By Keith Sharp:
In celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the launch of Music Express Magazine, I have taken the liberty, as Publisher, to feature the six albums I would take with me on a six-month sojourn to the International Space Station.
First off, what defines a great `album’? I have hundreds of favourite songs on hundreds of favourite albums, but there are only a select few records that I can honestly say I listen to from the first to the last track without reaching for the eject button. At a time when the attention span of your average listener is about 30 seconds and recording a complete album is almost a lost art form, it’s a foregone conclusion that any six records you took up to the Space Station would require hours of constant listening. The six albums I have chosen could be assembled onto a perpetual sound loop and I wouldn’t get tired of listening to them.
Leading the selection is my all-time favourite album; Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon, just an absolute stunning musical creation. Released in March 1973, and engineered by Alan Parsons, The Dark Side Of The Moon’s 10 tracks is an eclectic mix of prog rock arrangements that explored conceptual themes like greed, the passage of time and mental illness with classy lyrical arrangements like “Time”, “Breathe” “Us And Them” and the album’s one big single, “Money” along with Clare Torrey’s masterful scat singing on “The Great Gig In The Sky”. And then there’s the sonic brilliance of instrumental arrangements like “Eclipse”and “Brain Damage” With an estimated 45 million copies sold and having stayed on Billboard’s album charts for a record-breaking 741 weeks, it’s not surprising that The Dark Side Of the Moon ranks up there with virtually every rock music critics all-time `best of’ list. Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright were at their creative peak on this record.
My former high school, Elliot Lake Ontario Secondary School boasted its own recording studio and it was in this pristine environment that I heard The Moody Blues’ In Search Of A Lost Chord for the first time. For someone weaned on three-minute pop songs by the likes of The Beatles, The Hollies, The Who and Dave Clark Five, The Moody Blues were a total revelation back in 1969. Haunting musical refrains like “Voices In The Sky”, “The Actor” and “Legends Of A Mind, exotic instruments like sitars, tamburas and tablas mixed in with flute, oboe and mellatron, spoken prose, great rock songs like “Ride My Seesaw” and the hypnotic “Om”. Justin Hayward has got to be one of contemporary music’s great vocalists and the band during that early purple patch of albums in the late Sixties and Early Seventies were truly majestic.
The Who are one of my all-time favourite bands and although they’ve recorded a slew of great pop hits and a couple of ground-breaking conceptual albums like Tommy and Quadrophenia, it was the nine tracks which constituted Who’s Next which ranks as one of my chosen six. Salvaged from Peter Townshend’s aborted Lifehouse Project in 1971 by top British engineer Glyn Johns, it’s safe to say there isn’t one weak track amongst the songs featured. Of course “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is the consummate Who anthem but “Behind Blue Eyes”, “Baba O’Riley’, “Bargain’, “Love Ain’t For Keepin” and John Entwistle’s ode to husband abuse with “My Wife” are all classics.
Also along for the ride is Queen’s Sheer Heart Attack. Arguably the greatest Eighties live rock band ever, Queen came to my attention when they opened for Mott The Hoople with their Queen 1 debut and by the time I saw them perform Sheer Heart Attack in Calgary in 1975 I was a fan for life. Their mixture of killer heavy metal, Brian May guitar riffs on “Brighton Rock”, “Now I’m Here” and “Stone Cold Crazy”, vocalist Freddie Mercury’s campy “Killer Queen” mixed with his melodic “Lily of The Valley” and Dear Friends” and May’s old-time ukulele solo on “Bring Back That Leroy Brown” provided such an amazing smorgasbord of musical inflections. They may have recorded better songs on future releases but no Queen album succeeded in topping this release.
Midnight Oil’s Diesel And Dust, recorded in 1987, holds a special personal significance to me because I helped promote a record that was not originally intended to be released outside of Australia. Lead vocalist Peter Garrett had written the tracks in honour of Australia’s indigenous people who had been ignored when Australia celebrated its 200th birthday and as a protest against the hypocrisy of that event. Inspired by their 1986 Blackfella/Whitefella tour of the outback, the Oils incorporated their experiences into classic songs like “Beds Are Burning”, “Put Down That Weapon”, “Dreamworld´and “Sometimes”. As I said, Garrett vowed not to release this record outside of Australia until a certain Music Express writer, leaked “Beds Are Burning” to Q-107 Radio. The response to that song was so great that Columbia Canada forced the band to release the record in March of 1988 and the U.S followed in May, resulting in the Oils’ greatest ever recording achievement. For my efforts, Garrett presented me with a Gold Record.
My final choice is a tough one. Focusing on the full album concept, I do love The Beatles’ Abbey Road, the debut Crosby Stills and Nash album , Yes’s `Close To The Edge’ and even Led Zeppelin’s 1V release but for my final choice, I have to go back to the Glam Rock Period of the early to mid-Seventies when David Bowie, T-Rex, Gary Glitter and Suzi Quatro dominated the British airwaves. I loved all of these bands and especially The Sweet, (Desolation Blvd is a `best of’ contender) but my pet fave of all of these bands is Slade and their Slade Alive is my sixth selection. Slade were just a great, live, glam band. Outrageous, raucous, wore crazy outfits and their misspelled hits like “Cum On Feel The Noize”, “Take Me Bak Ome” and “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” were both infectious and funny. But strangely enough the 1972 Slade Alive release, only their second album period, contains only seven songs and only three original songs, none of which were big hits for them. Instead you have lead singer Noddy Holder belting out Alvin Lee’s “Hear Me Calling”, a blistering cover of Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild, Bobby Marchan’s “Get Down Get With It”, and the set’s only slow track, a soulful cover of John Sebastian’s “Darling Be Home Soon”, interrupted by a loud belch at the most inappropriate moment. “In Like A Shot From My Gun” is one great original track, but, overall, it’s just the loud, wild charisma of this band that is totally magnetic and the interaction with their audience is great fun. All good stuff for a rockin rocket ride.