British novelist Nick Hornby wrote a book of essays about songs that he either liked or that had an impact on his life. It got me thinking about a playlist to my life (indulgent!), and tunes that are evocative of a time and place. I like music. I’ve got friends who like it a lot more than me and are better at it. For me it is more of a backdrop to what is happening around me.
Early rock chick
One of my early memories is jumping off the back of the sofa with a tennis racket as guitar and shouting / singing
All my life I wanted to be somebody and here I am! /I know what I’ve got and there ain’t nobody
Gonna take it away from me! So let me tell you what I am
I’m a red hot fox / I can take the knocks / I’m a hammer from hell / Honey can’t you tell
I’m the wild one
I actually thought the words were ‘Red hot rock’.
Yes – Suzi Quatro was a bit of an idol, along with Sweet, and songs like Ballroom Blitz (I still know all the words).
I learnt to ride a motorbike when I was eleven or twelve, so I showed early rock chick tendencies.
Early teen age memories are of driving to Perth with my Dad and my cousin during school holidays. In the back was a truck full of wheat and on our country and western greatest hits cassette was ‘Joelene’ by Dolly Parton, and ‘Joy to the World’ by Three Dog Night –
“Jeremiah was a bullfrog, dah nah nah
A very good friend of mine.
Never understood a word he said, but I helped him drink his wine …
Joy to the World / all the boys and girls / all the little fishes in the deep blue sea / joy to you and me.
During my high school years we would listen to our radio cassette players, which fingers poised on the record button. As a consequence had a lot of cassettes with songs missing the first couple of chords. Standouts were ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ by Meatloaf, and ‘Come on Eileen’ by Dexy’s Midnight Runners.
Among my peers at university it was popular to go and see Handel’s Messiah in December each year. Also in December and during the summer break I was driving the harvester on the farm and combined the two by singing along to Handel’s Messiah at the top of my voice. I was at the back end of the farm and could safely sing as badly out of tune as I liked and no one could bother me. Although something must have made it out of the paddock because my Dad always regrets that I didn’t have singing lessons and join the opera. There’s a word for that isn’t there? Transference?
At that time I shared a house with Neil who’s idol was Pete Burns from Dead or Alive, and he tried reasonably successfully to look like him. He had far more make up than me and our other flatmate Polly, and his hair extensions would fall out in the bathroom.
Exactly in the middle of the 80’s was Live Aid. A collaboration event that played simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in England and John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. Bob Geldof was the face of it, and somehow he and Midge Ure organised it. It was huge, with an estimated audience of 1.5 billion people. Paul McCartney sang Let it Be with with David Bowie, Bob Geldof, Alison Moyet and Pete Townshend. Freddy Mercury gave the performance of his life with Queen. As always, I didn’t realise how momentous it all was until we looked back in history and see something that hasn’t been achieved before or since.
Then I went to live in Chile for a few years. In 1990 there was a general election that brought an end to Pinochet’s dictatorship. The first performer to come to Chile after the dictatorship was Rod Stewart. Even then he was cheesy, but he sang to 110,000 people who hadn’t seen live music for the 18 years that Pinochet was in power. I wasn’t one of them, but I was among the 70,000 when Bon Jovi came next. Or was it the double Eric Clapton / David Bowie that was second. I was there for all three.
It was at the Bon Jovi concert that I first noticed the use of water cannons both to cool the crowd down and to push them back from the stage. The end of the dictatorship also marked the time that water cannons were used for ceremonies marking the transition to the new government. Many heads of state came, and I think Teddy Kennedy from the US. Only this time, because it was political they used ammonia in the water canons and everyone cried.
More important to my musical education was the discovery of la musica latina. At every opportunity we danced salsa and meringue to Juan Luis Guerra and his massively popular Spanish language album Bachata Rosa. I went to a Juan Luis Guerra concert. Unlike any concert that I’ve been to before or since the whole audience salsa’d and lambada’d their way through the night, often with complete strangers. The crowd crush at the end was so intense that people were being lifted and passed out over our heads.
That and the water cannons at the Bon Jovi concert are examples I often used when people get stressed about crowd control. More in the vein of – ‘don’t you wish we could do the same in (… whatever country I’m in)’.
I discovered Lenny Kravitz and one of my favourite all time songs – Mr Cab Driver. ‘F&ck you, I’m a survivor’. What a great anthem for anyone who’s having a hard day.
Hanoi and Wonderwall
Then in the mid to late ‘90s I went to Vietnam to work in the Embassy, and what do I find but … … Boney M! They hadn’t had a hit since the late ‘70s and their popularity in Vietnam was a mystery that was never solved. Luckily I knew all the words to most of their songs from being a big fan in my precocious tween years.
It would be safe to say that Vietnam, and Hanoi in particular was austere when I arrived. There were only two lifts / elevators in the whole city, no taxis, no restaurants, no neon signs. Lots of concrete and the majority of vehicles were Russian.
