Join me on my personal adventures in the wonderful world of the humble record. There's no final destination - just a continuous joyous journey.

Oh What A Beauty!

Oh what a beautiful sight.

And it sounds even better than it looks.

What's spinning right now? A real gem, only just discovered by yours truly. Fantastic!

The River - Bruce Springsteen

Image result for the river bruce springsteenIt was 1979. I'd moved out of my parents' house in the north London suburb of East Barnet, and had taken a room in a shared house a whole two miles away in the north London suburb of Southgate. In order to pass the audition to get the room, the head honcho of the house, and sweet, funny, lovely Jim Creek (sadly now late) 'interviewd' me. "So what sort of music do you like?", he asked.

Feeling the potential importance of my answer weighing heavily on my shoulders, I tried to play it cool by saying stuff like Steely Dan, Beatles and Floyd, hoping that would be adequate. "And what do you think of Springsteen?", Jim interogated.

Well, I really wanted the room, despite it being the smallest in the house - but it meant freedom - so I lied and said I thought he was really great. But in truth I knew nothing of him. Shame on me.

I must have been convincing though, because thankfully I did get the bedroom. A year later Jim Creek came home from his job at CBS records, as usual with a bundle of latest LPs stuffed under his arm (all legit, of course - it was part of his job to listen to them). But tonight he was even more excited than usual, for this time he had The River.

All the housemates were summonsed by him to the 'stereo area' in the shared living room to hear the LP. And ever since then I've been hooked on The Boss.

A year went by, and I had a party at the house. A girl from work came round. Her name was Cherry, so of course I played Sherry Darling just for her. She kissed me, so no matter that it wasn't quite her namesake, it nevertheless did the trick. She was mine all that evening - on the living-room dance floor at least. Unfortunately, when it was time for her to leave, leave she did. But it was a lovely kiss nonetheless.

But it isn't only the memories of those glory days that Bruce's finest album (arguably) is one of my favourites. It's the pure rawness and heartfelt lyrics of songs like Stolen Car, Point Blank, and Independence Day, mixed with melodies that tear at your soul. And then in the next breath, there are rockers like Cadillac Ranch, Hungry Heart and Out In The Street blasting you to oblivion.

The outstanding track of the album, of the year, of the decade, maybe of all time (???) has to be the oh, so poignant song with words that ought to be written into present-day school curriculum. "We'd go down to the river, and into the river we'd dive"

A grand metaphor for life itself, indeed.

Songs In The Key Of Life - Stevie Wonder

By the time this LP came out in 1976, I was absolutely gagging for it. By then I had reached the heady age of 17, and was a fully paid-up member of the 6th Form Common Room. Lorraine used to play her Motown records down there, and that's where I first heard the likes of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. And of course by now I was a serious music fan, and man, I knew my stuff alright. Or so I thought. Actually my taste in music was still very prog-rock and middle-of-the road, but when Songs was finally released after months, if not years, of eager anticipation, it truly blew my mind.

And on that two-hundred metre walk from the main school building down the path to the common room, I was able to seriously strut my stuff - namely carrying said LP under my arm, proudly for all to see. For I was the first at school to buy it, despite the Melody Maker's review, excellent though it was, being more focussed on its 'Songs to the Tune of Seven Quid' headline, at the time being the most expensive LP in the shops. But gold is expensive, and you get what you pay for.

Being a squeaky-clean youngster, the nearest I got to a drug experience back then was listening to Sir Duke on Jonathan Clapham's headphones (I didn't possess any myself) round at his house. Like naughty school kids passing spliffs between us, we were instead sharing the cans back and forth and getting our highs that way. "F**k! You gotta hear this one!", was about all we could muster in our stupor as we repeatedly returned the needle to its place at the start of each song. 

EVERY single track on the whole four sides (plus 4-track EP) is a blinder, a belter, a classic. Over the years I've laughed, cried, loved, danced, and sung with this gigantic masterwork of a true musical genius. I defy anyone to not become uplifted by it. 

Can you tell that I quite like it?

