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Anybody harbouring the sneaking suspicion that “we are what we hear” will surely feel at home in Neil Deane’s highly-personalized account of how rock music moved in with him at the end of the Beatles’ era and refused to move out again. It made anarchy-bound Liverpool of the 70s a veritable demi-paradise, helped him survive various challenges in pre- and post- 1989 Germany and even made light of new millennium crises and general mid-life paranoia. Lists pertaining to several facets of his collection of 600 CDs, reflections on the live concert experience and pithy yet revealing philosophizing about the pivotal role music plays in our lives all combine to celebrate a 40-year journey many music lovers will recognise from their own “rocky passages”. Neil Deane was born in Liverpool, England in 1957. He has spent over half his life making a living in Germany and is currently doing so as a lecturer at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

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New York Loves Me

» What’s it all about and why bother?

Nick Hornby was one of the first authors to claim that men like compiling lists. Two of his books illustrate this point: “High Fidelity”, which deals with the trauma, troubles and tribulations of male-female relationships, and “Fever Pitch”, which deals with the same problems caused by following a football team. The former lists girlfriends and the latter football matches. Hornby also wrote a book called “31 songs”, which lists songs meaning a lot to him (but not to many other people, I fear). The idea, therefore, of listing songs which mean a lot to their owner is not a new one. The magnitude of my task, however, is much more daunting: my list contains all 600 LPs I have purchased over a 40-year period. The whole project began as a whimsical pastime on a bus in Cyprus when the initial idea was a modest one – to list my top 100 LPs in no particular order. On returning home, the plan developed into the full-blooded, obsession-driven idea of archiving my complete collection in order of quality and then placing all CDs in the same physical order as they are represented on the list. And now it has been developed even further into the book you now find in your hand, on your lap or wherever else you put a book when you read it. Although the CDs represent LPs purchased since 1970, they all originate from the birth of the CD – which for me was in 1986. Since 1989, 99% of my vinyl collection from 1970 to 1986 has been lingering in the cellars and bedrooms of two personages who play no further part in my life and the chances of my retrieving them are negligible. Since that time the vast majority of those vinyl LPs have been purchased in CD form. 600 CDs now parade themselves in my living room as a monument to 40 years of loving music. On the back cover of Hornby’s book “31 songs”, Tim Lott of the Evening Standard writes that the book “… is about Hornby, and us, and about being alive.” Replace “Hornby” by “Deane” and you’ve got


What´s it all about and why bother?

the gist about what this very personal book is about. Being alive means many things: laughing, crying, loving, despairing, hoping and dozens of other emotions. We do what life demands of us and I’ve been doing all these things with the music of these albums in the background, in my head and always, somehow, in my heart. Don’t expect an objective, academic text analyzing music since the Stones and Beatles; be prepared for an anecdotal, descriptive, intensive look at the music and insights into what it has meant for me over the past 40 years. Many people have asked me why I am doing it at all. “For posterity” is my usual terse answer. In fact, I have no answer. I feel good when I am doing it, it keeps me out of trouble, it doesn’t cost money and does little or no harm to my health. And I am not harming anybody else, so I presume I am allowed to do it. The posterity idea, however, is not as pompous and vague as it sounds. By writing about something which happened in your life means that your life, in some sense at least, carries on after you shuffle off this mortal coil. That’s assuming, of course, that someone reads it. Well, you are, so that’s a start. And if you can recommend my ramblings to a few more people, the whole project may even be worthwhile. It also seems a natural thing to do. Music has followed me round for most of my life, every day, every night, all the time. Name any album from the list and I can tell you with a disturbing degree of accuracy where I was, what I was doing and with whom I was doing it when I bought it, listened to it, got into it and perhaps saw it performed by the respective artists. Where I feel I need to elaborate on the events and people caught in that particular “music warp” I have added some (hopefully) interesting, moving, comical, whimsical insights and observations. As the list is not chronological, please be prepared for a jerky, back and forward passage. As the focus is on albums rather than individual songs, the memories tend to (but don’t always) cluster round periods of time rather than individual moments, and are hazy, cloudy memories rather than pinpoints. There are always exceptions, of course; these will be fully documented in the individual reviews.

What´s it all about and why bother? | What is greatness?

