I was driving around today, listening to the NME Classics 3 CD compilation I bought a few weeks back when I switched to the 3rd CD (covering the end of the 80s and the 90s era) and I jumped straight into The Stone Roses’ She Bangs the Drums when suddenly I was 18 again, buzzing from the blissful joy of the music and hammering away at my snare drum of a steering wheel. This was followed by The Happy Mondays’ Step On and I was back in my favourite nightclub, smashed out of my brains, surrounded by my friends in the middle of the stage at the front of the club, dancing my nuts off, co-ordinating the party (at least in my ruined brain) from the vantage point of the nightclub equivalent of the royal box, centre stage. Every weekend was like this back then.
This set me off on a train of thought about how different I am these days compared to back then, as I was a musician without bills, traditional full time employment or responsibilities and I started to think about the songs which document periods of my life or helped make me who I am.
Most people who know me well enough understand that I dislike most music and I’m hard to please but I also get completely and utterly absorbed and taken away by music which hits the spot and means something to me, so much so that it makes me emotional and sends shivers down my spine.
So, here is my list of 10 songs which mean a lot to me, which affected my way of thinking or which document periods of my life on this blessed, turbulent Earth.
- The Clash – Complete Control
The Clash have been my favourite band since I was about 14. Complete Control is my favourite song, along with (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, Cheat, The Prisoner, Safe European Home, Cheapskates, Somebody Got Murdered and Train In Vain. I could go on. I love the crunchy, slightly honky Les Paul and Telecaster guitar sounds against each other, which is exactly the reason why I own one of each, the fantastic guitar solo after getting only one verse in, then the extended play out and the lyrics about the external pressures of record company, management and Police interference pulling them in directions they didn’t want to go while trying to remain loyal to their ideals – “This is Joe Public speaking, I’m controlled in the body, controlled in the mind”. This song charges me up every time. It was produced by legendary reggae fruit-loop Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry after he heard their version of his track Police and Thieves. Everybody who’s heard of The Clash knows London Calling, Should I Stay or Should I Go and Rock the Casbah. London Calling is probably the band’s defining musical statement, but The Clash for me are about Complete Control, (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais and Safe European Home. In ways too numerable to explain, The Clash changed the way I think about the world and my place in it.
- The Stone Roses – She Bangs the Drums
The Stone Roses were an obsession for myself and all of my friends from when we were around 17 through to around 20 or 21. We drove off everywhere in our first cars, getting wasted without alcohol where ever we were and just having a great time, never causing anybody a problem and being respectful as we went. She Bangs the Drums was almost a theme tune, like I said above, it lent itself ideally to banging as hard as you could on the old, hollow, rattly plastic shell of the steering wheel’s central cover on your first car. The sound of the Stone Roses first album and B-side compilations followed us everywhere and Elephant Stone, This is the One and I am the Resurrection were staples of the journeys and camp fires we had all over the area we lived. The Stone Roses were followed by Oasis in their policy of releasing EPs which contained tracks which were arguably as good as the lead tracks and often better than album tracks. There was no storing up of the best songs for albums and putting fillers on the singles. The songs were released as they came. In many ways, The Stone Roses were the Oasis of the preceding teenage generation. My own band covered Elephant Stone as part of our set and I remember our band manager telling us that we had to lose the Stone Roses obsession if we were ever to move on musically. Myself and 2 friends slept outside the Wolverhampton Civic Hall ticket office, as fans of many more sedate artists, such as Cliff Richard often did, to get the first tickets to see The Stone Roses when they finally toured their first album in 5 years. Wolverhampton always held The Stone Roses in high regard after the were in court here for trashing their former record company’s offices for re-releasing a single without their permission. She Bangs the Drums is just blissful, sheer joy and as complete an expression of being 18 or 19 with the whole summer ahead of you for you and your friends to go off, explore and celebrate your freedom as you are likely to find. The tag line of my blog, “Occasional bursts of brilliance shot through with a cloying sense of under-achievement” is an amalgamation of how I used to describe myself and my friends’ during this period and a description of the Stone Roses first single, as written inside the sleeve of The Complete Stone Roses compilation album. The Stone Roses disappeared for 5 years after their first album due to legal issues with their recording contract. While many fans disliked their delayed second album, The Second Coming, I saw it as somewhat variable in quality in places, but accepted that theoretically there should have been at least 2 albums in between documenting their musical progression. Consequently, the albums sound like 2 completely different bands, but I still get the feeling when I hear the first few notes of Love Spreads.
