Off the record

by Clive Munro

“So, Clive, what’s your Top 10 albums of all time ?”

No-one’s asked me that in a long time but when Tom asked me about doing a music column for Shetland Life I remembered that he had run a feature in The Shetland Times back in the late 80s in which (relatively) well known Shetlanders were asked to name their favourite 10 albums. I can’t remember who else apart from myself contributed other than Stephen Gordon and possibly Drew Ratter. The reason I remember Stephen doing it is that while most people chose 10 different artists, I seem to recall that about half his albums were by Tom Waits and three or four more were by one other artist whose name eludes me!

Anyway, having had my memory jogged I thought it would be interesting to look at which albums I’d chosen back then and see how many would still make the cut if I updated my personal Top 10. Not having that particular 24 year old copy of  “Da Times” to hand, I had to delve into the somewhat unreliable back pages of my mind for my original choices, but I think they were, in no particular order: The Rolling Stones “Exile On Main Street”, Gram Parsons “Grievous Angel”, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Willy And The Poor Boys”, Bob Dylan “Blonde On Blonde”, Richard and Linda Thompson “Pour Down Like Silver”, Van Morrison “Astral Weeks”, Ry Cooder “Paradise And Lunch”, The Band “Music From Big Pink”, Elvis Costello “King Of America” and T-Bone Burnett “Eponymous”.

A good friend once accused me of having a very narrow taste in music, and indeed of only liking “gravelly voiced male singers”, as if I ought to be ashamed of myself. As you can see from this list he was, ahem, not too wide of the mark, although I can state categorically that Linda Thompson is neither gravelly voiced or male. Neither is Mick Jagger. Gravelly voiced that is.

Fast forward to today and the last two on the list now by and large gather dust on my shelves, having been revealed as the sort of temporary fixations from which we all suffer now and then. Not bad albums but not great either. Average, in a word. In order to make it into my new, improved Top 10, albums will need to have gained my affection and kept it over a prolonged period of time. No more fleeting musical dalliances for me!

Of the original 10 albums, 4 retain their positions effortlessly. “Exile” remains for me The Stones best album, although “Let It Bleed” and “Sticky Fingers” run it close. It’s “essence of Stones”, their sound distilled down to the basics, all (musical if not personal) excess removed. Roughly the same could be said for “Willie And The Poor Boys”, with only “Green River” among their other albums coming close, although in some ways Creedence were as much a singles band as a serious albums band.

“Astral Weeks” strolls in of course, indisputably Van The Man’s masterpiece, despite the astonishing consistency of his subsequent  recorded output.

“Pour Down Like Silver” also remains for me the high point of Richard Thompson’s career. There’s not a bad song in sight and he remains one of the few guitarists I can stomach a lengthy solo from, the live version of “Night Comes In” now included as a bonus track being a perfect example. There’s a Shetland connection too, with Aly Bain playing fiddle on some tracks and the lovely “Dimming Of The Day” probably familiar to many of you from Sheila Henderson and Jenny Napier’s gorgeous version.

Of the others who’ve dropped out it was a toss-up back then whether to include “Music From Big Pink” or it’s successor “The Band”. The latter now seems to me much the better album, although “Big Pink” remains a great favourite. Similarly, It was a close call between “Blonde On Blonde” and “Blood On The Tracks” as to which Dylan album to pick. Again, I now listen far more to the latter and in fact “Blood On The Tracks” is possibly the most played album in my collection, a giant poke in the eye with a sharp stick to all those who insist that the greatest songwriter of the twentieth century was never the same after “the motorbike accident”. No, I don’t keep a detailed playlist, but… maybe I should. Just kiddin’ of course, surely no-one’s that obsessed.

“Grievous Angel”  has lost it’s place simply because the number of times I’ve listened to it over the years has gently decreased at roughly the same pace as my intake of alcohol.  Listening to country music should probably carry a health warning-it certainly didn’t do Gram Parsons much good. “Paradise And Lunch” is still a great album, but again I just don’t listen to it that often anymore although I’ve decided that’s mainly because Warner Bros. made such a poor job of transferring it to CD. Along with several other of his early albums and most of Little Feat’s best stuff (all 1970s Warner’s) it just sounds a bit flat and lifeless to me. Maybe someday they’ll be properly re-mastered to re-capture that analogue sound again!

Okay then, what to replace these with?

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