Sam Holloway

Content is copyright
Sam Holloway 2000-05
All rights reserved
Legal Notice/About this site

- but will you agree?

In my final year at uni, I wrote a weekly Classic Album column for The Cambridge Student newspaper. The brief - 220 words celebrating an album of my own choosing, and make sure it's in by midnight on Monday, or else. This freedom of choice went to my head, and the following rather unusual selection of albums were featured. The text appears as originally published - I've resisted the temptation to make changes!

Please note this content is strictly copyright Sam Holloway 2001 with exclusive licence to The Cambridge Student newspaper 2001 and may not be reproduced elsewhere without prior written permission.

Tubeway Army - Replicas

The 1970s had seen so many changes in pop music that by the end of the decade, no-one who’d been through it all had any idea about the current situation, let alone the future. Then at the start of 1979, Gary Numan’s band Tubeway Army released an album that had mastery of both. The New Wave had been; the New Romantics were coming, and that’s exactly where the music lay. But the concepts were years ahead of the competition; the landscape painted by the tracks is a bleak, electronic future where ‘machines’ roam the streets terrorising the human natives. Buyers were treated to a cover showing Gary standing in a bleak room (stripped pine windows and bare light bulbs – very Changing Rooms), heavily made-up in his trademark black and white. And yet somehow it all seems quite pleasant listening, as soaring guitars strum their way across layers of throbbing, buzzing synths, creating catchy but dark pop tunes such as ‘Are Friends Electric?’ that managed to reach the very top of the singles chart. The rest of the album is full of veritable early electronic anthems, even if the titles do sometimes go too far (‘I Nearly Married A Human’, anyone?). Although the concept may now seem quite clichéd and silly, at the time it was the original, and the music still sounds great today.

Buy now

The Divine Comedy - Casanova

By the time The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon made this his third album in 1996, his band had already found a cult following, chiefly amongst the arts students and indie kids of the time. But it was with ‘Casanova’ that they reached the masses, spawning two Top 20 singles and establishing themselves as real chart contenders. Contenders with a real musical and lyrical edge, too. Despite many of the tracks boasting full orchestral arrangements, the music retains an elegant simplicity and, above all, a beautiful and memorable quality that just glues the tunes inside your head. Viewers of ‘Father Ted’ have already heard this in action as the theme music is adapted from the track ‘Songs of Love’. Lyrically, it’s plain daft all the way, with Hannon’s bass baritone crooning through anything from classic cinema (‘Alfie’) to Radio 4 continuity announcements (‘Theme from Casanova’). And although elements of all these styles can be found on other Divine Comedy albums, it is here where the combination is best. Their earlier records miss the depth and feeling, while more recent collections lack the essential humour, making this a truly unique mix of ingredients. With ‘Casanova’, Neil Hannon showed that it was possible to be deliciously silly and yet still retain an impeccable level of musical style and sensibility.

Buy now

Genesis - Genesis

During an early visit to a record shop at the age of four, this became the album that started my record collection (along with Now 1) and a brief glance at the cover indicates why it was so appealing at the time. But what’s in it for the more mature listener? It’s very much a record of two halves, neatly reflecting the status of Genesis as a group at the time. Throughout the previous decade, they had been famous for their prog-rock style tracks with long, meandering guitar/synth solos and rather random lyrics. This is still represented in tracks such as the two-part epic ‘Home By The Sea’, featuring an immensely powerful instrumental of the sort that art film directors dream about. On the other hand, the rest of the album comprises shorter, more restrained tracks with real radio-friendly pop credentials. It was a change that threatened to alienate old fans and hinted at the direction the band would take with future albums and singles. This balance between the old and the new makes for great listening that doesn’t tire with self-indulgent fantasies or extended guitar ramblings. ‘Genesis’ is the perfect accompaniment to an evening’s work and, what’s more, a fine document of the undergoing transition from artistic rock to serious pop that was such a feature of its time.

