2015 is set to bring some stonking album anniversaries. Throwing Muses’s ‘University’, for example, will be 20 years old. A commercial breakthrough of sorts, the sixth Muses album (their second without founding member Tanya Donelly) found them on fierce, direct form, tapping into the alternative rock boom while hanging onto their weird structures and indomitable character.
Radiohead – ‘The Bends’ (1995). ‘OK Computer’ is their most canonical work, but for many, ‘The Bends’ will always be the best. Yorke and the boys are at their most accessible here, at the peak of their 90s alt. iconhood, but they’re also at their most emotively challenging and engagingly atmospheric; you’re sucked in inescapably from the off, and every song is a winner.
Foo Fighters – ‘Foo Fighters’ (1995). When people talk about back-from-the-brink records – the Manics’ ‘Everything Must Go’, New Order’s ‘Movement’, they rarely mention Foo Fighters’ debut, recorded just six months after the death of Kurt Cobain. Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t exactly fit the tragic mould, filled as it is with brilliance like ‘Big Me’, it deserves serious celebration.
PJ Harvey – ‘To Bring You My Love’ (1995). Harvey’s third album was the one where she became PJ Harvey: Artists To Take Very Seriously Indeed. Her first record without the PJ Harvey Trio, it found her shaping a more unique soundworld than ever before, a blasted, furious blues with lushly theatrical overtones. A stone-cold classic, 20 years on.
Elastica – ‘Elastica’ (1995). Justine Frischmann and her gang got a lot of stick at the time for ripping off, among others, Wire (interestingly male-fronted Britpop bands with obvious influences rarely got as much flak) but what the haters missed was the delectable simplicity and endless attitude of this perfect debut that bottled the spunky spirit of the times then sprayed it in your face.
Belly – ‘King’ (1995). After Tanya Donelly left Throwing Muses in 1991, she formed the poppier, softer Belly, whose debut spawned the charming indie hit ‘Gepetto’. This beefier follow-up doesn’t have a duff moment, and boasted another breakthrough track in the form of the glorious, scenester-skewering ‘Super-Connected’.
Atari Teenage Riot – ‘Delete Yourself!’ (1995). It would be easy, these days, to get the impression that the mid 90s revolved around the twin poles of Oasis and Blur with only riot grrl as an alternative. Not so: there was so much weird shit going down, not least ATR and their digital hardcore empire, perfecting the bleep-shriek-shout template years before Crystal Castles.
Supergrass – ‘I Should Coco’ (1995). A strange fit for the Britpop era, the startlingly young, startlingly hairy Oxford trio threw themselves into thrashy, gobby indie-punk-pop with brio, and with a slightly psychedelic flair that would blossom on later records. Here, though, they’re at their most adorably, instantly bratty on the likes of ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ and ‘Alright’.
Paul Weller – ‘Stanley Road’ (1995). ‘Wild Wood’ had made Weller cool again, but with his third solo album, the Modfather capitalised on the namechecks coming his way by young Britpoppers enamoured with The Jam, and reclaimed his throne. ‘Broken Stones’ and his take on ‘You Do Something To Me’ were some of the ’90s favourite ballads-for-people-who-don’t-do-ballads-and-definitely-don’t-cry.
Bob Dylan – ‘Blood On The Tracks’ (1975). For his 15th studio album, Dylan picked over the scabs of his estrangement from his ex-wife Sara and made one of his most personal, painful albums ever. Happy 40th birthday, ‘Blood On The Tracks’, you ol’ heartbreaker, you.
Oasis – ‘What’s The Story Morning Glory?’ (1995) The real surprise when listening back to Oasis’ second, an album that defines the word ‘strut’, is how bloody good the filler is. Yeah, ‘Wonderwall’, yeah, ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’... but what about ‘Morning Glory’? And ‘Hello’? And even bloody ‘Swamp Song’? This is what an unstoppable roll sounds like (well, until ‘Be Here Now’).
