April 5: 2Pac, Bob Marley, Joni Mitchell, Parliament

Latest installment of the 1001 Albums You Must Hear. After the ‘Songs from Big Pink’ borefest I decided NO WHITE MALE BANDS for this installment.

2Pac, ‘Me Against The World’.

As the album opener indicates, Makaveli got shot (non-fatally) prior to this album, yet checked himself out of the hospital and ended up with this album. Perhaps a few more days in hospital would have allowed him more time for reflection: instead he appears to have reached the conclusion “nah I’m right, it’s everyone else who’s wrong!”. Musically, it’s big bass, squealing synths in the treble section and 2Pac’s gruff rapping in the low-middle end. I’m not sure if there’s still a Biggie/Tupac divide like Blur/Oasis, and it’s probably not an apples/apples comparison, but I prefer the Notorious BIG stuff I’ve heard to this offering from his rival.

Bob Marley and the Wailers, ‘Exodus’.

A pleasant surprise: a lot more varied than I was perhaps expecting with hits scattered throughout.

Joni Mitchell, ‘Blue’.

Often under-represented in the arrangement department (sparse solo piano or guitar), ‘Blue’ didn’t do too much for me. Sucks to be me I suppose – three more of her albums on this list.

Parliament, ‘Maggot Brain’.

Who says a funk band can’t play prog rock? The opener and title track of this album is, of all things, a 10-minute Gilmour-esque guitar solo from Eddie Hazell, possibly the Maggot Brain of the title. It sets a sombre mood which the rest of the album doesn’t quite overcome. I preferred the later, more fun ‘One Nation Under a Groove’. Although this album does have a song called ‘Whole Lot of BS’.

March 25: The Avalanches, The Band, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, The Butthole Surfers, Count Basie

The Avalanches, ‘Since I Left You’.

This came out in my lifetime but I didn’t know anyone local who owned it, so this is my first listen. Its standout tracks are the singles ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ and ‘Since I Left You’ but, like a lot of dance music of its time, this is high on sounds and samples but low on melody and hook. A good party album.

The Band, ‘Music From Big Pink’.

The first album in this project I’ve hated, from the amateur Dylan painting that adorns the cover to the narcotic pace of most of the tracks. This slow-motion country-rock sounds infinitely more fun to have recorded than to listen to; the arrangements and melodies are tedious white male stuff. Atypically, the album wakes up with its penultimate track, ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’.

The Beatles, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’.

Opening with the finest chord in rock history, the rest of the album doesn’t quite live up to the standard. If you like the Beatlemania stuff then this is a fine example of it, though, and it’s the first Beatles album to be wholly original material.

The Butthole Surfers, ‘Locust Abortion Technician’.

SATAN! SATAN! SATAN! SATAN! I think I had heard this album already c/o Funk Cutter from Anarchistwood. It’s at its best when there are melodies – ‘Human Cannonball’ is the stand-out – but the variety and grittiness of this record means it’s never dull.

Count Basie, ‘The Atomic Mr Basie’.

This sort of music is difficult to judge objectively, as my only real exposure to it came from its use in cartoons from the 40s-60s. Basie’s ‘splanky’ piano and the frenetic brass must have been thrilling at the time.

March 20: 13th Floor Elevators, Barry Adamson, Fela Kuti

The 13th Floor Elevators, ‘The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators’.

As you might have guessed from the album title, this lot were an acid-fried psychedelic group from the 1960s. This is more the frenzied California style of psychedelia (although the band were Texan) than the cuppa-and-Quaaludes English brand. It mostly sounds like everything else on the Nuggets set, although features the almost unique sound of the electric jug, which is often its most distinctive feature.

Barry Adamson, ‘Oedipus Schmoedipus’.

Adamson was a member of Magazine and the Bad Seeds. This record isn’t easy to categorise, but bridges the gap between – of all things – Portishead and Fatboy Slim, moving deftly between BBC-friendly acid-jazz/big-beat muzak and unsettling filmic pieces. Occasionally a pain, but never dull.

