You have two choices here. You can read through as much of the below as your Will-to-Live allows you, clicking on the occasional links for appropriate audio sensuround.
Or, if you have Spotify, click ON THESE WORDS HERE to just listen to my MY LIFE AS A PLAYLIST playlist.
At the bottom of the page are links to two other Spotify playlists for you to add to. One is for songs you think might make me even cooler, the other is because I’d love to know what the first record you ever bought was (or if you’re under 5 and a bloody genius: the first track you ever downloaded).
Alternatively, you could just quietly close this page in your browser and walk away. I won’t know so I won’t be offended. Right, on with the words…
I thought it might be a nice idea to do my autobiography in terms of the music I’ve listened to. Until I started writing some of the tracks down and realised just how embarrassing that would be. I know most of you look up to me as a guru of cool and hipdomitude and I could pretend but hell, lets be honest here, lets really share, even if that means me admitting that the first record that made me cry was by 10cc. Which it was.
I can’t remember much about music when I was at primary school though I do remember Mrs Pegram singing LILY THE PINK with us. The school song was The Impossible Dream, which I still find rousing to this day. Rousing, not arousing. Though if it had been the latter I bet I wouldn’t be the first.
The first record I ever bought was Ian Dury and the Blockhead’s HIT ME WITH YOUR RHYTHM STICK. Now that does sound cool and like I made it up and I don’t know what premonition convinced me that in later life this is a purchase I might have to refer to in a website so I better make sure it was a cool one but somehow at least I got that one right. But it was a one-off. I wish I could say by the time I was 11 I was listening to Bowie or T-Rex or even Pink Floyd but I wasn’t. That’s where 10cc come in.
I’M NOT IN LOVE taught me irony: Oh, I see! When he says he’s not in love he actually is! – And it moved me for the first time. Not quite as much as EVERYBODY WAS KUNG FU FIGHTING moved me(those kicks were fast as lightning by the way. In fact it was a little bit frightening. But done with expert timing). Yes, that moved me a lot because pretty much everyone in the playground at that time was Kung Fu fighting (it had only just been discovered then. Like one of those new elements you have to add to the periodic table). Nor did it move me as much as the theme to the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN. Still, to this day, if I have to run for a bus or something, I catch myself singing that theme just to add that extra few bionic percent to my sprint.
My first albums were 99p Top of The Pops albums. For those of you under 145 years old they had a picture of a lady in a bikini on the front and
had Light Entertainment singers, the sort who would do Terry Wogan’s jingles, singing cover versions of hits of the time. To us back in the day, that was cutting edge drum’nbass cut’n’paste dubstep. The 2nd single I bought wasn’t quite as Ian Dury cool. It was Boney M’s RASPUTIN. I was a big Boney M fan, used to reckon I had all the moves the bloke in Boney M had (still do) even though at that point I didn’t quite have his package (still don’t).
It was the mid-70s and puberty was all the rage, at least in my body. I was starting to understand “love” (though possibly in a slightly gay, public school fagging for the older boys way). Abba’s THE WINNER TAKES IT ALL was my next lesson in emotion and I would prance around acting that one out as if I knew that in 30 years time there might be millions of dollars to be gained from writing an Abba musical called Mamma Mia that Pierce Brosnan was just slightly weird in. It wasn’t all camp though. I used to dance to Mud’s TIGER FEET as well. Especially at barmitzvahs. That counted as butch back then. (Sorry about quality of the Tiger Feet link, but you have to see them to truly “know”)
But then music really happened for me in the shape of Saturday Night Fever. John Travolta. White suit. YOU SHOULD BE DANCING. I’m 16 now and while others were getting into punk I went for disco. I had my own white suit, flares, huge lapels on my spangly red shirt, a tie thick enough to tie up a tugboat – and we used to go dancing every weekend at the Pied Bull by the Angel, Islington. Gradually it became a skinhead haunt but even though I was still dancing in my white suit with kicks and finger points and the whole Travolta carcrash of moves I was never beaten up. I think I was just too tragically uncool to have a go at. You wouldn’t beat up a kid in a wheelchair… or a bloke doing the forearm roll and thumb point in a white suit. Some of the songs I loved then are well known – Jackson 5 SHAKE YOUR BODY DOWN TO THE GROUND (whatever happened to their lead singer? I always thought he had potential), Earth Wind and Fire’s BOOGIE WONDERLAND. Other songs are actually quite cool now: The Brothers Johnson STOMP, the brilliant Taste of Honey’s BOOGIE OOGIE OOGIE (my girlfriend’s favourite track and one of the reasons, if not the main reason, we’re still together after all these years), Jermaine Jackson’s finest pre-Big Brother moment LETS GET SERIOUS (nice guy, but, as the link shows, doesn’t quite have little brother’s moves) and, above all, my first ever 12 inch, Edwin Starr’s CONTACT. Just writing the word “Contact” gives me a little tingle.
I must get out more.
Are you still reading this?
You must get out more.
Then I started to get cool. Yes, there was The Police, The Jam (DOWN IN THE TUBE STATION), but then hooray, at last, I discovered punk: The Clash (WHITE MAN IN HAMMERSMITH PALAIS), The Skids (INTO THE VALLEY), SIOUXIE AND THE BANSHEES and, to show that it wasn’t all just the commercial stuff, how we loved The Members and X-Ray Spex. OH BONDAGE UP YOURS? – Yes, please. I even managed to discover Adam and the Ants just before they went commercial (PLASTIC SURGERY).
