Until they become part of the view

Armin offers one of those self-advertising questionnaire things – ‘me-mes’, I think they’re called – on the subject of music:

1. A track from your early childhood
2. A track that you associate with your first love
3. A track that reminds you of a holiday trip
4. A track that you like but wouldn’t want to be associated with in public
5. A track that accompanied you when you were lovesick
6. A track that you have probably listened to most often
7. A track that is your favourite instrumental
8. A track that represents one of your favourite bands
9. A track which represents yourself best
10. A track that reminds you of a special occasion (which one?)
11. A track that you can relax to
12. A track that stands for a really good time in your life
13. A track that is currently your favourite
14. A track that you’d dedicate to your best friend
15. A track that you think nobody but you likes
16. A track that you like especially for its lyrics
17. A track that you like that’s neither English nor German
18. A track that lets you release tension best
19. A track that you want to be played on your funeral
20. A track that you’d nominate for the ‘best of all times’ category

I love the idea, but – like Armin – I’ve got mixed feelings about the actual meme. Twenty’s a nice round number, but it’s rather a big number. So this isn’t quite the same questionnaire Armin struggled with, but it does start with

1. A song from my early childhood
I remember Freddie and the Dreamers and Gerry and the Pacemakers, but most of all I remember “Have I the right” by the Honeycombs. It’s a Joe Meek production, and somehow combines a mood of cartoonishly brash exuberance with decorous observance of pop song formalities. It doesn’t sound like a novelty record, in other words (which is more than you can say of most chart singles these days). It sounds like a pop song, but one that’s been beamed back from the future of pop music.

2. Three songs that have been associated with loss
Jethro Tull, “Requiem”
The Verve, “The drugs don’t work”
Nick Drake, “Place to be”

3. A song that reminds me of a holiday trip
On my first trip to Spain, lying slightly ill in a cheap hotel room, I heard the inimitable Euro-disco sound of “Chiquitita” drifting over the rooftops. The lyrics were, of course, in Spanish –
Chiquitita, sabes muy bien
Que las penas vienen y van
Y desaparecen…

and I had a momentary vision of the continent of Europe united in song, oompah-ing in multilingual unison (Chiquitita, je sais trop bien…)

4. Three instrumentals that move me
François Couperin, “Les barricades mystérieuses”
The Tornadoes, “Telstar”
Air, “Mike Mills”

5. A song that reminds me of a special occasion
After our wedding we stayed one night at a hotel called The Pines, before going on to our honeymoon. Ever since then I’ve been particularly fond of the Triffids’ song “In the pines”, both because of the title and because of the lyrics.

6. Three songs that cannot be played too loud
Fatima Mansions, “Blues for Ceausescu”
Flying Saucer Attack, “At night”
Hüsker Dü, “Eight miles high”

7. An unforgettable live performance
I saw 10,000 Maniacs in 1987. “My Mother the War”, which they saved for the last song of the night, was one of the heaviest things I’ve ever heard: Robert Buck’s guitar alternated between piercing seagull screams and walls of power-chord noise. It was different from the album, and much better. The band left the stage while the last chord was fading, except for Natalie, who sang two verses of “He’s 1-A in the Army (But He’s A-1 In My Heart)” unaccompanied. After a couple of lines, people spontaneously started clapping along – on the off-beat. (On 4, 6 and 10 (over two bars of 6:8), to be precise.) Magical.

8. Three political songs
Gang of Four, “Return the gift”
the Jam, “Eton Rifles”
Robert Wyatt, “the British Road”

9. One single that changed my life
I had friends at school who got into punk early – they started with Patti Smith’s Horses in 1975 and went straight on through Richard Hell, the Ramones, the Damned, the Pistols… I was a prog holdout for a long time, mainly for reasons of intellectual snobbery; bands like Chelsea did the loud-guitar thing well enough, but they didn’t seem to have a lot to say.

I don’t even know what tomorrow will bring
Having no future’s a terrible thing

That’s enough of that. The single that did it for me came out in the summer of 1977. “The medium was tedium” was the Desperate Bicycles’ second single. There were no guitars – just organ, bass and drums, all of them played with more enthusiasm than skill. The words were barked out urgently, and there were a lot of them:

Your brain is in a better condition than mine
I heard about your feelings on the old grapevine
You can eat industrial waste
If you can stand the taste

Not so much Richard Hell, more Stackridge. And that was punk too. That was where punk started for me (even the Pistols sounded different after that). What’s more, this was a different side of punk. The song is mostly stream-of-consciousness, but it comes back again and again to the glorious discovery that you can make music: the chorus is one line,

It was easy, it was cheap – go and do it!

After that there were Scritti Politti, who thought deeply about the whole thing (Means of production : production of meaning); then there were labels like Small Wonder and Raw, and bands like the Cigarettes and the Filmcast and the Four Plugs. But it started with the Desperate Bicycles.

10. Three great songs
Peter Blegvad, “Me and Parvati”
Bob Dylan, “Visions of Johanna”
Robyn Hitchcock, “Queen Elvis”

11. A song that I learned a long time ago
A long, long time ago, in fact, and I can still remember how that music used to make me smile… Ahem. I’ve only been singing (in public, in front of people who are listening) for a couple of years, but I’ve been singing (singing songs all the way through, learning the words and the tune and taking care to get them right) since before my voice broke. It started with “American Pie”, which was number 1 in March 1972, when I was 11; it’s the first song I remember learning from start to end. (“Vincent” was probably the second, but we’ll draw a veil over that.) In the case of “American Pie”, it was a couple of years before I heard the album version, so to begin with I learned the last four verses without being entirely sure how they’d fit the tune. (Three of them are quite straightforward, but “Helter skelter in the summer swelter…” was a poser.) I went on to learn songs by Peter Gabriel Ian Hunter Pete Shelley Julian Cope ect ect, as well as quite a few by Trad – mostly they just kind of stick – but it started with “American Pie”.

And finally…

In my mind’s ear: ten songs and ten albums

the Beach Boys, “Good vibrations”
Captain Beefheart, “Sue Egypt”
David Bowie, “Sound and vision”
the Fall, “Winter”
Faust, “J’ai mal aux dents”
Ed Kuepper, “Messin’ pt II”
Pere Ubu, “Navvy”
Scritti Politti, “The ‘Sweetest Girl'”
Sudden Sway, “Tales from Talking Town”
Wizzard, “See my baby jive”

the Beta Band, the Three EPs
Eno, Taking Tiger Mountain by strategy
Family, Family Entertainment
the Homosexuals, the Homosexuals’ record
Joni Mitchell, Blue
A. More, Flying doesn’t help
Public Image Limited, Metal Box
Soft Machine, Third
Underworld, dubnobasswithmyheadman
Scott Walker, Climate of Hunter

And I’m tagging… no, I wouldn’t be so cruel. But if you want to answer these questions for yourself – or modify them even further, for that matter – feel free.

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