Compiled by Lee Zimmerman
Michael Weston King is a relentless English troubadour with an Americana pedigree. Collaborations with Chris Hillman, Ron Sexsmith and Townes Van Zandt dotted his solo career before he teamed with his wife Lou Dalgleish and dubbed their duo My Darling Clementine. The pair’s aptly named new album, “Still Testifying,” boasts songs that all sound like standards, each offering the impression that they’re jukebox staples plucked from the repertoire of Johnny and June, George and Patsy or Gram and Emmylou.
It was a struggle to get King to narrow his choices to only 10 albums. Perhaps a sequel is in the offing.
Buddy Holly & The Crickets, 20 Golden Greats
The first time I touched viny, l was going through my mum’s old 45s that she kept in a small blue plastic carrying box she had bought in her teens and still treasured even after motherly duties had taken over. The song “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” hit me so hard — I played it to death, along with any other Buddy records she had. She bought me the “20 Golden Greats” (aka “Buddy Holly Lives”) to stop me ruining her singles. “Think It Over,” “Well…Alright,” “Maybe Baby” — these songs were brilliant, simple and timeless. The music and spirit of Buddy has been a constant in my musical life.
Elvis Presley, Elvis’ 40 Greatest
I had pinched my mum’s old Dansette record player for use in my bedroom, so my parents bought a new “music centre.” This album lived in the rack below it, but when I was downstairs, on it went. It was one of those cheap “As Seen On TV” compilations, but it was pure gold to me. It had the most incredible track listing. From “Heartbreak Hotel” to “In The Ghetto,” and all his classic points in-between.
Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water
My father loved the muzak of James Last, and my mum and I had to fight to get some S&G put on instead. I recall being slightly shocked about “Cecilia”’s unfaithfulness, the power and excitement of the horns at the end of “Keep The Customer Satisfied,” the sheer beauty of “The Only Living Boy In New York” and the use of the word ‘whores’ in “The Boxer.” For me, Paul Simon has one of the greatest bodies of work of any modern writer.
T. Rex, Electric Warrior
I discovered Marc Bolan by watching Top Of The Pops. I was buying all the chart hits at that time — Mud, Sweet, Slade etc. — but there was something about Marc that stood out. Like Bowie, he was a star. He was not as great a songwriter as Bowie, but with Tony Visconti, he knew how to make brilliant singles. I had them all, but this was the first really original album I owned. The poster of Marc in a peacock chair reading the Melody Maker that had him on the front cover came free with the album, and adorned my bedroom wall for years. The cover of Electric Warrior is so iconic. Marc in all his pomp — so damned rock ’n’ roll. Who didn’t want to be like that?
The Who, Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy
Around the age of 12 or 13, I was introduced to my best friend’s father, who was a builder and often contracted to work on flats and houses in Liverpool. Consequently, all sorts of “goods” came into his possession. Often these were stolen car radios with cassette players and boxes of assorted tapes. He made use of the radios, but passed the cassettes on to us. That’s how I first became acquainted with the genius of Pete Townshend. This album is a compilation of all their classic ‘60s singles, before Pete went off to reinvent rock. I love most of the ‘70s output too, especially “Quadrophenia.” Pete is not just a rock star, but a true renaissance man.
Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen’s Greatest Hits
In my mid-teens, a friend’s older brother was trying to teach me a few rudimentary guitar chords. These lessons took place in his bedroom, surrounded by his record collection. At the front of a row of albums was “Death of a Ladies Man.” I was struck with how cool the guy on the cover was and the elegant beauty of the women sitting on either side of him. On closer inspection, I then became fascinated by the lyrics, and especially song titles like “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On.” It was very amusing to a teenager. I didn’t buy that album until later, but by the time I was 20, “Leonard Cohen’s Greatest Hits” was on heavy rotation.
Love, Forever Changes
I was too young to even know about this album at the time it came out, but by the late ‘70s I had discovered it, and had been swayed to such an extent that at my first gig, my band, The Tradition, performed a version of “A House Is Not A Motel.” I had not quite got the hang of my overdrive pedal, and when it came time for me to replicate that simple but stunning solo, I pretty much blew the P.A. and most of the teenage revellers’ ear drums. “Forever Changes is still arguably one the most uniquely produced albums ever made, and it showed me another side to music that was not simply about song and melody alone. Groundbreaking.
Elvis Costello, Almost Blue
This was my “Road to Damascus” moment with regards to country music. I was, and still am, a huge Elvis fan, and in ‘81, like all his fans, I was bemused by this so-called “country album.” But, hallelujah! It led to me to check out all the great artists EC was covering here — Hank, George, Merle, Gram Parsons. It was a veritable treasure trove of incredible writing and singing, and such an honest and emotional musical outpouring that I had never known existed. It’s fair to say “Almost Blue” influenced my writing and future musical direction as much as any other album. I owe Elvis a debt of thanks.
Gram Parsons, GP
I sought out both “GP” and “Grievous Angel” after hearing Elvis Costello’s version of “How Much I’ve Lied.” These albums are the benchmark when it comes to alt-country or Americana or country rock music. It’s all here. Yes, he had those great players, but it was his choice of covers (“We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes in the Morning,” “That’s All It Took”) and the brilliance of his original songs (“A Song for You,” “Kiss The Children”) that make these albums so good. “GP” nicks it for me.
Tim Hardin, Hang on to a Dream – The Verve Recordings
I made my first solo album in 1999. It was a stark, stripped-down album called “God Shaped Hole” and Tim Hardin was one of the main inspirations. He didn’t just pour his heart out, he stripped himself naked emotionally. I’ve never heard someone so open and so personal in song. You feel like you’re eavesdropping on a private conversation while listening, and I love him for that. On a tour of the States, I once played a place called The Village Underground, located on the site of the original Gerde’s Folk City. It was a venue played by the great troubadours of the ‘60s folk scene, including Tim Hardin of course. I felt his spirit in the room. I wrote my song “Tim Hardin ’65” that night.