Tag Archives: The Word Magazine

The Top 100 Albums Ever, a definitive and unarguable list

Sorry, this one’s more than unusually self-indulgent…see, the thing is I used to be fatally attracted towards pointless lists of the best songs/films/makes of carpet cleaner etc but I have managed to wean myself off them in recent years, helped largely by a form of passive aversion therapy: these days you can’t open a music magazine without a new and vital list of things you must hear before you die assailing you and I’m at the stage where I could quite happily never think of the words Astral Weeks or Pet Sounds or Exile On Main Street ever again, let alone wade through a rehashed twenty page feature on the making of them.

However…someone on The Afterword forum (the unofficial successor to that of the much mourned Word magazine) yesterday launched a poll to establish The Best Albums Ever, whereby participants were asked to submit a list of their favourites, the kicker being that said list was required to contain not three, or five, or even ten cherished classics but a full hundred. This is such an insane and ambitious undertaking that I felt honour bound to come out of list-retirement and contribute.

So, here’s the list, slightly amended from the one I submitted yesterday due to me inevitably remembering a handful of choice items that really should have been on there. I’ve limited myself to no more than one entry per artist to avoid clogging the thing up with Mountain Goats and Robyn Hitchcock records, but have allowed Greatest Hits and multi-artist compilations in order to correct the bias against great stuff that works better as singles than it does as albums. This was a totally ludicrous exercise, but I had fun doing it and thought it was worth sticking somewhere I could find it later on, and I promise I won’t be making a habit of this kind of thing. Anyway:

1 Big Star: Radio City (1974)

2 Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Get Happy!! (1980)

3 The Mountain Goats: All Hail West Texas (2002)

4 REM: Murmur (1983)

5 The Clash: The Clash (1977)

6 Patti Smith: Horses (1975)

7 Diana Ross and the Supremes: 20 Golden Greats (or any Supremes compilation really) (1977)

8 Robyn Hitchcock: I Often Dream Of Trains (1984)

9 Pixies: Doolittle (1989)

10 Wire: Pink Flag (1977)

11 Joy Division: Closer (1980)

12 Tom Waits: Rain Dogs (1985)

13 Half Man Half Biscuit: Cammell Laird Social Club (2002)

14 Neutral Milk Hotel: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (1998)

15 Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

16 X Ray Spex: Germfree Adolescents (1978)

17 Sex Pistols: Never Mind The Bollocks (1977)

18 The Decemberists: The Crane Wife (2006)

19 David Bowie: Hunky Dory (1971)

20 Blondie: Parallel Lines (1978)

21 Gang Of Four: Entertainment! (1979)

22 The Modern Lovers: The Modern Lovers (1976)

23 Pere Ubu: The Modern Dance (1978)

24 Public Image Limited: Metal Box (1979)

25 Buzzcocks: Singles Going Steady (1979)

26 The Smiths: The Queen Is Dead (1986)

27 The Beatles: Rubber Soul (1965)

28 The Jam: Snap! (is this still available? Better than the Greatest Hits cos of the album tracks and B-sides) (1983)

29 Television: Marquee Moon (1977)

30 Young Marble Giants: Colossal Youth (1980)

31 Wussy: Funeral Dress (2005)

32 Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica (1969)

33 The B52s: The B52s (1979)

34 Billy Bragg: Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs Spy (1983)

35 The New Pornographers: Twin Cinema (2005)

36 Talking Heads: More Songs About Buildings And Food (1978)

37 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus (2004)

38 Neko Case: Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (2006)

39 The Vibrators: Pure Mania (1978)

40 The Only Ones: Peel Sessions (1989)

41 Laura Cantrell: When The Roses Bloom Again (2002)

42 Joni Mitchell: For The Roses (1972)

43 Roddy Frame: Surf (2002)

44 The Go! Team: Thunder, Lightning, Strike (2004)

45 Graham Parker: Heat Treatment (1976)

46 Ian Dury and the Blockheads: Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll (or any half-decent compilation) (1987)

