The music map of me, and you

(Image courtesy of Microsoft Clipart)

In most cultures around the world, in some way, our lives are linked to music. It might be through traditional songs that tell stories of our culture, it might be from songs in the music charts, it might be songs you hear on a tv show, or it might be songs used to stir emotions which on the surface might seem more primitive, but have a deep underlying resonance. Underlying this might be how we universally have an innate capability to understand music, and to distinguish different musical notes and tones, even if we understand none of it. “This is your brain on music” by Daniel Levitin is an excellent book on this subject, but that is a different blog piece. I’m interested on a different take, and in particular how it works in Western cultures.

Any excuse to mention this album again huh?

Much as songs are used in some cultures to document historical events, and passed on from generation to generation, Western cultures experience this in a different way. There is so much music around these days, and we get exposed to a lot of it. We might have similar interests in music, and have experienced different events with the same music, but all our experience will be different. If you were able to draw a map highlighting how music has impacted your life, you will see that certain songs or pieces of music link to certain events. It could be that you like a song a lot and use it at a significant life event such as a wedding, or it might just be that something was playing as something happened. I’m not talking about your favourite tracks necessarily, it might not be something you chose, or even like, but nevertheless, in some way it is linked. If you were able to somehow extract all these different songs and pieces of music, you would have a music map of you. It would need some translation, but I would hazard a guess that everyones map would be quite different, even if some destinations are shared. I wrote a short piece of fiction called “the unusual map” that began to explore this idea, which I published on the blog last week, however let me examine that idea further with some examples from my life.

In the early days of January 1994, I was in a branch of the long since departed UK music chain “Our Price”, actually one of the earliest casualties of music downloads, and approached a listening post. They had on several not big selling, but critical hits from the year before to listen to. One of these was “Giant Steps” from a band called The Boo Radleys. I had heard of the album, it being Select magazine, and the NME’s album of the year. I had not hear anything from it. I listened to first track “I hang suspended” and immediately knew it was for me. I bought the album. It subsequently soundtracked a significant part of college, and my first year of university, and is still one of my all time favourite albums. This one event however, had a big influence on where my music tastes went, and as regular readers know, I’m a big fan of music.

Sometime in the early 2000’s I was in a fast car with a good friend of mine. He was driving down country lanes at night far too fast. Don’t worry he said, I know these roads well. He has pretty much terrible taste in music. The track playing at the time was “Money for nothing” by Dire Straits, not a favourite of mine it has to be said. I was convinced as a music snob of varying degrees, that I was going to die an ironic death soundtracked to this. Thankfully we got home safe although every time I hear that track now it still reminds me of that drive.

I have an album I like a lot but by someone not really cool, which I call my guilty pleasure. I won’t tell you what that is, because I have a post about it soon.

Bunsen burner” a fun track by musics biggest failure (his words), John Ottway, was a nice live moment which myself and my then girlfriend, now wife, experienced at the half moon pub in Putney back in 2007. It was unexpected fun as we thought the gig would be crap, and still reminds us of those early days together and what seems quite a different time back in England.

“Changes” a track by Sugar I originally got in 1992 on a cassette from long dead UK music magazine “Vox”was incredibly significant in where my music tastes went, even more so than the Boo Radleys. The album the track came from “Copper Blue” was the first CD I ever bought, and one of my favourite all time albums. I heard this album played live by Bob Mould last week in its entirety which I loved. This cassette moment reminds me of my old walkman, some lazy times hiding in my bedroom at my parents house, a fun time in buying / reading the music press, as I discovered a lot of new things, and evenings this summer blasting the remastered version of the album through great headphones. That track and album lives with me.

Elbow’s beautiful track “One day like this” which has become a wedding favourite, was used as the money dance for my wedding. It obviously reminds me of that, actually one of my favourite parts of the wedding, but also of the times around it, and of leaving most of my family to move to the US. If you don’t know the track, take five minutes to check it out below. I’ll be surprised if you don’t like it.

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These are just a few of the destinations on what would be my music map. An alternative way of looking at your life and how it has been affected in some way by a small part of your culture. I hope you followed what I was getting at, maybe found the journey interesting, and hopefully made you think of some significant links in your life. If you have time, tell me below of a destination on your map, the track and how it relates to you.

On another occasion I think I might revisit the character from the short fiction and use him as part of a different story. But that is a different post.

Lexicon word of the day: distrain.

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The Boo Radleys – The alternative take

The alternative take

Whilst planning some of the things I wanted to write about in the writer exercise that is, this blog, I was taken with the idea of writing about some bands that I thought needed talking about, or maybe some albums. But the more I thought about this I realised that it was not just bands or albums I wanted to draw some attention to, but other things also. I’ve read book and film reviews within the blog community. I’ve read reviews or analysis of other “cultural things” also. Some were a bit dull, others drew attention to something a little different. Some were part of wider projects, others were just things people are interested in. Some clearly were a part of the writers heart, others just something that had struck a chord in the writer. As an old friend of mine would have said “It’s all good innit”.

Myself, I don’t want to be writing about these things everyday, but on the other hand, maybe once or twice a week. I don’t want them to be “regular” reviews, whatever that is, or might be, but something a little different. So we shall see how that works out. To give it a theme I’m calling it “The alternative take”, which will loosely be a 1001 entertainment things you ought to experience. Whether we get to 1001 things is another matter, but I shall have some fun along the way.

