Inevitably songs are associated with specific sequences or occasions in your life; sometimes songs gain added poignancy through use in films or TV series. Two brilliant examples – Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars gained an entirely new audience when it was used in the end sequence of Grey’s Anatomy. Likewise, Dire Straits Brothers in Arms in the last moments of the brilliant episode of The West Wing, Two Cathedrals.
People associate specific songs with marriages, breakups, births even deaths. In my own case I will forever associate the Gillian Welch song Only One and Only with the day my son Leo was born in the car on the way to hospital. Sitting in our home that night, having gone through the most surreal experience of my life, the song somehow provided a moment of calm, and that moment is still frozen in time.
But this list isn’t about individual songs. Artist’s albums are an altogether more difficult thing to categorise. Some collections work simply as that, with individual tracks like fish out of water when isolated from what comes before and after.
We have all shared the experience of compilations when the familiar end of one song isn’t accompanied by the familiar start of another – an imposter has taken its place. I once bought the U2 singles CD and it fails miserably for this very reason. So here’s some albums to take your breath away, or rather to take mine away. Hey, it’s my own taste I’m talking about so it can change like the wind. . . So in no particular order:
Buena Vista Social Club by the Buena Vista Social Club, from the opening notes of Chan Chan this is happy music for happy people. You don’t need to know Spanish to get it. The fact that the musicians were all in their seventies and eighties makes it even more intriguing. If you like this you’ll love the DVD.
Revival by Gillian Welch. Pared down, bleak and raw Americana. Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings have been accused of not being authentic. Dunno what that’s supposed to mean. Just listen to Annabelle, By the Mark (what a gospel song), One More Dollar, Only One and Only and the original and best version of Orphan Girl. Resolutely downbeat but I love it from start to finish. . . when the time is right.
Planxty by Planxty. I remember the sounds of this wafting around our house when I was wee and I rediscovered it years later thanks to my friend Lawrence Ward. Anyone who knows Irish music will be familiar with this. Again, the songs work in sequence so well. Once on my son’s 4th birthday party he made me sing Follow Me Up to Carlow instead of Happy Birthday. Classic.
Book of Invasions by Horslips. Again, another sound wafting from my childhood. Brilliant instrumentation and even after all these years unlike other raw Horslips material, this doesn’t sound dated in the slightest.
The Time Has Come by Christy Moore. My favourite Christy Moore album, indeed it’s so good I am always taken aback by the brilliant tracks. From the humour of The Knock Song and All I Remember, to the politics of FaithFul Departed and Only Our Rivers to the poignancy of the title track, addressed from Peggy O’Hara to her dying hunger striker son Patsy. . . Christy was on fine form. I found this when preparing this piece. . . Christy performing Hurt in a soundcheck.
This is the Sea by The Waterboys. The classic Whole of the Moon, the soundtrack to a hundred student discos in the Snack Bar in the Queen’s Union and the Crescent to the Union in Stirling University, to the brilliant anti establishment Old England. I bought a twelve string geetar and this album taught me what it could sound like. Class stuff. Fisherman’s Blues is good but this is the real thing. Never got to see them live. . . no-one asked me to go!
Led Zeppelin IV by Led Zeppelin. I am a big Led Zep fan and I only let on from time to time. My wife hates it and at times I can’t bear them but cranking this up is hard to beat. Forget Stairway to Heaven, When the Levee Breaks, got no place to stay.
Desire by Bob Dylan. This is one a small number of CDs I’ve worn out from over playing. Hurricane, the relentless brilliance of Isis,; through the awesome One More Cup of Coffee with its gypsy violins and Bob’s amazing vocals, to the Romance in Durango. There is one sequence in Mozambique still makes me laugh. . . deadly stuff from Bob. Best album for me.
International Velvet by Catatonia. ‘I put horses’ heads/in peoples’ beds/cos I am the mob.’ Any girl singing that gets my votes. First time I heard Cerys Mathews voice I thought, “who the hell is that.” Great attitude, brilliant tracks – still love it after all these years. Pity they never scaled those heights again. Only Welsh person I like other than Ryan Giggs. PS turn it up!
Wrecking Ball by Emmy Lou Harris. The time and the occasion may have to be right but this is a classic. Just listen. Goodbye, Sweet Old World, Blackhawk and the rest. Deadly.
American IV and American V by Johnny Cash. Stunning stuff, couldn’t separate these. Just Johnny Cash, a guitar and that voice. I challenge anyone to listen to some of this and not be moved. Cash, valiantly holding back the years, voice cracking, missing June. I remember playing If You Could Read My Mind on the way home form losing a championship match and the effect it had on four girls. As for Hurt, watch the video.
The Joshua Tree by U2. Encapsulates a time and a place. When I started at university you couldn’t excape these sounds. By the time I left Uni, they were immortalised in the over indulgent Rattle and Hum collection. We all felt like Bono with a cowboy hat and a geetar slung over the shoulder. One Tree Hill does it for me.
I generally dislike compilations but one I love is my Very Best of Nina Simone. This can play for days and days in the office here untouched.
Definitely Maybe by Oasis. The soundtrack to the early nineties, this was the best of good old ass kicking music. I brought my two neices to see them in concert in the Point (That’s the best Christmas present ever. . . they said as I trumped Santa) and they were awesome. Slide Away. . .
Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young. Loved this for years especially Pocahontas and Powderfinger both. Greatly energetic stuff, Neil at his best I think.
Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. This is one of the best things I’ve ever bought. Again, so good I bought it twice. Best listened to in one go and then again straight away. Killing the Blues is fantastic but the whole experience won’t let you down.
That my friends, is today’s list. Go and blow your ears.