Bjork – ‘Post’ (1995) Bjork’s second album took her ambitious and inimitable fusion of dance, pop and indie-punk sensibilities to some darker places than the exuberant debut, kicking off with the bruising, grinding anthem of ruthless self-reliance that is ‘Army Of Me’ and ranging fiercely through romantic troubles on ‘You’ve Been Flirting Again’, ‘Possibly Maybe’.
The Chemical Brothers – ‘Exit Planet Dust’ (1995) There at the beginning of the commercial and stylistic renaissance of British dance music post-rave, the Chems defined what came to be the big beat sound, fusing breakbeats with soul and early hip-hop samples, topped with guest appearances from indie types such as Tim Burgess and Beth Orton: one big, barrierless musical love-in.
Morrissey – ‘Southpaw Grammar’ (1995). One of Morrissey’s strangest and most divisive efforts, this – and now celebrating its 20th birthday – ‘Southpaw Grammar’ was weirder and more warped than his previous jangle indie-rock, but there’s gold in the eerie, unsettling highlight ‘The Teachers Are Afraid Of The Pupils’.
The Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness’ (1995) The Pumpkins never apologised for being commercial, and with tracks such as ‘Bullet For Butterfly Wings’ they dominated MTV 2’s playlists, but ‘Mellon Collie...’ was a more complex beast. The apex of ‘90s alt rock’s glossy pomp phase, this double album swung from the metallically furious to the melancholicly epic.
Pulp – ‘Different Class’ (1995) For an album that spawned so many huge crossover hits and tabloid kerfuffle with ‘Common People’, ‘Mis-Shapes’ and ‘Disco 2000’, Pulp’s sexually frustrated, social concerned masterpiece is one of the most subversive albums of the era: you’d still struggle to find such a passionate portrayal of class hatred and stifled dreams with tunes like these.
Depeche Mode – ‘Violator’ (1990). Depeche Mode had already released six studio albums by 1990, but they found seventh heaven with the majestic ‘Violator’. Here, they reached the perfect bridge between their catchy-as-hell pop and their trademark sinister sleaze with the likes of ‘Personal Jesus’ and ‘Enjoy The Silence’.
Ice Cube – ‘Amerikka’s Most Wanted’ (1990). After quitting NWA, rapper Ice Cube needed a statement record for his solo full-length debut. ‘Amerikkka’s Most Wanted’ delivered in spades: rude, violent and aggressive, it’s one of the most powerful hip-hop records of the past 25 years.
Sonic Youth – ‘Goo’ (1990). Sonic Youth signed a major label deal with Geffen in the late 80s, but anyone who thought they’d soften their edges after ‘Daydream Nation’ was proved a blundering fool by ‘Goo’. It’s their most accessible, but no less brilliant with the noisy glee of ‘Dirty Boots’ still standing out as an alt-rock classic 25 years later.
Pixies – ‘Bossanova’ (1990). ‘Doolittle’ might be the obvious choice for the Pixies’ masterpiece, but ‘Bossanova’ surely can’t be far behind: those famed loud/quiet dynamics – later pinched by Kurt Cobain – were at their most violent and vital here, with the scuzzy wonder of ‘Is She Weird’, ‘Dig For Fire’ and ‘Velouria’.
LL Cool J – ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ (1990). Along with Ice Cube’s ‘Amerikkka’s Most Wanted’, LL Cool Js ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ was one of 1990’s standout rap albums. The hip-hop artist’s previous effort, ‘Walking With A Panther’, had been something of a damp squib. On ‘Mama…’, though, he righted the wrongs with his street-smart rhymes and relentlessly inventive production.
Cocteau Twins – ‘Heaven Or Las Vegas’ (1990). Scottish band Cocteau Twins bowed out with their final album for record label 4AD in 1990, but also hit a commercial peak, too: it’s one of their loveliest, dreamiest records which 4AD boss Ivo Watts-Russell admitted was one of the label’s best ever – although their soured relationship meant he released them from their contract.
