21. Nic Jones – Penguin Eggs (Topic 12TS411 – 1980)
My first visit to a folk club came quite late really, shortly after Nic Jones’ near fatal accident in February 1982, after he’d done a gig at the Glossop Folk Club. Once I visited the Rockingham Arms in Wentworth, sometime in 1982/83, and began to mix with, for want of a better term, ‘folkies’, I came to the understanding that no record collection would be complete without a copy of Penguin Eggs by the revered singer/guitar player and so I aimed to put that right immediately. I already had a vague knowledge of who Nic Jones was from an LP I had knocking about at the time called ‘Songs in a Changing World’, which I’d borrowed from a neighbour, whose dad apparently started the ‘Traditional’ record label and who had a cupboard full of Strawhead records. I devoured ‘Penguin Eggs’ and soon discovered that what to me sounded relatively easy to play, was in fact extraordinarily difficult. After several attempts to play those few chords, I asked a nurse friend to disentangle my frustrated digits and never tried again. I got to meet Nic Jones in York some years later, who gave my son some good advice on playing folk music, “don’t take this music as seriously as we all did, just enjoy it”, which we were both happy to take on board.
22. Rickie Lee Jones – Rickie Lee Jones (Warner Bros K56628 – 1979)
In the 1980s I occupied myself with various tasks as a volunteer at our local hospital radio station, which involved presenting a weekly folk show, then a jazz show, then a pop album show, which led to a senior position (Programme Controller) and ultimately became the fool who towed the outside broadcast caravan to various weekend events. This is when I realised that if you’re cursed with an inability to say ‘no’, they get you doing everything. I digress. During those pop show years, I played Rickie Lee Jones almost every week. “Chuck E.’s in Love” is just such a great radio song and I was convinced that playing it made people better, until I realised that nobody was actually listening. “Just give us a ring here at Radio Danum and I’ll give you a thousand pounds” I declared on air which was proof enough for me, as I waited in vain for the phone to ring. Despite this small inconvenience, I was content in the knowledge that at least one person was enjoying the shows and I continued to play several songs from this album (and others) throughout the 1980s. With contributions by Dr John, Randy Newman and Michael McDonald, the album features such gems as “The Last Chance Texaco”, “Weasel and the White Boys Cool” and the sleazy “Easy Money”, which was covered by Lowell George and the only single released from his solo album Thanks, I’ll Eat it Here, of the same year.
23. Ry Cooder – Into the Purple Valley (Warner Bros K44142 – 1972)
When I first saw Ry Cooder on the Old Grey Whistle Test back in 1972, I became totally obsessed with his music and in particular his bottleneck guitar playing style, which led to seeking out other such players including Lowell George, Duane Allman and Bonnie Raitt. I didn’t know “Vigilante Man” was a Woody Guthrie song, I didn’t even know who Woody Guthrie was. Neither did I know who Ry Cooder was, although his name had been cropping up in the music press and I had one of his tracks on the ‘Fruity’ sampler LP, the one with the round sleeve to match the record. I also thought the name Ry Cooder was incredibly cool, well at least when compared with my unfortunate moniker. Here’s a man appearing on the TV in an empty darkened studio, wearing a piece of cloth on his head and a shirt, which looked for all intents and purposes as if it had been vomited on, while running the chopped off neck of a beer bottle up and down the neck of a very attractive guitar. I couldn’t even decide whether he was singing in tune or not, all I knew for sure was that it was worlds away from Sweet’s “Little Willy” that was at the same time seen on Britain’s only other rival music show. After seeing this very ordinary looking dude, who looked like he had a glass eye (he did), sitting next to Bob Harris on my then favourite TV show, I went out and bought this album, mainly for “Vigilante Man”, but then to go on and discover to my eternal gratitude, such gems as “ Billy the Kid”, “Denomination Blues” and “Teardrops Will Fall”. I only ever got to see Ry Cooder once, on stage with David Lindley at the Manchester Apollo sometime in the 1990s. Cooder remains one of greatest sources of musical eclecticism to this day.
24. Steely Dan – Can’t Buy a Thrill (ABC ABCL 5024 – 1972)
Again, it was the Old Grey Whistle Test that brought this band to my attention way back in the early 1970s via a live clip of the band performing “Reeling in the Years”. Aesthetically, this album had nothing going for it really, with its garish Pop Art lips, its sleazy row of 1950s hookers and foetus-like nymph straddling the shoulder of a shirtless Terry Wogan lookalike and let’s not forget the band is named after a dildo (courtesy of William Burroughs), yet the music almost literally jumps out of the speakers upon first hearing “Do it Again”, “Reelin’ in the Years” and “Fire in the Hole”. The album also offers a couple of songs that both my wife and I agree upon (finally), the soulful “Dirty Work” and the country-inflected “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)”, both of which include a fine vocal courtesy of the outgoing David Palmer. These days, whenever I see OGWT anniversary shows, I always expect to see Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker, reeling in those years.
25. Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis (Mercury 5707137 – 1969)
Dusty’s was one of the first female voices I ever heard on the old Dansette back in 1962, when I was just five years-old. It was one of the most played singles around the house at the time and one that resonated with me, especially the chorus of “high in the sky is a bird on a wing, please carry me with you, far far away from the mad rushing crowd, please carry me with you”, which was pure escapism for a kid who had no inclination of washing his neck or eating onions. I desperately wanted to be on that bird’s wings. If the Springfields’ folky “Island of Dreams” filled my childhood dreams with hope and optimism, then hearing that same voice mature into what we heard just six years later was staggering. Dusty in Memphis is one of those albums largely ignored at the time of release, only to be picked up on much later, though “Son of a Preacher Man” has long been a favourite. It’s little surprise that many still consider Dusty to be the greatest British female vocalist of all time.
