Ten Songs

A friend on Facebook recently asked, what 10 songs would represent the soundtrack of your life? These are not your ten favourite tunes, nor a selection of the most musically important or cool, but those which reflect what you were listening to the most at any given time (the original poster’s choice of Kylie Minogue – Hand on my Heart at age 14 being a good example). Looking back, it’s tricky to separate those which have remained favourites from the reality at the time, and a challenge indeed to keep them to just 10 – as many people commented in their replies – but one which was accepted with relish.

Given the above, mine might look like a totally snob list, but I can blame my musician old man for that, at least in part. He has excellent (if somewhat narrow) musical taste, and in our household we were virtually prohibited from listening to pop music (not necessarily a bad thing given the wonderful music we were exposed to), so some of these are the songs which defined my childhood.

Because I like telling stories almost as much as I love these records, I’ve included them here. Which 10 songs would you choose? Send me your lists – with or without commentary.

1) Herbie Hancock – Bubbles
This, apparently, was the first music I ever heard. According to my dad, he played me this when they brought me home from the hospital and I made all kinds of delighted reactions as the different sounds and sections of the song unfolded. Having tried various songs on my newborn daughter without a flicker of interest on her part, I call shenanigans; she did begin to show serious interest in music from a few months old though, so maybe dad just back-dated my Herbie experience a bit for narrative effect?

2) Steely Dan – Kid Charlemagne
In the car, in my memories, it was always Steely Dan (or maybe sometimes Kid Creole and the Coconuts). I never tire of these songs, testament not only to their power as noslagia-vehicles but also the exquisite songcraft, production and musicianship of all involved.

3) Coldcut – Dreamer (Crazy Swing Mix)
This was the first 12″ I bought with my own money if memory serves (from Our Price in Windsor, now long-defunct), and possibly the first song I remember consciously following the bassline to, which contributed to me picking up the bass guitar and a lifelong passion for fat low frequencies.

4) Red Hot Chili Peppers – Aeroplane
Of course, in the mid-90s, any bass-obsessed adolescent was bound to stumble upon the legend that is the Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea – I listened and learned all I could from this brilliant freak. I could have chosen from many Chilis numbers but I’m pretty sure Aeroplane was the song that hooked me first; “One Hot Minute” was certainly the first album of theirs I bought, swiftly followed by the whole back catalogue.

5) Led Zeppelin – Ramble On
Realising there was more to life than the acid jazz and funk fusion currently approved at home, I started pillaging the lesser-mentioned genres of my parents’ musical past, and around my 16th Christmas treated myself to a bunch of 60s-70s psych-rock / heavy metal and was instantly in love.

6) The Doors – Love Her Madly
Both the “LA Woman” and “The Doors” albums bring back happy memories of holing up in friends’ bedrooms pretending to be beatniks… Honourable mentions to Jimi and Janice here, also.

7) Beck – Where It’s At
“Odelay” is one of the few albums I still return to with regularity. Will always remind me of art A-level classes and pulling all-nighters to finish coursework.

8) Boards of Canada – Roygbiv
Had to be this for the defining soundtrack to the Camberwell College years (although it could have been any song from the “Music Has the Right to Children” LP). Sitting in a cold Brixton front room, talking nonsense¬†till the wee hours on endless cups of tea. Special mentions to Stereolab and Blue Note compilation LPs for this era too.

9) Joni Mitchell – Goodbye Porkpie Hat
As the years went by and my music consumption broadened, although I developed many new loves, the ability of individual songs to make a massive defining impact diminished. This one cut through though; I obsessed over it and the Charles Mingus original in my early 20s.

10) The Gift – A Gaivota
The soundtrack to my early years in Portugal and a great representation of the Portuguese soul. A modern yet traditionally rooted version of an old Fado tune, showcasing the melancholy, drama and everlasting hope of these people, and their undying love of great ballads and torch-songs. Being here taught me to love them too: having ever shunned them in favour of more upbeat sounds, I was finally ready to feel the satisfaction that a plunge into the deep wells of sadness can bring about (see also “Nothing Compares 2 U”, “Purple Rain” and “Sometimes it Snows in April” – no one does it like Prince did). This version of “A Gaivota” came out a bit before I met my husband and became the closest thing we have to “our song”, and consequently got sung at our wedding…

So there you have it. A brief snapshot of one life’s soundtrack. One of the pleasures in compiling this was being struck, not for the first time, by the power of music to transport us back to a given moment in time, with all its associate emotions and memories. I look forward to hearing yours.



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