Decades in Music; Part 12 – The 2010s: A Golden Age – guest blog post by @Rosbif65

10sB

Initially, I thought I’d drawn the short straw. What does a man shortly to enter his sixth decade, whose musical touchstones are David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Richard Thompson, Marvin Gaye, Laura Nyro, Sandy Denny, etc etc, have to say for himself when it comes to music in the current decade? What do we even *call* the current decade?

Two things became evident as soon as I started thinking about this: firstly, that I have *far* less disposable income now than I did before becoming a parent in 2005; second (and related): that my consumption of music these days is strongly shaped by my chosen method of acquiring it. I was a relatively early adopter of EMusic, and am still on a tariff which became obsolete for new subscribers many years ago: for $US10 per month, I get 40 tracks. Forty! There have been times when I’ve struggled to fill my allotment; now there is too much music I want to get – I have a waiting list. Emusic has a vast and varied catalogue, none of it from major labels. It’s something of a lottery what is and is not available. But by and large, excepting a shrinking number of artists whose latest works I will always want and will buy on CD if it’s not on Emusic, it’s what’s available on that 40 track plan that I listen to most.

As it happens, this is something of a Golden Age for me in this regard: five of the best records (yes, I know, and yes, that is what I still call them) of the last year have all found their way on to my smartphone and into my heart through the good offices of Emusic, who are not paying me to shill for them, and whom I will try to stop mentioning from here on in.

Let me start with what is certainly the least well known of the five: Robber Bride by Julia Gray. Julia has been writing exceptionally good songs since she was a teenaged A Level student playing the Kashmir Klub some fifteen years ago, before forming Second Person and achieving some cult success. Her song constructions are sophisticated without being at all ostentatious, the arrangements simple and mercifully uncluttered; her melodies are warm and sinuous, supported by her supple piano playing; and her voice is small, sure and intimate. And then there are her lyrics, which aim for and reach places that far too few writers even think of attempting. Her first solo album, I Am Not the Night, takes in Greek mythology, classic films, modern literature and obscure Morphine songs, alongside tales of love and loss and jealousy that are more familiar colours on the songwriter’s palette.

Robber Bride is her second album, and all its songs are based on literary themes – not that you need to know that. An attentive listener might work out that You Were No Good is about We Need to Talk about Kevin, but the song is strong and unsettling enough to survive on its own merits. Conversely, I have no idea what the inspiration for Home Is Where the Heart Is is, but it couldn’t matter less. The duet with Vin Goodwin weaves a dark and dangerous web, leaving the listener to impute their own meaning. The closer, a musical setting of John Donne’s sonnet Death Be Not Proud, is an object lesson in stillness and restraint, featuring a vocal so perfectly suited to the song that it is impossible to imagine anyone singing it better.

Musically and sonically timeless, Robber Bride could have been made any time in the last 30 or 40 years. This is certainly not true of Kate Tempest’s Everybody Down, which needs no introduction from me, as you probably knew about her long before I did. Everything about this brilliant record shouts “NOW!”, to the extent that it might well sound dated in ten years. But frankly, who cares when the ride is so exhilarating? Such is Kate’s facility with words that I was riveted from the first verse of Marshall Law, and followed the story, rapt, through to its denouement in Happy End. Story? Oh yes: this, dear reader, is basically a Concept Album, albeit one that might sound alien to lovers of Camel and Genesis, what with its Sarf London accent (which has been lambasted by a number of people, some of whom I can’t help feeling are Missing The Point), juddering rhythms and tales of drug-dealing chancers.

If Kate sounds very Now, Bjork continues to sound eerily Tomorrow. There are very, very few artists whose music seems quite as future-proof as Bjork. There is some alchemy at work which is beyond my power to delineate fully; what I can say is that she continues to combine cutting-edge technology (she has a rare ability to make machines live and breathe) with timelessly formal orchestral and choral arrangements, a trick she mastered on Vespertine, and which she may have refined even further on the new album, Vulnicura. The songs are long and overwhelmingly emotional. The string parts on Family are as riveting as anything I’ve heard this year.

There is more than one way to do “timeless”, of course. There are no painstakingly constructed microbeats on Mount the Air, which is increasingly sounding like the Unthanks’ magnum opus – so far at least. While still rooted in folk, they have gradually enlarged their range, to the point where I feel the need to coin some unwieldy portmanteau term like chamber-folk-jazz. They are writing more of their own material, which is giving their music an ever more personal skin, while Adrian McNally’s warm and exquisite arrangements mean they could just as likely pop up on Radio 3 as Radio 2.

Perhaps the most welcome development to these ears is that I have finally learned to love Becky Unthank’s voice. Rachel’s is and has always been immediately engaging: a crisp, pure voice of bell-like clarity. Becky’s is more of a harmonium, an airy, complex instrument which one reviewer memorably described as “singing chords”. Their sororal harmonies were always sublime, but I wanted Rachel to sing all the leads. Now, either Becky has changed or I have; she’s more in the spotlight than ever, and sounds beautiful, as showcased on the mesmerising title song which opens the album. The Unthanks seem pretty much unstoppable as they sweep into their second decade.

Also making the best music of a superb career in its second decade is Gemma Hayes, whose debut album appeared a couple of years before the Unthanks’. Her fifth, Bones and Longing, maintains the stratospheric standards she set with Night on My Side and has maintained ever since. On this record some of the songs are so stripped-back and spectral that they seem to defy the laws of how much you can take away from a song and still leave something compelling that makes you lean in. Palomino is a hypnotic, almost nursery-rhyme-like tune with a lyric that effortlessly achieves profundity without seeming to try. To Be Your Honey finds Gemma’s voice at its most adorably alluring. Why she’s not better known continues to baffle me.

In the light of all this fulsome praise, you might imagine that I am loving music in the 2010s, and that all is hunky dory. Well, not exactly. As in every decade, there’s a whole ocean of music that is terrible, or – worse – mediocre, on which is floating, sometimes precariously, the music we love. This has always been so; specific current gripes would be:

  1. The surfeit of droney singer songwriters with scarcely an interesting idea between them, a select cohort of whom are selected, possibly at random, to be granted excessive coverage, record-of-the-week baubles and glowing praise, which is then recycled (like their songs have been) for the next lot. Tom Odell; Laura Doggett; Ben Ezra. What are these people actually *for*?
  2. Formulaic writing by teams of replicants. It’s easy to moan about songs written to a formula, another longstanding gripe. What seems to be happening increasingly now is songs that sound as if they are *literally* written to a specific template: certain chord changes recur; melodic tics that make one tune an anagram of another; a few increasingly hackneyed lyrical tropes. It’s the death of creativity (except in an extremely narrow sense), and it’s deplorable.
  3. The rise of the Ducks. I realise that the email announcing that male singers must now quack instead of singing must have gone straight to my spam folder, but that doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to complain about it. Sam Smith, John Newman and the hilariously misnamed Maverick Sabre are the three most prominent offenders, but there are plenty more where they came from. That silly old snark about “music for people who don’t like music” has hopefully been retired (along with the egregious “guilty pleasure” nonsense), but regrettably our ears are now being assailed by Singing For People Who Don’t Like The Sound Of The Human Voice. No good can come of it.

So, yes, in summary, there’s plenty to grouse about and plenty of good music if one knows where to find it. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Decades in Music; Part 11 – the 2010s: “Fast and Fierce” – guest blog post by @lazerguidedblog

10sAAh; the 2010’s. A plateau built upon sex, religion, existentialism, and records. Mainly the records. And having been asked to write about this demi-decade from a musical perspective, I’m struck by just how much music there is. The shape of it. The weight of it (quite literally, should you get locked into a serious vinyl habit). “You can holler, you can wail, you can blow what’s left of my right mind,” to quote The Kills and their 2011 single ‘Future Starts Slow’. And it’s a fine sentiment, except that the future hasn’t started slow. Anything but. “Fast” and “fierce” would have been far more coherent statements; I distinctly recall lying in ditch, drunk, as December 31st 2009 hit the run-out groove, and the thoughts that dribbled though my consciousness were full of excitement for our musical itinerary, but also trepidation, the risk of becoming overwhelmed… rather prescient, as events transpired.

For we live in era in which the obsolete machinery of vinyl pressing plants can’t keep up with demand. When every band of our giddy youth reforms for one last payday, in the process selling out far larger venues than they ever did the first time around. And when the nicest thing to say about the records that the mainstream offers us – those that predictably shift the most units – is that they’re the musical equivalent of lettuce. The acme of generic, delivered by identikit munchkins with slipshod hair and all the passion and bite of the Zane Lowe voiceover invariably employed for the TV ad. “So-and-so, blah blah, and the incredible new album, Slippers Are Splendid and Keep Your Feet Warm, available in all good supermarkets.

Indeed, it’s fascinating to watch those 35 year-old episodes of Top of the Pops BBC4 have been furnishing us with throughout the 2010’s. For however much rubbish clogged up the charts back then, at least it was interesting rubbish. Varied rubbish. Rubbish bedecked in a range of different fabrics – should the crinoline not appeal, there’ll be some cracking chiffon along in a minute. And in amidst the dross, some rather marvellous records gatecrashed proceedings. For instance, watching Public Image Limited mime along to ‘Death Disco’ on Top Of the Pops (#20 in 1979) is both an education and a weird, warped kind of joy. And were such a record to be released in the present day, I’m betting it wouldn’t receive exposure on primetime, fun-for-all-the-family TV.

We’re not allowed contemporary Top of the Pops (except at Christmas, which doesn’t count). We were too naughty; some of the presenters naughtier still. And that’s probably for the best; a peek at the hit parade of a 2015 vintage is akin to that 3am insomnia fugue when you flick on the television, only to find each channel is showing some Hungarian movie from 1951 – without subtitles. Everything’s badly lit, nothing makes any sense, and the credits flash up names little more than a random jumble of letters.

Okay; I’m an ageing music obsessive who struggles to come to terms with the fact that it’s no longer 1988; I’m not in chart music’s demographic, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Yet even a cursory glance at now versus then – pretty much any then – reinforces notions that the mainstream has spent that last however many years ghettoising itself. That having erected barricades against sound even remotely challenging, it’s free to exclusively shift product to such discerning audiences as pre-teens, the deaf, the recently deceased, and those eager to stuff yet more £50 notes into the waistband of Gary Barlow’s Agent Provocateur undercrackers (and he’ll be paying the appropriate level of tax on all that dosh – Tory’s honour).

This is all rather odd, considering that we’re at the midpoint of a decade stuffed with shiny. For whilst it’s difficult to critique artistic endeavour of any particular timeframe with objectivity – too recent, and we haven’t had the space to effectively evaluate; too far away, and nostalgia skews the narrative – I have the sneaking suspicion that the 2010’s (or at least its first five years) will be viewed by the music geeks of the future as a moment of high tide.

The steady snap, snap, snap of textured, nuanced records will do that to a hunch. Yet this is more than mere treasure unearthed in new release racks (after all, every cross-section of the rock and pop era ripples with albums and singles both jaw-dropping and life-affirming); if the contemporary musical landscape – or that of the very recent past – does carry significance, it’s the manner through which rejection by the mainstream has liberated musicians and audiences alike.

Because the mainstream has never been a meritocracy; success and longevity reliant upon vogue, image, marketing and serendipity as much as talent or invention (see also: a willingness to sell your soul to the lowest bidder). And supposing that the hit parade was far more of an open arena than it is today – eager to embrace less commercial styles and genres – then so the price of entrance was subservience to the aesthetics of fad, fashion and fickleness; a watering down like so much cheap beer.

It’s how the mainstream subsumed the cold experimentalism of synth-pop, taking music that in the late 70’s was sited beneath a flyover, JG Ballard novels and Kraftwerk records the main currency, and reconfigured it for a far wider audience, so that by the mid-’80’s, the analogue synth was shorthand for cheap and ubiquitous, and as such so disinteresting that it took fifteen/twenty years for the oeuvre to regain its initiative.

It’s how, in order to sell records, hard rock became synonymous with riff, hair and spandex (rather than anything as fundamental as song).

It’s how the jangly guitars and outsider indie-pop sentiment of the early ’90’s became, under the mainstream’s sponsorship, the bloated monstrosity we call Britpop, where songcraft and nuance fell a very distant second to the cheeky grin, Small Faces posture, and the sort of general buffoonery that makes aficionados of the cultured song do a little sick in their mouths; it’s no coincidence that a genuinely interesting band such as Pulp released their weakest singles in the mid-’90’s – which also became their biggest-selling – just as it isn’t chance that the most “celebrated” band of the era (inverted commas highly intentional) were a bunch of Mancunian ape-like creatures who’ve always sounded to these ears like a fifth-rate Rutles covers band without any of the grace or the humour.

And now that we’re in the 2010’s… not only would Oasis (were they up-and-coming) fail to sell anywhere near as many discs as they did, but the element that made them so popular in the first place – the mainstream’s appropriation of scene – no longer functions. Because chart music exists as narrow entity and the rest of us have been forsaken, leaving us to a musical landscape where vogue, image, marketing and serendipity hold very little value. Years ago we were dependent upon the radio (i.e. John Peel) introducing us to the new and the remarkable – or failing that, music press say-so and the recommendation of a clued-up friend. Now, and it’s as if sonic textures reveal themselves at every turn, the internet (and allies such as BBC 6Music) representing a gravity well of high-order eclecticism that translates so well onto vinyl.

(Or even CD, whatever those are).