The La’s – ‘The La’s (1990). The album that launched a thousand myths and tales about the strangeness of frontman Lee Mavers, who delayed the LP’s release countless times due to his perfectionist quirks. Eventually, the album was released against Mavers’ wishes – one suspects that, if he’d had his own way, he’d still be fussing over the details in 2015.
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – ‘The Firstborn Is Dead’ (1985). The follow-up to the Bad Seeds’ terrifying debut ‘From Her To Eternity’, ‘The Firstborn Is Dead’ turned doubters of Cave into believers. Poetic gothic-rock with Cave delivering sermons like a crazed preacher, it’s 30 years old this coming year.
The Pogues – ‘Rum, Sodomy And The Lash’ (1985).The anti-U2 hit a peak on their second album of ramshackle, disreputable Irish folk-punk. Along with Sinead O’Connor and The Waterboys, they made it cool to admit a Celtic influence.
Kate Bush - ‘Hounds Of Love’ (1985). This autumn’s live return showed that ‘The Hounds Of Love’ still stands as one of this country’s greatest concept albums (in the form of second-half suite ‘The Ninth Wave’) but also one of the finest examples of Great British weirdo pop, cramming skewed ideas and obscure references into era-defining, still skin-tingling songs.
The Fall – ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’ (1985). One of The Fall’s most accessible albums – witness the catchy chug of ‘LA’, the ramshackle charm of ‘Paintwork’ or the eerie rumble of ‘I Am Damo Suzuki’ – but without losing any of Mark E Smith’s quirks and weird kinks. Happy 30th, ‘…Saving Grace’.
Grace Jones – ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ (1985). Chemistry is a funny thing: sometimes, two people just click and make magic. And everything Grace Jones and Trevor Horn touched together turned into gold for Jones’ fantastic ‘Slave To The Rhythm’. A record of funk, pop and RnB perfection.
Young Marble Giants – ‘Colossal Youth’ (1980). They only released one album, but US band Young Marble Giants made it count with the post-punk brilliance of ‘Colossal Youth’. In particular, Kurt Cobain was a huge fan, later telling Melody Maker: “It’s total atmospherics… I love it.”
Iron Maiden – ‘Iron Maiden’ (1980). 35 years ago, something monstrous was born: heavy metal stalwarts Iron Maiden released their self-titled debut with as much ear-splitting noise and heavy riffs as possible. They’d go on to be one of the biggest heavy metal bands as possible.
Black Sabbath – ‘Heaven And Hell’ (1980). Without one of the greatest showmen ever fronting the band, Black Sabbath could have faltered once Ozzy Osbourne left the band. But Ronnie James Dio proved to be a stellar replacement, and ‘Heaven And Hell’ saw Sabbath revitalised and refreshed for one of their best albums.
Paul McCartney – ‘McCartney II’ (1980). For any ignorant fool who thinks McCartney’s post-Beatles career lacked the same spark, acquaint yourself with the cruelly overlooked ‘McCartney II’ – Paul’s third studio album which boasts the brilliant ‘Temporary Secretary’ and ‘Waterfalls’, to name but two.
Joy Division – ‘Closer’ (1980). 35 years later, it’s impossible to listen to ‘Closer’ without the poignant, tragic benefit of hindsight: Joy Division’s final album was released two months after Ian Curtis’s suicide. Inevitably, it’s a bleak, harrowing swansong for one of the greatest bands of the 20th century.
Echo And The Bunnymen – ‘Crocodiles’ (1980). One of the jewels of high 80s indie rock, the Bunnymen’s debut is a strange, sparse, scratchy thing, with the bare bones of their grand, swooping, chiming glamour rubbing up delighfully against a fractious punk hangover.
AC/DC – ‘Back In Black’ (1980). The death of singer Bon Scott from alcohol poisoning at the age of 34 was a sore blow to Australia’s hard rock beasts, but having hired Geordie bawler Brian Johnson, they barreled back to straight-up, sweaty, no nonsense riffing on the mighty ‘Back In Black’, a career high thanks to the likes of the rampant title track and the steel-plated ‘Hells Bells’
Dexys Midnight Runners – ‘Searching For The Young Soul Rebels’ (1980) Dexys’ all-time-great debut was an inspiration to many bands who came after, not only in its heady, timely, politicised mix of punk and Northern soul with an irresistible pop rush, but in the band’s ethos: singer Kevin Rowland ruled out drink and drugs and forced the band to go on runs and shoplifting trips.
