Studio Voltaire is asking artists, curators, friends and staff to compile their top 10 albums and to explain the stories and reasons behind their choices.
The Deviants – The Deviants 3, 1969 – This isn’t the best album by The Deviants, but it does have the best cover – it has a brilliant cover in fact, which is really why I chose it. I often judge records by their covers…I have at least six copies of ‘Tubular Bells’, just because I love Trevor Key’s cover so much…though the record inside is awful. Anyway, The Deviants were great – a disaster zone led by Mick Farren. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I always imagine Danny (the Camberwell Carrot character) in ‘Withnail and I’ is modelled on Mick Farren – they are identical in manner and look. This album was their last, and it sounds like it: a hotchpotch of stoned half-ideas, but it’s still good. Their best album is ‘Disposable’, mainly because it has ‘You’ve Got To Hold On’ on it, which I urge people to listen to on YouTube right now.
Dexys Midnight Runners, Don’t Stand Me Down, 1985 – This record probably appears in every Mojo-Man’s Top 10, but I don’t care. It’s incredible. It’s almost like listening to a theatre play; and Kevin Rowland has a fantastic sense of theatre. I don’t know what else to say about it really, but, you can take any song off this and it’s just brilliant – for example, early in the song ‘The Occasional Flicker’ Kev shouts: “Compromise is the Devil talking!” – which would be enough for me, he could stop right there, and I’d be happy – but it gets better. Because then, in the middle of the song, he sings, “You could say I’m a bitter man, I would agree I think this is true, I will remain so until I know more than those people that know more than I do”. Then towards the end, talking to one of his bandmates, Kev tries to explain that ‘this burning feeling’ that he has is perhaps a burning of the soul, and not in fact heartburn, as his mate is suggesting.
The Supremes, An Evening With The Supremes, 2000 – This isn’t a real album as such, it was included free with the first 25,000 issues of ‘The Supremes’ box set. I was a teenage scooterboy, so grew up loving Motown, especially The Supremes. The very last song on this album is really funny, it isn’t meant to be, it’s meant to be heartfelt and sincere, but it so transparently isn’t. It’s a live version of ‘Someday We’ll Be Together’ recorded at the Frontier Hotel, Las Vegas in 1970. It is the very last song at the end of the very last performance Diana Ross would ever give with The Supremes. Diana is leaving the band to become a solo artist, but the way she draws out the song, the way she talks about her love of her bandmates – the utter schmaltz of it all, is so brilliant – you’d think she was on her deathbed saying goodbye to her loved ones, rather than cruelly ditching them to pursue a solo career as a megastar.
Earl Brutus, Your Majesty… We Are Here, 1996 – Earl Brutus were the greatest rock’n’roll band of all time in my opinion. They made two studio albums; this is the first. Both are brilliant, but this one is truly genius. The title ‘Your Majesty… We Are Here’ is the band addressing the late Freddie Mercury, telling him not to worry because they have come to save pop music – not that you’d know that by listening to it. What follows is a complicated thrash of heavy guitars, squealing synthesizers and (as they called them) ‘trucker beats’. All this is intertwined with stories of drunken sailors, Japanese hairdressers, masturbation and being lonely in The (‘great value family restaurant chain) Harvester. It is hilarious and sad and essentially chaos: the sound of a fight at last orders in a flat-roofed pub.
Johnny Moped, Cycledelic, 1978 – I love Johnny Moped. If you look at this link you can see them rehearsing in a Croydon back garden in 1974. It’s a brilliant shambles. There is also a fantastic and very touching documentary about Johnny Moped by Fred Burns. I don’t think I should say anything else about Johnny Moped…I might spoil it.
Howlin’ Wolf, Moanin’ in the Moonlight, 1959 & Dr Feelgood, Malpractice, 1975 – I was just going to choose Howlin’ Wolf here, but I only got into Howlin’ Wolf because of my love of Dr Feelgood, so I’m choosing both. I think Howlin’ Wolf is perhaps the most charismatic performer ever to get on stage…he was really funny and totally magnetic. This is Howlin’ Wolf’s second album, and it has his version of the Willie Dixon song ‘Evil’ on it – which is brilliant. It also has ‘Smokestack Lightning’, on there too, the one song everybody knows by Howlin’ Wolf. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent trawling YouTube watching Howlin’ Wolf – there are some brilliant and funny clips of him both performing and being interviewed. Lee Brilleaux (of Dr Feelgood) told a great story about being a teenager and seeing Howlin’ Wolf play in a pub in Romford – you can see Lee’s face light up as he talks, like a little boy, “He was such a big fella, a bear more than a wolf”- you can see this on YouTube too, if you like.
