Welcome to another installment in my occasional “My life in…” series.
Previous installments have seen me cast my eye over the movie industry, the literary industry and the more personal, happy moments of my life.
For those who have missed the earlier installments, the premise is simple: for every year of my life I select one album that means the most to me. It doesn’t have to be what I consider the best album of that year, but the album my life would not be complete without.
Unlike the earlier posts, I decided to impose a few restrictions to prevent certain artists overpowering the list:
(1) Album must have been originally released in the allotted year (no re-releases)
(2) Artists can only appear as album of the year twice (no restrictions on ‘just missing out’)
(3) No film score soundtracks (with the exception of Local Hero which is musical nirvana)
(4) No compilation or ‘best of’ albums (with the exception of live albums)
(5) All albums must be relevant to my life (i.e. not selected purely based on critical acclaim)
~ 1978 ~
Play Gaelic (Runrig)
I’ve always found it rather serendipitous that my favourite band (of all time) released their debut album the year I was born. The band, originally called ‘The Run Rig Dance Band’ was formed in 1973 by brothers Calum and Rory Macdonald as a three-piece dance band that predominantly played wedding receptions. Following their first gig at Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, they have gone on to release thirteen studio albums across their thirty-nine year history.
More than any other artist, Runrig are the musicians of my life. I first came across them in 1999, when they played a free concert to celebrate the (unofficial) millennium in Inverness. Not being aware of them at the time I heard only a couple of songs from a distance and, as my love for their music grew to epic proportions, have long regretted not attending this concert in its entirety as I’ve never been in a position to see them live again.
Their first album, Play Gaelic, was (as the title suggests) performed entirely in Scottish Gaelic and throughout their career Runrig have continued to write and perform songs in their native tongue.
Despite having gone through several line-up changes, including the replacement of lead singer Donnie Munro after he left to pursue a political career, Runrig are still performing to this day.
Hopefully, they will continue for many years to come.
~ 1979 ~
The Wall (Pink Floyd)
My last girlfriend Diane was a huge Pink Floyd fan, and who isn’t? Although I had heard this before, whenever I think of this album I remember a rather lovely, low-key evening of dining, chatting and bathing that she and I shared together.
Aside from that, this is one of the world’s great albums and one of the few accepted classics on this list of defining music of my life.
~ 1980 ~
Remain in Light (Talking Heads)
Just missing out: Flash Gordon (Queen)
It was Louise (she who is responsible for introducing me to many great musicians) that brought Talking Heads to my attention. In much the same way as when she first played me Nick Cave, I was not overly impressed with them. Although I have grown to like them over the years (although nowhere near the level of love that I now have for Nick Cave, see below) this reason is a defining album of my life as it provided the soundtrack to a rather delicious evening of…well, I shall let you use your imaginations about this! :p
~ 1981 ~
Dead Set (Grateful Dead)
Just missing out: Reckoning (Grateful Dead)
Another classic band that I have loved for a long period of my life, harking back to my teenage years of loneliness and confusion. When they were featured on the Freaks and Geeks soundtrack it was impossible for me to hide my excitement. A true classic.
~ 1982 ~
Craigie Dhu (Dougie MacLean)
As this list continues, it will become apparent just how much Scottish music has meant to me through my life. The music of artists such as Runrig, The Proclaimers, Peatbog Faeries and Paul Mounsey touch my heart in ways that other nationalities fail to do. Perhaps this is because Scotland runs deep in my blood, blood that is spoken to by the music of the land I love so much.
Dougie MacLean is a singer-songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist, record producer and OBE recipient. His song Caledonia has long been considered the unofficial Scottish National Anthem and was my introduction into his music. I discovered it on an album called From the ends of the earth, a live album composed of tracks recorded at two concerts (one in Scotland, one in Australia).
From there I went on to listen to each and every one of his albums, Craigie Dhu being a personal favourite.
~ 1983 ~
Local Hero (Mark Knopfler)
Considering I spent a long period of time in 1999 tracking down as many locations from the film Local Hero that I could, it should go without saying that this is one of my favourite films of all time.
A large part of my affection for this movie is the sublime score from Dire Strait’s front man, Mark Knopfler.
Quite possibly the most played album of my life and, after a five-year hiatus, I am once again the proud owner of this musical masterpiece courtesy of a 50% off second-hand CD sale in a local store. The $2 I paid for that copy is perhaps the greatest bargain of my music purchasing life!
~ 1984 ~
From Her to Eternity (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds)
I didn’t know who Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds were until I met Louise in 2000. When she first asked my opinion of them I stared at her blankly and said one word: ‘who?’. Almost immediately she pulled out her Discman and slipped in The Boatman’s Call album, forcing me to listen to what would become one of my favourite songs of all time; Into Your Arms.
