Slayed? by Slade (1972)
When we were little my mate Dean and I were mad about Slade; we used to stage mock concerts with skipping-rope microphones and tennis-racquet guitars and saucepan drum kits.
I was nine when our dads took us to see Slade at Festival Hall, Brisbane in February 1974 – my first ever gig – and my abiding memory is of Dean’s dad – Don, a burly ex-Royal Marine from Yorkshire – telling the 15-year-olds in the next row who were blocking our view to “sit down or I’ll punch yer bloody lights out”. We were mortified, but secretly delighted we could finally make out singer Noddy Holder’s mirrored top hat, and guitarist Dave Hill’s famous fringe.
This was the first album I ever owned, and Mama Weer All Crazee Now and Gudbuy T’Jane (I love those idiosyncratic school-desk graffiti-inspired spellings) are the standouts, obviously. I’d have sworn the lyrics to Jane have something to do with gender fluidity, but apparently not. The University of Wikipedia tells me it was actually inspired by a woman they met on a US talkshow, who was demonstrating a sex machine. Go figure.
Sound Affects by The Jam (1980)
I was 15, and had just changed high schools from the all-boys private school I hated to a co-ed Catholic school; it was new and criminally under-resourced but I was so much happier because THERE WERE GIRLS THERE.
About a month into the school year my family went to England for a six-week holiday – the first trip back since we’d emigrated in 1969 – and while we were there The Jam’s Going Underground debuted at No.1 and blew my tiny mind. It’s not on this album (or any other, apart from compilations), but Start is, and That’s Entertainment, and so many more great songs.
Of course, hardly anyone at my new school had heard of The Jam, or of The Specials (the other great discovery I brought back), and so I had instant cache. It didn’t last long, but at that age and in a new school: every little bit helps.
Swingshift by Cold Chisel (1981)
The first time I saw Chisel play live was on December 9, 1980 – the night news broke that John Lennon had been killed in New York. It was a licensed gig at Caesar’s Palace in Ipswich. My friend Greg and I were only 16, but his older sister somehow got us in. Whatever sorcery was involved, thank you Lorraine.
In honour of Lennon, Chisel played a sprawling medley of Beatles tracks that was one part tribute to three parts fury. It ended with Barnesy smashing the roof of the venue, a low-ceilinged converted office building, to smithereens with his microphone stand. I’d never seen anything like it, and I was hooked. Rock’n’frikkin’roll, man.
This double live LP came out a few months later and did an amazing job of capturing the energy and musicianship I’d witnessed that night. And man, did those songs speak to a stir-crazy teenage boy stuck in the outer suburban nothingness midway between Brisbane and Ipswich, knowing there had to be something better out there but having no idea what or where it might be. Uncontrolled youth in Asia, and all that.
Before Hollywood by The Go-Betweens (1983)
If Cold Chisel were all about wanting to get out, The Go-Betweens suggested it might actually be possible. They, too, were from Brisbane. They were daggy-cool. They were literary and didn’t just dream of being somewhere else, they got there (I didn’t know at the time just how squalid and dirt-poor their overseas adventures were, but who needed details? THEY GOT OUT, and that was all that mattered).
This is an odd and angular album, an ungainly and beautiful gem. That Way, On My Block, Ask, By Chance and, of course, Cattle and Cane. There’s not a bad song on it.
Playing it (and I often do) always takes me back to the old Queenslander in Milton that I shared with a totally wacky group of women, each quite mad and brilliant in their own way (I, of course, was completely sane).
It reminds me of the communist party we staged one July 4 because I had found a sickle in the backyard and Lindy had some red silk and so I dug out a hammer and we made a 3D Soviet flag on the living room wall, and if that wasn’t reason enough for a party what was. It reminds me of Glenys trying to run a catering business using a crappy 20-year-old oven, the door of which never quite shut; of cats chasing each other in loops through the house, again and again like a Warner Bros cartoon come to life; of the whole place bouncing up and down any time the occupant of the back corner bedroom was bonking, because the joists only made contact with about two-thirds of the 49 timber stumps on which the house sat.
But mostly, it takes me back to finding like-minded souls, to being at uni and having my tiny mind opened – and to finally beginning to feel there might be a life for me after all.
Doolittle by Pixies (1989)
London, early 1989. My mate Neil is living in a dump in Dalston with a dirt-floor kitchen. That’s where he plays me a record by this new band he’s discovered, Pixies. It’s Surfer Rosa and I kinda get it, but not entirely.
A couple of months later Pixies release Doolittle, and this time I totally get it. It just blows me away, with its surreal and twisted lyrics, the way Kim Deal’s sweet vocals interact with Black Francis’ screams and growls and whines, and the modulation between frantic full-tilt punk stylings and a gentle, almost folky acoustic vibe. Debaser, Here Comes Your Man, Monkey Gone to Heaven, Gouge Away, Wave of Mutilation – there are so many great, great tracks on this record. If only I knew what they were about.
In May 1989, I saw them play live at The Town and Country Club in Camden. When they came on I was maybe three people from the stage; a few songs later, I’d been bounced halfway to the back of the hall. It was the wildest mosh pit I’ve ever seen.
I saw them again in 2007 with my then 11-year-old son, who was a big fan, and most recently in 2017 with my mate Neil who started it all. That last time, Frank didn’t say a word to the audience and Kim was no longer part of the line-up – but the songs were still the real deal.