Siouxsie And The Banshees – ‘Kaleidescope’ (1980). Goths might be a tad too moody for birthdays – too much joy and jubilation, you know – but ‘Kaleidescope’ deserves lots of recognition for its 35th anniversary: an album that starts out on fire with the lurching ‘Happy House’ and stays brilliant for nigh-on its whole duration.
Killing Joke – ‘Killing Joke’ (1980). If you want to talk really dark, though, you should pay your respects to Killing Joke’s self-titled debut: a brute of an LP that gave bruised meditations on death, isolation and society’s ills.
David Bowie – ‘Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)’ (1980). After Bowie’s experimental Berlin trilogy - the murky ‘Low’, ‘’Heroes’’ and ‘Lodger - ‘Scary Monsters…’ found Dave in lighter land without compromising on his edge.
U2 – ‘Boy’ (1980). Wonder what happened to these chaps? Still in love with post-punk and yet to embrace the stadium-rock that would make them the biggest band in the world, Bono and friends introduced themselves to the music-buying public 35 years ago with their debut ‘Boy’.
Bruce Springsteen – ‘The River’ (1980). The Boss ruled the early ‘80s: shortly after this heartland rock masterpiece – a double-album that dealt with the death and disillusionment of the American working-class - he went on to release ‘Nebraska’ and ‘Born In The USA’. That’s some half-decade, eh?
Prince – ‘Dirty Mind’ (1980). The Purple One played nearly every instrument on his colossal third album. And no-one else could have done it better, either: here, Prince is on the top of his game – nay, the top of the world – with the funk of the title track, the gorgeous heartbroken pop of ‘When You Were Mine’ and dance bangers ‘Partyup’ and ‘Uptown’. A filthy work of genius.
Talking Heads – ‘Remain In Light’(1980). ‘Remain In Light’ is 35-years-old this year, but it’s genius remains undimmed. Always one of the most inventive, innovative bands to come out of the US in the 20th century, David Byrne led his band into new territory, fusing their dance-ready post-punk with African polyrhythms, and knocked out the classic single ‘Once In A Lifetime’ at the same time.
The Clash – ‘Sandinista!’ (1980).How do you follow up an era-defining classic like ‘London Calling’? For The Clash, the answer was obvious: go bigger. Much, much bigger. And so ‘Sandinista!’ was a triple album with a whopping 36 songs that expanded the band’s influences to take in RnB, dub, funk and folk. Staggeringly ambitious, and it turns 35 in 2015.
Led Zeppelin – ‘Physical Graffiti’ (1975). Also in the 40th birthday club this year will be Led Zep’s sprawling double-album ‘Physical Graffiti’. “A lot of them were really raunchy,” singer Robert Plant later said of the LP’s tunes, and he’s not wrong, either.
David Bowie – ‘Young Americans’ (1975). 40 years ago, Bowie made his ‘plastic soul’ album: a departure from his previous work that mixed rock with blue-eyed soul, funk and disco. In part, it’s a genre experiment, but there’s nothing flimsy about the likes of ‘Fame’ and ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’.
John Cale – ‘Slow Dazzle’ (1975). Former Velvet Underground man John Cale continued to sparkle with the brilliantly strange ‘Slow Dazzle’, which was made with some help from production whizz Brian Eno and Roxy Music member Phil Manzanera. A timeless testament to the Velvets’ quieter statesman.
ABBA – ‘ABBA’ (1975). ABBA’s third, self-titled album turns 40 this coming year, too. The Swedish pop geniuses produced some of their greatest and best-loved tracks for the LP, including the smash singles ‘SOS’ and ‘Mamma Mia’. They’d launched their career a year previously by winning the Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Waterloo’.