Initially I wasn’t a fan. I found his music un-compelling and rather boring, a reaction that I cannot understand having to this day. Over the years my love for every one of his albums has grown exponentially and woven themselves into the fabric of my life for the rest of time.
~ 1985 ~
Brothers in Arms (Dire Straits)
A group (and album) that I discovered courtesy of my father’s extensive music collection after discovering the great Mark Knopfler courtesy of his Local Hero soundtrack. The title track has long been a personal favourite and one that caused a monumental squee moment when it was used during an exceptionally good musical montage in the superb Canadian television series Due South.
~ 1986 ~
A Kind of Magic (Queen)
It wasn’t long after watching Highlander for the first time that I listened to this album, again courtesy of my dad’s collection. Although there have been better and more widely acclaimed Queen albums, it’s connection to a film and television series that has been a major passion of mine through my life elevates this album onto the list.
~ 1987 ~
Heaven on Earth (Belinda Carlisle)
There is only one reason that this album is on the list. The song Heaven is a Place on Earth was a song that played at my very first school disco, held in a Church Hall in Portlethen that same year. Whenever I hear that song I think of this night; dancing like a fool with my friends, trying to persuade the tuck shop lady to give me free sweets after I lost my pocket-money and my father pointing out Haley’s Comet streaking through the sky after he came to take me home.
~ 1988 ~
Sunshine on Leith (The Proclaimers)
Just missing out: Kylie (Kylie Minogue)
I had been a fan of this album for many years before Louise walked into a HMV in Edinburgh and purchased the entire back catalogue of The Proclaimers. For weeks the only music that played in our bedsit was the contagious sound of these Scottish twins.
For years my affection for The Proclaimers was a source of great teasing amongst my friends (especially Grace, who had an almost allergic reaction to their music). This teasing reached a climax when I finally had the opportunity to see them live when they performed in Melbourne to mark the release of their Restless Soul album.
~ 1989 ~
Parallel Dreams (Loreena McKennitt)
Just missing out: Bizarro (The Wedding Present)
When I decided to travel to Scotland I knew I would have to listen to Standing Stones once I reached Orkney. In fact this song was one of the driving desires that led me to these great islands.
Sneaking away from my tour group I sat in the shadow of the Ring of Brodgar, gazing down toward the Stones of Stenness, and played this haunting melody. For as long as I live I will never forget that blissful moment of peace and serenity.
~ 1990 ~
Charcoal Lane (Archie Roach)
The first musical gig I ever attended was in November 2002, when My Friend the Chocolate Cake and Archie Roach performed a duel concert in Melbourne. Having heard only one of his tracks before (courtesy of the Seachange soundtrack) I was blown away by the talent of this great man. Within weeks I had procured his entire back catalogue and spent many mornings listening to his music as I went on my morning walks along Elwood Beach.
~ 1991 ~
Waking Up the Neighbours (Bryan Adams)
Bryan Adams has long been one of my guilty pleasures (I Wanna Be Your Underwear, anyone?) For a period in the mid-nineties, whilst all my peers were relishing in Oasis, Blur and the Britpop explosion, I was sitting in my room singing along to this Canadian soft-rock genius.
~ 1992 ~
Get Out (Capercaillie)
Just missing out: Cut (Hunters & Collectors)
Capercaillie are a Scottish folk group led by Karen Matheson. Rightly considered at the forefront of Scottish folk music, Capercaillie have garnered world-wide recognition and applause over the twenty-eight years they have been performing.
Aside from their most recent album (Roses and Tears) I once owned every CD they’d ever produced, including the little known Glenfinnan (Songs of the ’45), but it was Get Out that continually eluded me. After finally tracking it down on eBay my hands were literally trembling as I unwrapped the parcel and slipped the shiny disc into the CD player.
I think part of me knew how much that album would go on to mean to me.
~ 1993 ~
Fumbling Toward Ecstasy (Sarah McLachlan)
Just missing out: Bat out of Hell II: Back into Hell (Meat Loaf), Jamu Dreaming (Archie Roach)
During the late nineties (courtesy of two of my favourite shows at the time, Due South and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) I fell for the music of Sarah McLachlan. For anyone who has listened to her music this shouldn’t be too hard to understand. Superbly written songs (Hold On) mixed with a haunting voice and beautiful instrumentation render her CDs some of the best mainstream folk you will ever hear.
Although I am a fan of Surfacing, as well as her early work of Touch and Solace, it is this album (and it’s sister recording, The Freedom Sessions) that live on in my heart. Coming at a time when I was lost and directionless after leaving school these albums helped me realise I should follow my heart. A decision that ultimately led to my backpacking odyssey around Scotland and Canada.
On a sidenote, the title track of this album inspired one of my Buffy fan-fics, which can be read here if you dare!
