Before Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant were besotted with the baldy-headed Manc buffoon and mass twaddle talker Karl Pilkington, the jesting duo who crafted the most seminal comedy show of the century were mere struggling DJ’s trying to make their way in the world of local radio.
They scuttled off for a sabbatical / were sacked, and when they returned to London’s premier tinpot alternative station, XFM, they did so as conquering heroes who had crafted The Office. Now far too big to press their own buttons, they were laboured with a fable espousing talking Orange as a mark of their newly esteemed acclaim.
Thus, when they went into an interview with the Guardian to discuss their favourite albums, they were head over heels with happiness to celebrate their newfound prominence. Sadly, however, throughout the article, Merchant would be dubbed Stephen Mitchell, and one of Gervais’ favourite tunes, Bob Dylan’s love-lost nostalgia classic ‘If You See Her Say Hello’, became ‘If You See A Sailor’, which sounds more like a camp show tune than an introspective ode.
This may have been a crushing blow for the wide-eyed Merchant at the time, who remarked on the following XFM show: “It’s embarrassing because it’s like I was trying to get in the paper because I couldn’t believe my luck and then that just draws attention to the fact that I’m not a celebrity and consequently they can’t even get my name right.” But whilst the Guardian piece also frequently states that Mitchell is the taller of the two, as presumably the journalist was startled by his appearance, it is safe to say he had the last laugh.
The first record choice for Gervais was backed up by his own stringent standards. “My own criteria was that they had to be ones that I still play regularly,” says Gervais. “So here is Radiohead’s The Bends. For an album that’s only five years old, it’s already in the best albums of all time, and this is a collection of 12 of the best songs I’ve ever heard. It’s got taste, effort, poetry…Everyone’s a winner.”
Whereas Merchant was more dismissive of Radiohead, remarking: “It’s not something I ever play. Do I really need to hear Fake Plastic Trees one more time?” Before opting to go for The Smiths classic, Strangeways Here We Come, which incidentally is also one of Morrissey, Johnny Marr and David Bowie’s favourite Smiths album.
As Merchant explains: “I got into music late. My parents only had Geoff Love and His Orchestra Play Big War Themes, so I had to discover it for myself. For some reason, I felt that my parents would be appalled if I listened to music, and I remember secretly listening to Radio 2. How rock’n’roll can that be? Then Morrissey came along!”
Next up, Gervais jumps into his favourite album of all time, Bob Dylan’s 1975 comeback classic Blood on the Tracks. “Favourite album of all time, ever”, Gervais declared, “[Dylan is] the coolest man who ever lived from beginning to end”. This notion is one that Merchant adheres to, adding: “I have a poster of [Martin] Scorsese’s After Hours in my bedroom,” he says. “If people haven’t seen it and they’re intrigued, that’s cool, we can hang out. If they hate it, we may as well finish the conversation immediately. But if they love it, we’re mates forever. With Dylan, it’s the same. If people don’t like him, I say: ‘Go away and listen to him, you can come back when you’ve grown up a bit.’ “
Interestingly, fellow comedy giant Steve Coogan operates on a similar principle when it comes to the punk poet Dr John Cooper Clarke, remarking: “I say to people, have you heard of John Cooper Clarke and if they say, yes, yeah he’s an absolute genius and you just go, ‘Oh-ok you’ve saved me a lot of time.”
Time-saving techniques aside, the album chat continued with a record by an artist that Gervais would auspiciously become friends with at a later date – David Bowie. “And now for one of my all-time favourites,” announces Gervais slipping into DJ mode. “David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane. This won out of all the great Bowie albums because it has melancholy beauty mixed with hope. Some would say this is pretentious, but it’s not – Robbie Williams is pretentious when he thinks he’s writing profound lyrics and in fact, he’s just trying to find words that rhyme.
Gervais went on to add: “Bowie is a brilliant singer, songwriter, musician… He’s got it all.” Fatefully, in the end, Bowie’s final live appearance would be introducing his ‘chubby little loser’ friend, Gervais, at Madison Square Gardens.
You can check out the full selection of records below and listen to the playlist further down.
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s favourite albums of all time:
- The Bends – Radiohead – RG
- Strangeways Here We Come – The Smiths – SM
- Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan – RG & SM
- Teaser and the Firecat – Cat Stevens / Yusuf Islam – RG
- Aladdin Sane – David Bowie – RG
- Boom! Shake the Room – Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince – SM