ABBA’s Famous Chorus:
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
Music and What It Gives Us
THIS might seem apropos of nothing, but, when you sit and think…
IMAGE CREDIT: Alan Aldridge
it is, in fact, ever-relevant and important. Many people take music for granted, in a sense, and let it bleed into their subconscious. As we are bombarded with so much music and have so many options in front of us; how easy is it to take time, stand back and appreciate what music does to us?! Do you think about that first moment and when music announced itself to you? Maybe you were a toddler and remember a brief sense of a song in the background. For me, as I have explained in previous blogs, it was Tears for Fears’ seminal anthem, Everybody Wants to Rule the World. I was, I guess, around four when I first encountered that song – sat at that first family home and that track playing on the radio in the background. The fact it stuck with me this far down the line is quite amazing. I suppose we never truly forget that first music memory and why it is so special – forgive some teary-eyed remembrance but it will lead to a bigger point. Before I get to the ‘serious’ side of this feature, I want to share some of my memories of music and why those childhood memories are so crucial. That Tears for Fears song has followed me decade through time and still elicits shivers and a tingle of pleasure – those cheery, intriguing and oddly delightful opening notes always provoke sighs, smiles and visions. The fact the song is about dictatorial leaders and unfolding chaos in the ‘80s; that does not really matter. My innocent mind, at the time, assuming it was an innocent song with no agenda bonded with the big chorus and incredible production. In a way, that song set the course for a life in music: were it not for that moment and early love of music; it is debatable whether I would have got involved with it so strongly.
IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles/IMAGE CREDIT: © Apple Corps.
In terms of the albums, I grew up with, there were a couple of that cemented in my mind. I will talk about Kate Bush in a second but will open by talking about The Beatles. They are, to me, the greatest thing that has ever happened in music – I would mud-wrestle a dying nun if she said any different! The Fab Four have not only produced the greatest albums of our time but redefined music as we know it. It was, therefore, not a surprise my parents’ record collection contained a few choice vinyl from the boys. Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Revolver squeezed alongside their greatest hits collections – the ‘red’ album (of their earliest hits) and ‘blue’ (the later period from the band). Rubber Soul was, perhaps, that one album that sung louder than any other. As a consequence, it ranks as one of my favourite records of all-time.
I love the fact The Beatles stepped fully on their own and produced a covers-free collection. The songwriting from Lennon and McCartney (Harrison too, for that matter) is so mature, accomplished and wide-ranging. Breathy, sumptuous Girl to the catchy-as-crap chorus of Drive My Car; the introspective haunt and haunt of In My Life and cooing harmonies of You Won’t See Me – a rich and ripe masterpiece who still reveals her treasures over forty years since its release. Rubber Soul is that first album that fascinated me and made me fall for a band – one I have stuck with ever since and extol at every opportunity. Their 1965-release is such a beautiful thing with no weak tracks of missteps – although Lennon claimed closer, In My Life, was the worst thing he ever wrote). The early experiences we have in life can be formative or forgettable, depending what they pertain to. When it comes to music, it is essential, if you are a parent, to create a full and quality-drive education. My folks’ diligence and passion for music were passed onto me from a very young age. Were it not for the music they grew up on, I would be a different person and approach music completely differently.
IN THIS PHOTO: Paul McCartney/IMAGE CREDIT: © Apple Corps.
The Beatles are a band I am obsessed with because they fostered that music love and fascination with the craft. Perhaps I dropped into the world at the best time – 1983; experiencing the 1980s and fed the best of the ‘60s and ‘70s – and have had the best of every world. My parents’ direct experience of The Beatles’ music was fed to me and, in turn, I have continued that affection. I still listen to Rubber Soul and cannot believe how fresh and stunning the songs still sound. I am not sure what it is about the music but there is endless nuance and genius songwriting. Paul McCartney and John Lennon, in the mid-1960s, were really hitting their stride and revelling in that pre-fallout period that was to solidify during that The Beatles (White Album)/Let It Be era. Apologies for window shopping down Memory Lane but I feel music, in all its forms and power, is taken for granted a little bit. All of us how exposure to music from a young age but how many take the time to look back on those early days and recognise how crucial those recordings are? Music not only defines and guides who we are now but documents where we came from and how our young lives unfolded. It is a powerful and hugely important art that interweaves and swims through our D.N.A. The Beatles played an enormous part of my childhood and have helped shape the person I am now. Their songs, written from a personal perspective and space, have resounded in me and taught me more about the world than many teachers. Music is instructional and inspirational; it is emotive and uplifting. It is so many things and differs depending on the person. What you extrapolate from music is up to you but few can be unmoved and unaffected by it. Rubber Soul is an album that – when played on a record player in its proper format – brings memories back and transports me to those early years. I take different things from the album in 2017 – compared with the 1980s – but the potency and power of it has not changed. I cannot really explain how important that single record is but am so glad it came to my attention when it did.