Ska happened as well for us and we started going to gigs a lot: The Specials (oh… do I have to choose one? CONCRETE JUNGLE. And TOO MUCH TOO YOUNG. That’s two but they were that good), Madness (MADNESS), Selecter (ON MY RADIO), The Beat (MIRROR IN THEBATHROOM, STAND DOWN MARGARET) and Bad Manners with another scything indictment of the socio-political chaos under Thatcherism: NE NE NA NA NA NOO NOO.
But above all, I discovered Rockabilly. And I could pretend to you (you still here? Really? Well done), pretend that I loved little known 50’s ur-classics that even Mark Lamarr would never have heard of, but it wasn’t. It was new boys THE POLECATS and, slightly, I’m ashamed to say, THE STRAYCATS. And that was me away…
At Oxford, I became a punkabilly. Or psychobilly. Whilst reading modern languages. My favourite groups were the METEORS (a band I saw maybe 30 times and was beaten up to in Paris. Ah! The memories!), THE CRAMPS and THE DEAD KENNEDYS. It was the Dead Kennedys’ lyrics I shouted most angrily in my room as I prepared for finals, even as the caretaker, Mr, er, Kennedy, was found dead in his little office downstairs: “Riot”, “Life Sentence”, WE’VE GOT A BIGGER PROBLEM NOW, a version of “California Uber Alles” updated on Reagan’s election to the presidency (Oh God. I’m old. Have to go lie down in a darkened room). At last I’d arrived as a rebel (B.A. Oxon, hons.). My 2 scary friends and I would go to discos and enjoy other studenty classics ( Heaven 17: FASCIST GROOVE THING and the compulsory FREE NELSON MANDELA. He wasn’t free then – cue more darkened roomness), but our hearts were in punk, post-punk and punkabilly (EXPLOITED, GBH, and the you-can-be-clever-but-still-like-us bands THEATRE OF HATE, BAUHAUS, KILLING JOKE).
I was angry but not so angry I didn’t get my essay in on time.
But then I went to France.
Music may be my first love but I fell in love with a French girl and I have to say the sex was a lot better than it was with Music. She got me into French songs, “chansons”, Barbara’s REGARDE about the socialists getting in in 1981 (the year before I arrived. It was their Tony Blair moment. As in “Hurrah! A new dawn!” rather “I hope I never see that deceitful lying fraud again”. Though they had that with Mitterand too). Also George Brassens LES PASSANTES about all the women you fall in love with in a moment then never see again (possibly my desert island disc, the one disc to rule them all. Just because then I could really wallow in self-pity. You need something to do on a desert island). Yes, I grew pretentious. I even, to this day, prefer the French version of D.I.S.C.O by Ottowan.
I returned to Oxford for my finals. A year in Effete-ville, France meant that I was completely out of touch and in severe risk of having my student card impounded for not being hopelessly in love with some new band called THE SMITHS. Instead of Morrissey it was Wagner who got me through my finals. Leaping up and down on my bed before the exams to SIEGFRIED’S DEATH or the finale from TRISTAN AND ISOLDE. (Clearly, I didn’t have a girlfriend.)
Wagner joke: I completely understand why Israel banned the playing of Wagner. He’s just so bloody dull.
And then it’s the wilderness years: an obsession with Prince for sure: Sign of the Times especially. But beyond that it’s just the odd track that reminds me of certain things: dancing with the mother-of-my-children-to-be at the National Theatre (RIDE ON TIME), doing various shows and tracks I used for stand-up (Joe Cocker’s YOU CAN LEAVE YOUR HAT ON, KNOWING ME KNOWING YOU of course), the birth of my first child (WONDERWALL – look, there’s a clown in the video. It’s me!), various klezmer and other bits of Jewish folk music (to offset the Wagner).
And rap… I’ve always loved rap. There’s no lyric I feel more truly than “I’m black and I’m proud” from Public Enemy’s FIGHT THE POWER. I’m black and I’m proud. From GRANDMASTER FLASH through NWA, THE BEASTIE BOYS, JAY-Z, SNOOP, I really am black (where “black” = Jewish) and proud (where “proud” = sort of quite ok about things sometimes. Unless I’ve had a bad therapy session).
Which brings us more or less up to date. I’m trying very hard to reconnect to music. I’ve always loved PRODIGY and FAITHLESS, but now I’ve discovered PENDULUM in a dad-dancing-I’ve-still got-it-kind-of-way. Then there’s ELBOW, KASABIAN and THE HIVES (you can take the punk out of the middle aged Jew… or something). But I’m keen to be pointed in the right direction. Which is why I’ve put a link on this website to a Spotify playlist where people can tell me what the hell I should be listening to now…
Music was my first love. And now, with the help of Facebook and similar websites and you, I can get back in touch with it and arrange a slightly awkward drink and a bit of a grope as we try to recreate how things were when we were young.
If you’ve read right to the end here and you aren’t a) my girlfriend b) that woman who keeps sending me letters written in capital letters with pictures of me cut up, well…. bloody well done. Your stamina and determination would shame a Japanese game show champion…
I hope you enjoy(ed) the playlist.
FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT – click ON THESE WORDS HERE to let me know the first record you ever bought. I’m nosey like that.