There was no internet and full press censorship. At the Embassy we had an early version of Star TV beamed in from Hong Kong and ‘Vietnam News’ to keep us abreast of what was happening in the outside world. We certainly had V TV, and I think also MTV, as alluded to above I’m not one of those prescient people who can recognise the significance of things when they happen. I was more likely to be watching re-runs of Murder She Wrote that soaking up MTV vibes. Or borrowing pirated copies of the latest movies on VHS from Bangkok.
Things gradually opened up. One night I was at Apocalypse Now, a new bar in Hanoi and there was a song called ‘Wonderwall’. Oasis were a bit of a mystery. ‘What is this Wonderwall of which you speak …, and why aren’t you playing Boney M’. Kidding, the sound was so new and I loved it.
And then came live streaming
Later I worked in motorsport for a Japanese company and was based in Obihiro, a medium sized city in the northern island of Hokkaido. Hokkaido is a revelation – apart from Sapporo, the major city, it is relatively deserted and beautiful. Work was difficult, but rewarding. I lived in a small apartment and spent weekends eccentrically riding my bicycle and shopping for treasure at the second hand store. Noone rode bicycles except school children, possibly because of the immense amount of snow. And noone seems interested in second hand goods. But what was junk in Japan was pretty amazing to me. That and running outside every half an hour to measure how much snow had fallen.
I never really got into J-Pop or any Japanese pop stars or even K-Pop But what I did dive into was streaming and Australian radio station Triple J. For a closet rock chick it was a golden age of Wolfmother and White Stripes. Jack White and I both recognise a good song when we hear it and he released a White Stripes version of ‘Joelene’. He also paid tribute to The Goodies and classic BBC comedy with ‘Icky Thump’ released at about the same time.
Back from Japan in 2006 and to work at Perth Glory Football Club. The age was still golden. I was working in soccer in Australia and associating with a lot of Brits. What better way to find common ground than with Brit Pop – The Wombats ‘Lets all dance to Joy Division and celebrate the irony’ & Franz Ferdinand ‘Do you wanna, wanna dance’.
I knew people who could get me free tickets to festivals. Skrillex, Swedish House Mafia, Prodigy, and hilariously Limp Bizkit as fan boys back of house. I thought they were bikies and came within a bee’s whisker of asking security to kick them out.
For the last few years I’ve been living and working between France, India, Dubai and Australia. It doesn’t need me to say that France has a lot going for it (notably cheese & chateaux), but for me French popular music is not something that I tuned into.
India – wow. Bollywood really, cricket and Bollywood dancing. Harder than it looks on both counts. The year was 2015 and we danced to London Thumakda at parties after work. ‘Pretend you are unscrewing a light bulb’ is the standard advice for Bollywood dancing beginners. Then on the drive to work we listened to the ‘Bollywood, Bollywood, very, very jolly good’ song.
Earlier this year first we were in Rajasthan, on the way to the Jain temple with a bit of Punjabi trance. The musical choice of the our driver. I’ll probably be corrected on that – possibly not Punjabi. Later on we headed towards the Wagah border between Amritsar and Lahore. A different driver, this time an elderly taxi driver, asked us if we minded if he put on some music. Of course not ! we said, and he went straight for Punjabi dance tunes. Great fun the first and second time, and then the eighth, ninth and tenth time he played the same tune – not so much.
Jimi Elgohary (@jimielgohary) worked with us in Dubai and we called him Mr Sunglasses because he wears big round John Lennon style sunglasses everywhere. He told us that he has a top ten hit in Egypt and we said ‘yeah, right’. Then the week he started he simultaneously launched a single that overnight got 45,000 likes. Clearly a dark horse who is not unknown in Egypt.
He asked me about Australian singer Tash Sultana who I don’t know much about but I’m pretty sure I like her music after he played me a bit. He said he’d tried to get in touch with her management to get her to tour in the middle east. @tashsultana if you are reading this you should go. Jimi is way cool.
He also sent me a track that a friend of his had put together. He’d sampled noises from a furniture manufacturing warehouse in Jordan, and mixed it with some music. The tunes are sleepy and in the background are some people murmuring in Arabic – probably taking measurements, or talking about chairs. The effect was mesmerising.
Everything is changing, I’m getting older. But there is still music everywhere and it is awesome.
Am I right? Do you associate songs with memories?
Acknowledgements: As well as Nick Hornby, the inspiration for this post is @untoldmorsels who asked the a general question about ‘what is your playlist’.
In no particular order, and also I wouldn’t say these are my all time favourite songs necessarily, but they do bring back memories:
The Wild One – Suzie Quatro
Joy to the World – Three Dog Night
Joelene – by both Dolly Parton and White Stripes
Paradise by the Dashboard Light – Meatloaf
I know that my Redeemer Liveth – Handel’s Messiah
We Are the Champions – Queen
Bachata Rosa – Juan Luis Guerra
Livin’ on a Prayer – Bon Jovi
Mr Cab Driver – Lenny Kravitz
Wonderwall – Oasis
The Joker and the Thief – Wolfmother
Icky Thump – White Stripes
Lets all Dance to Joy Division and celebrate the Irony – The Wombats
London Thumakda – Labh Janjua
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