A Musical Interlude

McBusted’s Most Excellent Adventure

Last night I took my daughter (and one of her bezzies) to her first pop concert – McBusted at what was the N.I.A. in Birmingham (now the Barclaycard Arena!). It was my first music night for about 15 years too and this morning my ears are still a bit affected. Our seats were in the middle of the arena floor – and I did wonder whether we’d be able to see anything once everyone stood up, but once my daughter pointed out that we were actually just 20yds away from the mid-arena mini-stage and thus in an excellent position I was ready to ‘Party on, dude.’ The show was themed on a video game based on teen films Bill & Ted’s Most Excellent Adventure and Back to the Future. It being McBusted, I already knew most of the songs as they’ve been on the TV a lot – they only have one album together, and played a few of their previous McFly and Busted hits too.

I have to say – it was a most excellent show. Both support bands were good, getting 20 minutes each, then McB played for one and three quarter hours. Very slick and professional – also very fun. These boys are all lovely! One thing you can do now at pop concerts is take photos with impunity (although you’re still not really allowed) – so here’s a flavour of what we saw…

McB montage 1
McB Montage 2
McB Montage3

It was a real thrill to see the DeLorean being lowered down from the roof (middle montage) – and then all six of them climbed out of it (they obvs have an underground passage into the arena middle and pop up inside the car once it is lowered), but it’s an impressive illusion. Then they played about four songs there before returning to the stage.

I’d go and see McBusted again like a shot!  As to which of these lads is my favourite?  I have a very soft spot for Tom, love Dougie’s grin, James’ dishevelledness, Harry’s pecs, Matt’s hair and Danny is growing on me…

The only down-side to the NIA though is that being in the middle of Birmingham, with the end of the concert moreorless coinciding with chucking out time and roadworks in the city – it took forever to get out of the car-park and then the satnav led us the scenic route back to the motorway!  Didn’t get home to bed until 1.30am – aren’t I a dirty stop-out!  I shall leave you with a video for ‘Air Guitar’.

 

“We gotta get out of this place…”

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

how-to-build-a-girlI’ll start up front by saying that this book is one of the sweariest, wankiest, shaggiest stories I’ve ever read, and it’s narrated by a teenager who is just fourteen at its outset. The first lines set the tone…

I am lying in bed, next to my brother, Lupin.
He is six years old. He is asleep.
I am fourteen. I am not asleep. I am masturbating.

To be fair, it’s a biggish bed, and she does put a ‘little, friendly Berlin Wall’ of a pillow between them – but still! So, if you can’t bear swearing, wanking and shagging in a novel, this might not be the book for you.

… But you would miss the point, for underneath all its bravado is a story about a girl’s coming of age. A teenager in a large working-class family that lives on benefits in a part of the world where most people are in the same boat, told in Moran’s typical earthy style.

… However, although Moran insists that her heroine is not her, despite coming from a similar background, if you’ve read her part rant, part memoir How to be a Woman, you’ll be familiar with her own lifestory and you will find this novel repetitive. Luckily, although I love her journalism, I’m one of the few who hasn’t read that book, so this novel was sort of new for me.

It’s 1990, and Johanna Morrigan (Johanna with an ‘h’ as in Dylan’s song – never acknowledged, but surely chosen specifically), wants to escape the poverty she’s stuck in, she wants to be someone – in London not Wolverhampton. Her ageing hippy dad wants to be famous too, he’s never let his vision of being a rock star vanish – he’ll force his audition tape onto anyone, but no-one listens. Her older brother Krissi is at that shutting himself away stage of adolescence, her mum is worn out with looking after the twins and is clearly suffering from post-natal depression. They live on the breadline, buoyed by her dad’s disability benefit.  Johanna dreams of a future…

… I don’t want to be noble and committed like most women in history were – which invariably seems to involve being burned at the stake, dying of sadness or being bricked up in a tower by an earl. I don’t want to sacrifice myself for something. I don’t want to die for something I don’t even want to walk in the rain up a hill in a skirt that’s sticking to my thighs for something. I want to live for something, instead – as men do. I want to have fun. The most fun ever. I want to start parting like it’s 1999 – nine years early. I want a rapturous quest. I want to sacrifice myself to glee. I want to make the world better, in some way.

