Contributed by Chris Gedos
My mind deals in chronologies. By memorizing the dates of artworks and events, I gain a greater understanding of particular historical progressions. I always keep this in mind when listening to music, which band another band was listening to when they were writing a particular song or album, or whether they were listening to a different genre or no music at all, since they didn’t want to get encumbered by another’s expression and run the risk of intellectual plagiarizing. The period of 1979-1996 could loosely be defined as the third era of British Rock Music, with the first encompassing the Beatles and the second going from Elton John through the Sex Pistols. (One man’s opinion. Don’t burn an effigy of me just because I didn’t put Boys Don’t Cry or Disintegration on the list!)
10. Teardrop Explodes — Kiliminjaro (1980)
Front-man Julian Cope used to play with Ian McCulloch of The Bunnymen in Liverpool in the late 70’s, before each of them became leader of their own outfit. One can only imagine, however, Julian Cope as the 5th member of the Bunnymen, sharing lyrical duties with McCulloch and battling for bravado rights. Key tracks include the infectious “Treason”, “Poppies in the Field”, and the final song “When I Sleep”, which was a hit single in England. The CD also includes the Kiliminjaro EP with title track, which is a mystical journey toward the snowy peak of Africa. The song’s only lyrics: “We set sail a year and a day ago, making our way for Kilimanjaro.” The group plays with an hysteric tightness rarely seen even in the Post-Punk realm.
9. The Wedding Present — Seamonsters (1991)
The Wedding Present, a favorite band of the late British DJ John Peel, is the product of David Gedge. What he lacks in vocal range he more than compensates for in lyrical mastery. Seamonsters contains some of the great rock love songs of the past 25 years. “Dare” is Gedge’s attempt to persuade a girl to love him:
Stay all night, I dare you
Look who is going to know?
I can’t believe you want to go!
Other key tracks include Carolyn, Octopussy, Suck and Niagara, which climaxes in a magical “1,2,3,4!” count-off into the final instrumental. There’s a steep listening curve on this album, but the rewards are more than worth it.
8. The Smiths — The Queen is Dead (1986)
This album should probably be higher on the list. Actually, I forgot about the Smiths when I first created this list late at night, but it would be criminal to shun them from any list of this nature. They are too representative of the era not to give them their proper notice.
The Smiths are highlighted by guitarist Johnny Marr and singer Steven Patrick Morrissey, who of course is better known as simply Morrissey. The Queen is Dead features several of the most iconic Smiths hits, including “Cemetery Gates,” “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” ” A Boy with a Thorn in His Side,” and a personal favorite, “There is a Light that Never Goes Out”. Morrissey’s trademark self-conscious self-deprecation permeates the album, epitomized by the lyric “It lasted 20 years, 7 months, and 27 days whoah-oh ah-ohoh…” (from the song “Never had No One Ever”.)
7. Echo and the Bunnymen — Ocean Rain (1984)
Today, Echo and the Bunnymen is best known as the group that recorded the song “The Killing Moon”, which gained prominence after it was featured in the 2001 movie Donnie Darko. Following the release of the movie, which was a massive cult hit among lovers of independent cinema, Echo also gained notoriety as a key musical influence for groups like Interpol and British Sea Power.
This is not to say that Echo and the Bunnymen wasn’t important in their own day. While virtually unnoticed in America, they had 4 top ten albums in the UK, and “The Killing Moon”, which starts out the second side on Ocean Rain, made it to #8 on the UK singles charts. Bunnymen zealots contend that guitarist Will Sergeant was better than The Edge and also that Bono ripped his vocal style off of Mac the Mouth.
Ocean Rain was supposed to be the album to catapult the Bunnymen toward international superstardom. While it didn’t quite do that, it made it to #4 on the UK album charts. The album features one of my favorite second halves. Starting with “The Killing Moon”, it sequences into “Seven Seas”, featuring one of the greatest bridges of the 80’s, “My Kingdom” and the epic title track to close things out. The Bunnymen are great for toeing the line between passion and histrionics.
6. Oasis — What’s the Story Morning Glory (1995)
Oasis was the biggest thing since the Beatles. Or at least The Brothers Gallagher thought they were. But these guys had the brawn to match the hubris. Oasis’ critics say that they only had one gear and couldn’t change their sound up enough (the paradigmatic one-trick pony), but they knew their sound and usually knocked it out of the park.
While some prefer Definitely Maybe, their debut, I prefer (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, which showed no signs of a sophomore slump. Morning Glory roars out of the gates with “Hello” (more of the Definitely Maybe vein), “Roll With It” (Nirvana meets Britpop), “Wonderwall” (their most accessible hit), and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” (title inspired by the John Osborne play). The album gets a little sleepy in the second half before closing with “Champagne Supernova” (another classic).
5. Radiohead — The Bends (1995)
Radiohead is the band which defines our generation. In fact, I had to tailor this post to end in 1995 instead of 1997 so I wouldn’t be obliged to put OK Computer at the top of this list. In many ways they are the current end-product of the entirety of British Rock.
This album kicks ass! I often listen to it in the morning to get my iconoclastic juices rolling before a long day hunting for my piece of cheese in the rat race. The album is replete with attitude, strong choices and general precociousness. Few bands rock as hard as Radiohead on The Bends. After the merely-above-average debut of Pablo Honey, Radiohead went to the sketch pad and drew up the plan for their second album. This is when Radiohead started to become the best band of Earth, even if Yorke owes Buckley’s estate some royalties for “Fake Plastic Trees”. (And I think “Street Spirit” is overrated.) But the quality is uniform throughout.
