1. Magical Mystery Tour - The Beatles
Boy was I in for a surprise. This isn't a cosy, moptop pop album. It is full out weird from start to finish. I had heard nothing like it and it truly took me to another place entirely, away from the conventional rock and pop I was hearing in the charts. The first songs I gravitated towards were "Hello Goodbye" and "Your Mother Should Know" but the ones that fascinated me were "I Am The Walrus" and "Baby You're A Rich Man". It took me a long time to work out how to do what The Beatles did here. At least I did it by pure thought and without the help of the underground chemical industry.
2. Blood On The Tracks - Bob Dylan
Mind you, it is hard to be as good as "Tangled Up In Blue" across ten tracks but Dylan almost did. In many respects this is the perfect album. The pace and texture of the songs, mostly simply played with acoustic guitars and subtle rhythm sections, has enough variety to keep the ear from going numb. The melodies are subtle, twisting, delightful, and the lyrics are caustic and biting in the main. Over familiarity means, and the shuffle button on my MP3 player, means that this isn't an album I listen to as a piece so often, but it is one that I can return to and find still fresh, still interesting. And "Tangled Up In Blue" is a true masterpiece. That song leaves me breathless at the end, as I should imagine it did Dylan himself after the frenetic harmonica solo that plays the song out.
Other standouts for me include the acidic "Idiot Wind" and the soothing "If You See Her, Say Hello". Dylan's marriage at the time was falling apart and the songs reflect it. If he has ever been so naked on the grooves of a vinyl release then I don't remember it. There is no way you can miss his pain, nor the sheer humanity of his response. Unlike so many other break up songs or albums, which usually look back wistfully with a touch of bitterness, Blood On The Tracks smells of revenge. He doesn't say it, although "Idiot Wind" gets close, but Dylan wants to get his own back. I don't know what happened in the marriage, and probably I don't, but the vengeful Dylan of "Positively Fourth Street" and its ilk from ten years before is returned and taking it out on the mother of his children.
Standouts are most of the songs, but most especially "Tangled Up In Blue" and he's still playuing it (see this video from 2012).
3 Hejira - Joni Mitchell
The standout songs are the opener, "Coytote", "Amelia" (ostensibly about the pioneer female flyer Amelia Earhart) and "Song For Sharon". The songs dissect relationships through the idea that humans are restless beings, always moving on. Mitchell does this from both sides of the gender divide. "Coyote" has the theme of the predator and its prey - male and female respectively in this case.
The cover has a road on it for a good reason. The album was written on the road and has travel running as blood through its veins. It does not sit still. Its feet are eager to get to the next destination. I was lucky to be introduced to it at university and played in endlessly for months before playing it to anyone who would sit and listen. I hope I turned some people on to Joni Mitchell as a result.
4 Lone Justice - Lone Justice
Not that Lone Justice were strictly country. Their's was a more new wave version of country and they sure rocked when they wanted to. And their were tender songs too, especially "Don't Toss Us Away". But already there were the signs, if I could have read them, of their own downfall. "Sweet Sweet Baby" is corporate rock with a punk-country flavour and is a forerunner of the second Lone Justice LP, Shelter. By then, lead singer Maria McKee was enthralled to Waterboys/U2 big music and Christian themes. Oh, dear.
So this is the purest mixture of Lone Justice you can get legally, although some early live bootlegs capture the real legend of the band and tell you why they were hot property, and why so many were let down. And if you can get to see some of the live clips on YouTube of Lone Justice, do so, because they show more of a band than the 1986 Shelter vintage act that was pretty much Maria McKee solo in all but name.
Some years later, I did get into the sort of country act that this album bred: Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lucinda Williams and Kim Richey for example. Although they don't appear to owe too much to Lone Justice, perhaps they do, because the idea of a rocking country female singer wasn't one I can see before 1984.
My favourites here are probably "You Are The Light" and "Ways To Be Wicked". But I offer you a live "Don't Toss Us Away" because it was the song that opened that particular door for me.
5 Who's Gonna Save The World - Cindy Lee Berryhill
But I urge you to listen to this one. It is brilliant. I kept playing it to friends who, as usual, weren't that interested in it to start with, but it has such wit, such verve and such a quirky style that it is nothing short of a masterpiece in my humble opinion. And wit is truly it's defining quality. This is like the early Dylan comedy songs spiced with a bit less stand up comedian routine than those songs but still played for fun rather than for serious effect. Cindy Lee Berryhill deserves greater recognition.
Stand out tracks are the title track, "Damn I Wish I Was A Man" and "She Had Everything" which is a bit like "Save The Life Of My Child" by Simon & Garfunkel but not much. What I took from this album was its energy. Later releases became less energetic, shall we say, and much more intriguing for their musical style. Anyone who can write a song called "Radio Astronomy" deserves an award so if no one else will, I shall. Cindy Lee Berryhill, have a certificate for the greatest song about astronomy in wavelengths other than visible light. There you go. Keep the speech short, the commercial break is coming up.
Her career seems, from this side of the pond, to be about playing in small venues and looking after her severely ill husband, the rock writer Paul Williams. Visit her blog about herself and his travails. It is certainly moving. Paul Williams was one of the most perceptive writers on Dylan.
Five albums, five artists. I could have chosen many more (so some of the contenders who didn't make the cut include Sound Of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel, After The Goldrush by Neil Young, Music From Big Pink by The Band, Relics by Pink Floyd and Suzanne Vega's eponymous first album. And so many more.