The 20 Best Double Albums in the World, Ever, Probably.

Hello. Welcome (back) to The Best Music Recommender in the World. The process is simple: I pick a topic, you recommend an album, and then I judge you. What’s in it for you, you ask. Points of course. And what do points make? Prizes. Unspecified and potentially terrible prizes. Look. I’m in the middle of moving house, mate. You are lucky I’m doing this at all.

Right. Week One. Double Albums. Everyone hates them but there must be one or two that aren’t shit. I listened to thirty six of them in an attempt to find out and the results were… well… I’m not going to say it ruined my Christmas but blimey 0ne disk is plenty for an album, isn’t it?

OK. Points. As you (probably) know, things are a bit different this year. Only the top twenty choices will score points. The top choice gets forty points, second gets thirty eight, third gets thirty six etc etc down to two points for twentieth. There are bonus points too, which will go to a choice (or will be split between several choices) that don’t make the top twenty.

This week there is one bonus point available but, in a move that will achieve very little except confusing everybody, EVERYONE who doesn’t make the top twenty will get a bonus point. I didn’t want anybody on the leader board having zero points. That just seems churlish.

Let’s get on with it, shall we? Let’s do a big list of all the albums that didn’t make the top twenty…

  • Desmond recommended The World Won’t Listen by the Smiths and I listened to it right up until Morrissey did a sing but then I threw up in my mouth and I had to stop.
  • Nick Rayney recommended I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn by Bright Eyes and, honestly, I thought the guy went on a bit.
  • Benjo recommended Grae by Moses Sumney, an album I am convinced I will really like at some point but am currently ‘largely unmoved by’ for reasons I can’t quite explain.
  • Graham Cox recommended History: Past, Present and Future but it is still way to soon to listen to Michael again. It may always be too soon.
  • Slugger recommended Red Rice by Eliza Carthy and, I’m sorry but, I did a bit of a stupid dance to it to amuse my family. I’m not proud of myself but it happened. Musically, it didn’t do it for me. Country either hits me or it doesn’t. Now, if you had gone with Patsy Cline, maybe the complete Decca masters? Forty points right there. UPDATE 11/01/21: I woke up this morning to find out that overnight, on Twitter, Eliza Carthy had confirmed this album is not country (she also implied that I was a muppet). I have no argument to either statement, both of which are undeniably true. I apologise for my idiocy. Sorry, Eliza. I listened to too many double albums in too short a time and it broke my brain. I won’t do it again. [Interestingly, I have never been called a muppet by a member of the establishment before. Normally they aren’t nearly that polite.] In light of this I have decided to award Slugger 10 bonus points, for teaching me humility.
  • Georgia Boon recommended Zen Arcade by Hüsker Dü. Very earnest, aren’t they, your Hüsker Dü? Very earnest indeed.
  • As an aside, have you watched I Think You Should Leave on Netflix? It’s very good. Very funny. I mention it because there is a sketch on it where a band are auditioning for a record deal – think 1950s, Sun Records, that sort of thing. After playing a song that the record company representative didn’t like, the lead singer tries one of his own songs in that Hollywood, just-follow-my-lead-boys kind of way. However, the other guitarist in the band thinks they are just adlibbing and starts adding to the lyrics, singing things like “The bones are the skeletons money / In our world the bones equal dollars / That’s why they’re coming out tonight / To get their bones from you”. Anyway, Adam Farrer recommended Alice and Blood Money by Tom Waits and Tom A recommended Abbatoir Blues and the Lyre of Orpheus by Nick Cave.
  • Geisterhaus recommended Double Nickels on the Dime by Minutemen and, I don’t know, maybe it is the quarantine induced cabin fever, but the bass playing on it reduced me to childish giggling.
  • Nick Portnell recommended Hawaii by The High Llamas, which I appreciated the execution of, but couldn’t quite see the need for as Smiley Smile, Wild Honey, Friends and Sunflower already exist.
  • Michael Conley and Penny recommended Physical Graffiti by Led Zepplin, and that was dead funny that.
  • The winner of last year’s cup, John Power Jr, recommended Some Girls Wander by Mistake by Sisters of Mercy, acknowledging  a risk as he did so. And a risk it was. Clearly there is great stuff there, but a collection of complete and unedited early recordings will inevitably contain a few stinkers too.
  • Rebecca Holland recommended Filigree and Shadow by This Mortal Coil. The 80s were weird weren’t they? All ethereal and moody. Anyway, like the Sisters of Mercy album, I liked a lot of it but ultimately there was too much I didn’t like for the album to make my top twenty. Soz.
  • David N Atkinson recommended Manassas by Manassas and halfway through the first song I was all, yes please. Unfortunately, by the fifth or sixth I was mostly, actually no thank you. I don’t know why I ever thought double albums was a good idea. It was obvious it would lead to me being offhand about albums that require more than one listen. I’m an idiot. I apologise.
  • Plashing Vole recommended Aerial by Kate Bush, an album I have never quite got to grips with. Can you just sing \pi to seventy eight decimal places and call that a thing? Maybe you can. Maybe you can. Aerial almost made my top twenty, despite my thoughts about singing maths, because I suspect if I spent more time with it I would love it. Unfortunately, when you commit to listening to thirty six double albums, time isn’t something you have.
  • Daniel Carpenter recommended Blinking Lights and Other Revelations by Eels. I quite liked this album but, ultimately, there was too much of it.
  • Picky Bastards recommended The Tunis Diaries by Emel. Talk about a game of two halfs, eh? The first disk, I loved. The second (an album of covers of, mostly. metal songs) worked better in theory than practice. Despite that, if this was about best records, this would have made the top twenty, but it is about best recommendations, a far more nebulous definition, and one that gives me diplomatic immunity in almost half of the countries on earth. I know. Weird innit?

