Monday 23 October 2017

Ziggy pop! 10 records that rocked our world

Forty years ago, in the summer of 1972, the rock 'n' roll era born of Elvis in 1956 had just turned sweet sixteen. By then the King was oozing lard in Vegas, The Beatles had split and soporific singer songwriters had put rock in a rocking chair, but pop remained the touchstone of youth culture and there just had to be something left in its magical bag of tricks.

And there was. In the first week of June The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust hit the stores and, for a dazzled generation, the world was put right.

Months earlier its maker, David Bowie, assured Melody Maker that Ziggy would launch him to the stars. He insisted: "I'm going to be huge, and it's quite frightening. Because I know that when I reach my peak and it's time for me to be brought down, it will be with a bump."

But instead of Bowie absorbing that bump, he had Ziggy take the pain. Ziggy lived the dream and, his work done, was killed off with a rock 'n' roll suicide, freeing his maker to push forward with his To Do list.

Not only did the Ziggy album capture the story of rock 'n' roll in a brilliant fable, but it spawned a thousand imitators and provided the template (and the haircut) for punk rock as played out by the Sex Pistols. Even the likes of Morrissey, who would later provide an alternative soundtrack to the '80s, name-checked Bowie's flame-haired alter ego as a crucial, formative influence.

The gender-bending Ziggy also uncorked a genie of blurred sexual boundaries that remains. Films like Velvet Goldmine would later pay kitsch tribute to the sexually ambiguous glam rock scene presided over by Ziggy and T Rex's Marc Bolan.

Bowie went on to make other records that profoundly impacted on the soundscape of our lives, most notably with the eurofunky Station to Station and the electropop Low.

Neither of those, however, shaped our sonic world quite as much as the following 10 discs.

Elvis Presley -- Elvis Presley (1956)

It was preceded in 1955 by Bill Haley's '(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock' and Little Richard's 'Tutti Fruitti', and while both were seminal hits, this lit the touch paper on modern culture. Leading with 'Blue Suede Shoes', it introduced an impossibly handsome, vocally gifted force of nature riding a perfect storm where the new teenager cult and consumerism embraced in a marketer's dream.

Without it: No Beatles, X Factor, Shakin' Stevens, Bruno Mars etc.

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)

Where his debut had only two originals, this second had just two covers. Several, like 'A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall' and 'Masters of War', became anthems of 60s protest. 'Blowin' in the Wind' blew the minds of Sam Cooke and The Beatles, and set pop on a collision course with politics.

Without it: The Beatles might have wasted away writing silly love songs.

The Beatles -- Strawberry Fields Forever (1967)

They'd visited a strange new place with the back-to-front 'Tomorrow Never Knows' in 1966, but that was a mere preliminary sketch compared to 'Strawberry Fields'. This was music in vivid 3D technicolour and it ushered in an era of druggy weirdness when pop was at once reviled as a deadly threat to civilisation and revered as one of its greatest expressions.

Without it: Beach Boy Brian Wilson would have finished his unfinished masterpiece Smile. Hearing 'Strawberry Fields' while driving, he pulled over and declared mournfully that there was nothing left to do in music.

The Velvet Underground And Nico (1967)

Released during the Summer of Love, this was a dark forest that would have scared the willies out of the Flower Power generation, if any of them had ventured near it. Sheathed in Andy Warhol's banana sleeve, it was knowingly the first art-rock album, mixing harsh sonic assault with dreamy ambience. On release it sold 500 copies, today standards like 'Venus in Furs' and 'I'm Waiting for the Man' bring class to car adverts.

Without it: No Bowie, Roxy Music, U2, Radiohead, shoegazers etc.

Sex Pistols -- God Save The Queen (1977)

It's an article of rock 'n' roll faith that everyone who bought a copy of the first Velvets' album went out and formed a band. The same is said of those present at the few shows played by the Pistols. Their small-time tiff with modern life became a mass protest when they released this smash-hit rant against their monarch and her "fascist regime" for her 25th jubilee. Beards and flares have never recovered.

Without it: No punk rock, new wave, Nirvana or Christmas protest No 1s like 2009's 'Killing in the Name' by Rage Against the Machine.

Chic -- Good Times (1979)

Chic had already given the lie to the popular T-shirt claim that Disco Sucks, crafting bubbling bass-heavy delights like 'Everybody Dance' and 'I Want Your Love', but 'Good Times' distilled the whole genre into four minutes of polished primal magic. Through the intervention of Blondie's Debbie Harry, the tune was lifted by The Sugarhill Gang and -- as 'Rapper's Delight' -- introduced the wider world to rap music.

Without it: No NWA, Public Enemy, Jay-Z, Eminem, 50 Cent etc.

Tubeway Army -- Are 'Friends' Electric? (1979)

On the cusp of the 1980s, synthesisers were becoming more portable and cheaper, prompting futurists to follow the trails laid down by Kraftwerk, Bowie and Donna Summer's mastermind Giorgio Moroder.

OMD, Ultravox and others sweated blood trying to invent synthpop but their efforts were horribly puny and tinny. The Human League's Phil Oakey later recalled: "Then we heard 'Are 'Friends' Electric?' and that was it, Gary Numan had done what we'd all tried to do for years, and failed. It just filled the room."

Without it: Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Marilyn Manson, Basement Jaxx have all listed it as a reason to be.

Michael Jackson -- Thriller (1982)

At the time of Thriller's release, black artists were being sidelined from the hip new medium of the day, MTV, on the grounds that they weren't rock 'n' roll. Jackson produced a collection of killer songs and stunning videos to go with them, forcing the MTV execs to tear up their own rulebook.

Seven years after Jaws changed the way movies were merchandised as blockbusters, Thriller brought the same approach to music. Every track became a 45 and heavy-rotation video, until resistance was useless.

Without it: No Spice Girls, no boy bands, no Madonna, no Beyonce etc.

M/A/R/R/S -- Pump Up The Volume (1987)

An uneasy one-off collaboration between electropoppers Colourbox and alt-rockers AR Kane, this orgy of sampling ushered in an era of anonymous musicians and ultra-promiscuous kitchen-sink mixing.

The 30 or so artists sampled included James Brown, Kool and the Gang, Public Enemy, Run DMC and Stock, Aitken & Waterman. It was a smash and things would never be the same again.

Without it: The DJ-as-star phenomenon might never have happened.

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