Today, Chris offers us his recollective music-based memories…
‘I began writing this article some time ago as a run down of my top 10 ‘most influential’ albums listened to during my formative years. I got about half way through and I got stumped. It was then I realised I couldn’t define my musical life in a rundown of albums, it was more appropriate to list my life in phases.
So here goes.
I was never really known for having taste as a child/youth and was often mocked for this attribute. I do remember always liking music in the varying forms it approached me. As a very young child (4-5) dancing to Yazz’s “The Only Way Is Up” when it came on Top Of The Pops, and I remember also falling deeply in love with Sonia a year later in 1989 and crying for an hour when the dog scratched my prized “You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You” single, which I had on vinyl.
I actually owned two other records as a child, both were soundtracks to films that I had enjoyed, and both are still in my collection. These were TURTLE POWER (1990) by Partnerz in Kryme and the soundtrack to My Girl (1991) starring Macaulay Culkin who was some kind of childhood hero, though I am unsure why.
Meat Loaf (1993 – c.1995)
I remember Take That being in the charts for a very, very long time whilst in junior school (c.1990-1993), a fact that caused me great depression at the time. I was unaware of any music existing outside of the charts/mainstream consciousness and believed that it was compulsory to like what was in the charts (which all other children claimed to) but that as hard as I tried I couldn’t bring myself to like anything I heard. It was around this time Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell II was released and was probably the first album that I purchased, and also my first CD.
This marked the beginning of my Meat Loaf phase. I suppose I thought that due to his chart success with “I’d do anything for love” I had found my entry into chart music membership, and that buying the album bought me popularity. That, and the ‘epic’ music video that accompanied it was like something out of a film (I loved films) and I spent quite some time genuinely contemplating whether or not it was part of an actual film or just a stand alone video.
Anyway, following the logic of “if I like this song I will like all his songs” I pretty much bought all his albums. And it worked, I liked a good 80% of his songs.
Meat Loaf remained my favourite artist for a quite a while until I realised absolutely no one else at school had a clue who he was and I was becoming severely out of touch with my peers’ tastes. Although I wouldn’t say he was a major influence on my current tastes, I do still enjoy the odd cheesy power ballad, and still have a soft spot for the old ‘loaf’ if only for nostalgia.
When I suddenly realised Meat Loaf was neither cool nor current (around high school time) I began looking for my way ‘back in’ and invested in compilation albums like Now 34 (1996). I purchased this CD as a quick fix way of learning what was in the charts so that I might be considered cool. I listened to it almost every day. It was dreadful. Awful. I hated every track, but felt I must learn to like it. To this day, some of the appalling tracks from this double-disc monstrosity remain in my head.
Pulp (1995 – Present)
I’m not quite sure how I started liking Pulp but I do know I loved both Common People and Disco 2000 equally. Up until this point I had been hearing about the bands Blur and Oasis, but didn’t really know any of their songs very well. While the rest of the country became obsessed with their chart battle, I was listening to Pulp and was convinced that they too were part of this chart battle, when apparently, they were not. Following the very same logic of “if I like one song, I will like them all” I purchased any Pulp related merchandise I could find in Our Price. I purchased His ‘n’ Hers off the back of Different Class, not knowing much about it, but it sealed my obsession with the band. I can still trace my current tastes back to this album, with its prominent and almost clumsy synths . I remember singing one of the songs from this album in CDT, unaware of the sexual connotations, and being questioned by Stacy Worby about what it was I was singing. I replied “Pulp”. Annoyingly, she came back with “Egh I hate him”.
One memory in particular tied to this album is Lee Brookes and myself playing Golden Axe II on the Mega Drive in the small room of my old house. Everything looked yellow. It’s also tied to a third memory, that of getting Matthew Gadsten to sing along to one of the more famous songs on the album and laughing at him fail miserably. Go me (and Spokes, who was another culprit).
Also around this time I purchased “Masters of the Universe” a sort of compilation of Pulp’s earlier work. To my adolescent surprise it was much darker, much more raw and far less poppy than my other purchases, but because it was Pulp I gave it the benefit of the doubt and got stuck right in. I think this was probably my first true, if minor, break from what I perceived as chart music, as the album was almost frightening to me and had I heard this album before the previous two, I probably wouldn’t have purchased it. Looking back retrospectively, this album is still very close, if not the closest, to some of my more recent purchases and interests, as well as some of my own work in terms of style and sound.
