The lost albums loved by the stars – from ecstatic gospel to Italian prog

What’s your favourite underrated LP? We asked Sean Paul, Hot Chip, Jarvis Cocker, Chase & Status, Petula Clark and more to reveal the records you really must hear

Jarvis Cocker on …

Bob Lind: The Elusive Bob Lind (Verve Folkways, 1966)

Click to hear Bob Lind’s The Swan.

I hesitate to recommend this record because I know that Bob Lind himself hates it and that it did a lot of harm to his career – but I love it, so here goes … This is the story as I understand it: Lind had a massive global hit with Elusive Butterfly in 1965. Someone crawled out of the woodwork and sold some acoustic demo recordings he had made a few years earlier as a teenager to Verve Records. Verve decided to add bass, drums and strings to the songs, which consisted of voice and acoustic guitar only, in order to make them sound more like the single he had in the charts. The whole affair reeks of the worst side of the exploitative music business of those days – and yet … somehow they made something beautiful. It’s like a weird, inverted form of sampling: instead of cutting and pasting the vocals and guitar over a steady rhythm track – as would happen today – Lind’s performances speed up, slow down, have irregular bar counts, and the bass and drums just have to follow him as best they can. So the songs end up with very modern-sounding, unusual structures. The dislocation between the various elements emphasises the loneliness in the songs. It has an absolutely unique atmosphere – the voice is swathed in a 50s-style reverb, the instrumentation and string arrangements are very mid-60s, but when they lock into a groove and trance out (like on What Colour Are You?) it could have been made last week. It’s not only my favourite Bob Lind album; it’s one of my favourite albums, full stop. Go figure.

Izzy Bizu on …

Ala.Ni: You & I (No Format, 2016)

Click to hear Ala.Ni’s Cherry Blossom.

Ala.Ni is from London but lives in Paris and she has sung with Damon Albarn and Mary J Blige but I love her own music. It reminds me of old songs such as Dream a Little Dream of Me. I saw her playing in this bar, like some cool 1940s nightclub, and she started singing at really low volume, and it was so beautiful I fell in love with her. A few years later I was on the Eurostar and I saw her walking past and I was like: “Oh my God, it’s the girl from the bar!” So I said hi and told her I loved her music. Then I saw her again at a festival and she was incredible. The sounds she uses, the mic she uses, it’s really “old” and the way she sings is really conversational. She even uses her hands in a really elegant way. Listening to her is like having a big hug; you feel like you have had a massage.

Saul Milton of Chase & Status on …

Angus & Julia Stone: Down The Way (Capitol, 2010)

Click to hear Angus & Julia Stone’s Big Jet Plane.

You would expect us to be constantly listening to drum’n’bass, the Prodigy, Biggie Smalls and bashment but we have a wide spectrum of music that we love. We were touring America in 2011 for our No More Idols tour and our frontman MC Rage put this on our tourbus and this incredible tune called Big Jet Plane came on. The beautiful music and combination of male and female voices really touched me. It became the soundtrack to the tour and since then I’ve followed their career and got all their records. Fans of folky funk with classic songwriting and modern production – Bon Iver fans, for example – will love it.

Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne on …

Laura Nyro: Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (Columbia, 1968)

Click to hear Laura Nyro’s Stoned Soul Picnic.

She doesn’t have the recognition that she’s due. Other people, such as Barbra Streisand and the 5th Dimension, had hits with her songs: she was a bit of a Carole King. This was her second album – she was 20 at the time. She had so much passion in her songwriting, her voice and her arrangements. Very theatrical, in a way: she clearly influenced Kate Bush. I love the changes in tempo – these are songs of many parts. Her singing style was a mixture of jazz, gospel, soul and pop. But she had a real fear of performing live that stemmed from a disastrous appearance at the Monterey festival. She retreated from the limelight after that, although she carried on making records such as the cover versions album Gonna Take a Miracle, with Labelle, which is another brilliant album.

Tom Ogden of Blossoms on …

Dion: Born To Be With You (Phil Spector Records, 1975)

Click to hear Dion’s In and Out of the Shadows.

