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Should you find yourself overwhelmed with feelings of disgust that, say, Radiator by Super Furry Animals isn’t on this list, don’t blame me, this is the result of a poll conducted by the record shop HMV. They claim it’s in honor of the Queen’s Jubilee, and even set a 60 year time limit on it, so that the only eligible albums are the ones released since 1952. But let’s be honest, very few albums (as we would recognize them) were released before then, so this may as well be considered a poll for greatest British album of all time.
Oh, and there’s no point worrying about the full rundown, as it hardly matters whether OK Computer is a place above or below Black Sabbath once you’re outside the Top 10. So, let’s keep this brief and brutally simple: top 5, albums, all time, counting down backwards from five.
NUMBER FIVE: Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
In which the Floyd combine their two favorite things – sonic exploration and moaning – to startling effect. There are songs about mortality, songs about commerce, songs about the passage of time and songs about madness. There are also vox pops from members of the public and a long waily bit, in which Richard Wright and a session singer called Clare Torry call down the very heavens. Naturally it’s called “The Great Gig In The Sky.” If you know someone who bought a hi-fi system in the ’70s, chances are this is the record they tested it with.
NUMBER FOUR: The Beatles – Abbey Road
It’s got “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something” on it, so it represents the full flowering of George Harrison’s songwriting talent, John Lennon’s contributions include the swampy “Come Together,” the brutal “I Want You” and the tender “Because,” and Paul McCartney throws in “Oh Darling,” “You Never Give Me Your Money,” and the idea of a medley of unfinished songs across Side 2 (although we’ll draw a veil over the unlikably chirpy “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”). Even Ringo lobs in a classy “Octopus’s Garden.” And if you’ve never listened to the three way guitar duel in “The End” and pictured which Beatle is playing what (one bar each, George, Paul, John, George, Paul, John etc ), well you haven’t heard it properly, MAAN.
NUMBER THREE: The Beatles – Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
In which the Beatles combine their two favorite things – sonic exploration and giddiness – to startling effect. It doesn’t matter now, some 45 years after the event, whether this album pioneered new ways of making music or not. What matters is that the songs are brilliant, the ideas are incandescent and the excitement is still palpable. The highs are so high, in fact, that even the least giddy moment on the album, George’s dour “Within You Without You,” is stunning.
NUMBER TWO: Depeche Mode – Violator
The album’s title was a gag, a parody of heavy metal album titles, but one listen to the intrusive riff upon which “Personal Jesus” is built, the riff that set the tone for the entire album, and it’s hard to think of a better name. Bored of their own working practices, weary of being considered fey synthpop whipping boys in the press and possessing the balls and spine of much older and hairier men, the Mode set about making a great big meaty stadium rock album that would be equally well received in a sleazy nightclub or at the heart of a sweaty rave.
And here it is, the very best British album of ever….(drumroll)
NUMBER ONE: Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast
The first Maiden album to feature Bruce Dickenson, the last to feature the input of their original drummer Clive Burr, and the breakthrough album for the band all over the world. The footage you see in this clip of thousands upon thousands of South American people singing “Run To The Hills” as if their lives depended on it could just as easily have been filmed in North America, across Europe, in Asia (they’re massive in India, for example), and in Australia. And I wouldn’t put money against them being able to get a decent reception in Antarctica too, although outdoor arenas are probably a no-no.
Having been told of his band’s massive win (in this poll), Bruce told the NME: “We’re astonished and delighted to hear ‘The Number of the Beast’ has been named Number One. Some of the most influential and classic albums from the past 60 years were in the running so it’s a testament to our incredibly loyal and ever-supportive fans who voted for us.”
He continued: “Iron Maiden is a proudly British band, so to win this category as voted for by the British public, in Jubilee year, is very special. Thank you to all our wonderful fans!“
OK, have at it, tell us everyone is wrong…
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic