate their review. It’s blurry and everyone says “you can’t see it’s you,” but what does that matter? It’s someone wearing my clothes and standing where I was at the front…. so it’s me. Hooray!

AmericanIdiot

Green Day: American Idiot – The last great Green Day album if you ask me. Which you didn’t, but you are reading this so… Forget all the “punk rock opera” nonsense and what you have here is Green Day at their finest, with some truly great songs and the fine hooks that make their music so fun. I saw them at Milton Keynes bowl on the tour for this album (support from Hard-Fi, Taking Back Sunday and Jimmy Eat World – the latter two were favourites of mine at the time). We drove there listening to Gorillaz. Fantastic day! Got home at 2am and had to be in London at 9am for a medical exam in advance of my new job at London Underground! Worth it!

SongsForTheDeaf

Queens of the Stone Age: Songs For The Deaf – Of course I’d heard of Queens of the Stone Age by 2002, but I wasn’t familiar with their music. I used to visit Watford’s Virgin Megastore and raid their 6 for £30 section every couple of weeks, once finding the previous album to this – Rated R. It grew very quickly on me, and led me to this one, that was at the time their new album. Once again an album full of great songs, somewhat ruined by the loudness wars (though at the time I didn’t know better, and wish I still didn’t), but great songs nonetheless. Each of their albums has taken a bit of time to get into, but not this one.

RearViewMirror

Pearl Jam: Rearviewmirror – Yeah, Pearl Jam were a thing when I was younger. Somehow they passed me by, probably because I was quickly drawn to harder things, so when I found this Greatest Hits collection in a shop, it made sense to give it a go. It’s really really good. Unlike many Greatest Hits albums, there’s a strong case for this one actually having a lot of the band’s best songs. And two CDs of them too!

BrightLights

Anti-Flag: The Bright Lights of America – A while back I got back into punk in quite a big way, helped by the fantastic Ant-Flag. Underground Network, Mobilize and The Terror State came out in 2001, 2002 and 2003 respectively and are well worth a look for genre fans. It was 2008’s The Bright Lights that really got under my skin. Boldly standing against injustices in the world, particularly in the titular nation, over catchy guitar music. There’s not much wrong with it.

Cash

Johnny Cash: American IV Subtitled The Man Comes Around, I first heard the titular song of this album at the beginning of 2004’s pretty decent Dawn of the Dead remake, and naturally had to hear the rest of the album. It was in fact my introduction to the music of Johnny Cash. This album is perhaps best known for its cover versions of Hurt and Personal Jesus, but if those are all you know, you’re doing yourself a disservice. The Beatles are also covered, in In My Life, and some more traditional Cash songs including Give My Love to Rose and I Hung My Head. This album sounds to me like a love song to his own life. Full of anguished, soul-crushing emotion, tinged with regret at the passing of time, this is one to feel as much as hear. Yeah, I went there.

DreamOn

Scala: Dream On – Most people know this choir from their haunting rendition of Radiohead’s Creep. In a roundabout way, so do I – though I haven’t seen that film, but it was used again in an episode of The Simpsons that parodied the film. Immediately looking up who covered it, I discovered this album. It’s beautiful. A woman’s choir, singing popular songs with piano backing. Naturally a great album for relaxing to, there are some great highlights here where the choir really brings the choruses to life (no duh). Creep isn’t here, unless you got the bonus disc version which has a live recording, but a better Radiohead song is, in Exit Music (For A Film). It’ll make the hairs on your neck stand up as the song ramps up to its crescendo.

Well that was the noughties for me. There was, of course, a lot of other stuff I was listening to at the time, but it doesn’t make this list because I don’t listen to it any more. Early Slipknot, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park… yeah, not today, thanks.

What do you think of my list? Do you have one of your own? Find me on Twitter to chat – @BitlandComics

RetroRam’s Favourite Albums: Late Teens

Following on from yesterday’s post, in which I described a few of the albums that formed the basis of my musical taste in my early teens, here I will list a few from the next stage – my late teens. They occurred in the second half of the 90s, which will naturally be reflected in my choices here. It was an exciting time in my musical life, one in which I was as constantly seeking out new experiences, buying an album or more every week, and expanding my horizons from the metal and punk that filled the previous half-decade.

As before, this list will include albums that were important to me at the time, and that I still listen to today. Some albums have aged less well, and they won’t be included here.

