For me, more than anything else, music stirs them up. From warm and fuzzies to mild embarrassments, all the way down to jaw clenching regrets – most songs I hear deliver memories and the emotions that are stapled to them. Song baggage.
When I was about ten years old I bought my first record. A 45 single called ‘The Hustle’ by Van M’Coy and the Soul City Symphony. At the time, a band called The Stylistics was another hot favorite of mine and ABBA were getting ready to release ‘Dancing Queen’. I’m not sure, but I think this sort of stuff was largely responsible for the deadly disco epidemic that followed. In fact, ‘The Hustle’ might have been patient zero.
Musically, the mid-seventies were strange times. It seemed there was no dominant genre and things were getting a little bit messy. Glam Rockers (The Sweet, Queen, Gary Glitter, Slade) were doing battle with soul/disco artists (The Stylistics, Hot Chocolate, The Three Degrees, Barry White) for the ears of the population. My pre-pubescent taste in music was heavily influenced by novelty-pop acts, The Bay City Rollers and Showaddywaddy come to mind, but there were others. The Wombles (furry creatures from a kids TV show) were in the charts and even a TV cop called Kojak (Telly Savalas) had a hit with the song ‘If’.
Mainstream pop included David Essex, David Cassidy, Donny Osmond, Rod Stewart and Leo Sayer to name just a few.
Luckily, there were also a few visionaries promising better things to come – David Bowie, Sparks, Roxy Music and a German band called Kraftwerk – all considered pretty weird at the time – were pushing boundaries and finding new sounds. They went about it quietly and politely. In a couple of years Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols would kick everyone in the bollocks and shake things up with a lot less subtlety. Hard to imagine that in 1977, radios could be playing Meatloaf’s superb ‘Bat out of Hell’ and The Pistol’s ‘Pretty Vacant’ on the same program.
It all turned out well though – the schizophrenic 70’s would soon go into labor and a midwife called Kate Bush would deliver unto us the music of the 1980’s. Universally accepted and scientifically proven to be the best music decade in the history of the world.
45’s, LP’s, tapes, CD’s, all the way to MP3’s, YouTube and beyond – my addiction to music has been glorious. I’ve spent ridiculous amounts of money on it, but no regrets – if I could, I’d go back and buy them all again. Except maybe Culture Club. Yeah fuck you Boy George, I want a refund for Karma Chameleon.
I still have an obscene amount of records and CD’s cluttering up my house and I probably wasted years standing in music shops, flipping through merchandise searching for a new obsession.
These days, just about every song I want to hear or video I want to watch is available in an instant, via the phone I keep in my pocket. Science fiction to the kid who bought ‘The Hustle’ on a thick slice of vinyl all those years ago.
I’ve always made playlists. Before they became playlists they were ‘mixed tapes’ and I’d spend hours carefully compiling the right combination of songs for each specific tape. Traveling tapes, running tapes, party, motivational, heartbreak…you name it, I had a tape for the occasion. The reward wasn’t all in the final product though, it was in spending 4 or 5 hours on the floor trawling through records, tapes and CD’s. Rediscovering old treasures and uncovering hidden gems. All too often, I’d start off strong but end up drunk, and side two of the tape would be littered with a bunch of long-forgotten, obscure songs that the booze had dragged out of the swamp. Ever try running to ‘O Superman’ by Laurie Anderson? It doesn’t work. It’s like trying to dance to a poem.
My love of music fed and dovetailed with another passion of mine – running.
I started running (and I continue to run) for a bunch of reasons. One of these is vanity. I pick up weight easily – If my childhood metabolism was a Porsche, my adult metabolism is a shopping trolley with a dodgy wheel, so I try to stay active. The obvious reason is health. I was brought up by hard-drinking parents in a time when personal health wasn’t a big priority to most people. Unfortunately, I wasn’t smart enough to realize that I didn’t have to imitate the behaviour of my parents. As a result, the first half of my life was heavily affected by booze. I was a pack-a-day smoker and reasonably heavy drinker for most of my young adult life. I mistakenly thought that running was the antidote to unhealthy living. On its own, it probably isn’t but hey, I kept trying.
When we finished our military service (at the end of 1987, we would have been 22) me and a good friend named Paul Kennedy got roaring drunk one night and accepted a challenge to run a 21km race the following morning. This is the sort of reckless shit you can get away with when you’re 22. That run led to others and before we knew it, we were in training for the Comrades marathon. We didn’t run Comrades that year but the idea of running it had gotten under my skin like a fever and it became another motivation to keep running.
For years, before tiny iPods and Bluetooth earphones were available, I would strap a clunky Walkman to my arm and set off running with one of my mixed tapes blaring into my ears.
With the advent of large capacity MP3 players, technology delivered smaller, lighter music gadgets that would amaze and delight me for decades. These gadgets and the easy accessibility of digital music boosted my growing affection for endurance events. Down the years, running led me to duathlons and triathlons, and eventually to Comrades and a full Ironman event.
All of these required many hours of training. During huge chunks of time spent running and cycling with earphones banging out song after song, I soon realized that most songs on my playlists are embedded with memories and associations.
Sometimes they’re big obvious memories, like the song for the first dance at your wedding (Bob Dylan’s ‘Emotionally Yours’ was mine). Or the song you lost your karaoke virginity to (Tears for Fears ‘Head Over Heels’ – subject to confirmation, I was horribly shit-faced).
Sometimes they’re vague, inconsequential memories that for some reason have got stuck in the filters of your head. Whenever I hear ‘The Logical Song’ by Supertramp, I remember dancing with a girl named Bridgette Henderson in the school hall when I was 14 years old. I only knew her for a brief time and she had no meaningful impact on my life, but every time I hear the song, Bridgette bubbles to the surface. Almost without exception, most songs I listen to have various people and stories attached to them.
For a music nerd like me, technology and the internet have been both a blessing and a curse. I love the new accessibility of music but I mourn the demise of the small record shops where I spent so many hours, building my obsession.
In an effort to find a new waste of time, I thought that instead of flipping through racks of LP’s and CD’s, I could flip through memory laden songs in playlists, and write down the stories that have become attached to them.
At this point, the idea is to name a song that a story is linked to, write a few lines about the song, and then tell the story. I’m not the sentimental type so the stories probably won’t be ‘misty water coloured’, or profound or enlightening. Hopefully just mildly interesting anecdotes that a reader might relate to, and maybe a cozy reminder of old songs that provide a brief respite from the constant drone of life.
Songs and stories to follow – I’ll add them as I finish them. If this sort of thing doesn’t bore you to tears, you’re most welcome to come back and take a look. Maybe recognize an old song and trigger an association of your own. I fully intend to distort and exaggerate all of the stories, maybe even tell some bare-faced lies. If you happen to feature in any of them and you feel you’ve been misrepresented in some way, you can contact the head of my legal department at the address listed in…sorry, I was laughing too hard there, I couldn’t complete the sentence.
By the way, I still have the vinyl 45 of ‘The Hustle’ that I bought all those years back. It’s now an ornament that sits on a shelf behind an unused bar in my house. Unfortunately it’s not in good condition – the old trick of putting a couple of coins on the needle arm to keep it from jumping or skipping probably wouldn’t work. I think I’d need a 4 x 4 turntable to get a sound out of it these days. Not to worry, I can always catch the video on YouTube. I might even get myself a white suit and a shirt with a huge collar. I never did learn how to… ‘Do The Hustle’.