THE ALBUMS WHAT
CHANGED THE DUKE'S LIFE
Most folks might prefer to go for the old “Best What Was Ever
Made” approach when conducting the lists with regards their
favourite records. Thing is, The Duke has yet to hear every
record ever made anywhere, and so would be woefully ill-
prepared to tell anyone about what the best records of all
ever might be. There’s a couple Miles Davis bootlegs
somewhere. One or two cast-off’s from Music For Big Pink.
Couple a things I still need to hear, before I can get all
definitive and what-not.
What I can offer, though, by way of providing an insight into
the old Mind De Duke and so on, especially the part of the
Mind De Duke that deals with the listening to records, is
this here list all about the albums that are closest to mine
These here are the records what changed The Duke’s life, the
ones that made the biggest impact is what. These here are the
pieces of the resistance, or whatever the hell those French
folks call The Records What Made Me Numb Like A Motherfucker
On Account Of Their Brilliance.
This list is composed in no particular order of preference.
Maybe the Freudians among you might think, Oh, he mentioned
such and such before so and so, so therefore such and such is
better than the others.
Go for it, Freudians.
You incestuous motherfuckers.
Talking With The Taxman About Poetry
First off, when did you last hear a record title like that?
When? I Don’t Want You Back, The Marshall Mathers L.P, The
Soundtrack To Toy Story 2, I mean really. Folks just don’t
put enough effort into the titles nowadays. If it was your
kid, would you throw a “Self-titled” or “Black Album” at it?
No, man, you’d take the time and think up stuff like Benjamin
or Shannon or whatever. Or maybe Foxy Lady River Feet, if
you're a rocket star or whatever.
Uncle Bill, possibly thinking about a "poem"
This here is the album where we find Bill preparing to cross
over, about to add a few more strings to the bow and so on. A
transition is what. His first two records mostly went for the
old electric guitar and voice approach, barring the majestic
pipes on Saturday Boy.
On this album here, you can tell Uncle Bill is thinking about
his next move. There’s a piano on there, there’s even drums
sometimes. There’s all sorts of flutes and what have you. All
in all, it’s like a bridge of some kind, leading the way from
Brewing Up With Billy Bragg, across the pond to the
shimmering gates of Worker’s Playtime, his first “full-band”
Talking With The Taxman… was the first Billy Bragg record I
heard, if memory serves as it should, and not like some
updated memory of some sort, that promises nicer graphics but
tends to lose your credit card details every ten seconds. It
was my introduction to the works of this individual what has
never, to the best of my knowledge, made a bad record.
The subject matter is balanced to perfection between the
political hollering what made Mr. Bragg’s name, and also the
incredibly tender “love” stuff what is often overlooked, and
yet, on occasion, appears even more powerful. There’s plenty
of both here. And it’s even got Kirsty McColl and Johnny Marr
on hand to throw in a backing vocal, or a nice guitar hook
here and there.
Also, Talking With The Taxman has some of the best lyrics
Bill has ever written. The politics and the lovin’ are not
always exclusive sects which look at each other through
gritted teeth and whisper about how the other lot are a pack
of pansy motherfuckers.
Take the first track, for instance, Greetings To The New
Brunette, which dispenses both sexual and political musings
with aplomb, all wrapped up in a sonnet to some mystery gal
by the name of Shirley.
“Sometimes when we’re as close as this,
It’s like we’re in a dream,
How can you lie there and think of England,
When you don’t even know who’s in the team?”
The album also mines the kind of gut-wrenching poignancy
Uncle Bill so seldom gets credit for. Levi Stubb’s Tears
tells the tale of a single-mother who’s just been assaulted
by her estranged husband. The character details, the
sketches, the nuances, are breathtaking.
“She ran away from home in her mother’s best coat,
She was married before she was even entitled to vote,
And her husband was one of the blokes,
The sort who only laughs at his own jokes,
The sort a war takes away,
When there wasn’t a war, he left anyway.”
But it’s not all earnest po-facing and so on. There’s plenty
of the old humour. Honey, I’m A Big Boy Now tells of the
narrator’s stupidity regarding the woman of his dreams, a
woman he loved but whom he expected to do all those kinds of
“woman” things, and now realises he was a prat.
