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Mike Barnes  |  Feb 02, 2024
Take the inventive, 'un-linear' musical approach of charismatic frontman Don Van Vliet, add the guitar skills of a youthful Ry Cooder, and you get this groundbreaking 1967 debut album that throws blues, rock, soul, doo-wop and more into the melting pot

Few groups have a history as complex and convoluted as that of Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band, not least because of the tendency of vocalist Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, to imaginatively embellish aspects of the story. In that respect we can start right back at the group's name.

Johnny Sharp  |  Jan 16, 2024
Arriving just a year after their 1986 debut Please, the British electro-pop duo's second album solidified their chart-topping status, thanks to a bigger production influenced by ZZ Top, a guest appearance from Dusty Springfield, and some classic tunes...

It's a malaise almost as old as pop music itself. Second album syndrome – the crisis faced by an artist writing the follow-up to a hit debut LP, when they realise that after having had their whole lives to come up with the contents of their first offering to the world, they now only have a few months to rustle up a fresh batch of equally strong material for the follow-up.

Mike Barnes  |  Dec 15, 2023
Not content with being part of the 'rock 'n' roll revival' of the early 1970s, this Canvey Island-based band took inspiration from Detroit's MC5 and the Delta Blues to develop a unique sound that would be captured in all its glory on their 1974 debut album

Dr. Feelgood grew out of a 1960s teenage skiffle band who played in Canvey Island, Essex, at the edge of the Thames estuary. The members included John 'Sparko' Sparkes on guitar, while Lee Collinson – who later became Lee Brilleaux – was originally on banjo but became the band's vocalist by default. The reason? He was the only member who could remember the words to the songs.

Johnny Sharp  |  Nov 03, 2023
A spot of R&R in Jamaica, followed by a lakeside recording set-up back in Blighty, was all it took for a disillusioned John Martyn to recapture his music mojo. The resulting album, released in 1977, mixed folk, electronica and the sound of geese...

For much of the '70s it was customary for bands or recording artists to retire to a rural bolthole for a spell, hoping the country air would help them get their head together. Disillusioned and burnt out from recording and touring, in 1976 John Martyn tried this himself. But in his case the destination was another country, halfway across the world.

Mike Barnes  |  Oct 03, 2023
Led by singer-songwriter Mike Scott, The Waterboys honed their 'big music' sound on this 1985 album where rock guitars were joined by saxophone, piano and celeste to create an expansive work that was epic yet spiritual, and at times even political...

On the song 'The Big Music', from The Waterboys 1984 album A Pagan Place, Mike Scott sang 'I have heard the big music/And I'll never be the same' – and he wasn't kidding. Nowadays, the 1980s might be more readily associated with glossy, primary coloured pop but it also opened the doors to something quite different – an earnest, yearning, expansive rock music drawn with broad brush strokes, but with enough space for some fine detail. The Waterboys exemplified the desire to make this 'big music', as did contemporaries such as Echo & The Bunnymen, U2, Big Country and Simple Minds.

Johnny Sharp  |  Sep 08, 2023
Released in 1987, with a new producer in tow, this album saw the one-time post-punks leaning into radio-friendly rock, albeit without airbrushing their left-field instincts. The result was the beginning of a decade of commercial and critical success for the group

There comes a time in every band's career when the only way is pop. Having slowly built a loyal cult fanbase and a burgeoning critical reputation on the back of three albums (and an early EP) that intertwined artful post-punk and lopsided, Paisley Underground-adjacent guitar rock, by 1987 R.E.M. were ready to paint with broader strokes, albeit while retaining a pronounced polemical edge and one foot firmly in an angular, left-field musical lineage.

Mike Barnes  |  Aug 09, 2023
Powered by twin guitars, pop-style melodies, hyperactive drumming and unusual song structures, this debut album from the youthful Manchester punks – now signed to a major record label – showed they were a force to be reckoned with...

When punk broke in the UK in 1976, much was made in the media of the confrontational 'us and them' relationship between this New Wave and the old wave of progressive rock and big stadium acts. But more importantly, it prompted the rapid growth of independent record labels, with some groups even financing and making their own records. And with the establishment of a closer relationship between bands and their audience, local scenes began to blossom, with the spotlight turning away from London. Manchester band Buzzcocks played an important role in both respects.

