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Old 12-15-2013, 08:45 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Trollheart's all-time favourite albums ever (ever!)

Yeah, well while everyone does their top 10/20 of 2013 --- and I'm sure I'll end up doing one, not that anyone cares --- I wanted to share this with you.

These are by no means the greatest or most well-known albums in the world, in fact you may know few if any of them (well you will know some), but they are the albums I return to time and again, that I can play all the way through and not got bored with, and that in many cases formed part of the soundtrack to my growing up. Many have been already reviewed in my journal, so I won't be doing that here, just talking about them and what they mean to me.

Note: None of these are ranked, as they all mean different things to me and I would certainly struggle to choose one above another, so they're listed in no particular order.

First up: the classic that never should have been

Jeff Wayne's musical version of "The War of the Worlds" --- Jeff Wayne --- 1978

Possibly the worst-timed concept album ever, Wayne ran into the same basic apathy with this that another classic, Meat Loaf's "Bat out of Hell", released the previous year, encountered. As the seventies wound down and prepared to move into the next decade, the reign of progressive rock was coming to an end, with Punk Rock lurking around the corner with a bloody broken bottle, grinning with loose teeth and ready to pound what were seen as the overly self-indulgent, pompous bands like Yes, Genesis, ELP at al into submission, and basically tear up the rule book, giving music a much-needed (it says here) kick up the arse.

So a concept album based on a nineteenth century novel and a movie released in the fifties, made up of more or less two continuous pieces of music, was not really what the public were looking for. Jeff Wayne, creator, composer and brain behind this album, had to fight to get backing and convince his label that the album would sell. Drafting in some serious names from both the music and acting community, some of whom are sadly no longer with us, "WotW" has gone on to sell over two and a half million copies in the UK alone, and its iconic cover and theme tune are now instantly recognised all over the world.

Featuring the late great Richard Burton and Phil Lynott, as well as Justin Hayward, Julie Covington and David Essex, the album is, or was, pretty unique in that it both told a story with the narration of Burton's deep, sonorous voice and mixed in music from Wayne and his orchestra, giving the feeling of being a sort of play with a soundtrack. It of course tells the story of HG Wells' famous novel, as Martians invade the Earth and swiftly put the forces of humanity to the rout, eventually being defeated by microscopic bacteria against which they had not been prepared and had no defence.

Although this album does not and did not lend itself to singles, with all the tracks running into one another and linked via Burton's narration, they did manage to release one, which did very well. The opener, the instrumental, "Eve of the war" and Justin Hayward's "Forever autumn" are well known even by those who have never heard the album. But good as these songs are, it's in tracks like the eerie, creepy "Red weed" and Phil Lynott's memorable performance of the mad parson in "The spirit of man" that really stand out, to say nothing of Essex's no-more-sane Artilleryman in the superb "Brave new world".

"War of the Worlds" though is really not an album you listen to piecemeal. It's an experience, a story to be read, in music and voice, and to get the best out of it you really have to listen to it all at one sitting. Kind of treat it like a movie with music. It's an amazing album and although certainly not the first concept album ever written, it's the first I recall that used narration and progressive rock music so well together. Kind of a curse of the first album for Wayne, whose eventual followup, "Spartacus", was largely ignored and who has more or less dined out on "WotW" for the last thirty years, with an updated version released last year.

It's definitely the sort of album I return to every so often, just immerse myself in the music and the story, and remember what it was like back in 1978 when I first heard the opening strains of "The eve of the war".

TRACKLISTING

The coming of the Martians

1. Eve of the war
2. Horsell Common and the heat ray
3. The Artilleryman
4. Forever autumn
5. Thunder Child

Earth under the Martians

1. The Red Weed (Part 1)
2. Parson Nathaniel
3. Th spirit of Man
4. The Red Weed (Part 2)
5. Brave new world
6. Dead London
7. Epilogue (Part 1)
8. Epilogue (Part 2)
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Old 12-15-2013, 09:37 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Fantastic review my friend! The late 70's was such a strange time in music: record execs were willing to give all kinds of stuff the greenlight because radio markets were so much more open back then than they are now. Stuff like The War Of The Worlds, Alan Parsons Project, even Bat Out Of Hell....pretty much the golden age of prog-accessible music that even the mainstream could get behind.
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Old 12-15-2013, 01:26 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Thanks man!
That's true, but it was a double edged sword, as I think labels could see the change coming and that people were getting tired of overlong, overblown prog rock, that something new was in the wind. And if you think the trend is about the change, as it was, you're unlikely to bankroll any of the old guard.