OK. Let’s do the top twenty…

Donna Morris recommended All Eyez on Me by 2Pac which is, at times, let’s be frank with each other here, terrible. However, it still gets 2 points because, a) when it is good it is very good and, b) it was the only hip hop recommendation this week. If nobody is going to recommend Wu Tang Forever, Life After Death, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below or Black Sunday (it was double on vinyl) then I will have to reward an album where Snoop Dogg phones in a five minute verse about how he sees the same ‘bitches’ everywhere he goes. I don’t make the rules.

I wasn’t enormously fond of Manchester Orchestra’s Cope and Hope albums but I was taken by Chris Bissette‘s idea of recommending a pair of albums featuring different versions of the same songs. Electric and acoustic versions of the same album allows the listener to think about the songs more fully. And if all the listener really thinks is, “that ocean one is the best one”, then so be it. The idea is still good. 4 points.

Em recommended Michigan by Sufjan Stevens. It felt like quite the meta choice this one. If double albums are most often defined as ‘something that is good but that would be even better if edited down to about half the songs’ then who better to personify that concept than Sufjan Stevens, a man who releases a new album every three weeks or so, at least two thirds of which are quite good, and at least one in every ten or so are superb. 6 points.

The original release of The Name of this band is Talking Heads is a great double album, but the version that exists now is that double album plus another double album’s worth of songs – a double double if you will. This means that loads of songs are repeated, which sort of ruins the whole thing. So, only 8 points, which seems massively unfair given the fact that nobody insisted I listen to all three and a half hours of the 2004 expanded edition, but I accidentally did, and somebody has to pay the price for that, and Jummo70 recommended it, so…

David Coates recommended New Moon by Elliott Smith. I don’t think awarding it 10 points is very controversial, is it? Elliott Smith was pretty special and even these songs that didn’t make the cut for the Elliott Smith and Either/Or albums are full of magic. I fell asleep once watching Ian Brown drone his terrible fear song at a festival and woke up to Elliott Smith. that was a lovely thing to happen, that was.

Ed Owen and Kate Feld both recommended The Beatles by The Beatles, in many ways the ur-double album, the original band-with-full-artistic-freedom-arguably-goes-too-far record. And yes, there are one or two absolute rotters on the white album, sure, but would you really remove any of them if you could? OK, fine, Rocky Racoon. I’m still giving it 12 points though.

I sometimes wonder what I did with my vinyl copy of Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth. I could have sold it and spent the money on cake. Oh well. Anyway, Sam Whyte and James Battisson recommended it and I am giving it, and them, 14 points because despite the fact that nowadays I view Daydream Nation mostly as a missed opportunity to stock up on lemon drizzles and victoria sponges it is a really good record, albeit one that has a tad too much enigmatic feedback.

Tim F recommended Amazing Grace by Aretha Franklin. Arguably, it has too many vicars on it to be a truly great album but you can’t really argue with Aretha Franklin’s voice, can you? It isn’t Tim’s fault that the impact of this double album is dulled slightly by vicars. Nobody can truly control vicars. The church has been trying for centuries and even they can’t stop them redefining electronic pop music or doing cookery slots on Pebble Mill? Where was I? Aretha Franklin’s voice wasn’t it? Cool. As I was saying… You only get one or two voices that good per century. So, vicars or not, I’m going to give Amazing Grace 16 points.

Most double albums have things on them that you would get rid of if you had the choice. Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter only has two – a line of one chorus and the image on the cover – but you really want them to have never existed. I spent a lot of the time listening to this album reading about its wildly problematic album cover, learning things about Joni Mitchell I never wanted to know but not quite enough to decide whether Mat Pringle would be getting 1 or 36 points for his selection. So I decided to split the difference and award 18 points. I’m still not sure if I have done the right thing or not.

