This is an attempt to highlight a dozen of my favourite albums for no particular reason other than wondering if I could narrow down my favourites to just a dozen (started off trying to do it with ten, but that didn’t work out), and doing anything to avoid work in the run up to Christmas. “Favourite” is a very emotive term, and I would probably choose a somewhat different looking dozen next week. I have also followed some fairly loose rules such as only choosing an artist once, and not plumping for a “best of” album. Having said that the first one, “Strangers”, the only live album, is sort of a best of, and is used to tick the boxes for both UFO and Michael Schenker to leave room for other choices in the remaining eleven! As well as all still being albums that send tingles down the spine, many are also chosen for the memories they evoke as well as musical merit, a reason why a lot of these are chosen over other potential candidates. In no particular order.
UFO -Strangers In The Night (1979) One of the classic hard rock live albums of all time, recorded when the band were at their peak with this line-up as they run through some of the best tracks from their previous five studio albums with guitarist Michael Schenker. There is not a dud song on it, and the distinctive vocal talents of Phil Mogg and soaring guitar solos from Schenker ensure that it’s a gem from start to finish. Without including this, would probably have plumped for No Heavy Petting as my favourite UFO album, but we do get Natural Thing and I’m A Loser from that album on this, the latter an awesome version.
Cry of Love – Brother (1992) The ultimate one hit wonder! This was one of those albums that when it came out I played over and over and over again until it became too much, and then carried on playing. There’s just so many songs where the chunky guitar rhythm (Audley Freed) and gruff vocals (Kelly Holland) simply ooozes quality drawing on blues and “southern rock” influences. Unfortunately Holland left the band soon after, and the follow up 5 years later just was not up to the same standard. Freed later turned up in The Black Crowes, not unsurprisingly when you play this album alongside the Crowes’ best efforts (see later).
Magnum – Chase the Dragon (1982) It was a toss-up between this and the next-but-one album (On A Storyteller’s Night), but on balance this 3rd studio album one gets the nod from Birmingham outift Magnum’s “prog rock” glory years. This for me, is the defining album of their history, and comes on the back of intensive tour schedules which only adds to the top quality of every song. It is also the first with Mark Stanway on keyboards which adds an extra dimension to the sound which is already much more refined than their previous efforts. There are no duff songs, and they have all stood the test of time, for me at least! Sacred Hour is still probably the top track, although the final track, The Lights Burned Out is a good one when feeling low.
Uli Jon Roth – Transcendental Sky Guitar (2000) I have many favourite musicians, including the amazing Michael Schenker (above), but none of them have playing that touches the emotions quite as much as ex-Scorpions guitarist Uli Jon Roth. I’m also not usually a fan of classical music, but the first disc of this 2-disc album, draws entirely from a classical background but with very much a rock viewpoint. Uli’s technical ability is astounding, when listening to the live tracks included on this album, as you get taken on a magical journey through the song, you totally forget that this was a live performance until it gets to the end, and you just think “wow”. Highlight for me is the wonderful Air de Aranjuez, but the whole album does literally take your breath away.
Foreigner – 4 (1981) I’m a big fan of Foreigner, but when you tell anyone that they instantly think of the awful I Want To Know What Love Is and switch off. Of course, 1984’s Agent Provocateur which that song comes from is otherwise (largely) a solid rock album, but so is this offering from 1981. Still has the ballads, but also the crashing guitar solos (and saxophone solo from Urgent, obviously) and fast paced rockers along with Lou Gramm’s mesmorising lyrics and probably one of the best rock voices in the business.
The Alarm – Declaration (1984) This and the follow-up Strength are two really solid albums from a Welsh band that you would probably shy away from if you saw them, scary looking bunch! Declaration is made up of a dozen strong songs, no more so than the iconic 68 Guns or Blaze of Glory, with an underlying theme of war and the trenches with a strong hint of punk influence. I saw them live when they supported Queen at Wembley in ’86 as one of the early support acts and their experience of being an opening band for U2 paid dividends as they totally blew away the main support act (Status Quo), although not the headline (obviously). It all seemed to go a bit wayward for them after Strength though which was a shame, and they were never to get back to their former glory.