“Her father was an admiral, in someone else’s Navy,
And she had seen the world before I met her,
She would wash and cook and clean,
And all the other things between,
And like a fool I just sat there and let her.”
Talking With The Taxman remains my favourite Billy Bragg
record, and thankfully, I don’t have to debate about whether
to put it, or Worker’s Playtime, my 2nd favourite, into the
player, since Victim Of Geography is available, a compilation
of both albums, losing only Talking’s Train Train, a
brilliantly frantic cover version.
It’s worth getting your hands on, is what. The song what goes
by the name of The Passion would be worth it all even if the
rest were shit. Thank heavens they’re not. In fact, they’re
really rather brilliant.
“And sometimes it takes a grown man a long time to learn,
Just what it would take a child a night to learn.”
Bringing It All Back Home
Who the hell knows what the best Dylan
record is? Maybe he hasn’t even made it
yet. Maybe there are university courses
where folks spend all day weighing up
Visions Of Johanna against Most Of The
Time, ticking boxes and allocating gold
stars where need be, in the crazed
pursuit of uncovering the ULTIMATE Dylan
Well, for The Duke, I’m just gonna have to go with the one
I play most often. Which would be this one here. The one
about Bringing It All Back Home, although the version I
have, the English release, is actually titled Subterranean
Homesick Blues, an attempt no doubt to cash in on the fame
of that song about Johnny went to the basement for to find
a medicine of some sort.
Bringing… is like the Billy Bragg album mentioned above, in
that it’s a transitory work. It’s Dylan getting all
electrified, and bravely going where no folk singer called
Bob Dylan had ever gone before.
Except for when he did Mixed Up Confusion a couple years
earlier. But that was just a one-off experiment. No one
would imagine he’d do it for a whole album, man. That’d be
fucking insane, is what, if that Dylan cat went ahead and
made a whole record with the rockin and rollin and stuff.
This here isn’t a record filled with the rockin’ and
rollin’ though. That came next, in the form of The Return
To Highway 61, and the last four tracks on Bringing… are
indeed the kinds of acoustic stuff what got folks so
excited in the first place.
The Duke’s “Dylan” period started with something of a bang.
One day I bought The Times They Are A-Changing, and thought
it was the most amazingly bleak thing I had heard in at
least five days, or since whenever I last played Nebraska.
I mean lighten up Bruce Springsteen. You have the coolest
jeans in the world, man. Get happy, is what I'm explicitly
Anyway, I shortly thereafter bought every Dylan album,
which at that point meant the collection ended with Time
Out Of Mind, another one of those grim, bleak masterpieces,
except this time the thing to get all dour-faced about was
the “dying” instead of, y’know, the “politics”.
On Bringing It All Back Home, Dylan seems to be having a
right old time. He seems high on his own wonderment, and
rarely does self-obsessed egotism produce such hummable
music. Maggie’s Farm, for instance, is just about the
funkiest song ever written about being knee-deep in cow
shit, sounding like a less-stream-of-conscious version of
Subterranean Homesick Blues. Incidentally, Rage Against The
Machine do a mean cover version.
The most fascinating, enchanting stuff here is the love
songs though, as far as the “electric” half is concerned.
“My love, she speaks like silence…”
Mute girlfriends, man. Dylan knows all kinds of folks.
That’s a beautifully evocative compliment to pay, though,
the “speaks like silence” thing. I bet that worked in loads
of instances for Bob.
“Hey Darling. You come here often? By the way, you speak
like silence is what.”
“Wow, that’s gorgeous. Hey, are you Bob Dylan?”
I bet Bob got loads of the “booty” after that.
One time, when writing about my beloved Duchess, I wrote
about how she did indeed speak like “silence”, because
nothing she says is ever empty. Y’know, cause when you
listen, there ain’t no real silence. There’s loads of stuff
going on. Birds, cars, all that kind of stuff. Life, in
other words. Silence is in fact the ambient sound of life
going on around you. She liked that, did The Duchess. I
think we may have had an early night that evening.
Thanks Bob Dylan.