What is greatness? “Something that stands the test of time” would be a reasonable shot at the above question. Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets still enthral us 400 years after their creation and that must be the ultimate proof of quality. Popular music, of course, needs to be judged over a much shorter time frame: if Presley & Co kicked rock and roll into action in the mid-fifties and the Beatles refined it into something more sophisticated by the mid sixties, we are talking about songs produced no more than fifty years or so ago. But if these songs are still exciting human beings and making them revel in their unforgettable melodies and lyrics as we approach the second decade of the 21st century, they are surely at least starting to achieve greatness. And if they are starting to offer university courses on the phenomenon called the Beatles, there really must be something in this pop music “thing”. A great CD, therefore, contains quality songs which still move me and accompany me through the waking hours of the day. Songs I always remember, never tire of and which still sound fresh, 20, 30 or 40 years on. They are immediately recognisable, exhibit brilliant musicianship and beauty and never fail to make me feel better. The less frequently I need to use the “skip” function, the better the CD is and the higher its ranking. Almost all of the CDs in the top 100 can be played without skipping any of the songs on them. In fact, it’s not until we enter the 300s that the skip function on the remote control needs to be employed with any great frequency at all.



What´s it all about and why bother? | The rating system

The rating system Here is a rough guide as to how the CDs were ranked:

> Masterpieces, absolute classics 1 – 100 = virtually every song an unforgettable gem > Superb 101 – 200 = 85% to 95% great songs > Excellent 201 – 350 = 70% to 85% great songs > Very good 351 – 450 = 55% to 70% great songs > Good 451 – 500 = 30% to 55% great songs > Fairly good 501 – 550 = 20% to 30% great songs > OK 551 – 575 = 15% to 20% great songs > Average 576 – 585 = 10% to 15% great songs > Below average 586 – 590 = 5% to 10% > Starting to stink 591 – 595 = Perhaps one song saves the album from being used as a beer mat > Useful only as beer mats 596 – 600 = No songs of any discernable quality

What´s it all about and why bother? | The rating system

As far as possible, I have attempted to remain true to the principle that the overall number of quality songs on an album determines its position on the list. An album, for example, which has ten excellent songs (from, say, ten) is deserving of a higher ranking than an album containing 5 superb songs and 5 average songs. The list, however, is not the result of painstakingly thought-out mathematical formulas and calculations, but always attempts to answer the question: “How many great songs does this album contain?” Whichever criteria I use, it will be impossible to justify why album X is 17 places above album Y. On a different day or time of the month, it may well be the exact opposite. I spent the best part of six months thinking about my choices and that’s it. It’s a rough guide and gives a satisfactory picture of my record collection and how I rate it. Tormenting myself for the rest of my life, for example, about whether Hendrix’s third studio album is really 61 places better than his first studio album really is an avenue I refuse to go down. I can live with the choices I’ve made, so let’s leave it at that and move on. To mention that the selection is purely subjective will insult the reader’s intelligence. (Well, I have mentioned it now, so be insulted and live with it). Showing the list to various friends, colleagues and relatives has already set in motion a wave of expletives, looks of deep disbelief and questions such as: “Were you drunk when you compiled this list? Are you insane?” To all these people I would suggest that they make their own list so that I can question their sanity and generally rough them up. It is obviously totally subjective, so let’s not take it too seriously.



What´s it all about and why bother? | Some general thoughts ...

Some general thoughts on the contents of the collection I will admit straight away that the top two hundred on my list do tend to be dominated by certain musical genres or developments which were particularly prevalent in the early seventies of the twentieth century. The term “progressive music” was bandied about at the time, forefronted by such groups as Genesis, Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes and King Crimson. The period also spawned a large number of “heavy (or hard) rock” bands (not to be confused with today’s Heavy Metal combos) such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and The Who. Other bands of this era, who didn’t quite belong to either of these categories, but which were certainly doing something we might call “unconventional”, yet in a vaguely rock framework, were Roxy Music, David Bowie, Jethro Tull, Supertramp and Frank Zappa. As I give my final interview on my death bed, I will probably croak that “progressive/heavy rock of the early seventies” was the thing that gave meaning to my life in those formative and troubled teenage years. Rock and roll gripped John Lennon and his generation and remained “his type of music”, just as Wagner was Hitler’s “type of music” 50 years before. For Eric Clapton it was the blues. “Crooning”, as typified by Bing Crosby, is still my Uncle Bert’s “type of music” and will stay that way till his dying day. I have just mentioned a frightening variety of people – the Austrian Charlie Chaplin look-alike being probably the most frightening inclusion – but whatever their personal traits and character, they all stuck to their “type of music” till the end. The list is dominated by British music (approximately 80%). The highest American entrants are the usual iconic heavyweights like Hendrix, Zappa and Dylan. The latter two produced a monumental body of work, ranging in quality from the sublime to the truly ridiculous. Hendrix’s first three official albums achieve a consistently high standard of achievement, as do Steely Dan’s first five. All four artists (or bands) have produced work which will be around for ever. Other American icons, like the Doors and Springsteen scarcely get a look in. Only one Beach Boys album and the thinnest smattering of soul.

What´s it all about and why bother? | Some general thoughts ...

