It’s taken me a while to get back to it, but continuing my ‘5 songs’ series, inspired by Nick Hornby’s book ‘31 songs’, here are 5 songs from my teen years.
One Vision by Queen
Queen’s “A Kind Of Magic” was the first album I ever bought, (on tape from Boots) prompted by the title track and this single. May’s hard-hitting guitar riff runs throughout the whole verse; heard once you had all the energy you needed to pedal your BMX very hard up big hills.
It was my initial step toward absolutely adoring Queen, the first band I ever really became obsessed about. (Later, my own hand-drawn versions of the band member cartoons from the “It’s a kind of Magic” video would adorn the cover of my GCSE Art sketch book). Queen always had an other-worldly quality to them; not every song was about love. They could turn their hand to alternative themes (Hammer to Fall, Under Pressure), quirky film soundtracks (Highlander and Flash) (also bought on tape) and epic narratives (Bohemian Rhapsody). For all that, the band never took itself too seriously; One Vision gloriously ends with “Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme fried chicken.”
Little Lies by Fleetwood Mac
This was the first song that brought Fleetwood Mac to my attention, its infinitely hummable chorus prompting me to buy the Tango in the Night album (subsequently adding Seven Wonders and Everywhere to my internal playlist). The following Christmas (I’m guessing 1987 or 1988?) BBC2 broadcast a documentary about the band, which was captivating viewing not just to hear the remaining band members’ views on Lyndsey Buckingham’s departure weeks before a world tour (which happened again recently, will they ever learn?) but also a perfect introduction to the Macs’ back catalogue. It was like stumbling into an Aladdin’s cave of riches; Need Your Love So Bad, Albatross, Rhiannon, Say You Love Me, the entire Rumours album (how can anyone get through life without the Rumours album?), Tusk, Sara.
At some point in any given calendar year I return to these albums. It’s probably fair to say in any given moment, somewhere in the recesses of my brain, a Fleetwood Mac track is playing.
Hide Away by Jeff Healey
I can still see Philip Arneill’s writing on the cassette box (TDK D90, I think) having illegally copied me Jeff Healey’s See The Light album. This is not an original Jeff Healey track, having been first recorded by Freddie King in 1960 (Clapton has a version too, amongst others). The catchiness of this tune simultaneously inspired me to pick up a guitar (or at that point a cricket bat) while also putting me off picking up a guitar for several more years, because I knew I could never play it like Jeff Healey. (The fact he was/is blind makes his playing even more incredible.)
There’s a chunk clarity to his tone; there’s gravity in his playing. That, and the driving rhythm section that crashes in at 0:25 makes this an enduring track.
Michael Penn by No Myth
Cool FM, Belfast’s local contemporary music station began in 1990, leaving Downtown Radio to play Jolene and Blanket on the Ground in an endless loop that continues today. No Myth was released at the end of 1989, but got a lot of air play on Cool. I’ve always been a sucker for acoustic driven rock songs, and this one fits the bill nicely. Although it stands out as a key track of my teenage years, and the chorus (What if I were Romeo in black jeans? What if I was Heathcliff, it’s no myth? Maybe she’s just looking for someone to dance with) remains lodged in my brain, listening to it now, there are sections of the song I can’t remember at all. The middle part took me completely by surprise, I have no memory of it. Still, I’m keeping it as a key track. I can’t buy a pair of black jeans without whistling this.
Birdhouse House in Your Soul by They Might Be Giants
This was another Cool FM favourite, also released late in 1989. Yep, one more infinitely catchy tune; the kind of thing you played internally to get you through double French just before lunch on a Monday morning. More than that, however, this one had a lasting effect on me. Tying it on to the raft originally composed of Beatles nonsense songs (I am the Walrus, Yellow Submarine, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer) I learned in time that whatever you wrote didn’t have to make sense, sometimes something just sounds good in your ear. Take:
I have a secret to tell
From my electrical well
It’s a simple message and I’m leaving out the whistles and bells
So the room must listen to me
My name is blue canary one note spelled l-i-t-e
My story’s infinite
Like the Longines Symphonette it doesn’t rest
For the life of me, I’ve got nothing. In fact, I’m not even sure it has any meaning, but it’s a great song. Anyone who can write, and then stand up proudly and sing this deserves a statue in their honour. (Maybe not in a city centre, but at very least a Marks and Spencer’s car park). That, and the line “After killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts”; one of my favourite lyrics ever, it’s a phrase that should be part of everyday usage. Seriously, try and fit it in somewhere today.