Anyway, the acoustic portion of this record is just as
stunning as the electicalised half. You’d think the
acoustic bit would be crap, since Bob was fed up with it
all, and it was really only there to keep folks happy and
stop them burning their cardigans with rolled up cigarettes
in surprised terror. What does he do though? He goes ahead
and puts possibly his four best songs on there.
Mr Tambourine Man, Gates Of Eden, It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only
Bleeding) and It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. All in
succession. Holy shit.
I’m Only Bleeding has some of the most mystifyingly
imaginative language Dylan ever utilised before or since.
“Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool's gold mouthpiece
The hollow horn plays wasted words
Proves to warn
That he not busy being born
Is busy dying.”
Fuck knows what he’s banging on about, but it sounds great,
whatever the hell it might be. I know I’m only one person
and all that, and this is just one motherfucker’s opinion,
but to be honest, I think that’s up there with probably the
best lyrics ever written. I mean it’s just maybe a notch
below “I got a pocket fulla rubbers and my homeboys do,
too”. Just slightly less wonderful than that. But close,
That final quadrilogy, as the makers of those Alien box-
sets would have it, is jaw-slapping. You need to listen to
it four times, since the first time you hear each song, you
miss the other three entirely. You’re so amazed, you’re
still thinking about “Take me disappearing through the
smoke-rings of my mind”, and the record is half way through
Gates Of Eden. Like when Woody Allen re-edited the cocaine-
sneeze scene in Annie Hall, cause folks missed most of the
next bit on account of the laughter. Dylan could have done
with an extra scene or two in between each of these.
Consideration for your audience, man. I mean come on.
The Queen Is Dead
I know, I know. How much more obvious could The Duke be
regarding this here list of the best records what you
ever did hear. Not much more obvious, is the answer.
I can’t help it though, man. I mean, maybe I should
mention that the first Smiths’ records I got were Best …1
and Best …2, but that’d be even worse. So I have to plump
for the next one I got, the one that cemented the fact in
my cranium, the fact about Morrissey was just about
amazing and all. Even though this is the one everyone
else loves too. I can’t help it. Anyway, sometimes
general consensus is so for a reason. 15 Million folks
can’t be wrong and all that. Except where Nazi Germany is
Morrissey - "Jaded As A Motherfucker"
Apart from that, sometimes mass opinion is worth taking
into account. Like the general feeling about sticking your
fist into a blender and then turning it on, the general
opinion seems to be that such actions would be imbecilic.
I mean, I hate to be safe and populist and all, but I
ain't sticking my fist in that fucking blender, man.
Anyway, The Queen Is Dead follows a trend of sorts here,
in that it balances the incredibly funny with the heart-
string pulling and what not.
It also has some of Morrissey’s best lyrics, and set
against some of Johnny Marr’s finest guitar malarkey, you
really can’t go far wrong.
The Queen Is Dead is possibly the best Side One Track One
of all time. Certainly up there, anyroad.
“She said ‘I know you, and you cannot sing’,
I said, ‘That’s nothing, you should hear me play piano.’”
There are no fast forwards on this record. There’s none
that you wanna skip and get the hell over with. Well,
possibly Never Had No One Ever, but who even knows what
that one sounds like? I mean come on, you’re still wiping
the cum off your trousers on account of the orgasm you
just had over I Know It’s Over, the direct predecessor.
“Oh, Mother, I can feel
The soil falling over my head.”
Oh God. It’s enough to give a fella an emotion or two,
even if he is a stone-cold son of a bitch with a thirst
for vengeance, like The Duke.
No matter how much folks bang on about the greatness of
this record, though, they still miss the exceptional mini-
masterpieces that are hidden away, like as if they don’t
want to disturb you in-between the orgasms of I Know It’s
Over and There Is A Light That Never Goes Out and so on.
Frankly, Mr Shankly, for example, is possibly the best put-
down of a boss since that cover of Take This Job And Shove
It, from Bedtime For Democracy by the Dead Kennedys. The
narrator is fed up with the old 9-to-5 and so on, and
craves a life of sophisticated, silent-movie glamour.
“Sometimes I’d feel more fulfilled,
Writing Christmas Cards for the mentally ill…
I want to live and I want to love,
I want to catch something that I might be ashamed of.”
