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Baker's Dozen

Stewart Lee Selects His Favourite 13 Albums
Simon Jablonski , May 25th, 2011 10:15

Comedian Stewart Lee talks to Simon Jablonski about his thirteen albums of all time, including The Fall (obviously), Ted Chippington, Guided By Voices, REM (who are a disappointment) and why Miles Davis and jazz are like stand-up


The Fall - Hex Enduction Hour
This could go either way. There were two albums from 1982 when I was 14. I'll commit to The Fall's Hex Enduction Hour, but you should give an honourable mention to Pigs On Purpose by The Nightingales. In 1982, The Nightingales were the Birmingham Fall, and The Fall were the Manchester Nightingales, and it could have gone either way, but in the end there can only be one person in the canon of British pop music and it's The Fall.

When I was 13 or 14 I kept hearing The Fall on John Peel, just in between Slates and Hex Enduction Hour. The first time, I just thought 'This is absolutely awful. This bloke can't sing, it's repetitive, it doesn't make any sense, all the things are out of tune, it just goes on and on the same. I hate it'. Then I heard it again and for all those reasons I thought, 'This is also brilliant'. I think that's a real thing that's influenced me: a lot of people's reaction to me as a comic is they hate it, then they really like it, or they just hate it forever or they like it. It's almost like a switch flipped. I'm sure it's from listening to The Fall a lot. It's not diluted in any way; it is what it is.

There's really no point saying he can't sing, because he never said that he can. But he can sing, because his grasp of phrasing is fantastic and pitch and the drama of how to do it. It's like saying to me 'You don't write any jokes, you're not funny.' Well I never said I do that. It is funny, it's just that I don't write jokes.

Being presented with Hex Enducion Hour when you're 13 or 14 and you've got a lot of spare time and only 20 records is fantastic. Even the sleeve of it is a cryptogram and you can pore over all the words. I love that fact it's little snap shots of types of people in the early 80s you kind of recognise, like a music journalist. There's this line in 'Mere Pseud Mag. Ed' that goes over and over: "This is my editors brother." You can just imagine after an interview he was trying to get away, and you can see him trapped in a corner with someone saying this to him.

The whole vibe of Hex Enduction Hour, it just gets going from the beginning, never stops, never lets up. Two drum kits thrashing away, loads of people in perfect harmony with each other providing this platform for Mark E Smith. And the fact that with the songs you can just about understand what they might be about.

With The Fall, a lot of what are people's favourite album is the first one they hear, because you never get over that initial shock. But also because he wanted to give up after that album, I think he'd planned for it to be the last one, so there's a feeling of, 'Well, we may as well try all this.' It was such a fantastic album that they were in retreat from it for a long time, not wanting to be seen to repeat it - when of course a normal artist would have gone, 'That went really well, let's repeat it.' They ended up within two years with no relationship between what they were doing sonically and Hex Enduction Hour. They went on to make gothic, psychedelic pop music two years later.

In this list, it's my favourite album. It's also important to me personally and I think it's probably the best album of all time as well. Usually when you think something's the best album of all time, you have to filter it through the fact that I was 14, or I didn't know about this, but the more I listen to Hex Enduction Hour, the more I think that by accident or design, they nailed it there. It's perfectly pitched between rock music you can get into and an experimental, opaque, mysterious thing that you have to keep coming back to. It's better than all the things it copies as well. It's better than The Stooges, it's better than The Velvet Underground and it's better than all other punk bands.

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