108 days ago

The ‘Your memories’ feature on Facebook reminded me of a post I made a few years ago, responding to a challenge to list one album from each decade from the 1960s through to 2010s – not necessarily the best album of the decade, just a personal favourite. My selection (made in 2020) stands up fairly well, although I straightaway started on a new version: there’s never a perfect, definitive answer to these questions. Then I started wondering how Dave Masters from Dead Man Singing might answer the question. I already had a good grasp on what he loved from the 60s, 70s and 80s, but what about all the music that was to come in the years after the book was set?

As with my original choices, some of the albums I had to pass over were agonising to leave out. In the end, you just have to plump for something then stick your fingers in your ears and go ‘lalalalala’ when another classic starts tugging on your coat to claim a place. Here are my thoughts on Dave’s choices, plus my own selections from 2020 and more recently.

Dave’s selection:

1960s: Buffalo Springfield Again by Buffalo Springfield (1967)
When researching Dave’s taste in music, I felt on secure ground for the 70s and 80s, but I realised that the difference in our ages (he was born 18 years before me) meant that his formative musical years would include a lot of music that I wasn’t so familiar with. From home-grown 60s pop and Rhythm and Blues acts, to American psychedelic bands, to the early giants of country rock. I could easily have chosen The Beatles or Dylan for this slot, but it felt appropriate to honour the band that introduced Neil Young and Stephen Stills to the wider public.

1970s: Alone Together by Dave Mason (1970)
I knew of Dave Mason, of course, as the man with the in-out relationship with Traffic and a walk-on role with Fleetwood Mac, but I had never really listened to him until I started researching Dead Man Singing; boy, had I been missing out. I also discovered that he was the person who first played Dylan’s original recording of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ for Jimi Hendrix. If he’d never recorded a note himself, that would be a contribution to music history to be proud of, but this album is absolutely wonderful – well worth a listen.

1980s: Robbie Robertson by Robbie Robertson (1987)
Dave’s love of The Band is well recorded in Dead Man Singing. In 1987, some nine years after The Last Waltz, Robbie Robertson finally got around to releasing his debut solo album after a lengthy diversion in music for films, and it was worth the wait. With production from Daniel Lanois and guest appearances from the likes of Peter Gabriel and U2, it’s very much of its time, but none the worse for that. Garth Hudson and Rick Danko make low-key (separate) guest appearances too, although Levon Helm’s falling out with Robertson and Richard Manuel’s suicide the previous year mean both of them are sadly absent. Is it me, or does the beginning of ‘Showdown at Big Sky’ remind you of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’?

1990s: Rumor and Sigh by Richard Thompson (1991)
When I first outlined the plot of Dead Man Singing, I had earmarked ‘Keep Your Distance’ from this album as the telltale song for Dave to record on his Lost Masters album, but once I started writing I realised that the timing wasn’t going to work out – the pacing of my narrative meant that, ironically, the album wouldn’t be released by the time I needed it. I think the song I went for instead works better, to be honest, but ‘Keep My Distance’ is still among my favourite Richard Thompson songs (a very competitive field), and this album still stands up to my ears.

2000s: Love and Theft by Bob Dylan (2001)
Dylan’s back catalogue is a tricky beast. He got three albums (Bringing It All Back Home, Blood on the Tracks and – with the Band – Before the Flood) into the 100 that Dave took with him to his new life. There are numerous others that were worthy of inclusion, but he’s also capable of going to the opposite extreme – his 1986 offering Knocked Out Loaded is probably the most disappointing album I’ve ever spent money on. Love and Theft sees the Dylan rollercoaster soaring to the heights again, just edging out the album that followed it, Modern Times.

2010s: Ashes and Fire by Ryan Adams (2011)
I often think about what music from after Dave’s time he would enjoy, and he would love Ryan Adams, certainly when the complicated and erratic Adams is on this kind of form. I considered Heartbreaker from 2000 and Gold from 2001, but the fact that this album, by turns joyous and achingly beautiful – was produced by the great Glyn Johns seems to make it a particularly good choice for Dave.


My original choices:

1960s: The Band by The Band (1969)

1970s: Crime of the Century by Supertramp (1974)

1980s: Home and Away by Gregson and Collister (1987)

1990s: Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg and Wilco (1998)

2000s: The Life Pursuit by Belle and Sebastian (2006)

2010s: Build a Rocket Boys by Elbow (2011)



My new selection for 2024

1960s: Rubber Soul by the Beatles (1965)

1970s: Nicely Out of Tune by Lindisfarne (1970)

1980s: Bring the Family by John Hiatt (1987)

1990s: Change Everything by Del Amitri (1992)

2000s: Thirst For Romance by Cherry Ghost (2007)

2010s: Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett (2015)

2020s: Connectivity by Grace Petrie (2021)

Image credit: Stockcake 


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