Rob Cutforth, in what might have been the most Rob Cutforth thing to ever happen, recommended Use Your Illusions 1 & 2 and told me they were “unlistenable” while doing so. He wasn’t wrong, but… I haven’t laughed as hard as I did listening to these albums since the start of the first lockdown last March. They are so wonderfully silly, overblown and preposterous in an unrepeatable way. Is anything funnier than Axl Rose swearing? If there is, I haven’t heard it. 20 points, for bringing joy to my life.

Graeme and Adrian Slatcher both went with a bit of prime Prince. Sign o’ the Times is a classic, obvs, and scores a solid 22 points. I don’t know what else to say about it really. You think it probably deserves to score more points? You are probably right, but the accuracy of my marking system has been approved by scientists at CERN (or, more precisely, they didn’t reply to my email asking if there were any problems with it so I’m assuming they think it is good).

Fat Roland starts the year off with 24 points by recommending Warp 10+2: Classics 89-92 which has a few tracks by LFO on it (the good LFO, not the Lyte Funkie Ones LFO) and therefore immediately got in my good books. The rest of the collection is very good too, in case you were wondering. Lots of good bleeps and bloops, at least one of which came from, or went to, a Whitney Houston song by the sounds of it. I dunno. I’m probably wrong about that. I’m no expert.

Most double albums have a song or two you would get rid of. Not so, Black Moses by Isaac Hayes (recommended by Jacques le Singe) which has fourteen great tracks, all of which could probably lose a minute or so if push came to shove. I saw Isaac Hayes live once, at a festival in Denmark. My sister wasn’t overly impressed and wanted to get to a stall to buy a bracelet (I think) before they sold out. Being a good big brother, I sacrificed the rest of the concert. As we started to queue at the stall I heard, quietly, in the distance, “Who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks?” Oh well, eh? No regrets. No regrets… where was I? Oh yeah. 26 points.

Four people took the all-or-nothing risk of recommending Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins, the most marmite of all bands, the most marmite of albums. Luckily for James Beck, Tom., Neal and Beth Woodward, I too have a special place in my heart for these two hours of Billy Corgan yelping (mostly) absolute bollocks over angry riffs. I have no idea how I would feel about it if I had heard it for the first time this week but I didn’t so I don’t suppose it matters. And in the eyes of a jackal I say 28 points.

Because the schools have shut, I have had a seven-year-old listening along with me to a lot of these albums while doing her maths work or writing about what she did at Christmas. (Though not the sweary albums, of course). She only asked what band were playing once all week and that was during The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld. Proof, if proof was needed that Perpetual Dawn is for the ages, and enough to earn Dan 30 points.

Call me an old-fashioned fuddy duddy if you must but I love a bit of early Bruce Springsteen. The River, recommended by Richard Jones is one of his best in my opinion, what with it being chock-a-block with total bangers and everything. I can never work out if Springsteen is fashionable or not. People who dislike him seem to consider not liking him a badge of honour. Haters gonna hate, I guess. Not me though. I’m chucking 32 points at it.

If recommending Smashing Pumpkins was a risk then what was recommending a Miles Davis album from the 1970s? A big risk, I suppose. That wasn’t as complicated question as I had imagined, was it? Anyway, long story short, nominating Bitches Brew was a risk that Филипп Подольский deemed worth taking and gawd bless ‘im guvnor it only gone an’ paid off an’ no mistake. 34 points. Not bad considering I’m still not entirely sure whether I enjoyed listening to it or not.

Last year’s champ, William Mallin, has carried on where he left off with the big recommends. This week he chose Kenya Special (Selected East African Recordings From The 1970s & ’80s) which is a joy from beginning to end and got him 36 points. Look, I’m not saying the rest of you have got a challenge this year to take the crown from the king but you kind of have, haven’t you?

Second this week is another of last year’s high flyers, Sleepy, who recommended Exile in Guyville by Liz Phair. Now, somewhat controversially, I don’t consider this Liz Phair’s best album (whitechocolatespaceegg was my generation’s Tapestry imo, and the fact that so few people noticed that is a shame we will have to collectively reckon with sooner ot later) but it is her best double album and as such I’m giving it 38 points.

And the winner this week is David Hartley! Dave recommended Soul Music by Special Request promising “a relentless barrage of pure energy” that would “should help to kickstart the year.” Never have truer words been spoken. OK, they probably have. 2 + 2 = 4 is truer on one level at least. Having said that, what is maths but a way humans process the rules of space and time. You can’t dance to maths, can you? Or can you? I’m confusing myself now. Have 40 points, yeah. I’m off to find my scientific calculator.