To cut a long story short, she reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde, a Goth-inspired ‘lady sex-adventurer’. As soon as she can, she leaves school, starts writing record reviews for a London rock newspaper and sets out to conquer the world through the media of sex & drugs & rock’n’roll. She undoubtedly has a good time – but does she like what she’s become?

You do want to like Johanna, however precocious she is. You may be a little envious of some of the things she gets up to as a teenager – just some! (Getting on the guest list as an 18 yr-old at the Marquee Club when my boyfriend agreed to do a roadie stint for a (Christian) prog-rock band back in 1978 is my claim to fame in the rock’n’roll department only – none of the other!).

The book, although a bit meandering, was easy to read but very rude of course. I particularly enjoyed the parts featuring Johanna and Welsh rocker and pissante John Kite, with whom she strikes up a true friendship. The problem is that Moran’s own story is always in the back of your mind, and I think I’d have preferred to read that. They say write about what you know, but we already know that in Moran’s case, so let’s hope her next fictional outing is less transparent – I’ll happily read it.  (6.5/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran, Jul 2014, Ebury, Hardback 345 pages.
How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, paperback.

P.S. Lyric quote from ‘We gotta get out of this place’ by Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, performed by The Animals in 1965.

 

Anderson & Zweig; Thorn and Morrissey

I know – it’s too long since you had a proper book post – they will come soon, promise. Life is so busy at the moment, and for the next couple of weeks it’ll be the same – as I have the Abingdon Science Festival to go to/help at, several trips to the Oxford Literary Festival planned (Natalie Haynes, Celia Rees and friends talking about women in history in YA novels, and Ian McEwan. I plan to write about them all in due course. Plus there is that big project I mentioned before that I can’t tell you about quite yet (what a tease!)

All of these are taking up too much of my time, (but in a good way!).

The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel-PosterMeanwhile, I’ve given myself the night off from reading and am going to see The Grand Budapest Hotel at the movies this evening.

There is a bookish link, as director Wes Anderson has based the film on stories by Stefan Zweig, and Pushkin Press has brought out a book of selected writings, introduced by Anderson … The Society of the Crossed Keys (affiliate link) to link with the film.

I’ve never read Zweig, but have ordered the book above so I can get started after seeing the film tonight, and I may well put down my thoughts about the film tomorrow.

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bedsit disco queenI’ve read a lot of good books lately, but the one I’ve been enjoying the most over the past couple of weeks is Tracey Thorn’s volume of memoir Bedsit Disco Queen. Forget the purple prose and bitter rants of Morrissey, reviewed here, Tracey’s book is just brilliant all the way through.

She tells her story from her punky schooldays, through forming The Marine Girls, then English at Hull university and meeting Ben Watt, through all the ups and downs of Everything But the Girl, eventual big stardom thanks to that remix of Missing into semi-retirement and motherhood.

That she’s managed it all and stayed totally sane, never becoming a diva – remaining the extrovert introvert she is – and obviously a nice person, made this the best memoir about pop music that I’ve ever read.  One bit that really tickled me though was in a chapter called ‘The Boy with the Thorn in his Side‘ where she talks about Morrissey and the Smiths – here’s a taster …

I loved Morrissey with a devotion which outweighed anything I’d felt for a rock singer before, and which I now blush to recall. It wasn’t that I wanted to sleep with him (well, no, I did actually, but that seemed unlikely to happen, what with one thing and another). It was more that I wanted to BE him. I know I wasn’t alone in feeling this, though I suspect most of the others who felt this way were probably boys. For an androgynous girl like me, Morrissey was an intoxicating new kind of role model – camp in many ways, but also surprisingly butch. He reminded me more of a male version of the female singers I liked – Patti Smith or Siouxsie  – than any previous male rock star. His onstage performance style inspired mine for a good couple of years – a Melody Maker review from 1985 reads: ‘Tonight Tracey might have played it like the girl with Morrissey at her side’, while this one is from Sounds: ‘Thorn continues to stifle her desire to impersonate Morrissey, arms threatening to lose control of themselves.’