Watched a docu on WOTW where Wayne talked about the difficulty he had in getting backing for the album, and the surprise that it sold and was accepted so well. Hard to believe now but back then it was almost a case of (sucks air in through teeth, shakes head) "Not in that colour mate! Nobody wants it, y'know what I mean?"
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Old 12-15-2013, 09:59 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Old 12-16-2013, 05:31 AM   #5 (permalink)
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There'll be few if any who know me who'll be surprised to see this album here. One of my alltime favourites from any genre, this is the one that really set me on the road to my discovery and subsequent love of progressive rock. I've already gone into the album in minute detail in my journal, even featuring it in the section "Albums that changed my life", because it did, so here I'd just like to say a few words (yeah, Trollheart: that'll be the day! ) about why I love it so much.

Script for a jester's tear --- Marillion --- 1983

I say this album started my love of prog, but that's of course not really accurate: I had been into Genesis, Supertramp and Rush for some time before this came on the scene. However, what Marillion's debut album did open my eyes to was that there was another side to prog rock, a "real" side, if you will. Up to then, all the albums I'd listened to from the above mostly focussed on fantasy, mythological or abstract themes, with a very few exceptions. I had never realised that prog rock could be rooted in the now, in the here, or to somewhat quote Fish from the followup album, "Fugazi", in the real.

Without question their darkest album until 1991's "Brave", "Script" is full of morose songs covering such subjects as loneliness, isolation, madness, addiction, suicide, betrayal and war. Yeah, a real laugh riot. But when I listened to it I didn't hear this downbeat, often depressing side of Marillion; in fact, really until I started reviewing it for my journal I never even noticed how dark it is, and that's I think because the sadness, the despair and the heartbreaking sense of solitude are all wrapped in such beautiful, lush, sweeping melodies. When Mark Kelly runs off a superb keyboard solo in the middle of "The web", you for a moment forget it's about a woman trying to face the world again and live her life after a bad relationship, and when Fish whispers "Death!" in response to the query "Halt! Who goes there?" although it's unsettling it's more theatrical and dramatic than harrowing.

Marillion's strength at this time was I think that they could take normal, everyday themes like love and loss, drug addiction and even social segregation and build memorable and challenging melodies around them, and of course Fish was and is a wordsmith par excellence, often a little too obscure with his lyrics, but then after all, this is prog rock!

As an album "Script" has few if any uplifting or even uptempo tracks, and there are only six in all, something of a gamble for a debut album, even though some of them are eight minutes long. There are passages in "The Web" and "Forgotten sons" that "bop along", but even so these are dark, dark songs. As I mentioned in my journal, I would almost class Marillion as a new subgenre, at least for their first three or four albums: Dark Progressive Rock. Few if any of their songs during the Fish era from 1982-1987 held much in the way of hope, and yet they were not seen as any sort of a doomy or gloomy band, quite the opposite. Tribute to their music I guess.

With six tracks only it's a fair bet that none of them are going to be bad, and none are. Every song here is a masterpiece, lovingly crafted and proudly presented for your delectation. If there isn't a tear in your eye as the wailing guitar and mournful piano lead out the title track, please return to the planet you came from, cos you ain't a human being.

Sadly, after this album Marillion would change their style slightly, going for shorter, almost commercial songs {"Punch and Judy", "Sugar mice" and of course "Kayleigh") and with the departure of Fish would go the biggest progressive rock influence on the band, but as it stood in 1983, this was a debut that was going to be hard to beat. It still ranks as one of the very best albums in my collection.

TRACKLISTING

1. Script for a jester's tear
2. He knows you know
3. The Web
4. Garden party
5. Chelsea Monday
6. Forgotten sons
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Old 12-16-2013, 08:47 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Looking forward to you going on for twelve pages on the merits of girly music.
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Old 12-16-2013, 09:24 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Looking forward to you going on for twelve pages on the merits of girly music.
Yep Marillion are pretty sissy sounding!
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Old 12-16-2013, 11:38 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Yep Marillion are pretty sissy sounding!
Uh, yeah... nothing as hard or butch as Toto, named after a little girl's little dog!

and just for that, Batlord...

In the eighties I was a metalhead. Oh you wouldn't believe it now would you, but I was. Had the long hair, the leather jacket with hand-stitched band logos (yes I learned to do embroidery: what of it? You want me to hit you with my rolling pin??), the whole bit. Another album that was featured in my "Albums that changed my life", Iron Maiden's "The number of the Beast" has come in for a lot of criticism, both from so-called hardened metallers and Maiden fans, but it's always going to be close to my heart as it was the first Maiden album I ever bought, and more, the first metal album. It started off a love of heavy metal that, while it didn't stretch to the extreme metal scale of the likes of His Batship (I prefer to be able to hear what's being sung) still encompassed bands from Motorhead to April Wine, Saxon to Twisted Sister, and Manowar to Sabbath. But this was where it all started for me.