47 The Human League: Dare (1981)

48 The Velvet Underground and Nico: The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)

49 Eno: Another Green World (1975)

50 Roxy Music: Roxy Music (1972)

51 The Violent Femmes: The Violent Femmes (1983)

52 Chumbawamba: Anarchy (1994)

53 Husker Du: Flip Your Wig (1985)

54 The Soft Boys: Live At The Portland Arms (1978)

55 John Cale: Paris 1919 (1973)

56 Chic: Les Plus Grands Succes De Chic (1979)

57 Love: Forever Changes (1968)

58 John Grant: Queen Of Denmark (2010)

59 Madness: Divine Madness (1992)

60 Aimee Mann: Magnolia (soundtrack) (1999)

61 Sly and the Family Stone: There’s A Riot Goin’ On (1971)

62 The Fall: This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985)

63 Michael Hurley, The Unholy Modal Rounders and Jeffrey Frederick & The Clamtones: Have Moicy! (1976)

64 The Wedding Present: George Best (1987)

65 Throwing Muses: Throwing Muses (1986)

66 Iggy Pop: Lust For Life (1977)

67 The Stooges: Fun House (1970)

68 The Monochrome Set: Strange Boutique (1980)

69 The Magnetic Fields: 69 Love Songs (1999)

70 Various Artists: Up All Night! (30 track Northern Soul compilation) (1990)

71 Antony and the Johnsons: I Am A Bird Now (2005)

72 Camper van Beethoven: Key Lime Pie (1989)

73 Ramones: Ramones (1976)

74 10,000 Maniacs: In My Tribe (1987)

75 Lou Reed: Berlin (1973)

76 Felt: Me And A Monkey On The Moon (1989)

77 The National: Boxer (2007)

78 PJ Harvey: Let England Shake (2011)

79 Arcade Fire: Funeral (2004)

80 The Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006)

81 XTC: Black Sea (1980)

82 Richard and Linda Thompson: I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight (1973)

83 The Cure: Boys Don’t Cry (1979)

84 Various Artists: Atlantic Soul Classics (1985)

85 Pulp: Different Class 91995)

86 Various Artists: Motown Chartbusters volume 3 (this is the one with This Old Heart Of Mine and Heard It Through The Grapevine on) (1969)

87 The Strokes: Is This It? (2001)

88 Syd Barrett: The Madcap Laughs (1970)

89 The Undertones: The Undertones (1979)

90 Doors: Strange Days (1967)

91 New York Dolls: New York Dolls (1973)

92 New Order: Substance (1987)

93 Jimmy Cliff: The Harder They Come (soundtrack) (1972)

94 Robert Wyatt: Old Rottenhat (1985)

95 Morrissey: You Are The Quarry (2004)

96 Orange Juice: The Glasgow School (2005)

97 Dexy’s Midnight Runners: Searching For The Young Soul Rebels (1980)

98 Nic Jones: Penguin Eggs (1981)

99 Alex Chilton: High Priest (1987)

100 Adam and Joe: Song Wars volume 1 (2008)

Hmm. Lots of quite old, a fair amount of quite new, not much in between. Anyone got any tips for 90s stuff I might like?

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RIP The Word Magazine 2003 – 2012

A couple of days ago the news came through to me (via Twitter, how modern) that The Word magazine was closing. This was kind of a shock – it’s the only magazine of any type that I make a point of reading every month, and there have been none of the tell-tale drop-offs in quality or desperate advertising promotions in recent issues that would have been indications that it was destined for the dumper. It would be tastelessly melodramatic to compare the closure of a music periodical to the death of a friend, but I did feel surprisingly upset about it, and I’m far from the only one judging from the flood of despondent messages on the magazine’s online forum. So what’s the big deal?

Word (the definite article was added later) was set up in 2003 by media old hands David Hepworth and Mark Ellen, who you may remember from their stint as Old Grey Whistle Test presenters even if you didn’t know about their central roles in the launches of such august publications as Smash Hits, Q, Empire, Heat and even Just Seventeen. All successful brands, but you get the definite feeling that The Word is where their hearts lay – it was a small-scale, independently produced venture (though no less glossy or less packed with interviews with respected elder statesmen of rock than its nearest competitors Mojo and Uncut) run by an enthusiastic and talented team out of a small office in Islington. It was clearly aimed at a relatively affluent, literate and middle-aged demographic and Hepworth and Ellen positively relished running features of unusual length and depth on eminent music veterans, backstage histories and interesting newcomers as well as, somewhat less characteristically for this type of magazine, cutting edge developments in digital music and the internet and the changes these would force on both the industry and listeners’ habits. Hepworth in particular has always been willing to embrace and discuss media innovations that might, ironically, eventually herald the demise of traditional periodical publishing, and The Word spawned two offshoots that are great examples of how a magazine can succeed in engaging with its audience via digital means: the aforementioned forum, the regular users of which are unusually articulate and tolerant of lively debate, and the weekly podcast, which typically featured Hepworth and Ellen informally chewing over topical issues with a rotating cast of guest journalists and musicians. In case of all of this sounds a bit po-faced I should emphasise that the main reason The Word engendered such an unusual degree of affection and loyalty from its readers was that it was fun: unpretentious, witty, well-informed and often approaching established showbiz phenomena from angles that simply would never have occurred to you. I managed to unexpectedly fluke my way onto the podcast once, and after chatting with Mark Ellen afterwards I can confirm that he really is as funny, generous and engaging in real life as he comes across in the podcast and in print.

