Alt. School: Kurt Cobain's top 50 albums - Part One.

In case you missed it, I’m challenging myself to listen to 50 albums in ten genres of alternative music that I don’t know enough about, in an attempt to make myself some kind of alt-music Voltron. I took a bit of time off after the last leg because it involved just a wee bit too much shite for my liking, and I thought it might be novel to listen to stuff I wanted to listen to, like Danish jazz-inflected stone rock and the like. But I’m back.

While my first buzz of electric guitar thrill came in the guise of Guns ’n’ Roses at a tender young age, I can still pinpoint, to the day, when alternative music entered my life like the swaggering hipster it was, all effortless cool and morose grandeur. That date was… hang on.

Nope, Google can’t tell me what date Channel 4 aired the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, so I can’t pinpoint the actual date, but you get where this is going. Nirvana performing Lithium. Pearl Jam playing Alive. It was one of those moments from your childhood that gets preserved in amber. Me, a thirteen-year-old, not very popular on account of not being very likeable, sitting in the common room of an elite British Bastard Factory, surrounded by older kids who already knew about the bands and were growing tired of them. 

Still, it blew my mind and started two obsessions. One, the Pearl Jam obsession, rages just as strong today. The other, my teenage crush on Kurt Cobain, was snuffed out just a few scant years later above a garage in Seattle.

But that was the start, for me, of another obsession, the sort of thing that has a person doing stupid 500 album challenges nearly three decades later. I fell for the underground, the alternative, the discordant, and much of that was down to an aesthetic, both musical and visual, espoused most clearly in the form of Kurt Cobain. Fuck, I wanted to meet him. I wanted to BE him. I wanted to meet him while being him. I wanted to… I should probably stop there.

The amount of bands I listened to because he casually mentioned them in an interview. The Pixies. Sonic Youth. The amount of crap pop mags I bought because they’d managed to get two sardonic responses from him at an awards show. The amount of time I spent trying to learn that Northwestern sneer. When he died I went into the kind of hysterical mourning you saw when Princess Di died, except this was justified because he made In Utero and what the hell did she ever do except sleep with a posh git or two.

Of course, with time, the wounds healed. Dave Grohl happened for some reason. Nirvana became something on t-shirts sold at Tesco to balding middle-aged men who dimly recall they liked music once. As for me, I stopped wearing black after a few weeks (that’s a chuffing lie), stopped watching Nirvana’s Unplugged on constant, teary rotation and started listening to more diverse things, like other men in bands playing discordant guitar music. But I never forgot where the root of this obsession with ‘the underground’ came from. Yes, that’s right, it came from the biggest selling band in the world, with their albums on Geffen Records. 

I didn’t say it had to make sense.

When Kurt’s memoirs came out a few years back, I felt much the same about it as I used to when I saw kids wearing t-shirts with Kurt’s suicide note on them, which is to say I wanted to scream at people in the streets about how dreadfully crass it was. It wasn’t something I was interested in because it felt too personal, too mawkish, not something he himself would have ever dreamed would be out in the world. 

But one thing did pique my interest - a page, circulated online, that had a hand-drawn list of 50 records. It was labelled Top 50 by Nirvana and was so earnestly and childishly scrawled onto the page as to be a thing of beauty all to itself, as though it was drawn on by a child who’s just thought of a band name and written the first fifty influences they can think of to show how cool that band’s going to be. It reminded me of the folders I had in school that had the Nirvana logo in Tippex.

The other day, I was looking at the list and realised there’s a lot of stuff on there I’ve never actually heard, including a few of those ‘I’ll get round to them one day’ bands that are really the whole point of doing this whole Alt. School challenge. It might not be a ‘genre’ so to speak, but if you’re going to go to Alt. School, what better teacher is there? So, here’s the list. Next week, part one.

