Does the writer write the song, or does the song write the writer? I dunno…
How many musical epiphanies is one person allowed? Thinking about it, I have had very few, because, in all honesty, my musical tastes are narrow. I’ve never really been out looking for new musical experiences. But those that I have experienced have probably dictated the kinds of songs I write. And these trajectories were sometimes set very early.
The Specials: It Doesn’t Make It All Right;
Adam Ant: Here Comes The Grump.
This ephiphany occurred at the age of 7. Maybe 8. There is something very alluring about artists that go against type. These two very upbeat artists produced album tracks that I always stopped dancing to, just to listen. They would give me shivers. It Doesn’t Make It All Right was off The Specials’ The Specials album. It was my first example of a melancholy song, without being sad. These are the most beautiful kinds of songs, and they inform my musical choice up to now, and probably forever. Here Comes The Grump has exactly the same feel about it, under the greasepaint and the yodelling, I felt, was the real man. Later years proved this instinct to be true. Neither of these are great songs, but they certainly shoved me out here.
The Stone Roses: I Am The Resurrection.
There’re probably a lot of people in the world who claim an epiphany to this song, but I’m not embarrassed. One summer our mum and dad wanted shot of us, so we were obliged to take tennis lessons with a Mr Blenco in Northampton. And I definitely put that tennis racket to good use, strumming in a workmanlike fashion though the whole of Pete’s Stone Roses album. I really enjoyed it. The guitar in Resurrection, the final track, dropped out at the apparent end of the song, leaving me plucking away at my racket with some really clean final notes, and I was getting them just right. Sweet. But then the song just started coming back and back, and I was having to use more and more strings. By the end of it I was using the whole racket, up and down and from side to side, just to get all those guitar sounds to come out of it. I was, what, 14? 15? To this day, 15 years later, I can still feel the same about that song. When it hits me right. Though I know now it’s the drums that make it so good.
PJ Harvey: Hair.
In his younger days, Pete would spend months worth of wages on stupid luxury items. One of these was a horrible jacket, long since lost. One of these was a stereo, which he still has. I think it cost that 18 year-old about 700 quid or something. But the bass on that stereo was the most brilliant thing I’d ever heard. And it first came home to me when I was playing (again, Pete’s) PJ Harvey album, Dry. After the brilliant Sheela-na-gig, which is all I’d really aimed to listen to, there came this strange song with a weird off-beat drum shuffle thing going on. Of course, it stopped for the chorus, so I had to wait for it to come back, but then suddenly, at the height of the chorus, these incredible right-in-the-belly doof doof things just boomed out of the speakers. I could not believe that something so amazing might happen. PJ Harvey’s drummer Rob Ellis never again did anything quite like this album, and I imagine a good many fans of PJ long for more of the same. But of course, artists move on, which is sometimes a melancholy thing.
Mark Kozelek: Find Me, Ruben Olivares.
I didn’t initially put this in, but, being the most recent epiphany (a mere five years ago), it was harder to spot. Orwell Music’s Duncan and I were around Dave Kirby’s house in Northampton, mixing a couple of Orwell Music tracks, and Dave happened to put this on. Acoustic music for me up until then was the realm of Richard Digence and Christopher Lillicrap, and I thought The Beatles’s Blackbird the exception to the rule. But when this came on, I thought it among the most perfect things I’d ever heard. It was like being told there was another Blackbird, just as good, and that there was depth in this direction, with the exact blend of gentle acoustics to grit and grime, and none of the folky awfulness about it. The album also contains some of the much-discussed Kozelek AC/DC acoustic covers, which to me are also very near to perfect. It’s unusual to hear lyrics-meant-loud played soft. To add to the wonder, I didn’t remember who the track was by, not having been a Red House Painters fan (or ever having heard of them). It was another three years before I accidentally strayed upon it again — and I feel very lucky I did, because you don’t stray upon Mark Kozelek all that often. And when I strayed on it again, it was exactly as good as I’d remembered it, which I think is the only time that’s ever happened to me.
And you know, I think that’s it for epiphanies. Four.
And these four inform the kinds of sweeping directions I choose when writing songs. Not to sound like them, but to cause the same effect. But then ask yourself: do you always write the kinds of songs you like to hear? That’s for another post, maybe.
What troubles me about this post is the number of songs that can’t be described as epiphanies for me, even though they are absolute perfection as songs. They sit on my conscience. To appease myself, I’ll list these for no reason, as they come to me, just in case anyone reads this who is looking for something: Stone Roses: Fool’s Gold, Shoot You Down, Waterfall, Something’s Burning; dEUS: Theme From Turnpike, Serpentine; PJ Harvey: Sheela-na-gig, Electric Light, Water; Nick Drake: Things Behind The Sun, Black Eyed Dog; Lush: Deluxe; Ride: Vapour Trail; The Beatles: Blackbird; The Soggy Bottom Boys: Man of Constant Sorrow; The Beach Boys: God Only Knows; Belle & Sebastian: If You’re Feeling Sinister, Rollercoaster; The Breeders: Cannonball; The Pixies: Here Comes Your Man, Gigantic, Cactus, Debaser, Where is my Mind; The Smiths: That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore, This Charming Man, Cemetry Gates; Simon & Garfunkel: Sounds of Silence, Mrs Robinson, So Long Frank Lloyd Wright; Pavement: Shady Lane.
I won’t go on. There are too many.