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Harry choosing

 

And finally, the winner of the Giveaway of a copy of Mark Miodownik’s new book (reviewed here, as picked by Harry is …

K E V I N

I’ll be emailing you for your address very soon.  Well done, and thanks to all who entered.

‘November spawned a monster’?

Autobiography by Morrissey

autobiographymorrissey_lrgSorry – couldn’t resist the title of this post.  I wrote about my initial reaction to the opening pages of Moz’s memoir here.  There, I questioned whether I could stand to read a whole 457 pages of his purple prose.

Well, reader – I finished it. Contrary to my expectations, I enjoyed a good amount of it too, but, if ever there was a book to which the term ‘curate’s egg’ could apply – this is it! Famously unedited, it is at least one hundred pages too long.  This is primarily because, (as I at once surmised), he uses double the amount of words that he needs to.

I suspect that, as his sense of humour is entirely on a different plane to that of the general public,  he didn’t set out to make anyone laugh – but laugh I did in quite a few places. Let me share some of those with you before getting serious:

Naturally my birth almost kills my mother, for my head is too big, …  (p5)

England calls with an offer of a role on Eastenders, as the son (so far unmentioned) of the character Dot Cotton. I would arrive unexpectedly in Albert Square and cause births, deaths and factory fires every time I opened my mouth – numb to shame throughout. (p353)

The cast (of Friends) is friendly, and I am immediately taken aside by the scriptwriters and asked if I’d jump in on a newly jumbled plot-line where I appear with the character Phoebe in the Central Perk diner, where I am requested to sing in ‘a really depressing voice.’ Within seconds of the proposal, I wind down the fire-escape like a serpent, and it’s goodbye to Hollywood yet again. (p368)

A Manc-accented Nick Cotton in Eastenders – I don’t think so.  At least he has the sense to recognise that he probably can’t act, but it would have been wonderful to see him send himself up in Friends, but ever Narcissus, he can’t.

Morrissey is famous for being vegetarian; later walking out of many restaurant meetings when someone at his table orders meat.  This was even so in his childhood, and his description of school dinners could turn you off most food for life.

Putrid smells reduce me to a pitiful pile, and none are more vomitarian than school dinners. All foods of miasmic fragrance disturb me, and the mere hint of garlic induces the shakes, as fish cooked or uncooked causes gut-wrenching panic. This boy of 1971 has an abnormally limited palate – a working-class host of relentless toast, and the inability to expand beyond the spartan.

What was nice was that although he hated school, outside, he developed a love for poetry, starting off with the wit of Hillaire Belloc, and Wilde, then Dorothy Parker before moving on to Stevie Smith, WH Auden, Herrick and Housman.

It is page 141 before he meets Johnny Marr, shortly after discovering he has “a chest voice of light baritone,” and an initial flirtation with performing in public as The Nosebleeds (not a band name of his choosing).  He and Marr hit it off, and the rest, as they say is history.

The years with The Smiths, before it all fell to pieces are fascinating. Like all tyro bands faced with their first record contract, they gaily sign.  They have hit records but never reach the number one spot, something that really irks Morrissey. All the way through his memoir, whether with The Smiths or solo, he is obsessed with chart positions, seeing the inability to get a single to the top spot as a failure of the record company.  It is hard to see how a song called ‘Shoplifters of the world unite‘ could have got the airplay he thinks it deserves.  The albums chart higher though, and live audiences bear out their popularity, but you sense he is really aggrieved at never having had a No 1 single.