One memory tied to this album: trying to get Mr Short to translate some of the French lyrics of ‘Manon’ for me, and him refusing.
Google translate interprets them as:
In the gardens you can see a Manon
It’s wife died, yes,
true, but he broke the skin
Behind the trees, he sees
girl playing with
I renounce Manon
You’re a real dog
Leave his body in peace Manon Manon.”
Radiohead (1996 – present)
I still hadn’t given up on chart music, I knew that I loved music, I just wasn’t sure which music was for me, and although I still loved Pulp, one band just wasn’t enough – plus the fact it still hadn’t seemed to buy me any credibility with anyone other than lifelong partner Mr Spokes.
I continued purchasing compilation albums, but I had learned the lessons of the past and had migrated to “The Best Indie Anthems… Ever”. This proved such a success that I followed it up with “The Best Indie Anthems Ever… TWO”, the title of which always amused me. Sadly again, I wasn’t too pleased with the majority of tracks here, it was the strength of just a handful of songs that inspired me to purchase the next CD. The real breakthroughs for me were Swallowed by Bush (who I went on to become a fan of) and the tracks Creep and Street Spirit by Radiohead. I couldn’t afford more CDs at this point so I simply listened to the two Radiohead tracks on loop. I now associate them with whatever PS1 games I was playing at the time, namely the Tomb Raider 2 demo. Eventually I managed to borrow The Bends from Spokes and record it to cassette tape. I think it was a while before I gave the CD back though, it was just that good. My memory of this CD largely consists of inspecting the sleeve artwork on the floor of the little room in Telscombe Way while the disc played Planet Telex. I was just so impressed with the quality of the album, I felt I had found the next band I had been looking for.
It wasn’t long before OK Computer was released and my first chance to make a purchase came during a visit to Dad’s, where I made him take me to the local MVC so I could buy the album. It was all afternoon before I could listen to the CD so I just spent the day reading the lyrics. I recall telling Dad’s former friend Sarah “ha! You’re in this song – ‘Kill me Sarah, Kill me again’…”. Sarah didn’t take too kindly to this and seemed rather perturbed by my reading. I later found out she was schizophrenic and I have often wondered whether I had sparked some nasty nonsense in her head that afternoon. Annoyingly, literally every music publication bums this album and probably will until the end of audio itself, but I bought this album after enjoying The Bends and I honestly believed my world changed.
From that point on my work in art class definitively and began to mirror the sleeve art on the CD. The sounds coming out of my speakers were completely alien, most of which I couldn’t understand how they were made. Now, with a more educated ear, it’s easy to tell that the album is layered with various loops and effects and is played largely on guitars, but back then I couldn’t figure out what instruments would make some of those noises. I remember listening to this album on my earphones, walking with Laura Cockfield to the cinema, with her telling me I was rude for not turning my music off to talk. It became a mission of mine to learn each chord played on that album, sadly I never made it quite that far, but I do still give Lucky a quick blast each time I pick my guitar up.
Constellation (2001 – 2005)
During 6th Form I suffered a social shuffle around and couldn’t be bothered to re-make new friends, so the need to fit in was kind of abandoned. By this point I had realised that there was obviously more music out there than I was aware of, but had no way of finding new music easily as in those days, the internet was shit. My only choices remained free CDs on the cover of NME and Kerrang (this was how I discovered Mogwai) but mostly I would just pick up CDs whose covers or names I liked, with a view to returning them if they were shit. This worked out nicely when I purchased Music Has the Right to Children via this method, but not so well when I purchased Staind. The latter I was so ashamed to be associated with, I sent my then girlfriend to Our Price to return it rather than show my face again. This remained the normal.
It was around this time I purchased Godspeed’s album F#A#∞, which was on a completely different level.