PUSA

The Presidents of the United States of America – I randomly discovered PUSA back in 1995. Having seen a video of their song Lump on the ITV Chart Show, but thinking it was an old 70s punk song, I was surprised to find it when I visited Strawberry Fields – the music shop on Rickmansworth High Street. They had a crate of 99p singles on their counter (CD and Vinyl) that I would raid every week after collecting my paper round money. This one was in there, so I bought it and fell in love. The album came soon after, and it became my mission to make sure everyone in my school year heard it, whether they wanted to or not. In Summer if 1996 they became the first “proper” band I saw live, age 15. We had to travel through a tube strike to Brixton on the other side of London, where they played the Academy, supported by Kula Shaker. A defining moment in my life, one that had us buzzing all the way home on the night bus and into the following weeks.

MorningGlory

Oasis: (What’s The Story) Morning Glory ? – Still in 1995, there’s not a person alive at the time who wasn’t impacted in some way by the album. Naturally, many already knew the band thanks to their excellent debut album, but this was the one that blew up. Full of fantastic singles, with not much filler, the flow of this album is superb. I finally saw Oasis at Wembley Stadium in 2000 (having sold my Knebworth ticket to see Metallica in 1996) and even those five years later it was the songs from this album that got the crowd singing the hardest. Wonderwall may elicit a groan at an open mic night or as you walk past a busker, but there’s no denying the impact it had on popular music at the time.

Stoosh

Skunk Anansie: Stoosh – Oh my this was a big album in my life! As a budding guitarist there was plenty of fun to be had playing along to this album, with elements of punk and metal and occasional acoustic softness. When I started to play bass three years ago, this was again one of the first albums I turned to. When I saw Skunk Anansie at Watford Colosseum (March 1997, supported by Stereophonics and Gravity Kills), an already favourite band was burned into my soul. Hugely powerful sound, superb musicianship, topped by Skin’s fantastic voice. So still play this one regularly, with two of the songs on my “bass” playlist when I’m practicing.

Glow

Reef: Glow – There’s a pattern forming here, for Reef is another band I saw live, in 1997. This one was at Shepherds Bush Empire where they were supported by Number One Cup and Feeder. This is an album to make you feel good. With unmistakeable elements of Led Zeppelin, there’s not a bad song here. Place Your Hands was the big single that may class them as one hit wonders, but there’s a lot of good to be found in this album.

Pulp

Pulp: Different Class – I didn’t actually own this album until the early 2000s when I received it as a gift, but had a copy on cassette and the singles Common People and Disco 2000. A slow burner in some ways, a lot of the songs start off slow then open up with the first chorus. A collection of anthems to normal, or “common” life, this album spoke to us as we grew up in the grey town of Watford. I never saw Pulp live, but I do remember staying up one night to record their Glastonbury set from Radio 1, and enjoyed listening to it many times.

TheBends

Radiohead: The Bends – Everyone knew Creep, one way or another. I first heard it on the CD album Go Ape!, which came free with Donkey Kong Country on SNES. A good friend had the game and lent me the CD, which introduced me to this band and Pop Will Eat Itself (who would also be in this list, except that I don’t really listen to them any more). Thanks to that introduction, I grabbed this album as soon as I could and it became one of my favourite of all time, and remains so to this day. Some will tell you OK Computer was the finer work, but not for me. This is where Radiohead peaked.

13

Blur: 13 – I remember the first time I heard the lead single from this one, Tender. I was in Phoenix Records in St Albans, having a browse, and the song was playing over the speakers. Not quite able to place who it was, I asked and was told it was Blur’s new single. Wow. Blur has reinvented themselves with every album before this, but still it was a shock quite how far they’d moved from their poppier past. I bought the limited edition of the album, and absolutely loved it in all its dark, depressing glory. I actually met the band in December 1999. My girlfriend’s dad had represented the band’s chauffeur and managed to get us passes to the aftershow party! What a night, until she ran off and puked and kept puking for the following week, by which point I caught it too! Still, I met Blur! 😀

Various: Fat Music For Fat People – A compilation of songs from the Fat Wreck Chords stable, showcasing their talent, this album soundtracked a school trip to Barcelona in 1998, shortly before my 18th birthday. I could listen to this one over and over, and many of the bands have remained favourites ever since.