On p175, he talks about why he calls himself Morrissey…

My own name has now become synonymous with the word ‘miserable’ in the press, so Johhny putters with ‘misery’ and playfully arrives at misery mozzery, which truncates to Moz, and I am classified ever after. I had originally decided to use only my surname because I couldn’t think of anyone else in the music that had done so – although, or course, many had been known by just one name, but it hadn’t been their surname.  Only classical composers were known by just their surnames, and that suited my mudlark temperament quite nicely.

Comparing himself to a classical composer – he’s having a laugh, isn’t he?

Where I got bogged down with this memoir was the section post-Smiths when Morrissey was sued by the Smiths’ bassist and drummer, whom Morrissey insists had been signed on for 10% (himself and Marr as the songwriters getting 40% each), asking for their full 25% – years after the event. Morrissey is full of vitriol at them, and as it goes on and on for about fifty pages, I got more and more bored.

Things get a little more interesting again when Morrissey moves to LA, meets various celebs and has strange conversations. He also has relationships which are still kept very private. They get boring again when he goes on tour – and we get night after night of a new city and audience sizes.

So – a mixed bag of too much information, too little information. Occasions of too much purple prose – “even though his expressionist jargon often swamped logic in far too much existentialism” – I can’t even begin to assimilate that phrase. I have no idea of the veracity of his writing – Stuart Maconie and Julie Burchill give different accounts of meetings for instance, but it is his own (narcissistic) account. Morrissey shouldn’t have been allowed to become the first living author to be published in Penguin Classics – but it was a great marketing coup.

To sum it up, when talking about family, friends, poetry, The Smiths’ creative peak, Morrissey was happy – and I was happy reading about it too; when whining about record companies, court cases, the NME, never getting to no 1, endless gigs, being a Misery Moz – I thought ‘Heaven knows I’m miserable now’. (7/10)

So I shall leave you with a promo video for Girlfriend in a Coma, and links to Morrissey’s appearance on Desert Island Discs which was fascinating plus a couple of press reviews of his book – one funny, one more balanced: Craig Brown in the Daily Mail; and Stuart Maconie in the Guardian.

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Autobiography by Morrissey, Penguin Classics, October 2013, 457 pages

The power of a descending bassline …

I don’t usually do ‘Song for Sunday’ type posts, but felt inspired today.

I was listening to Broadcasting House, the Sunday morning magazine programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning, and there was a feature on why Baby by Justin Bieber is a classic pop song. It has all the hallmarks – being written in E flat major – a classic key, and featuring the The Doo-Wop chord progression as used in Ben E King’s sublime Stand by me and also by Mozart in La Clemenza di Tito. That descending bassline is great; Baby may be a well-crafted pop-song, but it doesn’t do it for me, and I don’t believe it’ll have any longevity beyond being the Beibster’s first big hit.

I could offer you Procul Harum’s wonderful A Whiter Shade of Pale (based on Bach of course), which goes down the whole octave in its chord progressions – a ground bass.  Instead, I offer one of my favourite pop songs of all time, which shares the same bassline, but has wonderful over the top orchestration and the wonderfully ironic dead-pan delivery of Neil Tennant’s singing.  I love this song so much, it might even make my fantasy Desert Island Discs.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you It’s a sin

Let’s talk about pop music

Pop Charts by Paul Copperwaite

This was one of those impulse purchases in the charity shop.  It’s the sort of book I’d never buy for myself, although I might have given it to my brother for Christmas as a silly present if I’d spotted it in a shop.  For a pound however, it was a bargain and it did make me laugh for a while.

Inside it’s full of charts – bar, pie, line, Venn diagrams, decision trees, pictographs, all types of charts you can think of are there.  As you can see each one represents a song, or an artist, or contrasts different songs etc.