Fela Kuti, ‘Zombie’.

Just two tracks over 29 minutes, ‘Zombie’ is an impossible-to-pigeonhole combination of jazz, afrobeat and funk. A courageous attack on the Nigerian government, who took it so seriously that they invaded Kuti’s commune, beat him up and defenestrated his elderly mother. According to Wikipedia, ‘Kuti’s response to the attack was to deliver his mother’s coffin to the main army barrack in Lagos and write two songs, “Coffin for Head of State” and “Unknown Soldier”, referencing the official inquiry that claimed the commune had been destroyed by an unknown soldier.’ Music is serious business in Nigeria. Anyway, the music itself is great, matching the urgent anger of the lyrics. I like to think the brevity of the album is determined by Kuti’s need to immediately release the record: there wasn’t a moment to lose.

March 14: Brian Wilson, Chic, ‘Bryter Layter’

Brian Wilson, ‘Smile’.

The doomed Beach Boys album was the ‘Apocalypse Now’ of music, in that its cursed development became more interesting than the product. Coppolla finished his film, though, whereas the Beach Boys never got ‘Smile’ out. 38 years later, Wilson finally released a version, re-recorded without the rest of the band. The vocals are great and the melodies are strong throughout, but I’m not sure such a bitty album would have held up, even with ‘Heroes and Villains’ at the start and ‘Good Vibrations’ at the end.

Chic, ‘C’est Chic’.

A rare band where the musicians are more famous than the singers, and rightly so: the phenomenal trio of Nile Rogers, Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson are dream session hands. Their second album revolves around wonderful singles ‘Le Freak’ and ‘I Want Your Love’, has a few cheap-sounding but decent album tracks, and is let down only by the B-side-ruining ‘At Last I Am Free’, which drags one idea out for seven interminable minutes.

Nick Drake, ‘Bryter Layter’.

A copy of this album must have been distributed to every household in Scotland, considering the obvious shadow cast on Belle and Sebastian, The Delgados and others. I hadn’t heard any of Tanworth-In-Arden’s most famous son before, but the melancholy folk is brilliant. Two more albums of his are on the list; in other words his entire discography.

February 28: Adam Ant, Destiny’s Child, PiL, ‘Beggars Banquet’

Adam and the Ants, ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’.

A weird combination of tribal drumming, post-punk guitar and glam vocalist, nothing sounds exactly like this. It opens with two hits in a row, but the non-singles are also great too.

Destiny’s Child, ‘Survivor’.

Front-loaded with terrific hit singles, everything after track 3 is a bit hit or miss (‘Dangerously in Love’ appears, but is an anonymous ballad) and the last two songs (a gospel medley and the album’s thank yous over a cutting-room-floor beat) are a total waste of time.

Public Image Ltd, ‘Public Image’ (or ‘Public Image: First Issue’).

This sounds really fresh still, probably because everything sounds like it these days, but its abrasive drones aren’t always an easy listen. It makes sense that Banshees guitarist John McGeoch later joined PIL, as Keith Levene’s flangers-on-sustain guitar lines remind me a lot of McGeoch.

Rolling Stones, ‘Beggars Banquet’.

Perhaps the wrong choice of Stones records to start with, as harmonica-infested blues workouts are never my favourite things. A good track opens both sides (‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and ‘Street Fighting Man’) but a lot of the filler tracks sound like spoofs of country and/or blues cuts by Robert Johnson or Bo Diddley.

February 22: Afrika Bambaataa, Arrested Development, The Clash, Carole King

Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force: ‘Planet Rock: The Album’.

A compilation of sorts of singles, this hasn’t dated well.

Arrested Development: ‘ 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of Arrested Development’.

Too long, fitfully good.

The Clash: ‘The Clash’.

I know I should have heard this before. Rough and ready punk which spawned a bazillion imitators. It feels like better was to come (and indeed it was), but it doesn’t feel as though this band would write, say, ‘Guns of Brixton’.

