I know. I still owe you folks a sequel to the last entry. But I figured I’d turf this out of draft and onto the web while I’m putting that together. It’s another music meme. Words you dread to read, dear reader. As always it’s a pretty simple concept… this time, “Pick an album for every year of your life”. And why not?
I guess anyone born much before the mid-50s is going to have trouble with the early years. “Long play” records had existed for years, of course, but — love him or loathe him — it wasn’t until Sinatra’s post-war golden era that albums, as “deliberately self-contained musical worlds” entered popular consciousness in a big way.
In my case, born in 1971, I’m spared the dilemma of choosing a single album for 1968 (for the genuine music fan, an activity that carries with it a high risk of seizure or stroke). On the other hand, I’m inventing some kind of “Wild Card” or “Joker”. Or “cheat”, if you will. And I’m playing it in 1980, allowing me to take both Remain in Light and Closer. Expecting me to choose between those two is entirely unreasonable. Well, OK, I know that’s the point of the exercise and I’m going to end up choosing Remain in Light, because it is — after all — the best album ever recorded. But I’m doing so under duress.
And don’t get me started on 1989. No, I’m serious, don’t get me started. I mean, how is it even possible to compare Disintegration with Rei Momo with The Crushed Velvet Apocalypse (just ‘cos you ain’t heard of it doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the finest things ever recorded) with Doolittle with Floating into the Night with Mind Bomb? “How is it possible?” I ask you, “HOW?!”
The answer, of course, is that it’s not possible at all. You end up making arbitrary decisions… well, Prince already has one on the list so I’ll rule him out of the running for that year… and so you start making tiny compromises here and there to reward those artists who have enriched your life immeasurably but had the temerity to release a masterpiece the same year Parade came out. I’m looking at you, Mr. Simon.
The meme arrived, as they occasionally still do, via email. It was sent by my friend Mahalia — a man with remarkable music taste, responsible for turning me onto more great artists than I could mention, but who appears to briefly lose his mind in 1977. I’m not saying New Boots & Panties isn’t a fine thing, but anyone who even suggests that 1977 wasn’t A Bowie Year is living in some bizarre alternative dimension, the rules to which I cannot even begin to fathom. When you get to 1977, the question becomes a very simple one: “Heroes” or Low?
Except it’s not. This is more of a desert-island discs kind of thing. I just wanted everyone to know that I chose Low also under duress. No, this list is about the albums that have most enriched your own life. Screw the critics. And damn the expectations of millions.
So yeah. Onto the list, I suppose. Only one year was any way easy, 1976. No real dilemma there. One towering record and nobody else releasing much of anything. Most were difficult and aside from ’76 there was at least one more album that, on another day, might have graced this list. Oddly enough, if you look at the first three years, the main contender to Lennon in ’71 was a Bowie album and the main contender to Bowie in each of the years 1972 and 1973 was a Lennon album.
1971 — John Lennon — Imagine
1972 — David Bowie — The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars
1973 — David Bowie — Aladdin Sane
1974 — David Bowie — Diamond Dogs
1975 — Patti Smith — Horses
1976 — Bob Marley & The Wailers — Rastaman Vibration
1977 — David Bowie — Low
1978 — Brian Eno — Ambient 1: Music For Airports
1979 — Talking Heads — Fear of Music
1980 — Talking Heads — Remain in Light
1981 — The Cure — Faith
1982 — Brian Eno — Ambient 4: On Land
1983 — The The — Soul Mining
1984 — Prince — Purple Rain
1985 — Prince — Around the World in a Day
1986 — Paul Simon — Graceland
1987 — The Smiths — Strangeways, Here We Come
1988 — Talking Heads — Naked
1989 — Julee Cruise — Floating Into The Night
1990 — World Party — Goodbye Jumbo
1991 — U2 — Achtung Baby
1992 — R.E.M. — Automatic For The People
1993 — The The — Dusk
1994 — Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds — Let Love In
1995 — David Bowie — 1. Outside
1996 — Tricky — Pre-Millennium Tension
1997 — Spiritualized — Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
1998 — Beck — Mutations
1999 — Tom Waits — Mule Variations
2000 — The The — NakedSelf
2001 — Björk — Vespertine
2002 — The Streets — Original Pirate Material
2003 — The Polyphonic Spree — The Beginning Stages of…
2004 — Stina Nordenstam — The World Is Saved
2005 — Laura Veirs — Year of Meteors
2006 — Beck — The Information
2007 — Arcade Fire — Neon Bible
2008 — Who knows? But I’ll eat my hat if anything better than Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! gets released this year.
Obviously if anyone wants to play with this meme, then have at it. I’ll not officially nominate anyone, though let me know in the comments if you decide to take a shot. I’d be interested in seeing how my choices compare with others.
UPDATE (13-07-08): I’ve been thinking about it, and if this really was a “desert island” type thing… “Only those albums and none others forevermore”… then I couldn’t not take Sign ‘O’ The Times. I just couldn’t. But there’s no way in hell I’m sailing off to that island without something by The Smiths. So I’d probably end up taking Meat Is Murder instead of Around The World In A Day. No, it’s not Strangeways… but it’s got some cracking stuff on it.