Some are very funny – ‘The Smiths mood index clock’ has from 12 until 1 – Happy in a drunken haze, then 11 until 12 again – Miserable now.  There’s a fantastic chart contrasting noticeable traits of rabbits – with bars for Jefferson airplane and Chas n Dave.  There is also a great world map of ‘Areas of reported rocking’ – I’ll leave you to work them out from my descriptions as I couldn’t really scan the pix in.

It was a bit of geeky fun, and definitely aimed at those familiar with 80s and 90s pop primarily.  There are lots of other books on similar themes graphing pop, movies and more if you look on the web.  Would I buy them? – No. Would I flick through and work the graphs out if if I came across them? – Of course, Yes.

To buy from Amazon.co.uk, click Pop Charts (2008)

How can I be sure?

I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson

Rarely in recent times has a book called out to me as much as this one. You see, in common with the teenagers in this novel who are all fanatical David Cassidy fans, I was too.

David was Godlike, with his shell necklaces, feathered hair, and whispery voice.  You were either a Donny (Osmond) or a Cassidy fan in my neck of the woods – the Bay City Rollers and Jackson 5 didn’t get a look-in I’m afraid.  My walls were covered with posters; I made scrapbooks with every cutting from mags and newspapers I could find. I sat in front of the telly holding the microphone of my little cassette recorder taping the Partridge Family’s songs in each episode.  The first record I bought was a Cassidy single – It was Could it be forever (b/w Cherish) in 1972.  I designed a Keep Britain Tidy poster for a Blue Peter competition he was promoting – part of the prize would be to meet ‘him’.  I nearly got there – I won a Blue Peter competition runners up badge and got a signed photo which I treasured – until I sold it years later – wish I hadn’t now!

Teenybopperdom was – and is –  a serious business, but it doesn’t last. One day in 1974, after his world tour in which a girl died from being crushed in the audience at a London concert, I realised I’d grown out of him; this phase essentially coincides with a growing awareness of real boys.  Our relationship may have been over, but you never forget your first fantasy loves.

So back to the book…  I bought it soon after publication, but restrained myself from immersion until I was really ready. This week, when I’ve been rediscovering all sorts of bits of my childhood whilst clearing my Mum’s house, seemed to be the right time, so I dove in …

It starts off in Wales, at home with Petra and her best friend Sharon. Petra is a promising young cellist who is a secret Cassidy fan – her uptight German mother frowns against such things, so she goes round to Sharon’s – she has a shrine.  Together they devour every word in the monthly fanzine, memorising all his favourite things, doing all the quizzes to see if they could be the perfect Mrs Cassidy. They believe every word.

Of course, a lot of it is made up – that’s Bill’s job. He’s the degree qualified journalist who ends up working on a teenybopper mag and acts as the voice of Cassidy. He’s embarrassed  by it – his girlfriend thinks he’s a proper rock journo, but somehow he manages to make David seem real to all his teenaged fans.  It’s coming up to David’s UK concert dates soon, the last dates in his world tour.  The magazine plans an ultimate David quiz which Bill creates – the winners will get meet their hero after the concert.

Back in Wales, Petra and Sharon are researching the answers – they only have a couple to go. Petra is under pressure though to name the class it girl Gillian as her friend on her entry, and not Sharon.  Gillian isn’t a real fan though, but she is trying to cultivate Petra to her clique. A group of girls from school manage to get tickets for David’s London concert. Petra has to weave a web of lies to be able to go – her mother thinks she’s going to see the Messiah in Cardiff. So the stage is set for a night to remember, but not necessarily for the reasons they’d longed for.

I’m not going to tell you any more about the story, but it was totally satisfying and romantic.  The author manages to capture the mind of the teenybopper perfectly: the idolisation of their heroes, the insidious jockeying for position, pettiness, and the bullying of all shades that goes on in school between teenaged girls.  The nature of celebrity and the role of the press are also examined – is it right to embellish or re-write the truth to keep the fires going?  Cassidy’s clean-cut and youthful image was also somewhat at odds with his actual years, penchant for slightly older women and, as a musician a yearning to be taken seriously. 

