Saturday, 28 June 2008

Top 10 albums of all time and what makes them the best

The choice of the top ten albums of all-time is something that is very personal to each of us. A survey of a nation or listeners of a radio station would probably return a result as they do for the best all time song. The best song of all time varies from one year to the next, even though it is often a very old song from years gone by. My choice of the top ten albums has to be personal and as such is very much influenced by my age and the era in which I grew up.

The first album that I ever purchased as a teenager was The Beatles' Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. I first heard the album while living in Israel. The radio station did something that must have been a first - they played the entire album from beginning to end without a single interruption. Only at the end did I hear that this was the Beatles, but the music kept me listening throughout. The variety of songs, the depth and the magic captured my imagination for me and for an entire generation. The Beatles adventure in psychedelia was unpretentious - producing a range of quality and thought provoking songs including classics and masterpieces such as Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, A Day in the Life and A little Help from my Friends.

The Rolling Stones followed with their own rather satirical version of psychedelic music - Their Satanic Majesties Request - but apart from two or three good songs the album failed to impress. To all intents and purposes it was a flop. But we were in for a major surprise. Beggar's Banquet was released in 1969. The Stones had returned to their roots. There was no pretentiousness here - just a collection of outstanding songs that never fail to impress. The songs included the thought provoking Sympathy for the Devil, Prodigal Son, and Street Fighting Man. Mick Jagger's lyrics excelled and Keith Richards's music was as good as it gets. For me this was their best ever album both in terms of the quality of the music and the depth of the lyrics.

Bob Dylan's music is of supreme importance for the era. Here the choice is not so easy. Perhaps The Times They are A-changing, or Blonde on Blonde? In the Seventies Bob Dylan produced three outstanding albums - Blood on the Tracks, Desire and Street Legal. A difficult choice, but with songs like Hurricane, Sarah, One more cup of Coffee - my choice has to be Desire. Dylan's recent Modern Times was a disappointment to me - the songs are drab and lack the colour of his earlier work.

Pink Floyd produced a whole range of outstanding music over the years. Many of the younger generation still listen to much of their music. What characterises Pink Floyd is a high level of musical variety, complexity and sheer musical pleasure. Atom Heart Mother is perhaps not one of the general public's all time favourites, but for many years it was mine. Maybe because I was there when they played (and recorded it) live at a free concert in Hyde Park in 1968. The Wall is another masterpiece full of interesting pieces. But perhaps my all time favourite Pink Floyd album is Wish You were Here featuring such classics as Shine on You Crazy Diamond and of course the title track Wish You Were Here.

A little further off the beaten track is Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. This was a band headed up by the so-called Don van Vliet. Although he achieved high acclaim in certain circles, this avant-garde music never became main-stream and retained its minority alternative audience. Trout Mask Replica has been highly acclaimed as the band's best ever, but my favourite is still Safe as Milk - the debut album. Something about the album has strong appeal and it is somewhat more accessible than the later efforts.

Tom Waits' music is sometime interesting, sometimes irritating, but Nighthawks at the Diner achieves a standard bordering on brilliance. Believe it or not, Waits' music is said to be derivative of Captain Beefheart. If you listen to both you'll find out why.

Moving to the music to today Amy Winehouse is a rare talent. I know that there are many bands producing music, some to a high standard. The Kaiser Chiefs are an example of a band producing original music. Amy Winehouse is somewhat evocative of Janis Joplin - though more in terms of her lifestyle choices than in the way she sings. Amy Winehouse is able to deliver quality songs in the jazz, blues and rock tradition. She sings from the heart, and my nomination is Back to Black. Every song on the album is a winner, which reminds me of the days when I bought many an album for one great song only to be disappointed by the remainder.

In the real of Jazz there are thousands of albums that I rate very highly. Amongst the artists that come to mind are Chick Corea, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Earl Klugh, Billie Holliday the list is endless. All have produced outstanding music. Perhaps my favourite is Miles Davis Kind of Blue released in 1959. To me the album is deeply relaxing and the Flamenco Sketches are nothing less than a perfect blending of jazz and Spanish music something that Chick Corea was to emulate much later. Many of the jazz greats began life in Miles Davis' bands his talent is not to be underestimated.

Of course the old masters should not - cannot - be ignored. Beethoven produced some of the deepest and most memorable music that the world has known. His final symphony was composed when Beethoven was already deaf. He could not hear the applause of the audience when the 9th symphony premiered to a standing ovation. The best recording that I have of this piece is Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. The music does not age.

As for number ten a very difficult choice indeed. Is it possible to compress all the world's most wonderful music onto one CD? There is so much choice that the task becomes almost impossible. Sarit Hadad is one of Israel's premier singers. She represented Israel in the Eurovision song contest some years ago. Perhaps it is necessary to understand the language to really enjoy the songs. Favourite albums would include Shalom Chaver and Kmo Cindarella. Sarit Hadad's repertoire includes mainstream Israeli rock and pop, Mizrachi (eastern) music, Greek and Arabic. The song Shalom Chaver echoes the words of Bill Clinton words at Yitzchak Rabin's funeral and the song remains deeply moving.

These are ten albums that I could live with on a desert island for a number of years. They reflect my age and culture, my personal preferences and taste. They tell you a little about where I've been and perhaps where I'm going. But the top ten all time greatest albums? It's just not possible.

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