The Stone Roses by The Stone Roses (1989)
My parents and my sister Kerry had moved back to England after 19 years in Brisbane while I was in London doing the Aussie backpacker thing. Kerry bought me this album for Christmas and late that night at my parents’ new home in the Midlands, I put it on for the first time.
Oh. My. God. No record before or since has grabbed me with such intensity at first listen. It was rock, it was dance, it was psychedelic, it was snarly. It was abso-freakin’-lutely sensational. Still is.
A few months later, I was in Manchester to see the band headline a day-long music festival at an industrial estate called Spike Island.
The gig has gone down in legend as the rave generation’s Woodstock. In truth, it was a long day of blaring sun (yes, in Manchester), dull support acts, enormous queues for drinks and toilets, and wind playing havoc with the sound. Still, I was there – and when the Roses finally came on they were at least halfway brilliant.
I got to see them again a few years back, at Festival Hall in Melbourne. After a shabby start, they found their way to sensational. Way more than halfway brilliant, in fact.
Rubber Soul by The Beatles (1965)
I was about 12 when I first saw this album, but I didn’t recognise the band on the cover because of the lens distortion. I thought it was some mob trying to copy the Beatles, but I couldn’t work out whether the band was “Rubber” or “Soul”, and if the album was “Soul” or “Rubber”. Smart kid, I was.
By the time I was 15, I had scored the Beatles box set for Christmas. For the first few years I gravitated towards the early albums; later on, it was the late-period stuff. These days, and for a long time, it’s been this album that I love most.
It’s right on the cusp, capturing the Beatles as they transition from a superb pop-rock band to innovative masters of the studio. There’s sweetness and light (Girl, In My Life, The Word) and there’s cynicism (You Won’t See Me, Think For Yourself), and there’s cynicism masquerading as sweetness and light (Norwegian Wood, I’m Looking Through You). And there’s John at his most irredeemably nasty on Run For Your Life, a song I know I shouldn’t love because the lyrics are utterly reprehensible, but do because it is so perfectly crafted. Everyone thinks of Revolver as the tipping point, and it is great, but for my money Rubber Soul is even more perfectly poised, right on the edge of light and dark, innocence and experience.
13 by Blur (1999)
This was Damon Albarn’s break-up album, and it was mine too: coming out just as my first marriage was ending.
I remember playing it very loudly in my friend Martine’s house, where I crashed for a while, when I was alone – which was fairly often because I had also lost my job. Tender and No Distance Left to Run got a real workout, I can tell you.
Music has always offered solace. As a moody teen, I used to lie in the dark in my bedroom playing Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures on the scratchy Dansette portable record player that had travelled with my parents from England a dozen years earlier. I think they feared I might never emerge from that gloom, but those songs helped make my late teens almost bearable. Years later, it was the same with this album; it allowed me to wallow in my misery but somehow escape it too. I still choke up a little when I hear Tender or No Distance, but these days it’s a much sweeter sorrow.
Lemonade by Beyonce (2016)
So much music in my life has been shared in cars, with friends, with lovers, and with my children – so there had to be a driving album here. I’ve settled on Beyonce’s magnificent Lemonade because it burns bright with sass, fury and independence of spirit. No wonder my daughters took to it so.
It’s a great record, but the song that burns brightest is Freedom. When she was 12 and playing soccer at South Melbourne, my elder daughter developed a ritual in which she had to play the song at full volume on the way to the game, slapping her thighs and timing it so that we pulled up just as Hattie White (Jay-Z’s mother, aka Beyonce’s mother-in-law) was saying “I was served lemons, but I made lemonade”. Funnily enough, I had a similar travelling-to-soccer ritual when I was a kid, only the song was Bohemian Rhapsody.
Ruth traded soccer for footy when she was 14, but the tradition of the pre-match song remained. When we get back to something like normal life, I’m confident she’ll still be squeezing every last bit of inspiration from this awesome record.
Marquee Moon by Television (1977)
I was given this album by my dear friend Chris near the end of my first year at uni. He was heading to Asia (where he has mostly remained ever since) and wanted it to go to a good home.
For years I felt I’d let him down, because I just didn’t get it. It was Lloyd Cole and the Commotions who gave me a way into Tom Verlaine and Co., thanks to their cover of Glory (from second album, Adventure) on the B-side of Forest Fire. It still took me a while to open up to Marquee Moon, but I got there, and now I just love it – especially that magnificent 9 minute 58 seconds title track with its oblique lyrics and duelling guitars.
Over the years, this album has come to serve as a kind of secret handshake. I’m not sure what club it grants membership to other than the club of people who like Marquee Moon, but that’s just fine. When my wife and I first started dating I was astonished to find she had a copy of it on CD in the glovebox of her HR. We were off and motoring at that.
When Television finally made it to Australia in 2013 for their first shows, 40 years after forming in NYC, I headed with a group of mates to Tasmania see them play in the basement at MONA. With 400 or so people jammed into what was essentially a long hallway flanked by a sandstone wall, it was utterly brilliant.
I think the thing I love most about this album is the way it threads through the years, connecting different people and phases and places. Whenever I play it, there’s a little bit of all of them in there too. “I was listening, listening to the rain/I was hearing, hearing, something else.”
Together with the other albums on this list, it provides the soundtrack to a life that would have been so much poorer without it.
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.