  1. Iggy & The Stooges - Raw Power (1973)
  2. Pixies - Surfer Rosa (1988)
  3. The Breeders - Pod (1990)
  4. The Vaselines - Dying for It (1988, listed as Pink EP)
  5. The Shaggs - Philosophy of the World (1969)
  6. Fang - Landshark (1982)
  7. MDC - Millions of Dead Cops (1981)
  8. Scratch Acid - Scratch Acid (1984, listed as 1st EP)
  9. Saccharine Trust - Paganicons (1981, listed as 1st EP)
  10. Butthole Surfers - Pee Pee the Sailor (1983)
  11. Black Flag - My War (1984)
  12. Bad Brains - Rock for Light (1983)
  13. Gang of Four - Entertainment! (1979)
  14. Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (1977)
  15. The Frogs - It's Only Right and Natural (1989)
  16. PJ Harvey - Dry (1992)
  17. Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation (1988)
  18. The Knack - Get the Knack (1979)
  19. The Saints - Know Your Product (1978)
  20. Kleenex - "anything by:" (1978-1983, possibly referring to 1993's Kleenex/LiLiPUT compilation)
  21. The Raincoats - The Raincoats (1979)
  22. Young Marble Giants - Colossal Youth (1980)
  23. Aerosmith - Rocks (1976)
  24. Various Artists - What Is It. (1982, erroneously listed as What Is This?)
  25. R.E.M. - Green (1988)
  26. Shonen Knife - Burning Farm (K Records version, 1985)
  27. The Slits - Typical Girls (1979)
  28. The Clash - Combat Rock (1982)
  29. The Faith/Void - The Faith/Void (1982)
  30. Rites of Spring - Rites of Spring (1985)
  31. Beat Happening - Jamboree (1988)
  32. Tales of Terror - Tales of Terror (1984)
  33. Leadbelly - Leadbelly's Last Sessions Volume One (1953)
  34. Mudhoney - Superfuzz Bigmuff (1988)
  35. Daniel Johnston - Yip/Jump Music (1983)
  36. Flipper - Album – Generic Flipper (1982)
  37. The Beatles - Meet the Beatles! (1964)
  38. Half Japanese - We Are They Who Ache with Amorous Love (1990)
  39. Butthole Surfers - Locust Abortion Technician (1987)
  40. Black Flag - Damaged (1981)
  41. Fear - The Record (1982)
  42. Public Image Ltd - The Flowers of Romance (1981)
  43. Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)
  44. Marine Girls -Beach Party
  45. David Bowie - The Man Who Sold the World (1970)
  46. Wipers - Is This Real? (1980)
  47. Wipers - Youth of America (1981)
  48. Wipers - Over the Edge (1983)
  49. Mazzy Star - She Hangs Brightly (1990)
  50. Swans - Young God (1984, erroneously listed as Raping a Slave)

Welcome to Discovery Park – the chronicle of my increasingly frustrated attempt to listen to every album on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums of all-time list, is available now on Amazon Uk, Amazon.com, iBooks, Kobo, and many more.

If you want to know more about me or my books, you can follow me on Twitter, like the Facebook page, or follow me on Instagram. For news, offers, and special content, sign up for the mailing list.

If you like horror, Blood on the Motorway – An apocalyptic tale of murder and stale sandwiches, is available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and more besides. The sequel, Sleepwalk City, is available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and many more.

Alt School: British Indie - Part 3

In case you missed it, I’m challenging myself to listen to 50 albums in ten genres of alternative music that I don’t know enough about, in an attempt to make myself some kind of alt-music Voltron. I’m now halfway through a list of British Indie, and somewhat remarkably I’ve not yet felt the need to drive my car off the nearest viaduct. Let’s see how that goes for 25 more albums, eh? It has taken me a quarter of a year to get through this section though, which tells its own story, really.

26. My Bloody ValentineLoveless: A delightful start to the second leg, albeit one drenched in lo-fi fuzz and a generally shambolic vibe. Lovely vocals and guitars like a big warm blanket, that’ll do me nicely.

27. The FallGrotesque (After The Gramme): This is much spikier, like a more muscular Elvis Costello. I love the general vibe, and the vocals are great, but about halfway through the album I was starting to wonder where the actual songs were. By the end of the album the cool voice was as grating as an American news report, and I wanted to bury my head in quicksand. A bit like listening to Elvis Costello.

28. The Jesus and Mary ChainPsychocandy: When the guitars on this kicked in my first thought was that something had happened to my fridge. Why the hell would it make that sound? Is there a demon inside? Is there no Dana, only Zuul? Once I got used to the production, which sounds like Phil Spector’s 'Wall of Sound' reimagined by a child, I actually really enjoyed this, for much the same reason that I liked the My Bloody Valentine album. Laid back, lo-fi oddness, even if I did feel at times like I was listening to the music at the next room at the indie disco while the DJ miscued the next song in the rock room.

