Music has the power to articulate within you those unspoken feelings that would otherwise stay locked in your heart. I read a quote to that effect years ago. I’ve written it down somewhere. Beautifully eloquent and so true.
Not everyone values music in the same way, don’t you think? Father Christmas did me a solid when the bearded gent delivered a Walkman and the mighty Monster Hits: Volume 11 to this grateful blogger in 1989. Sold straight away by the cool-looking lizard in a tuxedo on the tape box sleeve, believe it or not, this compilation featuring gigantic(-ally cheesy) hits such as Black Box, Ride On Time, Chris Rea, The Road to Hell (part 2) and Cher, If I Could Turn Back Time, was to prove my original musical awakening.
To give my six-year-old self some credit it was the rather more testosterone-pumping hits on the album, namely Aerosmith, Love In An Elevator, and Alice Cooper, Poison, that captured my imagination. The guitars, the pace of the drums, it stirred in me an excitedness I’d never experienced before. I was hooked on music from then on. I’ll hurry through my early musical journey, no self-respecting man of the world can be proud of once owning the entire back catalogue of Take That in the peak of their sex-object boyband years. I remember bouncing on my parents’ bed singing and dancing to Take That and Party – no, I have no idea why I’m sharing this with the world either.
Annnnyyyyway, I became quite the tape collector, scouring the bargain bins in Woolworths searching for singles that had fallen out of the Top 40 weeks earlier – I remember picking up the likes of 2wo Third3 – I Want The World, Aswad – Shine and UB40 & Pato Banton – Baby Come Back for about £1.49 each. (Random aside – At the time I was convinced, absolutely convinced, that Pato B sang ‘With a CD collection above my knee’ instead ‘of Bob Marley’ in the second or third verse. Alas, I was mistaken.) The great love affair was also expressed through my collection of Now That’s What I Call Music collection which started with Now 26 back in 1993. Who can ever forget such musical masterpieces as DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Boom! Shake the Room, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Relax, and, erm, Chaka Demus & Pliers (Best. Name. Ever.) She Don’t Let Nobody? (Maybe not the best song ever?)
I had a pop phase, a dance phase – think ATB, Alice Deejay and Darude – a rap phase when I bought 42” waist jeans for my slender 32” inch frame so they were baggy like Eminem, but it just looked like I was wearing a tyre around my crotch beneath the denim, that’s how stupidly baggy they were in all the wrong places. It was around the time of the latter that I also had my second musical awakening. American punk rock. Take a bow. And it all started with Green Day – more on that in a mo.
Another of music’s great qualities is its capability of taking you back to a very specific moment in your life. Some tracks or whole albums evoke very vivid memories of where you were at in your life when you originally listened to it. Here, below, are three tracks, among countless others, that have that very effect on me, for better or for worse.
Green Day, Minority – I heard it on Radio 1 late one school night as a 15 or 16-year-old, headphones jacked, lying awake in bed. Wow, I thought, just wow, it felt like I’d been waiting for something like this ever since Love In An Elevator on Monster Hits. Minority certainly isn’t Green Day’s finest track, far from it but its lively simplicity and couldn’t care less attitude resonated with me. Mentioning this band in school the next day, my good pal Kelvin, later in the week produced his copy of Green Day’s Nimrod album for me to have a listen to. The floodgates opened. Hitchin’ A Ride remains one of my top ten tracks ever, and from Green Day I got into punk rock and a whole host of associated genres, there was Offspring, Blink-182, New Found Glory and from there Nirvana, System of a Down, Foo Fighters, among many, many others. I still listen to all of those artists today, some a lot more often than others, but they are the foundations of my music collection; music that spanned some of the best days of my life growing up as a teenager and going to house parties.
The Beatles, Hey Jude – ‘Nah, nah nah, nana-nah-nah, nana-nah-nah, Hey Juuuu-uuudddeee!’ Belting out of my lungs it was as I pushed the 40mph speed limit in my recently acquired, second-hand Renault Megane. ‘Nah, nah, nah, nana-nah-nah’ – as I drive round a gentle downhill bend, crossing into Bradford on my way to start work in the newsroom – music continues at lofty decibels and a moment after negotiating the bend the cars in front brake heavily as a truck decides rather sharpishly to turn left into a driveway. I brake – mouth still reciting ‘Hey Juuu-uuude’ – too late. Smash. Crunch. Oh bugger. There’s a hissing sound. Smoke. And I’m staring at my front end, crumpled, concertinaed into the rear of a Nissan. The Beatles are still in full flow. Out I get, swap insurance details with older couple in front. They leave. I call work and the insurance company. I have to wait for my car to be towed. I’ve written it off mere hundreds of yards up the hill from its garage of purchase, £3,500 and a few weeks ago and after my last wheels went to the scrap man for mechanical failure. I walked to a church just down the road in a state of shock while I waited for the recovery van and cried. It was a pathetic sight. I’ve never been able to listen to Hey Jude with the same enthusiasm.
The Cribs, Be Safe – Unbelievably this track escaped my attention until last summer. Backpacking through the Balkans with Dan, my flatmate, I relied on borrowing his mobile phone to listen to music during the long bus journeys between Belgrade and Sarajevo, Sarajevo and Kotor and back again, Sarajevo to Nis and Nis to Sofia – we covered some miles and we had a lot of time on our hands so I was listening to stuff on Dan’s phone that I’d not heard before. Be Safe blew my mind. It’s five-and-a-half minutes of beautiful tangled poetry drawing on life’s highs and lows but ultimately fills me with optimism – ‘The movie, unreeling, about to begin’. I was starting a new chapter in my life, I was passing beautiful countryside in gorgeous summer heat, I was living day to day, for the moment, responsibility-free for three weeks on the road with my best pal and this song spoke of recognising the insignificance of life’s minor irritations. Hairs did indeed stand up on the back of my neck.
Music is a powerful thing and it’s good for the soul to get lost in it every once in a while.