Ten albums which helped shape me as a guitarist

I was recently tagged in a Facebook challenge by my friend David, in which you post 10 albums which have informed your early musical tastes.

I find things like this almost impossible. It’s so personal, but based on hundreds of musical memories. How do you select just ten LPs from years of discovering & listening to new music? So I made my criteria a little more specific, and chose ten records which, as well as being ones I listened to frequently, also served as early influences on my guitar playing & songwriting.

Because I’m focusing on my earliest influences, this list looks rather narrow. I’d like to think that my guitar playing influences, as well as my music listening tastes, are much more eclectic than this list would imply. But then, these are my earliest influences, rather than the wider world of music that these albums (and countless others not in this list) opened up to me.

In some cases I chose a favourite album by artists who could have filled a ‘top ten’ list all by themselves. I also decided to omit quite a few 90s choices which were heavy-rotation at the time, but didn’t accompany my out of the 90s, so to speak…

And because I’m looking at albums, I’ve not included any classical or folk pieces. Although they were a huge part of what I was playing on the guitar back then, just as now, I learned these pieces individually, rather than via any one particular LP – perhaps that’s a separate list of its own for a future post…

Likewise, jazz was a genre I started digging deeper into in my very late teens, so they while it has certainly influenced my playing, it didn’t happen until later. As such, only one jazz record makes an appearance on this particular list.

So what you see below is perhaps better catogorised as ten rock & pop albums which had a lasting influence on my guitar playing. Also, because it was really tricky narrowing down to just 10 choices, I’ve included a few contenders which nearly made the cut.

Strangely, some significant guitar influences don’t appear in these picks, for various reasons – not least because 10 albums isn’t enough! I think it’s because I view some guitar player’s work over their whole career (or live performances), rather than limited to just one record.

Anyway, here they are. The list is (very loosely) organised by chronology of when I discovered them, where my memory makes that possible. Enjoy!

The Shadows – 20 Golden Greats (1977)

The album that started it all. I was six years old and going through the ‘tennis racket guitar’ phase. My Dad suggested I listen to some “proper guitar music” and player this album to me (on cassette, naturally). There was no turning back. That famous clean stratocaster tone was under my skin.

As I reached my teenage years I soon learned that The Shadows & their legendary lead guitarist Hank Marvin were far from fashionable, and I expect many young players may never have even heard of them. But one way or another, the landscape of popular music would be very different without their influence.

The Moody Blues – In Search of the Lost Chord (1968)

My father is to blame for this one too. He has all seven of the ‘classic’ Moidies albums (from 1967-72), and any one of them could have been chosen for inclusion here. Why Lost Chord? It best represents the mix of influences on my playing, featuring both fantastic acoustic & electric guitar work, as well as an abundance of non-rock instrumentation like sitar, flute and some of the best played mellotron in the history of popular music (it was this band’s keyboard player, Mike Pinder, who introduced the instrument to The Beatles).

Another element I’ve always enjoyed in the music of The Moody Blues is that they were a five-piece band with four singers. They divided up lead vocal duties equally, and performed some beautiful harmony arrangements. Meanwhile, the drummer (the only non-vocalist) wrote poetry which the band performed as spoken word on each album. Sometimes a little dated, but very experimental & extremely fun.

Close contenders: ‘Days of Future Passed’ (1967), ‘On the Threshold of a Dream’ (1969), ‘To Our Children’s Children’s Children’ (1969), ‘Question of Balance’ (1970), ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour’ (1971) & ‘Seventh Sojourn’ (1972), all by The Moody Blues

The Beatles – Abbey Road (1969)

Of course The Beatles feature on this list. I chose this LP above some of their other groundbreaking albums (particularly the studio-bound later records) for two reasons. Firstly, the suite of sings which takes up most of side two of the record. Secondly, it features two of George Harrison’s best songs, Something & Here Comes The Sun.

