Some time in mid-1999, a music-mate and I decided to compile our one hundred ‘Best Albums Of All Time’ lists to celebrate the end of the millennium. To make things more interesting, a handful of other friends and acquaintances were invited to do the same. As you might imagine, there was considerable discussion (if not heated argument) around the rules and restrictions to be applied. A couple of illustrations might convey the flavour, if not the passion.
Banning compilations, for instance, essentially excluded any artist who was dominant in the singles era of the 50s or early 60s. So no Everly Brothers, for example. All very well to can ‘Live’ albums, but what exactly is a ‘Live’ album? Many classic early 70s Australian albums were recorded live in front of a small invited studio audience. Is that ‘in concert’ or simply cut-price recording? Are ‘Various Artists’ albums legitimate? Any restrictions on multiple entries by the same artist?
In the end it was agreed to pretty much let anyone include whatever they liked. Anything else was just too much like hard work.
And compiling the lists was work enough. As you can see from the photo of my list, it took me half a year to complete my Top 100, and I was first across the finish line.
The sharing process was somewhat underwhelming, when it finally occurred around Easter 2000. People responded to titles they recognised but showed little curiosity about the unfamiliar. For my friend BB, whose tastes are the most eclectic and least mainstream of anyone I know, it was an experience he described thusly, “I don’t recall being entirely convinced that it had fired up sufficient stimulating conversation to justify the effort expended.” BB is a master of understatement.
A decade or so later the same mate suggested repeating the process. I had my doubts, principally around my increasing suspicions about the concept of ‘Best’. I have actually written a thousand word piece on this very topic, but I’ll spare you that and cut to the chase: no-one can possibly assert what is best. The requirement to know all genres, all modes, moods, styles and practitioners across all eras is manifestly impossible yet it is only from this all-knowing perspective that any claim of ‘Best’ can be made. Everything else is opinion and preference.
Which leaves us with just one defensible criterion: What are my favourite albums?
So the idea of definitive lists faded until my mate’s son, now a committed accumulator of CDs, invited participation in another Top 100. Wanting to connect with him and respect the idea, I made a copy of my collection spreadsheet and started deleting albums. You see, one of the many problems of lists is the challenge of bringing albums or artists to mind in any systematic manner. So I thought that if I started with my whole catalogue and used a process of reduction rather than accumulation it might invite more inclusion.
This strategy was rather too successful. I managed, by dint of hard editing, to reduce the list to just over 200… and there I stalled, finding it nigh on impossible to exclude further albums without diminishing the picture of my listening pleasures to a mere sketch. Misleading though it is, here is page one of that list, bearing the rather grandiose title ‘5 Star Albums’.
The numerical rankings rankled. Why is King Crimson’s seventh album at #6 and Pink Floyd’s debut at #7? How could that possibly be justified or even explained? As I printed the page for inclusion in this article, I mused about removing the interval level league ladder and having ordinal level groupings instead. That is, sections of albums where each entry in that band has equal status. Sort of like a Celebrity A List, B List, and so on. But this still involves murky decision-making and indefensible comparisons. Better to drop the whole thing before madness sets in. Or sets further in.
Which is why, when Aaron at keepsmealive proposed a simultaneous group post on ‘your 15 favourite albums’ I ran from the room, gibbering incoherently. Fifteen? I couldn’t manage 200 last time I tried! It seemed, to my fevered brain, akin to presenting a photographic portrait of yourself showing less than 0.25% of your body and announcing it a true likeness.
Then, when all the posts appeared, I got it.
It isn’t about thoroughness or accuracy. It isn’t even about the music. It’s simply a bunch of people waving a little flag to folk in different parts of the world saying, ‘Here I am! Hello!’ And while the flag should not be confused with the flag-waver, still the semaphore message is friendly and fun and a reminder that one thing we have in common is a love of music, whatever individual meaning that holds for each of us.
So although I knew I’d be coming very late to the table, I decided to break out the bunting. But how to make it manageable? Several ideas were entertained then rejected:
Fifteen Favourite Progressive albums (You must be kidding; it’s my largest grouping other than jazz)
Fifteen Favourite Albums from 1973 (Did this. Couldn’t get below 40 titles from the 270 on offer)
Fifteen Favourite Jazz albums (See above)
Fifteen Favourite Debuts (Sort of done this already, here)
Fifteen Essential Albums
Oh dear. Stuck in the swamp of Opinion again.