Various Artists, Top Gun: The Soundtrack, 1986 – I originally got this album as a present for my 17th birthday – the sad thing is, I really wanted it, I asked my mum to buy me it. This was a very confusing time for me – after the demise of The Jam and before the rise of Happy Mondays/Stone Roses…I never really quite knew where I stood, I had about five years of music-fan-wilderness. The Jam split up in December 1982, and it was ok to still be a fan of them until the end of 1983, but then, when they clearly weren’t going to reform, I was forced to move on. I did love some great bands, I got very into Echo and the Bunnymen, and I loved The Redskins – so this saw me through till about 1986. But in 1987, I became completely lost: I started to like Wet Wet Wet – seduced by what a great time Marti seemed to be having; and convinced they were Glasgow’s answer to The Four Tops. I even liked Rick Astley for a while – perhaps imagining he was Newton-le-Willows’ riposte to James Brown. I cannot remember why I wanted ‘Top Gun: The Soundtrack’…I still play it sometimes to this day, it’s quite awful, but it does immediately transport me back to the smell of Drakkar Noir aftershave and memories of girls with wet-gelled perms…so I like it for that.
Hawkwind, Space Ritual, 1973 – There is a culture now – a dreadful ‘historical-cool’ culture, and it seems to be quite prevalent in the ‘art world’, as well as in other sub-societies. People think they have to like certain things. People in London seem to think they have to like Can; people in New York seem to think they have to like Arthur Russell. Luckily, I don’t think Hawkwind have yet penetrated ‘historical-cool’, but they were fantastic. They have a lot in common with Can in fact, and you can hear it here, especially on ‘Born to Go’. I played this album, and especially ‘Born to Go’ obsessively at one point – this version is just so heavy and repetitive, it’s a great song to sit in the dark by yourself and listen to very loud. I am fascinated by that whole post-hippie Ladbroke Grove culture – it’s so grubby and filthy, and there were some great bands: The Deviants, Pink Fairies… this whole English yippie-type world around International Times…it was the foundation stone of British punk, really.
Little Richard, The Little Richard Story 1968 – A long time ago, I realised that I was often much more attached to records as objects than I was to the actual music; that is, the object itself was very precious to me, and this is no exception. Though I am a great fan of Little Richard – in fact I often have middle-aged man debates with myself ‘Who do I love more, Little Richard of Jerry Lee Lewis?’ – I can never decide. Anyway, this record – my actual copy – is an object I’ve known all my life. It belonged to my Uncle John, and when I visited his house as a child, he’d often play it for me. He loved the fact that I could not comprehend that Little Richard was a man, but he was wearing make-up on the cover of the record. He still laughs about this now – so this record, this object, is very special to me. My Uncle John gave me his copy as a gift for my 40th birthday.
Scrooge, Scrooge: The Original Soundtrack, 1970 – I love all things Scrooge. Well almost, I’m not so keen on the George C Scott movie. But I love the 1970 musical version starring Albert Finney. It was intended as an ‘Oliver!’ style blockbuster, but it fell someway short at the box office. Nevertheless, it’s a great film and there are some great songs in it. I drive my daughter mad playing this – I think you’re meant to as a dad aren’t you? My dad used to drive us mad by playing his ‘Pipes and Drums of The Black Watch’ album when we were kids: bagpipes, full blast on a Sunday morning – I think this is my equivalent, I play it all year round: “I like life, life likes me, life and I fairly fully agree!” – so good.
Scott King, THIS IS SHIT
The albums I’ve chosen are things I’m listening to during this period of lockdown, they are a mix of old favourites and sounds I’ve recently discovered. At this time, I’m mostly drawn to music that resonates and soothes me.
Frank Ocean, Blonde, 2016 – I discovered this album through my friend and super talented mixer David Wrench, when he was mixing some of Frank’s work. I love the thoughtful dreamy soundscapes Frank creates. The photo of him on the cover is rather lovely too, taken by Wolfgang Tillmans.
Chet Baker: Chet Baker Sings, 1956 – A girlfriend introduced me to this album. I remember her putting it on when I was round her house one day. I was struck by the warm, unusual voice singing. “Who’s this singing?” I asked, “Chet Baker” she replied. “Yeah, but who’s singing?,” I answered… I’ve enjoyed this album so much over the years, especially at the end of the day, with barely any light in a hot bath.
Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto – Well, this is my unadulteratedly happy music. It feels so sunny, warm and sweet to me. This album has been a stable friend for some 30 years! It probably helps not being able to understand the lyrics…I can impose my own romantic imaginary musings.
Prince, Prince, 1979 – I was obsessed with Prince throughout my twenties. This is his first album, released in 1979. ‘ I Wanna be Your Lover’ is my favourite, it feels somehow so blissfully sexy and romantic…so PRINCE! 🖤
Sharon Van Etten: Remind Me Tomorrow, 2019 – I’ve been listening to this a lot lately. Such great tunes & her voice and lyrics seem to blend so beautifully with the sounds. John Congleton produced this album and I think his world and hers work brilliantly together.
Eric Lu, Chopin: 24 Preludes, 2020 – I guess my favourite is No 4. I learnt of Chopin through Serge Gainsborg. A song he wrote called Jane B with Jane Birkin singing was the B side single to ‘J’taime’. I used to listen to it on the jukebox at the cafe after school.
Martha Argerich, Kinderszenen: Robert Schumann, 1984 – After forgetting about them for years, I‘m rediscovering and enjoying immensely these gentle and melodic piano works.
Francoise Hardy, La Question, 1971 – Soft, slushy and french. I love the string arrangements, guitars and her voice, especially on holidays by the sea.
Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians, 2020
A rhythmic mantra that feels both physical and cerebral, I find this work life affirming somehow. It’s accompanied me on road trips, been my healer at times too. I’ve seen it performed live and I listen to it just chapping about at home.
Francis Bebey, Psychedelic Sanza (1982-84), 2014 – I first heard his music a couple of years ago in my local bookshop. I found this particular album on Spotify the other day. It has so much character, the production, his voice…I’m willingly hypnotised.
Moving into double figures: from child to teen
Choosing favourite LPs of all time seemed too overwhelming an undertaking, in these wobbly days, so I’ve opted for wholly steadfast choices that have remained with me from child to teen to ‘maturity’. Footnote: with thanks to my parents’ and my brothers’ record collections, 1970s and 1980s Radio 1, and Top of the Pops.
The Everly Brothers, Walk Right Back, 1960 – Loving and longing radiates throughout. Pure bliss, and the sleeve really got me drawing, and drawing and dreaming.
Elvis Presley, Elvis’ 40 Greatest, 1974 – A primal punch of joy in every song. Quite overwhelming for a prepubescent child. I was smitten by The King.
Buddy Holly, Greatest Hits, 1974 – The impact of his premature, dramatic death and large glasses left a big impression on me as a child. I was totally beguiled by the songs but confused by the visuals.
Status Quo, Hello!, 1973 – I remain an out and proud Quo fan. This pumping album infiltrated my psyche from a young age thanks to my brother. I remain mesmerised by the sleeve (black on black in reality).
Blondie, Parallel Lines, 1978 – It’s pretty and pop, yet mildly aggressive. I like how it undulates and escalates between sweet and dry. I never tire of the sleeve design and of Debbie Harry, of course.
The Human League, Reproduction, 1979 – They were my favourite band as a young teen. I was shocked, disturbed and yet intrigued by this LP and remain so. Their cover version of ‘You’ve Lost that Loving Feelin’ is like being submerged in treacle. It’s lovely.
Deaf School, Don’t Stop the World, 1977 – A disarming listen, unclassifiable with lashings of cabaret. It’s so layered, so odd, so curious and yet so alluring, as is the cover art. My dad’s favourite band and we shared a soft spot for Bette Bright .
Prince and the Revolution, Around the World in a Day, 1985 – I am undoubtedly influenced and swayed by the visuals but still this remains my favourite Prince album. It just seems to confidently trip along but without the bravado. Just lush.
Soft Cell, Non-Stop Erotic Caberet, 1981 – Marc Almond left a big impression on me on Top of the Pops. He was louche and a tad seedy. This LP oozes dirty sex and a melancholic yearning.
The Pointer Sisters, Jump: The Best of The Pointer Sisters, 1989 – Nuggets of joy and best described as yum! It features a rather majestic version of ‘Fire ‘ by Bruce Springsteen, another absolute favourite. Pure glamour.
The two drawings of me aged 12 and 15 are by my mum, Shirley Verhoeven.