In order words, by rising above prevailing fashions promoted by the mainstream, then aligning itself to a democratisation of distribution, this era’s soundtrack is as varied as it is formidable. A context in which artists and audiences celebrate spectrum rather than sit (passively) betrothed to specific sonic components. Whilst writing this piece I’ve listened to a number of albums released in the last five years, pulled from the shelves at random, and whilst we should always be wary of small sample sizes, in no way would I argue that such a playlist is unrepresentative of this here and now.

From the pristine jangle of Veronica Fall’s 2011’s eponymous debut to the Krautrock-infused Chilean psychedelia of II by Föllakzoid. The event horizon electronic assault of the self-titled Blanck Mass LP to John Grant’s Pale Green Ghosts, 2013’s examination / celebration of the erudite confession. There’s baroque RnB (Janelle Monáe’s The Archandroid); folk-tinged space-rock (The Silver Globe by Jane Weaver); lithe and playful post-indie (Cadenza by Dutch Uncles). Records full of cold surfaces and wide-open spaces (Field of Reeds by These New Puritans), ambient folk (Diamond Mine, the collaboration between King Creosote and John Hopkins), sly and robust blues-pop (Fears Trending, 2015’s release from The Phantom Band).

What links all of these LPs (and the above is by no means a definitive list) is the skein of modernity that runs through each. There’s no kowtowing to trend; no playing to the gallery. Instead, a detectable confidence to reside outside of categorisation, the influences behind each deployed knowingly, delicately, making new shapes out of tired tropes.

These are discs that exist purely on their own terms – and that, for me, is what makes this decade stand out from the white noise of back catalogue; we’ve thrown away the template of what a decent record apparently sounds like, and whilst neither universal nor necessarily permanent – for whilst there’s a mainstream, there’ll always be scenes and bandwagons and a moribund music press telling us what we should be listening to – this freedom to dip in and out of stylistic vestige without record sales being hit or inflated by vogue, image and marketing should be celebrated.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some sex, religion and existentialism to be getting on with.

Decades in Music; Part 10 – The ’00s: “Filling the void with beats, gadgets and trainers” – guest blog post by @indieover40

When Dotty asked me to write about what the 2000s meant to me musically I knew instantly what I would be writing about. My life essentially became dominated by three divergent forces that intertwined and seemed to feed off each other. Dance music, the iPod and personal fitness crashed into my world and dictated the course of my life musically throughout that decade.

As 1999 passed into 2000 at midnight 31st December and the world was not destroyed by the anticipated millennium bug, I was 31 years old and living in the Polish city of Krakow. I was 4 years into what ultimately became a 6 year sabbatical from my post-school career which had taken me from a university campus in Northampton to a communist built apartment in Eastern Europe via the Midwest of USA and Florence, Italy.

Musically I was in a void which seemed to reflect the sparse apartment I was living in. I had no affinity to any artist or even a genre and it had seemed that way for a very long time. When I look back I wonder if the instability in my personal life in the final years of the 1990s had manifest in my musical world. That maybe bouncing from country to country and from one set of friends to another had prevented any meaningful musical attachment.

I was still technically an indie kid and my staple diet remained guitar bands. However, I had become disillusioned with the post-Britpop scene. This was particularly disappointing as I was a university student between 1996 and 1999 and had always assumed the campus would be fertile ground for the discovery of new musical tastes. However my resounding memories of late 1990’s music seem to take the form of Babybird’s Your Gorgeous and Reef’s Place Your Hands. I could probably still cut the same shapes now to Stretch & Vern’s I’m Alive as I did all those years ago in Ritzy nightclub on a student night, such was the mark it left on the formative years of my life.

Musically I was simply meandering along and really not in a good place. Something had to fill the void and I didn’t have to wait too long into that new decade for a musical epiphany.

Whilst living among the British expats In Krakow I’d become pally with a lad from Durham called David who liked his dance music. This generally took the form of heavy techno whose monotonous driving bass was headache inducing and was played in some of the less salubrious cellar bars of Krakow. David was one of the only expats in our circle to have satellite TV and Sunday afternoons would see us all gathering around his apartment for tinnys and Eastenders omnibus sessions. It was at one of these soirees that the seeds of a new musical direction would take root and pretty much consume me for most of the decade.

As I said, David liked a bit of heavy duty techno and among the reading material at his apartment was a Mixmag magazine, which I felt impelled to flick through one afternoon. Pretty much most of the content was a world far removed from my own as I sat in an apartment block watching Eastenders in a freezing Poland looking at photos of Bermuda short and bikini clad beautiful twenty-somethings partying on the beaches of Ibiza and Miami.

My skimming had taken me as far as the new releases section towards the back and I was just about to put the magazine down as those warm and inviting photos began drying up, when an album review caught my eye. It was for an album simply titled Uruguay and the artist concerned was someone called Darren Emerson. Among all the faceless DJs and Producers whose names had meant nothing to me as I flicked through the magazine, Darren Emerson was one that held much resonance.

Darren had been in the year below me at secondary school and we had trampled the same streets of our shared home town of Elm Park, a suburb that struggled to decide if it was in London or Essex. It would be a stretch to say that Darren and I were friends, although we knew each other well enough to pass the time of day if our paths crossed on the streets or on the underground station platform.

That Darren was an internationally renowned DJ and Producer and gracing the pages of Mixmag was no surprise to me or probably anyone who had grown up in Elm Park in the 1980s. I had certainly followed his career with interest in the early and mid nineties as one third of cross over pioneering electronica group Underworld and had purchased most of their early releases diligently. Although my interest in Underworld had gradually waned by the mid 90s, I was at least aware that Darren left the group in 1999 following the release of the Beaucoup Fish album.

From what I could gather from the review, Uruguay seemed to represent Darren’s reintroduction to the dance music world post-Underworld. It was a very short review, with no visuals and spoke mostly of BPMs and blending loops. I resolved to purchase Uruguay at the first opportunity but with Krakow lacking a credible record shop (at least to me) that opportunity did not arrive until the summer of 2000 whilst back in the UK for one of my periodical trips back home.

As was usually the custom when back in the UK I headed off to London’s West End to check out HMV on Oxford Street and the records shops of Berwick Street in Soho. It was in HMV that I found the Uruguay CD among the Dance section. There staring up at me from the cover was Darren’s partially obscured but unmistakable face and just for a split second I was transported back to the streets of my youth. Where school kids wore deerstalker hats, carried their books in Aquascutum plastic carrier bags and spent their dinner money on 10 Benson & Hedges.

Darren EmersonAt the time I made assumptions about the CD that ultimately proved to be way off the mark. I had assumed for instance that the CD would be a solo album with tracks written and produced by Darren himself, in the vein of Underworld’s own work from the previous decade. However a glance at the track list told me immediately that this was a compilation album featuring a variety of artists whose bizarre names were unknown to me and none attributable to Darren. What it was in fact was a set that Darren had played one night at a club in the fashionable resort of Puerto Del Este in Uruguay.

I also ascertained that the CD was No 15 in a series released under the label Global Underground with presumably 14 predecessors. I discovered later that this Global Underground series were not live recordings but a facsimile of the sets recreated and engineered later in a studio. Call it curiosity but I vowed to go ahead with the purchase despite the initial disappointment that this was simply a mix tape of tunes that I had never heard and probably would not be to my liking either.

It was a flying visit to the UK so it wasn’t until I had returned to my apartment in Krakow that I got the first opportunity to listen to the CD a few days later. Global Underground’s motto as displayed on the CD was “Travelling the world in the speed of sound” and what a journey of sound it was! Within literally 10 seconds of the CD starting I was exposed to chirping crickets, bongos and Minnie Ripperton’s infamous “Loving You” as the The Orb’s A Huge Ever Growing Brain opened proceedings. From that moment on and right through to the final note on CD2, I was sucked in and then dumped in a delightful world of pulsing beats, driving baselines and layered melodies I’d never really heard before. It truly was a journey through sound.

There was also something smooth about the whole listening experience as well. Despite the high BPMs the music flowed effortlessly with seamless transitions between tracks but at the same time you were able to distinguish each tune clearly. The tracks had their own identity and flavour so that rather than the lengthy monotonousness of dance music that had left me frustrated 10 years previously, these actually felt like songs that had been written and created by artists.

I’d long assumed that clubbers weren’t particularly serious music purchasers, that who was actually making the sounds they were dancing to was unimportant to them as well as the song titles (if they had one). This was drawn from my own experiences of dance music culture of the early 90s which entailed occasional clubbing trips to Shoreditch Town Hall or The Leisure Lounge in Holborn.

The problem was quite simply that I wasn’t a recreational drug user at that time and neither were any of my friends. We were pub-goers and gig-goers and we drank beer. However, we felt compelled to experience club culture because it was happening and we had to at least give it a try. Behind the bars of these clubs were lines of fridges full of bottled water with a solitary token fridge at the end for bottled lager and we always seemed to be the only people in the place drinking the hard stuff. We rarely ever lasted the distance and usually left before the tube stopped running. The lack of mind-expanding drugs in my system ensured no meaningful attachment to the thumping monotony coming from the DJ booth. So in that musical battlefield that raged within me in the early 90s, indie and shoegaze had firmly won the war by this point.

But as I listened repeatedly to Uruguay I realised that this was dance music I could get into. It was reeling me in swiftly with the bonding process beginning in earnest. Music that was being played by underground DJs at exotic playgrounds in the southern hemisphere seemed dark and edgy. I knew that none of my friends would ever like it and that was an added attraction. I could own this sound, create from scratch a musical world around me without any outside influence and on my own terms. Who knows where it would take me? Suddenly the musical vacuum was starting fill.

Throughout the decade I slowly built a library of dance music whether it was CDs purchased in shops or later in the form of digital downloads or through Spotify and other music sharing platforms. I started off by purchasing earlier episodes of this Global Underground series. CDs of sets played in the cities of Buenos Aires, Melbourne & Budapest by DJs such as John Digweed, Nick Warren & Dave Seaman. They weren’t always easy to find and so progress was slow in the early years. Then one day around 2003 whilst surfing the internet I came across a deal to purchase the whole collection in a double box set for about £100. There were around 20 in the series by this stage. I cared not whether I had the money or whether my wife would go ballistic, or that I already owned 25% of the collection by that stage, I simply had to buy it and I did.

CDs

This collection became the foundations of my listening pattern for the rest for the decade. It allowed me to filter out which type of sounds I enjoyed and which DJs were likely to provide those sounds. At that stage I hadn’t quite got comfortable with the genre I was dealing with. There seemed to be so many. House, Deep House, Techno, Tech House, Trance. I needed to pin a label on it in case anyone asked what sort of music I was into. I settled on Progressive House as it popped up frequently and it sounded like the sort of dance music mature people would listen to and so provided some sort of justification for this musical venture.

One of the biggest ironies of all this was that I had absolutely no urge at this point to actually go to a club and hear this sort of music in its natural environment. I was quite content to listen at home or on the bus to and from work every day. However, another factor entered the equation around this time that fuelled my new found musical passion and without it may not have endured. That was the iPod.

After returning to the UK from Poland in 2002 I ended up going back to my pre-sabbatical career. In the office I worked in there was a lad who had an iPod and I was instantly fascinated. Although far from being a third world country, Poland was certainly behind in terms of gadgetry and I hadn’t really cottoned on to the emergence of the iPad at that point or had any idea of its capabilities. When this lad showed me how many songs were on this tiny bit of kit I was gobsmacked. Not just songs but whole albums. Loads of them. You could flick between them, play tracks randomly. Randomly! Just that single option was enough to convince me that I must have an iPod.

This was just before Xmas and I was conscious that spending money on gadgets for myself at this time of year was going to raise eyebrows with my soon to be wife. I decided to wait it out until the New Year and purchase one after Xmas on the pretext it was a sale item. Purchasing goods in sales was a concept my wife embraced and would ensure her tacit approval.

But I didn’t have to bother in the end because a remarkable event happened. Incredibly the first present I opened that Xmas morning was an iPod Nano courtesy of my wife. That was and to this day remains the best present my wife has ever given me. It really did change my life almost immediately. The world of iTunes and burning CD’s took hold and consumed me. I gradually transferred every CD I had onto iTunes and crafted playlists for my listening pleasure. Not just my newly discovered dance music albums but the old indie and other CDs of my youth. I’d be sitting on the bus to work listening to Laurent Gainer’s Man with the Red Face merging into Adorable’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling followed by Public Enemy’s Miuzi Weighs a Ton. Sometimes I didn’t want that bus journey to end.

Incredibly I became quickly frustrated by the constraints of the amounts of songs I could have on the iPod. I recall there was capacity for about 150 songs, but my ITunes library had over 5000 songs at one point. The iPod memory couldn’t satisfy my insatiable appetite for tunes. Working within these constraints I’d end up getting stressed trying to compile playlists, especially when iTunes informed me I was over the allowed limit when syncing to the iPod.

Within this environment of the iPod and a new found love of music, particularly dance music, the third dominating feature of that decade manifest. The gym and personal fitness.

It would be fair to say that I had never really looked after my health. I wasn’t necessarily unhealthy and had always enjoyed good health as a rule. However, I had smoked from a young age, although not heavily and alcohol was a regular aspect of my social lifestyle. I wasn’t exactly a slob either but at the same time I didn’t have a hobby that required any sort of physical exertion. What made me suddenly scrutinise my lifestyle in 2003 was my wife falling unexpectedly pregnant with what would be our first and only child.