- The Sundays – Can’t Be Sure
A friend of mine took a punt and bought a cassette single of a song called Goodbye by The Sundays. He’d never heard of them but the look of the cover and the sound of the band name made them intriguing enough to take a shot. We both loved it, bought the albums and would sit there in silence listening to the intricate, melodic guitar layers and inspirational soaring female vocals. We would be transfixed. I always described listening to The Sundays as being like lying naked with the love of your life in your arms on a thick woolly rug in front of a roaring log fire on a cold November night: warming, comforting and reassuring. The Sundays seemed to release an album every 5 years, leading with one single from it and have only released 3 albums in total, starting in 1989. We had the first 2 for around 5 years before they returned with the third album. I remember the buzz of excitement when I discovered a new Sundays track on a music industry compilation of pre-release singles which was delivered to our record company, I played it down the phone to everybody I knew who would care and waited desperately for the album to come out. Sadly the Sundays have since disappeared again as they always did following an album. Lead singer Harriet Wheeler and guitarist David Gavurin have been raising the children they have together and haven’t released a new album in 11 years which means we’re 6 years overdue with no sign of new recordings. As they only ever released one single per album, disappeared in between and were generally pretty shy, most people won’t have heard of The Sundays or at least won’t have heard their best songs, but you might know them better than you realise even if you didn’t know it. The song ‘Here’s Where the Story Ends’ released by Tin Tin Out ft. Shelley Nelson was a cover of the Sundays track and I don’t know anybody that heard the original by the Sundays and didn’t think it was infinitely better, like a book when compared to it’s film version. Ultimately the albums are the best testament but Can’t Be Sure as a single is one of my favourites. Here’s Where the Story Ends is probably more friendly and immediate, but Can’t Be Sure is beautiful, understated, doe-eyed, emotive and has a fantastic ending. The Sundays are often described as dream pop, that doesn’t say it all to me, but it’s hard to think of anything better. They are led by a fantastic, clear, emotional female vocal that makes you fall in love, with undistorted, chorused, arpeggiated, ringing, orchestral sounding guitars, melodic bass and thoughtful drums. They’re not for everyone and many have described them as boring but they are a must for people who love melodic British guitar music.
- The Who – Won’t Get Fooled Again
I came across The Who through a video cassette of a Who compilation called Who’s Better Who’s Best owned by my friend’s dad when I was 16 or 17. I was blown away by Won’t Get Fooled Again played live at Shepperton Studios, the studio demo version of Who Are You and See Me, Feel Me and Pinball Wizard recorded at Woodstock. What struck me immediately was the awesome power and volume of the performances, the unrepeatable musicianship, the stage performances of Pete Townsend and rock lunatic Keith Moon and the physical presence they all had. I was blown away, suddenly every guitar god wannabe poser made sense, Hendrix and The Who were the real deal stage performance-wise and everybody else was pretending or copying. Listening to The Who took my own band from youthful, inadequate Sundays clones to heading somewhere different to every other band we knew. Suddenly we were loud and powerful as well as melodic. Suddenly, I played bass like John Entwistle and leapt around like Pete Townsend. My bass riffs quadrupled in complexity and my stage performance took on the same increase energy levels. The amount of guitar windmills suddenly increased too 🙂 Won’t Get Fooled Again is a powerful 8 minute epic, but my other favourite Who track, besides those listed already has to be Baba O’Reilly. If you don’t know it already, you’ll recognise it straight away when you hear the intro. Unforgettable rock classics, both of them. The power chord is dead, long live the power chord.
- Stiff Little Fingers – Tin Soldiers
In the first year I discovered The Clash, I discovered that my form tutor at school was also a Clash fan and he lent me a couple of albums which he thought I might also like. One of them was a cassette tape featuring Stiff Little Fingers and Siouxsie and the Banshees. I’d not heard of Stiff Little Fingers at the time, apart from seeing their name in one or two articles on the punk era and while Siouxsie and the Banshees did nothing for me, I liked SLF instantly and pretty much wore the tape out before I got chance to buy a compilation album as my local music stores didn’t have any of their studio albums. I distinctly remember walking to and from a school hockey tournament in the pouring rain playing it non-stop when I was 15 or 16. Despite only playing hockey for around 2 months, playing left wing while right-handed for the school B team, I scored 3 times in 2 games and we got knocked out by a point. I remember walking a lot of places in the pouring rain listening to SLF. Years later I bought the SLF albums Inflammable Material and Nobody’s Heroes and realised the tape my teacher had lent me was an abbreviated version of Nobody’s Heroes. Tin Soldiers is the track given here as we did a class at school where the objective was to create a piece of artwork which represented a song. I had always been awful at art, I had absolutely no artistic ability when it came to drawing or painting and I had this fantastic vision of how to depict the song Tin Soldiers, which is about the anonymity of the teenage army recruit in Northern Ireland. Beneath a banner which gave the name and artist of the song in army stencilled lettering, I traced an image taken from a wartime photograph of my maternal grandfather in his army uniform and helmet with his rifle over his shoulder. I did 2 traces side by side and one I drew as a soldier with a question mark in place of facial features and the other I drew in punk clothing with spiky hair and the same question mark instead of facial feaures. Below this I drew a wall, covered with the sectarian murals of the Protestant and Catholic sides of Northern Irish society, with the song lyrics written over the top. It was the only piece of artwork I did at school which was of any consequence at all and it ended up on the walls until I left school. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to take it with me when I left. The stand out SLF album for me is Nobody’s Heroes and the stand out tracks, are Gotta Gettaway, Fly the Flag, At the Edge, Nobody’s Hero and Tin Soldiers along with early tracks Suspect Device and Alternative Ulster. If you want to know why commercial American punk such as Green Day or Good Charlotte sounds like it does, start here.