FrogStomp

Silverchair: Frogstomp – Another favourite for the guitarist in me, there are so many good songs on this album. Grungey by nature, and owing more than you may realise to Pearl Jam, Silverchair had a harder edge to their sound, and this first album of their had a particularly raw sound to it. Dealing with various angsty topics, it was perfect for teenage me.

Alice in Chains: Unplugged – For my 16th birthday I received from my stepdad The Blues Brothers on VHS. After our VCR chewed the tape on the first viewing, I was taken to the shop and told to choose whatever I wanted. It was this. And what a choice! This album floats around my top five albums of all time. Alice in Chains are a favourite band of mine, but I don’t always enjoy the tone and production of their albums. This one though, with everything stripped back to acoustic instruments, is very raw and full of emotion, and essential listening for fans of the band.

Queen

Queen: Greatest Hits – This will be the last one, this list is getting a bit long, but I couldn’t leave without mentioning this one, which should honestly have been on yesterday’s list of formative albums. I can’t get enough of it. Every song (except Flash, which irritates me no end) is perfect, and as a collection there is no finer compilation of songs in the history of all music. Absolutely my favourite album of all time, one I return to frequently, this is the most influential album on me. It even influenced the name of my son. Strangely, it was many years before I listened to any Queen except for this and its sequel (Greatest Hits II would you believe), and a cassette copy of The Works that if found in my Dad’s collection. In fact, I was 30 before I heard any of their other albums, at which time I certainly made up for lost time by repeatedly listening to many of the albums until they sank in. But still, it’s Greatest Hits that remains the perfect collection overall.

Well that was cathartic. I hope you enjoyed this insight into the second phase of my musical awakening. I’ll soon be tackling some favourites of the 2000s!

Find me on Twitter @BitlandComic, I’d love to chat about your favourite albums.

RetroRam’s Favourite Albums: The Formative Years

Inspired by a thread on Twitter today, in which all the cool kids labelled Nirvana the most over-rated band, I felt compelled to write a list of my favourite albums. The criteria for this list are pretty simple – these albums were a big part of my formative early-teens (first half of the 1990s), and I still listen to them today. Bear in mind that many of these will also be massive sellers that have gained the attention from that special sort of elitist who can’t help but tell you how they are over-rated. Nevermind them.

InUtero

Nirvana: In Utero – Well, let’s start here then, shall we. I was 10 years old when Nevermind came and shook things up. I was still listening to Michael Jackson and Thompson Twins at the time. For In Utero, though, I was 12 and in Senior School (High School if you like), and as such the album hit me hard. A friend gave me a cassette with Nevermind on one side and In Utero in the other, and told me to listen to it. I did. It changed me, probably more than any other tape ever has, and In Utero was the stronger album for me. Sure, as a kid there were lyrical elements that elicited a giggle – “rape me my friend”, “I wish I could eat your cancer”, and so on, but the power of the music is what ultimately grabbed me. Perfectly soundtracking my life as an outcast, drifter, and the family’s black sheep, the haunting harmonies stick with me to this day.

Metallica

Metallica: Metallica (The Black Album) – Another one that came along when I was 10 and was therefore missed, for a while. Of course in Senior School, where so much of this begins, the album was soon shared along with their earlier output. Perhaps because it was the most recent one, or the most accessible, this was the first one that resonated. The opening two tracks were amongst the most divisive in our peer group, with some staunchly believing that Enter Sandman was the best, and others (myself including) favouring the heavier edge of Sad But True. This isn’t now my favourite of their albums, and certainly isn’t in my top ten albums, but it was supremely important at the time.

SeventhSon

Iron Maiden: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son – My dad left when I was 10, ran off with someone from my uncle’s company. Soon thereafter I went rooting through the drawers in the cabinet that housed the stereo he’d left behind, and found this one on CD, and instantly fell in love with it. I’d heard nothing of the sort before, growing up in a house full of Genesis, Marillion and Pink Floyd, and it struck a chord. I wonder why it lived in that drawer, why it was separated from the rest of my parent’s collection, but I assume either my mum didn’t approve of it (see also Appetite for Destruction below, another drawer find), or she didn’t want me and my sisters to find it. I’m glad I did, it remains my favourite Iron Maiden album to this day.