This novel will appeal to anyone who’s had a teenage crush on an unobtainable fantasy figure.  Admittedly, anyone who grew up in the early 1970s will have an advantage – I did and I loved it. (9.5/10) I bought this book.

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To order this book from Amazon.co.uk click below:
I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson

The Police are but a small episode in this busy life …

Strange Things Happen by Stewart Copeland

The emphasis is on fun in this memoir – for Copeland is a hyperactive sort, a workaholic but easily bored, loving a challenge, never playing anything quite the same way twice, liking to be boss, and he’s also much more than a mere drummer.

Jumping about in time with flashes back and forward, the book opens with pages about his childhood in Beirut, where he played with Harry Philby – yes, son of that Philby, and where his Dad was big in the CIA, through moving to boarding school in England, learning the drums and then in 1975 joining his first professional band Curved Air where he must have broken many a boy’s heart by marrying the elfinly beautiful lead singer Sonja Kristina. Then – The Police – the band that made him world famous.

Copeland deals with their initial years in just ten pages. It’s clear that our mission, should we choose to accept it, is really to read about what Stewart did next …

The next big chunk of the book takes us up to 2007, and there’s a lot to tell. Playing polo against Prince Charles, making a film in Africa, playing with many other bands, and developing a love for the pizzica music of Salento in Southern Italy, meeting his second wife Fiona, and having a ball being a judge on the BBC celebrity duet show ‘It takes two’ … all great fun. Then, there’s the main day job as a composer. Copeland studied composition at college, and post Police, he composed an opera – not a rock one, a proper, grand one – with a plot based on the crusades; it was staged in Cleveland to a largely enthusiastic response. Following this is a long career, in between all these adventures, as a film and TV composer, having composed scores for many movies and lots of TV work, notably starting with Coppola’s Rumblefish.

Then it all comes round again. Copeland’s hobby project of editing all the film he took during the Police years into a movie is entered for the Sundance festival. For the first time in ages, the three musicians are reunited at the festival when Sting turns up for the premiere. This event sows the seeds for the Police reunion tour which takes up the final 100 pages.

Stewart & Sting’s stormy relationship is the stuff of legend. Now they’re both older and wiser, you might expect them to have mellowed. It starts off well, but these guys have had years of being top dogs now, and before long they’re circling around each other, spoiling for a fight. They cope though, letting the music do it’s work and manage eighteen months on tour.

This book is mainly about his career and working families, rather than the loving one at home. We find out very little about his parents, siblings, and even less about his seven (yes!) kids, although there’s a nice photo of them all at the end. Copeland however, is an aimiable yet sparky host, always capable of seeing the funny side of things; his straight talking and writing style always lets us know what he thinks. What also come through strongly are what he sees as the shamanistic properties of music to inspire and inhabit a body – any music has the possibility to do this, and refreshingly he embraces this philosophy throughout.

Copeland is anything but a normal rock star – and this is an excellent read for any music fan, I really enjoyed it. Finally, a big thank you to Scott who arranged to get me a signed and dedicated copy of this book – much appreciated indeed.

I was a ’70s teenager!

As I’m currently reading a real chunkster with some way to go, I thought I’d post about music today.

I was born in 1960 (I don’t feel that old mind!), so my teenage years spanned the whole of the ’70s. I can’t help but look back on the decade through rose-tinted glasses, and will forever remember the 1973 Christmas Top of the Pops. Once glam went out of fashion, pop was never so much fun again. Luckily we do get nostalgia trips on the box now and then; and the TV series Life on Mars was pure joy with its soundtrack from my youth. Glam and disco were brilliant, but punk largely passed me by – I veered off down a folksy, soft and prog rock route, but please don’t hold that against me!

