Bands that have totally captured my imagination for periods of time? You know the thing, a band that seems to get into your psyche beyond and above ‘how good’ that band would appear to be to everybody else. A band ‘just for you’, even if they are The Beatles. In my case, I can immediately think of the following groups that I’ve obsessed about over periods of time in a major, MAJOR way. I’ll restrict it to ten, but ten is about right anyway. There’s a couple of others bubbling under such as The Go Betweens, for instance, but whilst I adore them I’ve never obsessed about them for any period of time. Such a distinction is important! Please provide your own list if you desire, but here’s mine, for what’s it’s worth.|
The Beach Boys – Well, of course they appear here. I’ve numerous books, DVDs and wouldn’t be without every single CD in their album catalogue sat on my shelves. They’ve brought me to tears of joy, just reading about them is enough sometimes. The harmony vocals and the emotion in those vocals have been enough to shape my entire musical outlook. I now perceive the type of musical backdrops created in a ‘Surfs Up’ or a ‘Pet Sounds’ to be a musical artistic ideal. Ambitious arrangements that sound simple yet are packed with melody. Lots of melodic strands, eg, more than one. Not too many rock bands manage this, remarkably.
The Byrds – Vocally of course there are similarities to The Beach Boys. Golden harmonies enriched many Byrds tunes. A distinctive part of the musical appeal is clearly the jingle-jangle however. The Byrds guitar sound defined many an indie/alternative groups sound, several of my favourite bands have been said to sport ‘Byrds’ guitar at some point in their careers. Thanks Roger McGuinn. Three/four songwriters, which is always nice. At least two magnificent solo careers ( Gene Clark is obviously the highest of these ) and much more besides in this prime sixties band.
Nick Cave – The dark prince of gloom, album cover after album cover of Nick Cave peering out at you glumly. The music contained within often cathartic noise, more recently elegantly put together life-affirming ballads that make you actually glad to be alive. Lyrics taken from biblical sources, richly narrative and full of character. A baritone voice easily as able to croon as to rip your ears to shreds. The Birthday Party, his former band, one of the great all time bands were around all to briefly. His solo career has provided more variety and also hit the same heights with the likes of the Johnny Cash lauded ‘The Mercy Seat’ from the excellent ‘Tender Prey’.
Bob Dylan – I remember it vividly, the day I bought my first five Bob Dylan albums. Well, strictly speaking it was six and strictly speaking ‘The Freewheelin’ I’d already owned on cassette of all things. It was a fine spring day, one of Virgin Megastores 5 for £30 deals. Couple of weeks later I bought another three Dylan albums and I was well on my way to becoming a fully fledged Dylan fanatic. Having now tracked down all the official albums, including the lamentable ‘Dylan’ LP, I can safely say that even when Dylan is bad he’s always interesting and it’s down to his melodies and voice, rather than the lyrics for me. Call me mad, but Dylan himself rightly points out if it was all down to the lyrics, how come he sells loads of records in non-english speaking countries? Let’s fact it, a man as obsessed and knowledgeable about music as Dylan will always be able to pluck an enjoyable melody from somewhere deep in the mists of time.
The Fall – Two hundred and six different line-ups and almost as many LPs, or at least it appears so. All led my Mark E Smith, former dock clerk in Manchester. Genius social commentator, man of the streets, drunken tramp, irritable auteur, dictator and self-confessed musical ignoramus. ‘I can barely play but I can write a good tune’ says MES, a dictum many songwriters/performers could well learn from. Whatever the line-up, The Fall sound like The Fall, but also every album sounds different. Confused? You will be. For some, first hearing The Fall is a genuinely life-changing event and thus it was for me. I quickly went from U2 and Simple Minds to Mudhoney and Polvo, all thanks to The Fall-uh!