Queen – News of the World (1977) Where to start with the Queen back catalogue? If I was allowing myself “best of” albums then I could take the easy option and just go for the first Greatest Hits album, but that would be cheating. Every album has songs on it where you think, yeah, this is the one, but then you pick up the next and say the same thing, so I choose this one over the others simply because it seems to be the album of choice if I’m hovering over the CDs and have to make a decision (Jazz comes a close second)! The first two tracks, We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions are overplayed to death, but then the rest of the album is full of strong Queen songs, Spread Your Wings amongst my favourite of those. Freddy Mercury was truly an exceptional vocalist and song writer.
Adam and the Ants – Kings of the Wild Frontier (1980) Happy memories! Loved Adam and the Ants when they were at their peak for this album, the successor Prince Charming was already sounding the death knell for the band, with the highlights being those songs that would have quite happily sat on this album. Many tracks on this offering were a bit tamer than the B-sides of the singles it spawned, which showed a lot more deference to Adam’s punk background, but the whole image, gritty guitar and distinctive beat from the dual drummers made this a complete package. I think I’m right in saying that at one point when KOTWF was number one in the UK album charts, they also had five singles in the top 75 (including re-issues from the Dirk days, previous record label cashing in), the perfect two fingers to Malcolm McLaren having ousted Adam from his own band perviously! Was great to see Adam live recently on his UK tour.
Def Leppard – Hysteria (1987) 1987 was a good year for major album releases, as well as this one there was Whitesnake’s 1987, Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation and a personal highlight the return of Michael Schenker with Perfect Timing. This one however stood out for being so perfectly produced it was frightening (Robert John “Mutt” Lange). Three years in the making (back in the days when rock bands would produce albums on an annual basis), with the drummer losing an arm in this time (Rick Allen), and this being the last album to feature Steve Clark before his drug overdose, you couldn’t make this up, and the final result is now a classic. Impossible to pick just one track to highlight.
Iron Maiden – Number of the Beast (1982) It was a narrow thing between this third album and the first eponymous album for sheer raw energy. The latter in my book is certainly an outstanding first album, but this one again gets the edge because at the time it was released it was the height of NWOBHM, and the mix of catchy riffs, dual guitars, and Bruce Dickinson letting rip for the first time made for a memorable album. It certainly set the tone for the next few albums before they started to succumb to commercialism, and backed up the recordings with energetic and visual live sets (happy memories of the Hammersmith Apollo). Every track is a winner, and even now it’s one where at the end of a bad day you can just whack the volume up to 11, sit back, and soak it up without having to think.
Black Crowes – Shake Your Money Maker (1990) An amazing first album. I first heard of the Black Crowes at Uni when a friend of mine started talking about this band that had been playing some UK gigs and were about to release an album, always regret not seeing them then, but all I was told turned out to be true and this album is a wonderful mix of rock and blues. From the tearful She Talks To Angels, to the outstanding Hard To Handle cover every track stands out and are songs that have been clearly honed to perfection on the road (with possibly more than a little weed to help).
Led Zeppelin – I (1969) I had to include Led Zeppelin, and looking through their discography this one always stands out for me (as above, when my hand is hovering over the CDs it invariably plucks this one out above the later ones). In fact, the successors I usually need to be in the mood for in some way, whereas this one will raise your mood on any day. It’s a delicious mix of tracks really showcasing the band members’ already established credentials, and the promise of much more to come in later years. How can you pick a highlight from such a classic album? Dazed and Confused and Communication Breakdown are possibles, but this would change on a daily basis.
Near misses which may reveal may rather eclectic tastes, Bonnie Raitt’s Longing In Their Hearts, Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet, The Beatles Rubber Soul, several UFO and MSG albums I deliberately avoided having to narrow down by choosing Strangers, Badlands eponymous album, and on it goes!