First posted on Facebook, as a series of seven daily posts.
I’ve been nominated by JFH, a long-lost friend from university days, to take part in #musikchallenge: seven songs from my youth, posted over a week. Here’s my first choice: a song I fell obsessively in love with, shortly after my twelfth birthday. Or rather, it’s two songs, contrasting but inseparably linked. The first is inspired by a painting; the second is a miniature lament. Both are exquisitely put together, with a level of invention and craft that I had never heard before. Thus began my six-month journey from glam to prog.
For Day 2, I’ve skipped past prog and gone straight to punk. Some historical context for you: having signed to CBS records, who had promised them full artistic control, The Clash were pissed off that the label had released Remote Control – one of the lesser tracks from their debut album – as their second single, without consulting the band. “Our next single will be called COMPLETE Control”, they snarled.
And so it came to pass. Produced by Lee Perry, pioneer of dub reggae, the track journeys from petulance to paranoia, climaxing with an exultant roar of defiance. For me, it’s their finest single. (And then they released an under-par follow-up and an iffy second album, at which point I lost interest, hey ho.)
Please play this with as much volume as your circumstances will allow!
It’s Day 3 of #musikchallenge: seven songs from my youth, all of which I fell obsessively in love with. For me, Blondie’s Dreaming absolutely captures a time, a place and a renewed state of mind, as I emerged from a thoroughly ghastly adolescence and began to enjoy being a teenager at last. I felt carefree, newly connected to the world outside of my own head, full of optimism for what lay ahead – and this song, more than any other, provided the perfect soundtrack.
For Day 4, I’ve chosen one of the many songs from my “formative” years that allowed me to wallow in my youthful angst, of which there was more than plenty. But in this case, I felt that the singer (Howard Devoto) wasn’t just indulging in self-denigrating self-pity, but that he was also mocking himself for doing so, in a sardonic, almost self-glorifying way. And so, even as I wallowed along with him, I could smile at myself in the process. (Oh, and there’s a killer bassline too, from the wonderful Barry Adamson.)
It’s Day 5 of #musikchallenge, and we’ve reached the “shared student house off Derby Road” years. I wanted to pick something that JFH and I would have danced to – probably at the Babel club on Huntingdon Street, which for some strange reason became our favourite bopping shop until the much cooler Asylum opened in late 1982 – but the main reason for my obsessive love of this song was its almost comically overblown romantic idealism, which matched my own state of mind with pinpoint accuracy. I had started coming out to friends, but was still a few months away from taking my first timid steps onto the Nottingham gay scene. In the meantime, I pined – and “The Look Of Love” was tailor-made for pining.
For Day 6, I’m back in West Berlin, dancing till dawn on Sunday mornings at the vast Metropol club in Nollendorfplatz: anonymous in the crowd, streaks in my hair, lasers in my eyes, “room odorisers” wafting through the air around me, still a little over-awed by the whole spectacle. Of the many club tracks that soundtracked my coming of age on the gay scene, this one hung around for longer than most – I must have heard it almost every weekend for well over a year – and although it might sound cheesy to modern ears, it had a particularly intense energy rush that drew me into the middle of the floor, time after time.
It’s now April 1985. I’m back from my year in Berlin, and edging towards my final exams at Nottingham University. I’ve not listened to many guitar bands of late, but a new crop of twangy, retro-tinged Americans have caught my ear: Los Lobos, Jason and the Scorchers, R.E.M… and The Long Ryders, who have just released a single, I Had A Dream. It’s my absolute favourite track of the moment, with a concluding instrumental break that’s shiver-inducingly powerful.
The Long Ryders are touring the UK, and they’ve booked a Friday night date in the compact, low-ceilinged, super-humid basement of The Garage, a nightclub in the Lace Market. I go down there with Dymbel and his good pal, the late DS. We head for the front, inches away from the band, and thrash about wildly – it’s a great gig.
The following night, in another nightclub, I meet K; we’ve been a couple ever since. During that time, I’ve fallen in love with countless more songs, and I’ve yet to lose my enthusiasm for discovering fresh new music. But as much as I still value music as a central part of my life, I don’t think I’m anywhere near as obsessive in my attachment to specific tracks: playing them over and over again for weeks – or even months – on end, as if nothing matters more in life.
So let’s leave me here, on my last night as a single young man: slicked in sweat and slopped lager, and leaping around to a slamming new band, wholly unaware of how fundamentally his life was about to change. Thanks to JFH for suggesting that I take this ride, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the tunes!