A friend and I were debating who has had the longest consecutive run of classic albums in order to settle another argument.
Which is cheaper? Buying records online or buying in shops?
Our scientific method was to each buy the same set of albums – and we thought that buying a set from one artist might be the best way. The question was, which musical act should we pick? We didn’t want to be saddled with Neil Young’s ’80s output, or any albums featuring Liam Gallagher released after 1995.
It’s funny how musicians can have a great album, or run of albums, and then put something out that for a myriad of reasons, perhaps substance-related or tired-from-a-life-on-the-road-related, falls flat.
And it’s usually when I jump on board.
The number of times over the years I have fallen in love with a band’s back catalogue, bought all the albums, and then finally caught up. They’re about to release a new album! It’s the morning of release, I hurry over to the record shop, five ninety-nine in sweaty hand,* ready to hand over to a moody goth at the counter.
Of course, it’s almost always that release that the band decided they’d have an off-day.
Sometimes it’s hard not to take it personally. It’s as though they wait for me…
“What’s that? Steve’s finally caught up with us has he? Right, time to dig out that jazz fusion LP we’d always wanted to record…”
Or to put it another way, I’m sure we can all remember exactly where we were when we first heard “Be Here Now”, R.E.M’s “Monster” ** or that second Razorlight CD…
To be fair, if ever any musicians (God forbid) read this blog, they’d probably feel the same way.
“It’s never been as good as that first Beatles series he did….”
Back to the matter in hand…
We chose an artist who managed a run of eight great albums in a row. This artist also managed two live albums in that time. Their back catalogue is desirable and is still relatively affordable.
But who has a great eight-album unbroken run?
We started with the obvious: The Beatles.
“Thirteen albums. All classics” I stated confidently.
“Hmm.” My friend Chris had a think. “Beatles For Sale” and “Yellow Submarine” are pretty average” he countered.
He looked up the albums on his phone. “I know it’s a bit sacrilegious to say so, but they had kind of run out of puff at the time of Beatles For Sale – they’d been on tour a lot and it’s full of cover versions. The run from “Help!” to the one before Yellow Submarine – The White Album – is……..only six albums.
“Surely there are better runs than that?” I countered, “The Stones?”
“Not unless you think “His Satanic Majesties Request” or “Goats Head Soup” are all-time classics…” said Chris in a tone of voice that suggested if I did think that I would need my head examined. We put their best run at four albums from Beggar’s Banquet to Exile.
We examined our phones again. We reckoned six albums up to “Blonde on Blonde”. Whilst decent enough, perhaps John Wesley Harding contained insufficient rock-solid Dylan bangers and thus fell short of classic status?
Wikipedia was getting a run out. We were in danger of increasing their funding need for the year.
We decided Neil Young only managed three studio albums in a row before “Journey Through The Past” stunk the place out.
“The Ditch Trilogy plus Zuma makes four before American Stars and Bars, but there’ll be debate around Time Fades Away in the middle of that lot. Not least by Neil Young.”
We mused on what we did about settling such arguments before the advent of smartphones. Did we go to libraries to satisfy our knowledge? Discographies seemed unlikely material to appear in such important depositories of knowledge as Pears Cyclopaedia or even the 1984 Smash Hits Annual. We decided that libraries probably kept strict hours anyway and people likely just went down the pub and whoever seemed the most certain won the argument.
Did “Presence” or “In Through The Out Door” drop the standard slightly? Either way, that was still an impressive six or possibly seven album stretch.
So who managed eight in a row?
Bowie? Well, yes. In fact we agreed that Bowie managed up to a dozen, depending on your love of The Man Who Sold The World or Let’s Dance.
But we did a Bowie bet a few years ago.
Rather than re-run the whole conversation, here’s a pictorial representation of what we came up with. It’s clearly subjective, and you’ll have your own favourites. Feel free to hurl gentle abuse in the comments section if we’ve dissed your favourite. Apologies to fans of The Killers, (especially if you liked Side B of Hot Fuss)…
Aretha Franklin managed eight in a row.
Her run of albums on Atlantic Records from “I Never Loved A Man The Way That I Love You” to “Young, Gifted and Black” is as strong as almost any run in popular music. You might even include the gospel album Amazing Grace as a ninth. It sold two million copies. It’s great.
….If you like that sort of thing.
From a record collector’s perspective, there’s some nice plum Atlantic labels of the kind Led Zeppelin collectors pay hundreds for. Doubtless there will be variations on a theme there too…
And Aretha’s albums are just about affordable still. Without generalising too much about the record collecting fraternity, it does appear that sixties and seventies soul / RnB is more desired in 7″ form than it is on album, and this keeps demand for the albums (and therefore prices) on an even keel.
We set ourselves the task of picking up each album for less than a tenner, if we had enough time.
So we began.
And as I tell you what happened, we’ll also take a look at the stories behind Aretha Franklin’s run of eight great LPs too…
- *showing my age here.
- ** Monster actually sounds good now, but seemed a crushing disappointment at the time.
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