In the wake of the rise of streaming music, there was a brief push amongst the critical fraternity to ‘preserve’ the ‘art’ of the ‘album’, and they went about it in entirely the wrong way. Predicated on the notion that there were accepted ‘Classic’ Albums that had worth and depth and artistic value and pretty much ignoring everything else, this movement oddly attempted to champion everything that was effectively the exact opposite of what had kept the industry that they were attempting to save afloat for decades. There’s a reason why you’ll find All Saints and Amy Winehouse albums in those Free Books boxes in train stations and not Lemonjelly.ky or that opera thing Damon Albarn did, and – like it or not – that’s because more people liked and bought them. In the process, a lot of good music got sidelined and a lot of less good music got elevated way above its actual level.
As if it wasn’t already enough that the default ‘BEST DAVID BOWIE NO ARGUMENTS’ position had apparently shifted from the Ziggy Stardust era to the Berlin ‘Trilogy’ at a meeting that the rest of us were apparently not invited to, there was an increased fetishisation of those three albums involving high profile straight-through listening parties – including Low, which was clearly designed to be listened to as two separate sides and moods – while his two perfectly good pre-fame albums from the late sixties were equally increasingly derided as throwaway forgettable nonsense that should not be considered a proper part of his discography. If anything, this has only increased since then, and has now seemingly expanded to encompass The Man Who Sold The World. Oh by jingo indeed. In contrast, there were corresponding risible attempts to reclaim Four Sail by Love as a ‘lost classic’ – as the rules of ‘the album’ made it somewhat inconvenient to have three outstanding and critically revered efforts that have crucially retained their enigma and mystique followed by a lacklustre tweedle-eedle misfire that even the compiler of the band’s first ever retrospective compilation intentionally skipped as he felt it did not belong next to their better work (and it even included Number Fourteen) – rather than the flawed but dramatic August followed by some other songs all called Ian And The Overlong Title or something. Then, of course, everyone was still falling over themselves to shout about how best they were at liking everything The Beatles did after Rubber Soul, in wilful ignorance of the fact that you would really be hard pushed to find a better personification of ‘the album’ than the punchy hit after hit snap of A Hard Day’s Night. Yes, The White Album did indeed put an avant-garde artefact into everyone’s homes, but thirteen belting songs in a carefully arranged order clocking in at barely half an hour and which were written to order as a film soundtrack is quite the achievement too. Also, it had a better cover.
If you’re going to speak up for ‘the album’, then speak up for the two sides of vinyl that acts in search of big pop star hits – because that’s what everyone wanted, from Petula Clark and The Fourmost to Jake Thackray and AMM, and don’t you kid yourself otherwise; alright, maybe not AMM… ‘The’ Pink Floyd, then – crammed their best songs onto with the intention that they’d be listened to in that order simply because there was no other alternative. Yes, everything may have got a bit hard and heavy and experimental eventually but there are few stronger examples of a well-structured album than Elvis Presley’s late fifties efforts; or, for that matter, Enjoy Yourself by Kylie Minogue, which shifted millions upon millions of ‘units’ in a reality where the words Astral Weeks had never even been thought of in close proximity to each other.
All of this was no doubt on my mind when I wrote this short effort outlining my thoughts on the matter, which reading back now does not appear to have been driving towards an actual tangible point that would scare the album worshippers every bit as much as if they heard David Bowie’s cacophonous lost single Holy Holy (which you can hear me talking about here, by the way), but at least that became the basis for a halfway decent joke. In case you were wondering, Tarantula was a quick contract-fulfilling effort recorded by Ride while they were at each other’s throats; like Four Sail it does not belong alongside their three outstanding previous albums, but while it does contain one or two brighter moments (which, being Ride, it was bound to), they themselves have since more or less disowned it. To be quite honest I’m not sure I ever thought that much of this as a piece of writing, but it seemed to strike a chord – hopefully the one from the start of A Hard Day’s Night – with quite a few people, including some music writers who very much have their heads screwed on when it comes to this sort of thing. Anyway, you can find some of these thoughts expressed more coherently in Can’t Help Thinking About Me, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here. Apparently it’s my Hits 5.