Since getting into Mogwai’s instrumental rockings, I had been on a post-rock buzz, looking for the next ‘hit’ and this was it. Geniusly, Constellation Records included little inserts of their back catalogues in the CD case and as with my previous phases, I began working my way through it. I creamed myself ever every CD – Godspeed, ASMZ,Set Fire To Flames, Hangedup, Exhaust, all the way up to Frankie Sparo which I found less satisfying. Memories largely consist of playing drums to American Motor Over Smouldered Field in my student house, or sitting on the train listening to Steal Compass/Drive North/Disappear, but strangely most of the memories conjured when thinking of these albums are of composing, playing and recording my own music. I think because although my previous ‘phases’ all inspired me to get into music, and start making it for myself, it is through this collective of bands and artists I found a sound that really rang true with me and really motivated me to find my own sound. I also cannot separate listening to ASMZ and reading Adbusters in my mind. I often get them confused even though they are two entirely different mediums.
Not really sure what happened post uni. I pretty much exhausted the Constellation label’s catalogue, Radiohead had continued releasing albums which impressed me, but by this stage I came to expect that their albums would be good, and they had run out of rare, mysterious bsides I hadn’t heard of/had to spend days downloading through my dial connection. The internet had opened up and it was easier to download whole albums at a time. Which I started doing, resulting in me never really having the time to listen to it all.
I started clubbing more, partly because uni was over and I was bored, partly because I planned to move to Japan and wanted to spend as much time with friends as possible. Where I had previously been none too impressed with the music that clubs had to offer, either a shift in pop’s direction or my new association with pop/indie music and ‘having a good time’ had allowed the genre to grow on me. After I moved to Japan, I found myself going to bars, requesting particular songs by the likes of Bloc Party, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Postal Service and thinking of home.
Upon my return, pop hadn’t moved on that much, but had taken on an electronic vibe which both fitted in with my enjoyment of the 80s as well as my soft spot for the likes of Pulp. I tried a few times (and still do) to make 80’s style electronic pop, but so far have largely been unsuccessful in my attempts. I find I am far more accepting of chart music than before, and consider Lady Gaga to be somewhat of a genius, partly because she writes quite good pop songs, but mostly because of her successful creation – the Gaga image.
The rest can still go suck a fuck though, I still cannot stand talentless shit like Jean Paul and am appalled that the dance style music that I thought died in the 90s is still around, with lyrics like “Here’s my key/Philosophy/ A freak like me/ Just needs infinity” and dick heads shouting “CHOON”.
I spent my early life attempting to like whatever was popular, though somehow always failing. In hindsight this has been rather lucky. However, after years of deciding to avoid the charts and actively dismissing anything ‘popular’ as talentless and worthless, I’ve accidentally slipped into liking quite a lot of chart music. I’m unsure if that’s because I’ve finally given in or whether at this point in my life, chart music and myself have coincidentally become compatible and that this is just a temporary phase.
I have noticed that my zest for music has died down, I play far less and compose far less than I used to, and I am less obsessive over new albums and favourite bands. In some ways this saddens me, in others I have found it’s freed my time up and perhaps opened my mind up.
For a time I was just as prejudice against pop as “mainstream idiots” were against my own tastes, but these days I’m more open minded and aware of different kinds of music and their relative merit than I have been my whole life.
In terms of my own music, the music that I compose, I keep constant mental notes “I’d like to try that kind of song/I’d love to write some music that sounds like this”, most of which never gets put into practice, though I do often sit down and figure out how I would play it if I were to play at all.
When I do play and try to put these things into practice, it is tough. Partly because I am rusty, but partly, perhaps, because I’m attempting to play something that simply isn’t ‘me’.
I do believe that the music I am most comfortable and most competent in creating is still the style that I found at university while listening to ASMZ, Godspeed and Set Fire to Flames. So throughout my many phases in life – cheesy Meatloaf, poppy Pulp, angsty Radiohead, indie Stereophonics (didn’t really touch on them), and the rest, it’s probably the Constellation records that have had the biggest impact on my personality and in forming who I am as an audio artist, but without doubt, Radiohead (my long term favourites) have had the biggest say in who I am as a visual artist.
I used to be very competitive in my illustrative skills, showing off all the things I could draw and how realistically I could draw them, though through seeking photo-realism I never really had a style of my own. Since the release of OK Computer, my drawings became much more scribbly and rough, work that I would have previously thrown away or torn up I now became very proud of. But I had to practise very hard to achieve this ‘look’. It’s now got to the point that it’s almost the only style I can draw in. I have to concentrate very hard to get anywhere close to the realism I used to be able to attain in my youth.
I haven’t really thought about how to conclude this.’