The 50 Greatest UK Indie Records Of All Time

From the fringes of the mainstream come 50 records of romance and revolt.

The 50 Greatest UK Indie Records Of All Time

by Mojo Staff |

INSPIRED BY PUNK, angered by Thatcher and in love with ’60s culture, the UK indie scene produced some of the greatest (and oddest) pop records of all time. It all began on December 28, 1976 at Indigo Studios on Gartside Street in Manchester. The Buzzcocks had just recorded and mixed four songs destined for the Spiral Scratch EP. A month later the EP would be released on the band’s own New Hormones label, in the process spawning a scene of musicians, songwriters and labels hell-bent on doing it for themselves. Forged in the political turmoil of the late ’70s and early ’80s, labels such as Postcard, Creation, Factory, Zoo and Rough Trade emerged as maverick flag-bearers of a new eclectic indie aesthetic. The DIY revolution had begun and British pop would never be the same again.

From Aztec Camera to Arctic Monkeys, Felt to Franz Ferdinand, Swell Maps to The Smiths, here are MOJO’s 50 essential albums, EPs and singles of homegrown genius.

50. Huggy Bear - Her Jazz

MOJO SAYS: The DIY ethic of C86 meets the radical activist spirit of riot grrrl.

49. The Delgados - The Great Eastern

MOJO SAYS: The Hamilton four-piece’s third album is packed with grand orchestral epics. They left the template for “indie” looking redundant.

48. James - Village Fire

MOJO SAYS: An enthrallingly odd mix of delicacy, awkwardness, heart and muscle.

47. Swell Maps - Read About Seymour

MOJO SAYS: Brothers Epic Soundtracks and Nikki Sudden drew on Can, T.Rex and the Pistols to create their jerky 1977 debut.

46. Camera Obscura - Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken

MOJO SAYS: Ebullient, beefed-up ’60s pop stylings with joyous hammond organ and an infectious guitar line.

45. Half Man Half Biscuit - The Trumpton Riots EP

MOJO SAYS: The Fall-esque Trumpton Riots allied topical comment on civic disturbance with ’70s kids-TV whimsy.

44. The Wild Swans - The Revolutionary Spirit

MOJO SAYS: Liverpool romantics intone verses of Blakean portent over florid keyboard surges and dramatic drums.

43. The Pooh Sticks - On Tape

MOJO SAYS: Huw Williams’ arch bubblegum theorists had a killer guitar lick, Spectoresque drums and a half-decent melody.

42. Fire Engines - Candyskin

MOJO SAYS: Edinburgh No Wave-inspired quartet provide nursery slopes treble-funk garnished with serene string glissandos and David Henderson’s adenoidal yelp.

41. McCarthy - Keep An Open Mind Or Else

MOJO SAYS: Barking oddballs offer a soaring 12-string melody tied to a footstomping beat and lyrics that screamed, “Be reasonable!”

40. Jane And Barton - It’s A Fine Day

MOJO SAYS: Realised by vocalist Jane Lancaster, Edward Barton’s song is a cappella and Haiku-like, suggesting a sundered relationship with deep sadness – grist to indie pop’s miserabilist mill.

39. Josef K - The Missionary

MOJO SAYS: Josef K epitomise indie’s infatuation with ephemeral doomed brilliance. Recorded in 1981, The Missionary’s tundra-funk fusillade blueprinted every indie dancefloor dalliance for the next 25 years.

38. Ride - Ride EP

MOJO SAYS: ’60s psych melodies pre-fluffed with a thick carpet of post-MBV/Mary Chain guitar fuzz.

37. The Bodines - Therese

MOJO SAYS: Hailing from Glossop in Derbyshire, this genius Bodines single is a breathless romantic gulp of twin guitar twirl.

36. Shop Assistants - Safety Net

MOJO SAYS: Finest offering by Edinburgh’s Shangri-Las for C86ers. Loud buzzsaw guitars and drums that sound like cardboard boxes.

35. The Primitives - Really Stupid

MOJO SAYS: This Coventry set recorded effervescent bubblegum pop, all buzzsaw guitars, feedback and infectious choruses. Morrissey was a fan.

34. Saint Etienne - So Tough

MOJO SAYS: Ambitious multi-styled pop. It is impossible to remain unmoved by Hobart Paving.

33. The Sea Urchins - Pristine Christine

MOJO SAYS: Soundtracking the Birmingham Mod pop scene with beautifully inept jingly-jangly Byrds-meets-Velvet Underground pop.

32. Elastica - Line Up

MOJO SAYS: An infectious dissection of mid-’90s groupiedom with riffs and rhythms purloined from Wire.

31. Stereolab - Peng!

MOJO SAYS: Merging VU fuzz, Neu! drone, Francophone pop, lounge exotica and vintage keyboard-ery.

30. The Wedding Present - George Best

MOJO SAYS: The band’s debut set the template for David Gedge’s unique, often abrasive take on indie-pop. It remains their definitive UK indie offering.

29. Young Marble Giants - Colossal Youth

MOJO SAYS: YMG’s only album was a sustained exercise in minimalist brio and an idiosyncratic jewel in Rough Trade’s pre-Smiths crown.

28. New Order - Temptation

MOJO SAYS: Manchester’s gloomiest invested their greatest moment with washes of colour that sentenced an entire indie aesthetic to the sidelines: RIP Miserabilism, 1979-81.