Between 1967 and 1971, The Move released four albums – five, if you count the live mini-album Something Else From The Move – crammed full of some of the most inventive pop music of the late sixties. And, erm, the early seventies. Alongside the hit singles, you’ll find an eclectic mix of longer and more experimental tracks, spoken word pieces, orchestral arrangements, guitar freakouts, judiciously and not so judiciously chosen cover versions, acoustic ballads, lost classics, irritating throwaways and just plain silliness for silliness’ sake; indeed, 1970’s Looking On ends with them heckling The Duke Of Edinburgh. No, really. All of the band’s members contribute to both the songwriting and the lead vocals, and from the flashy pop-art pop thrills of Walk Upon The Water through to the proggy proto-ELO classical pretensions of It Wasn’t My Idea To Dance, you’d be hard pushed to find a more concise snapshot of just how much and how quickly everything changed in those musically and culturally turbulent years. They may not be quite as good as The Beatles’ albums from the corresponding timeframe, but there’s certainly a case for arguing that they’re more interesting.
That said, you’ll struggle ever to find Looking On, or for that matter Move, Shazam, Message From The Country or indeed Something Else From The Move if we’re counting it, on any list of ‘classic’ albums. This is largely because – like Herman’s Hermits, Julie Felix, Level 42, The Mock Turtles, Daphne And Celeste and so many others from so many eras and so many genres – The Move had the temerity to make good albums that were perfectly tailored to their audience at the time, but which now just don’t fit the ‘rules’ of what makes a ‘classic’ album as set out by a seemingly endless procession of bombastic bores. Quite why anyone would need quite so many rundowns of ‘classic’ albums is another question, but they keep on churning them out regardless, always with the same earnest and reverential yet also box-ticking and unimaginative dependence on an accepted ‘canon’ that everyone agrees on. Anything that doesn’t fit in to it, apparently, just isn’t worth paying any attention to.
Sometimes this is even applied within an artist’s own discography. The Kinks and The Small Faces both have one critically ‘allowed’ album each while the only slightly less defined and coherent yet no less listenable ones either side of them are roundly ignored, while the earlier Beach Boys efforts cannot possibly be listened to for pleasure and instead have to be scoured for ‘stepping stones’ ‘towards’ Pet Sounds. David Bowie’s first two albums don’t even get that level of flippant disregard, thanks to an infuriatingly prevalent tendency to dismiss them as not a ‘proper’ part of his discography. Sometimes it even gets applied within the same album, with The Queen Is Dead by The Smiths only allowed to hang on to its inevitable position in the top ten ‘classics’ on the condition that the list compiler is permitted to moan that it would be better served by the absence of Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others. The fact that it was deliberately included as a frivolous closing track to annoy the band’s more earnest adherents, and that the fade-in-out intro was intended to represent the sound of a humourless listener ‘leaving’ the album and closing the door behind them, is a joke that is apparently lost on them.
And that is about as far as this half-finished sitting-around-for-a-while musing on a vague and idle observation goes. Short on coherency, unconvincing in concept, and lacking an effective ending, it would doubtless have met with the disapproval of those selfsame ‘classic album’-obsessed critics. Although they’d probably be too preoccupied to notice it, given that half of them have recently taken to flinging out bewildering proclamations that, in this age of streaming and shuffle play, the ‘album’ is now officially finished as an artform forever no arguments, while the other half have countered this by – you guessed it – referring back to that same predictable set of albums all over again. They’re both wrong, of course, and the truth of the matter is that the ‘album’ is hardly likely to disappear from history while there are so many out there that nobody’s blathering on for way too many column inches demanding that you listen to on their terms. So put down that copy of OK Computer and try something you’ve not really thought about before. You never know, there might even be something as good as The Ben Crawley Steel Co. on it.
Mind you, it’s still worth avoiding Tarantula by Ride.
Buy A Book!
You can read much more about four of my very favourite albums of all – Screamadelica by Primal Scream, Foxbase Alpha by Saint Etienne, Loveless by My Bloody Valentine and Badwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub – in Higher Than The Sun, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Alternately, if you’re just feeling generous, you can buy me a coffee here. I promise not to use the money to buy an additional copy of Tarantula.
And The Senses Being Dulled Are Mine is a look at why, despite still thinking they’re quite good, I don’t find myself listening to The Smiths’ albums very much any more; you can find it here.
Yellow Submarine is often considered not to be a ‘proper’ Beatles album as one side is actually by George Martin; this is nonsense and it’s a fantastic album and you can hear me explaining why here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.