Tuesday, 19 September 2017

My Top 90 Mid-Life Crisis Songs #4: I Wasn't A Teenage Anarchist

Apparently, when you hit your teenage years, you're supposed to rebel against your parents and the establishment, severing the ties that bind you to your childhood and allowing you to fly free and conquer the world as you hit adulthood.

I reckon I got that all ass-backwards. As I've hinted at in previous posts, I didn't so much rebel against my parents and their generation as rebel against my peers. Every time they told me I should be listening to The Smiths, I cranked up The Beach Boys. When Frankie said Relax, in my house he said Regrets... I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention. When 17 year old Aisling Reynolds (and her older sister Linda) told the world they'd rather Jack... 17 year old Rol screamed back that he'd much rather Fleetwood Mac, thank you very much. (I changed my mind completely on The Smiths and partly on Frankie, but I still find that Reynolds Girls song once of the most offensive things ever committed to vinyl).

It wasn't just in music that I rebelled against being a teenager. I refused to touch a drop of alcohol... until I was in my early 20s, and the slope was very slippery after that. I never smoked behind the bike sheds. (I would have gone with a girl behind the bike sheds, but what girl would want a teenage pensioner?) Drugs? Yeah, right. Zammo never had to warn me off those. By the time I reached Sixth Form, my friends were calling me Victor Meldrew. My friends! And part of me relished it.

Looking back, I must have seemed a complete dick to a lot of my peers. And I probably was. But I had one thing in common with a lot of teenagers: I wanted to be different. Not from my parents though, because they were different from everybody else's parents anyway. They were ten, fifteen years older than most other mums and dads I met. They came from the Land Before Rock 'n' Roll. I never wanted to disrespect them or hurt them in any way, and though we clashed occasionally, mostly my home life was harmonious. But this restricted me when I hit my 20s and caused me to make all kinds of stupid mistakes then that I should have made when I was 16. It would probably have been better for me if I had been a teenage anarchist...

4. Against Me! - I Was A Teenage Anarchist

Against Me! are a very interesting band, not least because their lead singer changed genders halfway through their career. A former colleague of mind did the same and I admire her so much for the bravery of that decision. Imagine living most of your life in the wrong body, and then having the guts to do something about it. Makes my own midlife crisis pale into insignificance...

Monday, 18 September 2017

My Top ∞ Radio Songs #18: The Pilot Goes To Hospital

While I studied for my A Levels during the week, I spent my Saturday mornings in a radio studio. Not actually the on air studio though, just the Master Control Room... which makes it sound a whole lot fancier and more important than it actually was. The only time I got to go into the on air studio was to take in the coffee, and very occasionally you'd hear my voice on air if the jock deigned to throw a question my way... but mostly that was a muffled, off-mic thing. Rarely did he throw open the guest mic and let me speak clearly. On the rare occasion he did that... well, it made me want a whole lot more. I wanted to get behind that desk myself. Have complete control of the mic fader. Feel my lips just a whisker from the pop shield... that sacred totem that was flecked with the spittle of every jock who'd ever sat in that glorious, all-powerful presenter's chair (apart from the hygeine-conscious ones who brought in their own pop shields and swapped them over before and after their shows).

That wasn't going to happen without a little on-air experience of my own though, and it soon became clear I wasn't going to get that at the station. The old quandary that besets most teenage job-applicants: they want experience first, but how do you get it?

The answer was Hospital Radio. Most of the jocks I spoke too said that was how they'd got started, and they encouraged me to give it a go. It wasn't what I expected.

For a start, it wasn't even in the hospital. It was a few streets away, in the basement of a grand old townhouse that had been converted into flats. And as shabby as the radio station I already worked at looked, this made that look like Radio One. But every Thursday evening, I'd dutifully trudge down there and serve out my time.