I’m not too devastated by the magazine’s closure, though. Hepworth’s always been a canny and unsentimental operator and I’d be surprised if he hasn’t got a strong idea about what he’s going to do next – an internet or tablet-only incarnation of something reassuringly Word-like seems like a good possibility to me. But I’ll miss The Word – even if I wasn’t always that interested in the subject matter (a prog-rock special, anyone?) the writing was usually accessible and incisive enough to make the thing worth reading more or less cover to cover. And I was looking forward to more of the gigs they’d started to put on recently (like this one)…and I’d never have come across C.W.Stoneking with them…and the free CDs were pretty good sometimes too…pah. Where’s me real ale and Incredible String Band boxset when I need em?

Robyn Hitchcock plays I Often Dream Of Trains, The Lexington, London 2/4/12

The Word magazine has in recent times established a fine tradition of putting on intimate yet usually fully attended shows featuring talented and well seasoned performers in an excellently equipped room above The Lexington pub in Islington (or alternatively, as a one-off, aboard a pleasure steamer going up and down the Thames). Having finally realised that this venue is only stumbling distance from Kings Cross station, and thus viable as a weeknight evening out, I attended my first Word In Your Ear gig last night: Word editor Mark Ellen’s old mate Robyn Hitchcock revisiting his 1984 masterpiece I Often Dream Of Trains. As it happens this is one of my desert island albums, probably, so it seemed rude not to turn up.

Support act for the evening was Bristol outfit Phantom Limb, whose subtle and multi-layered blend of country and soul probably warrants more focused and dedicated attention than I was able to give in this environment. They’re a six piece band who play mid-tempo for the main part with plenty of space for Yolanda Quartey’s powerful yet controlled vocals to stand out. Guitars are often used for textures and fills rather than to propel the songs along, with the playing on the upright bass much more prominent than that of the drummer. They do raise the pace here and there, even if they never do anything so vulgar as rocking out, and are clearly pretty talented players. I didn’t pick out much in the way of hooks or distinctive lyrics but maybe these songs are growers and need repeated listens to bed in.

For the main event Hitchcock had also assembled a six piece, though for the most part only a few of them are on stage at any one time. This is unexpected: one of the main reasons the Trains album stands out as so distinctive and out of time is its stripped down, echoey, almost skeletal nature, with most of the songs being carried by Hitchcock alone, with just his acoustic guitar, piano or multi-tracked vocals as accompaniment. But in contrast to when he’s tackling an album by somebody else (such as Captain Beefheart’s Clear Spot last year, which was delivered with remarkable verisimilitude), RH displays a refreshing willingness to try new approaches to his old material – as he says in one song introduction, the album’s changed, but not as much as he has.

So instead of a straight, respectfully faithful, runthrough, we get a bit of a re-mix. Some tracks are dropped (Sometimes I Wish I Was A Pretty Girl, This Must Be The Day, Heartfull Of Leaves) while others are promoted from out-take or CD-only status (Winter Love, I Used To Say I Love You, Mother Church, My Favourite Buildings). Stalwart Hitchcock sideman Tim Keegan and Terry Edwards are on hand to handle acoustic guitar duties (Keegan) and sax, keyboard, trumpet and shaker (Edwards), along with cellist Jenny Adejayan and backing singers Jen Macro and Lucy Parnell. The performance doesn’t disappoint, and any changes made to arrangements generally enhance the songs: Cathedral is stunningly beautiful, with Hitchcock and Keegan picking out delicate harmonising patterns on their acoustics, the cello underscores the plaintive Flavour Of Night most effectively, and even my least favourite track on the album, the cod country and western Sleeping Knights Of Jesus becomes something of a delight with the addition of sweet backing vocals. The highlights are the two purely acapella oddities Uncorrected Personality Traits and Furry Green Atom Bowl, which are simultaneously hysterically funny and technically highly impressive. The intricate and idiosyncratic harmonies of these two must have taken some rehearsing. Only on the solo title track does Hitchcock stumble a bit, possibly because he’s played it so often (certainly as part of pretty much every show I’ve seen him do over the last 15 years) that he’s finally losing interest in it. Otherwise, this set was a triumph, and I’m properly happy to have finally witnessed these peculiarly fragile and interior songs live at last.

