Saturday, 15 March 2014

A Brief History of Music & Me

Having been born at the turn of the decade that was the 80’s, I can pretty much write off the first 10 years of my life in terms of musical interest, after all, I was only 10 years of age when Public Enemy released Fear of a Black Planet, The Pixies had Bossanova out, and the god of soundtracks, Danny Elfman’s latest gig was Edward Scissorhands (how did that guy ever go for a piss without, you know?). My earliest memories of music was sitting on the floor of our living room in Ranelagh in the mid-eighties, at 6am on a Saturday and watching music videos in between cartoons with my sister who is just over a year older than me. We used to sneak down creaky stairs, bring a box of Corn Flakes, loads of milk, and shitloads of sugar with us (a 5-year olds 2 fingers to Type II diabetes), and easily get through 8 bowls of cereal by 9am.

Ulysses 31, wtf?

In between watching cartoons such as Ulysses31, that would mess with any kids head (combined with the sugar was probably like an acid trip), we would be treated to music videos. The one’s that always stand out in my memory are A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’, wishing I was in a nappy again with Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ and Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’.

Probably by virtue of the fact she was older than me, I looked up to whatever music my sister was into (for clarity, I still look up to her, but not in terms of musical taste ;) ). She used to buy ‘Smash Hits’ magazine every Saturday with the 50p pocket money we’d each get every Saturday for tidying our rooms. We’d both set off for the local newsagent, Keegans, and piss the poor lady behind the counter off by asking for a variety of penny sweets you’d need to develop an algorithm to make sense of. Afterwards, she had Yazz, Bananarama, Fine Young Cannibals, Kylie Minogue, Salt N’ Peppa, INXS and loads of other posters on her wall. I thought they were all great (yes, I did enjoy dancing to the 'Locomotion' as a child). 

As the 90’s dawned I thought I liked rave music, which when I look back is hilarious, I remember myself and other kids in primary school writing ‘E for XTC’ on our pencil cases with Tipp-Ex, not even knowing what ‘E’ was, and listening to SL2 ‘On A Ragga Tip’, The Shamen’s ‘Ebeneezer Goode’, and the still lovely Opus III’s ‘It’s A Fine Day’. Reaching my early teens it was mandatory to wear X-Worx, Petro Motion and Eclipse clothing. I remember realising the futility of such terrible fashion choices when my uncle commented on my baggy Petro Motion trousers and asked me what size they were, I replied ‘Regular’ with an indignant spotty glare, to which he replied, ‘They look like one size fits the whole family.’

As the mid-90’s approached I got swept under a wave of Britpop, and I remember one of the hottest summers Dublin ever experienced in 1996 and listening to Blur’s ‘Country House’ while studying for my Junior Cert., of course I was also into their musical rivals Oasis at the same time and remember being involved in almost relationship-shattering arguments with friends over who had more credence, thankfully a permanent schism didn’t occur and nowadays we calmly swap information on the cheapest electrical and broadband suppliers instead. In addition, I was listening to a heavy dose of The Beastie Boys Ill Communication, Paul’s Boutique and Check Your Head, which I consider great albums and still listen to today.

But by god did I get knee-deep in Britpop, I was a whore for every band going, Pulp, Suede, Manic Street Preachers, my favourite of them all Longpigs (here’s ‘Lost Myself’ on TGI Friday below, check out Richard Hawley on guitar). It’s all about being a music snob in your late teens and early 20’s I reckon, deviously hunting for bands and artists that no one has ever heard of thus cementing yourself as a proto-music hipster, a decade before the word entered our lexicon. Along with the aforementioned groups if you denied the greatness of The Stone Roses and The Pixies who were at their peak 5 years earlier you would face certain ostracisation from your peers.

One day in 1996 I asked my mother about her record collection, and the old record player we had had for as long as I could remember, and as I rifled through it there was lots of 60’s and 70’s Top of the Pops albums, Herp Alpert (you know what I’m sayin’) but she also had original Beatles albums she had bought in South America during the Sixties such as Yellow Submarine, Introducing The Beatles (which I recently found out from an online expert is worth about €500) and Rubber Soul. I was completely ignorant of music before the 80’s at this stage, at 16, I put on a record for the first time, and with headphones listened to a scratchy version of Rubber Soul, and almost instantly realised I had mostly been listening to the wrong music all along. To put it in perspective, that album made me realise that there was better music made in the ‘olden days’, and I rarely listen to Rubber Soul nowadays, because it’s far from The Beatles best album, but it holds a special place in my heart.

Since that seminal moment in 1996 my appetite for music of the era grew and grew, and I discovered the wonder of 60’s / 70’s bands and artists such as King Crimson, Blue Oyster Cult, Deep Purple, John Mayall, Curtis Mayfield and many others. For me the 1970’s is the best decade of music, there are so many artists that produced incredible music during that decade, and I constantly get introduced to new ones such as The Doobie Brothers a few years ago at a jukebox in an empty pub on Wexford Street by my friend Ciaran who is a human music encyclopedia who has been known to indulge in large amounts of cheesy 70's and 80's 'hits'.

Another door that opened was a laborious project that came about when I got a present of ‘1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die’ from my better half and made it my goal to listen to every single one of them, I got through the first 500 over a 4 year period and this had the effect of once again expanding horizons and introducing me to genres I had little knowledge of such as jazz,blues and soul music in particular.

Nowadays I tend to swing from only listening to old music for prolonged periods and then going through a phase of seeking out contemporary bands and artists. With the internet and ease of access it can be daunting being faced with a massive volume of music to navigate, there are so many blogs, websites, playlists, recommendations that sometimes it’s just easier to stick to the album review sections of magazines, or one I’ve always referred to over the years, the Culture section of The Sunday Times.

The joy of finding a new album or band we like can be hard to beat, and is so rewarding if you make a discovery that you keep coming back to year after year. A great album or concert can become a timestamp laced with fond memories, from childhood, school, college and beyond, and the thought of albums that haven’t been made yet, or songs that haven’t even been written yet becoming tied to new memories is a great thing to look forward to.

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