This selection of music is not necessarily a comprehensive catalogue of the best albums
ever, or even those in my collection, but instead a compendium of those that are interesting
and worth exploring. Over the years I have sought out the interesting and different in music
and I have from time to time, come across artists that really put forward genuinely new and
different ideas. Sometimes they don't quite work, but 7 out of 10 for trying, but often, to
my ear at least, they create something special worth giving some consideration to and perhaps
some patience to give yourself time to appreciate what they are trying to do.
Some artists and composers have spent their careers pushing the boundaries and as in any
form of contemporary art, that is what we need to see to maintain the interest and creativity. This is
only a small selection of music worth trying, but it is a list that I believe offers a lot
to the more adventurous listener.
James worked with Brian Eno on the production of their most original and harmonious of albums. He contributed
some performance, but mostly it was his inspiration and production that led the group to their best output.
Originally it was intended that Wah Wah was to be released simultaneously with Laid. Wah Wah was their rehearsals,
experimentation and jam sessions that helped to inspire Laid. Unfortunately it was released later and the logical
linkage was lost. However, the revised box set brings it all together, with lots of unreleased material.
Uncle Meat - Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
Originally scored as the soundtrack to the film of the same name, this album introduced a style of
music encompassing every idiom imaginable, from classical, through jazz, folk, rock and everything in between.
It was for me a truly seminal piece, inspired by the likes of Edgar Varese, one of Zappa's favourite composers.
Although the film was never finished and very little of the music on this album was used in it anyway,
this provides a strange and often bizarre narrative, quite typical of the then youthful Zappa.
The emergence of 'Krautrock' in the late 1960s provided a very fertile ground for innovative and
original music, often inspired by the avant-garde masters like Karlheinz Stockhausen. Of all the
German rock groups of the time, Can was one of the most innovative and prolific and their masterpiece,
Tago Mago demonstrated their ability to create driving rhythms, with taut percussion and strong basslines,
strident guitar and haunting and ephemeral vocals. The album also includes some brilliantly improvised and
totally unstructured pieces such as Aumgn.
This was one of the earliest albums I heard of Jimi Hendrix. As a young teenager,
this was a remarkable and quite stunning introduction to the guitar genius of Jimi Hendrix.
It includes many iconic songs, such as Voodoo Chile, which was released as a single
at the time, but for me the two tracks that stand out most are All Along The Watchtower
and the longer, blues version of Voodoo Chile which features on the first side straight
after Crosstown Traffic.
All Along The Watchtower was one of many covers of Bob Dylan's songs that Hendrix
featured. He was able to take a great song and add so much more to it through his mastery
of the guitar and the totally free-form nature of his playing. Voodoo Chile, which is
loosely based upon Catfish Blues, was recorded in the studio, with Mitch Mitchell on drums,
Steve Winwood of Traffic playing organ and Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane on bass.
It was recorded with background atmospheric sounds to give the impression it was performed
in a small nightclub in an intimate and impromptu jam session. It was in fact well planned
and recorded several times before reaching the final version.
My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts - Brian Eno & David Byrne
Brian Eno was by this time, getting involved in a huge variety of projects
working with exciting new up-and-coming bands such as Devo and Talking Heads
(see More Songs About Buildings and Food). As well as providing creative input
to the music, he was producing some of the period's most interesting albums.
At the same time he was working with inspirational musicians such as David
Byrne of Talking Heads and this is one of the experiments that came out of
This album experiments with rhythms, sampled sounds from speech, radio etc,
and puts together ideas that stretch the norms of contemporary music.
More Songs About Buildings and Food - Talking Heads
In the post-punk era new straightforward rock music emerged that had a
less raw edge and explored interesting new ideas in modern styles. At the
forefront was Talking Heads, whose second album, produced by Brian Eno,
really exemplified a new direction for popular music.
This album marked the opening of an outstanding sequence of rock albums heavily inspired by the traditional blues legends.
The impact this had at the time was truly amazing, but it remains to this day an outstanding example of the power and intensity
of Led Zeppelin's music.
The Residents opened their history of the obscure with this marvellous pastiche of the Beatles album.
With a sort of bizarre reverence for popular music, they created a style of the avant-garde which certainly
stretches the idea of contemporary music.
Trout Mask Replica - Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band
The most expansive and significant album from the brilliant Don Van Vliet, superbly produced by Frank Zappa. This album
is often thought of as the weirdest ever made, but the subtleties and nuances of the music/poetry are truly engaging.
