This has been doing the rounds on facebook etc so I decided to write mine today, and figured I'd post it here. Please feel free to contribute your own list, too.
1. NWA - Straight Outta Compton
I grew up in the leafy middle-class suburbs of North London, and went to a strict private boys school. All I remember listening to when I was a kid is inane daytime radio, or my parents' MOR vinyl collection - Barry Manilow, Simon & Garfunkel, Lionel Richie, The Beatles, etc - which was great, but fely very unexciting and unradical at the time. Then, when I was 9, my parents suddenly divorced, and my Dad moved into a small flat in Islington with the woman who was later to become my stepmother (and even later to become my ex-stepmother, when they too divorced). I used to visit him there every weekend, and after a few weeks I started hanging out with a kid who was the same age as me, whose aunt lived in the flat downstairs. His parents had also recently divorced, and we were both restless and displaced, and so we became friends almost immediately, despite the fact that we were polar opposites in almost every other way. Looking back, it's like I was living a double life - spending the weeks in the suburbs, at private school, with my Mum, and the weekends in the city with my Dad and my new friends who liked to hang out in arcades or go robbing sweet shops. Anyway, I had never really paid that much attention to music until I was sat playing computer games with these new friends one weekend, and they put "Straight Outta Compton" on the stereo, and I felt like it literally blew my mind. People swearing and singing about guns and bitches! Phat beats and ill rhymes! I had never heard anything like it. It was like a whole other world, and it sounded so fucking cool. So I got a copy of it on tape and took it home with me and would secretly listen to it over and over again on my headphones, in my bedroom or at school - and suddenly it made the misery of my life as a ten year old outcast in the London suburbs seem much more bearable. Interestingly, I've never been able to love a hip-hop album in the same way again, no matter how many times I've tried. I've just never heard anything that could compare, or blow my mind in the same way this record did.
2. Prodigy - The Prodigy Experience
So, I spent most of my time listening to NWA and being really disappointed by mainstream music and the stuff on the radio, and then I heard the Prodigy. Again, I thought the beats were amazing, and the samples and tunes were fucking AWESOME, and they just sounded badass. I started listening to this album on repeat, alongside NWA, all the time, and it really made me interested in music during a time when the rave scene was boring me shitless. The Prodigy are still fucking ace, too.
3. KLF - The White Room
The one great band which emerged from that whole rave scene for me was The KLF. They seemed to actually have something to say; and a purpose. I got this album and listened to it EVERY SINGLE MORNING in the car on the way to school and then EVERY SINGLE AFTERNOON on the way home. My poor Mum had to put up with it too. She is a saint. It wasn't just the songs that affected me, though; it was also their anti-establishment stance, when they started doing stuff like burning a million quid and self-destructing at the Brits, and Bill started writing his mental books. And "America (What Time Is Love)" is still a fucking TUNE.*
4. Nirvana - Nevermind
Looking back now, it seems almost inevitable that I would fall in love with this album. But at the time I had never really paid any attention to guitar music, or shown any interest in "rock bands" before. But I remember being at a party, when I was about 15, and I was really shy and had never even really talked to girls before, and this GORGEOUS girl came up to me and said "What music do you listen to?" and I said "NWA, Prodigy, and The KLF" and she said "I've never heard of them" and I was devastated. So I said "What do YOU listen to?" and she said "Nirvana" and I thought "Fuck... right... well if that's what girls are listening to, I'd better check them out." I never saw that girl again, but I did check them out, and fell in love; not just with Nirvana, but also with guitars.**
5. Oasis - Definitely Maybe
Nirvana were great, but they were from Seattle, and felt very distant from my everyday life. Then, in 1994, Kurt died, and there was a sudden hole in my musical landscape. I was 16 years old and wanted something I could really relate to, and feel a part of. And one day I heard "Cigarettes And Alcohol" on a mixtape, and I remember the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. I loved the attitude of the songs; their simplicity, and their brutality, and their honesty (although of course if I'd ever listened to The Stones I would have known this was nothing new, but I hadn't, so it was). Noel Gallagher had written some of the best hooks and choruses I had ever heard, and he had an amazing way of writing lyrics that meant nothing but also everything at the same time.*** And I remember just listening to this album on repeat a million times and becoming obsessed with the final track 'Married With Children' and thinking, "Right, that's it, I need to get a guitar and learn to play that". So I did.
6. The Manic Street Preachers - Everything Must Go
The Britpop explosion followed and it was great to feel like a part of something new and exciting, but the most disappointing thing about it all, for me, was that most of the bands seemed to be so fucking dull, with nothing to say for themselves. The Manics were obviously an exception to this. They were intelligent and exciting, and Richey's lyrics were incredible. I could have put any of their albums here, but I think this one is actually my favourite Manics album of all. I think the songs are really strong, and the fact that it was the first post-Richey release meant a lot to me at the time.**** Plus this album has greatly influenced the people I've met and made friends with later in life, too.
