It's hard to choose your favourite album, but we've all sat and scratched our heads, ummed and aaahed and here are the results!

Asking someone to choose their favourite song is about as simple a thing as asking them ‘what does blue taste like?’

It all depends on the mood and the moment, hingeing on whether there was enough milk for their morning tea, whether a special friend remembered to send a loving text or, currently, whether there was any loo roll left in the supermarket.

However, we are a decisive lot here at AG, so here are our favourite albums – at the moment at least!

 

Headquarters – ‘joy and spontaneity’

Headquarters, The Monkees 1967

Most will know The Monkees from their TV show and hits like I’m A Believer. Some may also know that the group were not a ‘band’ in the conventional sense, but four individuals recruited as the cast of a TV show about a fictional band. The songs for the show were written and played by top musicians with the cast only allowed to provide vocals.

Their first single, Last Train To Clarksville, was released in advance of the series and went straight to No1. This success, ironically, was where it all went wrong.

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People thought they were a real group and right from the start the popularity of the music far outstripped the popularity of the TV show.

By the time I’m A Believer and their second album, More of The Monkees, were released, they were outselling The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined.

They were the biggest band in the world but the cast felt like phonies. In an extraordinary demonstration of integrity, the cast rebelled against their contracts and insisted on being the sole musicians on their records.

For two weeks Nesmith, Dolenz, Tork and Jones locked themselves in a studio with the aim of proving they weren’t ‘fakes’. The result was Headquarters.

Bearing in mind only two them were musicians, the recordings are surprisingly good and have a very different feel to the highly-polished work of the session players on previous Monkees records.

There is a real sense of joy and spontaneity about the music with the four of them clearly enjoying themselves and desperate to prove their worth. They had finally become a legitimate band or as Dolenz once said: “It was like Leonard Nimoy becoming a real Vulcan”. Television fantasy became reality.

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Musically, it’s a sort of folk-pop, proto country-rock, avant-garde garage album, with band members writing six of the 11 songs. There are also two interludes, which include a ‘rap’ track and a rehearsal of the theme tune to the Warner Bros Merrie Melodies cartoon series.

It’s an eclectic collection, but like all good albums it has the same feel and vibe throughout.

Headquarters got to No 1 in America and No 2 in Britain. One single was taken from album but only released in the UK — a track called Alternate Title. Written by Dolenz, it was a word-association ‘diary’ of his first visit to Britain.

It was originally titled Randy Scouse Git, Dolenz having picked up the phrase while watching Alf Garnett on the TV show Till Death Us Do Part. It was deemed inappropriate to release it under that name in the UK, so it became Alternate Title.

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For their next album The Monkees decided that it would be best if they got a session drummer, as Dolenz ‘‘Could rarely repeat a triumph” and though the band did all play on subsequent hits Pleasant Valley Sunday and Daydream Believer they never recaptured the spirit and feel of Headquarters. The experiment was successful, but never repeated.

This was the first album I ever bought some 53 years ago and 786 vinyl albums later, it’s still the one I’d choose for my desert island.

Garry Coward-Williams, editor

 

 

Masseduction – ‘a delicious, driven, dirty masterpiece’

Masseduction by St Vincent

St Vincent, alias Annie Clark, is something of a one-off. Not only is she a superlative lyricist, singer and guitarist, she also designs and makes her own guitars because most are designed by men who rarely take into account the physical differences between male and female performers (it’s a chest/waist thing, you see).

She is also a mesmerizing performer, as I can attest having seen her twice at the End of the Road music festival.

So why Masseduction over my other shortlisted albums: Neil Young’s Harvest, David Bowie’s Hunky Dory or Ziggy Stardust (eventually discarded because how can you choose between the two?), Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, the Pet Shop Boys’ Behaviour or Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense?

Simply because Masseduction doesn’t contain one single track that could be considered ‘filler’ material. Each of the 13 songs stands strong on its own merit.

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It’s also St Vincent’s most personal and direct album to date, a brilliant biographical vomit about life, love, loss, drugs, drink, friends and relationships.