The number of the Beast --- Iron Maiden --- 1982

For me, this album has it all. Kickass cover that would scare/scandalise the God squad, great songwriting, Brice Dickinson remaking the band in his image, killer twin axe attack and a closer to die for. It annoys me when people diss "NotB" because it "doesn't flow" or "has weak tracks". I just love it. From the opener "Invaders" through to the almost operatically dramatic "Hallowed be thy name" I really see no bad tracks. And then of course you have the big hit singles, the comeback as it were, "Run to the hills" and then the title track itself, with that intoned "Woe to you, O Earth and sea..." that now presages the track when they play live.

Showcasing themes as diverse as sci-fi author John Wyndham's work and organised crime, to life after death and history, Iron Maiden proved with this album that they were moving away from what were seen as typical metal tropes, singing less about girls and beer and more about gods and demons, less about who's the toughest and more about where we came from, and where we are going. Maiden became --- perhaps surprisingly given the somewhat punkish nature of their first two albums --- the thinking man's metal band. And it all happened with this album.

A true classic of its time, and I'll defend it to the death against anyone who says otherwise.

TRACKLISTING

1. Invaders
2. Children of the damned
3. The Prisoner
4. 22 Acacia Avenue
5. The number of the Beast
6. Run to the hills
7. Gangland
8. Hallowed be thy name
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Old 12-16-2013, 11:58 AM   #9 (permalink)
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^^ Love love love that album! I'm far removed from the generation that grew up with it of course, but its easy to see why its among your favorites.

As for that Toto comment on where their name from by the way, here's a fun tidbit from their official site-

Quote:
...Having just recently watched The Wizard of Oz, Jeff Porcaro began to write the word "toto" on the demo tapes so that they would be easily identifiable. When the time came to choose a name for the band, the band explored the roots of the word "toto" more thoroughly. David Hungate explained to them that, in Latin, the word "toto" means "total" or "all-encompassing," and given this group's long list of studio accolades and their collective ability to play in any given situation, the name TOTO was chosen as the official title of the debut record and the band name.
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Old 12-16-2013, 12:18 PM   #10 (permalink)
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And while we're on the subject of girly music, well what's less girly than two mother****ing huge armies kicking the living **** out of each other? Oh yeah, forgot to mention: they're gods. Ragnarok? A mere disagreement. When you piss the Irish off you had better have your best running shoes on!

All of which leads us to this incredibly underrated, ignored and really hard to buy album released by two unknown musicians back in 1989. Based on the series of paintings by Celtic artist extraordinaire, Jim Fitzpatrick (he who made that iconic drawing of Che Guevara from the photograph), "Erinsaga" is a retelling of the wars between the Celtic gods and their arch-enemies, the Fo Moir, or frost giants, back when the world was, you know, new.

Erinsaga --- Ken Kiernan and Ger McDonald ---1989
With a mixture of progressive rock, Irish traditional, some ambient, drone and other influences, this album is full of great tracks which are alike and yet so unalike. Compare "I am Tuan", the opener, to "The dream of Nuada" or the instrumental "The last battle" to the title track. Each song, each piece of music tells a story that go together to form, well, a saga of Erin (Erin being Ireland, for those of you who don't know). I posted a track from this in the ill-fated "Weekly mixtape" run by Rezz a while back and was surprised how many people liked it. Not because it's not good, but because I thought few of you would get it.

You don't have to be into mythology, Irish or otherwise, to enjoy this album, but it does help if you know your legends. Mind you, it's almost a myth itself, virtually deleted from the independent label's catalogue, and for a long time the only way I could hear it was on vinyl. I couldn't buy a CD for love or money. Finally my chance came and I got it, so for anyone wanting to experience the album I uploaded it two years ago to YouTube, and to my knowledge it's still there.

If you're looking for something different, something to maybe surprise you and make you think, you could do worse than this album. It really is the best kept secret in Irish music: if you search "Erinsaga" you'll find a lot about Jim Fitz, but barely anything about this album, which is a real pity, as it's a total credit to Irish musicianship and storytelling.

Another one I regularly play, and forget how great it is. Have to be in my top ten all time favourite albums, if I ever ranked them.

TRACKLISTING

1. I am Tuan
2. The Vision
3. Belgatan (Our will is strong)
4. Tailltu's lament
5. Crom Cruach
6. The dream of Nuada
7. Battle-frenzy
8. My love is yours
9. The last battle (Moytura)
10. Erinsaga
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