I’ve been keeping tabs on The Guardian’s My favourite album series of blog posts, where their writers and contributors of a musical nature celebrate the records they love the most, the ones that have touched them, defined moments (or epochs) of their lives. Would any of them pick albums I love? (Yes, they would.) Would any of them pick any canonical favourites that I don’t rate? (Yes, they would.) Would any of them put a deeply personal spin on a record I otherwise couldn’t give a damn about, and make me consider it in a new light? (Almost.) (I’m resigned to never “getting” Pink Floyd now, and am more than OK with this.)
The reasons why people chose the records they did were almost as varied as the records in the specifics, but broadly speaking they were personal, the albums in question being used as emotional batteries, loaded with associations with times past, people gone, experiences that impacted deeply on the listeners’ lives. It didn’t matter if the record in question was a compilation of pop singles by different people that had been played to death as a child, or a recent(ish) critical favourite that just happened to soundtrack a rite-of-passage break-up; what mattered was the connection, between the music, the event, the time, the person, which had become indelible.
All through the series I’ve been pondering what I might choose if I was still throwing words at The Guardian, what album I’d anoint in public as my favourite. And I have no idea at all. If it ever comes up in casual conversation with someone new that I’ve written about music, they invariably ask me what my favourite record is. I used to have a stock answer that I’d trot out (Spirit of Eden by Talk Talk), but although I love it to bits, I’m not sure it’s the favourite, just a favourite, one amongst many.
The genuine answer to “what’s your favourite record?” is probably “the last one I listened to and loved”, which seems pragmatic to the point of pointlessness. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds, that I adore enough to call a favourite, and wouldn’t want to ever be without. For end-of-year lists and announcements I used to try and figure out which record I’d played most through choice in the previous 12 months, reasoning that this must, by default, be the one I liked the most. But when the time limit is exploded, tastes change, reactions develop, memories fade, and criteria like that don’t quite work. Do they? There are records that can’t be played often but which have enormous power and impact when you do roll them out; records you have intense love affairs with and then file away, never to play again; records that are default go-to choices, which never fail to hit the spot; records that function as epiphanies in the development of your taste, which inspire huge u-turns and explorations but which exist only as records and not as emotional investments or signifiers; there are records which you don’t “like” aesthetically but which, for whatever reason, are hardwired into your emotions and trigger a response no matter what.
And, occasionally, if you’re lucky, there are records that combine many, or most (but probably not all!) of the above…