Guilt Complex

Oh joy!

When my friend said he was selling his turntable and ditching his LPs in favour of going completely digital, I went round his house pronto to rummage his offerings.

I came away with 16 classics for only thirty squids.

He wanted £20, and when I nearly choked, he thought perhaps he was asking too much.

I had a massive guilt complex, so gave him £30, and we were both happy.

The Best Fun for 20 Years

On Saturday I had the best fun since, er, Friday (twenty years ago, when I used to do this sort of thing all the time). I went to a record shop, to celebrate Independent Record Store Day. I went to Blast Records And Comics, in Braintree, Essex, and had a whale of a time rummaging through their racks and choosing fifty singles to buy. At 20p each, I thought, why not indeed?

I was delighted to find Reunion's 'Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me' - note no closure bracket - someone wasn't paying attention at the RCA Artwork Department that day back in 1974!

This single find was perfect for me, as it links in beautifully with another great discovery that I recently made, that of the Daily Vinyl Blog, run by a cool dude in Nashville.

I urge you to check it out. It's full of jolly good stuff.

Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd

Everyone in the world must have heard this classic album a million times over. Who doesn't remember where they were when they first heard its revolutionary sound? I certainly do.

I was at the time in my mid-teens, and I was so excited to have been invited by Liz Fletcher and her mates from school to go down to London Town JUST TO HAVE COFFEE. How cool was that?!?

And to cap it all, I was then invited back to her house with all these smart people that I was now mixing with. I was truly crossing over the boundaries. From the squareness of being with the boys to the excitement of being with the girls. Goodbye Anthony, John and David. Hello Liz, Sue and Jackie .

She had this strange LP that she put on the turntable. It had no writing on the cover - just a black image with a prism of light. I'd never seen anything like it.

And then...oh my god! What on earth? Millions of alarm clocks going off. Weird sounds all around. Unusual, soft and sublime vocals. And then came the cash-registers of Money, and a stunning female voice on The Great Gig In The Sky (and to think that Clare Torry only got paid £30 for that).

I was in music heaven. I didn't want to go home, but I knew I had to be home by midnight. I'd promised my parents.

Then I was back in their world of Matt Munro and Andy Williams on the radiogram. But by now I'd got a taste of what was on the Dark Side - and I knew I'd be coming back for more.

Supertramp - Crime of the Century

Soon after 'discovering' the delights of Dark Side Of The Moon, I went to a party at Liz from school's house in Southgate. All the people  there, despite being the same age as me, seemed so much more cool than me. So much more mature. I'm sure it was something to do with the sort of music they were into.

I hadn't had much exposure to anything other than what was on Radio 1 at the time. So when this girl put Crime Of The Century on the turntable and invited me to put on her headphones, I felt like I was entering a whole new world.

I gazed in awe at the LP sleeve. I had already heard the single, Dreamer, on the radio, and to be honest I didn't really like it all that much.

Not wanting to appear 'square', despite being exactly that, I put on the cans and turned up the volume.

The first track, School, set the scene with its introductory playground sounds, followed by Bloody Well Right, another instantly catchy song. The longer tracks like Hide In Your Shell and Rudy (with crowd scenes recorded at Paddington Station and Leicester Square). The writers, Roger Hodgson and Rick Davis were certainly in top creativity mode for this record.

I believe Jeremy Clarkson recently announced this as being his favourite album of all time. And there I was, thinking he was a complete...

The Beatles - 'White Album'

No collection would be complete without something included by The Beatles. Although my first ever LP that I owned (except for the Mary Poppins Soundtrack when I was about seven) was in fact Abbey Road, I would say my favourite Beatles record is the 'Double White Album'.

Yes, it should have been a single disc. Yes, they should have left Revolution 9 off. Yes, McCartney's Honey Pie takes does certainly take the biscuit for naffness.

At the height of their creativity, in my humble opinion, this Fab Four's record is more like four fab individuals' projects, rather than a coherent group offering, but OMG, there are some real gems here.

