The Congos – Heart Of The Congos (1977)
Few producers have been so innovative and influential as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, and The Congos’ 1977 debut is without doubt his most consistently brilliant piece of work. Recorded at Perry’s Black Ark studio in Kingston, Jamaica, it’s a mind-altering blend of reverb-heavy rhythms laid down by the studio’s house band The Upsetters plus the perfectly matched harmonies of its three vocalists: tenor ‘Ashanti’ Roy Johnson, falsetto Cedric Myton and baritone Watty Burnett. Somehow, Perry recorded it on an ageing four-track, but you’d never know it from the lush “Fisherman” or “Open Up The Gate”, with the producer using found sounds and a battery of tricks to create the effect he was after. Roots reggae at its finest. [MM]
Standout tracks: “Open Up The Gate”, “Fisherman”
Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here (1975)
Pink Floyd is probably regarded as the archetypal band for audiophiles: prog rock giants serving up complex and immaculately produced albums full of lengthy songs. And never more so than on Wish You Were Here, an album that features only five tracks but runs well over 40 minutes. The whole album is essentially a tribute to Floyd’s founding member and creative tinderbox Syd Barrett, whose heavy use of psychedelic drugs had led to him stepping away from the band and society in general. Even if noodly prog isn’t your thing, it’s an album that will give your speakers or headphones a full body workout.
Standout tracks: “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, “Wish You Were Here”
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Jeff Buckley: Grace (1994)
David Bowie considers Grace to be the greatest album ever made, and while we won’t go that far it’s hard to see it as anything other than an excellent record from a singer-songwriter at the peak of his powers: his tenor voice is faultless and the songs, whether his own or covers, are memorable. It’s a beautifully well recorded album too: play it on decent equipment and Buckley could almost be singing in your living room.
Standout tracks: “Hallelujah”, “Last Goodbye”, “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”
Michael Jackson: Thriller (1982)
Thriller’s cultural and commercial significance is well documented, but Michael Jackson’s masterpiece is also one of the best-recorded and most immaculately produced albums of the 1980s. Producer Quincy Jones and Jackson enjoyed (or perhaps endured) a strained relationship during the making of Thriller, and every track was painstakingly remixed (a week was spent on each song) because neither was happy with the initial recordings. The hard work resulted in a record that blended disco, soul, rock and R&B and a template that would inform pop music for the next 20-plus years. Oh, and it's comfortably the best-selling album of all time.
Standout tracks: “Billie Jean”, “Beat It”, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”
Massive Attack: Mezzanine (1998)
Trip hop pioneers Massive Attack had already established themselves as Britain’s best-known proponents of what the Americans call “electronica” when they dropped Mezzanine, initially as a legal MP3 download on their website (they were among the first major acts to embrace digital distribution) and later as a physical release. Despite the Bristol trio apparently hating each other’s guts during the making of the album it’s a prime example of a record which uses ambient sounds to create rich texture, depth and atmosphere. The trade-off is perhaps a lack the hookier songs that loomed large on previous Massive Attack albums, but when a new direction results in songs like “Teardrop”, we’re definitely on board. An LP you should play loud on headphones on dark, moody nights.
Standout tracks: “Teardrop”, “Angel”, “Inertia Creeps”