And then there’s Cemetery Gates, the most chirpy song
about being in a field full of corpses that you ever did
hear. It’s also one of the greatest odes to plagiarism and
vain, self-aggrandising quote-spewing in the history of
rock and / or roll.
“You say: "ere thrice the sun hath done salutation to the
And you claim these words as your own,
But I’m well-read, have heard them said,
A hundred times (maybe less, maybe more)
If you must write prose/poems
The words you use should be your own
Don’t plagiarize or take "on loans"
There's always someone, somewhere
With a big nose, who knows
And who trips you up and laughs
When you fall”
Bigmouth Strikes Again is about telling your significant
other that you’d “like to mash every tooth in your head”,
and then having to cover it up later, when dust settles
and what not.
“Sweetness, I was only joking when I said
By rights, you should be bludgeoned in your bed.”
Brilliant, witty, punishingly-original stuff.
Thanks Morrissey. It’s ok, I know you don’t mean it, man.
The album concludes with Some Girls Are Bigger Than
Others, apparently a major source of griping and various
other terms what mean “they hated the fuck out of one
another” between Morrissey and Marr. One of the most
sublime pieces of music ever written, over which Morrissey
saw fit to waffle nonsense like;
“As Anthony said to Cleopatra
As he opened a crate of ale:
Some girls are bigger than others
Some girls are bigger than others
Some girls mothers are bigger than
Other girls mothers.”
It’s brilliantly daft, and also provides a tune for to
whistle and so on, whilst one laughs about the piffle
regarding the mothers who are bigger than some other
JELLO BIAFRA AND MOJO NIXON
Prairie Home Invasion
Lot’s of folks took something of a dislike
towards the news that Jello Biafra had gone
and made a country record. Man, you could hear
all those safety-pins vibrating with rage.
Thing is, these folks didn’t take a few points
into account before they got all jerking about
For one thing, country music has produced some of the most
powerful, spit-drenched “punk” records of all time. Compare
Johnny Cash Live At Folsom Prison to, say, Combat Rock.
Which one sounds the most venomous, the most angry, the
For another thing, when the fuck has Jello ever made a bad
decision? When? Exactly, a coupe times, but fuck you, man,
this guy fronted The Dead Kennedy’s. He wrote Holiday In
Cambodia, MTV Get Off The Air, Nazi Punks Fuck Off and any
number of t-shirt slogans. He’s a genius is what. You
thought maybe he was gonna do a few Reba McEntire covers?
Ok, sure, that would be cool too. But you’re wrong, is the
point The Duke is striving to reach.
Prairie Home Invasion has the aura of the Novelty Record
about it. A punk gettin’ all country, and writing songs
about plastic statutes of Jesus and so on, and a song about
abortions to the tune of Will The Circle Be Unbroken. It
sounds like the kinda thing you might buy and then play
once and then forget all about, like Afroman, or those
The difference, though, is that this is not only one of the
best country albums of the last decade, but also one of the
best punk records, and also one of the best records of any
It opens with a nine-minute-long attack on those punk-types
who turned all grunge for ten minutes, and then set about
trying to get in on the whole Punk Revival affair.
Thanks, The Offspring, they were all saying. Maybe those
folks what all wear my t-shirts might start listening to my
music again, is the thinking.
Jello’s too smart for any of that nonsense, which is why he
won’t be showing up on any of those Dead Kennedys reunion
tours, by the way. This is a 9-minute tour de force, and
rarely pauses for breath.
“I’m getting tired of being legendary and broke,
And I’m too damn weird to hold no straight job,
My checkbook’s feeling unfulfilled,
Being an old underground die-hard,
Won’t pay the kids’ dental bills.”
If it was anyone else, this would be accepted by every man,
woman, beast and republican for what it is – A fantastic
Country record. Real country, like what Willie Nelson and
Johnny Cash and Jimmy Rodgers and those guys used to deal
in. Not the watered-down meaningless Nashville shit
personified by Britney Rhymes or whoever that lass is.
This was before Ryan Adams and Wilco and what-not all went
overground, you understand. Before folks were ready to
listen to Country Music that didn’t sound like Foreigner.