No list of interesting albums worth listening to would be complete without Steven Wilson.
While still leading the great Porcupine Tree, Wilson made this album, Insurgentes as one of his
earliest solo albums (unless you include early PT releases). It was also thoughtfully
remixed and released as Nsrgnts Rmx, which provides an interesting extension to the music.
Robert Fripp and Brian Eno got together to produce an album of extended electronic meditation and experimentation.
The start of Fripp's experiments with Frippertronics and Eno's departure to ambient music. The album was re-released
quite recently with various new versions of the two tracks; The Heavenly Music Corporation and Swastika Girls,
including half speed and reverse versions. The latter being inspired by the fact that the first time it was played
on The John Peel Show, the tape was loaded in reverse and the whole thing played backwards.
Germany was a very fertile place for new music in the late 1960s and 70s, possibly influenced by composers
such as Stockhausen. All sort of new ideas emerged with far less structured styles and Tangerine Dream were
very much a part of that movement and have remained so for many years. This double album was their third
following Electronic Meditation and Alpha Centauri. They had established their style of free-form, meditative
music which they later developed significantly as they mastered the new electronic instruments and the Moog
synthesisers in particular.
To make a choice of the best of Mozart is challenging. His output prolific
and his talent indisputable. Any of the Italian Operas, or the Requiem, symphonies,
etc are all outstanding and wonderful pieces. For me though, The Magic Flute
stands out as the most exciting and absorbing of his work. Beautifully structured
with exquisite music. Having discovered opera some many years back, I found a
particular fascination with Mozart and this piece especially. It was also a very
special favourite of my wife, so it holds warm memories for me. This is
the recording I have and it is very good indeed, but there are so many to choose
from. I am not in a position to suggest the best one or to critique the various
performances, but this one I love.
This piece has some special meaning for me as I was involved on the technical side with a performance
of this when I was at Southampton University. I was a member of the Experimental Arts Group and the
leader was at the time (c. 1975) working with Stockhausen on the tape at the centre of this piece. It was performed
in 4-channel quadraphonic with four musicians and I found it remarkable. Stockhausen is not easy listening
and many would find this discordant and uncomfortable, but for me it represents the very best of the truly
avant-garde extreme of music. Not easy to get hold of, I ordered mine directly from Stockhausen Verlag where
you can obtain all of Stockhausen's work on CD.
2019 saw the 50th anniversary of the release of two truly iconic albums. Hots Rats was Frank Zappa's second solo
recording after he had disbanded The Mothers of Invention. It has a uniquely jazz flavour with major contributions
from leading musicians such as Don "Sugarcane" Harris, Ian Underwood, Jean Luc Ponty and most significantly, his
old school friend, Captain Beefheart, who provided the only lyrical contribution on Willie The Pimp.
Hot Rats marked a major departure for Zappa producing a highly arranged and produced studio album with tracks
that he rarely played live. This album has become one of his most enduring compositions and one of Zappa's most
adventurous and listenable records.
The second iconic album celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019 was In The Court of the Crimson King, the
debut release from King Crimson. This album was an entirely new concept with influences from jazz, rock and the avant-garde,
exploring adventurous musical ideas. Notwithstanding its experimental nature, the album has very much stood the passage of
time and King Crimson have for years now been revisiting the fine songs on this album, giving them a new lease of life
with an exciting 8-piece band incorporating three drummers.
The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other - Van Der Graaf Generator
VDGG's second album was probably their most seismic, introducing a style and content that was truly groundbreaking.
The combination of Hammill's vocals, Banton's organ and Jackson's saxophone(s) really gave VDGG their trademark sound.
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway brought to an end Genesis's theatrical performances and ultimately led
to the departure of Peter Gabriel. It marked a significant milestone in the concept album; one that tells
a complete story and which is intended to be played from start to finish in the prescribed track order
successfully play out the narrative. This story, about an itinerant Hispanic youth living in New York
and being drawn into ever more fantastical experiences, was played out on stage by Gabriel to great effect.
The music also marked a departure to some extent from the safer ground the band had previously occupied,
incorporating improvised noise ably assisted by Brian Eno. However, the end result was outstanding.
As with The Lamb Lies Down, the Wall proved a turning point for Pink Floyd as their artistic perspectives
diverged and subsequently, Roger Waters, who was almost entirely responsible for this concept album, departed
the band to pursue a solo career. After several albums, including the brilliant Amused to Death, Waters returned
to performing The Wall live with his own band for several years.
The Wall was another concept album this time playing out an anti-war message inspired by the death of Water's
father in World War II. Musically it was expansive and brilliant with hugely significant embodiment of the story.
Original performances of the complete suite before Waters left the group, involved the gradual building of a huge wall
across the stage through the first section of the material and culminated in the wall being destroyed in a truly
symbolic gesture in the finale to the performance. A feature Waters repeated in his later solo performances.
The Wall was also made into an impressive film by Alan Parker and staring such eminent persons as Bob Geldof
as Pink and incorporating outstandingly effective graphics and animations by Gerald Scarfe.
Not necessarily seen as The Beatles best album, but for me the most complete and beautifully
formed of their output. Songs segue superbly throughout giving the distinct feel of one
continuous, uninterrupted composition. Undoubtedly some of their best songs and featuring
arguably their most soulful song, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, written by George Harrison
and featuring his friend (at the time), Eric Clapton with the wonderful guitar work.
The Beatles were never afraid to experiment, even at the height of their fame and commercial
power. Revolution Number 9 was their attempt at musique concrète, a style of music being
pioneered by the most avant-garde of modern composers of the time, including Pierre Henry,
Edgard Varèse, Iannis Xenakis and Karlheinz Stockhausen. However, it is a remarkable piece,
demonstrating perfectly how they could master any form of music they turned their hand to.
Ever a controversial track with the dedicated Beatles fan, whatever you think of musique
concrète, this is a excellent example of the genre.
1969 to 1970 saw the release of several albums which had a profound effect on my life and my
appreciation of contemporary music. These were introduced to me by my neighbour who was a
little older than me (I was 14). I had not heard of these artists at all as they certainly
never figured on the TV or the radio. Far from being commercial, they were producing music
that was innovative and often challenging.
The combination of the British blues/rock band Spooky Tooth with the French avant garde
electronic music composer Pierre Henry was to say the least bizarre, but to me it was
remarkable and the result was truly outstanding. Henry provided background sounds,
atmospheres and accompaniments from a variety of sources including drain pipes struck
with hammers, all of which took some pretty ordinary religious rock tunes and made them
take on another dimension.
Commercially a total disaster as you might expect with such a recipe in the very safe
environment of contemporary popular music. In fact, it probably saw the end of Spooky
Tooth's career, but perhaps that was more to do with their lack of aspiration to make
something radically different rather than the standard blues numbers.
Alice Cooper's first album was a fascination if only because of the fact that a rock star
had a girl's name. This album was the second of the three I feature here that my neighbour
introduced me to. Not necessarily the best album ever made and throughout the production
values are rather questionable, but it was an innovative and interesting album with new
ideas in rock music.
A phenomenon not unusual in contemporary music, is the first album by a band that is clever
and original with new ideas being explored and without the constraints of commercial demand.
Probably tempted to think they have nothing to prove and nothing to lose. Subsequently though,
as they achieve recognition the innovation is put aside for commercial potential and their
subsequent albums become rather safe. This undoubtedly happened to Alice Cooper.
Third of these albums of the era of 1969/70 was Black Sabbath's debut. The themes of black
magic, the devil, witches, etc was new in rock music, although probably not in the blues.
This album also featured long tracks with far from commercial potential, even though one
track was released as a single.
Once again I was drawn into the new ideas and the creative thematic approach here. The album
held together as a consistent piece and became, and still is, a staple of my listening enjoyment.
Loved the cover too.
Dance of the Lemmings (Tanz Der Lemminge) - Amon Düül II
Evolving from the original Amon Düül, the art collective Amon Düül II produced a profoundly
original and significant double album, featuring various styles and experimentation, including
the largely improvised "The Marilyn Monroe Memorial Church".
One of the first and most iconic ambient albums. After Brian Eno started his experiments with the genre with
Discrete Music, he consolidated the concept with this album: one of the best examples of the concept.
After leaving Roxy Music, Eno released 4 outstanding vocal albums: Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy,
Before and After Science, Here Come the Warm Jets and this one. He demonstrated a true talent for song
writing and produced some of his most interesting "more conventional" work. A useful compilation of these
albums can be found on Desert Island Selection.