There are gentle songs, such as the tender and melancholic Happy Birthday Johnny, pensive New York (beware F-bomb at the end of each verse) and the gliding, slow-dance Slow Disco.

Hang on Me is a late-night desolate drunken phonecall to a recent ex, Saviour is a sexy, funky jagged piece of sauce that wouldn’t look out of place on a Prince album.

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Best of all is Los Ageless, a blistering takedown of hollow Los Angeles and its facelifts and broken dreams, ridiculing the quest for beauty at any price, topped off with one of the best guitar riffs for many years.

on of electronica and guitars, rock and roll, sex, emotion and funk, Masseduction is a delicious, driven, dirty masterpiece.

Ruth Hayes, gardening editor

 

 

Rumours – good music never fades

Rumours by Fleetwood Mac

In 1987 I discovered Fleetwood Mac. Big Love was in the charts from their album, Tango in the Night, and the band were as popular as ever. I was belatedly introduced to the 1977 album, Rumours.

Of course it was vinyl in those days and I played it non-stop on my brother’s old record player.

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During the carefree days of the 80s, music had a huge impact on my life.. I’d grown up with my parents’ choices, The Beatles and The Carpenters… so by my early 20s, I was listening to every genre out there, from classical to country, to punk and rock.

The Rumours album stands out as a personal favourite. The mood changes throughout, from the upbeat I Don’t Want to Know, to the more melancholy Songbird sung by Christine McVie. I also love the version recorded by Eva Cassidy.

Stevie Nicks’ crystal clear vocals are wonderful in Dreams and of course I can’t go without mentioning the amazing guitar solos by Lindsey Buckingham on The Chain.

It’s not surprising this album continues to be a success and has sold 45 million copies. It’s a masterpiece but of course it’s really remembered as the album that told the story of the problems within the band members’ personal lives.

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Two years ago I was lucky enough to see a tribute band called Rumours of Fleetwood Mac locally. These musicians are so talented, professional and precise.

Mick Fleetwood provides a video endorsement by introducing the band, and they regularly tour around the UK. So if you love Fleetwood Mac’s music, they are the next best thing to the real thing.

Good music never fades.

Wendy Humphries, letters editor

 

 

Fruit Tree – ‘ a quiet, compelling invitation to drift along in wonder’

Fruit Tree by Nick Drake

“Time has told me / you’re a rare find
A troubled cure… for a troubled mind”
Time Has Told Me

So much has been written, deservedly so, about the legacy of Nick Drake’s music, and the achingly beautiful messages conveyed in his delicate strumming and hushed, shadowed vocals; so many profound layers of internal conflict, poetic reflection, tangible loss and eternal daydreaming, all waiting to be discovered and rediscovered inside the well-worn covers of this box set compendium.

Identifying what makes this so special feels like capturing smoke, a gentle breeze, a sigh. Trying to encapsulate the lyrical and emotional souvenirs – and what these tunes make real on a cellular level – is as tricky as attempting to pick one favourite above all others. Impossible. We need them all.

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Musical purists can delight at the reverential string work and harmonic thrumming tour de force of Cello Song and River Man from 1969’s Five Leaves Left.

Miserabilists can find quiet refuge in the eerie tranquil dapplings of Things Behind The Sun from 1972’s fractured Pink Moon. Romantics can still their yearnings by embracing the lush sentimental reveries of Northern Sky from 1971’s sophomore release Bryter Later, featuring John Cale in a crescendo of organ, piano and celeste.

I will admit to having played one of Nick Drake’s songs live (the sensual and provocative Free Ride) and feeling a rush of unbridled joy but also a pang of guilt for even attempting to pay homage.

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There is exquisite technical mastery in Nick Drake’s shy, idiosyncratic fingerpicking yet it feels effortless; arrangements hover between standard chord progressions, teasing with time signatures before dissolving into muted string epiphanies: time and again, familiar streets turn sideways into unexpected spaces, commanding immeasurable respect and attention with his gently delivered yet staggeringly accomplished melodies.