So welcome to the alternative take. It is a series of blog posts based on:

  • a band, an album, a song.
  • a film, a tv show, a documentary, an actor, a director.
  • a book, a magazine, a writer.
  • an artwork, a museum, a park.

It’s about something I happen upon that I want to share with you. It’s some highlights you might want to take a look at, and maybe some bits you want to avoid.

The Boo Radleys – An Alternative Take

What do you need to know about them?

The Boo Radleys were a (British) Indie band who formed in the late eighties, had the most of their run through the nineties and split up in 1999. They took their name from a character in the book “To kill a Mockingbird”. Sometimes their sound is described as “alternative”, but not in the American rock band sense. They were seen as alternative to the mainstream in the UK, but then they sold some pop singles and had a very brief mainstream run. Confusing huh? The Boo Radleys were on Creation records in the UK so were an indie band. For their third album they made a fabulous throw everything at the wall of sound come rock / pop / psychedelic album called “Giant Steps”, then produced a more Beatle-sey, pop follow up, called “Wake Up”. They liked to throw diverse influences into their sound so were never conventionally pop, but they would also cross blend the boundaries so they certainly weren’t what you would call a rock band either. Sometimes they were noisy and had a fuzzy or slightly feedback sound. Sometimes they were straight forward hooky pop and tugging at the heartstrings. It was often their ability to change track to track, maybe a bit of echo here, some brass there, that demonstrated their ability to provide variety, whilst making fabulous music. They were not perfect, but they were often brilliant.

Martin Carr was the songwriter. He went on to make music under the monicker “Brave Captain”, and in 2009 released a solo album “Ye Gods (and little fishes)” under his own name. That was quite good too. Check out some footage of the Boos playing at Glastonbury in 1995:

 

Where did I first become acquainted?

Back towards the end of 1993 or possibly January 1994. Select music magazine, my favourite music magazine in the nineties but now long gone, had named “Giant Steps” their album of the year (It was also second place to Bjork’s “Debut” in the NME, you can see all their lists here). In my local Our Price, a UK music store chain, also long gone, they had a listening post with some critically acclaimed albums of 1993 on it. I tried the “Giant Steps” album, and within 30 seconds of first track “I hang suspended”,  I knew it was for me. I bought the album and never looked back. It was brilliant then, it is brilliant now, it is still one of my favourite albums. It had the right mix of pop and rock, “and other noise”, but sounded unlike how any other band had done it. They were one of my key bands when getting into music, and a band I liked to champion. In the mid nineties in the UK, a lot more Indie music was becoming mainstream. It was like a win for the Indie kids, but it also demonstrated that there was some quality in the music to the extent that everyone else was listening. When the Boos scored a hit single with “Wake Up Boo”, it was like a win for me too.

When the Boo Radleys called it a day, I was disappointed, but also had the feeling that the band might have run it’s course. Would I like them to re-unite today? Yes.

The Boo Radleys came from a time when singles were released a lot, so I got plenty of those. Back then, B-sides were interesting and a single often contained three or four tracks in total. Some were new tracks, some were remixes. I’m usually not a big fan of remixes, regardless who of who the band is. Most of these are now available on extra disks, on reissued special edition versions of the albums. I bought all the albums again on special editions which I suppose shows again my love for the band.

What to buy:

Buy the last four albums, which I would rank in the order they came out. This would suggest they got hammered by the law of diminishing returns, but doesn’t give credit to how good even the last album was. They are:

  • Giant Steps (obviously), this is probably the best thing they did. It is available on iTunes. Or you can get a wonderful three disk cd reissue from a couple of years ago that contains the album plus two disks of B sides, remixes and the like. It is fab.
  • Wake up, the follow up to Giant Steps. A little more pop and a bit less throw it all in. Still has good songs, and contained their biggest commercial hit “Wake Up Boo”. Brilliant if not quite as “wow” as Giant steps.
  • C’mon kids, less pop, more out there with different structured songs. The pop songs there are, have more of an experimental edge to them, if maybe lacking a bit of the psychedelic noise of giant steps.
  • Kingsize. Bit more pop, strings, and perhaps a little mainstream attempt which didn’t catch the mainstream at all. Mostly good but lacking a little something special. Still a good album though, with little filler. They tried, it just doesn’t all quite work.

Some key tracks to listen to:

I don’t want to go for all the obvious singles here, such as “Wake up Boo”, so to get a feel for the band, try some of these:

  • I hang suspended
  • Take the time around
  • Lazarus
  • It’s Lulu
  • Find the answer within
  • Stuck on Amber
  • From the bench at Belvedere
  • C’mon kids
  • Get on the bus
  • The old newsstand at Hamilton square
  • Eurostar
Or listen to some tracks here.

Anything to avoid?

Maybe the first album unless you really are a fan. Also the compilation of a few years ago doesn’t seem to do them justice. On second thoughts, maybe that compilation isn’t that bad, it is just a little long, and still missing one or two key tracks.

Anything else?

There is a poorly maintained official website here. Or just type “Boo Radleys” into Youtube to get a whole bunch of stuff to watch.

I love this band, they are truly one of my all time favourites, and very under loved, hence the first entry on the alternative take.

Lexicon word of the day: Coquette.