I was listening to the radio the other day, and I realised my eldest brother and sister have a lot to answer for. I come from a family of six children, and I don’t know if it’s the same in all families, but the eldest in mine, pretty much dictated what we listened to musically. At the time, being a child, I found this all a bit prescriptive. Ann and Ian (my eldest siblings) decreed that we play cool, worthy music around the house. I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and fitting in with your school peers was all-important (as it is now). You had to watch the right TV shows and listen to the right music. Which our family didn’t. So Ali (my littlest sister) and I used to sneak out of the house with our meagre pocket money to buy cassettes or vinyl chart music of the time; things like Madonna and George Michael and Aha. Things that Ann and Ian would have been appalled about back then. Like all kids, I guess we felt the need to rebel.
It’s only now that I’m a grown up that I can actually see what Ann and Ian were trying to instil in us. And it turns out they were quite right. Although I loved it (and as a guilty pleasure, still do sometimes) it’s not that 80s throw-away, chart music that I would go to if I was in need of some music therapy. It’s the music that Ann and Ian played on the turntable, that’s what has seeped into my subconscious and shaped my upbringing. There has always been a lot of fantastic American music in my life, but it was British music that made me what I am; music like this: –
Supertramp were a British prog-rock band that incorporated pop and other influences into their music. That’s why they were so good, I believe; the mixed influences incorporated into their tracks. It’s only now that I’m in my forties that I really appreciate this band. Their attention to melody was second to none. I absolutely loved Roger Hodgson’s voice – able to hit notes that even I might struggle with. What’s more, he looked a little bit like Jesus (and what little kid couldn’t find that appealing?). They made dozens of amazing records, but ‘Give a Little Bit’ is my favourite. It had to be a song sung by Roger, of course. Whenever I hear it in the car, I’m always cheered up…yes, even a right misery like me.
This Scottish singer-songwriter was a firm favourite in our house growing up. Most people will know him for ‘Baker Street’ and ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’, but there was so much more to him than that. It was his sense of tune, also, that gave him such a foothold in our house. I used to love his nasally voice and the way he was unable to pronounce the sound ‘thr’ and replaced it with ‘shr’. If there was anybody who actually influenced my singing voice, it was him. My brother once said I sounded like the female Gerry Rafferty. Or perhaps he didn’t actually mean it as a compliment; he simply meant that I also sang in a nasally way (which isn’t necessarily a good thing – and let’s face it, brothers don’t tend to pay you compliments). ‘Rick Rack’ is an old Gerry Rafferty track (written with Billy Connolly, no less, while they were in The Humblebums). But it’s the one the child in me remembers the late, great Rafferty for. I think I love it for its melancholy nature. I told you I was a misery.
An English singer-songwriter who my late-sister Lynn was particularly fond of. This is the only one of the artists listed in this post that I ever got to see live. I could never understand why Joe Jackson wasn’t more popular than he was. Well, perhaps he was. But he wasn’t popular when I was at school; nobody had heard of him. Most people will know him for ‘Steppin’ Out’. He was an exceptionally gifted pianist, but to me, his biggest strength was to be found in his lyrics. Lyrically, Joe Jackson was unbeatable. ‘Sentimental Thing’ is my number one Joe Jackson track. Maybe I just like sad songs (because I’m a right misery), but I think I love it because it could literally bring you to tears. Especially if you listen carefully to the lyrics – which I believe people just don’t do often enough.
Well, no music list would be complete without The Beatles, would it? You don’t need me to tell you a thing about them, because there’s nothing new I can say that you don’t already know. But growing up in my house, The Beatles were very regularly on the turntable. We all know that their main success came from their uncanny sense of tune, but also from their ability to adapt and evolve. There will never be a greater band than ‘The Beatles’; the legacy they have left behind is astonishing. Their body of work is just too extensive and too consistent to be topped. But my all-time favourite Beatles track has to be ‘Across the Universe’. Its gentle sense of melody and emotion-evoking vocals is unsurpassed.
There were other bands and artists that shaped me, but these were the big four. I used to sing and write songs once upon a time, not anymore, but I did. I prided myself mostly on my lyrics, perhaps because I was always an author at heart, or perhaps because of the clever lyricists that filled my ears in my formative years. And the music I have listed just shows you, the tracks you grow up with, they are the ones that shape you. I had my rebellious dalliance with the popular chart music of the time (not that all of it was unworthy, because some of it was great). And there are other, newer musical influences that have made a big difference to my life too. But these intelligent and talented artists listed; the ones that I was surrounded with during childhood, these are the ones that had the most profound effect on me. I’d say both musically and as a writer too. And I don’t hold them responsible in any way for me being a right misery.
NB: So what about you? Who were the singers and bands that could be heard regularly around your house as a kid? Did you loathe them or love them? If you loved them, what made that music stick with you for all these years? I’d love to hear your memories in the comment section below.