A very special blog today this one. This month marks a huge 60 years since the Official UK Charts Company published the very first Official UK Album Chart. 60 years! To mark this occasion, they are celebrating a month of all things album (or LP for the old ‘uns amongst us) and have not only published a list of the UK’s 60 biggest selling albums of all time (some absolute gems amongst them. Hello to you, The Corrs’ “Talk on Corners”) and on their Twitter handle they’ve been asking music fans to tell them all about their favourite album using the hashtag #MyFavouriteAlbum.
I duly accepted this challenge, and so I am now going to write about #MyFavouriteAlbum and just why I think it’s the absolute best. I had a very tough time deciding what album this would be, but I knew deep down that it had be one album and one only. Ladies and gentlemen, and esteemed readers of this above average blog, I present you to my candidate for the title…
It’s Girls Aloud, with their second album from 2004, ‘What Will the Neighbours Say?’.
Now it kind of goes without saying for anyone who really loves good quality pop music that Girls Aloud’s albums were as shit hot as their singles were. But why this album in particular? Well, it’s a number of reasons both personally and musically that this is the one I chose as my all time favourite. I’ve spoken before on this blog about how I discovered new music growing up. Cheryl, Nadine, Kimberley, Sarah and Nicola were a heady part of that process for the then early to mid teens me.
The year they launched in 2002, as winners of ITV reality show ‘Popstars: The Rivals’, was a bit of a non descript one by my standards music wise. Only Coldplay and Sugababes (the second line up with Mutya, Keisha and Heidi) were pushing my buttons at this time music wise. S Club were six months away from splitting, and the best pop got around this time was Atomic Kitten doing naff covers of Blondie and/or Gareth Gates doing his one man Westlife skit. It was all generally very not fun.
Over the next year though, starting with their chart slaying Christmas number one and debut single “Sound of the Underground”, the girls quietly became a force to be reckoned with, with some cracking singles to boot (“No Good Advice” and “Life Got Cold”, hello to you), courtesy of pop production giant Brian Higgins and his team at Xenomania. But it was in 2004 and into 2005 that I really began to sit up, take notice of, and then become completely obsessed with them.
Two key moments happened in quick succession for 16 year old me. The first was seeing the girls performing ‘Wake Me Up’, the fourth single from the album, on the BBC’s now defunct chart music programme Top of the Pops, where they were riding the Harley Davidson motorcycles from the song’s music video. It was catchy, sexy, trashy and flashy in one heaving mass of pop goodness, whilst they looked like the hottest Hell’s Angels ever – and the single was an absolute belter too, all crunchy techno pop rock with a pumping disco beat.
A couple of weeks after this, and only two months away from sitting my GCSEs, I had my appendix out which rendered me out of action for six weeks (more on that on this previous blog I did here). Whilst I was at home, bed bound, eating chicken noodles and toast, and crying over the scene in ‘Casablanca’ with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, my mum decided to buy me some music as a treat to cheer me up and help with my recovery, and she bought me three albums: Green Day’s “American Idiot”, Gwen Stefani’s “Love. Angel. Music. Baby” and Girls Aloud’s “What Will the Neighbours Say?”.
I loved all three of those albums back then and I still love them now, but it was Girls Aloud’s I kept coming back to time after time after time – to the point where, a year later, when I was doing my A Levels, I actually had to get myself another copy of the album, as I’d worn out my first one. I loved it that much, it was like a pop comfort blanket. From the minute the album opens with its first single, “The Show”, with the gnarly, 80s synth riff that jags through the track like a neon lightning bolt, and the girls detachedly, wittily sing in unison ‘Shoulda known, shoulda cared / Shoulda hung around the kitchen in my underwear’, I was hooked.
It’s immediately followed with ‘Love Machine’, a technicolor word salad of 60s styled electropop and a guitar riff that, even now, only takes people all of five seconds to hear before they’re humming along and doing that infamous dance routine for it, and also put the phrases ‘We’re gift wrapped kitty cats’ and ‘Let’s go Eskimo’ into common parlance. Further down the album, more gems await. The All Saints-esque ‘Deadlines & Diets’, a trip hoppy ballad about nursing a hangover from the night before is one of their great lost singles that never were. So too, is ‘Graffiti My Soul’, a track originally offered to Britney Spears but that her people turned down due to its lack of chorus.
Ms. Spears’ gain was the Aloud’s loss, however, as it’s by far one of the best songs they recorded in their entire catalogue. From the minute it opens with Nadine’s sultry war cry of ‘Spiked heels and skin tight jeans / I gotta fist full of love that’s coming your way baby’, it builds and builds into this darkly comic monster of a track, part The Prodigy, part Madonna and part Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance”. It even won praise from traditionally more ‘serious’ music acts like Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys, the latter of whom went onto famously cover ‘Love Machine’ for Jo Whiley’s Live Lounge show on Radio 1.
Also delightful is their 60’s cop show styled ‘Here We Go’, the deliciously frenetic ‘Real Life’, and a solo ballad from Nicola titled ‘I Say a Prayer for You’ which is all wistful and folorn and heartbreaking and has to be heard to be believed. It’s an album that stretches pop to its very limits whilst sounding completely fresh and unique at the same time – what The Guardian writer and critic Julie Burchill, one of the girls’ biggest champions, dubbed ‘pantyliner punk’ at the time of its release. Even now as I sit here, listening to the album again, I still hear new things or sounds on it that I maybe haven’t noticed before, and that’s what keeps me coming back to it 12 years on. And that is why I’ll keep blasting it in the 12 years to come – regardless of what the neighbours say.
What’s your favourite album of all time? Tweet me @ThePensmith10 or leave a comment below and I might even feature your favourites in a future blog 🙂