Finally, exhausted, I decided, in honour of Aaron, to go alphabetically and choose favourite albums in the As. The pool was a little over 200, so even that took a while, but it became manageable when I allowed some choices to be indicators of a genre or style of music I enjoy.
So here are fifteen little flags from Melbourne, well after the party is over, but nonetheless waved with affectionate vigour in the hope that you, dear Vinyl Connection visitor, might enjoy the colour and movement from a flag-waving chum. You might even be interested in some of the music.
AMON DÜÜL – Yeti 
A sprawling, unpredictable blunderbuss of an album that doesn’t so much ring the doorbell of the doors of perception as smash through them in a Panzer. A krautrock classic.
Roy AYRES UBIQUITY – Virgo Red 
A prime slice of soul jazz with a slurp of funk. Perfect Saturday morning music. I love vibes; especially good ones.
ATOMIC ROOSTER – Made In England 
There was a time when I was deeply into the Rooster’s doom-laden heavy prog. This is not my fave but it’s here to represent my love of album design. I have three copies of this, all with different denim. One day I’ll find the pink one. And the brown one…
John ABERCROMBIE – Timeless 
Either the first or second ECM album I bought. Still love Abercrombie’s guitar playing and will write about Timeless some day. Fabulous cover too.
A TRIGGERING MYTH – The Remedy of Abstraction 
Stumbled across this band/album a year or so back and took a punt based on cover, instrumentation, track lengths… Excellently composed and played modern progressive music. Result!
APPLES IN STEREO – Travellers in Space and Time 
Hard to know what to pick from this endearing power pop project of Robert Schneider. Each album is packed with well-constructed melodic guitar-based alt-pop.
Elvind AARSET – Électronique Noire 
In addition to being the first entry in the ‘A’s, Mr Aarset is a guitarist. On this post-jazz/trans-genre CD he (and I quote from the liner notes) ‘Performs all guitars: straight, treated, e-bowed, looped, ugly and pretty’. This is exciting, exploratory, yet often very engaging instrumental music.
ASH RA TEMPLE (MANUEL GOTTSCHING) – Inventions for Electric Guitar 
One of the most extraordinary solo guitar albums I know. All done with delays, echo, effects, it traverses a mesmerizing and often surprisingly groovy interplanetary landscape. One of the few precious German LPs I didn’t sell when I bought the CD.
Johnny ALMOND MUSIC MACHINE – Hollywood Blues 
Utterly infectious blues infused jazz from British sax player who joined John Mayall for a couple of excellent albums around this time.
AYERS ROCK – Big Red Rock 
Saw this Aussie band a few times in the 70s. As well as enjoying their unique sound, I was also introduced to the jazz-funk of Weather Report via their cover of ‘Boogie Woogie Waltz’ on this album. They appeared in an early VC post.
ABSOLUTE ELSEWHERE – In Search of Ancient Gods 
An obscure synthesiser album that does indeed sound like it could be a von Däniken soundtrack. Written and performed by one Paul Fishman on keyboards, with William Buford on drums. Note tell-tale JB graffiti.
ARIEL – A Strange Fantastic Dream 
One of my enduring favourite Aussie LPs. Closest thing to Art Rock we came to down under; catchy and edgy. More here.
AGITATION FREE – 2nd 
All three 70s studio albums are different and marvellous. Picked this because it was the first one I heard. Loved spinning it again last night, grooving to the inventive and often surprising musical twists and turns.
AUSTRALIAN ROCK 71-72 
Lobby Loyde, Carson, Aztecs… This compilation of early Aus-rock burst with larrikin energy and sunburnt swagger. Apparently this one is quite valuable in monetary terms as well as historical and musical.
ARNOLD – Bahama 
UK band who produced a couple of albums of lush but loose dream pop then seemed to disappear. File with Beatles, Big Star, Bowie (Man Who Sold The World era).
THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND – At Fillmore East 
Probably closest to the mainstream of the albums here, Fillmore East is a fantastic live album showcasing the instrumental skills of the band. Side four is ‘Whipping Post’… Sometimes I feel like I’m dying.
Thanks heavens for music.