Music was my first love: for Julia (and others)

Ten ‘significant albums’, albums that made a mark on my life. Seemed like a simple request. Especially for someone whose life is signposted by music. I began to think. And think. Out walking. Driving. Alone in the evening. And think. And feel frustrated. “The Sound of Music Original Soundtrack”, Lucio Dalla, Donna Summer and the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, but most other albums came into my life post 1983. From then onwards, no problem: The Idiot (appropriately, and bought as retro), New boots and panties, Nirvana Unplugged, Jagged Little Pill, Superunknown, Vitalogy, Songs for Drella, Come away with me, Crazy Sexy Cool, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Diamonds and Pearls, Purple Rain, Sign o the Times, Chill out, The Right Time, Give out but don’t give up, Fragments of freedom, The Magnificent Tree, Document, Monster, El Camino, Everyone else is doing it, so why can’t we?, Shelter …oops, did somebody say ten? But I haven’t finished yet! There’s the various Bowie compilations, and …oh, but no compilations, Julia said. Hmm. So no compilations - that means no Marley, Bowie, Queen, Elton John (I confess to being a huge fan of his Greatest Hits Volume 2), no Blondie, less Prince….  PLUS the fact  I didn’t really have any albums before 1983. So the thinking continued.
But as I got lost way beyond ten, realising that it still wasn’t representative and was all after getting my first ‘proper job’ (ie not of the holiday or weekend variety), something else sank in: I’m a music addict. I sing it, dance it, drive to it, love to it, live to it….. but I’m not an albums girl. Albums didn’t form the backing track to my life’s song. I’m 52 years old and British, and I grew up with music-loving parents and John Peel and access to the biggest album you could hope to grow up with. The BBC. So here’s how it went.
I was lucky. My parents loved music, particularly my mother. The radio was on all the time. While thinking about this, Julia, I realised we must have had a car radio in the black Beetle in the ‘60s (unless mum took a ‘wireless’?), as I remember as a teeny rolling around the back seat in the Glasgow traffic, listening to the squish-weeek-squish-weeek of the Scottish-weather-battered windscreen wipers and asking my mother why all the bands on the radio were called after food. And therefore assumed that a Hermit was some kind of biscuit (which I believe it is), as apart from Herman, there was Marmalade, The Strawbs, Cream, Bread  – and some bunch called The Beatles, but they sang in French, ma belle, so they didn’t count. And Scaffold had Aintree Iron, which was about a griddle, and Lily the Pink mentioned Jennifer Eccles, who was a sort of biscuit too. There wasn’t much television back then, it started at 4pm with Playschool, which was for babies. And therefore not for me. Pogles Wood and The Clangers were cool, but spare me Hamble and Jemima and that dreaded arched window. So the radio it was. I was quarantined for a long time as a child, ill and at home, so music was indeed my first love and whether or not it will be my last remains to be seen, but there’s a fair chance. It's still the best way to fly. And the radio in Scotland in those days meant the BBC.
It wasn’t all radio, though, so before I get side-tracked - or mono-tracked -, I should honour that record player that had pride of place in our lounge. Not in the sitting-room, mind, in the lounge. The room I wasn’t allowed in unaccompanied, and which housed treasures like the nice settee, the boy frying fish and the slide
viewer, as well as the record player. Our carpet-fronted spring-clip lidded box was a textured duck blue on the outside, with an ivory-coloured interior, a heavy arm (I can hear the click..), a swingable hook that held the stack of records in place, dropping them one at a time, and it had four speed settings. I have no idea what the slowest one was for, but the 33rpm and 45rpm were used more than the 78rpm, basically because I’m not that old and neither were my parents. Tom Lehrer was the only one honoured with that setting. The stack of singles on the floor, next to the blue box was made up of coloured paper squares containing (mostly) black discs with a dog and a gramophone above names like Trini Lopez, Herb Alpert, Johnny Cash, Roger Whitaker, Elvis, Glen Campbell (Dad), and Ketty Lester, Dusty Springfield, Elvis (bis), Ray Charles, and Ray Stevens (Mum). My mother taught me, and then my sister, to dance, to jive and bop and groove. She sang, we sang. We sing. And as I grew, Radio One came along and so did our move to England, round about the time David Cassidy and assorted Osmonds hit the scene. I could not understand either option, even at that age, much as Coldplay befuddles me now. However, salvation and sanity came in the form of Mud, Sweet and Slade. Monosyllables were cool, poster boys were not. And TRex is a monosyllable if you read it wrong… My love of dance developed to the extent that I invented dance routines and taught them to my friends at school. The Bump by Kenny saw at least half a class-load of ten year olds gyrating and summersaulting at my command – and all because we had the BBC letting us discover what we liked. Who needed to spend pocket money on singles? Big brothers and sisters had collections that could be plundered. You just had to avoid the Cat Stevens fans. Life was about songs, not about albums and this did not change as the teen years rolled in.