~ 1994 ~
Grace (Jeff Buckley) and Intimate (Toni Pearen)
Just missing out: Setting the Woods on Fire (The Walkabouts)
It is impossible for me to prioritize which of these wildly opposite artists is more important to my life so I had no option but to call it a tie.
Grace was Louise’s favourite album and Hallelujah was our song, as such it will remain one of the most important albums of my life, even though I cannot listen to it these days without feeling emotional pain.
Meanwhile, Toni Pearen was one of Louise’s least favourite people. She could never understand my fascination with the E-Street and Australia’s Funniest Home Videos star and would often tease me mercilessly about my attraction to her. After first discovering she had released an album during the 90s I vowed to track it down, a vow that was reinforced several years later when I decided to move to Australia.
After months of searching I tracked it down on cassette in a second-hand music store in Prahran and, for a moment, felt pure happiness at succeeding in a long-standing life goal.
~ 1995 ~
Different Class (Pulp)
One of my favourite albums of the 90s and one that secured its place in my heart when Sammi and I karaoked Common People in 2008.
~ 1996 ~
Just missing out: Bothy Culture (Martyn Bennett), A Whisky Kiss (Shooglenifty)
The very first album I purchased! To this day I will stand by my statement that I purchased this for the high quality of the music and not because a hot woman I fancied the hell out of was singing about being naked!
~ 1997 ~
Two Houses (Paul Gross & David Keeley)
Just missing out: The Boatman’s Call (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds), Impossible Princess (Kylie Minogue)
I loved Due South. I loved it from the very first episode and continued to proclaim my love for it until the very end of the often criticised, grossly misunderstood, final season.
The reason I purchased this album was solely down to my love of the show and lead actor Paul Gross. Little did I know as I walked out of HMV Cardiff all those years ago I would be clutching one of those rare albums that provide the music for key moments of someone’s life.
This album was one of the few that accompanied me around my backpacking trip to Scotland. I listened to it on trains, buses and ferry. I sung it as I hiked roads, glens and forests. I listened to it so much I wore the cassette down so much it wouldn’t play any more.
To this day I know every word, to every song on this album, and it will forever remind me of one of the best periods of my life.
~ 1998 ~
Little Plastic Castle (Ani DiFranco)
Just missing out: Transcendental Highway (Colin Hay)
Annie is the person who introduced me not only to Ani DiFranco but to this album. As we drove around the wilder regions of Canada having random adventures and creating life-long memories, this album played through the car’s stereo system. Whenever the title track plays I think of heart stopping trips to mountainous hot springs and when I hear the second track, Fuel, I am reminded that good songwriting will always trounce manufactured mainstream pop.
~ 1999 ~
Nahoo 3: Notes from the Republic (Paul Mounsey)
Just missing out: 7 (Wolfstone), Mule Variations (Tom Waits), Trail of Stars (The Walkabouts)
My second favourite album of all time. No more needs to be said other than this is a work of a musical genius at the top of his game.
~ 2000 ~
Oops, I Did It Again (Britney Spears)
Just missing out: Faerie Stories (Peatbog Faeries)
I first hear the title track whilst staying at the Glenfinnan Sleeping Car – a backpacker hostel made out of a disused train sleeping carriage nestled at the side of Glenfinnan railway station. Although it is far from my favourite song of all time, this album would go on a few months later to provide the soundtrack to my arrival in Canada.
For those first few weeks this song was playing everywhere I went, cementing it as one of the defining albums of my life as it will forever remind me of this glorious period of my life.
~ 2001 ~
One Eyed Man (Mark Seymour)
Just missing out: Too Close to Heaven (The Waterboys), Loss (Mull Historical Society), Solar Sheers (Shooglenifty)
After listening to (and loving) Seymour’s track Home Again on the Seachange soundtrack I was keen to discover more of this artist. Whilst randomly perusing second-hand music stores a few weeks after arriving in Australia I saw this album sitting in a clearance bin for a few dollars.
It became the first album I purchased in Australia and over the years has become one of my favourite albums.
~ 2002 ~
Curious (My Friend the Chocolate Cake)
Just missing out: Time and Tide (Battlefield Band), Beautiful Collision (Bic Runga)
My Friend the Chocolate Cake was the first group I saw perform live. This album was the one being promoted during those concerts.Thus a life-long love between it and me was born.
~ 2003 ~
City of Walls (Paul Mounsey)
Just missing out: Final Straw (Snow Patrol)
After Runrig and Serena Ryder, Paul Mounsey is my third favourite musician of all time and this album contains my all time favourite track of his; Taking Back the Land.
~ 2004 ~
Disarming (Ember Swift)
Just missing out: 40 Days (The Wailin’ Jennys), Day of Days (Runrig)
In 2005 I attended the Port Fairy Folk Festival for the first time. In the lead up to attending I put aside a small amount of money to buy a few CDs from artists I had never heard of before, artists who I would hear for the very first time during the festival. Madviolet was one, Serena Ryder another. The third was Canadian Ember Swift, who stunned me not only with her musical prowess but the divinity of her lyrics.