But that’s not all. After a short break Hitchcock comes out again to play some songs by artists who have been a particular influence on him (“If I’m the plant, these songs are the nutrients” he deadpans). If anything, these renditions are even more impressive than what went before – you’d expect RH to be able to busk his way adequately through a Syd Barrett tune, even if it is an interesting choice (Waving My Arms In The Air/I Never Lied To You), but it takes real talent to pull off Nick Drake’s fiddly picking on River Man, or re-cast The Doors’ The Crystal Ship convincingly for acoustic guitar. I’ve got no idea how RH manages to sing in tune and time at the same time as executing this delicate finger picking but he seems to have no trouble. The other songwriters represented include Bryan Ferry, The Incredible String Band’s Robin Williamson, Lou Reed (not a Velvet Underground song surprisingly, but the ultra-morbid The Bed, from Berlin), The Beatles (more startling multi-part harmonies on the dauntingly complicated Because, with Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside one of the singers this time) and David Bowie, whose Quicksand closed the show. No complaints at all, other than wishing they’d done Life On Mars, and you couldn’t have wished for a better sound mix or more respectful and appreciative audience (nobody in the room talking during the quiet bits? When does that ever happen?) Brilliant gig, and plenty of time for the last train home. I shall come here again.

Word On The Water: C.W.Stoneking on a paddle steamer plus my two minutes of podcast glory 24/7/2011

Sometimes everything just lines up nicely. My partner Soo and I been thinking about going on a boat down the Thames for a while and we’re currently mildly obsessed by delta blues/1920s jazz throwback C.W.Stoneking, so when The Word magazine emailed to offer me priority booking for an afternoon in London aboard the rather plush paddle steamer The Dixie Queen with Stoneking providing the musical entertainment it was, as I believe the young people say, a no-brainer.  And if that were not enough, the magazine’s overlords and all-purpose music and popular culture commentators David Hepworth and Mark Ellen would also be recording one of their legendary podcasts during the trip. These informal, usually insightful and frequently hysterically funny chats have been enlivening my walks to work for over five years now, and this seemed like an unmissable opportunity. Tickets were booked within about 30 seconds of the “You’ve Got Mail!” alert sound going off.

Come the day of the cruise, the good karma didn’t look like it was running out: it was gloriously sunny in London, the brightest and warmest day for weeks. Soo and I boarded at Tower Pier and headed upstairs to the bar, where Mr Hepworth was performing unofficial bouncer duties by the door to the not yet accessible lounge where the music and talking were due to take place. A couple of exits next to the bar led to an open-air deck at the front of the boat from which a classic view of Tower Bridge could be had, and as this was apparently the biggest pleasure steamer in the country, the bridge was going to have to raise to let us pass. We got a good vantage point as the boat approached, with me vaguely worrying about the possibility of missing the start of the podcast recording.

And then the weird thing happened. Pretty much exactly as we passed under the two halves of the raised bridge the public address came on and we heard the convivial tones of Mark Ellen, welcoming us aboard and telling us that the podcast would be starting in the next few minutes. And that in the spirit of audience participation that it would be nice if the first five people to have bought tickets could be part of the podcast. Remember what I said about being quick on the draw with that email…

Now, I’m by no means an attention-seeker (despite the existence of this blog), and my gut instinct in this kind of situation is to find a cupboard to hide in, but hell! This was The Word podcast! Short of being inexplicably invited on the Adam & Joe show I wasn’t going to get something this in tune with my sensibilities landing at my feet again ever. So I walked over to Mark, identified myself, found myself being greeted like some class of superstar and a few minutes later was in the surreal position of taking the stage to a round of applause, where I sat next to estimable compere Kerry Shale and was subjected to some gentle grilling on my first ever gig (The Cure, 1984. Mr Hepworth didn’t approve), my best ever gig (very tricky…but I went for Robyn Hitchcock in Anglia Poly bar in 2004 because I thought there’d be mileage in it, what with him being mates with Mr Ellen), and the best ever time I’ve ever had on a boat (I picked falling into a canal, which probably isn’t true but had humour potential). I think it went off OK, but it’s going to take some courage to listen to it when it’s released. Two minutes later I was back in the audience shellshocked, listening to the next person’s answers to the same questions. And not long after that, they brought out Neil Finn from Crowded House and asked him too. This led into a two song set by Finn and his wife’s informal set-up Pajama Club, which sounded pretty snappy to me.

After the podcast, the main event. By now, the lounge was packed, with tables full of people down by both sides and others (including Soo and I) sitting primary school style on the dance floor in front of the stage. Stoneking led his band through a truncated set and sounded as authentically temporally- and geographically- dislocated as ever (for more detail on his extraordinary M.O. see here). He also mined a good line in boat-related between-song banter. He wrapped up just as the boat returned back to Tower Pier – I hadn’t even noticed it turning round. It had been three hours since we departed but it felt like ten minutes. Just time to get some CDs signed by Stoneking and a short chat with Mr Ellen about the days of Smash Hits and we were away. An amazing afternoon.