If I look through my memories and my cassettes, so, so many are of the ‘taped from the radio’ kind, or compilation cassettes that friends made for birthdays or just because. Hazel O’Connor alongside Beatles, Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Gary Moore and Phil Lynott, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, more Donna Summer, BeeGees, more Dalla, Yvonne Elliman, Tom Robinson, Ian Dury, Ram Jam. The tracks indelible – Parisian Walkways, If I can’t have you, While my guitar gently weeps, Come together, How deep is your love, Across the universe, Long and winding.., Boys keep swinging, Will you… And while I’m here, Boys keep swinging was one of the seminal songs of my teens years (don’t giggle at the choice of adjective) – the video, the song, the courage of Bowie and the ambiguity in the images, they slapped me in the face and injected me with interest and electric joy. Suddenly it was alright to be different and ambiguous, it shocked but somehow validated. My mother had a rainbow of friends and I was also doing theatre at that time surrounded by birds of many feathers, but some of the people we considered our buddies seemed strangely ‘unacceptable’ to many other people we knew and loved (my father being one of the more uncomfortable though never unkind), and this video screamed ‘Yahoo! Shucks to you!’. It was a relief, and I still love the song. I still love Bowie, but that’s a different post. Songs reached me, reached us. Songs drew us in. Bow wow wow’s Annabella doing that squat dance to Go wild in the country – how many dancefloors saw me bounce down to ground level and ping up again to that? Peaches made me sit up and notice as squelching became appealing yet dark. Oliver's Army was played over and over until the tape snarled (boring my ever patient Dad in the car in the process). Let’s groove blasted around the lounge when no-one was home (intro-ed by more squelching - maybe I was a squelch fan). We are family and Le Freak had me wearing out the carpet. Kids in America intrigued me with its split track recording that caused the sound to whizz past me if I sat in the middle of the room. The jukebox in the Devon pub I wasn’t legally allowed into swallowed a large percentage of my summer holiday money circa 1977 so I could play Fanfare for the common man again and again and again. And John Miles. I grew up to songs. Not albums. 10cc’s I'm not in love – whether true or not, what a song. Vast and woo and billowy. Love is like oxygen, the return of my teenybop heroes with a sound that I found made me feel strange, I loved it…. I didn’t know why. Which is what love is about. You don’t need a reason for it.
I am lucky too for having coincided with a generation of women in rock, in music in general, in soul. My mother listened to Dusty, Ketty, Sandy, Billie, Aretha, Diana, Elkie, Helen Reddy, there was Carole and Carly, Dionne and Ella. For me and my generation, we had Patti Smith singing Because the night, which is, for me, one of the most significant songs in history. In my history at least. Like Bowie, she challenged what we’re ‘supposed’ to look like and her voice soared and twisted in a way no-one else’s did, unapologetically. In Pissing in a river, like Ian Dury though less whimsically, she allowed me to be me, rebellious, poetic, weaving words. In Dancing barefoot she gave me my anthem, the line I still live to. Hazel O’Connor, Lene Lovich, Siouxsie, Toyah, Annie Lennox, Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry and laterally Shirley Manson. Oh modern girls with your Beyoncés, Rhiannas, Gaga and Sia, how happy I am to be so much older than you. How could we fail to love music with OUR sirens?

So, Julia. Ten albums. Thousands of songs. Names, colours, soaring and falling, to be danced to, to make love to, to die to. My favourite albums were not sung by groups or singers, they were made or given to me by people I have loved, I love and/or will always be in love with. They were playing when he danced with me, when she sung to me, when we laughed. And they’re all here inside me. So thank you for the smile. And for letting me cheat. 

No comments: