50 classic albums to listen to before you die (3/5)

By Daniel Margrain

Scott 4 (1969) Scott Walker
Scott 4, by far Scott Walker’s best album, maintained the Brel influence of his previous three, but now the themes of prostitutes, gangsters and misfits, as well as his operatic vocal style, was all his own. With arrangements that are closer to Morricone than Bacharach or Spector, Walker transcends the up-dated but essentially old fashioned easy-listening sound of the ballad, to something altogether deeper and philosophical.

 

Telepathic Surgery (1989) The Flaming Lips
The art of the Flaming Lips bridge the punk ethos and the hippie burlesque. Their exaggerated guitar surges and maniacal drumming patterns allied with stylistic collages, create an absolutely phenomenal soundscape. Abrasive crescendos crash amid roaring motorcycle engines, tingling piano motifs and thrashing cymbals. The tempo takes Neil Young’s guitar neurosis to a new level of unorthodox psychosis. This sound is taken to its extreme on Hell’s Angel’s Cracker Factory, probably rocks most extraordinary and monumental pieces of all-time.

 

Gallowsbird’s Bark (2003) The Fiery Furnaces
A cross between a deconstructed Rolling Stones, the ramshackle anarchy of The Holy Modal Rounders, The twisted delta blues of the Magic Band and the cabaret of Frank Zappa, The Fiery Furnaces create a multi-faceted style that has few precedents. The lead vocals of Eleonor Friedberger is from the Janis Joplin/Patti Smith shaman-preacher tradition. This album is bursting with chaotic creativity and fresh ideas.

 

Ys (2006) Joanna Newsom
This groundbreaking piece of work merges the stream of consciousness-style of Astral Weeks with the narrative melodrama of Blonde On Blonde-era Dylan. Arguably, the highlights of this extraordinary moving album are Emily, a 12 minute tour de force of brilliant free-form vocals set against a sparse orchestral soundscape, and the spellbinding finale Cosmia. This is an exceptional work of art and one of the key pieces of the new millennium.

 

May I Sing With Me (1992)  Yo La Tengo
This album is a triumph of folk-rock melody and garage-rock guitar noise which skillfully navigates a maniacal violence and a delicate contemplation. The bass that drives Mushroom Cloud Of Hiss is one of rock’s greatest moments. Yo La Tengo are one of the most important groups of the 1990s. May I Sing With Me is their best and most complete album.

 

Our Mother The Mountain (1969) Townes Van Zandt
Borrowing elements from folk, country, blues and tex-mex, Van Zandt’s music is emotionally intense. His gentle acoustic style has a unique desolate quality to it and his stories are simultaneously intimate, tender and universal. Alongside Dylan and Cohen, Townes Van Zandt is one of rocks greatest ever poets. Critical recognition of his work is long overdue. Our Mother The Mountain is a masterpiece.

 

After Bathing At Baxter’s (1967) Jefferson Airplane
Arguably one of the greatest artistic achievement of the psychedelic era, Bathing was one of the first albums to break free from the conventions of the song format and the pop arrangement. The harmonies are convoluted and the melodies complex – both of which are underscored by superb all-round musicianship. The highlights are the instrumental Spare Chaynge which takes you on an embryonic journey, and the ambitious ‘Ulysses’-inspired Rejoyce in which Grace Slick’s majestic vocals overlay a quite brilliant haunting musicality. This album is an example of a group of exceptional individual talents at the peak of their creative powers working in unison. Baxters is a music for the mind of the mind.

 

Suicide (1977) Suicide
This masterpiece conjures up a sonic intensity of stark minimalism that is breathtakingly original and highly influential. With this seminal album, Alan Vega and Martin Rev perfected a sinister rockabilly. The centrepiece of the album is Frankie Teardrop, the ultimate nightmare, a kind of hyper-sinister Sister Ray for the punk generation. This is arguably the most daring and maniacal ten minutes of sustained drama and tension ever translated to rock music. Vega’s final refrain, “We are all Frankie’s lying in hell” is genuinely disturbing.

 

Rickie Lee Jones (1979) Rickie Lee Jones
Arguably the greatest female singer-songwriter album of all-time, Rickie Lee Jones’ erudite depictions of moral decay and alienation within the US urban metropolis resonates with the work of Tom Waits. This is an album that fluctuates between the physical and spiritual as Jones intelligently and emotionally navigates a space which seems to bridge the visionary with the romantic in a way that has probably only ever been matched within the singer-songwriter genre by Joni Mitchell.

 

Paris, Texas (1985) Ry Cooder
Ry Cooder’s slide-guitar work that’s the foundation for the soundscape Paris, Texas is based on Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was the Night (Cold Was the Ground). Cooder’s brilliantly arranged and composed theme that formed the soundtrack to the film of the same name, is a haunting and atmospheric piece that reconstitutes definitive eras and styles. The result is a work of profound metaphysical and existential beauty. In the words of one critic“Cooder has a unique talent to internalize the ethnic traditions of other peoples, to turn them into a universal voice discharged through sophisticated arrangements but, to synthesize nostalgic regret and scientific philology. The stamp is his job.”

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