And I mean gems made from diamonds. Tracks like I Will, Julia, Mother Nature's Son and I'm So Tired conjure up a certain mood, while Helter Skelter, Birthday and Back In The USSR prove that these boys can really rock.

And last night, thanks to David Roberts (author of the brilliant Rock Atlas), sitting on the back of my Boat For My Potplants as the sun went down over Wivenhoe, he played me the most beautiful Beatles cover I'd ever heard - Blackbird by Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Please do yourself a favour - and have a listen...

Tubular Bells - Mike Oldfield

I was in my double art lesson at school in 1973 when I kept singing Tears Of A Clown over and over.

After the tenth time, my next-door pupil Nick Zala told me to 'shut up and listen to something more meaningful'. 'Like what?' I asked.

Tubular Bells, was his answer.

The unusual record with an unusual title and unusual cover had just come out, and so had I, in a music kind of way. I was receptive to hearing all sorts of weird and wonderful sounds, and so I decided to go out and seek the Bells for myself.

Well, old Mike has a lot to answer for. If it wasn't for him, Linda Blair wouldn't have made quite the same impact in The Exorcist, and we wouldn't be talking to each other on Virgin mobiles.

Mr Branson certainly had vision when he spotted the multi-instrumentalist, and in recognition he later named one of his 747's Tubular Belle.

TB went on to become an iconic record, and was one of ten to be featured on a set of Royal Mail stamps of classic album covers.

To my complete discredit, I only ever played Side Two once. I didn't like it much. But Side One became worn out, accompanying me during many hours of painful maths and english homework carried out in my bedroom.

I urge you to revisit this LP, at least the first side. Rediscover Fast Guitars, Latin, Jazz, and of course Finale in which there are indeed vocals. The Master Of Ceremonies introducing the instruments was none other than Vivian Stanshall (he of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band), beginning with Bass Guitar, and culminating with the emphatic 'TUBULAR BELLS'.

How Dare You - 10cc

Wow! What's this? I hadn't heard anything like Donna, either before or since 10cc's debut LP came out in 1973. It was in the charts. It was so different. Then came Rubber Bullets, which got to No. 1. And for some inexplicable reason my heart leapt every time I heard it.

Actually, I know the reason why. It was because I was in love with Lesley Welch from school, although she never knew it. And I was being driven in my dad's car and we were going past where I thought Lesley lived, and Rubber Bullets was on the radio. I thought I saw her walking along the street. In my mind I urgently instructed Dad: "Stop the car, Dad! NOW! I have to tell Lesley that I love her!"

It wasn't actually her, and it didn't really matter because the following week I started going out with Gwen and became madly in love with her instead.

I came of age too. Not with anything to do with Lesley or Gwen, but by going to see 10cc, my first gig, at Hammersmith Odeon.

Anyway, I digress. Lol, Kevin, Graham and Eric produced, in my humble opinion, four incredible LPs, one after the other. Their forth, How Dare You, was the best. It was clever too, and spawned the hit I'm Mandy, Fly Me, a real classic, and well worth checking out the LP, on which there is not a single duff track.

There Goes Rhymin' Simon - Paul Simon

I'd say this is Paul Simon's finest - even better than his grand Graceland. His voice is in such fine fettle, the tunes are so well and truly tuneful.

I felt I was coming of age when I got into Paul Simon. He was as sophisticated as I was trying to be. I proudly walked the school corridors with this  LP under my arm, hoping to be seen by teachers and friends alike.

It was his second solo LP, after his self titled (also brilliant) album, and it heralded such incredible backing musicians as the Dixie Hummingbirds on Tenderness. Simon was already showing signs of the musical adventure and imaginative collaborations that were to come later in his career.

The styles include dixieland on Take Me To The Mardi Gras and gospel on Loves Me Like A Rock. Kodachrome was banned on BBC radio due to its trademark name, and Kodak even insisted on a nod on the sleeve.

