My passion for music is something that I have rekindled during lock-down. Since I uploaded my entire music collection to ITunes, I had always wanted to start a free trial of Apple Music which promised I’d be able to listen to every song ever recorded, but never seemed to have had time. UNTIL NOW. I have been listening to my favourite artists and lots of genres with my children. I was struck by the sheer volume of great music I could remember from my childhood.
My early years were full of music. Music seemed to be with us everywhere, at home of course, but also in the car on family journeys. My parents weren’t big readers but had good taste in music, they both had their favourites, my Dad liked Neil Diamond, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Phil Collins and Paul Simon. My Mum’s taste was more contemporary: The Cars, The Cranberries, Bryan Adams and Crowded House and included female artists, Blondie, Tracy Chapman, Joan Armatrading, Tina Turner, Carpenters, ABBA and Sadé. But they both liked Led Zeppelin, ELO, Queen, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, David Bowie, Thin Lizzie, The Eagles. There were many others.
As a child, our family never went to galleries, museums, the theatre or exhibitions (apart from a visit to the Doctor Who museum!) and never had family discussions about art or film. Popular culture and the latest technology were much more important to my Dad. He would rather take us to the cinema or watch a video at home. Looking back, I always wondered if I had missed out somehow.
In our house, loud music was a form of emotional expression and communication. The high volume would signify one parent’s feelings of love, or more usually, displeasure with the other. As my parents belong to the generation to which music became much more accessible, I wonder if my Dad’s immersion in loud music, his surrounding himself with beautiful sounds and voices is an escape from a hard upbringing.
As an adult, much of my time with music now is spent going much deeper into bands or artists that I know and love (and Trust) or going back and exploring the music of my parents. My CDs are in the loft and I stream music from my phone via Bluetooth. Rather than discovering fresh new sounds, I found I was listening to broadly the same songs.
During the lock-down, many people have been sharing their formative albums. It is often very interesting, and sometimes quite revealing. A drawback is that you are supposed to nominate a different friend to do the same every day. I have a zero-tolerance policy for chain-letters on Social Media, but was nominated by a friend recently. As I have a blog, I thought I would try and do it on here.
I’ve picked my top 10 albums that I loved through my teenage years and show what that music or other people led me to at that time of my life. All of these albums were listened to over and over and I went deeper with most, and have seen most perform. My appreciation of music begins at 11 when I got my first cassette/radio player. I was now able to record chart music from the radio and to play my own music.
I borrowed this cassette from a friend at school. It felt like a I belonged to a sacred society, just for me. I loved the loud, but somehow sleazy sound. It was satisfying to know I had found something that was not for parents. Not that I always realised, the songs were mostly about sex or drugs. Although I felt I outgrew them, I did go and see them live. Led to Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Bon Jovi.
This was the first vinyl album I bought. I didn’t have a record player, so would record it on to tape on my Dad’s stereo. Total late 80’s rock, a couple of ballads (a format which I secretly liked!) and lots of hairspray. Led to Aerosmith, Poison, Van Halen, Rush, Whitesnake, Steve Vai and Iron Maiden.
Another vinyl purchase as my developing taste took me into louder and darker music. Loud, fast and frenzied songs with strong twist of paranoia. At my first concert, they were supported at the Birmingham NEC by the then unknown Alice in Chains. I saw Megadeth quite a few times through my teens. Led to Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Sacred Reich, Faith no More and Pantera.
Probably my most significant influence. The jagged, heartfelt singing of Eddie Vedder and the sheer craft of every song really appealed to me. This album brings back the strongest memories of being 16. Not only was recently realising that the band had a keyboard player a revelation, but that he makes a huge contribution to many of my favourite songs completely changed their music for me. I have thoroughly explored their catalogue and seen them live quite a few times over the years. Led to Stone Temple Pilots, Soul Asylum, Neil Young, Corduroy, The Beatles and Glen Hansard.
The village pub hosted live music every Monday. A friend played in a local folk-rock outfit and the landlord was a blues musician. This album with its message of anti-capitalism and liberty was a favourite in the back-room of the pub where I spent many evenings and was the first music that made me want to dance to. When I finally got to see them play, I was disappointed that their message of and freedom had been adopted by Nationalists. Led to Thea Gilmore, Frank Turner, The Waterboys, Counting Crows, Pixies and All About Eve.
Never having heard punk, I was amazed that music could carry a political message and that Hip-Hop and Metal could cross-over so well. Not being American, much of the message of cultural imperialism, corporate greed and police brutality was somewhat lost on me, but the sheer fury connected with me deeply. Lessons that still have not been learned today. Their later album, Renegades (2000), named Tom Paine, The Black Panthers, The Weathermen and Malcolm X; who were these people? I had to educate myself. I named my first blog post (Wake up) after one of their songs. Led to Beastie Boys, Limp Bizkit and Green Day.
I found the Country and Western roots and Evan Dando’s mellow singing voice amazing. The beautiful, gentle and expressive songs felt like poetry. It is still the singing voice I would most love to have. Led to Beck, Blind Melon, Laura Cantrell, Suede, Radiohead, Happy Mondays, Oasis, Blur and Supergrass.
The Smashing Pumpkins were masters of the loud-soft dynamic. Being a fan of their edgy style was definitely a move out of the mainstream into the alternative, which may have been a reason that me and my future wife found we both shared a love for this band. All of their subsequent albums are special to me. I’ve seen them play many times, the most recent was last year. Led to Weezer, REM, Jimi Hendrix and Fountains of Wayne.
I had been listening to Nirvana since Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991). The energy and emotion and complex song writing really fit an angry teenager. By stripping the noise away leaving raw emotion and the little touches of intimacy between the band, this acoustic album really resonated with me. Led to Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, David Bowie, Foo fighters, Feeder and Muse.
I was 20 when I first heard ‘Power Pop’. Their very upbeat sound cut across many genres and was a natural antidote to the Grunge of the first half of the nineties. Their songs about New York became part of my memories of being there in 2001. Their music followed me into adulthood. I was genuinely upset when they broke up in 2013. Led to Tinted Windows, Silversun Pickups, Look Park, and The Cars.
I can see that my journey started with loud and rebellious music. I didn’t understand very much about them. Then, as I grew up, and with the influence of my parent’s music, I began to appreciate the depth of well-written songs. I was lucky that my parents respected me enough not to criticise my early musical choices and I was able to dip into their extensive music collection as I went.
Through remembering the music I heard in my childhood, I realise that great art was actually all around us. By playing it often and loudly, my parents were also sharing their love of it with me. It was the medium they knew so well. Thanks to them, I also have a life-long love of Sci-Fi and computer gaming.
I recently bought my ten-year-old daughter her first CD and MP3 player and a subscription to Spotify. Although I don’t play loud music, we do have music in the car and at the dinner table every night. I’m hoping she has heard enough good music from me to begin her own musical journey.