Phil Spector produced six of the tracks; I’m a big fan of his Wall of Sound. Spector was drinking a lot and quite fucked-up when he was making this record. Dion disowned it and he faded into obscurity. He described it as “funeral music”. I think it’s a great pop record: grand and epic. It’s got that Be My Baby sound, with a lot of the Wrecking Crew on. I love Only You Know and In and Out of the Shadows, which were both co-written by Spector and Gerry Goffin, who used to write with Carole King. It was actually James Skelly of the Coral, who produced our album, who put me on to it. Musicians love it, such as Bobby Gillespie and Pete Townshend. And Bruce Springsteen, who visited the studio during the recording of it. It’s got an uplifting melancholy to it, a euphoric heartbreak –an atmosphere I’m always trying to recreate.

Moby on …

Simple Minds: Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call (Virgin, 1981)

Click to see Simple Minds perfrom The American on The Tube.

This album charted when it was released, but over time has slipped gently into quasi-obscurity. Simple Minds went on to become a stadium rock band, leading most people to forget that before super-stardom they were idiosyncratic, electronic and Bowie-influenced. I first heard this in early 1982 when I was a junior at high school in Darien, Connecticut, and for me it was everything that suburban America in 1982 was not. It was atmospheric, weirdly European and disco-influenced at a time when radio in the States was all shiny American pop and pedantic rock. It’s a remarkable record that deserves its place in the canon of great Bowie-inspired albums.

Jim Kerr of Simple Minds on …

Robert Wyatt: Nothing Can Stop Us (Rough Trade, 1982)

Click to hear Robert Wyatt’s At Last I Am Free.

This is without doubt one of my favourite albums. Before its release, Robert Wyatt was known to me as drummer and co-vocalist of Soft Machine, through listening to John Peel, who almost single-handedly championed him throughout his solo career. Peel brought Wyatt further attention, particularly in 1983 when his original version of Elvis Costello and Clive Langer’s Falklands war-inspired song Shipbuilding reached No 2 in his Festive 50. By that time, I was already well under the influence of Nothing Can Stop Us. It was on my Walkman throughout that summer, usually as I hoofed it on a daily basis from Paddington up to Shepherd’s Bush, where my mates and I were busy occupying ourselves with the recording of a bunch of songs that would be released as New Gold Dream. I loved listening to the album in its entirety, and repeatedly so. I still do. Why? You could begin by listening to At Last I Am Free, followed by Strange Fruit, and then the aforementioned Shipbuilding. And perhaps like me you, too, will get a lump in the throat listening to what was surely a purposefully pale and wan rendition of Red Flag. I don’t think Robert Wyatt knows how great an artist he really is.

Green Gartside of Scritti Politti on …

The Clark Sisters: Is My Living In Vain (Sound of Gospel, 1980)

Click to hear the Clark Sisters’ Is My Living in Vain?

This was given to me by a writer I met in New York in about 1982: this recording of rapturous devotion to God has abided with me ever since. It’s so good … it almost passeth all understanding. Taped live in 1979 at Detroit’s Bailey Cathedral, Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark with her four sisters and their mother, group founder Dr Mattie Moss Clark, perform some of the most ineffably sublime music I have ever heard. As funky as grandpa’s drawers and with an ecstatic sense of yearning, the sisters’ goosebump-inducing singing – sometimes fragile, sometimes fearsome – is put to the service of eight exquisitely crafted paeans to the Lord. You can find a clip of the sisters in their floor-length pastel chiffon gowns performing a version of the album’s title song on YouTube, which is magnificent but only hints at the record’s treasures. In 1983, the Clark Sisters performed at the Grammys, provoking the ire of their church, which forbade Mattie Moss from ever performing with her daughters again. Her singing of They Were Overcome on this album is one of the loveliest things I know. A couple of years after I was first given the record, the sisters came to London to sing at [the] Westminster Hall. After their astonishing appearance I approached them to express my admiration and gratitude. I was invited to visit the family next day at a house in Tottenham, or maybe it was Finsbury Park. I’m sure I was a nuisance but they were gracious and I was blessed with some albums from their back catalogue. Is My Living In Vain is an exalted delight and is up there with the venerated best.