Close contenders: ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ (1967) by The Beatles & ‘Pet Sounds’ (1966) by The Beach Boys

Blur – The Great Escape (1995)

Blur were always more than just a Britpop band. Their music had an air of adventure & experimentalism that simply wasn’t present in the work of their contemporaries. This album shows how observational pop songs could still have a grungy & left field edge to them. As well as this, guitarist Graham Coxon has left his mark on my approach to creating parts in a band with only one guitar player (and no keyboards for the most part) that go beyond the obvious but still fit the tunes perfectly.

Close contenders: Blur’s preceding album ‘Parklife’ (1994) & ‘Return to the Last Chance Saloon’ (1998) by The Bluetones

Deep Purple – Machine Head (1972)

This album’s most famous song (Smoke On The Water) tells the story of its own creation. It is also my least favourite track on this LP, most likely due to over-saturation (are you allowed to play it in guitar shops yet?) bit there’s riffs & solos aplenty on this gem. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore undoubtedly influenced my early soloing style. I loved how his tone was almost clean, unlike every guitar player who followed in his wake. His single-note slide playing has also had on effect on the melodic approach I try to employ in my lap steel playing.

Close contenders: Aerosmith‘s ‘Toys in the Attic’ (1975) & ‘Back in Black’ (1980) by AC/DC

Gomez – Liquid Skin (1999)

Their debut album Bring It On won Gomez that year’s Mercury Music Award. This was their follow up, released the following year. Both albums are of a similar vein (coming so close together). I chose this one because I think I ever so slightly prefer the songs on this one. Alternative, inventive, experimental, but still melodic. And like the Moody Blues and The Beatles, this group had several leas singers and performed some sublime vocal harmonies.

Close contenders: ‘Bring It On’ (1998) by Gomez & ‘K’ (1996) by Kula Shaker

Sam & Dave – The Best of Sam & Dave (1969)

Classic soul tunes from the legendary Stax Records label. As great as Sam & Dave were as singers and performers, it’s the backing band which brings me back to this record time and time again. The Stax House band were Brooker T & The MGs, featuring Steve Cropper on guitar. Every song is an masterclass in creating parts which serve the song. Many of my own chops come directly from Cropper, especially his use of sliding sixths in his lead playing & fills. Check this record out – in fact, check out any album released by Stax in the sixties and early seventies.

Close contender: Otis Redding’s posthumous greatest hits ‘The Dock of the Bay – The Definitive Collection’ (1987) is another great example from Stax Records and features more amazing arrangements by Brooker T & The MGs

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin I (1968)

Any Zep album could have ended up on this list, particularly their first four eponymous LPs (known as I, II, III & IV). But their debut record, recorded in just three days, was one I kept coming back to again and again as a teenager. The group were part of a wave of British acts turning the blues on it’s head, alongside the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Cream. But unlike, Led Zeppelin felt more like a meeting of equally talented musicians, and (no offence to Hendrix or Jack Bruce) they certainly had the best singer in the then-unknown Robert Plant. Powerful, beautiful, but ultimately, accessible got a fledgling guitarist.

Close contenders: ‘Disraeli Gears’ by Cream (1967) & ‘Tres Hombres’ by ZZ Top (1973)

B. B. King – Live at the Regal (1965)

Unlike many live albums, which cherry-pick the best examples from numerous dates, this release was taken from a recording of one show at Chicago’s Regal Theater, on the 21st of November, 1964. It captures B.B. on top form, backed by a large band of superb musicians. This record provides a masterclass in phrasing, demonstrating King’s economical & tasteful playing, each note dripping with the blues. Highlights include Sweet Little Angel and Help The Poor.

Close contender: ‘In Session’ by Albert King & Stevie Ray Vaughan (1983)

Kenny Burrell – Midnight Blue (1963)

This record is the epitome of cool jazz. It sounds like it was recorded in the wee small hours, and it probably was. I’ve dedicated a recent post entirely to Burrell, who’s playing has just enough blues to make this jazz record accessible to a novice such as I was in my teenage years.

Close contender: ‘Julie Is Her Name’ (1955) by Julie London

Special mentions should also go to Queen’s Greatest Hits (I & II), because my family sometimes had a car growing up, and these albums were standard issue with all cars back then…

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this list, as well as your own. Get in touch in the usual way! Until next time…