There are some songs that, when I hear them, take me back to the first time I heard them. All of them except one are from the 60s and the other is from the 50s. In fact when I look through my (growing) list of favourite songs, about 70 or 80 at the moment, some are from the 50s but the majority are from the 60s, quite a few are from the 70s and early 80s, and very few after that. That could mean:
the songs were better then and they’ve been going downhill ever since
I’m getting older and my palate is becoming more jaded
I’m getting older and don’t listen to as much music as I used to
I’m getting older and my hearing is gradually getting worse
All of the above
I could have chosen 20, or 50, but I thought that 10 was a reasonable number to start with. Anyway, here they are. I’ve added the intro for each song so you can have a listen and see what you think. They may not all be great songs (some of them are), but they all bring back memories.
Let me know if you agree, disagree or have any other thoughts on the songs I’ve chosen and my reasons for choosing them.
1. God Only Knows by The Beach Boys (1966)
I don’t know what to say about this song – Two minutes fifty-five seconds of perfection?The greatest pop song ever written? Whatever you say, I can remember hearing this, probably on Radio Caroline, in the summer of 1966, walking round in the sun on Morecambe fairground behind the Winter Gardens, seventeen years old and touched by bliss. It still touches me deeply when I hear it but, of course, never in the way it did then.
This is the song I want played at my funeral. It is, to me, the most sublime, spiritual pop song ever recorded and, whenever I hear it, it takes me back to ‘that time’ – you know, the time when you are seventeen and everything is intense and overwhelming and, sometimes, almost unbearable.
A bit of serendipity. I was listening to my favourite podcast a couple of days ago, Kermode and Mayo’s film reviews on the BBC and they (or rather Mark Kermode) was talking about the new Brian Wilson biopic, Love and Mercy. One of the things he talked about was God Only Knows and how, after he had finished recording it, Brian took it to play to his dad, Murray Wilson who, on hearing it, said, according to Mark Kermode, that it sounded less like a love song and more like a suicide song – this is the man who thought he knew better than Brian how to arrange and record music!
So, the first time I can remember hearing this was in the Summer of 1966 on Morecambe fairground. Morecambe had two fairgrounds then, one on the prom, which eventually became Frontierland, and the other behind the Winter Gardens theatre, an area which is now mainly an open market and a carpark. Continue reading →
In the Nineteen Sixties Morecambe had two piers, West End Pier and Central Pier; now there are none. Central Pier was one of the two venues in Morecambe where young people went dancing – the other was the Floral Hall (The Beatles played here twice, in 1962 and 1963; sadly I didn’t know about it and anyway I was only 13 so probably wouldn’t have been able to go). The West End Pier was wrecked by storms in 1977 and Central Pier suffered several fires in the 1980s and was finally demolished in 1992 after a further fire destroyed the ballroom a year earlier.
So, to the music. I have a vague memory of going the Central Pier ballroom when I was about 16 to see The Undertakers, a sixties Liverpool band. I can’t remember much about it (this is a constant refrain, probably due to an excess of alcohol consumed over the years – but not for over 30 years and something I intend to blog about at some point), but I do know that I was very nervous being there, surrounded by older boys and men who were probably planning to beat me up. Just as an aside, I spend much of my adolescence and early adulthood afraid of violence; I had been bullied as a kid and tended to roll over and show my belly when threatened. There, mini-confession over and again, back to the music. Continue reading →
George doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life; he doesn’t even know what he wants to be doing tomorrow. I’m the same, I’ve never known what direction I was going in. The difference between George and me is that he’s a dog and I’m not. You know how it goes, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’. That’s easy when you’re a kid, ‘Astronaut’, ‘Engine Driver’, ‘Ninja Assassin’. When you ask George the same question he just looks at you as though he’s giving the question serious thought, but that’s as far as it goes – silence (add the word walk or dinner and you get a more positive response. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and I’m sixty three! Some people seem to know, they appear to have their lives all mapped out – school, university, career. Me, I never had a clue. Oh I knew what I didn’t want to be – boring, insane, accountant, insurance man – and I’ve done pretty well at avoiding three out of four (Guess!). But as to careers and long-term plans, no idea.
Just as an aside, about twenty years ago I wrote a song about insurance men; at least it’s called ‘Insurance Men’. I’ve no idea what it’s really about and I know that some people find it a bit disturbing; even I find it a bit disturbing. Have a listen, see what you think. Maybe after you’ve listened to it (I’ve cut it down as the whole song is over nine minutes long), you’ll have a better chance at guessing which of those four things I didn’t manage to avoid! By the way, the song, along with most of the other stuff I’ve done, was recorded and mixed by my best friend Steve (of cellar fame) at his studio, ‘The Mill’ in Blackburn. So ‘Insurance Men’ is a ‘Run of the Mill’ production. I’ll say more about ‘The Mill’ in a future post.
In 1969 I was working for Storey’s of Lancaster, a firm which manufactured wall coverings (anyone remember Contact and Decorene?). I had started working in the bonus office with the intention being that I would study to become a Work Study Engineer; these are the people who stand around with stopwatches measuring how long it takes you to complete a particular job so that they can tell you how to do it more efficiently. Anyway, I didn’t do the training; it involved going off to Nottingham University for a week and, as I had never been away from home on my own for that length of time and I was of a rather nervous and shy disposition, I told my boss I didn’t want to go. So I ended up staying on as a bonus clerk, working out the weekly bonuses for the people who worked in the factory.
It was just before Christmas 1969 and we’d had a Christmas party at work where I managed to get fairly drunk. The rest of the group were going into Lancaster to carry on drinking so I cadged a lift with them and wandered off into town looking for something to buy with my Christmas bonus. I’m not sure how much it was but it probably came to about £10 or so. At this time I had three great loves in my life – girls, books and music – so I headed for the local record shop. I can’t remember the name of it but it was upstairs somewhere around where WH Smiths is now and you could listen to records in booths before buying them. Well, one thing I’ve always liked is something different and when I came across a copy of Trout Mask Replica I had to hear it! Who could resist?? Remember I was fairly drunk and looking to spend my money so I took it to the counter and asked to listen. I probably got some strange looks from the person behind the counter but, as I had had a few drinks, I didn’t notice, just straight into the booth and waited for them to put the record on. One thing I don’t like about CDs is that you don’t get that sense of excitement when the stylus hits the record and there’s a few seconds of slightly crackly silence before the music starts. Well the music started (Frownland) and I didn’t know if I loved it or hated it. I wanted to love it, it was Beefheart and the cover was the strangest thing I had ever seen. I probably listened for about 10 minutes and decided that, though I didn’t love it then, after I’d played it a few times it would all make sense. Continue reading →