Petite Meller on …

The Clark Sisters: You Brought the Sunshine (Sound of Gospel, 1981)

Click to hear the Clark Sisters’ You Brought the Sunshine.

I was recommended these sisters by a female Uber driver in LA; I’d just played my song Baby Love to her. It was my best musical ride. She heard the gospel vocals in my song and said: “You’ve got to hear these girls!” They’re sisters who sing these big gospel songs with so much energy and love. It’s inspiring to listen to as it gives me ideas. I love the rawness of the recordings from those days. Go find them … you won’t regret it.

Naughty Boy on …

Nitin Sawhney: Beyond Skin (Outcaste, 1999)

Click here to see Nitin Sawnhey and Brian Eno perform Prophesy.

I was in the sixth form when I came across this. I was working in Watford WH Smith in the music department, and I’d get 25% discount, so I ordered it in and used to listen to it on my PlayStation because I didn’t have a CD player. I was fascinated because Sawhney was British-Asian, too: I didn’t think it was possible to make Asian sounds and still be cool. On the surface, the album was about nuclear weapons, but really it was about a personal quest to find yourself, with lots of songs about love. It’s quite dark, but the lyrics are full of light. He was refusing to be bound by any rules. He combined flamenco music with Qawwali, jazz with drum’n’bass. It made me ultimately brave. Once I’d finished sixth form, I was ready to start my journey as a composer and producer. Being boxed-in wasn’t an option because of this album.

Sean Paul on …

Buju Banton: ’Til Shiloh (Loose Cannon/Island, 1995)

Click here to hear Buju Banton’s Champion.

I bought this at the Derrick Harriot record shop in Kingston, Jamaica. It was one of the few stores that would carry albums as soon as they were released; they used to rent movies on VHS as well, so it was a popular spot. When it came out, Buju was already a dancehall superstar but it took him to a different level. Most dancehall albums at that time were usually a collection of hits that were already out but this was made up of new material. When I got home and put it on the stereo, it was mind-blowing. Buju was in full-on rasta mode and every single song was absolute fire. The consciousness was turned all the way up. Even on the party songs and girl tunes he was talking from a higher perspective. Champion and Murderer may have been the hardcore boom shots that everyone knows but Til I’m Laid to Rest and Not an Easy Road spoke to me deeply and truly inspired me even more to pursue music. Everyone needs to listen to this dancehall reggae gem and see who Buju Banton really is.

Faris Badwan of Cat’s Eyes and the Horrors on …

Faine Jade: Introspection: A Faine Jade Recital (Sandiland, 1968)

Click to hear Faine Jade’s Don’t Hassle Me.

This is one of my favourite psychedelic records – and one of the rarest. Get it now! It has the visceral edge of the Velvet Underground in places and the wistfulness of Syd Barrett in others. Faine Jade is effectively a solo project from Chuck Laskowski, a Long Island-based singer and guitarist who previously released one single with the Rustics in 1966. Barrett similarities run through the record; one of my favourite things about Syd’s songs is the feeling that they could go in any direction, at any moment. They are totally tense, raw and unpredictable, and the songs on Introspection follow a similar creative path. Laskowski claims to have been unaware of Pink Floyd at the time, which is totally believable as the tracks never stray into homage territory. While seeking to emulate some of the British psych sounds of the time, Introspection retains the identity of late-60s amphetamine-driven US garage. Don’t Hassle Me captures the spirit of rebellious youth, and Ballad of the Bad Guys is a burst of garage rock that Between the Buttons-era Rolling Stones fans will be into. The tension reaches its height on People Games Play, a song that combines the “ostrich guitar” strumming of Lou Reed with familiar late-60s percussion and unsettling, monotone vocals. There’s definitely a bit of the Byrds in here as well. The lyrics are fairly typical of the Timothy Leary era, with mystical lines such as, “Trim the wick with scarlet scissors,” but they fit the mood. Laskowski went on to release an album with the country rock band Dustbowl Clementine in 1970 but has since been largely inactive. More recently, Faine Jade gained wider exposure as MGMT covered the folk-rock title track Introspection on their debut Oracular Spectacular. Laskowski even gave his seal of approval by appearing with them on the closing date of their accompanying US tour.

