In a rare departure from mythbusting, baiting hipsters and pleading for simplicity, this is a music post – a response to a challenge from @mjcarty, @JacksonT0ny and @TimScottHR to find the #7songs that have made us. For those about to consider the same, it isn’t as easy as you think.
My vinyl is all a bit scratched. My CD’s are all a bit scratched. I have no idea how iPlayer works. I prefer the sound of voices and the world around me to music while I’m trying to do anything other than perhaps cook. Even then I’d rather listen to Front Row. Yet music has left its indelible mark on me, inspired me, made me. It’s because when it manages to drag me in, I can’t do anything else. I’m completely and utterly in the song.
I owe a distinct thanks to Sellanby in South Harrow, the second-hand vinyl shop that I could have given as my fixed abode during my most impressionable years. Most kids today won’t bother to learn the RSI-inducing fine art of flipping through boxes of vinyl, or the exact angle at which to tilt the record into the light to find grooves other than intended spiral. Nor will they blu-tak a 2p coin to their stylus to stop it torvillanddeaning on its own unintended journey.
And so my own #7songs. As unique a combo as all our choices. Its why they made us unique.
Queen: Seven Seas of Rhye (1973)
Medium: 7″ vinyl single
I learned about heavy rock from my Dad’s collection of a few albums – he had Led Zeppelin II amongst a pile of stuff I thought was dirge. I remember when he unpacked his new “proper” record player and we listened to it together. But nothing prepared me for rush of blood from seeing a black-leather-clad Freddie Mercury on TOTP with his mic stand upside down and within a minute I was hooked. For several years I listened to nothing but the first three Queen albums. I could sing the lot for you now. The spell was finally broken by A Night at the Opera – they had lost their aura. They were still the first band I saw, in 1976 – but they didn’t play my song. Gits.
X-Ray Spex: Day the World Turned Day-Glo (1978)
Medium: 7″ vinyl single
I’d heard of punk. I’d heard some punk. The right-thinking establishment was outraged, I was bemused. Most of it sounded a little like bad metal. But when I first heard Poly Styrene I got it, completely. I wasn’t allowed to say “F–k!” in the house but I sure as hell thought it. Someone had finally told me music could be different. From there I was hooked. I used to have my transistor radio with me on the pillow at night and would usually fall asleep to the sound of John Peel’s show. I used to annoy the hell out of my Dad asking for another PP3 battery every other morning.
The Only Ones: Out There in the Night (1979)
Medium: 12″ blue vinyl single
There was always something slightly crap about the Only Ones. Endearing though. This song, unlike the others on my list, relates to a particular memory – and strangely one that has no relationship with the song. Its the soundtrack to a rainy London street even today. As a 15-year old I’d travelled by tube from Rayners Lane to Finsbury Park, which felt like the entire length of the Trans Siberian, to see Siouxsie and the Banshees supported by the Human League and a band called Rema Rema (one of their songs, Fond Affections, would later appear on the first This Mortal Coil album – and gives this post its title. Interestingly, their guitarist – Marco Pirroni – was an original Banshee and later joined Adam & the Ants). It was a shatteringly incredible night of music. Yet the soaked streets outside the Rainbow Theatre were, in contrast, so muffled and mesmeric. Even writing about it now, I’m there, with goosebumps. And the song, it’s there too.
New Order: Ceremony (1981)
Medium: 12″ single, green cover (important note)
I must have needed an anthem at the time. Now I cant walk through a park with “avenues all lined with tress” without this song. And its always on vinyl, levitating above itself. It was written with Ian Curtis, as a Joy Division song – there are a couple of unintelligible versions available. But like the Russian Revolution there are two New Order versions, Spring and Autumn -it has to be the green cover version (March 1981) which simply belts out. The later imposter (September 1981) verges on the distressing by comparison. And I always read the words scratched on the vinyl, even though I know what they say: “watching love grow – forever”.
The Cure: Just One Kiss (1982)
Medium: 12″ vinyl single (far superior B-side of Let’s Go to Bed)
From the first hearing of 10.15 Saturday Night through to the rank betrayal of Lovecats (with a few exceptions after that) no band captured my late teens/early 20’s angst like the Cure. I dressed like Robert Smith, wore make up like him, and even received a postcard from him (which I now can’t find) when I asked to interview for the Southampton Uni paper. But for all the indulgent, bleak despair of the Faith and Pornography albums, nothing captures the mood more than the extended version of Just One Kiss, released when the band had only two members. Perhaps in its drawn out build-up it unconsciously tips a nod to stuff that almost made the list, like Yes’s Heart of the Sunrise. “We waited alone on the sands”. Part of me may still be.
Cocteau Twins: Ivo (1984)
While I had dabbled with the ethereality of the band, with tracks like PearlyDewdrops Drops (that John Peel said made him cry), the enormous gates that slowly opened to reveal the opening of the incredible Treasure album began a fascination that ran through countless Cocteaus albums, This Mortal Coil, and on through the 4AD stable with Dead Can Dance (especially the haunting Frontier), Wolfgang Press, Throwing Muses, Les Mysteres des Voix Bulgares and to Robin Guthrie’s beautiful ambient solo work. There is a moment late in the song where glass smashes beneath layer strumming guitar that seizes the breath, every time. The track opened up a world of music where the voice was the complex instrument of all, yet in which the words were meaningless. In this, it had the power to reach more deeply than I had ever experienced.
David Sylvian: Ink in the Well (1984)
The song made an impression on first listen, but at a slightly difficult stage in life several years later became a solace and has been so ever since. To that end it’s an entirely personal thing, just me and the song. I love to write – still now it serves as the nudge I sometimes need to start. The line “these are the years with a genius for living” should be all of our years, every one of them. There is a lot of space in the song, the white paper on which we scratch our thoughts.
There was no place in the list for my favourite song, ever: Wire‘s Outdoor Miner. That’s just always been with me, through every phase of my life. It was my favourite from the first journey through the undulating piano solo in the middle, while I was undulating somewhere in 1979. I have an album called the Houseguest’s Wish with countless cover versions of the song, released to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Jarvis Cocker has a blinding live version of it out there too. So I know that some of this love for the song is shared. Not sure whether I like that or not, but I’ll live with it.
And no room for anything by my ultimate rock’n’roll hero Howard Devoto, from whom the light surely pours, who trumped the incredible Magazine with Luxuria, the most artful fusion of lyrics and music you’ll ever hear. If you’re new to it, try Mlle – I’m sure Proust would never have imagined. I’ve got a book of his lyrics that I thumb through when I’m looking for a burst of inspiration. I always find one anew.
Thanks Michael for prompting these reflections, I’ve run through some lovely memories in searching for the seven songs. If you’re reading this – its your turn.