Singer-songwriters are, of course, represented: James Taylor’ CSNY, Jeff Buckley, America and Carole King. The blues legends have to be present ( John Lee Hooker, Johhny Winter, B.B King) along with trusty US rockers like ZZ Top, Lou Reed and Mountain. Yet most of the US artists only have one or a maximum of two albums in my collection. Frank Sinatra manages 5 entries, not exactly a champion of sweaty rock and roll. Quality Canadians make their presence felt - Neil Young (plenty from him), Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Robbie Robertson. Oh yes, and Björk from Iceland. And Focus keep the Dutch end up with their subtle blend of progressive rock. Otherwise, my collection is unashamedly British. The Irish provide a small but high quality input in the form of U2 with two top twenty entries; the electric (and sadly missed) Rory Gallagher; the brilliant but patchy Van Morrison; Christy Moore and his kid brother Luka Bloom (don’t be fooled by the name). Clannad offer a goose-pimply portion of misty Celtishness and Thin Lizzy take no prisoners with their ram-it-home blockbuster, “Live and Dangerous”. Only 4 German offerings to be found (which is, I suppose, rather suprising, considering I have spent 28 of the last 40 years in Germany). One Jamaican artist (guess who?). Even the Aussies get in on the act with the band Men at Work. As time passed, new names were given to subsequent genres. Punk was next in 1976 and my collection only contains one from that (for me, at least) dreadful music epoch. Yes, you guessed it, the Sex Pistols with their appalling first album. “Post punk” followed and offered a few things worth following up with such class acts as The Smiths and The Police. So-called “Britpop” drifted in and out of Blairite Britain in the mid-nineties. Blur, Oasis and Pulp produced a few very worthwhile things. Nirvana is the only band representing “Grunge” (one of the best albums of the late nineties, too, bless ’em). I never did work out who the “New Romantics” were, never liked “Rap”, and country music is virtually left to one icon, Johnny Cash. A few Jazz gems are there which sound appropriate at night time and with Scotch on the rocks. Oh yes, I almost forgot jazz-rock: Chicago, Blood, Sweat and Tears provide a fair bit of that.



What´s it all about and why bother? | Some general thoughts ...

The idea of labelling the collection according to genres, is pointless I feel, and I have avoided such labels in the subsequent lists. To me, the artists involved are blowing into wind instruments, strumming and picking acoustic guitars, attempting to coax out a variety of weird and wonderful sounds from electric guitars and keyboards and screaming or whispering words which appear from their respective throats and seem to be making some sense or having some sort of emotional effect on their listeners. If it’s good it’s good, if it’s great it’s great, if it’s crap, it’s crap. It has all been thrown into a pot and been simmering for the past 50 years or so. If Bob Dylan is right when he claims that definitions destroy, then I best cease categorizing straight away and work through my best 100 albums and try to explain what they all mean to me. They may well mean something different to you. While we are on the subject of the place of music in our life, I suppose we should also raise the question of whether the music mirrors the “Zeitgeist” of the day. Generally speaking, I believe the answer is “No”, and certainly not in my collection. The music (and accompanying lyrics) is more often than not an echo of the artist’s own personal state of being and feeling at any given time. Social and political observations have been made since Dylan (at the latest), but most sentiments expressed are personal and private – and therefore wonderfully mystifying rather than political. They mirror the society at that time only in as far as the artists are trying to express themslves within their societal context and more often than not there is little or no reference to what is going on in their world, either socially or politically. Most people agree that this is a good thing rather than a bad one. Political statements have a habit of switching people off rather than on – preaching rock musicians have a habit of getting on people’s nerves – think of the seemingly never-ending supply of flak poor Bono gets for his endless preaching. The basic message seems to be: if I want a sermon, I go to church – I certainly don’t buy a record or go to a rock concert. The personality, emotional stability and mood of the listener at any given moment will further blur what the music is supposed to “mean”. Even if there were a special message, the average listener might not get it anyway. In other words,

What´s it all about and why bother? | Some general thoughts ...

no one piece of music means any one thing to any individual. Presumably, this applies to any work of art. To choose a number one album from all those purchased over a period of 40 years is a ridiculous (and ultimately impossible) task. Everybody who has got wind of my project asks the same question: “What’s your number 1?” (And their second favourite question is, surprise, surprise: “What’s bottom of your list?”). The album I have voted number 1, Led Zeppelin 2 (damn’, I’ve spoilt the surprise now), is probably no better than many in the top 100 and since making my choice I have changed my mind any number of times. Well, it fulfils all the criteria already mentioned, but it also epitomises all the qualities that make rock music what it is. John Lennon once defined rock as “here and now” (a phrase nicked by Oasis to entitle their rather ordinary third album). By “here and now” I believe he was trying to say that the music should have an almost magical impact on the listener, making him or her forget his or her immediate future or past by coming out of the speakers at a frightening intensity, taking no prisoners with its uncompromising beat, and transporting the listener into their own personal Saturday night world of sin and debauchery. Led Zeppelin 2 does all this and more and if a Martian appeared in front of you today asking you what rock music was, you could do worse than to slide this masterpiece into your system and press the play button, with sufficient volume, to give them a fairly comprehensive answer. It is representative of what quality rock music is and will always be. A representative choice of the genre “rock music”. So, I decided to put it at number 1. It is followed by a further 599, 99% of which have something great to offer. The following section reviews the top 100 CDs in reverse order of ranking and is followed by the list of the remaining CDs in the order of ranking. The music on these 100 albums has soothed and excited my soul and taken me to places I otherwise wouldn’t have travelled to. The reality of life may have often defeated me if this music hadn’t been there to take me to those places. Join me on a trip through 40 years of my reality with this music as its soundtrack. Are you sitting comfortably?