29. The SmithsThe Smiths: Regular readers will remember that Morrissey, that foppish doyen of the indie elite, gets right on my ample man-tits. There’s something in the timbre of his voice that drives me slightly mad, and I’ve always considered his lyrical prowess to be overstated. However, since these challenges keep throwing Smiths albums me like I’m a dartboard, I have to admit I’m gaining a slow, somewhat weary appreciation for them. I wouldn’t say I’m about to go and splurge a fortune on the vinyl or anything, but yeah, this was fine.

30. OasisDefinitely Maybe: I don’t think I’ve ever done a more violent u-turn on a band in my life than the one I did on Oasis. In the post-Cobain/shotgun-interface years I was a bit in the wilderness, until these Mancunians turned up, all swaggering and sweaty and, well, Mancunian. I fell entirely under their spell through this and the follow up, obsessively buying every single, until, one day, I just hated them. I still don’t fully understand what happened, but I still hate them completely. Awful, braying, swaggering, Loaded-reading lad-bollocks with all the charm of Katie Hopkins hosting Top Gear. Even so, there are moments when I can briefly recall the absolute adoration I held this band in, and I get all confused.

31. BlurThe Great Escape: As my love for Oasis evaporated, my admiration for their media-appointed arch rivals increased. This is as it should have been really, since I was an Essex boy at the time, and possession of What’s the Story was a lynching offence, back then. This hasn’t dated all that well, especially Damon’s knowing ‘I’m probably a wanker in real life’ vocal style, but there’s some fantastic tunes on here, and a musical inventiveness that I’ve not heard very much elsewhere on this list. Occasionally cracking art-pop.

32. The VerveA Northern Soul: I disliked The Verve almost as much as Oasis. One of those bands who everyone seems to be inexplicably in love with, even though they liked actual, proper bands, so they should have some modicum of taste, but no, apparently not, because they like The Fucking Verve. I knew loads of my indie kid friends who mooned over Ashcroft’s dull emotionless drawl - it just always made me want to die inside. To absolutely nobody’s surprise, it still does.

33. Belle & SebastianThe Boy With the Arab Strap: Belle & Sebastian are perfectly lovely to listen to, but I always wonder why this is the album that gets all the exaltation, when Tigermilk is clearly the much better album. This floats past perfectly breezily, but doesn’t really grab me all that much.

34. Bloc PartySilent Alarm: Woah, time jump. Everything on this list has been so firmly set in the eighties and nineties that this sounds like some emissary from a distant future, rather than a record that is itself over a decade old. This is a great album, full of angular hooks and great melodies, much more streamlined and no-nonsense than most of what I’ve been listening to. A nice change of pace.

35. PulpSeparations: Pulp are the quintessential British Indie band to me, so I was going to put one of their big albums on here, until I realised it was only the early albums that nobody has heard of that weren’t on major labels. I opted for this, knowing nothing about it. It sounds a lot like their later stuff, albeit with fewer amazing hooks and a tad more pretentious (if that’s even possible when it comes to Jarvis). It’s perfectly listenable, but I can see why it never cracked the mainstream.

36. SuedeDog Man Star: The best thing about compiling these lists myself is that I can add some of my favourite albums in the world, just for shits and giggles. It’s a good way of making sure I make it through the list, a beacon of guaranteed delight to summon me to war against the rest of the list. This, the sophomore album by the most hyped band in British music history, is astounding. Lush, epic, an album of high operatic camp that is easily the best thing I’ll hear on this list.

37. BabybirdDying Happy: This is not at all what I expected. My knowledge of Babybird is the predictable one-hit-wonder guff that I’d imagine Stephen Jones is rather tired of. I remember having a friend once who espoused the value of the man’s work at quite extraordinary volume, but I’ll admit it wasn’t enough to get me to look deeper. Mostly because the friend turned out to be a bit of a git. I just imagined it’d all sound a bit like ‘You’re Gorgeous.’ This sounds nothing of the sort. Lo-fi electronica with whispered falsetto vocals, its a complete surprise, and rather splendid. Usually these challenges will have me going back to one artist and working through their discography, thus rendering the whole ordeal worthwhile beyond having something to bloviate about on t’intenet. I think I may have found my candidate.

38. CurveDoppelgänger: Sparkly indie electronica that sounds so painfully ‘late-90’s’ that it might as well be the dress that Shirley Mansonalways seemed to be wearing. I can’t say it does anything for me, except make me think that I’m listening to the inside of Lauren Laverne’s head for a bit, but it’s not terrible or anything. Frankly, this is my 13th indie album in a row and I think I’m just craving some hefty riffs.

