(This post began as a small observation about certain lyrics of a certain song. It ended up being a massive self-indulgent trip down memory lane. It’s a pretty lengthy post even considering I skimmed over periods of time at the end. And I didn’t even go into The Beach Boys: I’ll save that for another day, I guess. So, yeh, it’s self-indulgent in the extreme, but if you can’t be self-indulgent on your own dang blog, then what’s the point? Spelling mistakes and bad grammar are virtually guaranteed. Anyway…)
I’ve come to realise lately that my music habits have changed. I don’t really recognise how I used to be, other than that I listen to music a lot then, and I listen to music a lot now.
Music has always been there. Ever since I was given pocket money by my parents, I’ve spent more money on music that anything else (although I guess the daily shelling out for cigarettes is probably a bit more than that spent on records and CDs by now). That first pound I was given by my Mum was spent on Madness’ Baggy Trousers single. It cost 90p. I probably spent the rest on sweets. After that, I was hooked. I quickly added a few Adam and The Ants singles, a couple by The Police, an XTC one; and after a few months, I got into albums. The first two Adam And The Ants albums were the first two I got I think.
I really vividly remember deciding I needed to read about music too, so one Sunday in 1982, in a newsagents at The Forum shopping centre in Lincoln, I stood there looking at two possibilities: Smash Hits or the New Musical Express.
Smash Hits had ABC on the cover who were kinda hot at the time. NME… I’m not sure who was on the cover. That made my decision for me: I was a pop boy. Had I been a braver kid, I’d have bought the NME and gone down musical roads that I discovered when back-tracking later in life. As it is, I bought pop records, listened to Radio 1, and read Smash Hits.
And it was a glorious time. Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys wrote for Smash Hits at the time; Mark Ellen and David Hepworth, too. These days I rarely remember the names of any journalists, but those two names are engrained. Between the three of them and their colleagues, they turned an interest into an obsession.
I’d listen to the Top 40 on Radio One every week. When they used to do the rundown on a Monday lunchtime, I’d go home cos I lived really close to the school, write it down, then return in the afternoon with the list for everyone to see.
My favourite book was the Guiness Book Of Hit Singles: a handy geeky list of the chart data for every single that had ever graced the top 75. I had my favourites: I was a big Duran Duran fan, I liked Human League, Nik Kershaw and Howard Jones. I liked the Pet Shop Boys. Generally, I liked a huge chunk of what was in the Top 40. My mother would trot out the Mother’s Handbook cliche: If you spent as much time on your homework… etc.
Then as my sister started to get into music I, almost overnight, changed tack. Not completely, cos I still bought Duran and Pet Shop Boys records, but Simples Minds, U2, Dire Straits and Bruce Springsteen started to take over. I became a bit pompous, too. As seems common with teenagers, I got a bit teeny political. I stopped liking Queen cos they’d played at Sun City. I agreed with what Greenpeace were doing, and cos Jim Kerr and Bono said so, I investigated what amnesty International were doing. When, after Live Aid, they did that Run The World thingy where everyone was supposed to jog for a mile or something, my family was on holiday driving down a country road listening to proceedings on the radio. My earnest suggestion that we get out the car and jog for a bit was met with steady, unchanging foot pressure on the accelerator by my Dad.
A couple of years later, around the time I stopeed buying Smash Hits and migrated to the NME, I went to my first concert. This, as I’ve mentioned before, was U2 at Elland Road stadium in Leeds. One of the most important things that happened that day was seeing the support bands. Suddenly, U2 didn’t seem like the coolest thing anymore. The Fall were the opening band, and Mark E Smith spent a large portion of their set with his back to the crowd. That was cool. Then The Mission came on, and I’m slightly embarrassed to say, that was the beginnings of flirting with goth-y type music. I didn’t go the whole hog, but I did dye my hair black and grow it longer than I’d ever done before.
Luckily the lack of any “cool” music on Radio 1 in the daytime pushed me to begin listening to John Peel. Pixies, Sonic Youth, Happy Mondays all came along and pretty much set the template for what the majority of my current record collection comprises of.
But also, out of nowhere, came Kylie. She was just a little Aussie soap star who’d put out a few throwaway pop songs (always the best kind, I’ve come to realise). But for some reason, and it wasn’t entirely for reasons below the waist, I kinda liked her records. It was my dirty secret.
Art college came to nurture the indie snobbishness, but when I lucked into a job DJing at a local nite club (I use that spelling of night so you know what type of place it was), the snobby attitude was both heightened and diminished. It was heightened cos I was there deciding what 700+ of my peers could listen to at any given moment between 9pm and 2am every Tuesday night. But one particularly jolly evening, feeling a bit light-headed, I played a Kylie song. (Now, while not trying that I-was-there-first thing; I can genuinely say that this was way before Kylie became sexy and likeable without a smirk amongst the non-gay). So I played one of her songs. And people were drunk enough to not care that their friends found out that they liked Kylie too. For a few months it felt like we all had a guilty secret, but in the room on a Tuesday night, no-one cared: they could dance to Kylie like giddy children.
Since then, I kinda recovered from the indie-ness. It still played a major part in my life, but hip hop and house and this reborn love of pop music also existed through my few dismal years at Derby University.
And just as the snob was reaching panda-like stages of extinction, I got a job in an independent record shop. Oh! the power! You get some free records, lots of promos, even the records you pay for are at dealer price. Plus you can scoff at those buying records you don’t like, and be extra nice to those with good taste.
The free records thing reached it’s peak when I moved to London and began working for a record distributor. At first it was brilliant: a subsidised hobby. Then slowly, I came to realise the income of records was so high, I never listened to any of them. At that point, a really good record, was something I would listen to more than two or three times. Music had become my job. And that was a bit depressing.
(Although one joyous thing about London was finding a second hand stall at a Sunday market in Crystal Palace that stocked loads of really cheap rock records: I learned to love Aerosmith and Lynryd Skynyrd.)
So it was great moving to Berlin. Finding record shops (places that in London were just there for me to sell unwanted records), flicking through the racks and paying for one or two albums and listening to them a lot. I’d also stopped reading weekly music press. NME had sunk to new depths of shitness (although looking at it now, it’s sunk even further), and all I really wanted from music magazines was a bunch of reviews of albums and 56 page articles about Paul McCartney’s dog’s solo albums. Hello Mojo!
Which brings us up to date. I’ll listen to any old crap. Alizee, Aerosmith, Aphex Twin, Arcade Fire. All good.
But, and this was my original point before I drifted off into a rather autobiographical essay, I’ve no idea about what’s going on. I’m never on the ball anymore. I have no idea what most of the bands I see lis
ted on the cover of NME sound like. I only know The Killers’ music from when it’s used as a music bed on TV sports shows.
And I assume that Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl was a massive hit everywhere, but I don’t know this for sure. I’m guessing it was probably a number one or two single in the UK, US and Germany. But for me, it’s a great song that’s on my iPod. It’s a song containing a phrase I never ever ever ever thought I’d hear on a record, and if for no other reason, it’s pretty much my favourite song of the year so far: This shit is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S!