July 2016 – Personal Top 20 Most Influential Guitar Albums

posted in: Observations, Opinion | 0

In previous articles, I’ve touched on various personal aspects of guitars and guitar playing, including:

  • ‘why’ – the reason I picked up and played guitar
  • ‘how’ – the way that my relationship with the guitar developed from first contact to the current day
  • ‘what’ – the actual bits of wood, metal and plastic that keep me enthralled and passionate about the electric guitar as a musical instrument

This month, it’s a bit about more about the ‘who’ – no, not the band but the artists that made albums which have in some way motivated me to keep playing guitar over the years and perhaps most influenced the type of music I still listen to regularly

Just think of the great guitars, many of them now vintage, that were used by talented musicians to create the music in the first place. It is worth saying that these recordings probably wouldn’t have perpetuated as well as they have without these artists also working incredibly hard to play live music in front of ticket-paying audiences. The point is that it is really important to keep music live.

So… here is CRAVE Guitars’ Top 20 Guitar Albums that have been most influential to me. They aren’t necessarily ones you might think of as great guitar albums and many don’t have guitars as the focal point, so the impact has been subtle but profound. Flashy, flamboyant fretwork may be impressive but it is not enough on its own to make the grade.I have never been artist obsessed; I just don’t have guitar idols or role models so there is no celebrity reverence involved in the choices. Unlike many people, my tastes are also not fixed to one particular period of time or genre of music.

It was very hard to compile the list, knowing that it would not be representative of the wealth of great guitar music over the last 60+ years. The eventual ones that made it haven’t been ranked, so are presented in date order – just too difficult. Does the list represent the pinnacle of guitar playing? No, it doesn’t and it isn’t intended to; it’s a very personal list. Is the whole album great? No, there are no ‘perfect’ albums but they are, in my opinion, particularly notable – that’s all. What about the ones missed out? Too many to mention, including many that are ‘better’ for so many reasons, just not to me as part of this exercise. In addition, there are many, many great albums that don’t feature guitars at all, which naturally excludes them from this list.

What is it about these albums that makes them stand out above the average and, perhaps more tellingly, why they usurped other, perhaps more traditionally fashionable ‘great guitar albums’. The criteria (the first is a killer!) included:

  1. There could only be one album from any artist
  2. They could come from any period of modern music
  3. They must feature guitar playing, not necessarily front-and-centre but somewhere in the mix
  4. Live albums are included, hoever ‘best of’ collections and compilations are not
  5. They had to be ones I own and listen to, not just ones with a strong reputation
  6. They had a major ‘wow’ factor on first listen and, importantly, they have stood the test of time
  7. There is an emotional connection with the music, not just band credibility
  8. They transcend mood and can actually change one’s attitude
  9. Enrich one’s existence to some degree and make life worth experiencing

Here are the albums presented in chronological order, each with a short explanation as to why each is here:

