After some intensive listening parties, exhaustive research and endless debate concerning how Jon Bon Jovi gets his hair to look so fabulous, we bring you our comprehensive catalogue of classic albums named after places.
Here’s the science bit (note: it features no science). To make the classic albums list, the record in question has to be named after a real place, and has to contain only that place-name. So Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska is perfect, the Clash’s London Calling is not. Live albums were also not included.
Feel free to debate, disagree and generally call us a bunch of clueless cloth-eared cadaverous c-, er, fools in the comments below.
6. Nebraska – Bruce Springsteen
If you’re looking for any songwriter out there to chronicle the ordinary lives of the American people in an over-the-top, chest-thumbingly ballsy fashion then Bruce Springsteen is your man. On the other hand, if you’re looking for someone to chronicle the ordinary lives of American people in a sombre, sparsely orchestrated, gutsy fashion then Bruce Springsteen is definitely you man, again. Just don’t get him to write about the French.
Originally intended as demos to be worked on with the E Street Band, the man known as Boss decided they were too good to feature searingly brilliant sax solos and decided to release the demos instead. Cue instant classic.
Featuring some of Springsteen’s most enduring songs and most memorable lyrics (“I got debts that no honest man can pay” being one of them, so good he repeats it on two songs), it saw the New Jersey native reinvent himself as sort of modern-day Woody Guthrie. Instead of relative anonymity, Bruce decided incredible wealth and fame was the way to get his message across, and good on him too. Incidently, we’ve never been to Nebraska but from what we’ve learned from the album it’s full of serial killers and despair, right? Which makes us think that the message of this classic album is, don’t go to Nebraska. Or have we missed something?
5. Vienna – Ultravox
Now for something completely different.
Where Bruce is all organic sounding guitars and harmonica’s filled with the actual dust of the land he’s chronicling (probably), the Midge Ure-led Ultravox album Vienna is actually the sound of computer’s talking melodically. The record pretty much reinvented the band after the departure of singer John Foxx and the album leans heavily on the input of walking bald patch and Live Aid instigator Midge Ure. It’s a fine achievement that only occasionally strays into the realms of god-awful pompousness. Still that title track ain’t band.
4. Rome – Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi
Now here’s a concept idea for you. Get kooky vampire Jack White, smooth voiced cherub Norah Jones, Italian film composer Daniele Luppi and producer Danger Mouse into a studio with a whole load of spaghetti western inspired music and what do you get? Rome, of course. The city was actually retroactively invented by contemporary singers and soundtracks. Or at least the album of the same name was made by them. It’s an idea that shouldn’t really work; essentially a film soundtrack without the film and yet it does, at least sort of.
3. Berlin – Lou Reed
A city of splendid space, cultural richness and a whole lot of Germans, Berlin has inspired a whole heap of musical non-Europeans in their quest for pop perfection. It was here David Bowie recorded his aptly named Berlin trilogy – well partially at least – and insurance salesman Iggy Pop recorded The Idiot while it also gave Lou Reed the title for his third album. Coming hot on the heels of Lou’s glam-rock beauty Transformer, with its commercially accessible tales of transvestites, heroin addiction and oral sex, Berlin’s sad, sombre, sorrowful songs of domestic abuse and suicide just didn’t cut if for fans and critics alike. People just weren’t all that impressed, until they listened to the orchestrated treat again and decided that “no, it’s still no Walk on the Wild Side“. Then they listened to it a third time and decided it was alright.
Now it’s considered somewhat of a classic, if bloody odd, piece of work. Something that can be said about pretty much everything Lou has ever released really. See recent work with Metallica for up-to-date confirmation of this undeniable fact.
2. Watertown – Frank Sinatra
Many people who know Ol’ Blue Eyes as the suave- suited crooner of songs like My Way and Strangers in the Night might not realise that Frank had quite a few classic albums too – the best of which, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, sadly couldn’t quite make this list on account of it not being eligible. However, Watertown, a city in Jefferson County New York, does. Something else you might not know is that Sinatra was a big fan of concept albums and Watertown is one such record. It tells the tale of a middle-aged man, from said New York destination, whose wife has left him with his children.
Goodbye (She Quietly Says) is heartbreakingly heart breaking while I Would Always be in Love gets the full-throated My Way treatment on a terrific record pretty much ignored on its release in 1970. It’s definitely not on the list just to prove our uber-super musical credentials. Honest.
1. Nashville – Solomon Burke
Having been one of the first soul singers to ever mix country and soul music, the man dubbed “the greatest singer ever” by Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler returned to those country roots in this classic September 2006 release. The third in a triology of terrific comeback albums, it also boasts guest turns by country stalwarts like Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton.
It’s a record mixing both pathos and humour and is filled with such memorable gems as That’s How I Got to Memphis, Valley of Tears and the very first – and definitive – recording of Kathy Griffin’s Up to the Mountain – soon to be a TV talent show staple. It is as perfect a distillation of the singer’s talent as was ever slapped down on digital recording technology.
If you still need more place-named classic albums (OK, not all are classics), here’s a few that didn’t quite make our list: Freddie Mercury’s operatic debut and final solo album Barcelona, Steve Earl’s Jerusalem and the Cocteau Twins Victorialand. For those who like their music more hair based, then you could do worse than check out Bon Jovi’s ode to New Jersey, er New Jersey and Boston’s Boston, which is bound is to be nothing short of rocktastic.
Is there anything you disagreed with – should Springsteen be higher than Lou Reed, does Nashville deserve its position at the top? – or anything we missed on our classic albums list? Let us know in the comments below. We especially like people who call us names.
With thanks to our Facebook followers for their helpful suggestions, particularly Paula Smith, Bea Swiatkowska, Mandi Lowton, Russell Dawes and Guy Houghton. You’re all lovely.