- The Real People – Dream On, All I Know
Ok this is 2 tracks, but they are both of note, one is my favourite track from the album and the other is the most poignant for me. The Real People are probably unknown to a lot of people. Coming from Liverpool, they were signed to a major label during the Stone Roses era and had a hit with a track called Window Pane, but disappeared shortly afterwards and began to self-fund their career. They came to my attention when they signed to my own band’s record label to release their album What’s On the Outside. What makes them stick in my mind is that, of course I got a free copy of the album and we listened to it on tour a lot and we played a gig in York one summer Sunday evening in 1996 I think, they had it the album on the jukebox as they had played there themselves a few weeks earlier and were local favourites. We as usual were hanging around all day while we waited to sound check and so on and spent most of the day piling loads of money into the jukebox while playing pool and pinball, listening to the Real People. The album was played a lot on that tour and we used to have this saying, taken from a book of Clash photos, that getting out of a tour bus at a service station, radio station or at the evening’s gig venue after hours on the road was as close to feeling like an alien as you could get and the song All I Know often echoed that feeling of arriving somewhere feeling like an alien and then leaving a few hours later with nobody remembering your name. It was such an empty desolate feeling at times when you’re sitting in the front seat of a transit van parked up in the middle of the afternoon, wrapped in a duvet, somewhere 50 miles from Middlesbrough – or anywhere a million miles from home, looking at a map, trying to work out where you should head on the way to some gig. It was an empty feeling and the lyrics to the song seemed to sum this up for me. My favourite song from the album is Dream On and is a little more up beat, in fact so is much of the album. The album just reminds me of the sour side of touring, even though I loved the album, I liked touring and we knew we were building towards something bigger. The front pair from the Real People, brothers Chris and Tony Griffiths later produced a single for us though it didn’t work out, but while we were there, they did an impromptu acoustic duo thing for us and they a fantastic ear for each other’s vocal intonations and some really great songs. They often told us how they had been friends with Oasis and produced the Oasis debut single Supersonic, but were removed from the credits after they fell out with them for accusing Oasis of stealing their rich dual guitar sound. If you like Oasis and the Stone Roses era guitar indie bands then you’re sure to like What’s On the Outside by The Real People.
- Bob Marley – No Woman No Cry
Growing up where I did, I heard a lot of reggae as a kid and some of it soaked in. A lot of it was what I’d consider cheap 80s reggae from the local pirate radio station, but some of it was what I, being a skinny white kid, would consider classic traditional reggae, real drums not cheap drum machines. Bob Marley was the main artist I recall as I never knew the names of most of the songs or artists I heard, but there was a lot of stuff ringing out of Jamaican families windows. In many ways I learned to appreciate reggae through The Clash who had their own reggae obsession through bassist Paul Simonon and their friendship Rastafarian DJ and film maker Don Letts. Many of the Clash’s inspirations, particularly their artwork were derived from reggae artists and their cover version of Police and Thieves led to Complete Control being produced Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. I admit that I’m a fairweather reggae fan, I’m not deeply into it enough to sound convincing, mainly because I wouldn’t know where to start with record buying, but I have a real thing for Bob Marley. It’s so relaxed, easy to enjoy and in many ways similar to The Clash with regard to being accessible protest music; No Woman No Cry has to be the classic reggae song above all others, at least for a skinny white kid.