So today, pop-pickers, we have my top ten 70s singles, chosen as my 1970s teenaged self. I compiled a list of songs I adore; ultimately all these songs still have their hooks in me. They’re songs I can still remember most of, if not all, the lyrics to; songs whose guitar riffs, sax and keyboard solos, even drum breaks, I still have a tendency to mime to; and they are all songs that make me feel happy or send a little shiver down my spine. Some good criteria for picking great pop singles, and I hope you’ll agree that not everything about the ’70s was bad!

1. Dec ’71 – Horse with no name by America. At 11yrs old when this came out, I was almost a teenybopper; David Cassidy was to become my idol of choice! However later at about 16, I and my classmates at my all-girls school discovered US folk/soft rock together in a big way with Bread, John Denver, and of course America. Several of us had guitars and we used to sing and strum every lunchtime, broadening our previously Beatles dominated repertoire with songs such as Horse with no name – which has an irresistible strum-along riff and la-la chorus. It’s B-side Sandman had an even better guitar part. Unfortunately America weren’t to go on and repeat this chart success but did produce a string of well-received albums that I still enjoy.

2. Jan ’72 – American Pie by Don McLean. This is a rare thing – a narrative semi-acoustic pop song with literate lyrics crammed full of cultural references and it’s 8.5 minutes long. It shouldn’t have worked perhaps, but the almost throwaway last line of the first verse is the killer – “the day the music died”. It was another of those lunchtime singing session songs for us schoolgirls. McLean has always refused to explain the song, however it is generally accepted that it is a tribute to Buddy Holly and commentary on the lack of good time music since that fatal air-crash fifty years ago. (Apparently it starts in mono and ends in stereo, but I’ve not checked that out). You can find a fascinating analysis of the lyrics on don-mclean.com, his official fansite.

3. May ’75 – I’m Not In Love by 10CC. Best known for uptempo numbers full of ironic humour, this superb bittersweet love song marked a change for 10CC. It couldn’t have been a hit without Eric Stewart’s breathy, plaintive voice, enveloped by synthesizer swirls. It’s a beautiful sad song and just thinking about it now brings a small lump to the throat – one of the best-ever love songs without a doubt, and for me the greatest song that 10CC ever crafted.

4. Nov ’75 – Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Arguably one of the greatest singles ever with that groundbreaking video, BR is pure opera. My brother got me the sheet music for Christmas – it might be worth a fortune now if I hadn’t written in transposed chords to play it in an easier guitar key (it was written in E-flat). However, I digress; imagine the scene with me at the piano being Freddie Mercury playing with all the flourishes, and singing at the top of my voice. This is the ultimate singalong magnum opus whether you’re alone at the piano or with your mates and their air guitars in the car – Party on dude!

5. Feb ’76 –Rain by Status Quo. Quo were massive in the 70s and we frugged along to all the hits. Three chord wonders or not, they rocked, and being a local (South London) band we were all fans; I was drawn to Francis Rossi’s sideburns and waistcoats rather than the blonde locks of Rick Parfitt. This hit is more bluesy than its predecessors, slightly slower, and with a fourth chord or more it’s my favourite from the Blue for You album. We, like the band, were all denim clad by then; trying to find the widest flares – I had some superb brushed denim Brutus bags I seem to remember, aah – those were the days.

6. Apr ’77 – Hotel California by The Eagles. The Eagles blend of country rock with pop sensibilities was never better than in Hotel California. Though I loved this song in the seventies, I love it even more now as it has taken on mythic status for us. My other half was on a job in Norway which kept getting extended, and the little guest house where he stayed took on the mantle of being where “you can check out any time you want but you can never leave”. What a killer lyric – Nuff said!