Petula Clark on …

Michel Colombier: Wings (A&M, 1971)

Click here to hear Emmanuel by Michel Colombier.

Herb Alpert produced this album, mostly in LA and Paris. It was a hugely expensive project, a mixture of jazz, rock, symphonic, with fantastic people on it – Bill Medley, Paul Williams – and some great jazz musicians. It’s one of those masterpieces that isn’t what you’d call a commercial record, but it’s one of my favourites. I love Herb, and Michel, who was a great composing talent. It was a bit of a love-in! There’s some amazing music on it: very moving – there’s a song on it called Emmanuel, for Michel’s son, who died very young – but it also rocks like mad. It was very personal to Michel, who was a very unusual musician. He was often in another place, another world. It was made for pure pleasure. You could call it a kind of folly.

Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip on …

Franco Battiato: Foetus (Sony/BMG Italy, 1971)

Click to hear Karyokinesis by Franco Battiato.

It’s progressive rock but more short song-based than overblown 15-minute rock like Yes, Genesis or ELP. He’s a composer and songwriter who’s still one of Italy’s best-known musicians; a sort of Italian Peter Gabriel. He moved away from this strange experimental record towards a more poppy, new wave direction; Foetus is his first solo album. It’s a very beautiful-sounding, analogue synth-based record, but also very pop: the songs are very immediate, melodic and easy on the ear. The Italian version was the first one I really loved; then I came across the English version and that suddenly opened it up; now I knew what the songs were about. It’s a very original take on describing your place in the world; not your usual singer-songwriter confessionals. It’s similar to the experimental pop approach of a Brian Wilson mixed with someone like Jim O’Rourke from 90s underground Chicago.

Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells on …

Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label (Numero Group, 2006)

Click to hear Betty Wright’s Clean Up Woman.

The Numero Group collect really old compilations from obscure labels no longer in existence. This album is all of the tracks from a soul label based in Miami called Deep City; most of the music is mid-to-late-60s. A lot of the players were part of Florida marching bands – the cover of the album shows them wearing the most sick, badass uniforms – who later went on to run more successful studios that released funk and disco. This predates that stuff; it’s tracks that had no commercial success, but it does feature artists such as Betty Wright. It’s similar to what was going on in Detroit, only a little funkier. It’s a little rough around the edges, but if you like old soul, it’s great.

Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts on …

The Necessaries: Event Horizon (Sire, 1982)

Click to hear Driving and Talking at the Same Time by he Necessaries.

This is a record that has even evaded diehard fans of Arthur Russell, who played keyboards in the group during their short lifespan and wrote two of the album’s best songs: Driving and Talking at the Same Time and More Real. When I listen to Event Horizon, I marvel that it isn’t one of the most influential records in rock music. But it didn’t make the impact it intended to, and was forgotten by Sire and eventually by fans. Russell went on to a celebrated solo career after quitting the band by jumping out of the van at the mouth of the Holland Tunnel in New York, while on the way to a gig in New Jersey. But this is a record that needs to be examined further by anybody interested in this era of rock music. It’s an elusive missing piece to the lore of the downtown scene. Everyone who walks through the door of my apartment is subjected to and is changed by it.

Mark Stewart of the Pop Group on …

The Fire This Time: Dancing On John Wayne’s Head (Extreme, 1995)

Click to hear Thee Fire This Time’s Reluctant Warrior.

It’s a shining example of an activist-musician using art as a weapon. The guy who got it together is Pat Andrade, who organises indigenous resistance, helping Aboriginal people, with songs about native rights issues and the way corporations own the government. In the punk days, people tended to wear politics like a haircut, but Pat actually walks what he talks. He was influenced by us [Pop Group/On-U Sound] to a certain extent. There are loads of guests – Augustus Pablo, Chuck D, Mikey Dread – on this album. He’s a real internationalist; a dub activist. It’s resistance through reggae. What he’s talking about is really real.