- Oasis – Cum On Feel the Noize
I first heard Oasis in the same nightclub I referred to above. At that stage they had just released debut single Supersonic. At this point, they were just a cool indie band, certainly there was no hint of the massive domination that was to come and I was only loosely aware of who they were. Live Forever and Cigarettes and Alcohol are now classics and it was the former which really made me pay attention. The first time I heard it, I thought it was a Sex Pistols song that I’d not heard before, such was the squalling ‘wall of sound’ guitars and snarling vocals. Once again, play it loud enough and I’m back in the nightclub, one arm round my mates, cigarette in hand, beer hand in the air, singing to the skies and feeling like I’m taking over the world. A year or so later and Oasis covered appallingly coiffured Wolverhampton legends Slade’s Cum On Feel the Noize. While I’ve never been one for powdered chemicals, the track is soaked in cocaine induced arrogance and decadent self-belief and the song itself is a fantastic statement of one’s self-belief in the face of your own most obvious failings and this along with the shattering guitar and vocal delivery, sets me on fire every time. I never liked admitting that I was an Oasis fan, it seemed so herd-following, but this is the song I’d like played at my funeral, it says so much about how I remember myself, emphasising my best and worst points.
- RIP Groove – Double 99 (ft Top Cat)
Sadly by my early 20s, my beloved nightclub where I had spent hundreds of lost evenings ruling the world from centre stage had closed and the new places in town for myself and my similarly dispossessed friends were a little more diverse in it’s musical menu, in one case, a small hip-hop and funk club. By this time I was working in a city centre pub run by my sister and brother-in-law. It wasn’t the coolest or the nicest bar in town but we had a fantastic atmosphere and most of the staff and customers were good friends. It wasn’t a pub on my side the musical train tracks, so I became more exposed to dance music and also Fatboy Slim started to appear in the indie/alternative clubs. This didn’t go down too well with some of my musical purist friends but some of the tracks completely hooked me like Fatboy Slim’s The Rockerfella Skank, Ooh La La by The Wiseguys which we’d been hearing for maybe a year before it went mainstream and RIP Groove by Double 99 ft Top Cat. RIP Groove is wicked and reminds me of busting my ass behind the bar every Friday and Saturday night and loving every minute of it, spending every night after work getting wrecked and copping off all the time.
- The Sex Pistols – God Save the Queen
The first time I heard The Sex Pistols was when I was 14 and knowing I liked The Clash, a friend of mine lent me a video he had recorded from the TV of some film or other, but which had been left recording and had the first three quarters of a Channel 4 programme of punk music, including The Clash, introduced by Tony Wilson of Factory Records fame. It opened with a live performance of Anarchy in the UK and then followed with The Buzzcocks, The Jam doing In the City, The Clash and so on. This performance alone was enough to make me realise the listening to punk music without including The Sex Pistols was a mistake not to ignore for long. For the those not into punk, many say, though The Pistols deny it, that it started with people like Iggy and the Stooges, The Ramones and The New York Dolls in New York but took off in the UK independently with The Sex Pistols. Joe Strummer realised his own band were history when he heard The Sex Pistols, that the new thing was here. Mick Jones and Paul Simonon had been trying to put a band together for a while when they came across Joe Strummer and invited to him to join their band, he agreed and they went on to become The Clash, doing punk their own way. Other punk bands came and went but The Sex Pistols were about anarchy, antagonism, individualism and throwing the old ways of thinking over your shoulder. They had the biggest, most immediate impact and changed music permanently. The Clash were more considered, more political and were constructive rather then destructive. While the Pistols imploded after a single album, The Clash survived for several years before slowly collapsing and their impact was more subtle and wide ranging. Nevertheless, The Sex Pistols are as important as Chuck Berry, The Beatles or Hendrix in musical terms and the sheer force of delivery is like being hit by a bus. I saw them live in Manchester in November and I couldn’t believe how hard hitting the constant the barrage of music was. Never Mind the Bollocks is a classic album and without it we wouldn’t have had Nirvana. My favourite track is God Save the Queen, though I probably couldn’t choose between it and Pretty Vacant. I also love New York, which tells the ‘punk came from New York’ theorists where to go in no uncertain terms and also EMI, which tells EMI Records where to go in similar terms. Fucking brilliant. Johnny Rotten was once the most hated man in Britain, but recent years have shown him perhaps to have been right all along and that the Pistols were the first to say that it was shit state of affairs in the 70s and to tell the people responsible and those with their out-dated traditionalist values that perpetuated the status quo to fuck off. A lesson not to forget. It’s been a long time since somebody stood up, cut through the bullshit and pointed out what a terrible state the world is in.
While I’m sure this is a meme that swept the various Planets over a year or more ago, I’d like to hear the 10 tracks which have defined your life so far, marked out periods of your life or changed the way you think.