26. Aretha Franklin – Aretha Now (Atlantic SD8186 – 1968)
When Aretha Franklin died in 2018, it was obvious to me that we’d lost one of the greatest voices of our times in any genre. This LP was released exactly fifty years earlier and it still sounded great when I popped it on the turntable in respect after the singer lost her short battle with cancer. I was just packing to go on a family holiday to Cornwall for a couple of weeks and stuck a few Aretha CDs in the car for the drive down. I needn’t have bothered, as Radio 2 played many of her songs on that five and a half hour drive, indicating that I was far from being the only one saddened by her untimely passing. Released in 1968, Aretha Now was the first Aretha Franklin LP I bought and remains one of my favourites, not least for the inclusion of “Think”, “Say a Little Prayer” and “You’re a Sweet Sweet Man”. And doesn’t she look fantastic on the cover?
27. Jonathan Kelly – Twice Around the Houses (RCA Victor SF8262 – 1972)
When I first saw Jonathan Kelly play live, he’d been around the houses a good few times already. I was far too young to see him the first time around and I always thought that I’d perhaps missed the opportunity, Jonathan having left the music business decades before. It was really good to see him return to the stage, if only temporarily, where I heard dozens of familiar songs for the first time live, “Ballad of Cursed Anna”, “We’re All Right Til Then” and “Sligo Fair” among them. The week before that particular concert in Doncaster, I played a short set at the same club and promoted the next gig by singing a fairly pedestrian version of “Sligo Fair”, a song from this LP, in which I changed the final chorus from ‘Sligo Fair is just a week away’, to ‘Jonathan Kelly is just a week away’ to one or two guffaws from the audience. Too many syllables I know, but I got away with it nonetheless. Apparently, the concert was taped and the performance was played (rather embarrassingly) to Jonathan, who when I met up with him a week later, wrote “thanks for doing my song” on the cover of this, his best known LP. Sadly, we lost Jonathan earlier this year.
28. Claire Hamill – One House Left Standing (Island ILPS 9182 – 1971)
All my girl friends in 1971 (real or imagined) appeared to look like Claire Hamill. Just seventeen on the cover of her debut LP, Claire was rightly or wrongly compared to Joni Mitchell, which was probably more of a hindrance than a help. Nevertheless, Claire was a regular feature in all the music press at the time and as a consequence, was adored by one sweaty Herbert from Doncaster. The cover shot of One House Left Standing, inexplicably sees out heroine perched upon some railway debris in an industrial part of Middlesbrough with the Tees Transporter Bridge looming in the background. It was a little like Millais painting Ophelia in a Yorkshire colliery face puddle. John Martyn plays on the record as does Terry Reid and David Lindley, good company for this young northern schoolgirl to say the least. I was fortunate enough to meet up with Claire over three decades later and fell in love with her all over again as she signed my old crackly copy of this memorable album, then got up on stage with her guitar and played “The Man Who Cannot See Tomorrows Sunshine”, “Where Are Your Smiles At” and the jaunty “Baseball Blues”.
29. Nick Drake – Heaven in a Wild Flower (Island ILPS9826 – 1985)
Those whose musical taste began to develop just as the 1960s morphed almost seamlessly into the 1970s, might possibly remember the name Nick Drake from the series of Island sampler LPs such as Nice Enough To Eat (“Time Has Told Me), Bumpers (“Hazy Jane) and El Pea (“Northern Sky”). In my case, Drake’s songs would be largely ignored as I dove straight into the tracks by Free, Mott the Hoople, Traffic or even Quintessence, heaven forbid. My first real introduction to Nick’s songs came a few years later, when in around 1985, Island brought out the affordable Heaven in a Wild Flower compilation, released a good ten years after the singer’s untimely death. The LP features fourteen of Drake’s most representative songs and probably served as a slice of nostalgia for the handful of fans who remembered him and who bought his three albums upon their initial release, but also a signpost for those new to his music. It wasn’t until a few years after the release of this LP though, that young musicians would begin to take a real interest in Nick Drake through other compilations such as Way To Blue, or the Fruit Tree box set, or indeed a certain radio documentary presented by onetime collaborator Danny Thompson, all of which effectively rescued the singer-songwriter from on going obscurity. Since then you can hardly turn on the TV without hearing snippets of Nick Drake’s guitar in commercials or as part of some movie soundtracks. It’s also worth noting that when Joe Boyd sold his Witchseason production company to Island Records, it came with the condition that all three of Nick Drake’s official solo albums, Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon, would always remain available, which they are to this day.
30. The Steve Miller Band – Masters of Rock Vol 3 (Capitol C054-81 583 – 1973)
In the early to mid 1970s I discovered The Steve Miller Band through a college theatre group I was involved with at the time. Between the male members of this group, we made a concerted effort to collect the entire Steve Miller Band LP collection, including Children of the Future, Sailor, Your Saving Grace and Recall the Beginning.. A Journey From Eden, even sending off to the US for the Holy Grail of Steve Miller LPs at the time, Brave New World, which was only available through import. Capitol Records released an impressive introduction to Steve Miller in their budget series Masters of Rock, which for me is still one of the best of Miller’s records, despite it being a retrospective collection. The budget-priced LP features some of the band’s best loved songs, including “Journey From Eden”, “Living in the USA” and “The Joker”, which had just been released as a single, bringing the band to a wider audience. To anyone new to the Steve Miller Band, this is a good place to start.
To be continued..
“Flick the dust off the needle first” taken from “Light in My Heart” by Rab Noakes with kind permission.