This here is pure, undiluted country music. The alternative
country is the stuff that sounds like bad pop music. The
Shania Twain’s and so on. The stuff that seems ashamed to
be photographed anywhere near Texas.
The single from this here record was the aforementioned
Will The Fetus Be Aborted. It’s insanely catchy, and
totally unafraid to say whatever Jello and Mojo might want
to get across, despite the fact that it was probably thrown
into the bin the second it landed in the radio stations’
offices, on account of the “controversy” and such.
“Will the fetus be aborted?
By and by, lord, by and by.
There’s a better home a-waiting,
In the sky, Lord, in the sky.”
It’s a true collaborative effort, though, not just Jello
Plus Fiddles. Mojo takes the reins himself sometimes, and
the results are equally splendid, especially in the drunk-
meets-messiah-in-pub tale, Are You Drinking With Me, Jesus?
“Should we take a cab home, Jesus?
Shit, man, we can hoof it from here.
I know you can walk on the water,
But can you walk on this much beer?”
Mojo also provides the anti-corporate-country anthem, Let’s
Go Burn Ole Nashville Down, a demented ho-down that gets us
all tappin’ our feet and swinging our partners whilst Mojo
“Let’s go burn ole Nashville down,
Set it all aflame,
BBQ those Greedyheads,
Made country weak and lame.”
The album is a howl against the crass commercialization of
American “roots” music, a genre born in the dust bowls and
cotton fields, now being used to sell shampoo.
Incidentally, the inlay is as good as the record, filled
with cut-outs from magazines and zany, right-on collages
and what not. Really, if everyone put as much effort into
the packaging as these fellas did, there’d be a lot less
folk queuing up to download the latest BMX or whatever.
See how The Duke always segues so sweetly?
From the alternative country to the alt-
country with barely a stretched limb.
Anyway, this here is one of those Ignition
records for The Duke, the one that might
not be my favorite Ryan Adams album, but
the one that blasted my love of country
into another gear altogether, probably 3rd
or 4th or somesuch.
Hearing Adams produce such stunning, wistful, longing music
with just his own voice and a battered acoustic, The Duke was
inspired to make his own music much more in keeping with this
stripped-down aesthetic from now on. This was acoustic music
that didn’t sound like MOR middle-of-the-road bullshit. It
was an album about depression that wasn’t depressing.
After this, I sought out everything Adams had done hitherto,
starting with Whiskeytown’s Faithless Street right up to
their final, posthumous release, Pneumonia. This motherfucker
made me jealous as all hell. I covered songs of his, hoping
that no one would ask and I wouldn’t have to admit that they
weren’t mine. He’s one of the few writers of any kind, be
they songs or prose or whatever, that makes me wish I had
written that shit first. Most folks I read, or I listen to,
and I think how I could have made them better. I’m
egotistical as all hell, is what. But this motherfucker, he
just makes me give a big ol’ resigned sigh.
I’m thinking of putting my second demo, the 9-track Lago, on
Mondo Irlando, but I dunno. There’s awful big holes on there
folk could see right through, and find David Ryan Adams
peeking out from the other side.
My fiancée, The Duchess, took me to see Adams just after the
release of Demolition, his odds n’ sods collection. He was
playing at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, and decided to go
it acoustic, just a piano and a couple cellos here and there
for accompaniment. It was awe-inspiring. Songs you thought
you knew inside-out were reborn before your very skull. Jesse
Malin supported that night, another very good young
songwriting type fella, who was the frontman in D Generation
before he got all acoustified.
A brilliant night, is what.
Adams has yet to make a bad record. Everyone seems very
disappointed by Rock N’ Roll, but to be honest, I almost shit
myself when I put it in the player for the first time.
Bad curry, man.
But I got cleaned up and guess what, the album was amazing.
The first half doesn’t pause for breath, one amazing lyric,
hook, chorus after another.
But this one is maybe the one that’ll always be closest to
The Duke’s heart, the one that made me sit up and take
serious notice of this motherfucker. As Elton John said,
“He's a talented little shit, isn’t he.” Elton might have
been talking about The Duke, but most folks assume he wasn’t.
What they assume is that he was referring to Ryan Adams.