The beautiful American Tune (the opening track on Side Two) helped this record gain two Grammy nominations following its release in 1974

Paul Simon may well be better known for his work with Art Garfunkel, and later with his South African controversy surrounding his recording of Graceland, but I would urge anyone remotely interested in music to check out this masterpiece.

Face Value - Phil Collins

For some reason our Phil isn't cool. But he ought to be, based on his debut post-Genesis masterpiece. Kicking off on side one with In The Air Tonight, everyone's favourite air-drum solo - performed by a gorilla on the Cadbury's chocolate TV ad (I see a pattern emerging here with this and my previous two Vinyl On Tap choices).

I was about 16 when I went walking arm-in-arm with my friend Kim along Barnet High Street, called into Harum Records and came out with my bargain £1.99 secondhand copy of this great LP.

Maybe love was indeed in the air that night, which made some of the tracks, like Behind The Lines, I'm Not Moving, and If Leaving Me Is Easy ever more so poignant, when I placed the plastic on the turntable to listen intently to the beautiful music emanating from my new Wharfdales.

Closing Side One we have Droned and Hand In Hand. I used to pick the needle up and skip these tracks because I didn't get them at the time. Now I do. The beginning of Droned is positively like Nitin Sawhney before his time, and the brass section, courtesy of Earth Wind and Fire throughout the LP is so crisp and sharp on all the songs on which they play.

And the closing track - Tomorrow Never Knows - must go down as one of the best Beatles covers of all time.

Do yourself a favour; put your anti-Phil Collins prejudice in the closet and revisit one of the best LPs of the early eighties.

Gorilla - James Taylor

In 1975 James Taylor was at the top of his game and one of his iconic singles - How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You - is the third track on side one. He is a true master of his genre of - dare I say - easy-listening music. But what's wrong with music that you can listen to with such ease? My wife says he's too wishy-washy for her taste, but I say I love his melody, his virtuoso guitar playing and his vocal style.

Produced by Lenny Waronker and Russ Titleman, this LP includes some top names joining him, such as his then wife Carly Simon, Graham Nash and David Crosby, David Sanborn and Randy Newman.

It's the sort of LP that's perfect to play on a Sunday afternoon when it's raining outside. There's not a single song here that doesn't warm your cockles. From the standout track Mexico to Wandering, from the title track to Sarah Maria, everything works just so.

If you don't know much James Taylor, this is a perfect album to dip your toes in with. If you do know James Taylor, would you agree with me that this is possibly his best?

Nilsson Schmilsson - Harry Nilsson

I was on holiday in France when I was thirteen, and my mother had this LP, which was played over and over. It was my first introduction to Harry Nilsson, and it became a love affair at first listen, that lasted for another forty years and counting.

I'm a grown-up now, and recently my son asked me why I like Nilsson so much, and I thought for a moment before answering; His vocal range is outstanding, his lyrics are off-the-wall, funny and poignant. His earlier records leading up to Schmilsson were incredibly melodic and so different to what was the norm at the time.

Then came the big smash in 1971 with this album, with it's mix of heart-tugging melodrama in the guise of Without You, a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Add some really catchy tunes like Gotta Get Up and Early In The Morning, and the ingredients are in place for an outstanding album.

On side two of the record, the eight-minute heavy rock anthem Jump Into The Fire used to make me leap up and skip the needle across to the next track - much quieter and more acceptable to discerning parents. But I simply love Jump Into The Fire, complete with its drum dual between Jim Keltner and Jim Gordon. It's best played very loud and very drunk.

But in my mind the standout track has to be Coconut. It must be good because Noel Edmonds had it as his Record Of The Week. And if it's good enough for Noel, it's good enough for me. Quentin Tarantino got it as well, and used it in Reservoir Dogs. But what was Harry on? Seek it out, have a listen, and see if you can work it out?

I suspect some white powder was involved. Maybe a little Scotch too.

The Joy Of Ogling

Today I received my eagerly anticipated first purchase of the year.

And what a magnificent tome it is...

Dust and Grooves - Adventures in Record Collecting.

It is a joy to behold. And to open and ogle at the pictures inside.