My hundred best CDs | The reviews

2 Foxtrot – Genesis (1972) This album is as different from the number one selection as an album can be. The lyrics and instrumentation very much influenced by the classical and progressive rather than by blues and rock rhythms. Genesis’ music of this period leads you down paths of mediaeval history, sci-fi imagination and mystical fantasy rather than towards Led Zeppelin’s search for the ultimate shag. Yes, rock rhythms are there, but parcelled in unusual time changes which form a spooky backdrop to an unlikely march into the abyss rather than to a Saturday night knee trembler. It borrowed elements from other bands producing a similar variety of new sounds (King Crimson, ELP, Yes and even Pink Floyd), yet had an originality which was perhaps wrapped around the persona of Peter Gabriel who pushed the band into realms of theatrics never before seen. Genesis developed a stage show which more than matched their complex music. An impressionable 16 year-old (me) was suitably impressed, nay dumbstruck, by their breathtaking performances of “Watcher of the skies” and “Supper’s ready” at the Liverpool Empire at the beginning of 1973. The more cynical elements of the rock press called it pretentious and over the top. I couldn’t get enough of it. From the gripping opening track (the aforementioned “Watcher of the skies”) with its dramatic opening keyboards, through Gabriel’s scratchy vocals on “Get em out by Friday” and the mellotron and keyboard dominated “Canutility and the coast-liners”, the album swoops from one peak to the next. The final offering on the album, the marvellous opus “Supper’s ready”, still remains for me the best piece of extended music produced in the progressive rock years. A veritable masterpiece. Verdict: The peak performance of probably the best prog-rock band of its day.

My hundred best CDs | The reviews

1 Led Zeppelin 2 – Led Zeppelin (1969) It’s Saturday night, you’re at the peak of your physical powers, hungry for everything the sensual world has to offer and this subliminal rock classic has to be your raucous, yet sensual, companion. The LP begins with the best-known rock riff of all time in “Whole Lotta love” and thunders away in sensational style, leaving the listener in no doubt as to what Robert Plant is screeching about (“I’m gonna give you every inch of my love” being a bit of a give-away). Jimmy Page’s fluent guitar dominates throughout but every member of the band is showing off their almost super human musical abilities to the full. From start to finish, you are blown away and are never given pause for breath until the last testerone-drenched chord ejaculates off the turntable into rock history. Verdict: Even by Zep’s incredibly high standards, a benchmark for every piece of rock music produced since. In fact, it has never been bettered as an example of the almost godly beauty drums, bass, lead guitar and vocals can create. Which is why it’s number one. Shall we leave it at that?


The “Best of” Lists | The 10 best vocalists

The ten best vocalists 10 Captain Beefheart

Beefheart takes a lot from the blues masters (Howlin’ Wolf in particular) and embellishes their style in the weirdest way possible, always making optimal use of an astounding vocal range. › Experience it for yourself on “Clear Spot/The spotlight kid” (253)

9 David Bowie

Like (Peter) Gabriel, Bowie’s vocal style displays a sinister edge, well suited for the decidedly un-rock themes he was often covering. There was, however, power there when needed. › Check out “Aladdin Sane” (31) for impressive examples of this.

8 Robert Cray

A soft, soul-like blues voice which always blends perfectly with his delicate guitar licks. › Hear for yourself on “Some rainy morning” (357).

7 John Lee Hooker

A husky, deep voice which always gets under your skin. But a voice which conveys a thousand feelings from as many experiences. › Dip in and see what I mean on “Mr Lucky” (108).

6 Ian Gillan

A screaming rock style of the old school which he showcased to devastating effect on “Deep Purple in Rock” (96). And a phenomenal vocal performance on: ›“Child in time” from the album “Deep Purple in Rock” (96).

5 Peter Gabriel

The spookiest voice in rock which was perfect for the early Genesis material and for the music he developed later as a solo artist. › Try “The lamb lies down on Broadway” (36)


Rocky Passages  
Rocky Passages  

Rocky Passages Survivng 40 years ...