The staff weren't at all what I expected either. No wannabe radio stars: at least not on the night I worked. There was a retired schoolteacher who liked the sound of his own voice and a middle-aged mother (she was in her 30s, but that was middle-aged to me back then) who obviously just needed a night out of the house. Then there were the ones who never even wanted to get in front of the mic (I know!); happy enough just to sit in the operating room (an even more down-market MCR) or prowl the wards asking for requests. This was way before the days of texts and email, remember. (I promised I'd get involved with that side of the job  when I joined hospital radio. But I managed to never once set foot inside the hospital. Kept well away from all the sick people.)

It was here that I honed my craft. Not presenting, per se, but co-presenting. I was pretty good at that. Giving the sarky comeback, setting up the gags and paying them off. Throughout my short-lived on-air career, I was always much better if I had someone to banter with. (Like a cut-rate Mark Radcliffe, without half the wit.) I'm not sure I ever cracked the intimate conversation with the listener, but then the opportunities for flying solo were always pretty limited. (At Christmas, I'd volunteer for the shifts no one else wanted. New Year's Day, I was down there at 8am to do my own thing and play my own thing to absolutely no one. Even in hospital, people had a lay in on January 1st.)

I enjoyed it though. There was no pressure on hospital radio. You just turned up, played Jim Reeves 'I Love You Because' and probably something by The Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band (because they were always requested), then maybe made up a couple of your own requests that allowed you to play some Meat Loaf. The record library wasn't anywhere near as extensive as the one at my other job: far more Foster & Allen than Foreigner & Abba, but I brought my own records in and snuck them on air whenever I could. This was the late 80s though, and regularly readers of this blog will be well-acquainted with my late-80s tastes. No one at hospital radio had even heard of The Smiths.

Around this time, I put away my childish things. Quit the brass band which had been my only social life for a good four or five years and gave up the piano lessons I'd been taking (unsuccessfully) since I was in primary school. I didn't have time for any of that if I was going to be a radio star. There would, however, be one other lesson I'd soon find myself desperately in need of...


18. Charlie Dore - Pilot of the Airwaves

Here's another radio song I owe to Uncle Tel. Soon after the story above took place, this was to become the last ever song played on Radio Caroline. But I remember it from the first time round. A huge hit in the States, Canada and even Australia... though it only got to #66 in the UK singles chart of 1979. Singer-songwriter Charlie Dore was British though, and although this was her only solo hit, she did go on to pen a number of other successful tunes... one of which I'll be mentioning later in the week. You may be surprised.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

My Top Ten Molly Songs (Tribute To Molly The Cat Part 2)

Molly getting ready to go on holiday with us.

In the inevitable follow-up to last night's post: ten Molly songs.

The main reason I write, the main reason I've always written... stories, comics, novels, plays, blogs, anything... is to try to make sense of it all. Writing these posts has been cathartic. Thanks for all the kind words.

10. The Kingston Trio - Run, Molly, Run / Molly Dee

I was fortunate to stumble across a box set compilation of early Kingston Trio albums in a charity shop a year or so back. Here's two for the price of one from that collection.

9. The dB's - Molly Says

Top mid-80s powerpop racket. Great lyrics.
She could stand at the top of the world
And still complain that she could not see
She could stand in a deep dark hole
And still look down on me
8. Kings of Leon - Molly's Chambers

On paper, the Kings of Leon should exactly the kind of band I dote over. I just never quite got it, though. Still, this is undoubtedly one of their best.

7. Strawberry Story - Molly Ringwald

I'm sure one of my fellow bloggers will be able to tell you a lot more about Strawberry Story than I can (Brian? JC?) but any band that namechecks 80s teen heroine Molly Ringwald scores points in my record collection.

6. Travis - Only Molly Knows

One for Martin, I'm sure.

Arguably the best song on The Man Who was the hidden track, Blue Flashing Light. Turns out that on the US edition of the CD, there were three hidden tracks. None of them particularly shabby.

5. The People The Poet - Molly Drove Me Away

Contemporary Welsh rock that sounds like it hails from New Jersey? Yes, please.

4. Kenny Rogers & The First Edition - Molly

Epic country tragedy. The internet claims this was written by Alex Harvey... but surely that must be some other Alex Harvey?

