The Clock Comes Down - The Stairs Microdisney (1985)
It came out in ’85 but I’d say it was 1986 before I really spent time with it. It was a slow burn thing. It took a while for the sheer perfection of what they had done to dawn on me. To be honest, it probably took about five years of me writing songs myself before I started to see that the Beach Boys melodies combined with the dark, angry, intelligent words of Cathal Coughlan were like nothing else on earth.
Something Happens had formed not long before but I didn’t feel rivalry, I felt we were all trying to do the same thing — make a great album — but coming at it form such different angles. When you look back that was true of all the bands at the time, everyone seemed to produce something really good — A House, The Four Of Us, Microdisney. Yet each was utterly unique. When I saw the video for ‘Town to Town’ I felt triumphant!
In that era of MT USA to see a Cork lad singing in a leather jacket was sensational. It was an uneasy juxtaposition. Cathal was singing dark, dark lyrics against melodies you’d expect on the Beach Boys’ ‘I Get Around’. Sean O’Hagan (Coughlan’s songwriting partner) provided a perfect backdrop.
Calling Card - Rory Gallagher (1976)
I’m not sure I have one favourite album. It varies with the mood. I suppose that’s true for everybody. If I was to go for an international album, it would be Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd. Or Blue Train by John Coltrane — playing it around the house is good for my head. There would be a wide variety of stuff.
John Prine’s self-titled first album from 1971 — he was only 21 and he gave us gems. If I was to narrow it down to Irish albums, there’s an odd-ball album called Pike by a Dublin band Hada To Hada (1989). I actually played it last night on the programme because I was thinking about this. It was a very sophisticated, very melodic record — very subtle, not a word out place. They were never a successful band. When I come back to it, it doesn’t disappoint and that’s the real test.
But one for which I will always have a special place for Rory Gallagher’s Calling Card. It wasn’t as raucous as the live albums. It was more refined. Whenever I hear that, it brings me back to being a teenager. It came out in the summer of 1975 — I would have been 15. Music means everything at that age. When we went wandering, I had a cassette player that weighed about the size of a block and the battery the size of a brick. You got about three hours out of it if you were lucky. We used to rewind the cassette with a biro to try and save power.
Carrie and Lowell - Sufjan Stevens (2015)
It’s a remarkable record. There is something in the quality of the LP that is really remarkable. It is a requiem for his mother. Sonically, lyrically the whole wash of the record has a deep emotional power.
There is something remarkable in the juxtaposition of the lightness of touch and the heaviness of the themes, which deal with death and fractured relationships. There’s a line “When I was three, three maybe four. She left us at that video store”… All of that done with a lightness of sound is even more compelling. It draws you in and knocks you out.
I also think what [producer] Thomas Bartlett brings to the record is remarkable. He has a fantastic sonic “paintbox”— the multi-tracking of the vocal just slightly off each time, giving a sort of unreal quality. Over the last 18 months I keep going back again and again. From a writing point of view, from an emotional point of view, from a lyrical point of view and from a sonic point of view – there is a depth that won’t fade. You can put on this record in 20 years time, or 20 years ago, and it just works its way into your heart.
The parameters of music may be defined — but there is something enduring about the heart of a ballad. These are ballads in that true sense. There is a lyricism to them. There is something that is deeply cathartic for the writer himself. But also he is able to translate that… to be able to share that level of dysfunction and pain in such a “pleasing” way... that becomes so engaging. It delivers more than you could ever expect. You are lulled by the rhythm and the lightness of touching into a place where you think it might be one thing. But it is actually another.
What’s Going On - Marvin Gaye (1971)
It’s a very obvious one, but I’d be lying if I told you any other record ever made such an impact on me. I’ve bought it many times on multiple formats; every time I see it in a record shop I want to buy it again! One summer in the US as a student I had no turntable, and bought yet another copy on tape. I sometimes stayed in those nights and listened to it three or four times in a row. I could never get enough of it, and still can’t.
The music is timeless, the themes are universal and the words are more relevant than ever. “Only love can conquer hate”. Marvin talked war, unemployment, ecology, poverty and injustice, and sang like never before, using innovative multi-track techniques. As with Stevie Wonder, Marvin gained autonomy on his career and became his own producer, breaking away from the Motown factory machine. I called my own son Marvin after him… I think about his music every single day of my life!
Play - Moby (1999)
One album that always jumps out when anyone asks is Moby’s Play. It’s the one album, even now, I would go back to. A lot of albums there are one or two songs I like. It’s one of the few albums I’d play all the way through. I liked chilled-out, down-tempo music. I find when I’m at home or in the car, that’s the kind of music I’d listen to anyway. There isn’t a single track I would skip — it’s rare you find that.
I was working in FM104 — I would have been 17 or 18… I remember when I first heard it a few of us had gone out for work and we were in Hogan’s pub. We were downstairs: it was a quiet midweek night. A DJ there played the entire album from start to finish. There were only about 20 people. I went over and asked what is that? I had every Moby album. I asked him and he said it was Moby’s new album Play. It shows how old school it was — the morning I immediately went down to Golden Discs and bought it.
Heaven Or Las Vegas - The Cocteau Twins (1990)
I was 13 when the album was released. If it wasn’t INXS then I wasn’t really interested. I first heard it properly on holidays in Portugal in 2007. I was late to this particular masterpiece — who hasn’t been late to anything?! It was one of those ‘where have you been all my life?’ moments. Definitely love at first sight— it still makes me swoon.
It is one of those records that take me off the grid. It always helps me relax and float far, far away – not recommended while driving! It’s so melodic and Elizabeth Fraser’s voice... pure heaven (or Las Vegas). Her voice is a beautiful instrument and I react to it the same way I would to Robin Guthrie’s shimmering guitar. It’s their world — I just get to live in it for 37 minutes and 42 glorious seconds.
Back In Black - AC/DC (1980)
It’s probably a well-ticked box but this would really stick out in my mind. When you listen to new music you might go, ‘that’s a great album’. But here is one I keep coming back to. I was in a band with my older brothers. We had all the AC/DC LPs. I was really into guitar. I wasn’t particularly good — but I wanted to be good. I practiced a lot of lead guitar.
Watching Angus Young on stage was very inspiring. I remember then I went into construction studies: I decided I would start making my own guitars. I ended up making this mental looking guitar shaped like the “thunderstruck” sign. I made it out of brass. It was this huge gold looking guitar that you couldn’t carry around because it was too heavy. A huge brass guitar that didn’t work but looked cool.
Jagged Little Pill - Alanis Morissette (1995)
It was released in 1995 when I was about 13. I was just heading into secondary school. Up to that it had been all Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. This was completely different. It was around the time the Cranberries were really popular too — that whole “cool lead singer” thing. That is why Alanis Morissette resonated with a lot of teenagers — it’s one of those albums, I didn’t understand what she was singing about when I was 13. We didn’t grasp the concept of the scorned lover — but there was something we still got as teenage girls. It was the first feminist manifesto any of us would really have listen to.
But I knew every word to every song — it was one of those album where I loved every song. There were loads of urban myths about the album too — one of the big thing was the secret track at the end. It was called My House. We’d gather as teenager girls and go, ‘Oh my god, did you hear the secret track?’ It became this big thing : ‘You have to listen to the secret track’.