When I started thinking about this I thought it might be fun to pick my ‘top 5 songs of all time’….but after starting, I decided that it was FAR too difficult!
So instead I’ve decided to share my favourite 5 albums, based on a number of things – albums that have changed the way I look at certain types of music, albums which take me back to a memorable time or simply the ones that I’ve played the most. In no particular order then, here we go:
1. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
I was already a huge Fugees fan by the time this album came out. On ‘The Score’, Lauryn Hill stood out as an extraordinarily talented rapper and singer. Everyone was waiting with baited breath to see what she came out with, and no-one was disappointed. ‘Miseducation’ broke records at the time not just in terms of first week sales, but also in earning Lauryn Hill a record 10 Grammy nominations that year. One of the many reasons I love this album is because it brings such a wide range of styles together (soul, hip-hop, reggae, gospel), but with hardly any seams showing. The personal subject of the lyrics is consistently touching (‘To Zion’ frankly discusses her reasons for choosing to have her first child over her career), and the album is sprinkled with little sparks of humour from the classroom interviews that segway between tracks.
I’m pretty sure that most people my age will have owned this album at some point. It captures the mid-90s perfectly, and still holds up 16 years on. Despite it’s focus on female-centric lyrics, it’s sharp, funny and communicates all the angst of someone going through a painful relationship breakup. You could even argue that this album marked the start of the emo genre. It’s so rare to come across a singer who can pull-off rock (‘You Oughta Know’) and tenderness (‘Perfect’) with ease, but Alanis Morissette‘s writing and performances on this record are completely unique. 5 albums later (including an acoustic re-release of Jagged Little Pill), and she’s never topped this.
I spent a heavy portion of the late 90s listening to fairly traditional dance/trance music. I’ve always found interesting parallels with the way classical music is written and how dance music works. And then I heard this, the 3rd studio album by The Prodigy, fusing rock and techno together to create a powerful, dark sound. This album would later set the tone for other dance acts like Chemical Brothers, Pendulum & Fatboy Slim to merge the two genres together. ‘Breathe’, ‘Mindfields’, and the 9-minute epic ‘Narayan’ all stand out from an altogether mind-blowing album. Listen as loud as it’ll go.
I was 10 years old, living in Singapore when I was bought this as a present from a friend. My first ever album – can you believe it? At first I didn’t quite know what to make of it. I’d heard from the older kids at school that Guns N Roses were worth listening to, but didn’t really know who they were or why. 24 years since its release, ‘Appetite’ is the best selling debut album of all time. ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’ is the one GNR song that most people know, and at the time it was everywhere, Slash’s incredible guitar solo 2/3s in to the track was balanced-out by the lite-rock intro. But opener ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ (and most of the rest of the album) is very different, grabbing you from the first guitar riff, and not letting go until the end of ‘Mr Brownstone’ five tracks in. ‘Paradise City’ begins with a stadium-filling guitar & drum intro, before catching you unawares and moving into double-speed half-way through. Say what you like about Axl Rose, this album is a slice of pure rock genius.
Whilst it’s fair to say that Bob Marley sparked my lifelong interest in melodies, this album sparked my interest in sounds, and heavily influenced my preference for performing with keyboards rather than piano. Although most people only recognise the global smash hits ‘Black & White’ or the sickeningly sweet ‘Heal The World’, there are some real gems here. Opener ‘Jam’ fuses sounds of bottles smashing, blaring synths and a deep, driving bass. Michael Jackson‘s vocals even sound more like an instrument than a voice. Later in the album ‘Will You Be There’ delivers an epic orchestral introduction (taken from Beethoven’s 9th symphony), followed by a choral solo, before the song itself begins. OK, so it’s a bit cheesy, but as a whole, ‘Dangerous’ still sets Jackson apart from all pretenders to his throne as a genre-defining artist.
There we are then. You may be shocked – my apologies to any Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd or Beatles fans, but these are just my favourites!
So – what are yours?