All of a sudden life became very serious indeed and my customary habit of just taking each day as it comes needed a major reassessment. It was a shock to the system for both of us as our strong emotional bond was built in part by a shared desire not to have kids. Impending parenthood forced many changes to our way of life. We started doing responsible things like eating at home, saving money and taking out life insurance products.

The subject of health was discussed frequently between us in those early weeks of the pregnancy. My wife was a borderline chain smoker but naturally she quit immediately upon falling pregnant and she vowed to stay fit and healthy henceforth. I decided to follow suit but wasn’t sure how to pursue a fitness regime. I had sporadically gone to gyms in my early 20s because it seemed like the right thing to do but ultimately with very little enthusiasm. I recall sitting on the weights bench and not doing anything but watching what was on the television screens until someone moved me on. As for running machines, I couldn’t seem to stay on the things for than 5 minutes without succumbing to extreme boredom.

The iPod provided the solution to this fitness and boredom issue once and for all. The distraction provided by hours of random music on my iPod rendered punishing fitness routines not just manageable but downright enjoyable. From the moment I signed up and handed over my bank details I was in the gym pretty much 3 or 4 times a week. The upshot was that going to the gym and getting fit was simply a means to an end. A way of listening to music uninterrupted and to feed my insatiable appetite for music.

These regular trips to the gym while keeping fit was fuelling my new found love of dance music even more. Keeping a steady rhythm going whilst switching between radical changes in tempo is not easy. Believe me, Funk Function’s Empress Zero followed by The Auteurs Starstruck can really put you off your stride. A consequence of this was that dance music dominated my iPod content for pretty much the rest of the decade as I ditched all other forms of music from my running playlists. Dance music got me through many 10K runs and half-marathons whilst raising money for a number of charities. Music was making be do good deeds and that felt good.

John Digweed, Nick Warren and Sasha were pretty much providing the soundtrack to my decade. I googled their set lists to see what they were dropping in clubs around the world and listened to their podcasts and radio shows. I was introduced to producers such as Guy J & Henry Saiz whose talents combined in the track Lamur and would be my anthem of the decade. Labels like Bedrock and Sudbeat became just as familiar names as 4AD and Creation had been 15 years before.

I hadn’t completely abandoned non-dance music and continued to dabble in other genres. My best friend Paul regularly sent me CDs in the post which he’d burnt with up to date “indie” music. Whilst I enjoyed the quirkier sounds of The Besnard Lakes and Loney Dear over Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian it wasn’t an effortless listen. The conversion rate in terms of likeability was very low compared to dance music where I was constantly being surprised by the diversity of sounds. I still went to gigs regularly but even this seemed to comprise mostly of reunions of my past indie heroes such as Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, The Bluetones and Shed Seven. Perhaps this was a sign of things to come?

In addition to iTunes, by the end of the decade I had a Spotify Premium account, a Soundcloud account, a Mixcloud account, a Last.fm account. My iPhone was literally overheating with music apps and it didn’t stop there. Curiosity finally got the better of me and I eventually bought a set of DJ Controllers intent on learning how to create my own DJ set from the comfort of home. It was of course a flawed venture. My hectic home and work life was not conducive to learning a new art from scratch. However, I had developed enough of a rudimentary knowledge of how DJ sets were crafted through constant listening and so managed to cobble together a few mixes which I published on Mixcloud under my own DJ moniker.

As the decade closed, there was time for one last musical adventure. It would only be a matter of time before the urge to go to an actual club would be too strong to resist and the opportunity arose when I spotted that John Digweed would be playing at Fabric along with Guy J. That combination was the equivalent of the Stone Roses supporting Happy Mondays back in 1989 and so without thinking of the consequences I purchased two tickets online.

In the absence of finding any friends mad enough to go clubbing with me in their mature years I managed to persuade my wife to come along. Amazingly we both enjoyed the experience in our own special way. I got to hear some of those tunes that I listened to on the bus to work and in the gym in their natural environment. The drops and fades, pulsing beats, lasers and lights combined and gave the tunes even more energy. For my wife she got to let her hair down after years of mothering a toddler and it was the perfect tonic. We continued our little foray to clubs for another couple of years with the odd trip to Ministry Of Sound and KoKo.

So there we have it. What the 2000s meant for me musically. I’d started the decade in a musical vacuum but ended it on the dance floors of London clubs. Along the way I’d discovered a love of dance music, embraced technology and got fit. Each element feeding off each other and unable to survive in isolation.

Of course, nothing lasts forever and the next decade would see my musical world take a new direction.

Decades in Music; Part 9 – The ’00s: “Millenium Music” – guest blog post by @chops_top_fives

00s A

Millennium music.

Is it just too soon to be clear or were the 2000s the first decade you couldn’t pin down to a particular style of music? The fifties saw the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, the sixties had beat groups dominating the charts and invading the USA before the hippies took over music gained a psychedelic boost. The seventies brought disco and funk and heavy rock before an explosive end with the rapid arrival of punk. During the eighties everything went a bit electronic and, well you get the idea. I hit my teenage years in the eighties and grew up loving most of the music that had gone before but largely ignoring the popular bands of the day. This set me up for a life of wanting to seek out alternative music and the ability to do that changed dramatically in the new millennium.

The Strokes – Last Nite

In the mid-nineties I’d somewhat fallen out of love with new music. The NME didn’t make sense to me anymore and I filled my shelves with albums by musicians who’d been in bands I used to love rather than looking for something exciting. An album by Radiohead changed all that and reignited my interest in new music. I’m not sure what came first, buying “OK Computer” or buying an actual computer but these two events would change the way I sought out and bought music in the new decade. By the year 2000 I was more savvy with this new Internet thing and accumulating websites that introduced me to bands and genres I’d never heard before. It provided me with a route to alternative opinions about music and meant I was no longer dependant on whatever the small clique of paper based music press had decided was going to be the next big thing.

Ironically, one of the first bands I got excited by at the start of the decade remained magically anonymous despite the sudden ease of web based research. Godspeed You Black Emperor! (the exclamation mark moved later on) were thrillingly mysterious, it took me several years just to find out their first names, and in 2000 released their breathtaking second album “Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven”. It’s a genuine double album, epic in both sound and length and sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Storm

The desire to force similar bands into a “scene” seemed less prevalent, though this may be because I was no longer reading the NME quite so regularly. However, I was drawn into the Detroit Garage Rock scene, which managed to get a lot of garage punk bands who’d been on the circuit for quite a few years into the pages of the trendiest culture pages. Leading lights The White Stripes were as thrilling a band as I had seen for many a year. I remember seeing a photo of Jack and Meg playing an outdoor live show (possibly at the newly hip SXSW festival) that had me slavering over the band before I’d heard a bar of their music. I was enthralled by the idea that two people could even consider making that sort of music and the picture seemed to ooze magic. Wearing clothes of red, black & white with a packed audience stretching out into the night behind them it was a great photo that pulled me in hook line & sinker before I’d heard a note. I wasn’t disappointed when I finally heard the music, their second album “White Blood Cells” was a visceral rock n roll rush. I dived into the Detroit scene head first and was soon exploring the many (for the most part fairly traditional) bands including The Von Bondies (I had a major crush on Marcie), The Detroit Cobras (a band who’d make any party a blast), the Electric 6 (though mainly just for single Gay Bar), The Soledad Brothers (great t-shirt) and my favourite Detroit group The Dirtbombs.

The Dirtbombs – Chains of Love

Whilst I was reading the paper press less the NME still had a role to play in the music I discovered. They had begun the NME award shows to promote new bands and to back their own brand, they were sponsorship heavy affairs (precipitant of the way mainstream live music was changing) but offered the chance to see several great bands (or more likely 2 great ones and 2 crap ones) in one night at a reasonably sized venue and I leapt at the chance. This gave me my one chance to see the Libertines live. I’d gone entirely because The Detroit Cobras were second on the bill (and they were fantastic) but the chance to see the band of the moment was an added bonus even if I wasn’t a huge fan. They put in a fairly shambolic performance of which my only real memory is the moment when they took off their red guardsman jackets & lobbed them in the crowd. They were a fascinating prospect and I totally got why people fell in love with them but they weren’t for me. Maybe if I’d been younger and part of that in-crowd that always seemed to find a way to the unheard of East London pub they were playing or the set in someone’s flat that got broken up by police after only a few songs. They made great copy but for me didn’t have the tunes to back it up.

The Walkmen – The Rat

The Internet explosion provided everyone with access to more websites than we really knew what to do with. Even in the early 2000s I was struggling to cope with the quantity of data that was out there. NME might have felt old hat but at least I knew I could walk into WH Smith every Wednesday and pick up the latest copy. Trying to keep up to date with the myriad of music websites and music blogs was difficult. I adopted RSS feeds as a way to see the latest posts but even then couldn’t read everything and was finding it hard to pick out the wheat from the chaff. Drowned in Sound was launched in 2000, I guess I discovered it a year or two later, and it soon became my defacto entry point for the internet.

Bloc Party – Banquet

DiS offered a fresh take on new music. I guess it wasn’t that different from NME but it seemed to be more community led. There was (and remains) an active forum that underpinned the website and it was here as much as the features and reviews, that I began picking up new and exciting recommendations. As always when you first read about bands you’ve never heard off before it feels like people are talking in another language but I soon found out the music wasn’t totally out there it was just created by artists that hadn’t quite hit the mainstream. DiS led me to a fabulously eclectic list of artists, names that are now much more familiar but back then seemed utterly entrancing. Joanna Newsom’s miraculous album “Ys” was talked about with the same passion and enthusiasm as American punk renegades Les Savy Fav. I discovered so many bands I now consider huge favourites who have nothing in common apart from being exciting and fascinating creators of music.

Joanna Newsom – Monkey & Bear

Les Savy Fav – What Would Wolves Do?

Perhaps the ultimate DiS band was Dananananaykroyd. I must have read about them for three or four years before I finally saw them live in the heart of Soho at Madam JoJo’s in 2006. They turned out to be one of the very best live bands I’ve seen. A 2009 show at the Hoxton Bar & Grill remains a particular high point. A night during which I got very very drunk, completely destroyed a very expensive set of spectacles, missed my last train home and ended up crashing on the floor of the flat of a friend of a friend who handily lived near Russell square. Best night ever!

Dananananaykroyd – Infinity Milk

I also need to make a special mention for the wonderful Youthmovies. I first saw them supporting Hope of the States in 2003 when they were called Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies. They had something of a Red Hot Chilli Pepper vibe going on (though with hindsight I think that was entirely due to their lack of shirts) but had something going on that I liked. It was over five years before I caught them again, name shortened & shirts on, playing a pub venue in my hometown of Kingston and they were phenomonal. Sadly less than two years on they played their final shows. I’m still holding out for a reunion.

Youthmovies – The Naughtiest Girl Is Always the Monitor

Whilst the interweb introduced me to new names in music and freed me from the reliance on BPI funded music press it also marked the beginning of the end of my reliance on the words of other people. The web enabled instant links to actual music, now you didn’t have to interpret other people’s points of view you could hear for yourself exactly what a band sounded like. YouTube & Soundcloud provided quick snippets but it was the good old BBC who really took this to a new level. The iPlayer Radio allowed me to listen again to shows I’d never have heard without it – Mark Lamarr had two amazing shows on Radio 2 – Alternative Sixties was an hour of rip roaring garage rock & pre decimal R&B that took my developed my obsession with Detroit bands and introduced me to the originators.

MIA – Paper Planes

Lamarr’s three hour God’s Jukebox pushed the boundaries even further. He was outspoken about the obsession with new music, a gripe I never shared, but his enthusiasm and passion for supporting the music he loved was absolutely genuine and both shows were absolute gold dust. BBC 6music struggled early on, almost being shut down, but made me buy a digital radio and has become my main source of discovering new music. Marc Riley, Gideon Coe and Cerys Matthews all had fantastic shows that are still as vital today. Live sessions form a major part of most of these and, whilst they do bang on about it a bit, I think the station really does represent some of the spirit of John Peel. Riley in particular manages to produce a program that doesn’t care about genre boundaries and shows no snobbery about playing a bit of pop music if it’s a genuinely good tune.

Britney Spears – Toxic

The 2000s were a decade in which the way I listened to and discovered new music changed dramatically. I still buy physical formats but 80% of my musical purchases are downloads now. Having struggled with the variety of peer to peer applications early on I’m now content with my eMusic subscription and direct access to bands via services like Bandcamp. I have used the free version of Spotify for a long time but recently won a year’s worth of Premium which I’m fast becoming reliant on. Despite the ease with which that allows me to hear stuff I reckon I still buy as many albums now as I ever did.

Going back to my original question, I don’t know if the 2000s lack a decade defining genre. I suspect it’s too soon to know and maybe the reason I can’t see one is that it’s outside my realm of interest. Perhaps Drum & Bass or Dub Step or some other more dance based genre is the thing that will form the basis of Millennium Revival discos in years to come. Whatever happens I think it has been a fine decade, full of fascinating music and new ways to discover it.

Decades in Music; Part 8 – The 90s: “A decade of wonderfully varied, innovative music.” Guest blog post by @weloveallthat

For me the 1990s were both personally and musically a decade of change.

Personally because I finished my university studies in the North of the country and returned to “the big black smoke” in 1990 and was subsequently to spend the next ten years in three different countries.