Charlie Simpson of Busted and Fightstar on …

Aereogramme: A Story In White (Chemikal Underground, 2001)

Click to hear Aereogramme’s The Question is Complete.

When people talk about artists who don’t get the recognition they deserve, Aereogramme are always the first band I think of. It’s a stunning record, so different to anything I’d heard before: atmospheric, with beautiful melodies and really heavy riffs. I got into Mogwai through my brother when I was 11 or 12 and I thought it would be great to have that sort of music with vocals and Aereogramme did just that. I love the contrast of light and dark. It was definitely an influence on Fightstar. Funnily enough, Iain Cook the guitarist, is now in Chvrches, so he did finally get some recognition.

Shirley Manson of Garbage on …

Hey! Elastica: In on the Off Beat (Virgin, 1984)

Click to hear This Town by Hey! Elastica.

They were my peers growing up in Edinburgh. I had a massive crush on Giles, the singer with the thunderbolt hair: she was like a rock star, with incredible charisma and an image that would still look killer today. Back then she appeared to come from Mars: she was like a female David Bowie to me. I worked in Miss Selfridge and she came into the store one day and I kept staring at her. Later I got introduced to her at a club and became obsessed with her and her band. I still think they deserve more recognition; they were a fantastic pop band. The record was produced by Tony Visconti and Martin Rushent, and the result is a strange mix of white funk, jangly 80s guitar, catchy pop and synths, with girl group harmonies and some “alternative” flavour. They flamed brightly for a few minutes then seemed to disappear, but they’re really unique.

Rebecca Ferguson on …

Lisa Gerrard: The Best of (4AD, 2007)

Click to hear Lisa Gerrard’s Sanvean.

She used to sing with Dead Can Dance. She is kind of classical and sings in her own language that she makes up. She works a lot with Hans Zimmer and she’s just unreal. She did the theme from Gladiator, Now We Are Free. That made me want to find out more about her. I really like the song Sanvean (I Am Your Shadow). It’s quite dark; heavy and emotional. It creates a mood and it’s moving. To me, she’s one of the best vocalists of all time. If someone went on The X Factor and sang Now We Are Free, it would be unbelievable. It’s whether the audience are ready for that.

Gilbert O’Sullivan on …

Carole King: Writer (Ode, 1970)

Click to hear Carole King’s Goin’ Back.

This was Carole King’s album before Tapestry, which I don’t think anybody bought apart from me and a couple of other people. She made an album before it, in 1968, with a group called the City because she didn’t really like being a frontperson. But Writer was significant because it was the prelude to Tapestry. There are some wonderful songs here such as Up on the Roof and Goin’ Back – covers of her own songs. But the album only sold about 10 or 20,000 whereas Tapestry sold 10 or 20m! James Taylor is on it, and [guitarist] Danny Kortchmar; a lot of the same people who were on Tapestry. It’s a really lovely album. It definitely influenced my writing, particularly the chord sequences on Child of Mine. If I’d grown my hair and worn jeans and a denim shirt I would have easily fitted into that category of singer-songwriter. But I dared to be different and chose an unusual image.

Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai on …

Abner Jay: True Story of Abner Jay (Mississippi, 2009)

Click to hear Abner Jay’s I’m So Depressed.

This is the only record I own that I love that has jokes on. I tend to like miserable, depressing, pretentious music. Abner Jay was a one-man-band, who classed himself as an entertainer – “The last great southern black minstrel show,” as he described himself. He’d move from town to town, selling vinyl records and cassettes that he published on his own label. It’s folk-blues; the kind of thing that, when you hear it, you can’t believe it hasn’t sold a million copies. It’s a guy singing his heart out, playing amazing music. The songs are absolutely incredible, poignant, dark, really captivating and wild. He wrote them about Vietnam, cocaine, the moon landing. My favourite one on this album is I’m So Depressed. That’s the one that blew me away. I’m not sure if it’s a joke, but it’s really moving.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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