Felt – For me they define what ‘indie’ music actually should be. Not only were they signed to a genuinely independently run and owned label and appeared in the ‘indie’ charts, but they never had a top forty hit and never appeared in the album charts proper. Ten albums and ten singles released in ten years, often a near commercial breakthrough would be followed by a defiantly un-commercial all instrumental LP. Dreamy indie-guitar-pop without going even halfway to meet the listener, I adore them greatly. Lawrence from Felt, Lawrence from Denim and now Go Kart Mozart, but Felt were the original and best dream.
Morrissey / The Smiths – A very special first love, Morrissey. I make no distinction between The Smiths or his solo career, which if taken as a whole probably eclipses the records he made with The Smiths. Controversial statement? His solo career has lasted four times as long as he’s made twice as many solo records. The Smiths were more important than Morrissey solo, indeed they meant the entire world to legions of fans. Morrissey can inspire that kind of fanatical, loyal response. You do end up feeling as if you love the man, his words capturing what no other lyricist has ever expressed as eloquently, bravely or honestly. The pains and trials of growing up, a process which actually never ends. Whether he’s been writing with Johnny Marr, Stephen Street or Alain White, the songs remain more or less the same, proof that Morrissey himself is the driving force in his own musical endeavours. For all Johnny Marr’s clever guitar lines in The Smiths, it was Morrissey’s voice and words that really made the band stand-out. Buy ‘The Queen Is Dead’ and ‘Your Arsenal’ for two of the best.
The Pixies – I never used to like heavy guitar bands. Let’s face it, the Eighties weren’t the best time to grow up for heavy metal or heavy rock music. Still, The Pixies changed my entire outlook all by themselves. For music to be so aggressive but the lyrics to be slightly weird and the level of melody within the music to be quite so high? I was impressed, I can tell you. ‘Bossanova’ and ‘Doolittle’ then ‘Trompe Le Monde’ I purchased on vinyl as they were released. I couldn’t stop listening. I was less impressed by ‘Come On Pilgrim’ or ‘Surfer Rosa’, perhaps because I only discovered them posthumously. However, Charles Thompson, Kim Deal, Joey and David rocked my world and rocked outer space and now I’m resorting to cliché, something The Pixies never ever used to do. Shame on me. I thought all bands were as good as The Pixies and didn’t realise they’d prove to be a massive one-off. Despite their recent live reunions, this group are sorely missed and have never adequately been replaced by anyone.
XTC - It’s amazing what we re-discover. When I was eight years old I was an XTC fan purely because of ‘Sense Working Overtime’ which was a top ten hit over here in the UK. Time passed, I forgot about them and never bought any of their records. I still adored ‘Senses’ and ‘Making Plans For Nigel’, the only other hit the group ever had. I picked up ‘Fossil Fuel’ one year, a ‘best of’ compilation and quickly became very obsessed indeed. Bought a couple of books, bought all the miniature replica sleeve reissues even though they were Japanese. They are lovely things. ‘Apple Venus Vol 1’ gave me the opportunity the buy a brand new XTC album and didn’t disappoint. One of the all time great albums, it’s distinctive and stunningly brave as well as being so good. XTC appear to be on hiatus at the moment, but I hope they come back some day. Almost every other new band these days appear to copy the XTC sound circa 1980. XTC deserve the praise they never received in sales-terms.
Yes – The first ever progressive rock I purchased was ‘Close To The Edge’ by Yes. The ‘I Get Up I Get Down’ section convinced me all by itself progressive rock was something I needed to know about, I hadn’t been expecting such beauty. Clearly, a lot of progressive rock was utter pretentious nonsense, but we all need some of that nonsense from time to time. Yes in particular have enjoyed stunningly good musicians throughout the years including my now favourite drummer ever, Bill Bruford. Indeed, my fiancée even knowing who he was when I first met her through his solo Jazz work was enough to convince me she was worth talking to a bit more. Look how that turned out! It’s great and I have Yes to thank for it. I was anti good musicianship for a long time, being in my high holy indie-alternative tower, but Yes changed my mind. Suddenly, guitar solos were in and were enjoyable. I still like Gallon Drunk and Bikini Kill but I can also like Jeff Beck as well. Hooray!