Musically because the decade was kick-started by landing my first full time job in a now-deceased London high street “music” chain (I called it a record shop, but by the time I handed in my notice the vinyl records had been sold off – a mixed blessing, I was sad to see the premature retirement of my favourite format from the racks but delighted to be able to purchase so much vinyl at discount prices) where I was introduced to a wider world of sounds by my colleagues, one somewhat wider than my favoured niche of Peel-favoured guitar bands (even HE got tired of the white indie lads playing guitars dominating the Festive Fifty, if you’ll recall) and eighties synthpop.

90sBRather than taking the preferred option of modern times and simply googling the hits and trends of the decade in question, I thought I’d keep the cheat-sheet action to a minimum and exercise the ol’ grey matter as to my musical memories of the 1990s. So here goes.

Just as any decade is usually influenced by the tail-end of the previous one, the most notable early musical movement of the 1990s was “baggy”, so-dubbed because of the loose-fitting clobber sported by Mancunians and other northern English urchins so as not to feel “restricted” by tighter vestments while under the influence of psychotropic substances. Baggy, as any fool knows, grew out of the Madchester musical mode where funky dance beats were appropriated into that indie guitar sound much loved by night-time Radio One listeners like yours truly.

Happy Mondays were the original flag-wavers for this musical microcosm (I imagine their “Madchester EP” with the Kirsty MacColl featuring anthem Hallelujah was the origin of this name) and like-minded substance (and sartorial taste) abusers such as The Stone Roses and Inspiral Carpets. Not since the early days of Sarah Records had bowlcuts been so in vogue. My friends and I lapped it up, it has to be said. More electronic acts like 808 State and A Guy Called Gerald climbed aboard and soon the dance-meets-indie collision reached its logical conclusion and star remixers were also given their dream tickets to chartdom. Andrew Weatherall, whose DJ sets were as much influenced by Throbbing Gristle and Krautrock as your “bangin’ 12” white labels” gave a new lease of life to Primal Scream’s sound in the still-epic-now Screamadelica, Paul “Oakey” Oakenfold put a slicker production sound to the Mondays’ loping beats for their third album “Pills n’ Thrills n’ Bellyaches” and Terry Farley helped remix “Groovy Train” for Peel’s Scouse stalwarts The Farm. All three platter-spinners had been part of the late 80s Balearic Beats phenomenon, where anything from a Thrashing Doves b-side to a Chris Rea instrumental held court with Italo house or Belgian New Beat or Rondo Veneziano or whatever took the DJ’s fancy.

This struck the tone for a lot of the best UK music of the 90s, mixing previously discordant styles or sometimes looking back to sounds of the past once deemed “uncool” and now revived. Additionally, the “hardcore” edge of dance music was no longer seen as the nemesis of alternative rock music (as disco and punk were seen in the 70s) but as part of one big love-in, in part aided and abetted by easier access to drugs like the ubiquitous ecstasy or “E”. Without googling to check I forget if the “Second Summer of Love” was at the end of the 80s or the 90s but it became such a mainstream event that decidedly un-indie strummers Danny Wilson wrote a song about it. Mancunian record shops like 808 State affiliated Eastern Bloc imported a lot of techno from Detroit, house from Chicago and Italo house from Milan and this seeped into the collections of local musicians. The purists in the home towns of these singles may have scorned such inter-marrying but the kids in Manchester (and soon everywhere else) loved it.

Earlier non-hits by James and others got a remix and went into the charts and into our hearts. The Funky Drummer and Ashley’s Roachclip beats were milked to saturation point (I’ll leave the googling to you lot) while another “seminal” breakbeat – The Amen Break – was being sped up for drum ‘n’ bass, jungle, breakbeat and whatever. Roni Size grabbed a snatch of Everything But The Girl for his “Brown Paper Bag”, 4 Hero told Mr Kirk that his son was dead, Silver Bullet sampled Robocop and brought forth the guillotine and PJ and Smiley told London to Shut Up and Dance. The Shamen bounced back from the death of one of their founder members and notched up a “cheeky” number one the told the country that Es were “good”, with visionary Savile conspiracist Jerry Sadowitz in the video. Did I mention the Prodigy recycling an old 70s Public Information Film for their debut hit Charly? Charly the cat and Charlie the snortable clubber’s friend. Pun’s not dead!!

Just as dance acts recycled samples from 70s acts and recontextualized them, a few artists were exhuming 60s and 70s styles for their own successful futures. A personal favourite single from 1990 was the “Crosstown Traffic” Hendrix-sampling “I’m Ready” by Caveman, possibly inspired by a Wrangler ad some months earlier… while (allegedly) a lorry load of cut-price Big Star albums arriving at a Glasgow record shop helped spark the wonderful Teenage Fanclub, who also helped turn adolescent ears on to The Byrds and Neil Young. I do hope that story is true. Acid Jazz took the 60s beatnik chic sound and look and sort-of married it to the vogue of the day. Galliano, Courdroy, Brand New Heavies, Young Disciples and the Talkin’ Loud label produced some half-decent tunes appealing to the perennial mod “head” music buyer and concert goer, and the Brixton Fridge provided some overlap between this “scene” and the Soul II Soul “Funky Dread” sound system. Did I mention Lenny Kravitz being a human mash-up of Marley, Hendrix and Lennon at least ten years before mash-ups were a thing? I suppose I have now.

One more act that seemed to sum up the 90s mix-it-up ethic that was actually formed in 1990 was Stereolab, who over the decade melded motorik Krautrock beats to seemingly disparate components as bossa nova and singing partially in French about leftwing politics.

It’s hard to talk about the 1990s in strictly chronological order as the whole decade flits back and forth in influence. 90s hip-hop mustn’t be overlooked, and a golden age of alternately conscious politically aware rappers alternated with a wave of affable MCs collectively known as the Native Tongues posse (De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah and Sarf London lass Monie Love) appeared at the close of the previous decade and bloomed in the early 1990s, a Basement Boys remix of “Can I Kick It?” which sampled Lou Reed and Ian Dury being a particular highlight. It’s hard to imagine rap without an overdose of swearing and graphic sexism but apart from the likes of Q-Tip leaving his “jimmy hats” in El Segundo and Posdunos’s “Buddy”, macho posturing was refreshingly absent from these guys’ outputs.

Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy produced a masterpiece in 1992’s “Hiphoprisy is the Greatest Luxury” LP and then failed to record a follow-up, probably realising they could never top it. The same year Philly combo The Goats released “Tricks of the Shade” that suggested their fellow Americans should “Burn The (Fuckin’) Flag” because they didn’t “mind the people but the government’s a drag”. Doubt that made the White House walkman. Even those on the other side of the English Channel were recording slick hip hop in their own native tongues (pun intended), such as MC Solaar (released here on Talkin’ Loud) and Soon E MC (not released here at all, I fear). Public Enemy released “Apocalypse ’91 The Empire Strikes Black” in… er… 1991 and Beastie Boys stupendous “Check Your Head” came out in 1990. South Londoners Stereo MCs released their personal commercial apogee in the “Connected” album in 1992… I once sold a record to “The Head” – the bald one -, don’tcha know. They’re probably all bald by now, actually.

Björk’s “Debut” album came out in 1992, like so many other marvellous LPs. I’d always been fond of The Sugarcubes since buying “Birthday” in 86 or whenever it was. When I heard “Debut” (which wasn’t ACTUALLY her solo debut as she’d recorded another album when she was a child in Iceland) I fell in love with it and actually bought it THREE TIMES, I then proceeded to religiously snap up all the remixes she released (she had a bit of a thing for remixes, but a good thing). Maybe her eclectic taste mirrors my own or maybe I was just sucked in by that puffin-eating story.

1991 will probably be best remembered for a fantastic landmark album that despite nodding to the past was a taste of the immediate future. I am of course referring to Saint Etienne’s Foxbase Alpha, a sampladelic (word made up by Deee-Lite, whose Groove Is In The Heart / What Is Love 12” is one of my personal favourite double-header 12”s ever) sashay across the capital, later updated decades later in Richard X’s “Foxbase Beta” remix album. How suitable that in the era of looking back in chime with the present that its lead single be a Balearic revision of a Neil Young ballad, or that its follow-up be a danceable cover of The Field Mice.

Did I mention Chimes? Like Orbital’s Chime? Or that Sheffield sound of bleeps birthed by Warp Records such as LFO’s eponymous hit, Tricky Disco, Sweet Exorcist et al? Nightmares on Wax and Aphex Twin also released some classics on the label and off it in the early 90s.

The aforementioned Saint Etienne also namechecked The World of Twist (after supporting them) on their first album and WoT’s one and only album “Quality Street” is well worth checking out. One of the tracks is a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow”, following in the footsteps of The Soupdragons’ 90s indie-disco staple (yeah I know it’s from 89) “I’m Free” and Primal Scream’s (or more than likely Andrew Weatherall’s) appropriation of the “Sympathy For The Devil” in Loaded. One Gallagher brother was so impressed with World of Twist that Oasis were nearly named Sons of the Stage, the band’s second single. Saint Etienne album number two So Tough also namechecked Prince B from PM Dawn and The KLF (more on the latter later). And Bruce Forsyth. Tiger Bay completed a trilogy of faultless albums from Saint Etienne, featuring “troubled” guest vocalist Shara Nelson, voice of Massive Attack’s first two hits, along side Sarah “Crackers” Cracknell.

Massive Attack! Portishead! Tricky! The three pronged trip-hop triumvirate of the Bristol scene. Whether it was Isaac Hayes or Lalo Schifrin samples, filmic female vocals, Horace Andy’s dulcet tones or stoned rap phrasing with a Brizzle lilt, these three blazed a trail for a slew of coffee table compilations they no doubt all despised. Yet there is no doubting the sheer quality of these three debut albums (with a degree of overlap between them) that appeared between 1991 and 1995.

Can you believe I’ve got so far and still haven’t mentioned grunge or Britpop? Okay, I suppose the time is now. Although we did of course have our own home-grown noise movement in the Scene That Celebrates Itself, the late 80s effects pedal drenched shoegazing scene that spilled over into the 90s with Ride’s Going Blank Again, Slowdive’s entire back catalogue, and of course My Bloody Valentine’s “Glider” EP complete with dancefloor-friendly Weatherall remix, as well as ensuing full-lengther “Loveless”. All we need now is a Chapterhouse reunion and all these bands will have reformed. Were Lush shoegazers? Of sorts. The Pale Saints? Probably. All good, all very good.

Another early 90s album worthy of mention was A House’s “I Am The Greatest”. A slightly warped and cynical take on modern life that perfectly balanced vitriol and humour. Fantastically under-appreciated and more than likely out of print.

The KLF’s seemingly seamless transition from underground samplers to bona-fide international textbook popstars (and yes, they wrote the book) was another purely 90s phenomenon. Within four years they had gone from virtual bankruptcy to recording with Tammy Wynette and appearing on the Brits with Extreme Noise Terror, deleting their back catalogue and burning a million pounds on a remote island. They also got me to buy an MC5 album after hearing the intro to “What Time Is Love?”, yet another example of recontextualising the past in the 1990s.

Grunge music seemed to emerge from nowhere, although Kurt Cobain admitted that he had only been ripping off Pixies and others lumped into the scene like “slackers” Dinosaur Jr and Mudhoney and even Soundgarden had been in existence since 1984 in some incarnation or other. Sonic Youth had formed in 1981. The other big grunge band – Pearl Jam – did release their first album in 1990, confusingly named “Ten”.

Now as James called their fourth (1992) album “Seven”, and a Beatles album released YEARS after the band had split up (even after half the band had DIED ffs) was called “One” so I can only assume this was the start of a trend.

Nirvana’s “Nevermind” was the only album in our record shop that EVERYBODY liked. The hair-metal worshipping manager with a penchant for Michael Bolton, the teenage pop fan with braces, the avant garde John Martyn aficionado, the cheery Rastafarian, the spaced-out Ozric Tentacles fanboy, the clued-up apprentice Balearic DJ, the black-clad post-punk relic, the Lenny Kravitz apologist and my good self could all be found reaching for the CD with the submerged baby and the dollar bill. Was it too heavy for in-store Saturday play? As we were a mainstream high street chain it probably would have been. But it was TOP FIVE IN THE CHARTS. It was noisy, rough and rowdy, but also somehow melodic. Years of overplaying would mean that Smells Like Teen Spirit would start to grate, but one hell of a landmark album to witness the launch of. “In Utero” was a worthy follow-up as well, and I was quick to snare a clear vinyl copy at HMV.

Would Dinosaur Jr. have got onto Warner Brothers roster without Nevermind? Maybe not. They featured on the video “1991: The Year Punk Broke”, a title with rather un-American wry humour. The Lemonheads also benefitted from association with the grunge scene, as almost anyone with a checked shirt (over there they called them “plaid”) and a guitar was offered a major label record contract. Later (possibly under the influence of illegal substances) sensitive Evan Dando would allegedly share a mattress with Mrs K. Cobain (Courtney Love to lawyers) but I really can’t recall weather it was Kurt or Evan who first took to the stage in a dress. “It’s A Shame About Ray” was (and is) a fantastic album although rather on the short side even with the Mrs. Robinson cover tacked on the end.

Additionally Boston’s own “Kim Gordon with issues” – the wonderful Juliana Hatfield – released a few choice albums during this decade on the back of this grunge thing, quite possibly aided her association with Mr. Dando, including “Become Who You Are” as The Juliana Hatfield Three. They’ve just released a second album called Whatever, My Love AND YOU SHOULD ALL GO AND BUY IT. She didn’t really have a sister by the way, the song’s about her brother’s girlfriend.