All that aside, the simple truth is that this box set is as satisfying an emotional journey as it is possible to have with music. For it touches on so many specific moods and musings with fluidity and grace, yet operates in an otherworldly register seemingly above it all.

So all one can do is gratefully switch off from the everyday and accept Drake’s quiet, compelling invitation to drift along in wonder.

“I never felt magic crazy as this
Never saw moons know the moaning of the sea
Never held emotion in the palm of my hand
Or felt sweet breezes in the top of a tree
Now you’re here… brighten my northern sky”
Northern Sky

Janey Goulding, assistant editor

 

 

 

The Free Story – a bluesy rock masterpiece

The Free Story by Free

My favourite album is The Free Story by the English blues rock band Free. This compilation album includes their biggest hit, All Right Now, and was released in 1973 – the year they finally disbanded. The album reached No2 in the charts.

The band Free was formed in 1968, when I was 10, so I didn’t know anything about them at that time. It wasn’t until the single Wishing Well was released in 1972 that I was old enough to appreciate their music.

The band’s lead singer was Paul Rodgers, who later went on to form Bad Company. Rodgers also toured with Queen in 2005 and 2006 as Queen + Paul Rodgers. The other members of the original Free were Paul Kossoff, Andy Fraser and Simon Kirke.

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I think it was Paul Rodgers’ voice that got me hooked on the band – and in 2010 Rodgers was voted 55th in the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine, just behind Luther Vandross, Muddy Waters and Brian Wilson.

Other Free hits include My Brother Jake and Little Bit of Love, but Wishing Well is still my favourite track.

All Right Now may have been the band’s greatest hit, but I never particularly liked it. For me, it’s Wishing Well that typifies Free and their bluesy rock music complete with Rodgers’ powerful voice.

Lesley Upton, features editor

 

 

Turns Into Stone has seen Kathryn through any a long car journey

Turns into Stone by The Stone Roses

A controversial choice because it was released by the record label they were suing at the time, this tricky-to-get-hold-of Stone Roses compilation album reminds me of my student days and features a 12-inch version of Fool’s Gold, arguably the best dance/indie crossover track.

The track listing comprises mostly B-sides and extended versions and just hearing the intro to Elephant Stone makes me want to turn the volume up LOUD and dance around the room.

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Asked about any hidden meanings, guitarist John Squire apparently said: “What’s it about? Love and Death… War and peace… Morecombe and Wise.”

Turns into Stone might not be the choice of die-hard Roses fans but it has got me through many a long car journey and would definitely be my desert island pick. After all, who doesn’t need a wah wah pedal and a drum solo to lift their spirits in challenging times.

Kathryn Wilson, features co-ordinator

 

 

 

We are here for you

Although many people are coping well with self-isolation, others are really struggling and feeling completely forgotten and alone.

Here at AG we are doing our best to keep connected to our readers though the magazine, this website and also through social media.

Our gardening ‘agony uncle’ John Negus is also still working hard. Send him your problems and questions, with pictures if you can, and he will get back to you with an answer withing 24 hours, as he has been doing for decades. Contact him using the AG email address at amateurgardening@ti-media.com

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We already have thriving Facebook page but are also on Twitter and Instagram. These sites are a brilliant way of chatting to people, sharing news, information, pictures and just saying hello – we will get back to you as soon as we can.

Best of all, as gardeners are generally lovely folk, more interested in plants, hedgehogs, tea and cake than political shenanigans and point-scoring, so the chat is friendly and welcoming.

So please drop by, follow us, ‘like’ our posts and say hello – the Instagram feed is in it’s really early days so the quicker we can get that going with your help and support, the better!

You can find us at:

Facebook: Facebook.com/AmateurGardeningMagazine

Twitter: Twitter.com/TheAGTeam

Instagram: instagram.com/amgardening_mag

Don’t forget to give someone you know or love a call. They might be feeling low and lonely and hearing from you will make their day. Happy gardening!