This is, as usual, just an indulgence. I apologise for it not being very polished.
I do not contend that these are necessarily the best albums ever. They are collections that I love and consider of high quality. You may disagree. Please do.
‘Graceland’ by Paul Simon
Here is a classic example of what I said in the last paragraph. This LP is not consistently good. It peters out with the last two songs on the second side, which don’t have the same drive and direction as the rest. Before that… It’s astonishing from the opening accordion of ‘Boy in the Bubble’. I am wilfully detaching the album from the controversies that abound about it. It uses its African musical foundations to deliver songs of a lyrical intensity and cleverness only achieved by great songwriters… such as Paul Simon. And Leonard Cohen. Alright, Dylan as well. And dare I mention Richard Thompson? (As a footnote, I would love to hear the original South African tracks that became the bulk of this album, but I believe they were rather low quality samples. Or were they suppressed?)
‘Space Ritual’ by Hawkwind
‘Lola vs Powerman and the Moneygoround’ by the Kinks
This is great song-writing and the musicianship is excellent. There is hardly a weak moment. Of course there is ‘Lola’, the original cross-dressing song, though it’s more subtle than you think; at no point does it unambiguously say that Lola is a man. (No, it doesn’t! Just listen again.) There’s much more: ‘Powerman’, a great melodic heavy rocker (did I just use the term heavy rocker?) and ‘Apeman’, a typical witty and intelligent Ray Davies single. Not to mention the wistful ‘This Time Tomorrow’.
‘I’m Your Man’ by Leonard Cohen
Weak points? Don’t be silly. Again it kicks off with a great song, ‘First We Take Manhattan’, with its stripped down techno feel and its darkly humorous lyrics. Everything from there on is just Leonard at his best. How can it be that people don’t get it that he’s funny?
‘Angel’s Egg’ by Gong
The first Gong album I ever heard and possibly the best. It starts with an improvised piece, ‘Sold to the Highest Buddha’ and goes on getting better and better and sillier and sillier and more and more profound. Steve Hillage and Didier Malherbe are at the peak of their combined powers on guitar and sax. Pierre Moerlen proves that he is the best drummer ever…. and so on. Yes, I’m smitten.
‘Fish Rising’ by Steve Hillage
His first solo album, recorded at the same time as the above with mostly the same musicians. That being said, it has been described as a series of guitar solos. It’s more.. but the solos are glorious. Lyrically, it’s obscure but inspiring. If possible, I want this (or ‘Angel’s Egg’) playing as I die.
‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ by the Beatles
You can mock, but I still sing ‘When I’m 64’ about twice a week. Ground-breaking….. Great songs….. Musically accomplished…. In the 60s there used to be arguments about whether this or ‘Pet Sounds’ was the best album ever. Or indeed….. ‘Blonde on Blonde’.
‘Blood on the Tracks’ by Bob Dylan
Or possibly ‘Street Legal’. Or ‘Desire’. Or indeed…… ‘Blonde on Blonde’. See also ‘Street Legal’. I have no more to say on the matter!
‘The Liberty of Norton Folgate’ by Madness
Yes, really. An epic poem to the nooks and crannies and history of London. Only Madness could really produce something like this, in that unmistakeably English style. (But surely Dan Woodgate is one of the best reggae drummers outside the West Indies’?) Suggs picture attributed to LivePict.com.
There are loads more. Just about all the System 7 albums ever, ‘Soft Machine 3’ and ‘Soft Machine 6’, ‘2032’ by Gong. But if I don’t stop I’ll bore myself. Or you. And have you noticed how most of them are pretty old?