Buy now

Liza Minnelli - Results

Most famous for being the daughter of Judy Garland (and for playing Dorothy in the sequel to the Wizard of Oz), Liza Minnelli is no stranger to showbiz. So if you saw an album by her, what would you expect? Mushy movie music and booming Broadway ballads? Well, those who bought this record in 1989 were in for a surprise as they discovered it contained a set of perfectly formed catchy electronic pop/dance tunes. The clue is on the back – “Produced by Pet Shop Boys” – and it’s this mix of traditional stage ‘n’ screen being dragged into the modern age with layers of keyboards and pulsating drum machines that makes for great listening. PSB fans will be right at home, as Liza covers some of their songs and tries her hand at new Tennant & Lowe compositions, giving each one a thoroughly different twist. Sometimes the producers bring out her showbiz upbringing; the version of ‘Rent’ is a very simple but effective orchestral arrangement. Then things go the other way, as traditionally slow tunes such as ‘Twist In My Sobriety’ get the full dance treatment, with breaks, bangs and beats. Very much a missed classic (and essential for PSB completists), it’s a treat from start to finish for every pop fan. ‘Results’ – it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Buy now

The Crickets - The Chirpin' Crickets

When this record was first pressed over forty years ago, the word ‘album’ had a much more literal meaning - a collection of songs. LPs were often no more than a few hit singles padded out with tracks deemed unworthy of solo release; the interest and money to create ‘proper’ album tracks was simply not there. So what is it that makes ‘The Chirping Crickets’ more than the sum of its parts? There are three things that stand out : simplicity, originality and star quality. Here, all are provided by Buddy Holly, the lead singer and guitarist for The Crickets. Buddy was the oldest member of the group, despite being just 21 at the time, and it is really his vision and talent that shine all over this record. Co-writing most of the songs with legendary Sun producer Norman Petty, there are no fewer than five classic Holly hit singles featured, including ‘Oh Boy!’ and ‘That’ll Be The Day’. The playing sounds young and fresh without being immature, but it is the songs themselves that make this record special. The template for practically every rock, ballad and pop song for the next ten years can be found here. Never before had one group’s sound and vision been so significant in shaping the future of music.

Buy now

Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

When a group produce so many albums that are widely regarded as classics, it is quite difficult to single out just one. Early Floyd albums are regularly hailed as masterpieces of 60s psychedelia and their 70s works still sell millions today. This particular selection was recorded in 1975 and represents the band in the most mature and purest phase of their career. Following up from the phenomenal success of ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, ‘Wish You Were Here’ realises the full potential of the LP format by continuously bombarding the listener with sound, the only silence occurring in the original gap between record sides. In five tracks, Roger Waters’ lyrics cover just two subjects : former band member Syd Barrett (now living as a recluse here in Cambridge) and the Floyd’s growing wariness of the music industry - a subject that would dominate future albums. But the range and warmth of the music is immense. The combination of Dave Gilmour’s effortless guitar riffs amd Waters’ pleading vocals, plus innovative electronic whooshes and tape samples hold the listener in a strange but welcoming alternate sonic world. ‘Wish You Were Here’ manages to be both frighteningly complex in the way tracks link together and yet amazingly simple in its message and its music; something that only few albums have ever achieved.

Buy now

Leonard Cohen - I'm Your Man

Put this album in your CD player, and the first words that greet you are “They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom.” Hardly the most inspiring way to start a record - especially for someone like Leonard Cohen, whose reputation for depressing, maudlin music is legendary. So on hearing the opening to his eighth studio album, many cynics assumed nothing was new in Cohen’s world. His favourite themes of death, war, revolution and lost love can be found throughout every track, and they’re all sung in a deep, grating rasp. What is it, then, that saves this album from keeping the Samaritans busy? Listen carefully and repeatedly and you’ll hear that these aren’t the usual collection of downbeat, miserable Cohen tunes. There is an undeniable message of hope and freedom in every one – the title track is nothing but a classic love song, and tracks such as “Ain’t No Cure For Love” show a much happier outlook to life. The instrumentation is modern but sparse, featuring simple synth and strings backing most tracks, which adds a further lightness to the set. Much to the dismay of his critics but to the delight of his fans, “I’m Your Man” gave Leonard Cohen a worthy comeback album and showed a new optimism for the future.

Buy now