Quite some time ago, early last decade, the Guardian ran a popular segment on their music blog called Six Songs of Me that was always an enjoyable read. Of course what self-respecting record collector wouldn’t want to share their choices and wax lyrical about the songs that shaped them. So here we are.
What was the first song you ever bought?
A very early memory of my record buying life is walking around Asda in Coatbridge, trailing after my mum pushing the shopping trolley. In those days, just inside the door was the bakery and next to the bakery, heated shelves with sausage rolls, pies, and other pastries. In some manner, to shut my brother and I up, we would be given a pie each, as we trailed around. This particular day, before my pie, I got to choose a 7″ from the music section. I can’t tell you it was absolutely the first song, but it’s the first I remember. Pepsi and Shirley, Goodbye Stranger. I can still remember, to this day, the cover of the record, which – on getting it home – spent the rest of its existence sporting a perfectly round ring of grease from an Asda scotch pie carelessly sat on top of it. Thankfully prior to this, I had been given a cassette copy of Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys and had been set very much on my way, but I had to get through that inevitable phase most 80s pre-teens had.
What song always gets you dancing?
I’m not much of a dancer, but it’s hard to avoid the kinetic desire to shift from one buttock to the next and back as soon as this recognisable Wurlitzer part picks up but when that snare kicks in and the handclaps start, it’s time to get up out of your seat and hit the dance-floor. Seeing Belle and Sebastian play The Boy with the Arab Strap live is a joyous experience with the inherent audience participation on stage. This song comes on, and I’m dancing, whether it’s in the shower, at my desk, or at the indie disco.
From birth, my brother and I didn’t stand a chance. Music was an integral, unforgettable part of our lives. Given that Graham and I were named after the 4 members of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, a certain nominative determinism took over, and thankfully the guitar came to the fore, rather than the cocaine. While the first song I remember buying is certainly a forgettable piece of bubble-gum pop, the first album I had for my very own is arguably one of the greatest albums of pop music that exists. Apparently I played Brian Wilson’s Beach Boys’ magnum opus Pet Sounds so often on the record player, that my dad gave me his cassette copy – to which, much to his dismay, I immediately inscribed my name on the front cover. So much was my delight at having it be mine. There are few songs that transport me back to the living room of my childhood home in Airdrie than this one. That introduction. Those harmonies.
What is your perfect love song?
Brian Wilson is responsible for a lot of music I love, and for a lot of music I love written by people who love Brian Wilson. R.E.M.s Mike Mills clearly wanted to pay homage to Wilson and to the Beach Boys with one of R.E.M.’s few overtly explicit love songs. Of course, the song finds its perfection not only in the piano, or the vocal harmonies, or that my own guitar hero, Peter Buck, playing Hal Blaine-esque drums on the song, but also from Stipe’s earnest and beautiful lyrics. “I save your messages just to hear your voice… you always say your name like I wouldn’t know it’s you”. “I count your eyelashes, secretly. With every one whisper I love you, I let you sleep”. The song feels like a perfect encapsulation of any time I’ve ever been in love. Perfect.
What song would you want at your funeral?
A funeral song is a tricky one to decide upon. Should it be sombre? Celebratory? Do I want rivers of tears? Sunshine smiles? Maybe a little bit of both? A perfect example of that is Mogwai’s New Paths to Helicon Part 1. I don’t think much more needs to be said, except maybe to say… play the whole thing. And play it fucking loud.
To some degree, my early teens were spent in ignorance of the music being created just down the road from Airdrie, in Bellshill, or in Hamilton, or in Motherwell, or in Holytown. The indie music scene in Lanarkshire in the late 80s through to the mid-90s was in astonishing thing indeed. BMX Bandits, The Soup Dragons, The Boy Hairdressers, and many more. Through coincidence more than design, I seemed to come-of-age, musically speaking, just as the first wave of Chemikal Underground bands, The Delgados, Mogwai, Arab Strap et al, were breaking out and from that moment to this, I’ve been rarely as proud of my place of birth as I am with its musical heritage. And around the same time, as a 15 year old, I was introduced to Teenage Fanclub’s Thirteen album by Fraser Simpson, later of Laeto, and knew something had changed forever. Radio is my favourite from this record and a song that really does make me, me.