3. The Vaselines / Nirvana - Molly's Lips

The original is an off-kilter classic, obviously. No wonder it was one of Kurt's favourite records.

2. Emily Kinney - Molly

So much more interesting as a singer-songwriter than she ever got to be on The Walking Dead.

1. Little Richard - Good Golly, Miss Molly

One of the most influential recordings in the history of rock 'n' roll? Check. Seems like a fine place to end this tribute to a unique feline.

What's your favourite Molly song? (Points will be deducted for suggesting Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Dah because it's bloody annoying. If you're one of those people who doesn't read to the end of the post, don't say you weren't warned.)

Friday, 15 September 2017

My Top Ten Tribute To Molly Part 1: Cat Songs

We lost an important member of our family yesterday. Molly the cat... silky ears, twitching whiskers, inquisitive meow (not to mention a full-on demanding MOWRRRR at meal times).

I loved how you thought you were a human, not a silly cat. How you'd talk back. How you'd show workmen round the house and offer your opinion. How you'd never quite settle down, and if you did, that's when the claws would come out, milking us for warmth. How sometimes you'd sit with your tongue peeping out. How loud you could purr.

There are so many Molly stories I could tell. You were such an incredible character. The time you reached out through a barely open bedroom window and pulled in a bird. (That jingling collar we had to buy you must have sounded like the Jaws theme to the local avian gangs.) The way you just had to find a carpeted area to puke furballs onto: a nice, easy to clean kitchen floor was never good enough. The way you made me feel welcome in Louise's house the first time I visited. You were one of the friendliest cats I ever met. It was amusing watching neighbours and schoolkids stop outside the house to give you a stroke on their way home.

Many more stories, but I'm filling up at the typewriter so... another time, Mols.

I'll especially miss going out last thing at night to find you (usually scavenging round the back door of the nearby hotel, where you'd managed to sweet-talk the kitchen staff into feeding you scraps), then carrying you home on my shoulder, purring, claws catching in my jumper.

10.  Sonic Youth - Purr
I love you baby yeah, you're superfine
A-claw me down, too
A purring, whirring, fuzzy like today
Switching sunlight
I chase you kitten, catch you every time
Funny how it flies
9. Marc & The Mambas - Boss Cat

Molly was certainly the boss round here...
Mee-ow, oh wow!
Mee-ow, oh wow!
Mee-ow, oh wow!
Mee-ow, oh wow!
8. Paul Heaton - Life Of A Cat

Oh, for the life of a cat!

7. Squeeze - Cool For Cats

Not really about cats at all, but Molly was definitely too cool for school.

6. Ray Charles & Hank Williams Jr. - Two Old Cats Like Us
We've been down a whole lot of alleys
Shook a whole lot of cans
There ain't too much about prowlin' or howlin'
That we don't understand

Had a few doors slammed on our tails
We've been kicked and cussed
But everything's cool for two old cats like us
5. Colin Clary - Meow Meow

Excuse the early Christmas song, but this one always makes me think of Molly. This song's for life, not just for Christmas.

4. Billy Joel - Cat

Very early, very jazzy Billy. But so many of the lyrics are spot on...
She walks with a grace of a lion
Her eyes are the color of a shade gleam
She takes her pleasure in the nighttime
Absolutely unconcerned about anything

She’s a cat and she's as free as the wind
You never know what kind of trouble she’s in
She’s a cat
Rest assured that she doesn’t need you
3. Elvis Costello - Pads, Paws & Claws

Maybe Elvis's song isn't about an actual cat, but Molly was certainly a feline tormenter and she definitely did the pads, paws and claws routine.

2. Prefab Sprout - Farmyard Cat

But you can be the feline elite and still go scrounging scraps down a dead end street, Paddy.

I'll be back to talk in more detail about this song some other time.

1. The Cure - Love Cats
So wonderfully

My Top Ten Molly Songs will follow very soon, obviously...

Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Neverending Top Ten #2: Drive My Car

A nerdish obsession with pop trivia has gripped my boy in recent months, much to his mother's despair. I've tried to tell her it's just a phase. 6 months ago, he was obsessed with the clock. The most exciting thing in his world was watching the numbers on a digital clock turn back to zero zero at the top of the hour. Right now this has been replaced by an obsession with pop songs and their singers. There are three questions that are asked of every track I play him in the car...

"What's this song called?"

"Who is the singer / band?"

"What else do they sing?"

His memory for this information is astounding: far better than mine. I'm thinking of entering him for Pop Master.

"This is 1999 by Prince. He also sings Raspberry Beret and I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man. What else?"

As I say, the other half despairs. She's worried he will be picked on for being a trivia-obsessed geek. "That never did his father any harm," I tell her. Something in her expression says she disputes that.

2. The Beatles - Drive My Car

One of the first songs he loved. I knew he would, that's why I chose it as the opening track on the first compilation CD I made for him. His favourite toys are cars, his favourite movies are Cars... he already knows more about cars than his dad ever has.

Plus, when it comes to pop, you've got to start with The Beatles, haven't you? I may have grown a little jaded with them over the years, but in terms of pure pop... there's no contest. Pretty much everything else comes from this...

Beep beep - beep beep - yeah!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

The Top Ten Records I Bought Because I Fancied The Singer #2: Houston, We Have A Problem...

I don't think this one's too embarrassing. I was 15 when I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) was released and I still think it's a great pop song, thirty years later. Yes, it does suffer from tinny 80s production, but it bounces along joyfully and gives voice to the unspoken truth of every 15 year old, boy or girl, in its title (brackets all important). You listen to lyrics like those, sung by a pretty girl just a few years older than you... and she might as well be singing to you. It's a fun pop song made heartbreaking when you're stood up against the wall at the school disco, trying your best to look cool and not bothered.

2. Whitney Houston - I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)

This was 1987 too, of course, the zenith of the music video, and the succession of short, figure-hugging dresses Whitney wears throughout doubtless sold quite a few copies to boys my age who might not otherwise have liked this kind of music. I think it's fair to say though that I loved this unashamedly at the time, by then I'd quickly worked out that my taste in music was all over the place and couldn't really be kept in a nice, neat, carefully labelled box. Yes, Whitney, for a very brief moment in time I fancied the pants off you. Then I guess you cut you hair and I stopped loving you, as Billy Bragg famously sang.

Apparently Whitney was never comfortable with being a pop star, and as this was her biggest "pop" hit, you have to wonder if she grew to hate it. I hope not, because there's an innocence to it you rarely see in pop music these days, and the fact she looked like she was having such great fun in the video made her even sexier. If she was putting that on, she was a far better actress than The Bodyguard ever allowed her to show.

I bought the album too, in case you were wondering. I must have had it bad.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

The Glorious 10th: Welcome To..

We're back (a little earlier than advertised, but I wanted it still to be the 10th).

As promised, I'm changing the rules this month to make things a bit more interesting / easy / difficult / different from the WYCRA feature I ripped off. (In the back of my head, I still hold a tiny hope that the WYCRA gang might one day return, and if they did, and wanted to resume their brief of getting everybody to suggest one word song titles on a Saturday morning, I don't want to have used them all up).

This month's Glorious 10th challenge then is to find ten songs with the words 'Welcome to...' in the title. Some of them will be obvious. Some of them will be obscure. Some of the really obvious ones won't make the ten at all. Points will be allocated thus...
  • 1 point for every song in my Top Ten you correctly guess.
  • 2 points for being the first person to guess that song.
  • 3 points for guessing the song's position in my Top Ten.
  • 5 points for being the first to guess my Number One song and correctly identify it as such.
  • 1 bonus point for any song I have in my collection which I couldn't squeeze into the Top Ten (the 'long list').
  • 1 bonus point for any new songs you suggest which I like.
  • Points will be deducted for really bad suggestions (i.e. U2 or Oasis), or anything that gets me sacked for watching the video at work, Jez.
The only thing you can't have is albums called Welcome To... (unless there's also a track called that on said album). With that in mind, you can't have the track below, although it is a belter: from Welcome To The Beautiful South.

Good luck.

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