4. The Clash — London Calling (1979)
Rolling Stone Magazine shocked its readership in 2003 when it placed The Clash’s London Calling at #8 on their 500 Greatest Albums list. I remember them getting some negative feedback, probably justified (with albums like Velvet Underground and Nico, Abbey Road, Are You Experienced, and Nevermind ranked after — a minor misdemeanor.) But even if London Calling isn’t number eight, it undoubtedly clocks in somewhere before twenty.
“Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust” sings Strummer on the opening title track. Although there is an outward rejection of the past, The Clash were receptive to incorporating other genres into the framework of punk. “Brand New Cadillac” is Jan and Dean, “Rudie Can’t Fail” is Proto-Ska. Then there’s “Lost in the Supermarket” and “Lover’s Rock”, which for me transcend definition and float within the timeless realm of ineffability. This nineteen track double album is guilty of some filler, but it closes the deal with “Trian in Vain (Stand by Me),” one of their most popular songs.
3. The Stone Roses — The Stone Roses (1989)
The iconic bands share a self-fulfilling vision to be the greatest band on the planet. These guys had that vision. Led by frontman Ian Brown and guitarist John Squire, driven by the incessant beat of bassist Mani and drummer Reni, who battles the late Pete Defritas of The Bunnymen as the best English Drummer of the 80’s, The Stone Roses’ eponymous debut is a statement of purpose.
They are unapologetic about their intentions, as indicated by the opener, “I Wanna Be Adored”, which was an American college radio hit. Next comes the infectious bass line from “She Bangs the Drums”, made recently popular by the videogame Guitar Hero II. “Don’t Stop” is “Waterfall” played backwards! — I mean, who else plays a song backwards? The epic finale is much-loved, but I prefer the saccharine sweetness of “Sugar Spun Sister”.
2. Echo and the Bunnymen — Heaven Up Here (1981)
Echo and the Bunnymen’s second album, Heaven Up Here, was their only LP to make the Rolling Stone top 500 list, squeaking in somewhere between 450 and 500. The inclusion is a bit of a pity prize, but I am at least glad that a) they got the recognition in the first place and b) the preferred Echo album was Heaven Up Here, which, in my opinion, is the most cohesive album of the 1980’s. Still in their early 20’s, they built on the foundation laid with their 1980 debut Crocodiles. While some of Crocodile’s pop infectiousness is lost on Heaven Up Here, Echo makes up for it with a surety of purpose evidenced by a higher lyrical quality; the band follows suit in this step up to the big league. (To compare it with Boy by U2 is a joke, quite honestly.)
“Realistically, it’s hard to dig it all too happily,” Ian McCullloch croons at the start of the opening track, “Show of Strength”. Echo, like the Stone Roses, make an overt statement of greatness with the opening track and somehow manages to succeed. Seargent’s guitars are mesmerizing and DeFritas’ drums cannot be played at a loud enough decibel. The hysteria continues with the dystopic “With a Hip” and the six-minute epic third track, “Over the Wall”, where Mac the Mouth takes the listener to their logical limit. Even filler like “It was a Pleasure” kicks absolute ass. Any doubts are handled by the time we get to “Zimbo”, a metaphysical journey not unlike Kiliminjaro (see#10).
1. The La’s — The La’s (1990)
I was not impressed with this album when I purchased it off Amazon about five years ago. I thought it was too short and that the songwriting was not original enough, outside of “There She Goes” and “Timeless Melody”, the album’s premiere cuts. Most importantly, I found Steve Lillywhite’s production shoddy and hated how I had to crank the volume up before even beginning to rock out.
But over time, I grew attached to this album. I listened to it at least once every day for a six month period, and I still listen to it on a regular basis. This album makes #1 because it breaks all stereotypes of chronology, with tracks sounding like they could’ve been recorded in 1959 or 2009, but definitely not 1989. The La’s came from a different era, taking their, ahem, timeless melodies from that great magical jukebox in the sky.
The La’s, originally from Liverpool, were hailed as the second coming of the Beatles. They put a record company out of business while making this album. Once the label put Steve Lillywhite (U2, Dave Matthews) to the task of salvaging the wreckage of three years of false starts, the album finally came out in 1990. The band, especially frontman Lee Mavers, hated the album and publicly lambasted it, urging their fans not to buy it. They had minimal buzz in the US, appearing on Letterman in 1991; “There She Goes” went to #5 in the UK. After the band broke up, the song continued to grow, being covered by The Cranberries and Sixpence None the Richer and being featured in movies like So I Married an Axe Murderer.
There She Goes was originally released in 1988 as a single, then climbed to #5 when re-released with the album. It is the perfect pop song. Unforgettable guitar intro, pitch-perfect falsetto, 2 minutes 40 seconds, all the ingredients. “Timeless Melody” is almost as good, along with “Way Out”, “IOU”, “Freedom Song”, and the epic finale “Looking Glass”. This album is #1 because there’s no filler. Each track is equally qualified for radio airwaves. Please buy this album, don’t download, since Lee Mavers lives off the royalties. Just don’t tell Lee that you liked his album.
Reviewed by b3