7. Oasis - Be Here Now
I'm reluctant to put two Oasis albums on my list, but I'd simply be lying if I didn't include this here. I have to. It absolutely marks the end of an era for me - not just musically, but personally, too. For me, this album was the end of Britpop. It's overblown, and pompous, and bloated, and self-important, and ridiculous. It sounds like a bunch of guys blowing millions of pounds in a recording studio whilst taking loads of drugs. Which, of course, is exactly what it was. Nevertheless, it has some great songs on it, and also holds massive personal significance for me. I was really excited to hear it, because I had loved "Definitely Maybe", and "What's The Story", and been to the Knebworth gigs, and my expectations were high. And it just so happens that this album was being released on the exact same day I landed in the United States to start my year of studying abroad there. In my final few days in England I remember listening to Noel and Liam doing countless radio interviews and playing snippets from the album, and being more and more excited to hear it, and to be going abroad. Then, on the day I arrived in the US, a contact from the university met me at the airport, and we were in the car on the way back when she had to stop to get some food for her dog at a pet shop. She asked me if I wanted to go with or stay in the car, and I spotted a comic shop next door, so I said "I'll go in there and meet you back at the car". I went into the comic shop and said hello to the man behind the counter and he heard my accent and immediately wanted to have a conversation with me, about comic shops in London etc. We got to talking about English bands and then he said "Oh, the new Oasis album came out this morning; I just bought it but it's not really my kind of thing. Do you want to buy it off me for $5?" I couldn't believe it. It felt like fate. So I bought it off him, and listened to almost nothing else during my entire time in the States. It was the soundtrack to everything that happened to me over there - all the friends that I made, and the girlfriends I had, Princess Diana dying, missing my friends and family over here, etc etc. - plus many of the songs are about travelling, and missing people, and falling in and out of love; so at times it felt like it had been written just for me. Plus, the first track of this album is still my favourite opening track of any album ever: the bombast of the opening 30 seconds of "D'You Know What I Mean" is the closest I've ever come to the musical equivalent of a line of coke. I kind of wish Noel and Liam had called it a day after this album; Oasis would surely have been remembered as one of the greatest bands of all time, and we wouldn't have had to put up with some of the mediocre stuff they've released since.
8. Blur - 13
In my opinion, the first great post-Britpop album; by one of the most important Britpop bands. I fell in love with this album, and again it has a lot of personal significance for me. I was in Prague for a week, and I remember walking around the city and mostly listening to this album, on my Discman. And one night I was in a bar and I met this Finnish DJ / snowboarder dude there, and we got chatting about music, and both bonded over Blur. Then, on my last night in Prague I got REALLY ill, and had a fever and an epic flu, and I remember being really worried because I was alone and would have to check out of my hostel the next morning and wasn't due to fly home till the evening, so I had no idea what to do or where to go. But I checked out of the hostel, and walked out to the street with my bags, feeling like I was about to die, and suddenly who should walk past but the Finnish dude from the bar a few nights ago! So he said "What's up?" and I said "I'm leaving tonight, but I actually feel really ill" and he said "Well I'm just going home, do you want to just spend the day in my flat and chill out" and I said "Actually that would be amazing". So we went back to his flat and he gave me medicine and we just sat and talked and put this album on repeat in the background, and I remember thinking the universe has a weird way of always making sure that things turn out okay.
9. Radiohead - The Bends
Not much to say about this one except that it is the closest to a 'perfect' album I have ever heard, and the first album that really made me pay attention to Radiohead, and they've influenced me as much as any other band ever. They're always amazing, and still continue to be absolutely influential, with everything they do. And despite the fact that most 'real' Radiohead fans might scoff, this is still my favourite album of theirs. Fucking brilliant.
10. Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
The most important album of the past few years, for me. Another one of great personal and musical significance. If you take the feeling of being wrapped in a safe warm blanket and put that on record, this is what it would sound like. I fell in love with Elbow the first time I ever heard them; standing in the Virgin Megastore in Harrow and hearing 'New Born' come on over the speakers, years and years ago. Since then I've loved each and every one of their albums equally, and seen them in concert well over 20 times. Their lyrics and songs have probably touched me more than any other band ever. They always felt like a bit of a cult secret, but then this album came out, and then they won loads of awards, and obviously now they are a lot more than that, and I am more than happy for them*****. But following this album from its inception to the present day - from first hearing some of the songs at a tiny secret gig, to following them around West Coast USA on their tour there last spring, to seeing them win loads of awards and headline Wembley - has been a really special experience, and I still listen to it several times a week, and it's been the soundtrack to a year of really important decisions and realisations. I have spent many many nights lying awake and listening to 'Some Riot' on repeat and having it make me feel better about things, and for that I am eternally grateful.
* And last year I got to participate in Bill's "The 17" project, andI got to meet him, and talk to him, and I am listed in his book! My life is amazing.
** And a few years ago I went to a secret Foo Fighters gig at the Underworld in Camden, and I got to meet Pat Smear and Dave Grohl, in person; and I have also seen Courtney Love and eaten one of her birthday maccaroons! My life is amazing.
*** And if you had told me - back then, as a teenager, when I was standing amongst the 150,000 people at Knebworth - that I would one day have a drink with Liam Gallagher in a pub in Camden, and then one day meet Noel Gallagher, and go to his house, and then be in a band and support him in Moscow and party with him backstage; well, I would have thought it beyond my wildest dreams. But I did. My life is amazing.
**** And a couple of years ago I met James Dean Bradfield at an aftershow party and he shook my hand and chatted with me and was lovely! My life is amazing.
***** And last year I got to rehearse with them all for two days and then sing with them, onstage, at the Royal Festival Hall! My life is amazing.