Oh, and in the 90s the Smashing Pumpkins were still good too. And do Rage Against The Machine count as grunge? That first album with the photo of Buddhist monk on fire on the cover was ace as well. Especially when Bruno Brookes played the sweary bits on the Top 40. Soul Asylum and Nickelback were still rubbish though, although I did buy a discounted CD single of Runaway Train out of a bargain bin.

But this mainstream success of previously “alternative” music posed a question shortly to be blasted into smithereens of irrelevance. Could a band really be considered alternative while recording on a major record label making millions of dollars for “the man”? Could “alternative” musicians really be credibly alternative or “independent” if they were promoting branded clothing or footwear made by some huge corporation, given for free but with strings (sometimes laces) attached? Could “alternative” musicians be seen rubbing shoulders with politicians?

I could at this juncture add a paragraph extolling the merchandising finesse of Inspiral Carpets, Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine and another band of that ilk (the Senseless Things, perhaps? Their Jamie-Hewlett-later-of-Gorillaz designed sleeve art was always impressive) or praise for the cultural references of Thundersley Invacar celebrators Collapsed Lung (possibly not as rich a tapestry of cultural references as Carter USM and almost microscopic when compared to that of Half Man Half Biscuit who actually released FIVE albums during the 90s despite still being largely thought of as an 80s indie band). However, virtual column inches do not permit such luxury.

Anyway, on to Britpop.

According to legend, Britpop was invented as a counterpoint to the American grunge domination of post-Nevermind alterno-dom. I do have the very copy of Select magazine where St. Etienne, Denim, The Auteurs, Pulp and Suede were promoted as the patriotic antidote to your Vedders and Cobains and were there to wrestle your ears from the transatlantic feedback. Initially what linked these bands together was a vague harking back to a nostalgic England of yore, a sort of 1970s romantic view of the working class misery and much loved discontinued lines of sweets etc.

Later Auteurs frontman Luke Haines would pen a book called “Britpop – My Part In Its Downfall” (which I’m ashamed to say I’ve not yet read), Denim (fronted by Laurence from Felt) would subsequently see their viable shot at fame scuppered by the death of Princess Diana (the song in question was called “Summer Smash”), Suede would be a visible part of Britpop despite hating it all and Pulp would become huge stadium filling superstars. Sleeper, Elastica (paramour of both Brett from Suede and Damon from Blur), Catatonia, Kenickie, Echobelly, Shampoo and others would also be lumped in with the crowd.

But by the time Britpop “broke”, I had left the country. I had abandoned my native land for the land of the rising sun and the ubiquitous vending machine. I had landed a teaching job in Japan, and so my vision of musical events played out rather differently.

Shortly after arriving in Japan in early April 1994, I spotted an abandoned television in the street. Having been reliably informed that the locals preferred to junk their old objects for new rather than repair stuff (I thought this was rather odd, unaware that this would be the norm in the West in another ten years), I grabbed this rather hefty TV and hauled it up to my tatami-matted flat, where I discovered why the TV had been thrown out.

Only a three inch horizontal sliver was visible when the set was turned on, although the sound worked perfectly. But as it hadn’t cost me anything, I kept it. That evening I noticed the news programme seemed to be playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and I could see Cobain’s knees poking out of his ripped jeans on the horizontal bit. “Great!” I thought “Nirvana on the news! They must be coming here on tour!” The next day I bought copies of CROSSBEAT (all capitals) and rockin’on (all lowercase) and tried to decipher the katakana to see when Nirvana were coming to Osaka. When I met a Canadian teacher later that day he told me the news. I guess the Steve Martin film got it wrong. Dead men DO wear plaid.

Grunge was now dead and that cheeky Britpop thing was there to steal its crown.

In Japan we only got the upside of Britpop, and I think Blur’s “Girls and Boys” kicked it off. I remember watching the video playing in a CD rental shop feeling slightly surprised. Not the type of video I’d imagine from the band behind “For Tomorrow”, who I’d already seen live a couple of times… but fair play to them nonetheless. Was this their Mondays and Roses on TOTP moment? “Live Forever” was the Oasis radio hit out there. I bought both albums, both had extra tracks to boot. Also it was fun to be recognised for being British as opposed to everyone thinking you were American. American culture had quite a hold over Japan, although oddly not so much in the pop charts which are a mix of parochial and quirky. But more on that later.

Britpop nights started to appear at night clubs. Familiar faces from home started to appear on the magazines. Supergrass, Radiohead, Primal Scream and even The Beatles were added to the Japanese Britpop roll-call… not really surprising as some of those Beatles songs sounded not unlike Oasis. Even lesser known Britpop fodder like Whiteout, Orange Deluxe and Thurman had features in the Japanese music press, who were eagerly scouting for the next big thing. In Japan’s case the next big thing was Shampoo, and Trouble was a ubiquitous, unavoidable big-in-Japan hit. I think someone thought they’d found the 90s Strawberry Switchblade (whose style can still be seen in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park) or something. I didn’t really discover much of the insidious co-opting of Britpop by Tony Blair et al until returning to Europe mid-95, an episode best described by Pulp’s b-side “Cocaine Socialism”, a track that almost outshines their best work – lyrically at least.

Britpop’s effortless co-existence with media, advertising and party politics probably spelled the death knell of the alternative indie spirit lampooned by Rik Mayall in The Young Ones, the Meat-Is-Murder / Save-The-Whale / Free-Nelson-Mandela / Wimmin-Are-Angry brigade so visible in further education in the 1980s and so invisible now. The one that means that massive festivals are sponsored by banks or phone companies rather than promoting Greenpeace and CND. Ethics? What ethics? It was one big ad campaign for Cool Britannia and for a while it worked. But when the alternative becomes mainstream it does become a little tiresome.

Japanese radio played a variety of songs I loved in the’94-’95 period I was there… An acoustic version of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” (predating “Nouvelle Vague” and that car ad by some time) by an Aussie band called Frente!, The first Cardigans album “Emmerdale” (which wasn’t originally released in the UK), I bought it the day after I heard it, and a LOT of Japanese music, mainly from the Shibuya-kei club genre which was influenced as much by bossa nova and American soul as it was by The Sound of Young Scotland and the él records back catalogue. I was VERY surprised to see three different él records compilations sittling in a rather small selection of western CDs at one CD rental shop of which I was sadly not a card-carrying member.

The Japanese charts also differed greatly from ours as they were dominated by local acts, often idol singers or boy bands like SMAP who, oddly for a boy band 20 years on, are still recording today. Not sure whether this was before the Take That resurrection or after. Additionally old songs would sometimes re-enter the charts if they were used in TV shows or adverts, like Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita”. Also, a three-inch CD in a sort of mini version of the old skool US CD longbox was the leading “single” format back in the mid 90s. Today it’s probably some kind of chip or something.

Japanese records shops often sold three versions of the same CD album, the expensive Japanese version, usually with lyrics translated and extra tracks, and cheaper US and UK or Euro imports. All genres could be found, and Tower, Virgin and HMV were all to be found as well as various Japanese record stores like Wave that seemed to specialise more in vinyl. As my shop had just ditched the vinyl I was fascinated that there was a specialist vinyl market, special releases on vinyl that differed to the CD and that in Japan it had been the pre-recorded cassette that had been sacrificed, although the blank tape was very much alive. It really was like visiting the future.

A like-minded Japanese student of mine had introduced me to the Shibuya-kei scene (he, like me was fond of Saint Etienne and most of the artists I’ve mentioned so far. He also oddly possessed a Gazza 12” single, but that’s another story), whose artists of note featured Pizzicato Five (who had minor western hits with Twiggy Twiggy and Happy Sad), Kahimi Karie (who got Momus to pen various albums’ worth of songs for her), Cornelius (who you really should have heard of by now) and his former Flipper’s Guitar partner Kenji Ozawa. Both artists had debut solo albums out when I was there, the latter album featured a catchy duet called “Boogie Back” which featured Scharr Dara Parr, the Japanese rappers featured on De La Soul Is Dead. Occasionally Scharr Dara Parr abbreviate their name to SDP, but to avoid any confusion with Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, the late Jeremy Thorpe and the other bloke I’ve chosen not to abbreviate.

These days Cornelius produces much more experimental music, as does DJ Takemura (or Nobukazu Takemura as he’s known now) who had an outfit called Spiritual Vibes fronted by a charming young lady called Kiku who I was lucky enough to see live. I also saw a wild all girl quartet called Super Junky Monkey who I could only describe as a female Japanese Red Hot Chilli Peppers but far better and madder. The album I heard was called “Screw Up” if you’re interested. DJ Krush was one of the more internationally celebrated Japanese artists I also got into out there, and managed to miss his show (thankfully I didn’t have tickets) by being completely unable to locate the venue once somewhere in the vicinity (no Google Maps or mobiles back then).

Another great source of music on demand (this was pre-YouTube and pre-Spotify, remember) was the Video Jukebox, often found in bars. My selection was always either something by trf (probably EZ-DO DANCE), Beastie Boys “Sabotage”, Pizzicato Five “The Night Is Still Young”, Beck “Loser”, Kahimi Karie “Elastic Girl”, Cornelius “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (not a Stones cover), Björk “Army of Me”, Nokko “Ningyo” and Shampoo “Trouble”. Sometimes ALL of them if I had enough money or had drunk enough beer.

Following a massive earthquake and the visit of the future mother of my child about six months later, I left Japan to live closer to the aforementioned lady (many years before conception was even considered) in the Spanish capital, from where I am typing this.

On arrival in Madrid I was able to immerse myself in the local alternative music scene with the help of amenable national radio station RNE Radio Tres. Los Planetas (Granada based indie guitar stuff with occasionally impenetrable vocals) was just one discovery, along with Los Fresones Rebeldes, TCR, Nosoträsh (a very Spanish triumvirate of tweepoppers), Le Mans and La Buena Vida (beautifully crafted songs with female vocals which fall into the “Donosti Sound” genre due to their origins in San Sebastián) to name but a few 90s local discoveries. Additionally, arriving here during the Britpop explosion that seemed to have made smaller inroads into mainstream music-buyers’ collective consciousness I was in the enviable position to be able to see the likes of Tricky and Pulp in relatively small venues in Madrid while they were selling out stadiums in the UK.

Beck’s “Odelay” and “Midnight Vultures” were two more 1990s albums I was glad to get my hands on, while I was mightily cheered to find a CD single with a Cornelius remix of one of the tracks from the latter LP on there.

Cornelius also got to try his hand at a remix for Blur of “Tender” (an extra track on the Japanese version of the “13” album, a b-side for everyone else). Both 13 and it’s predecessor “Blur” were solid albums following the descent into self-parody of post-“Parklife” album “The Great Escape”. However the eponymous album’s “Song 2” does suffer from the same grating over-familiarity as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” these days. I blame those sports clips.

Despite the best efforts of Radio Tres, these years between my departure from Japan and the arrival of the internet were semi-wilderness years for me, and I’d often find it easier to read about an artist than actually hear the music in question. But still artists did come over, albeit most in the same week of October. I saw The Cardigans (four albums later and they were actually famous enough to come over!), Björk, Blur, Beck, Supergrass, Everything But The Girl and an APPALLING gig by The Smashing Pumpkins where they played all the slow songs too fast and the fast ones too slow. The stadium was later burnt to the ground although given this happened a few years later I doubt it was the handiwork of another disgruntled punter.

To conclude, it has to be said that the early 1990s did produce such an ENORMOUS amount of wonderfully varied and innovative music that I had almost forgotten that it was also the decade that spawned “Everything I Do, I Do It For You”, “Love Is All Around” and “My Heart Will Go On”.

But not quite.

Decades in Music; Part 7 – The 90s: “The breakthrough of the marginal music I was always mocked for” – guest blog post by @durutti74

This Is My Nineties, Tell Me Yours

When did the Nineties start? Was it 1990 or 1991? Or maybe they started in 1988? In a warehouse rave, or on a forward looking independent record label, or a couple of music fiends getting together in some nowhere city in America, or some nowhere town in England for that matter. Anything important that happened musically in the Nineties (or the first half, at least) happened in the late Eighties. Where do I start on a decade as diverse as the Nineties? From house and techno to boy bands and Britpop and trip hop and everything in between?

90sA

I suppose my Nineties didn’t really start until the summer of 1991 when I gave up further education as a bad mistake, having failed to pass the second year of my degree three years in a row. I suppose I may have been more successful if I had spent more time in the lecture halls and libraries and less time logging on to a computer conferencing system writing music reviews. But 1990 and 1991 were fertile years for the type of music I loved, the kind of music the Melody Maker and NME would go mad for. I would religiously read the music papers, listen to John Peel, watch “The Word” and “Snub TV”, enjoying the burgeoning scene of noise pop (Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive), electronic dance music (Fluke, 808 State, The Orb) and the strange hybrid of the two that was indie-dance (led by Happy Mondays and Primal Scream). The fact that I had been following some of these acts since the mid 80s showed how long they took to reach some kind of mainstream appeal. But the indie aesthetic was still strong, some of these bands may have grazed the charts from time to time but there was no huge desire for success, nobody seriously thought this kind of music would reach number one. Songs which reached that hallowed position were usually established artists or old songs linked to films or TV adverts. If a song appeared in a Levis ad it would soon be Number One, leading to “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” by The Clash topping the charts, eight years after its initial release. Somehow the NME took this as a victory.