7. Dec ’76 – Haitian Divorce by Steely Dan. The Dan’s only top twenty UK hit struck a particular chord with me; not least because I’d just found out that the guy I fancied from afar for ages was into them. This was a possible way in? Needless to say that romance never worked out, but I did fall in love with Steely Dan. I adored their cleverness, the tightness of the groove, and the nasal tones of Donald Fagen’s voice, although I can remember being shocked when I first found out where their name came from (if you don’t know, don’t ask, ditto 10CC!). Haitian Divorce was very different from the rest of the chart fodder at the time, so this stood out from the crowd for me.

8. Oct ’77 – She’s Not There by Santana. This version of The Zombies’ 60s hit is one of those rare covers that is better than the original. Giving it the Santana Latino treatment with a great organ accompaniment provides a backdrop for some blistering guitar & keyboard work towards the song’s climax. I later bought the 2CD Santana Ultimate Collection only to discover that this song is on CD2, along with all the duds rather than on the brilliant CD1.

9. Aug ’78 – Three Times A Lady by The Commodores. I turned eighteen in May ’78 and as there were loads of 18th birthday parties around then, I decided to make mine an end of summer celebration before we all went off to university or back to school instead, and held it the first weekend of September. This track was number one and was just the classic smoochy single I needed to make the party a success. It took me a while to track it down though – all the usual shops in Croydon had sold out.

I splashed out and also bought Jilted John (left) and Quo’s Again & Again. All three singles went down a treat, and I think I got my slow dance to The Commodores (but with whom I can’t remember). I’m told the party was a hit and it must have been OK as we only had a couple of part bottles of Cinzano left at the end.

10. Dec ’78 – Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick by Ian Dury & the Blockheads. Dury and Chas Jankel took punk and funked it up. Sheer brilliance. Witty lyrics full of double entendre delivered in Dury’s half-singing, half-talking style helped to take this to the top spot. Ian Dury provided some musical relief from the excesses of punk that I really enjoyed. He is sorely missed.

And that makes ten. What didn’t make it? Well there were a few hard choices and in the end I left out: Got to get you into my life – Earth, Wind and Fire (fab Beatles cover); Metal Guru – T.Rex – My dad hated this!!! Follow you follow me – Genesis, just a little too soppy; Bridge over troubled water by Simon and Garfunkel; and sadly somehow neither of the Davids – Bowie nor Cassidy made it either – I wasn’t a Bowie fan in the 70s, not getting into him till later on.

What are/were your favourite singles of the 1970s?

Santa Claus is comin’ to town …

I just got back from my daughter’s school Christmas concert which was lovely. I was amazed though to find out that the perennial favourite Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (preferably the Springsteen version for me), has some introductory verses:

I just came back from a lovely trip along the Milky Way,
I stopped off at the North Pole to spend a holiday;
I called on dear old Santa Claus to see what I could see,
He took me to his workshop and told his plans to me.

Now Santa is a busy man, he has no time to play,
He’s got millions of stockings to fill on Christmas Day;
You’d better write your letter now and mail it right away,
Because he’s getting ready his reindeers and his sleigh ….

… and into the bit we all know. The verses are very sweet and jaunty when sung by kids, but musically, they were nowhere as good as the chorus.

This got me thinking – a dangerous thing – of the many other Christmas songs that have verses or intros that we never sing. The beginning of Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer is very useful for remembering the names of Santa’s reindeer:

You know Dasher, and Dancer, and Prancer and Vixen,
Comet and Cupid, and Donder and Blitzen;
But do you recall, the most famous reindeer of all ?…

But an amazing intro is the one that Irving Berlin originally wrote for White Christmas. It rather turns the song as we all know it, sung by Bing, on its head. Here the joke is on Hollywood. Apparently after Berlin heard Bing singing it, he ordered the verse to be taken out of future editions of the music – which it patently wasn’t because my Dad has a copy of the sheet music with this in:

The sun is shining, the grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway,
There’s never been such a day,
In Beverley Hills, LA.
But it’s December the twenty-fourth,
And I’m longing to be up north…