A Song for Every Decade
A life in six songs
I was born in 1961 just one year after the Silver Beatles became the Beatles and, the rest, they say, is history.
I have listened to and enjoyed music in each of the seven decades I have lived through, music that has been the soundtrack of my life. In a kind of homage to the long-running BBC Radio program “Desert Island Discs”, I have tried to pick just one tune from each decade I have experienced. I will distill a whole ten years into a single song, a song that reflects what those times meant to me.
Everyone’s choices will be wildly different but please add a comment or two and tell me some of your songs and also why.
As the years pass so tastes change but selecting a solitary piece of music for each ten-year stretch, will be like finding a platinum needle in the proverbial golden haystack. Admittedly, the haystack seems to have shrunk a little more with every successive year. Nothing can compete with the music of youth.
As I was only 8 years of age when the swinging sixties, the time of the counterculture and revolution, meekly became the seventies. I remember little about them. There is a famous quote (not so famous for me to recall who said it), that “If you remember the sixties, you weren’t really there.” My lack of recollection is nothing to do with the psychedelic, drug fulled excesses of the time but simply because I was so young. Revolution was about being late home for tea and not about trying to change the world.
There is so much fantastic music from the decade, most of it I did not discover until long after the 70s were well established. It has to be a song I knew at the time and because as a small child I watched a lot of TV, it is a song from a TV show. I shall nominate “Daydream Believer” by The Monkees. Although I still think of it as a great song from that era, my abiding memory is of watching the comedic antics of four funny young men who also happened to sing.
This was my adolescence and therefore the time when I discovered music. The decade where I fumbled my first few chords on a beginner’s acoustic guitar. The decade when punk rock came along and upset the applecart of big stadium bands. This was my decade. There were the songs that articulated my teenage angst and the songs that told the world to which tribe I belonged. It was the decade of Bowie at the height of his genius and when Pink Floyd took record sales into the stratosphere. Picking only one song is nigh on impossible, but I have.
At the tender age of thirteen, I went with my older brother to my first gig and all these years later I can still recall the experience vividly. We took a train to Southend-on-Sea in Essex and at the famous Kursaal Ballrooms, we saw Barclay James Harvest on their 1975 tour. It is therefore one song they performed that night that I will pin to the whole ten years. I nominate the beautiful and haunting “Mocking Bird.”
Most of the music of the eighties passed me by. Newly married and with young babies, there was not a lot of time to listen to music other than sing-a-long nursery rhymes with the children. There is however one album which as well as being a fantastic record, reminds me of a time of great personal change. My family and I moved away to a new city, and I began a career as a nurse. It was during training at the hospital that I first listened to songs from U2’s “The Joshua Tree” and realised what I had been missing. I will nominate the song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” as my song for this decade. It is a song that has a deep sense of spiritual yearning, drawing on both gospel and traditional Gaelic music. A song from a seminal album that reflected the perceived contradictions between the myth and reality of America. It is a song as relevant now as it was then.
Martyn Joseph is a Welsh singer/songwriter with a career spanning from the early 80s to the present. A dynamic performer, not only playing songs of protest and lament for a world full of injustice but also singing songs of hope and redemption. In the 1990s he had a brief flirtation with the big time and a major record label signed him. They dropped him after only two albums because big record labels are only motivated by the need to make a profit, and Martyn didn’t fit that profile.
It is, however, a song from the second album he made for the label that I will nominate. “Cardiff Bay” is an affirming love song from a father to son with a beautiful melodic refrain on the enduring power of love.
This was the decade when I settled into the middle age pursuit of accumulating the “Greatest Hits” albums of all my favourite bands. The decade when my CD collection grew exponentially whilst the last of my vinyl albums were relegated to storage because I no longer owned a turntable. It would be cheating to nominated a track from a “Best Of” album as all the songs had already been released before 2000, otherwise, they wouldn’t be “The Best Of.” I shall, however, cheat slightly, and pick a song from an album released in 1999 because I didn’t hear it until mid-way through 2000 and in my mind, sits firmly in that decade.
A television commercial for a Volkswagen Polo introduced me to Moby, the album Play, and specifically the song, Porcelain, which is my song for the decade. It was the genius move of licensing his material for commercial use that took Moby’s music to a whole new audience. Without his music featuring in adverts and films, I would most likely have never encountered this artist.
I could very easily have picked a song by David Bowie for each decade but I have left my choice to the title song from his swan-song album, “Blackstar.” So much has been written about the last album from an iconic artist dying of cancer. Commentators have picked apart the videos, the Avant guard sounds, and cryptic lyrics for hidden meanings. Was a Blackstar referring to Bowie’s cancer? Did it reference outer space, for the Starman who fell to earth? It has even been suggested that was a nod to a little-known Elvis Presley song about death. It was however Bowie doing what Bowie has always done best, challenging the listener’s expectations with a new, and in this case, final reinvention of himself.
The 2020s and the road ahead…
I will not nominate a song for the present decade as who knows what will happen musically in the next eight years. I do, however, feel crippled by too much choice.
I can listen to anything I want, from any era, streamed over the internet.
Although I still own a few CDs, it is more for the nostalgia of the objects they are, rather than to play. Perhaps I should follow the trend and return to vinyl as I miss the ritual of playing a record. Flicking through a collection until a sleeve catches my eye. Carefully handling the 12 inches by the edge to not scratch the surface. Gently letting the stylus descend into the crackle whilst reading the sleeve notes and lyrics. It’s not the same to call out “Alexa, play” and pick something at random when completely overwhelmed by what is available.
Music and its multiple formats are stories for another day. For now, I shall create a playlist of my six songs from the last sixty years and ask my smart speaker to play them back to me one by one.