Appetite

Guns N Roses: Appetite For Destruction – Now this one is very much in my top ten albums to this day. Perfectly recorded and produced, this is to me the ultimate rock record. Massive sounding, with great tone, this was the sound of a band (and producer) that knew what they wanted and knew how to get it. Not a bad song, this is as close to the perfect album as I know. And compared to many of its 1980s peers it’s aged incredibly well. Another that I found in Dad’s abandoned music drawer.

ChaosAD

Sepultura: Chaos A.D. – Now this was a turning point, the album responsible for pushing me into the deep, dark underworld of metal. Let’s be clear, this was not a cool album to listen to. I was ridiculed for my maturing tastes. But so what, it’s a fantastic collection of songs from start to end, and we shouldn’t be listening to music to score points from our peers. Some will prefer the earlier albums (a theme common to so many bands is that people claim to like them, but only the early stuff) and I certainly do love Arise which came before it, but for the purposes of this list, this is the one that introduced the band and cemented them in my psyche.

AJFA

Metallica: …And Justice For All – Metallica again. Today you’ll notice many experts discussing the mastering of this album, which has hidden the bass guitar and with it all the lower frequencies of the recording. Back in the early ’90s though we were absorbing most of our music from cassettes copied from cassette copied from records – hardly ideal, but it didn’t matter the slightest bit, particularly given that we were listening on a cheap walkman from Boots with the headphones that came with it. Kids bemoaning the audio quality of MP3s and Apple earbuds don’t know they’re born. I digress. This album, or songs from it, came to me on the same mixtape that introduced me to Sepultura, and so made a massive impact. Also teaching me that before Black, Metallica had done something quite different. Again not my favourite Metallica album (Master of Puppets as you asked), but at the time this was one of my favourite albums ever, and helped push me to learn guitar.

RATM

Rage Against The Machine: Rage Against The Machine – Another seminal album in the “rap metal” genre, as we knew it at the time. I was an angry child, I think that’s why I fell so hard for metal and punk music. Life wasn’t always easy, and people had a habit of pissing me off – a habit they haven’t shaken in the intervening years. This one spoke to me on many levels, with its tales of injustice spoken over fantastic guitar-based grooves. The first album that made me appreciate the role of the bass guitar in the music I loved. I love this album so deeply that I know that the second song’s name does not end with “of”.

Dookie

Green Day: Dookie – Moving on from the metal that soundtracked my pre-teen years, as I entered my teens I opened up to other ideas. Around this time if started a paper round, earning me £15 a week. Music at the time was quite expensive and that would have bought me an album a week, or several singles. I mostly went for singles for the sake of variety, and one of the very first I bought was Basket Case. Another perfect album, the main complaint I’ve heard about this from the hipsters is that it’s “too well produced”, which is an interesting argument, akin to “it sounds really good”. And it really does.

Smash

Offspring: Smash – Basically a kind of sister album to Dookie, this sufferers from the same problems of the other – too many great songs, too well-recorded to be accepted by true punks. Full of energy, this one. They subsequently went a bit off-the-rails, entering the mainstream as something of a comedy band, though their albums were pretty solid throughout, with the singles genuinely being amongst the weaker songs. This one though, this one is great.

Parklife

Blur: Parklife – This one may be a little surprising given the harder edge if other albums in this list, but this album came along at exactly the right time to impact me. Full of fantastic songs, swinging from hopefulness to despair, this is far more than many will assume from a “pop” band. Damon Albarn is a prolific musician and song writer, putting his name to many different styles of music, but this album captures him (and the band) at the top of their game. Youthful energy coupled with a streetwise knowledge of the world around them, I still get a tingle when Girls & Boys comes on.

Troublegum

Therapy?: Troublegum – I saved the best for last. This was my favourite album in its day, and remains amongst my very favourites today. Another album instrumental in my learning guitar, and the first that I learned to play through! I can’t quite say what magic they bottled for this one, and they certainly haven’t quite managed to repeat it in subsequent albums, but this one represents the perfect storm of anger and anguish. Truly a masterpiece, and largely forgotten today. Not by me!

So there you have a few of my earliest musical memories, with regards to my own musical awakening. Before this lot I was listening to Michael Jackson’s Bad, Thompson Twins’ The Gap, and The Simpsons Sing The Blues. Needless to say, life changed.

What are some of your most important albums, and why are they so? Find me on Twitter @BitlandComic to chat about it!