Carole King: ‘Tapestry’.

King was best known as a songwriter before taking centre-stage herself, which seems to be a career only mirrored these days in hip-hop (Kanye, Kendrick, Dre); more often these days, the opposite is true (Linda Perry, Cathy Dennis etc). Anyway, this opens with the standout, ‘I Feel The Earth Move’, before moving on to slow-motion versions of her songs ‘You Got a Friend’, ‘You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman’ and others. This tasteful, skilfully-performed exercise in soft rock sold a zillion copies at the time. Pretty okay.

A lot of artists have 5+ albums on the list, but I have never heard any – Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello. There’s also loads of Dylan I haven’t heard (6 albums) and, in the ‘if I must’ list, FOUR MORRISSEY SOLO ALBUMS. FOUR!! (Three Smiths albums too.) Should I listen to the catalogue all at once, or should I spread them out throughout?

February 7: Beatles, Kate Bush, Can, ‘Bitches Brew’, DJ Shadow, Eno, Iggy and the Stooges, Incredible String Band

I’ve been working through the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Luckily I had a head start, having listened to 130-odd already, but that still leaves 871 that I hadn’t. While this means I will listen to a lot of good music, there also appears to be some total dreck: I am particularly reluctant to listen to three Def Leppard albums, a Bees record and ‘Slippery When Wet’. Sarah-Beth suggested I write about them, so here are some.

The Beatles – ‘With the Beatles’.

All the famous ones are on the list too but I’d already heard them. This one is from the point where things like ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ covers were still acceptable choices for album tracks. The only famous Fabs song on it is their cover of ‘Money’ (not the Pink Floyd song obv). Okay, not great, still a couple of years away from the real game-changers.

Kate Bush – ‘Hounds of Love’.

Hits on the A-side, dull concept stuff on the B-side. The hits have dated better than the Fairlight jams. Bat for Lashes was taking notes.

Can – ‘Tago Mago’.

Starts off as a normal enough 70s Krautrock album, but changes shape with the 18-minute ‘Halleluwah’, which adds curious sound effects and edits over the funk-trance jam like a King Tubby record or something. Everything on the second disc is abstract experimentation, often without a clear melody line. Pretty good in places.

Miles Davis – ‘Bitches Brew’.

I’d never heard this, but Angelo Badalamenti obviously has – the cumulative discordance and noisy horn blasts often present in his work clearly originate from this album. I’m a total jazz philistine so the wild cacophonies were beyond me; ‘Spanish Key’ is the track that made most sense to me.

DJ Shadow – ‘Entroducing’.

Too long, but still sounds fresh and holds up well even after 20 years or however long it is. I’d heard Shadow’s stuff with UNKLE and Quannum Projects but never his solo work. Good album.

Brian Eno – ‘Before and After Science’.

Eno’s 70s were pretty great all in all. This isn’t as good as ‘Another Green World’ or ‘Here Come the Warm Jets’ but is more of the quirky, off-kilter rock he did that decade. Also surely the only album of the 1001 to use the phrase “not a sausage”.

Iggy and the Stooges – ‘Raw Power’ (Iggy Pop mix).

The album’s always criticised for its mixing and production: Iggy’s mix was so rudimentary that the label insisted Bowie remixed it; there wasn’t much Bowie could do with it though as the recording was so poor. This is, however, the original Iggy mix. The guitar is too loud, Iggy is too loud, the rhythm section is often inaudible. This must have sounded fantastic at the time – it does have melodies and structure, despite initial appearances – but bloody hell.

The Incredible String Band – ‘The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter’.

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci were always compared to ISB in their day; it’s possible that this was a derogatory reference. The ISB were a weird psych band from Scotland, so are contemporaries of the Canterbury lot. Without a rhythm section, these songs drift around and last forever, often sounding like extended sitar jams. Pretty dull.