27. Franz Ferdinand - Take Me Out

MOJO SAYS: A daring composite of two equally infectious songs, it begins like a deluxe Pastels then morphs into an urgent, disco-rock stomp.

26. The Libertines - What A Waster

MOJO SAYS: The Libertines’ best record was also their first. Stewing The Jam’s knuckle-drag Modernism with a lustful eye for deviance.

25. The Loft - Up The Hill And Down The Slope

MOJO SAYS: East London collective offer giddy, rattling collision of Television’s basement art rock and Jangle Pop’s wide-eyed intensity.

24. The Vaselines - Son Of A Gun

MOJO SAYS: Debut single by Bellshill four-piece marries call-and-response vocals to a pounding, utterly infectious Byrdsian melody. Later covered by Nirvana on Incesticide.

23. Aztec Camera - High Land, Hard Rain

MOJO SAYS: A debut album filled with a mature poetry that has grown with age and leaves you wondering why Roddy Frame isn’t a household name.

22. Happy Mondays - Lazyitis

MOJO SAYS: This re-recording of the Bummed LP track with ’60s yodeller Karl Denver absorbs elements of David Essex’s "Gonna Make You A Star" and "Day Tripper" into it’s poly-drugged soundworld.

21. The Pastels - Up For A Bit With The Pastels

MOJO SAYS: Simple, almost-childlike melodies and endearing, sometimes off-key vocals, combine naïvety with a bruised romanticism.

20. Spaceman 3 - Revolution

MOJO SAYS: Lyrically drawing on the MC5, musically it nods towards the psychedelic experimentation of The Stooges, 13th Floor Elevators and Silver Apples in its noisy, compelling drone.

19. This Mortal Coil - Song To The Siren

MOJO SAYS: Cocteau Twin Liz Fraser renders Tim Buckley’s ballad a thing of desolate, muezzin beauty against Robin Guthrie’s über-flanged guitar.

18. Lloyd Cole And The Commotions - Rattlesnakes

MOJO SAYS: The debut album from these five Glasgow University graduates remains the epitome of ’80s indie romanticism.

17. Teenage Fanclub - Everything Flows

MOJO SAYS: Bolt-from-the-blue noise pop anthem that introduced the open-ended racket of Dinosaur Jr to the widescreen romanticism of classic indie.

16. Wire - Outdoor Miner

MOJO SAYS: A magical pop melody steered by post-punk values (and lyrics about the human condition) that proved a blueprint for indie’s DIY pop sound.

15. Echo & The Bunnymen - Crocodiles

MOJO SAYS: Pioneers in a generation’s obeisance to The Doors and Velvets, the Liverpool quartet managed to channel these ’60s US touchstones and still resemble no one but themselves.

14. Belle & Sebastian - Tigermilk

MOJO SAYS: This landmark debut combined the unashamedly sensitive values of old school indie with a poetic voice that proudly sided with the unloved and the unappreciated.

13. The House Of Love - Destroy The Heart

MOJO SAYS: The moment when the-band-most-likely-to came closest to achieving their promise.

12. Subway Sect - Ambition

MOJO SAYS: Singer Vic Godard’s lyrics, seared with anomie, were delivered with mordant derision over a backdrop of organ, guitars and the ping-ponging of table tennis balls taped from an arcade game.

11. Felt - Forever Breathes The Lonely Word

MOJO SAYS: Led by the ultimate anti-hero of ’80s janglepop, the reclusive, eccentric Lawrence, Felt’s Forever Breathes... is driven by lush Hammond organ and a literate, romantic vision.

10. Primal Scream - Crystal Crescent/Velocity Girl

MOJO SAYS: Wobbly West Coast efflorescence undercut by a Velvets-inspired druggy cynicism.

9. The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses

MOJO SAYS: Kaleidoscopic pop debut from The Clash-worshipping, scooter-punk-scene regulars who mainlined The Beatles, Beach Boys and Byrds.

8. The La’s - There She Goes

MOJO SAYS: Lee Mavers’ Liverpool gang of retro melodists were too early for Britpop, but this remains a love song of heart-busting beauty.

7. Arctic Monkeys - I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor

MOJO SAYS: Sardonic northern voice plights unrequited love to a disinterested chainstore goddess, soundtracked by a frantically played scrawny guitar racket.

6. Joy Division - Transmission

MOJO SAYS: Driven by Peter Hook’s pulsating bassline and Ian Curtis’ phantasmal vocal, Transmission conjures feelings of fear, detachment and isolation.

5. My Bloody Valentine - You Made Me Realise

MOJO SAYS: A rapturously be-misted sound that suddenly made British indie as compelling as anything from the US.

4. The Fall - How I Wrote 'Elastic Man'

MOJO SAYS: 1980, the year of the mighty Grotesque album, was a time of surging, magical power for The Fall.

3. Orange Juice - You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever

MOJO SAYS: Edwyn Collins and James Kirk’s shorts-wearing quartet epitomised what Scottish indies stood for in the early 1980s: literacy, Roger McGuinn’s fringe and funk.

2. The Jesus And Mary Chain - Psychocandy

MOJO SAYS: Brutal guitar delirium smothers echo-laden Spector pop.

1. The Smiths - This Charming Man

MOJO SAYS: Johnny Marr’s jealousy of Aztec Camera and Morrissey’s tale of a flirtatious encounter with an upper-class gent put the ultimate indie act on Top Of The Pops for the first time.

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