39. The Sundays Reading Writing and Arithmetic: Leaving aside the crime against punctuation within the album title, this is quite the delight. I was so convinced they couldn’t be English that I ended up checking Wikipedia, such was the vibe of summer given off. While I was there I saw they are listed as being ‘jangle pop’, which manages to sum them up in two words, 64 less than I’ve done so here.

40. Cocteau TwinsHeaven Or Las Vegas: Even more ethereal and dream-like than the last album, this is a very odd one, with the lyrics almost indecipherable as they wispily float on top of guitars with the requisite amount of jingle and jangle. Thankfully, I like bands where the vocalist might as well be screaming down a lead pipe into a void of interminable uncertainty, so that doesn’t really bother me. This is lovely though.

41. The HorrorsPrimary Colours: Moving more toward the present, we actually seem to be moving backward with this inspirationally-stunted post-punk rip off band, who sound so much like My Bloody Valentine that it’s hard to see the point in what they’re doing at all. Not only that, but over the course of its running time it extends into a tedium so stultifying that it makes me want to die.

42. EditorsThe Back Room: Less tedious, but not by much. I put this on the list as a band I’d always meant to sample, but this is pretty dull. It might not be quite ‘landfill indie’, but it’s all a bit dour, and not much fun to listen to.

43. SpiritualizedLadies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space: This is much better, with bags more inventiveness than both the previous albums combined. Veering from blissed-up dream-pop to snarling Iggy-esgue Velvet Underground worship, via orchestral opulence, this is quite the enjoyable ride. Hey, look, I found a new album I like.

44. MogwaiYoung Team: Another album I added to the list just because I wanted an excuse to listen to it again, I remember this coming out and blowing my mind, taking the indie blueprint and blowing it up into epic soundscapes with crushing swells of guitars, dark Scottish humour, and a pervading sense of loss and grief. Remains one of my favourite albums of all time.

45. British Sea PowerThe Decline of British Sea Power: I was quite expecting to like this, with all the buzz I’d heard about the band over the years never quite compelling me to bother listening, but enough to get it added to this list. What a disappointment. Generic Bowie worship with bucketloads of whimsy but not much in the way of actual tunes, it piqued my interest once or twice, but took three attempts to make it all the way through, which isn’t usually a good sign.

46. The Field MiceSnowball: It’s only taken 46 albums but I’ve finally reached the point where indie’s blueprint of jingle-jangle guitars, off-key vocals, and eighties production has me slowly filling the utility room where I write with tepid water so as to drown myself and avoid the last four albums on this list. Goodbye, cruel world. This is really boring. The album, not the drowning. Still, at least it was short.

47. Flying Saucer AttackFlying Saucer Attack: This is a bit more interesting, a shoegazey treat that has a lot of the same irritating elements of The Field Mice, but is much more fuzzed out and interesting. There’s a weird Suede cover in there, too. Not an album to rock my world, but it was fine.

48. Pale SaintsThe Comforts of Madness: Quite the oddity, I’d never heard of most of these last few bands, but they’re proving to be some of the more interesting bands on the list. Clearly from the same shoegaze scene as Flying Saucer Attack have much more of an oddball sensibility, and a Sonic Youth-ian affinity for noise. They also, handily, quite like a decent melody. One of the best albums I’ve heard on this list so far.

49. SlowdiveSouvlaki: The last four albums have all sounded pretty similar, all dreamy and wispy and I am bored to fucking tears at this point. Still, only one album to go and then I can listen to something else. This is perfectly fine, but it’s not really my jam. It is better than The Jam though. But not as good as actual jam.

50. The CharlatansUp to Our Hips: What the hell was I thinking? I make myself listen to fifty albums in a genre I don’t much like and give myself The Fucking Charlatans as a final album? Am I mad? Wait, don’t answer that. *Takes Deep Breath* Actually, this isn’t bad at all. I remember the latter era, when they seemed like the more family friendly Stone Roses, but this is… well that’s still exactly what it sounds like, but there’s some decent enough tunes on here and the vocals aren’t annoying enough to throw my laptop across the room. Which is good, because it’s a nice laptop. Mostly I’m just pleased to be done.

So there you have it. Fifty British Indie classics. I’m not sure I discovered many bands here that’ll stick with me, but it was a fun enough jaunt, and reinforced my opinion that I was much better off spending my nineties listening to music from across the pond.