Rum, Sodomy And The Lash
Shane MacGowan is my favorite songwriter of all time. The
Pogues are my favorite band of all time. And this right here
is my favorite album either has ever been involved with. Red
Roses For Me was rawer, If I Should Fall From Grace With God
had more hits, but this was the first one I heard, and I
still remember the feeling, man.
Some Pogues, Yesterday
I had bought it purely on the strength of the lyrics. I
knew I wanted a Pogues album, but I hadn’t a clue where to
start. So I opened the inlay of this, and I opened the
case of Grace With God, and compared. There was very, very
little in it. But for some reason I went with the one what
has The Raft Of The Medusa on the cover, with the faces of
various band-members painted on top of the original folks,
the ones that were dying of the scurvy and the rum and the
That first song, man. Those deceptively enticing strings
in the back ground, as Shane breaks into something
approaching a sea shanty cum funeral dirge.
“McCormack and Richard Tauber are singing by the bed
There's a glass of punch below your feet and an angel at
There's devils on each side of you with bottles in their
You need one more drop of poison and you'll dream of
It’s like a mermaid sitting on a rock someplace, and you
think, Shit man, I ain’t goin near that fish woman. I mean
come on, she’s probably gonna drown me and stuff. I don’t
care if she looks like Daryl Hannah.
But then you get drawn in anyway, and rocks crash through
the wooden vessel, there’s a scream, and all hell erupts.
Which is The Duke's highly artful way of describing how
the first, mournful verse gives way to an unbelievably
frantic chorus, the band sounding like they have a legion
of devils on their trail, and Shane sounding like he may
in fact be the commander of those Mini-Satans.
“When you pissed yourself in Frankfurt and got syph down
And you heard the rattling death trains as you lay there
Frank Ryan brought you whiskey in a brothel in Madrid
And you decked some fucking blackshirt who was cursing all
I fell in love, man. I wanted more of this here rollicking
screaming mania, mania which had the most poetic lyrics I
had ever encountered, the most evocative, timeless
wordplay I have ever known.
This masterpiece is followed directly by another
masterpiece, the lament of a rent-boy living rough in
London, offering blow-jobs for the price of a pint. It’s
harrowing, bleak, and utterly transfixing. The melody is
gorgeous, like you expect a loving ode to some lass or
other to begin. And of course, it is a love song, but it’s
a love song to humanity, to a city that has degraded our
narrator beyond all comprehension, but still holds his
soul in its grasp.
“In the tube station the old ones who were on the way out
Would dribble and vomit and grovel and shout
And the coppers would come along and push them about
And I wished I could escape from the old main drag
And now I'm lying here I've had too much booze
I've been shat on and spat on and raped and abused
I know that I am dying and I wish I could beg
For some money to take me from the old main drag”
I used to put the lights out and make folks stand up,
silent, for the duration of this song. Eventually, most of
them caught on, and left for the toilet in unison around
the last verse of Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn, but still I
remained, in utter awe of this man MacGowan, this man who
was too divine for to even insight envy in my mind.
I finally met Shane one night in Belfast, and I could
hardly speak a word to him. When I finally managed to
string a sentence together, we had a long conversation
about Sergio Leone, about politics, about what the hell he
was doing anyhow, and when another album would surface.
That was pretty much at the tail-end of my drinking, too,
and to be honest, I find it a bit hard to listen to those
albums now, with the weight of so many horrible memories
clinging to the melodies. But one day, one day those
things won’t sting so much, and I’ll once again put on
Rum, Sodomy And The Lash and be stunned anew. And this
time I’ll be able to truly savor it, not being awash with
alcohol. I look forward to it.
Well, folks, I’m sure I’ll be kicking myself and so on in
ten minutes time when I sit down and look over this and
go, “Shit, I forgot about fucking Life Won’t Wait” or
whatever. Because there’s loads and loads of records, of
pieces of music, that are special to me, for various
different reasons. These ones here, though, they stand up
proud even outside of my personal connection to them. I
heartily recommend each and every one, and just to prove
it, Ive even put them up the side of the page, so as you
can pick them up on the fly in association with the UK
wing of those Amazonians or whatever.
Thanks friends and motherfuckers.
Drop The Duke A Line Via Electronical Email