#7 Songs

I blame Michael Carty. That’s because it really is his fault. In a thought provoking, open hearted blog, my friend and fellow Twitterer, Michael,threw down a tricky and challenging gauntlet; one that, initially, I was only too happy to pick up.

Pick seven songs that really mean something to you. Is that it? Piece of cake, thought I. Wrong. Wrong, wrong and some more wrong. Picking seven songs is one of those eternally agonising tasks- both fascinating and frustrating in equal measure.

One of the things that first struck me about trying to pick seven songs is all those questions that invariably run through your mind even if you don’t mean them to:

Should this be the seven songs that act as the soundtrack to my life?

Should this be seven songs that I love now as opposed to another aribtrary point in time?

Do I pick my favourite songs by my favourite artists?

What are the rules for this kind of thing? Will other people like these songs?

Do I care that they like these songs?

Will I have changed my mind about these songs once I have published the blog and it’s there for all to see (yes, probably, but publish and be damned etc etc)

Where do I start? Where do I end?

Shall I stop asking inane questions and just get on with it? Yes, I shall.

So, this isn’t the soundtrack to my life, although in part it, self-evidently, must be. These aren’t necessarily my favourite songs by my favourite artists but, again, in part, they are.

Some of my singles; I was clearly a rock fan from an early age

With this kind of listographical reflection, it’s invariably those things that you leave out that are often as important as those that you put in. What I can say without equivocation is that they do mean something to me now, today. And, in a funny way, I suspect that’s all that matters.

Song One: AC/DC: Riff Raff

This is the first song from their live album “If You Want Blood…You’ve Got It”. Recorded in front of a rabid Glasgow audience, this is the AC/DC album that is probably most famous for the “Angus! Angus!” chants that compliment the opening riffs of the band’s classic song “Whole Lotta Rosie”. It’s an album that tends to occupy those “Best Live Album” lists that magazines tend to print from time to time. This isn’t my favourite AC/DC album- that honour goes to Powerage -and nor was this the first album that I bought. However, this was the first album that I bought that my mother demanded I returned to the record store as the cover (above) was clearly not for her faint heart or, indeed, her little boy (me). I made a small promise that I would listen to the record once and then return it. When you hear that opening riff (raff), it’s the hairs on the hairs of the back of your neck you can feel standing up. AC/DC were the naughty kids in class, the rebels, the outsiders. Hard rockin’, hard drinkin’, it may have been a long way to the top but the journey sounded like the best trip ever. As you might have guessed, I never returned the record.

Song Two: The Smiths: Shoplifters of the World Unite

Memory has a terrible habit of playing tricks on you. I think I would have sworn that the first time I saw The Smiths do this song was on the much loved Channel 4 programme The Tube. However, a little YouTube research and a proper cleansing of my memory, tells me that I was spellbound watching Top of the Pops on the BBC. As with AC/DC, this isn’t my favourite Smiths song but I think this one sticks for one very simple reason. My father disapproved of Morrissey- he thought this song was inciting the youth of Britain to break the law and, as my father was then a serving police officer, this was very clearly a VERY BAD THING INDEED. Clearly, I must have thought that it was absolutely marvellous. Which, of course, it is.

Song 3: Metallica: Master of Puppets

I’m not sure who said it first but there’s a quote around that basically says: Black Sabbath might have invented heavy metal but Metallica perfected it. With the release of Master of Puppets in 1986, there’s a pretty strong argument for that assertion. Back in 86, I was aware of Metallica but, if truth be known, I hadn’t heard them. I bought Master of Puppets on the back of a KKKKK review in Kerrang! magazine. I remember exactly how it felt hearing it for the first time. It was strange, unearthly, different. It was the heaviest thing I had heard in my life and I couldn’t get enough of it. The song structures, the guitar solos, the vocals, the lyrics were everything that a teenage boy could have wished for and more. More than any band to that point, and perhaps since, Metallica felt like my band. Millions agreed.

Song Four: Pixies- Monkey Gone to Heaven

I was lucky enough to spend four years at the University of Bristol and, if any band could sum up that time then it was this lot from Boston. More than Nirvana who I thought had basically ripped the Pixies off (I was wrong on that one), the Pixies had power, precision, dynamics. They had tunes galore and wrote songs about other worlds, this world and all the compass points in between. The sang songs about sex, death and going mad. They were a grown up band that allowed you not to grow up; they were your mates, the cool kids, the outsiders. They were the band you wanted to join but know you never would. That didn’t stop you wanting to though. They had Kim Deal. They had everything, or so I thought at the time. Still do, to be fair. Peerless.

Song Five: Marillion- Beautiful

Is it possible to fall in love with a band twice? In the case of Marillion, I think it is. They were a band I first fell in love with as a teenager- I even won a second prize in a short story competition after a tale I wrote based on their song Just for the Record from their majestic Clutching at Straws album. I lost touch with them during my time at university when I was attempting (and failing) to be cool but re-discovered them again, in my late 20s. This song, from the mid 1990s, is the song I always play people who think that they don’t like Marillion. After hearing this, they invariably change their mind. This is a song that has particularly important memories for me, not least of Marillion convention weekends in Holland, shared with some of the best people listening to some wonderful music by one of the most underrated bands on the planet.

Song Six: Bruce Springsteen- Born to Run (live)

Yes, I know that Dylan writes better lyrics and that Neil Young is more prolific and McCartney has a better ear for a tune but, for me, it’s Bruce. It’s always been Bruce. I think it was the writer and critic David Hepworth who once sneered that Springsteen had recorded one great album and then spent the next 30 years recording it again and again. I disagree but even the naysayers will admit that this record has a rush and a sense of drama like no other. There is an optimism throughout this extraordinary live version (which I heard before the studio version). Born to Run is the ultimate four minutes of reaching for your dreams, for freedom and for love. It has a sense of drama and and energy that is hard to resist. For goodness sakes, it has a saxophone solo that EVERYONE knows; You want to know the fate of Wendy, whether she and her love escape the small town to achieve their dream of getting to that place they really wanna go. You really hope they do.

Song Seven: Def Leppard- Pour Some Sugar on Me

I’ve spent a fair proportion of my adult life attending gigs. I’ve seen 100s of bands across the globe. In sheds and pits, arenas and stadiums.London, Paris, Sydney, New York, San Francisco and, err, Blackwood, South Wales. It all began here. September 6th, 1987, Newport Centre. Def Leppard’s Hysteria world tour and my first ever proper gig. Technically, I suppose you could say that it was the support act, American hard rock outfit Tesla that was really the first band I saw but the memory was, is and will always be of Sheffield’s finest. Oh, and my friend Tim Burns being knocked out by the rear door of Def Leppard’s tour lorry. Def Leppard created the spark that lit a lifetime flame of passion for live music and for that alone, I had to include them.

So there you go Michael Carty that’s my seven songs. I should probably give honourable mentions to U2, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Iron Maiden, Rammstein, Prodigy and all the others I’ve seen. To all the bands that made it and those that never quite did. To Eddie Vedder’s wine bottle; PJ Harvey and my broken ankle; Download Festival and the happiest weekends of the year; Sonisphere; My Bloody Valentine making my ears bleed; Ice T being the scariest man on the planet; Radiohead in the rain; Metallica in Berlin; Kylie in Sydney and Take That in Bournemouth and everything in between. That, and other tales are, I suspect, for another time. Thanks for reading.