Although I’m not sure if it still exists, unlike the other records I purchased during this time, I adored Ember Swift so much I fought through the anxiety to purchase this album from her personally; scoring a signed CD and brief conversation in the progress.
~ 2005 ~
Storyboard (This is Your Captain Speaking)
Just missing out: Everything in Transit (Jack’s Mannequin), Unlikely Emergency (Serena Ryder)
I purchased this album on a whim on my way from work in 2005. After a stressful day at the hostel I swung by Polyestor records on Brunswick Street and bought this on the strength of the cover art alone. I had never heard of the group, had no idea what their sound was like, I didn’t even know their genre.
It has since become not only one of the defining albums of my life, but one of my top five albums of all time.
~ 2006 ~
If Your Memory Serves You Well (Serena Ryder)
Just missing out: At War with the Mystics (The Flaming Lips), Eyes Open (Snow Patrol)
After a difficult year, by the end of 2006 I was slowly beginning to rebuild my life. I had a job, was preparing to begin college, felt more secure in my social network and was in a relationship with a woman I loved. As a birthday treat I purchased Serena Ryder’s new album from JB Hi-Fi in Prahran on my way home from my first day in my new job.
I knew I would love the album based on my affection for her debut Unlikely Emergency. What I didn’t know is that this album contained a song that would go on to become my favourite song of all time: Weak in the Knees.
~ 2007 ~
The Story (Brandi Carlile)
Just missing out: A Brighter Beat (Malcolm Middleton)
This album will forever and eternity remind me of this blog. It is impossible to count how many times I listened to this album whilst writing the early posts that laid the foundation for this blog. The Story, Turpentine, Again Today…whenever I hear these stunning songs I am transported back to those lonely, lost days of attempting to rebuild my life the only way I know how.
By taking risks, by pushing the boundaries, by being me.
~ 2008 ~
Just missing out: Feel Good Ghosts [Tea Partying through Tornados] (Cloud Cult), Is it OK (Serena Ryder)
I’d always liked Pink but I didn’t truly love her until this album. Alongside the hideous All Summer Long and The Living End’s White Noise, this is a major soundtrack to my time in Alice Springs and my relationship with Diane.
~ 2009 ~
Middle Cyclone (Neko Case)
Just missing out: Lungs (Florence and the Machine)
Another artist that Louise introduced me to. When she first played Blacklisted I had no idea who the artist was nor why her music dug into my soul as deeply as it did. By the time Fox Confessor Brings the Flood was released I was an all out fan. So when Middle Cyclone was released in 2009 I knew I had to purchase it.
Little did I know that it would become the last CD I’d buy before becoming homeless later that year.
~ 2010 ~
I Speak Because I Can (Laura Marling)
Just missing out: Innerspeaker (Tame Impala)
It was my father (a continuous source of great music) who introduced Laura Marling to me. During one of the many phone calls we shared to keep me sane throughout my homelessness he informed me Laura Marling had won a Brit award for this album. At the time I didn’t know who she was, but the next time I was online some weeks later I made a point to look her up.
Ultimately I tracked down the entire album and over the course of an hour found renewed inspiration during a difficult period of my homelessness.
~ 2011 ~
Travels in the Dustland (The Walkabouts)
When I think of artists that I love unconditionally, very few spring to mind. Runrig goes without saying, as does Serena Ryder. After those would follow Paul Mounsey, Nina Simone and Pink. The only other that I can think of is The Walkabouts, a critically acclaimed yet criminally unknown band hailing from Seattle.
My first introduction to The Walkabouts came when I purchased the album Trail of Stars in a discount bin of an Inverness record shop. Although I liked it, I had never heard of the group before and over the years this album disappeared as I moved across the globe.
Years later, after falling in love with Charles de Lint, I began to notice he would frequently list this group as one of his musical inspirations throughout the writing of his novel. Reminded of my enjoyment of Trail of Stars I found a copy of their anthology Watermarks: Selected Songs 1991-2002 in Polyester records and purchased it.
From the moment I heard the trio of opening tracks (Till I Reach You, Rebecca Wild, The Light Will Stay On) I knew this band become something special in my life; and not for the first time, I was right.
This album, their first in six years, marked the end of my music purchasing drought that began with Neko Case in 2009.
~ 2012 ~
Harmony (Serena Ryder)
Just missing out: Nightflight (Kate Miller-Heidke)
Given I have written of Serena Ryder (and this album) quite extensively of late, all I’ll say is that Harmony is pure musical bliss and I couldn’t have hoped for a better album to end this most tumultuous, surprising and difficult of years.
Other installments in this series:
~ What albums define your life? No matter how cheesy or embarrassing. ~