Fleetwood Mac – ‘Fleetwood Mac’ (1975). Time for a trivia lesson: 1975’s ‘Fleetwood Mac’ was actually the band’s second self-titled album – their 1968 debut had the same title, too. By this point, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Knicks had joined (and revitalised) the band – here, Nicks’ gorgeous ‘Rhiannon’ is one of the LP’s real highlights.
Lou Reed – ‘Metal Machine Music’ (1975). One of the most controversial albums of all time, ‘Metal Machine Music’ will be 40 this year but time hasn’t dimmed its strangeness. An hour of abrasive feedback, Lou’s most avant-garde experiment was a prototype of industrial noise and a massive issue for his record label, RCA, who were aghast at the album’s unmarketable din.
Bruce Springsteen – ‘Born To Run’ (1975). It seems downright bonkers now, but 40 years ago, Springsteen pitched ‘Born To Run’ as a last attempt to break through into the commercial mainstream. And boy, did he succeed: a flawless rock’n’roll record about coming-of-age, rebellion and adolescence that’s stayed forever young.
Donna Summer – ‘Love To Love You Baby’ (1975). This is why Donna Summer will always be the Queen Of Disco, and no mortal shall topple her from her throne: teaming up with future Daft Punk-collaborator Giorgio Moroder, ‘Love To Love You Baby’ is sexy, sensual disco at its finest. The title track stretches on for a writhing, steamy 16-minutes that’d get a corpse feeling hot under the collar.
Pink Floyd – ‘Wish You Were Here’ (1975). A quasi-tribute to erstwhile founding Pink Floyd member Syd Barrett, who had left the group after a mental breakdown. The remaining members deal with his absence on the 13-minute-long ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ (“Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun”), as well as scorning music industry slimeballs on ‘Have A Cigar’.
Queen – ‘A Night At The Opera’ (1975). One of Queen’s finest albums, ‘A Night At The Opera’, is 40 years old this year. The songs here, though, have lived on for the past four decades: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘You’re My Best Friend’ are still regarded as among Mercury and co’s best compositions.
Patti Smith – ‘Horses’ (1975). It’s hard to think of a better debut than ‘Horses’ over the past near half-decade. Incredibly influential – it was beloved by the likes of Morrissey and Michael Stipe, among others – it was Smith’s introduction as the type of fearless, fierce punk-rock poet who comes along just once in a generation.
The Beatles – ‘Let It Be’ (1970). ‘Let It Be’ was The Beatles’ final album, but the bulk of it was recorded before they made ‘Abbey Road’. Paul McCartney wanted the band to get back to playing live in the studio together, but strained relationships – in particular, between Macca and John Lennon (although a fed-up George Harrison walked out of the sessions) led to a bumpy, fraught process.
David Bowie – ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ (1970). Arguably, ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ is the real birth of Bowie: unlike the wispy folk of his debut, this – his third studio album – was indebted to glam and hard rock. The title track, meanwhile, has found a new, darker lease of life in Nirvana’s acoustic cover, recorded for their 1994 ‘MTV Unplugged’ live album.
Bob Dylan – ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ (1965). Half-a-century ago, Bob Dylan enjoyed one of his most productive years ever. In March he released the fantastic ‘Bringing It All Back Home’: an LP split between acoustic and electric sides that starts with the iconic rattle of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and ends with the tender, brittle ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’.
Bob Dylan – ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ (1965). And then, just a few months later, Dylan unveiled an even bigger, better beast: ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ saw Bob pledge his allegiance to rock music and electric guitars almost exclusively, and also write one of the greatest opening album tracks ever with the classic, near-perfect ‘Like A Rolling Stone’.
The Who – ‘My Generation’ (!965). “I hope I die before I get old” sneered Roger Daltrey on The Who’s most iconic song, the title track from the 1965 classic. Thankfully, he didn’t get his wish – The Who are still going strong, having recently roped in Liam Gallagher to perform with them, even though it’s been 50 years since they released their debut LP and scared the establishment shitless.