  1. Santana – Abraxas (1970) – amongst the many classic Latin-tinged songs is the sublime leisurely instrumental ‘Samba Pa Ti’, which stood out for Carlos’ exquisite and nuanced guitar phrasing and tone
  2. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970) – nothing else like it before or, frankly, since; the album that started metal, especially with the archetypal doom-laden opening title track
  3. The Doors – L.A. Woman (1971) – such great song writing including, amongst others, the insistently driving title track and the massively moody laid-back ‘Riders On The Storm’
  4. T. Rex – Electric Warrior (1971) – Marc Bolan’s shift of style signalled the birth of glam rock. Who could have seen this coming or imagined the legacy it would leave. Familiar chart hits include ‘Jeepster’ and ‘Get It On’
  5. Pink Floyd – Meddle (1971) – my very first album purchase after hearing it premiered on John Peel’s radio show. It transfixed from start to end. Just amazing at the time, especially ‘One Of These Days’ and the epic ‘Echoes’
  6. David Bowie – Aladdin Sane (1972) – less pop-like than other obvious alternatives. Some striking musical innovation and some astounding avant garde moments. The chart hits included the title track and ‘The Jean Genie’
  7. John Martyn – Solid Air (1973) – Martyn had been experimenting with processed guitar and was pushing the boundaries of what it could do, resulting in this very special landmark album including the achingly cool title track and the desperately melancholic ‘May You Never’
  8. Lynyrd Skynyrd – Second Helping (1974) – no ‘Freebird’ here, but the album that brought the Florida wild boys to the UK’s attention. A really solid sophomore album that is so much more than the now clichéd ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, for instance the simple but effective riff on ‘Working For MCA’
  9. Bob Marley & The Wailers – Live! At The Lyceum (1975) – sometimes, a live album captures the essence of an artist’s best work in a single time and place, this is one, topped by the passionate and evocative ‘No Woman No Cry’
  10. Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti (1975) – not any of the first 5 iconic LPs but the double album that came out when I went to see them play live in London as a teenager. The colossal ‘Kashmir’ instantly blew me away, ‘nuff said
  11. Rory Gallagher – Against The Grain (1975) – another artist who came across better live than in the studio. Rory released this around the time that I saw him play in Brighton, so it beat ‘Irish Tour ‘74’ to the list
  12. Steve Hillage – L (1976) – a highly underrated guitarist and a post-Gong solo album that epitomised the alternative trippy-hippy, effect-laden space rock of the era. No chart material here but lovely guitar, clearly ‘in the zone’
  13. The Clash – London Calling (1979) – the title track nails the social context of the immediate post-punk period, articulating deep social unrest, the country’s polarised economic divisions and a generation’s frustrations with pre‑Thatcherite politics. Both timeless and very much of its time
  14. Talking Heads – Remain In Light (1980) – it starts with David Byrne’s complex, overlaid upbeat grooves and distinctive vocals, then descends into deep dark interwoven ambient territory. Go beyond the familiar hits and explore the brooding and intense ‘Listening Wind’ and ‘The Overload’. Scary
  15. ZZ Top – Eliminator (1983) – Texas boogie-blues morphs into mega-pop extravaganza with the now overplayed massive chart hits and much more, like ‘TV Dinners’ and ‘Bad Girl’. Ignore the sexist whinging and just enjoy the hot‑rodded road trip
  16. Stevie Ray Vaughan – Couldn’t Stand The Weather (1984) – kicks off with the frenzied instrumental ‘Scuttle Buttin’’, homages and almost upstages Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’ and then caps it with the knock-out slow blues of ‘Tin Pan Alley’. Pure blues genius
  17. Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms (1985) – consistently great song writing with some natty guitar work too, including the classic riffing of ‘Money for Nothing’ and closing with the poignant title track. Personally significant as this was my very last vinyl purchase, so ushering in the digital age
  18. The Cure – Disintegration (1989) – my all-time favourite album (so far) and as close as Robert Smith came to a coherently perfect recording. Contrast the heartfelt warmth of ‘Love Song’, with creepy ‘Lullaby’ and the deeply dark and sinister ‘Fascination Street’. Understated guitar work, compelling and hard to beat over a quarter of a century later
  19. Metallica – Metallica (1991) – migrating from thrash genre roots to full-on heavy metal rock stardom, the shift of tone resulted in massive commercial success. Now regarded as an all-time classic, which belies its original achievement, including the ubiquitous guitar-shop riff, ‘Enter Sandman’. Go beyond and admire
  20. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine (1992) – the genre‑busting aural assault fused highly politicised rap lyrics and Tom Morello’s stunning guitar work to create something genuinely ground‑breaking. Never bettered, the eponymous debut album includes the storming ‘Killing In The Name’ and ‘Bullet In The Head’. Still edgy today

Nothing really from before 1970 you say? Well, only because it was a bit before my time and many of the gems from that era were discovered later, Hendrix, Cream, Velvet Underground, etc. Nothing newer than 1992 you ask? It is disappointing that the most recent album is now 24 years old, begging the question, “Where are the great guitar albums of the 21st century?” This is lamentable, especially as there are so many excellent guitarists out there. Clearly, it is time to do something about it guys and gals.

If that list is too exclusive, here are some close runners up (also in date order):

  • Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland (1968)
  • King Crimson – In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969)
  • Neil Young – After The Goldrush (1970)
  • The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers (1971)
  • Genesis – Nursery Cryme (1971)
  • Deep Purple – Made In Japan (1972)
  • Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak (1975)
  • 801 – 801 Live (1976)
  • Burning Spear – Garvey’s Ghost (1976)
  • Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (1977)
  • Nirvana – Never Mind (1991)
  • Beck – Odelay (1996)
  • Kasabian – Kasabian (2004)
  • The Kills – Blood Pressures (2011)
  • Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky’s Edge (2012)

So, there you have it – my personal top 20 guitar albums… so far. These are not recommendations and it doesn’t prescribe essential listening. It is just one individual’s biased choice. I Have to say that it was more difficult than I thought to justify my limited selection. What inspires you is, of course, for you to decide for yourself. I hope there’s something in my list that provides a refreshing change, while also acknowledging the recognised greats. Doing this has made me review my longer ‘Top 100’ list on the CRAVE Guitars web site, take a look (click here to see the long list…).

What next? I am always looking to the future and curious about what’s yet to come. I hope that future great guitar albums can match the excellence of the past. Here’s anticipating. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Music Quote of the Month’: “Over think music and it becomes sterile. Under think music and you have probably been sterilised”

© 2016 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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