Even the breakthrough of Nirvana in late ’91 didn’t really affect the mainstream as much as it seemed (or as much as the NME says now) Compared to Extreme or Guns’n’Roses they were a breath of fresh air, and Kurt Cobain certainly meant every word he wrote and sang. But was the release of “Nevermind” so seismic? Record companies flocked like sheep to sign anything in plaid shirts in Seattle just as they flocked to sign anyone wearing flares in Manchester the year before. Always on the ball, record companies. I’m being harsh on Nirvana to be honest, but retrospect makes it hard to view their success as a double edged sword and the viewpoint remains that Cobain would rather have been a minor cult figure rather than a voice for his generation. He may have lived longer, for a start!

The mainstream during the early Nineties were dominated by big stars and big records, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Queen, George Michael, and a fresh faced boy band or two like Take That and East 17. They were always popping up in “Going Live” to plug a single or two, and eventually persistence paid off, Take That revealed their secret weapon – Gary Barlow wrote real songs and the world was theirs. Well, Britain anyway.

Meanwhile there was a constant stream of mediocrity. Bryan Adams destroyed 1991 with a hideous power ballad from that horrible film… Don’t go there… Then Simply Red issued “Stars” towards the end of that year, Annie Lennox issued “Diva”, Wet Wet Wet covered a Troggs psychedelic hit for a Hugh Grant film and it was number one for months, and so was UB40’s limp version of “Can’t help falling in love”… You forget how crap the early 90s were until you look back at the Brit awards for those years. The Brits were always a celebration of what has sold the most, and when what’s selling is lukewarm pigswill then the Brits would reflect that. This is why it felt like the world had tilted slightly off its axis when Suede performed their third single “Animal Nitrate” live on the ’93 Brits. Here was a British band, androgynous, rocking, playing live, and the audience didn’t quite understand it. This was the start of something else, the birth pangs of what would become known as Britpop. 1993 and 1994 were pregnant with promise, bands like Blur, St Etienne and Pulp were celebrating their Englishness, Primal Scream dropped their dance beats and aped the Rolling Stones, and a new band from Manchester claimed they were going to be bigger than the Beatles.

It pains me to say this but Oasis did change the British music industry. They were signed to Creation Records, an indie label albeit one backed by Sony after nearly going bankrupt during the early 90s when artistic ambition of Primal Scream and My Bloody Valentine outstretched their commercial standing. But Oasis had a distinct work ethic building a reputation and fanbase within a year so their debut album could reach number one and break records for fasting selling debut album. All this with attitude, a sneer and a penchant for adapting Beatles-ish ideas into songs. I will admit I still love “Live forever” but most of their songs wash past in a wall of fuzz and Lennonesque vocal tics. They were also one of the worst live bands I ever saw, in Cardiff in early 96, a horrible noise, and my partner and I agreed to leave before the end. But Oasis became the biggest band in the country, and suddenly groups with guitars were back in style, Britpop was everywhere, some longstanding bands finally saw deserved success – Pulp and Manic Street Preachers – and some chancers had careers longer than they should. No names no packdrill, ok?

However, the dash for success damaged the spirit of independent music slightly. Major labels snapped up anyone with a guitar and an attitude – sheep again – flooding the charts with Britpop. Before 1995 the independent music scene was full of adventure and surprise, after 1995 that sense of adventure was smothered by the race for success. If Oasis could sell millions of records then so could other indie bands and the pressure for success wasn’t conducive to good music. Also Oasis’ tendency towards the anthemic led other bands towards a grandiosity which didn’t suit them. Case in point – The Verve issued some wonderful records in ’92 and ’93, long drifting psychedelic jam songs. They didn’t sell. In 1997 they issued dull but heartfelt songs like “The drugs don’t work” and reached number one. The old guard either revamped their sounds or faded away. George Michael got funky, Annie Lennox vanished, Bryan Adams turned up on anonymous dance singles, Simply Red attached a rhythmic sample to their comeback single… As for Michael Jackson, he became even more grandiose, sending a floating statue of himself down the Thames and issuing “Earth Song”, a pompous cry to save the world from man’s destructiveness, issued on non-recyclable vinyl or CD. Indie got pompous too – Embrace embraced big anthems, Oasis’ third album was a bloated overlong trudge, Radiohead tapped into a premillenial dread of the year 2000 with “OK Computer”. By the end of the decade the biggest indie act was Travis, pleasant Scots with a penchant for tunefulness, whose main crime was not being Teenage Fanclub.

Pop had changed too. Take That split in ’95, and it was expected that songwriter Gary Barlow would become the next Elton John, but it turned out that another member – Robbie Williams – became a bigger star. Admittedly he had a few hiccups along the way, his debut LP was casting around for styles from ballad to Britpop and one wonders how his career would have continued without “Angels”, another pompous ballad. Two actors – Robson and Jerome – made a series of tired cover versions of classics like “Unchained melody” and “I believe” and became enormously successful, guided by the hand of manager Simon Cowell. Was there any respite from overblown ballads? Thankfully yes. What can loosely be called ‘the dance scene’ provided some welcome noise, from the Prodigy to the Chemical Brothers and plenty more. Pop also managed a reboot thanks to the Spice Girls and their brand of girl power….

Do you know what? This is crap. I never bought a Spice Girls record, I hated Robson and Jerome, I thought 80% of Britpop was vacuous, I wasn’t listening to that at all. For me the mid to late 90s was Americana – Wilco, Jayhawks, Radar Brothers, Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips, Grandaddy – and the more curious side of indie – Mogwai, Scott 4, Delakota. Music was too bloated and overblown by 1998, a search for some return to quietness, calmness, stillness was needed. Even Gomez were a breath of fresh air at the time. As the Nineties drew to a close I took my eye off the ball musically and never really got back on it, suddenly I had a house and a wife and couldn’t devote so many hours to indulging in intense music listening sessions. But I still tried to keep up, even if I wasn’t ahead of the game.

That was my nineties then, from student to husband, irresponsible to highly responsible, jobless to civil servant, and music soundtracked every move I made along the way. There’s probably tons of music I haven’t mentioned which I love, and styles that I have temporarily forgotten (regular followers will be saying “What, no Sarah Records?”) but the decade had ten years, I only had a few thousand words – I couldn’t possibly fit it all in. Looking back, the Nineties seemed a very compressed time – some scenes came and went quickly, while others hung around forever. For me, the Nineties was about the breakthrough of the marginal music I was always mocked for – the friends who laughed at bands called Happy Mondays and Boo Radleys, yet ended up being fans of their music. The margins are still there, but a lot less moves from the margins into the mainstream these days. Maybe that was the best thing about the Nineties – the possibilities were still there. You didn’t need the Brit School or a BBC Sound Of 201x award, you could become famous – even for those magical fifteen minutes – without all that back-up and support, you could get on Top Of The Pops with some strange single (“Candy pop” by Bis) or reach number one after years of toiling in your bedroom (“Your woman” by White Town). It was a time was anything was possible. We’ll never see those days again.

Decades in Music; Part 6 – The 80s: From Rod Stewart to the Happy Mondays. Guest blog post by @cockers_

The 80s were a funny time for me musically. I was six years old at the start and seventeen at the end. This meant a VERY dodgy start but slightly cooler finish to my 80s musical journey. No apologies for this.

80sBMum still lived at home when I was six, so I spent a couple of years listening to Rod Stewart, Kate Bush and a million sad love songs – all of these still get played occasionally. My first music of my own choice was probably Paul Young, I had a huge crush on him – I know, shut up – and there is a photograph of me on holiday somewhere wearing a white flat cap with a screen-print of Paul Young on it – don’t even ask, not a chance. I quickly progressed to The Thompson Twins, my first gig was Bucks Fizz at the Coventry Apollo (Papa wanted to go) and I remember wearing my Thompson Twins sweatshirt, purchased from an ad at the back of Smash Hits in order to look cooler than the other kids. That said the gig was quite good, and I was enthralled when an announcement came over the tannoy asking for photographs not to be taken and the band then playing The Camera never Lies. I thought that was so clever. I was less enthralled when Papa gave my big brother a fiver because he didn’t want to go. I wasn’t told there was a choice.

Smash Hits was a massive part of my musical upbringing. Papa used to buy it for me and it took me ages to realise why he laughed when I left him a note the night before it came out saying ‘please leave me the money for SHits in the morning’. In 1983 I was given a record player and one of those red ghetto blaster tape to tape things from Argos. I bought my first single (now sadly lost) – Adam and the Ants, Puss in Boots. Could have been a lot worse I reckon.

Mum moved out when I was nine, so for a while I was influenced by Papa’s music. The Kinks, Small Faces et al, which I still love now. Papa and I used to watch Top of the Pops together and I would dance along in my dungarees. Around 1986 I discovered more music of my own. My best friend and I shared music taste and before were 15 had seen Deacon Blue, the Pet Shop Boys and Prince live, we were even allowed to go alone. I adore gap toothed  Ricky Ross from Deacon Blue and Prince did funny things to me even at that age.

In 1987 Coventry City won the FA Cup and Papa remarried – their song is Starship, Nothings Gonna Stop us Now. Along with my wicked step mother (family joke, she’s fab) came a sister. Shiam is exactly nine months older than me and we shared a bedroom. Luckily we instantly got on really well and still do. We mostly had similar music taste and every Thursday evening we had Prince concerts in our room, I was Cat, she was Sheila E and Beany the panda was Prince (cos he was the shortest), these mainly involved dressing up and screeching along to cassettes. They were accompanied by a packet of Jesters biscuits each, which were our request on the weekly shopping list. We eventually progressed to 70s night in a shared house which consisted of us, four boys, two dogs, two cats, two snakes and six rats. It’s probably best I don’t tell you anymore about those though.

By the late 80s I was discovering proper music. Me and my sister loved the Wedding Present, the lyrics of the handsome David Gedge matching our teenage angst about boys. We were often found watching a Wedding Present VHS called Sp*unk, drooling like two lovesick puppies. I still love the Weddoes, and David. Around the same time we listened to The The, Infected was a massive album, Matt Johnson’s angry sweary vocals again matching teenage moods. We also played the Cure, Joy Division and The Smiths A LOT in our room, and by this time we were writing lyrics on the wall with a black marker pen.

By the end of the decade, the Manchester Baggy era was just starting, and I bloody loved it. I have recently rescued my vinyl collection from the spare room, and there are lots of Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, Charlatans and Inspiral Carpets 12”s amongst it. In 1989 Papa and WSM took me and my best mate to Scratby on holiday. We hooked up with two guys from Aylesbury and got in big trouble for having love bites. We bought tickets to the Happy Mondays so they could meet up with us after the holiday. However, we sold theirs to my brothers mates who were much hotter. From what I can remember it was a very good gig.

So, there my 80s musical journey ends. It seems silly not to go without sharing my favourite song of the 80s though. Enjoy.

Decades in Music; Part 5 – The 80s: Discos, TOTP & working at Woolies. Guest blog post by @maffrj

I watched Top of the Pops 1980 on BBC4 last week and found myself singing along to The Pina Colada Song, Coward Of The County and Too Much Too Young. Does this tell you anything about my musical taste when I was 9? I think the only thing it really tells me is that I watched Top of the Pops EVERY SINGLE WEEK around that time, and that the only music radio I got to hear was the Terry Wogan Show on Radio 2 around the breakfast table, and of course the charts on a Sunday night with fingers poised over the Play and Record buttons. My parents were not the most musically influential parents anyone ever had. I never knew my dad express any interest in music until about 10 years ago when he came back from a Spanish holiday asking me whether I owned any Leonard Cohen as he had enjoyed the CD they played in the bar they’d been to. My mum on the other hand had a fair few records, most of which were ex-jukebox 60s 7”s or things like Johnny Hallyday that she had bought during a period in Switzerland in her youth. If she did play her records in the house though, it was more likely to be Glenn Campbell or Perry Como that she listened to, rather than her nice mono copy of A Hard Day’s Night or Elvis’ Golden Records. So I was pretty much on my own. I can remember dancing in the discos in the village youth club (known as The Tin Shed, because that was what it was) to things like D.I.S.C.O., Prince Charming, Swords Of A Thousand Men and Reward. The more I look at it, the more I realise that the decade was really all about chart music for me. I had a best friend who was into Heavy Metal and who owned loads of stuff like Iron Maiden, Kiss, Saxon, Judas Priest etc but that never appealed to me and I stuck with my copy of Ultravox’s The Collection and thought I was pretty cool (Ed: No Matt, you have NEVER been cool). You can look at my vinyl from that period and find it full of such delights as Modern Romance, KC & The Sunshine Band, BA Robertson, Spandau Ballet, World Cup songs and Sting. To this day I still hope the Russians love their children too. Then there was a hooky tape of Thriller that we got from a guy on Abergele market. It must have been on a C60 or something as you had to turn it over as soon as side one was done, otherwise you got a load of silence, and then had to fast forward side two until you found the music again. This must have been just about the first album I owned. I had a knock-off walkman not long after that, which, in the grand tradition of 80s teens everywhere, gave me the chance to listen to music in the back of the car while my dad would listen to Gardeners’ Question Time. Often Tango In The Night. I think the first time I actually came close to buying what I would now consider to be within my current tastes was when Talking Heads released Road To Nowhere and And She Was and I asked for Little Creatures as a Christmas present. I never got the records I asked for for Christmas. So on I went with my cassettes of Brothers In Arms, Whitney Houston & Debbie Gibson albums, and my Level 42 & a-ha stuff (I’ll stand by those last two to this day!). And then in the summer of 1987, I had done my O-Levels and was just about to start a summer job at Rhyl Woolies when I heard True Faith. And I bought True Faith. And I never looked back. I really think that that opened the floodgates for me. My good friend Eifion was way ahead of the curve when it came to these things, having been buying Factory & ZTT stuff fairly obsessively through high school, but I had never really paid much attention to the music he played me until this point. I still had my moments, [I have more Deacon Blue records than anyone could reasonably require (Raintown/Riches limited double vinyl!)] but a combination of The Chart Show indie chart, The World Won’t Listen being played on repeat in the sixth form common room, and my own burgeoning inquisitiveness about things that I wasn’t necessarily going to hear on the top 40 started me along a road that has done me pretty well over the years. In that short 87-89 period working on Woolies record counter, getting to hear more music from schoolmates, starting to read the NME, hearing things like Birthday, Surfer Rosa, The Guitar & Other Machines, Floodland… Sign ‘O’ The Times for crying out loud80sA Prince! How did I get this far in without a mention of Prince? On New Year’s Eve in 1989 BBC showed a 4 (?) hour 80s music retrospective with loads of great TOTP stuff (John Wayne Is Big Leggy sticks in the brain for some reason) and at the end they revealed the results of a survey on musicians & journalists about who were the best and most overrated acts of the decade. I know The Smiths featured prominently in both lists (possibly topping the latter) but I’m pretty sure I punched the air when Prince was revealed as their act of the 80s. You’ll get no complaints from me. So in September 89, with the decade drawing to a close, I made my way to Coventry Polytechnic with a grant in my pocket and about 5 decent record shops within walking distance. I was ready for whatever the 90s could throw at me. As long as it was guitar led indie.

