BBC 6 Music's Chris Hawkins: 10 albums that changed my life – “Stop Making Sense is a beautiful work of art... David Byrne’s a genius“

Chris Hawkins
(Image credit: BBC)

The BBC 6 Music Festival is one of the live music highlights of the year. But this being 2021, things are being done a little differently, with the event moving wholly online and on air across the BBC.

From Friday 26 March to Sunday 28 March, 6 Music will be playing nine all-new performances from Bicep, Michael Kiwanuka, and Laura Marling, who each recorded their sets at Alexandra Palace, London, and Poppy Ajudha, Black Country, New Road, Dry Cleaning, Nubya Garcia, shame, and Working Men’s Club, whose shows were recorded at the Beeb.

As for the classic sets, you've got Depeche Mode, Goldfrapp and Bonobo from Glasgow 2017, James Blake and Kelis' Manchester 2014 sets, Sleater-Kinney and The Fall from Tyneside 2015, and a more. Pop over to BBC 6 Music for the full lineup.

To mark the occasion, we grabbed 6 Music DJ and early riser (his show goes out  Monday-Friday, 5am-7.30am and weekends 5am-7am) Chris Hawkins to talk about the 10 albums that changed his life.

“Our very earliest memories in life are of music – nursery rhymes, lullabies and what your parents played in the car or at home,“ he says. “From childhood to now I have always attached memories to music.“

“I guess the songs and albums that have stayed with me are the ones that not only have memories attached but have that extra something that’s made them stand the test of time.“

1. Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense (1984)

“This is the masterpiece soundtrack to the greatest concert film ever. It’s a buzz. It’s a beautiful work of art. It’s got a deceptively simple creativity and an example of a band at their real peak. 

“There’s something incredible about the way the band interact and feed off one another. David Byrne’s a genius and you just fixate on his presence. Once In A Lifetime is one of my absolute favourite songs. A mood changer. A massive dose of brilliance.“

2. Primal Scream – Screamadelica (1991)

“I think most people remember where they were when they fall in love with an album on a first listen. My first time with Screamadelica was at a mate's party. I was a late teen and the party was in a friend’s garden, somewhere in very rural Worcestershire, around the October half term. 

Epic, trippy and sublime. It’s a rock album that’s also a clubbing album and a clubbing album that’s also a rock album

“Music wasn’t a priority for the party host. He was a pretty unusual guy who collected lawnmowers and only wore tweed. He didn’t own a single CD so for the party, he bought one album that he assumed would suffice for the night. That album happened to be the seminal, Screamadelica.

“I heard it for the first time that night. Around eight times. What a phenomenal piece of work. Epic, trippy and sublime. It’s a rock album that’s also a clubbing album and a clubbing album that’s also a rock album. With the untimely passing of Denise Johnson, Screamadelica is also a permanent reminder of her mesmerising contribution to such an enduring album.“

3. Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (

“This is a great example of an album that I have special memories attached to. It came out soon after the launch of 6 Music in 2002. I was living in West London, wildly excited to be on the 6 Music line up and this was one of my ‘going out’ albums. I remember playing the CD to death the summer it came out. 

“Before heading out I would invariably put this album on. I remember gauging my beer drinking according to which song I was up to. I actually rarely got to the last two tracks on the album cos I’d always aim to leaving for the pub by the end of Do You Realize??“

4. New Order – Substance (1987)

“Is it weird to have a compilation in this list? I was toying with including Power, Corruption and Lies. Or Movement. Or Technique. But Substance has everything. I’m fascinated by the band’s story and their journey. A measure of a band’s scale is when you know all the members, not just the singer. 

“Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division came out more than 40 years ago and as New Order they’ are still a headline act around the world. True Faith might be their finest moment but so much of what they’ve done has stood the test of time. In fact, at midnight on New Year’s Eve I heard Blue Monday being played down our road by a neighbour's 15 year old. 

“What an awesome way to start a new year. I’ve seen them live a ton of times and never once witnessed a duff performance. I've got tickets for their big homecoming show in Heaton Park later this year. If that goes ahead, it’s gonna be one helluva party.“

5. Amy Winehouse – Back To Black (2006)

“Amy was special. Unique. We all know what a complicated character she was, but when she was on form, wow! She was truly once in a generation. I guess her whole persona and public image contributed to a mystique and to an extraordinary aura. 

