Listen to This If You Love Great Music: A critical curation of 100 essential albums

PDF Listen to This If You Love Great Music: A critical curation of 100 essential albums Text © 2021 Robin Murray

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  1. Robin Murray
Listen to This If You Love Great Music

Listen To This If You Love Great Music is a must read for anyone with even a passing interest in music. Featuring 100 of the best albums from the last four decades, editor Robin Murray shares his passion for exceptional music and offers insightful takes on what elevates these records above the competition.

Robin steers clear of the usual classics – The Beatles and The Clash, for example – and instead goes deep into his record collection to pull out the albums he considers the greatest ever. For each, a solid case is made for why it represents a watershed moment in music history, outlining the story behind the record and critiquing what constitutes a classic. Uniquely curated to offer a fresh perspective on the last 40-plus years of music, find politically charged rock brushing shoulders with dub-infused electronica, progressive pop and dreamy shoegaze shaken awake by ear-drum rattling grime and house music.

Whether it’s bass-heavy hip-hop from Nas that inspired a thousand MCs to pick up a mic or experimental indie dance from LCD Soundsystem that blurred genres and tempted musicians to trade in their guitars for synthesizers, this is an essential rundownof the albums that really matter. You need to play them loud.


The album is perhaps the singular most important object in the weaponry of pop culture. It’s the point where an artist’s vision becomes clear, a space for personal and aesthetic evolution. Even now, more than seventy years after the LP coalesced as a form in its own right, it sustains – technologies may come and go, but the idea that a collection of songs can be forged into one singular idea burns more brightly than ever.

This book wants to shake things up a little. It’s something to argue with, a means to open up a conversation. It includes voices that are often pushed to the sidelines, while also looking at seminal releases in a new way, exploring pop culture from fresh vantage points. This isn’t definitive, it’s highly personal – it’s not a full stop, it’s the beginning of a new sentence, something that you can take up through your own listening.

I’ve selected 100 essential albums, using the aftermath of punk as a starting point. Along the way you’ll discover left-field favourites while also looking at mainstream hits from a different angle. You’ll see entire genres rise and fall, splintering into shards of sound before gathering anew as the 21st century swings into gear. We’ll move from post-punk to grunge, the dawn of rap to R&B’s imperial phase, grime’s explosive first wave to its commercial zenith, tackling the dominant artefacts of the CD era before touching on the vinyl revival. It’s about the way we listen, and what we’re listening to.

Don’t open this expecting to see standard favourites. In fact, it’s something I’ve scrupulously avoided. It’s a selection framed as much by what’s missing as what’s included, an alternative canon that faces forwards, and building a fresh framework for the future that is fast coming up on us.

I’ve used personal revelations and historical facts, all filtered through opinions, arguments and fresh takes honed through my fifteen year career as a music journalist. When I first joined Clash as an intern we worried about MySpace and Napster – now as Editor in Chief we embrace Spotify playlisting and Bandcamp’s digital DIY ethos. I grew up in the Highlands of Scotland when a trip to a record shop felt exotic, moving far out of your comfort zone – in a way, it still is.

Work on this book took place during the COVID pandemic, a time when the music industry was pushed to the brink. Culture prevails, however, and so too does the way we discuss it. Music changes every single day, and the way we look at it must change, too. It’s an open-ended conversation, one that
needs to be shaken up every so often.

The Chapters

Right First Time (10–31)

The debut albums that made a difference, tackling record-breaking success stories and defining statements; projects that seem to encapsulate entire lives in just a dozen or so songs.

One-off Wonders (32–51)
Some careers burn too brightly to last. This chapter exposes those singular statements that could never be repeated, exposing the explosive chemistry that fuelled these modern classics while outlining why a follow up was always impossible.

Slow Burners (52–71)
Success isn’t always immediate, though. Slow Burners retraces the long journeys some face when trying to make their mark, the obstacles in their way, the determination it takes to move past them, and the raw talent they must tap into.

Reinventions (72–93)
Reinventions is a place of transformation. It’s where indie also-rans become electronic gurus, where pop queens find a new lease of life, and pop icons embrace underground sounds. It’s a space where entire genres are reborn across two sides of vinyl, or the span of a single compact disc.

Political Statements (94–113)
But music isn’t just noise. Here we look at the true meaning music can channel, its ability to hold truth to power, to subvert authority, and expose societal contradictions. You’ll look once more at punk greats, while also meeting musicians struggling under repression, and find a value for music that
is so much more than commercial worth.

Sexuality (114–35)
Sexuality is absolutely core to the human experience, and music has always sought to give these feelings expression. The myriad ways we identify our love and lust for one another filters through into some of the key albums of our time, breaking new ground in the process.

It’s OK To Not Be OK (136–55)
The way we discuss mental health has changed utterly in the past few years, granting renewed space for people to fully express their feelings. Music has led the way in this discussion, using these spaces to locate fresh avenues for communication.

Music To Fall Asleep To (156–77)
Certain albums conjure the kind of bliss that taps into peaceful slumber. This chapter is a short walk through some essential LPs that guide you towards an undisturbed rest, rivulets of ambient sound guaranteed to lull you into tranquil repose.

Soundtrack To Your Nightmares (178–97)
This chapter, meanwhile, slips towards the darker aspects of the psyche. It looks at the way musicians and songwriters conjure the more chaotic, disturbing elements of the subconscious, and how their haunted dreams can result in music blessed with a rare sense of humanity.

Going Out With A Bang (198–219)
Everything has to end sometime. I’ll look at the way great artists sign off, and how those statements exemplify some of the groundbreaking cultural conduits that define their careers, their output – and, in turn, our lives.
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