posted on March 07, 2008 10:15
Back in 2004, as part of its 5th birthday celebrations, CLUAS ran a readers' poll to identify the top 50 Irish albums of all time. Over 1300 votes were cast by CLUAS readers, giving the poll some sort of statistical legitimacy and indeed the majority of the albums that made the final top 50 were clearly deserving candidates.
Nonetheless the final results were not immune to raising a few eyebrows especially now, 4 years later, when you look through the list. For example, a Frames fixation among a certain part of the CLUAS readership back then resulted in a voting bias that helped push
one two three four Frames albums to make the top 20. Indeedy. It's also curious to see that 10 of the top 50 40 albums came from the Paddy Casey-Frames-Bell-X1-Mundy-Damien Rice axis, but no surprise there considering the strong overlap of these acts' fanbases in Ireland in 2004.
Then a week ago the Irish Times "Ticket" supplement published its own list of the top 40 Irish albums of all time, as chosen by four of their journos. Again this was a solid list but one that also had its imperfections and its own bias. For example there is a rather strong affinity with albums released in one rather narrow 7 year window (1984 to 1991) by Dublin-based bands who ploughed the Baggott Inn-International Bar-McGonagles circuit (a total of six of their top 40 albums were released in this period by The Stars of Heaven, The Blades (2 albums each), Something Happens and A House).
Reading through the two lists and noting their various strengths/weaknesses it occurred to me that a merging of the polls might just eliminate many (if not all) of their respective biases. The principle I set out with was a simple one - create a new 'Best Irish Album' listing made up only of albums that appeared in both the CLUAS and The Ticket polls. It turns out there are twenty albums common to the two lists so I went about ranking them in order of their total score (which in turn was based on their respective placings in the CLUAS & Irish Times polls, see note on allocation of scores below).
The resulting top 20 is below, I'll avoid any dumb temptation to declare it as some sort of definitive list. But I do think it is a credible listing of 20 thoroughly excellent Irish releases that marries the 'wisdom of the crowd' with the considered views of 4 seasoned music hacks. For everyone there will be at least one glaring omission in the list. For me it is Sinead O'Connor. She didn't make the cut as the one album of hers that was chosen by the CLUAS readers (the quite thrilling 'Lion & the Cobra' ) differed to that picked by the Irish Times journos ('I do not want what I haven't got').
Nonetheless the top 20 as its stands is properly distributed over the decades with 3 albums from the noughties, 6 from the 90s, 5 from both the 80 and 70s and 1 from the 60s. Nor does it reflect any bias I can see in terms of scene or genre. All in all, a balanced and credible list. And if you disagree, feel free to let it rip via the comments below.
The Top 20 Irish Albums Ever (poll of polls)
- My Bloody Valentine 'Loveless'
- Van Morrison 'Astral Weeks'
- U2 'Achtung Baby'
- Whipping Boy 'Heartworm'
- A House 'I am the Greatest'
- U2 'The Joshua 'Tree' (actually joint 5th with A House)
- Thin Lizzy 'Live And Dangerous'
- The Undertones 'The Undertones'
- Bell X1 'Music In Mouth'
- The Pogues 'Rum, Sodomy and the Lash' (actually joint 9th with Bell X1)
- Van Morrison 'Moondance'
- Damien Rice 'O'
- The Frames 'For The Birds' (actually joint 12th with Damien Rice)
- Microdisney 'The Clock Comes Down the Stairs'
- The Pogues 'If I Should Fall From Grace With God'
- Ash '1977'
- Planxty 'Planxty'
- My Bloody Valentine 'Isn't Anything'
- Therapy? 'Troublegum'
- Rory Gallagher 'Live in Europe'
Note on scoring: Scores used in the ranking of the 20 albums that were common to the two original polls were calculated as follows: if a common album was a number one on either poll it got 50 points for its entry on that poll, if it was a number two it got 49 points, etc right down to it getting 1 point if it was a number 50. For each of the albums the scores it got for its position on each poll were then added up to get its total score.
The one flaw in this approach is that there were 40 albums in the original Irish Times poll, but 50 in the CLUAS poll. I had actually initially looked for albums that were common only to the top 40 of both polls – this threw up 18 albums. By extending the 'comparison check' to the full top 50 of the original CLUAS poll the number of common albums increased to the nice neat number of 20.More ...