I said I’d talk about Kate Bush a lot; with good reason: her music and voice, like The Beatles, have had such an impact on my life. I will, before I move onto the science part of this feature, look at those early tracks/artists that helped me through bad times but want to talk about the legend that is Kate Bush. She is still going strong – following 2014’s tour, Before the Dawn, there is always chatter about new work – and has inspired a generation of songwriters. I review and interview a lot of performers, not just female, who source Bush as their idol. It is no wonder given her debut that remains priceless to me: the beguiling and soul-touching majesty of The Kick Inside. Critics might put it outside their top-five Bush records – we all know a few of her albums that can take those spots; recent works like Ariel, in fact – but, in my eyes, it is her finest work. Not only because it introduced the world to her music but the facets and achievements during that period. In 1978, when The Kick Inside was released, there has not really been anyone like Kate Bush. Not only was she the first British female artist to score a self-penned number-one hit – Wuthering Heights claimed that accolade – but went on to stun the music world with that debut album. The first notes to (the opening song) Moving are so delightful, entrancing and mystical. Whale song and tender notes lead to that child-like, hypnotic voice that makes the spine tingle and shivers forms all over the body. Throughout the album, there are so many jewels and life-affirming tales from a young artist who wrote bits of the record when she was thirteen. In this day and age, there would be few able to project the same maturity and quality at that age: nobody, I’d argue, could create a debut as affecting and solid aged nineteen. One can hear her unique mind and imagination give The Kick Inside its intellectual poetry and bare-naked emotions. A young woman talking about childbirth and Wuthering Heights on the same album is an extraordinary thing.
That career-defining song sounds as bewitching as it did in 1978 and, the rest of the album, manages to swim in my mind and make me feel good when I need it. That is why I want to bring up that album: the emotional support it provides and power it provides. Not only does it take a few notes of Bush’s staggering voice to put my mind someone safe but drags me straight back to my childhood. I am not such how music can do that but one spin of The Kick Inside and I am in that comfortable and stress-free world when music started to reveal itself to me. Where Rubber Soul was about songwriting and the effect it could have: The Kick Inside introduced me to the power and promise of the voice. Kate Bush’s enthral and pin-sharp tones conveyed so many layers and possibilities. Even on The Kick Inside, she showed what a range she possessed. Them Heavy People – my favourite song from the record – is her in funky, Reggae mode; Moving is her the enticing and alluring songstress; The Man with the Child in His Eyes the ultra-mature and accomplished scribe – being backed by an orchestra which was, as she attests, a nerve-wracking experience. There are no huge anthems like Cloudbusting or Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) – from Hounds of Love – but it is such a consistent and intoxicating record. In a sense, I became a musical Frankenstein’s Monster. The Beatles gave me that blood-flow and music imagination; Kate Bush my heart and voice. The ’soul’ part of my plunderphonic skeleton derived from those unforgettable songs from the early years.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush/PHOTO CREDIT: Fish People/Kate Bush
Ride on Time and Rhythm Is a Dancer were huge hits from the early-1990s. At the time, I was going on a lot of holidays in the U.K. (Butlins, mainly) and would hear those tracks whilst in kids’ clubs. The power and potency of those songs hit me hard and, looking back again, were hugely influential in regards spurring that passion for music on. The Beautiful South’s A Little Time and ABC’s When Smokey Sings were key; as was ABBA’s Super Trouper; the Club and Dance hits of the ‘90s and the records my parents played. It might seem like a connection of unrelated dots – forming a personal if unspectacular picture – but that is not true. All of these songs and sounds helped shape me and affect my personality. Few of us realise how impactful and important music is making a human being. Sure, parentage and family are key; education and friends do their part but music is that underrated tutor and advocate who is always there and rarely gets the accolades it deserves. Think about the albums and songs from your school years and your favourite tunes from the time.