A list of historic baroque music recordings. I’ve left out the really hardcore 4-hour oratorios, masses, and cycles of oboe sonatas, as people are wimps, but if there is a stampede wanting those I’m happy to provide. As a teenager I had a bunch of crappy indie albums that I would try to cry to, but once that failed I’d put on something good. And if you think you’re into classical music because you have a Philip Glass album, or you like that piano improvy bit in ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ or you once wrote a review of a John Cage performance for an online journal, you’re a massive bell.
Claudio Monteverdi, Oeuvres de Monteverdi, conductor Nadia Boulanger 1937 – Pioneering recording from a time when baroque music was practically unperformed except for grandiose schmaltzy versions of Handel’s Messiah. Nadia Boulanger and friends are clearly enjoying themselves, and the glorious French high tenor voice of Hughes Quenod is still sexy.
J S Bach Toccatas played by Glen Gould 1979 – High camp on the keyboard. Bach doesn’t let the player breathe with these (I know because I’ve played them), and Gould responds by taking forever to come up for air. He was a massive diva.
G F Handel, Alcina, Joan Sutherland 1962 – The Australian battleaxe makes mincemeat of the role of the enchantress in the eponymous Handel opera. Heavy orchestration and a harpsichord that sounds like a Steinway frame the magnificence of the Sutherland vocal detonations.
Henry Purcell, The Fairy Queen, conductor Benjamin Britten, 1957 or 1971 – As English Tweed Modernist Baroque as it gets.
Henry Purcell, The Indian Queen, conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, 1966 – Captures the smell of Charles II’s armpits. Almost amateur sounding at times, which is what it should sound like.
JS Bach, Magnificat and Cantata BWV 140, conductor Karl Richter, 1962 – Move aside, kids.
Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, The Mystery Sonatas, 1997 – The life of Christ from immaculate conception through crucifixion to resurrection told in a series of astonishingly detailed episodes, by a hurdy gurdy – not quite but almost.
Alessandro Stradella, Two Part Sinfonias, 2014 – Probably the first recording of these works from 1680. Beautifully and sparsely played.
George Philipp Telemann, Sinfonia Spirituosa, Musica Antiqua Koln 2002 – Played this on a loop for two years. Beautiful and strange concerti by an underrated genius.
JS Bach Violin Concertos played by I Musici, 1958 – A recording from a time before the very scratchy period instrument sound was in vogue, gives the orchestra a fuller sound and a stereo richness that is missing from contemporary baroque recordings.
My dad was a musician so I realised early that building a cool, “correct” record collection was a way to earn male recognition. It’s only recently that I’ve learned to love my bad-taste female “mistakes”. So, while I appreciate this is my chance to bring out all my Bowie, Led Zeppelin and rare soul, here are the ten LPs that honestly get most play ’round mine – some, I should stress, inherited from my brother, Ryan.
Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub, 1991 I bought in my first term at Glasgow University; the band signed copies for my brothers’ Christmas presents at Stephen Pastel’s record shop, above John Smith’s bookshop. NB the vase by Emma Brown and salt and pepper cellars by Martino Gamper (pictured above), both from House of Voltaire.
Smell of Female by The Cramps, 1983 – actually an EP – the first disc played on my own record player when I was 13.
Bigger than Both of Us, 1976 I probably gained from my parents’ divorce and the splitting of the family record collection. Hall & Oates was really their music. Say what you like about Yacht Rock but I’ll cheerfully admit I cried all the way through their Hammersmith concert.
Scratched to oblivion, Boys Don’t Cry by The Cure, 1980.
Electro 2, 1983 was the sound of the summer of 1984: my brothers were little break-dancers. “White Lines” just played over and over and over as Kyle perfected his head hop.
Neil Young I first heard when I met my husband. I feel like After the Gold Rush, 1970 is probably what’s going on in his head.
I was at school with John and Steven from the Beta Band – I guess The Three EPs, 1998 is sort of the yearbook that Madras College, St Andrews never had.
This should actually be Never For Ever by Kate Bush or Bluebell Knoll by the Cocteau Twins, but I don’t seem to have them with me in Scotland. That Scavullo portrait on Barbra Streisand’s Greatest Hits Volume 2, 1978, though.
Hatful of Hollow by The Smiths, 1984; I can’t find my Meat is Murder. What can I say; I’m a badly let down super-fan.
I just love Shaun Ryder. Bummed by Happy Mondays! 1988
This wouldn’t be my top 10 albums of all time, but I have them on repeat during isolation, on a constant rotation. Each with their own storytelling… I do listen to John Kelly’s Night train every evening on the Irish Lyric FM.