Mike Barnes  |  Jul 25, 2023
Once described as 'spineless' and 'emotionless', this almost entirely instrumental 1974 album from the German electronica pioneers is now heralded as a classic, and one whose influence can be heard on music stretching from David Bowie to Daft Punk

Kraftwerk's fourth album, Autobahn, was released at the end of 1974. By March the following year it had reached a surprising No 5 in the US Billboard 200, and had climbed to No 4 in the UK album charts by May. An edit of the title track even found its way into the UK single charts. But its success was more than just commercial, leading the group – whose use of electronics and technology split opinion – to be more widely accepted in the years that followed. That said, no-one could have guessed how influential and culturally important Autobahn would eventually become.

Mike Barnes  |  Jun 02, 2023
The Liverpudlian post-punk quartet, led by enigmatic front man Ian McCulloch, were told they needed to write some 'killer tunes' after the lukewarm reception to their 1983 album Porcupine. They returned a year later having done exactly that...

The promotional posters for Echo & The Bunnymen's fourth album Ocean Rain proclaimed it 'The Greatest Album Ever Made', a typically provocative quote from the group's singer Ian McCulloch. There were so many bands emerging in post-punk UK that if you wanted to get noticed you had to talk a good game, and with its historical cultural associations, Liverpool was particularly competitive.

Johnny Sharp  |  May 05, 2023
This 1985 album from the Manchester-based outfit proved they were more than just a singles machine, and cemented both their fusion of rock and electronica and their unconventional approach – right down to putting the drummer on the front cover...

It's hardly surprising that a band formed from the ashes of tragedy should take a while to truly find their own musical identity. But after singer Ian Curtis's suicide brought Joy Division to a premature end in May 1980, New Order had shown intermittent moments of brilliance on a string of singles, but not across a whole album.

Mike Barnes  |  Apr 11, 2023
With a new producer and an all-star lineup of musicians behind her, the one-time disco queen's breakthrough album melded reggae, dance, funk and pop, and reimagined her as 'only possibly from this planet' thanks to its eye-catching cover photography

Befitting an album released by a fashion model, Grace Jones' Nightclubbing features one of the most memorable album covers of all time. Photographer Jean-Paul Goude, Jones' partner and a former art director of Esquire magazine, portrayed her as androgynous, with a look of insouciance that bordered on the intimidating with her flat top haircut, a man's Armani jacket with geometrically padded shoulders and a vertically poised cigarette. Jones would apply purple make-up before going onstage and for this sleeve her skin tone was given an exaggerated dark purplish gloss, which added to the strangeness.

Johnny Sharp  |  Mar 03, 2023
For the follow-up to their debut record The Hurting, the philosophically inclined pop duo built a 24-track studio and battled their label's desire for a commercial synth sound. The eight-track album that resulted put them in a prime position to rule the world...

No pain, no gain may be a familiar mantra across the arts, but it's hard to imagine an act today weaving pop gold from the teachings of psychotherapy. Yet Tears For Fears managed to top the charts with not one but two collections of songs based around such themes.

Johnny Sharp  |  Feb 10, 2023
When five young friends from Athens, Georgia began jamming on borrowed instruments and writing songs about lobsters and mystical planets, they didn't imagine it would lead to an album deal with Warner Brothers and global fame... or the attention of John Lennon

Some bands are born great. Some achieve greatness. And some have greatness thrust upon them. So (nearly) wrote William Shakespeare in Twelfth Night, but he probably hadn't spent the evening sharing a giant flaming volcano cocktail at Hunan Chinese restaurant in Athens, Georgia. So maybe that's why the formation of The B-52's (or B-52s, as it has been since 2008) seemed to fit none of those three headings very tidily.

Mike Barnes  |  Jan 03, 2023
For their groundbreaking sophomore album, the West London-based 'space rock' masters doubled down on the electronic audio effects, moved beyond the live jam feel of their free concerts, and invited fans to join them as they set out on a voyage to the stars...

Musicians' fascination with space, and their attempts to evoke its unfathomable vastness in sound, dates back at least as far as Ancient Greece. It was Pythagoras who developed the concept of Music Of The Spheres, a theoretical cosmic harmony produced by the movement of the planets and stars that could translate into music.

Mike Barnes  |  Dec 06, 2022
Psychedelic rockers? Punks? Flag-bearers for the New Wave? This fourth album from the UK quartet proved they could be all of the above and now ranks as one of their best, even if it meant their regular producer would walk away, saying they were 'losing it'

In 1976 The Stranglers were a fixture on the pub rock circuit and were also in at the very start of punk, supporting The Ramones on their historic first UK date in July that year. But while they developed in parallel to this new wave in music and were certainly associated with it, they didn't really fit in.

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