“She was a girl known for spending time in Camden pubs (and often falling out of them) but had Grammy-winning star quality. I only got to see her live once, at the Astoria, in London, and she was in breathtaking form. There was something about her writing and her smoky delivery that was so authentic. 

“Back To Black is sensational. It’s one of this century’s best albums. At the 6 Music Festival 2020 I saw her statue in Camden Market for the first time. There was a small crowd of tourists/fans gathered around the statue and a queue for photographs with the artist we all affectionately know best as, simply, Amy.“

6. Marvin Gaye – What's Going On (1971)

“Here’s an album that will always sound mind blowing. It’s like the definition of classic and way beyond. You have to remember that Marvin Gaye released this when he was 33 and I think What’s Goin’ On is the equivalent of a philosopher’s ground breaking theorem. 

“As a concept album, it’s a commentary. It explores themes of drug abuse, poverty and far ahead of its time, addressing issues around the welfare of the planet. The album’s subject matter alone makes it great but it’s also about the passion in Marvin Gaye’s voice – his passion and the remarkable song arrangements. It’s one of those albums that changes your headspace. The kind of album that totally absorbs you.“

The Specials – The Specials (1979)

“This is one of the great British albums. Released in 1979, produced by Elvis Costello, I guess I came to the album myself a good ten years after it came out. It’s a glorious mix of political comment, humour and totally owned covers. It put ska into the mainstream, combining Jamaican influences with a punk attitude. 

These days I’m less embarrassed about my formative years not spent at Fabric or Ministry of Sound but growing up in Shropshire going to Young Farmers’ dances of a weekend

“As time has passed, these days I’m less embarrassed about my formative years not spent at Fabric or Ministry of Sound but growing up in Shropshire going to Young Farmers’ dances of a weekend and have fond memories of A Message To You, Rudy and Too Much Too Young getting the (barn) party started. I realised this album must still sound good when my daughter did a Too Much Too Young TikTok."

Radiohead – Hail To The Thief (2003)

“I confess to only liking Radiohead up to the release of this album, not loving them. That turned to full on love on November 24th, 2003. I drove from home in London to Cardiff Arena to see if I could better understand the passion that fans had for the band who had headlined Glastonbury that summer. 

“Fast forward to November 25th 2003 and I’d got a Hail To The Thief poster on my wall and became one of those guys in the pub, banging on about why everyone should love a particular band. That night in Cardiff, I just got it. The intricacy of orchestration. The amazing arrangements. The enormous talent of the five band members and their huge significance as a band. 

“My only annoyance with them is that at V Festival in 2006 I decided to leave the crowd during the fifth song of their encore. I assumed the rumours about them playing Creep for the first time in years were not true so during Everything In Its Right Place, I headed to a fairly remote bar before last orders. I sipped a pint of watery lager to the distant sounds of 'I'm a weirdo / What the hell am I doin' here?'”

9. Cornershop – Handcream For A Generation (2002)

“This is an album that I instantly fell in love with. Cornershop do it differently. There’s always politics in their writing, as well as wry observations and wit but also a precision – cleverly crafted pop. 

“This album was another that became a ‘going out’ album and takes me back to living a stone's throw from my 6 Music colleague Gideon Coe. I lived in a first floor flat that was at the exact same height as the top deck of a Routemaster. 

“Unfortunately there was a bus stop immediately outside my window and only a pavement between me and passengers who, on a Friday night, were treated to the likes of Heavy Soup, Staging the Plaguing of the Raised Platform and Lessons Learned From Rocky I To Rocky III. 

“I would invariably listen to this album in full before heading out to meet Gid at one of Ladbroke Grove’s backstreet boozers, arriving with a Cornershop buzz. Oh and by the way, what a superb name for an album too, eh?“

Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)

“I first heard Doo Wop (That Thing) on the radio. It came out at the back end of Britpop and after being so into those great guitar bands, this somehow felt like a next phase. Miseducation was something fresh, cool and so distinctive. As far as I was aware, it was like nothing any UK act was doing. It was a revelation. 

“Lauryn Hill became the first woman to win five Grammys in one night. It’s mix of reggae and hip-hop combined with fierce independence turned this into an album I played over and over. Like a Cool Britannia palate cleanser I didn’t know I needed.“

  • The 6 Music Festival 2021 takes place on air and across the BBC, from Friday 26 March to Sunday 28 March. See BBC 6 Music for more details.

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