Decades in Music; Part 4 – The 70s: A Tale of Many Genres…! by @musicvstheworld

Imagine you are the year 1970. You have two seemingly impossible tasks on your hands: 1) Put the general unrest of the 1960s firmly in the past and 2) Give people a new lease of life; show them a way forward. Where can you possibly start? You need one thing that unites people; that can mould and move and spread far and wide. After a considerable amount of thought (about a nanosecond), you realise there is only one answer: music.

70sBThe 60s was a mixed up, beautiful, angry, confused, weird and wonderful decade in so many ways, not least in what it produced musically. Something amazing started to happen at the very end of the 60s that the 70s grabbed hold of with both hands and made into its own unique innovation, which was known in America as The Disco Movement. People were fed up of the battles within life and throughout the world, and they found safe havens in dance clubs where they could forget all of the worldly troubles and simply have a good time.

The rebelliousness people discovered in the 60s didn’t disappear entirely, of course, and we will see later on how that affected music, and how people used it to get the frustrations of life out of their system with the explosion of Punk.

Although relatively short-lived as a genre, and positively hated by some (especially those who gravitated towards rock music), if a decade was to be defined by its musical style, I’m pretty sure a huge percentage of people would cite the 70s as being about Disco and Dance music. From the hugely vast amount of artists (Donna Summer, Chic, The Bee Gees, Diana Ross to name a few) and music produced, to the fashions of the decade, to the immense popularity and influence on future artists and styles, this was a real whirlwind romance of a genre. Disco started as a form of black commercial Pop music, later becoming something that transcended all races. A lot of Disco music is characterized by a steady, bass beat in 4/4 time, sometimes called four on the floor. Occasionally, though, songs that were not originally of that genre were given the Disco treatment. Walter Murphy even took a favourite Classical piece and turned it into a Disco hit known as A Fifth of Beethoven. However, it was the release of the Saturday Night Fever movie that catapulted Disco music into virtually every home. Indeed, when we see imagery portraying the 70s, one of those pictures is inevitably a young John Travolta in *that* white three-piece suit under the disco ball! All sorts of people started jumping on the Disco bandwagon, and with this the fans unfortunately started to see a commercialisation to this genre that they were far from keen on – fashionable and safe was the very thing they were trying to get away from. The downfall of Disco happened quickly and on quite a scale. Many radio stations held events dedicated to ridding the world of Disco music with public album burnings. Yes, really! Youths rebelled against the genre as well, and “Disco Sucks” t-shirts soon became a new fashion accessory.

Another well-liked music genre of the 70s was Funk. James Brown is frequently considered to be the creator of Funk. He relentlessly developed his sound in the 70s and simultaneously formed a pathway for groups such as Kool and the Gang, Sly and the Family Stone and Parliament to dominate the charts with their infectious tunes that people couldn’t stop dancing to, and their wonderfully crazy fashion styles. There were no limits – from Psychedelia to Soul, Funk encompassed it all. Towards the end of the 70s, many artists also brought in a Disco element to their music which only served to increase its widespread approval.

Rock n’ Roll and Heavy Metal were still very much present in the 70s, but was becoming even heavier and louder, and morphed into what is known as Hard Rock, also drawing influences from Jazz, Blues and occasionally Folk. Many new bands emerged at this time, or existing bands started experimenting with this new type of music as well as pushing themselves to the limits technically: Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Rush, Scorpions and many, many others! The use of the electric guitar was pretty much essential – pedal effects, distortion, catchy riffs, guitar solos and power chords were commonplace and musicians found ways of making them sound truly awesome.

In the early 70s, Glam Rock was very fashionable. Artists like T-Rex and David Bowie performed Rock music whilst wearing heavy make-up and dressing in feminine style clothing, bringing a hugely flamboyant, theatrical element to their image, particularly in their elaborate live shows. Lyrically and musically, the songs echoed the looks. Melodies tended to be catchy, and lyrics were very forward-thinking whilst at the same time being about subjects of the moment, e.g. drugs and sexuality. Among the most successful Glam Rock bands were The Sweet, Mud, Slade, Kiss and Wizzard.

Prog rock was massive in the 70s. I guess you could say it was a multi genre – often, musicians would combine Rock with something else, and they were very much experimental, particularly when playing live – they very much had the freedom to do so! There were bands like King Crimson, Genesis, Focus, Gentle Giant, and Electric Light Orchestra. There were a lot of “concept” albums – Pink Floyd were a band who did that very well – the best example probably being “The Wall”, which explored intense feelings of abandonment and being entirely alone. The main character, Pink, was based on Syd Barrett himself. Jethro Tull became very much admired, with their unique vocals together with the birdlike sound of the flute. This was music people could completely immerse themselves in, at the same time tapping into the worlds of their own imaginations. Prog Rock had a lasting influence on so much of the music to come, from Post-Punk to Folk to Metal. It’s a genre that seemingly refuses to die out, helped along by bands such as Arcade Fire and The Decemberists who have brought their take on it into the 21st century.

As mentioned earlier, the Punk Rock genre emerged in the 70s. This was a style that continued on the legacy of the 60s, but with a more upbeat and harder style. Punk was actually three things rolled into one: a sound, a look, and also for many bands, a working class political movement, with varying degrees of each element per band. To put it simply, Punk was originally designed to shock and scare anyone who wasn’t prepared for it! Heavy guitar riffs and more decibels helped to motivate those who were still upset about the status quo in the country. The Ramones are often referred to as the original Punk band. Their song “I Wanna Be Sedated” became a generational anthem depicting the feeling that society is so messed up that the only way to get through life with your sanity is to be sedated for the entire experience. The Sex Pistols also enjoyed a short-lived success as a Punk Rock band of the 1970s. The band members recklessly used drugs and alcohol which eventually led to their dissolution shortly after forming, but not before releasing two hit albums, “God Save the Queen” and “Never Mind the Bollocks”, that created a wave of rebellion throughout the United States and the UK. Some other favoured Punk bands from the 70s included New York Dolls, The Jam, Crass, The Clash and The Ruts.

Gradually, musicians with a similar way of thinking to punk rockers revealed themselves, and brought with them music that was technically refined, and lyrics that were astute and profound. This was to be known as New Wave music. By the late 70s, New Wave had emerged in both the United States and England as “the intelligent answer to Punk Rock”, with artists such as Blondie, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello and Devo coming out of the woodwork. Incorporating electronic instruments including synthesizers, and bringing along a different approach to making music, New Wave was a distinct and refreshing break from the blues and guitar Rock that had dominated music until this point. New Wave continued on into the 80s and beyond, having a massive impact on musicians of the future even today.

What do you get if you mix together Ska, Punk Rock, Reggae and Pop? This isn’t a joke, there’s no punch line – the answer is 2 Tone. It gets its name because many of the bands were signed to 2 Tone Records, a label founded by Jerry Dammers of The Specials. The sound was created by musicians who spent their youth listening to 60s Jamaican music. They moved things forward by combining that classic Ska sound with Punk and Pop. In the late 70s, the UK was experiencing some turbulence, economically speaking. As with everything bad that happens, there were songs written about it or because of it. 2 Tone served to provide a positive, harmonious movement which was embraced so completely by a country who desired exactly that in a time of need. Just a few notable members of the 2 Tone music scene were The Specials (of course), The Beat, Madness and Bad Manners.

New Wave of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM developed from an underground genre in the late ’70s, quite some time after Heavy Metal bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath started becoming popular in the late 60s. NWOBHM was a purer form of heavy metal with fewer Rock and Blues influences than the first Metal bands. It was pretty much responsible for rise in popularity of Heavy Metal across the world, and was also an inspiration that helped bands evolve into Thrash and Speed Metal. NWOBHM didn’t really have a particular style or sound, although generally the songs produced had a sense of melody in common, whether the band’s basic sound was Progressive or full on Metal. NWOBHM offered a glimpse of Rock and Roll escapism, Sci-fi themes and having a good time with alcohol, drugs and the opposite sex. Some bands under this banner were AC/DC, Motorhead and Judas Priest, and by 1979 Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Saxon had joined the fray.

So, from Disco to Heavy Metal in the space of ten years – did the 70s achieve what they set out to do? In some ways, yes, absolutely. People were actively questioning the way things were and making moves against the things they disliked, in their own way. Bands were using music to speak out against the things they felt were unjustified, and vast numbers of people supported that public voice and what it was saying. Different types of people were starting to come together as one unit, joined by a love of the same thing and a mind full of the same ideas and morals. Did music save the world? No, of course it didn’t. However, it certainly gave people an outlet, and a freedom to express themselves that possibly wasn’t present beforehand.

Music is ever-changing, equally inspired and inspirational, and what happened in the world of music in the 70s was, in my opinion, a platform for every band and musician to follow in their own ways. Long may that continue…

As part of this process, I asked a few friends some questions about their thoughts on music of the 70s. Here are the results…

THE QUESTIONS…

1. Who do you think were the bands or musicians that defined the 1970s?

2. What 70s music did you or do you listen to?

3. Do you think any 70s music was influential in any way? How?

4. Do you think music in the 70s affected people’s attitudes? How?

5. If you were to describe music from the 70s in one word, what would it be?

THE ANSWERS…

@danthompson78 said…

  1. David Bowie, T-Rex, The Stones, Lynyrd Skynrd, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Black Sabbath, The Who, Queen, Lou Reed, Fleetwood Mac, Kiss, Springsteen, Iggy Pop. Loads really! I’m tempted to add the punk bands like The Clash and the Pistols.
  2. Bowie, Stones, Lynyrd Skynrd, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, The Who, Queen, Lou Reed, Springsteen, Television, Clash, Iggy Pop, Ian Dury.
  3. I think new and established bands still dip into the 70s when it pleases them – bands like Haim and War on Drugs owe almost everything of their sound to slim aspects of the 70s, as do bands like the Strokes and even Arcade Fire. Every new era of music dips into the previous ones to varying degrees, and the scope of music which was popular in the 70s (and is still listened to today) was probably a lot broader than that of the 60s.
  4. I think that the end of the 60s probably made people a bit more cynical, and the feel-good rock of the 70s was maybe a response to that cynicism, and harking back to a more innocent time.
  5. Brown. (I just always think of brown cords and cheesecloth shirts when I think of the 70s. And then, probably as much a product of the way the 70s are portrayed by film and TV, guys in flared brown suits.)

@gentlyallaround said…

  1. I would say the musicians that defined the 70s were Joy Division, David Bowie, T-Rex, Blondie, Sex Pistols, Television, Magazine, Buzzcocks, etc – but I suppose this answer would depend on what you’re into (note my lack of ABBA – hurrhurr).
  2. I would listen to all of the above but Joy Division are the ones I listen to habitually, plus The Kinks’ 70s stuff, John Lennon, George Harrison, Cat Stevens. I’m a big fan of The Jam but I always associate them more with the 80s even though they were 1970s too.
  3. I think 70s music was very influential – maybe more so now than ever. It’s hard to think of a current band that I like that have not got some kind of 1970s sound.
  4. I think it has affected people’s attitudes, even if indirectly (like through new bands influenced by 70s bands). Maybe people don’t realise how much the music they listen to has been shaped by 1970s influences. Also, bands from the 70s had a lot to say, and they said it with conviction, which is one of the reasons why a lot of the artists have lasted in people’s record collections.
  5. Bold.