One of my most listened to albums – hands down the best ISB album though I like their proggy stuff a lot too. A very complete album too – from a band that reinvented British folk music and moved it into more sensual and psychedelic pastures
Not that Nirvana! Also from 68 this is baroque psychedelia at its finest. From an era where record companies would throw vast amounts of production money and zero promotion at nearly anything if it sounded poppy enough. Cult songwriter Patrick Campbell-Lyons at the height of his powers.
I listen to a lot of Jamaican music but it’s hard to choose albums as its all about 7”s and how those are put together….I chose this one because of how important these tracks were for other producers and DJs – hence the link below is to Paul Blackman doing his version of ’say so’ over on the the dubs from the Rockers lp. Beautiful.
Probably my favourite Robbie Basho album though it’s so hard to choose. Laughably sincere medieval/astrological/shamanic/wild-western guitar music. Too much is just enough.
My favourite exotica album and one of the rarer Les Baxter albums. Essentially a suite of music for south sea island / hawaiian / tropicsploitation films that were never made. Take a trip!
Thos. Rapp / Pearls Before Swine didn’t want this album of demos released and only did so out of a contractual arrangement with reprise. I’m glad he did, Rapps lispy voice and perfect songwriting shines with minimal production.
The hardest psych record to come out of Japan and one of the rarest – There’s a copy on Discogs for 7 grand right now. Mushroom-damaged bedroom death songs from ‘Japan’s Hendrix’
One of the most idiosyncratic folk records ever recorded. I’m still astounded at how cheap you can still get this thing for – weird songs about dying galaxies and raising funds for church roof repairs. Absolutely essential, obviously.
Crosby wrote this masterpiece through a fog of substance addiction, not even a year after his girlfriend died in a car crash after the cat she was driving to the vets crawled under her brake pedal. I come back to this album time and time again because I just can’t understand how he did it, even with the help of some of the best musicians working at that time. If something even remotely inconvenient happens to me I can’t make work for about a week. An inspiration.
I couldn’t choose a John Fahey album so I picked something with him as producer. One of the rarer Takoma release this is amazing…sounds like just some back porch band that Fahey turned into acid-country dynamite in one studio session.
To be honest, anything from Stereolab is good. Obviously one of the most important groups in recent history. This album marks a weird and wonderful departure – almost Indie Drum & Bass in parts
LIZA! LIZA! LIZA! JUDY! JUDY! JUDY! GAY! GAY! GAY! YES! YES! SAY YES TO LIZA!! The footage of this “concert for television” are incredible, go watch on youtube. Full on Liza.. Full on Fosse…
I love ABBA. And what’s not to love a Hindi version ABBA. I get really bored of the regular version of Dancing Queen – but this breaths new life into it! I could have also easily chosen Erasure’s Abba-esque EP from 1992, which is equally as dazzling.
Riot Grrl and women fronted bands were a formative part of my teenage years growing up in sleepy Sussex in the 90s.. Huggy Bear, L7, PJ Harvey, Babes in Toyland, The Raincoats, The Slits, HOLE, etc. And Bikini Kill remains a firm favourite of mine with tracks like Carnival, Suck My Left One and This is Not a Test giving power and joy.
ALL HAIL MISSY ELLIOT.
I think this is meant to be Kate Bush’s least popular album, maybe not everyone is into her doing donkey noises and singing in a Cockney accent? You wouldn’t have the masterpiece of ‘Hounds of Love’ which combines the most perfect pop songs with b-side conceptual suite without this album.
This soundtrack from Dennis Potter’s Pennies from Heaven BBC TV series from 1978 is an absolute joy. The album features popular songs from the 1930s and may test your level of schmaltz. If you are looking to binge watch something radical, tender and nourishing you should be watching something by Potter, along with Pennies from Heaven, The Singing Detective (1986), Lipstick on Your Collar (1993) are key.
This list of evildoers and nasties gets me every time.
This is the soundtrack to the Powell and Pressburger filmed opera, it is as intoxicating and heady as the film. I once spent Christmas in Amsterdam with an artist friend who was doing a residency there. We decided it was a good idea to take magic mushrooms and watch the film. We ended up watching it 3 times in a row it was that good a combination. You don’t have to be on mind expanding drugs to enjoy it – although I wouldn’t not recommend it either.
I’m mainly choosing this because of the title song. It is the song I listen to when I’m trying to drag my corpse running around the park, somehow works. Also, a young Ozzy Osborne is very handsome, no?