*waits for mob to show up at door with pitchforks and gladioli*

Before I go, a quick reminder that Welcome to Discovery Park, the book of my Rolling Stone Challenge, is only 99p/99c throughout March, so if you want to have a JOLLY FUN TIME you can do so by buying it the ebook from Amazon Uk, Amazon.com, iBooks, Kobo, and many more. 

Also, both my novels, Blood on the Motorway and Sleepwalk City, are also available on ebook for only 99p/99c this March. You could buy all three books and have change left over from a fiver to buy enough chocolate to make yourself sick. Blood on the Motorway is available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and more besides. Sleepwalk City, is available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and many more. Go, buy. You won't regret it.*

*Regret avoidance not guaranteed.

Channel Me

As a new writer, struggling to gain traction and visibility in this world of never-ending content, one of the messages that I hear across any number of mediums is that I need to stay ‘on brand.’ Quite what this means is somewhat less clear, since a) I don’t have anything approaching a brand to be ‘on’, and b) authors who only promote their own books and other books and only talk about books are about as interesting as their books look.

But I get the general sense. As someone who is writing stories about the end of the world, this website should probably reflect that. I get it. The point of this website is entirely to get people to buy my books. Did I mention that you should do that, if you haven’t already? So I should really be talking about things that reflect my work, and give people glimpses of why they should click on those all-important ‘buy’ buttons.

So, without further ado, I’d like to announce I’m launching my own Spotify channel!

*ahem*

Well, not really. I have no idea how you’d go about doing that. I suspect you’d need to be Barack Obama or something. No, what I’m doing is linking from the top of this website to my Spotify profile, where you’ll find all my public playlists relating to either the books, or to my goings on here on the Musical Waffle site. From now on I’ll be making a few more playlists as well, for no other reason that I just like making playlists.

I’m dead good at this ‘being on brand’ thing.

So, what’s on there, I hear you ask? Well, firstly, there’s the playlists for each of the books in my Blood on the Motorway series to date, which compile all the chapter titles into one handy playlist, creating something of a soundtrack for your listening pleasure.

Then there’s my year end round-ups, which this year took the shape of five separate playlists themed around the stages of grief and called, appropriately enough, The Five Stages of 2016.

As well as that, there’s a playlist with my 25 favourite albums of the year, and two playlists that rounded up my favourites of 2015, back before we all knew what a total clusterfuck of a year 2016 would be.

What else have we got? Well, if you enjoyed Welcome to Discovery Park, my chronicle of the Rolling Stone Magazine Top 500 Albums of All Time list, you might be interested in my Best of the Challenge playlist which features one song from all the albums I actually liked. There’s some cracking stuff on there, too.

Then there’s the full challenge playlists for some of the Alt. School Challenges I’ve been doing, including Emo School, the playlist Geoff Owen made for me for the Alt. Hip Hop challenge, and the British Indie Challenge I’m currently undergoing. I’ll be posting all the challenges from now on, so now you can listen along to the torment of my very soul.

Lastly, there’s a playlist I put together for a Post Rock/Post Metal facebook group I’m in, because that’s just the kind of thing hip millennials like myself do with our time. *Checks age definition for millennials* Sorry, that’s just the kind of thing aging hipsters like myself do with our time. Anyway, we put together a list of the Top 100 Post Rock and Metal Albums, and I made a playlist for it, this invalidating any objection I ever had for making those kinds of lists.

Anyway, you can follow along via the link at the top of the page, where the more astute among you might have also noticed I’ve linked to my Tumblr page, too. If you’re thinking this is a brazen attempt from someone who has barely any followers after over half a decade on there to try and boost his numbers, well then you’d be right, so why not follow me there too, if that’s your bag.

Here ends the brand management piece for today. Oh wait! Follow the links below for all the other ways you can follow every facet of my existence.

Welcome to Discovery Park – the chronicle of my increasingly frustrated attempt to listen to every album on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums of all-time list, is available now on Amazon Uk, Amazon.com, iBooks, Kobo, and many more.

If you want to know more about me or my books, you can follow me on Twitter, like the Facebook page, or follow me on Instagram. For news, offers, and special content, sign up for the mailing list.

If you like horror, Blood on the Motorway – An apocalyptic tale of murder and stale sandwiches, is available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and more besides. The sequel, Sleepwalk City, is available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and many more.