@guitartutorrich said…

  1. There were several really – people such as Elton John, Queen, David Bowie, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zep, The Jam, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, even the Bee Gees! Artists that defined a sound and also made massive inroads with song writing, new sounds, and huge fashion statements too. 
  2. Lots of the early 70s hard rock and glam was good – Slade, The Sweet, Mott The Hoople, and US. artists such as Rush, as well as favourites Black Sabbath, and the Prog Rock giants like Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Genesis and Yes. 
  3. Massively so. Punk emerged from as far back as 1971, New York Dolls, MC5 and Iggy Pop were very seminal in the later new wave and punk scenes, Bear in mind that recording techniques from 1970 onwards were on a rapid advancement – 8 track to 16 track then 24 track tape machines, allowing for better production and more adventurous   arrangements and complex mixes. Also, new technology produced new sounds – synthesisers from 1973 onwards gave whole new soundscapes, as well as guitar effects such as the chorus pedal and the use of delays – drum machines made their first defining appearance in the mid 70s and led the way for the electronic music of the early 80s. Technique too – slap bass and tapping guitar styles were very full on by 1978.   
  4. The punk thing REALLY changed attitudes – 1976 was a year that changed not only fashion, but the complete outlook – music became more politically aware, and working class, short hair was suddenly back, as well as a total ‘anti-rock star’ stance. This was the mid 60s all over again, but with a sneer. 
  5. Flamboyant!

@bringitonskippy said…

  1. Not being a fan of the mammoth 70s act such as David Bowie, Pink Floyd etc, for me the 70s can probably be split into glam and punk. Some bands/artists who I associate with the 1970s – whether this is the same as “defining” the 70s would be a moot point – are: David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Marc Bolan/T-Rex, Slade, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Undertones.
  2. Not a great deal to be honest. I am in a covers band and we have a few 70s punk tunes (Teenage Kicks, Blitzkrieg Bop, etc). Apart from the well known glam and punk tunes which will be familiar to most people, I couldn’t really claim to have listened to much music from the 70s, either previously or currently. The only exception to this really would be Dr Feelgood – my dad knows their manager Chris Fenwick and I have their Greatest Hits, which is pretty good, if not particularly groundbreaking. 
  3. Speaking to older (!) people who were teenagers in the 70s, it is apparent just how much punk called out to the working classes. It was like nothing that had been seen before – the kids loved it and the older generations either disliked it intensely or were actually scared of it. I guess it could be argued though that, while it might have felt fresh at the time and the younger generation might have felt like it would lead to the overthrow of the monarchy and government, it did little good in the long term, particularly when you look at Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980s and decimation of British industry.
  4. Again, with regard to punk, I think it gave the younger generation the feeling that they didn’t have to stand for authority etc. This is really only apparent from speaking to people of that era though, and the odd documentary I may have seen.
  5. Uninspiring. (Sorry if this goes against what you might have been expecting!)

@annatheforager said…

  1. Sex Pistols, the Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Ramones, the Jam, the Who, Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, Joy Division, Kraftwerk, Queen, T-Rex, Hawkwind, Genesis.
  2. I used to listen to Goth music (e.g. Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, Bauhaus) but not so much now. I still listen to Fleetwood Mac, Squeeze (probably better associated with the 80s, but they started being brilliant in the 70s), Fairport Convention. I’m currently investigating The Band, but so far I think I generally prefer other people’s versions of their songs. Although I do listen to 70s music when the mood takes me, these are the only ones I regularly put on.
  3. I think it was hugely influential. Teen identity was relatively new, and the seventies saw the emergence of a huge array of subcultures. I think that subcultures offered (and still offer) a sense of belonging; a way to express individuality and perspective. The divergence of youth culture paved the way for the vastly different types of music currently being created.
  4. Punk certainly did! I was only a nipper (born in 1975) but my parents later told me that they really felt the status quo was under threat. I think it awakened young people to the fact that they didn’t have to go through life as a voiceless minion. They had the power to question things and do something to change them.
  5. Innovative.

@skylarkingmatt said…

  1. Joni Mitchell – I think she took confessional song writing to a new level. I think she’s influenced every singer songwriter since. David Bowie – hugely important, both as a performer & writer. He took lots of influences & made them into a style that was purely his, & every album he made in the 70s was different from the previous one – not many can do that. Led Zeppelin – far more than just an out & out rock band; the finest exponents of light & shade. Pink Floyd – the most British of bands (even more than the Kinks), and the band who I think took production & sound to a new level. The Clash – the best of the Punk era by a country mile.
  2. At the time (being only very young) I tended to listen to whatever my parents were playing – Elton John, Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, Dire Straits, and I still do. The first 2 albums that I owned in the 70s (& they were both hugely important) were the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack & Blondie’s Parallel Lines. Now I probably own more records from that decade than any other- everything from Yes to The Buzzcocks.
  3. I think the most influential record of the 70s was Donna Summer’s I Feel Love – it sounded other worldly when it came out, almost hypnotic. Modern dance music (& certainly groups like New Order & producers like Brian Eno) was listening closely. I suspect Bob Marley probably needs a mention here too – without him I suspect Reggae would have remained a bit of a joke or novelty to a rock audience.
  4. I think the 70s was probably the era when pop and rock started to be taken seriously, and wasn’t dismissed as mere fluff. I think it’s also when artists started to think about albums as proper works rather than a collection of three strong singles and six or seven filler songs. Of course, this had started in the 60s with The Beatles, Beach Boys, Hendrix, but I think it became the norm in the 70s – stuff like Tubular Bells & Dark Side Of The Moon. Plus I think some of the performers in the 70s allowed some of the gay/bisexual community to find an identity (even if it was to be much later before society in general caught up – if indeed it has). Bowie’s appearance on Top Of The Pops doing Starman (where he puts his arm round Mick Ronson) is often cited as being a key moment (Boy George, Holly Johnson & Marc Almond have all mentioned it)
  5. Progressive. Not in the sense of Prog rock, but constantly changing & moving forward.

 @sunderlandandy said…

  1. There are loads, but these stand out for many reasons so will just name them in no particular order: David Bowie, Sparks, The Sweet, Kraftwerk, Barry White, Abba, Supertramp, Bee Gees, Ian Dury, Sex Pistols, 10CC, The Carpenters, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Fleetwood Mac, Fox, The Osmonds, Suzi Quatro, Elton John, Donna Summer, T-Rex, Blondie, Gordon Lightfoot, Gilbert O’Sullivan, The Stranglers, Olivia Newton John, Neil Diamond, Kate Bush, ELO, Bob Marley and Hot Chocolate to name a few.
  2. Mainly all glam rock, punk and all the people named above.
  3. I’d say glam rock and punk were influential in the fact they told people you don’t in theory have to be talented to be famous and on top of the pops, For many, this music was escapism from the mundane reality of real life, and I bet many a sad young teenage fan sat in their bedroom playing their vinyl dreaming of better things.
  4. There was a lot of negativity going around in the 1970s with unemployment strikes, poverty etc and again I think music allowed people to dream of nicer things.
  5. Radical.

 @southallio said…

  1. When I think of the 70s I picture it in two halves. The start of the decade you had quite a few acts who had started off during the late 60s psychedelia coming into their own. On the one hand the friendly rivalry between Marc Bolan and David Bowie led to the birth of glam rock, with Slade taking up the mantle and running with it. At the same time you had the boom of the Prog rock movement, led by Pink Floyd, which reached its peak in the mid 70s. Simultaneously you have rock music and the dawn of heavy metal. The big 3 of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, who all began life toward the end of the 60s but really reached their peak between 71 & 75. Towards the end of the decade, glam rock had died a death, the peak of the metal bands was over and Prog rock had vanished up its own Phil Collins shaped arsehole. Something was needed to shake it all up when punk, led by the Sex Pistols, came along to quite literally spit in the face of the establishment. The freshness of the 77 punk still radiates to this day when you listen to it, so I can’t imagine what it felt like at the time. The Buzzcocks, The Clash, The Jam (though they hated being called punk) and countless others blew apart the music scene and gave it the shake-up it massively needed. As punk evolved into new wave at the end of the decade, then arose Joy Division and with them Factory Records, a group of people who would go on to define music for the following decade. That’s not to ignore the phenomenally successful disco scene, defined by the Bee Gees and Saturday Night Fever. Or the more underground Northern Soul scene, which took over the youth of the north of England. All it all over a 10 year period there was quite an incredible amount of music.
  2. I’ve dipped into all of the above from time to time, but for the most part David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and The Jam would be my most listened to 70s artists.
  3. Without doubt. In David Bowie the 70s had probably the most influential musician of all time. His constantly evolving styles have influence pretty much every genre of music that followed and he’s still going strong to this day. I don’t think indie music would have existed without punk and the new wave music that followed. And there’s not a metal band around that isn’t inspired in some way by Sabbath, Led Zep or Purple.
  4. It’s hard for me to say, not having been there, but you would have to say that punk influenced a whole generation of youths both musically and politically. It gave them a voice and helped them to speak out against a stale society.
  5. Revolutionary.

@lucy_raggy_doll said…

  1. The artists that spring to mind for me are ABBA, Queen, The Beatles and Pink Floyd. 
  2. ABBA, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, The Beach Boys. 
  3. 70s music has influenced artists that are popular today. I’ve recently read Mark Everett’s autobiography (Eels), and The Beatles were an influence on him pursuing a musical career – he wanted to be part of that vibe. 
  4. I think 70s music influenced people in the way that we realised how massively it can impact others. The cult following of bands such as The Beatles set a precedent for others to follow. I think The Beatles were the first band to make girls faint at gigs!
  5. Bohemian.

Decades in Music; Part 3 – “What Do I Know About the 70s???? ” – Guest blog post by @stamfordcowboy

70sA

So a few weeks back I volunteered to write a blog for my friend Dotty about a decade of music. There was me thinking I would be able to write about my love of the 90’s and how the Britpop era influenced my musical outlook and got me into the whole live music scene which I have been hammering for last 18 years or so. Naïve of me to think it would be that easy!

Having been placed in a hat and drawn at random with fellow bloggers I was assigned the task of writing about the 70s. I was born in December 1977 so my actual memories of this decade are non-existent. As I set about thinking of the 70s, the first thing that came to mind was John Travolta strutting down a New York street swinging a pot of paint to the backing of “Night Fever” by the Bee Gees – then I had the images of the three of them with their dodgy perms, tight trousers and ridiculously white teeth. Donna Summers’ “I Feel Love” then entered my head, followed shortly after by Chic “Le Freak”. Now, not being an advocate of disco music I found this pretty concerning, and the final straw was when I had little Michael Jackson jiving in my head with “ABC”. I was all set to dismiss this task and write it off as a bad idea.

Then I had my moment of clarity…

Quadrophenia – recorded in 1973, film released in 1979. A film and a soundtrack that I got to grips with in my early twenties, but which was truly hammered home on a memorable night at the Royal Albert Hall in 2000. I had gone to the first Teenage Cancer Trust concert where I would witness a near 3 hour masterclass from the Who and special guests including Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher, Kelly Jones and Eddie Vedder amongst others. I remember outside that venue just being a sea of Lambrettas and Vespas, blokes in sharp suits and fish tail parkas, ladies in little penguin dresses or sharp black and white two tone numbers, and Union Jack flags to be seen everywhere you looked. It was the first time I had properly seen the Mod movement in all its glory and, having already fallen under the spell of Paul Weller a few years earlier, it properly drew me into the scene and the music that came with it. Before someone pulls me up on it, I am aware the mod scene developed in the 60’s but had it not been for Quadrophenia I wouldn’t have gotten to know it.

I wouldn’t have known who the star of that film, Phil Daniels, was had it not been for Blur and their Parklife song in the 90’s. It was only after enquiring about him and getting ridiculed for having not seen Quadrophenia that I eventually found out. It’s now that you realise that if it wasn’t for bands like The Who, The Clash, Sex Pistols and The Jam – the Britpop 90’s thing probably would never have happened?

The words which spring to my mind therefore about the 70’s are influential and nspirational. The fact those disco tunes were stuck in my head is a testament to the song writing from that era – I might not dig them, but I know of them and their grooves and basslines.

After more thought and reflection, I got to realising just how much this decade of music has shaped my tastes and my music collection. Your iPod doesn’t lie when it comes to the amount of times a song has been played and 2 songs immediately jumped out at me from the 70’s:

Down Down – Status Quo

This was the very first song I saw played live aged 13 years old. Francis Rossi in classic Quo attire creeping from behind a black curtain playing the opening riff before the curtain dropped and the band kicked in. Extremely loud and massively influential in getting me into live music at that age. Great memories and a very credible first gig I reckon, even though my mate who was with me now disagrees!

Band on the Run – Paul McCartney and Wings

I got to know and love this song through my Dad playing his best of Wings cassette in his Ford Sierra when I was 7 or 8 years old. It always made me think it was 3 songs in one at that age – many layers to it, and styles which I’ve always loved.

I could go on and on about other songs from this decade but it would just get boring to read. Below is a playlist of my top played songs from this decade which as I look at it I’m quite proud of. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from people over the years who have gotten me into these artists and for that I’m extremely grateful , and I hope my little lad grows up to appreciate them too!

In The City – The Jam

The Passenger – Iggy Pop

Peaches – The Stranglers

Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who

Holidays In The Sun – Sex Pistols

London Calling – The Clash

Germ Free Adolescence – X Ray Spex

What Do I Get? – Buzzcocks

Life On Mars? – David Bowie

Boys Don’t Cry – The Cure

20th Century Boy – T Rex

Walk On The Wild Side – Lou Reed

Up Around The Bend – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Across The Universe – The Beatles

Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd

Stay With Me – The Faces

Teenage Kicks – Undertones

One Way Or Another – Blondie

Milk and Alcohol – Dr Feelgood

Heart Of Gold – Neil Young

The Sideboard Song – Chas n’ Dave

(No I’m not taking the piss with Chas n’ Dave!!!)

Cheers folks…!