If you let your mind drift, I bet you’ll envision scenes from school and those happy times. Maybe, like me, there was a less-than-happy high school-leaving dance and romantic disappointment – Basement Jaxx’s Red Alert and Sixpence None the Richer’s Kiss Me –or the vision of a school friend standing on a chair with a cassette player loading The Shamen’s Ebenezer Goode – to the enraptured response of a small classroom. Steely Dan make me think of my aunt and the effect she had on me – I might not have remembered some moments were it not for that music – whilst T-Rex soundtracked some of my best times growing up. Childhood is the last time I was truly happy and I owe a lot of that to music. It was not so much an escape but a faithful shoulder and non-judgemental guide. The reason I wanted to write this piece, one of them anyway, was to urge those willing to [promulgate music’s true potential and meaning.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
What I mean by that is harnessing its universality and transcendent powers. One thing that bonds a lot of people – musicians are far less immune than most in the population – are psychological issues and mental health problems. One of the reasons musicians do what they do is find an outlet that allows them to be creative and helps cope with psychological problems. In turn, music is a medicinal and therapeutic tool many hold sacred. I am one such soul and someone for whom music is a potential life-saver. I hear so many people, from different walks and realms of life, talking about music and how it has provided them meaning and purpose. That is no small feat and something that should be emphasised. I know much is used as therapy to some but I do not think we are utilising it as much as we should. They say one-in-four suffer some mental health issue during our life I would say that figure is far too conservative: it is more likely over half of us go through that darkness; those willing to admit mental health problems account for that low statistic. I have never met a human who does not have a love for music and I feel it is the most powerful and utilitarian weapon against the meant health crisis this country is facing. Our government makes promises and outlines those manifesto/campaign mantras: they will tackle mental health and inject more money in the N.H.S. At the moment it is hollow sucker and hot air. We are witnessing a rise and pandemic right now. More young people than ever are having to deal with mental health issues. Because of the sheer number going through this; it is stretching professionals and services to breaking-point. Maybe money is apportioned to them but is it really enough?!
There is consternation, confusion and anger surrounding the government’s so-called attack on the mental health ill we have to cure. Jeremy Corbyn is talking about making a real difference in that area but has no chance of being elected. Essentially, the Tory government will remain seated and inactive once they are re-elected following the next vote. Their priorities are so focused towards Brexit and the E.U. departure negotiations and how Britain’s’ economy and people will fare once we are detached from the continent. Are they lying awake thinking about the way mental health issues blight the nation?! It is not just that but a range of issues: homelessness and social poverty; equal rights, or lack thereof, and an ever-mounting ignorance towards those of foreign descent. I am not suggesting music has magical properties and omnipotent qualities. As it is, we enjoy music on a very personal level. Even if you are a musician or journalist; most of your musical experience will be discovering new sounds and preserving older ones – playing them to your heart’s content and soundtracking your daily life. Even if a musician plays a live gig, one wonders whether those in attendance spread the word and promote that music to others.
I feel there is so much untapped potential in music that could help those who need it most. Again, I am not a voodoo doctor asking one to buy the notion music is a cure-all and has that kind of potential. Simply, it connects people and is a unifying and nourishing force. Not only is their music therapy but I am seeing some people seeing depression eased and new meaning put into their life after discovering music – or dedicating more of their time to discovering music’s full potential. I have explained how important music has been to me: not only guiding me to journalism but making my school days happy; providing sanctuary and assurance during those all-too-frequent black days; a comfort blanket when I need to shut the world away. As someone burden by depression and anxiety; I cannot overstate how necessary music is to me. Were it not in my life, I doubt I would be here at all. It is THAT powerful and know how much it means to others.
IN THIS PHOTO: Jeff Buckley
At the moment, it is Jeff Buckley’s album, Live at Sin–é (Legacy Edition) that is helping me in a rather tough time. In the same way Kate Bush and The Beatles have been so defining; Jeff Buckley has characterised a lot of my music ambitions and someone I feel a great affiliation with – in spite of the fact I never met him. I will put a song from that live album in this feature but wanted to use him as a parable. This is an album I have been familiar with since its release last decade and it is gaining new significance. I listen to the intimacy and purity of that double-album release – recorded in an independent New York coffee shop in 1993 – and implant myself inside the location. I imagine myself to be one of the patrons (maybe a couple of dozen people were at those gigs) sitting quietly listening to the master seduce and captivate. In my bacchanal and chaotic festival of a current life; records like that can provide a stability and meaning nothing else can. Maybe it is a short-term fix but I do not underestimate music and its curative potential. I am not sure what the solution to the mental health crisis is but I know musicians and music can play a big role in that. Of course, music has a role to play in other sectors and areas of life – not just those battling psychological problems.
PHOTO CREDIT: Amy Treasure
I know how prominent and important music is and what it has turned me into – that sounds grim but I mean it in a positive sense. If it can do so much for me then I wonder what it can do for other people. Everybody’s musical experience and dynamic is different but there is a consensus: it has that power to uplift and ease the mind significantly. Music brings people together and unifies crowds; it spikes young minds and has an enormous influence. I hope, when governments realise their plans and intentions to battle mental health issue are flawed, they will recognise the arts and forums like music. Whatever format this music venture takes – whether a charity or a general initiative – there is a big role for music right now. There is fear and anxiety around the world – not sure how things will progress and unfolds – so we all need a positivity to embrace against the risibility and turbulence that is unravelling. Music has always had that promise and now, more than ever, is a divine force…
IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles/IMAGE CREDIT: © Apple Corps.
THAT can make this world a much more harmonious place.