E.L.O – ‘Out Of The Blue’

By 1977 and with two years behind me of obsessive retro radio I had developed a clear fondness for melody and harmony, though at the time it was probably more of a fondness for a song I enjoyed singing along to. Along with some cheese (I seem to remember enjoying Darts – Daddy Cool, Boy From New York City – immensely) as well as a host of ‘60s classics, I was still devouring swathes of music from the previous twenty years, still unaware of the current Top 40 charts.

It was during these years, and almost certainly listening to the Old Record Club that my love of music really began to sprout, set to grow at a rapid pace. I didn’t actually start ‘owning’ records ’til a few years later, but the first album I’d say was mine (although it wasn’t, it was my dad’s) was Out Of The Blue by the Electric Light Orchestra.

The album was, and still is, a gigantic, overblown, over-indulgent pop classic. Of course, I had very little knowledge of E.L.O prior to this album, and the fact that it was a ‘double album’ with an enormous multi-coloured space ship on the front must have impressed me too. But, I remember playing this album obsessively over a short period of time. Aged 11 I would still say sport (any and every) gave me the most pleasure in my young life, but this album and a radio show obsession, slowly but surely lead to music becoming my most beautiful infatuation.

Two years later, when E.L.O’s Greatest Hits was released containing eleven absolute gems, I probably played it more than this. Four years later The Beatles would become my musical obsession, but E.L.O’s multi-layered, harmony heavy Out Of The Blue was almost gentle opener, preparing me for the Fab Four. Jeff Lynne’s beautiful, lush production owed much to George Martin and it was the first time that listening to music would ‘take me away’. At the time I clearly had no clue about production techniques, or about rock and pop history, and whilst some may say it’s over-produced or a tad AOR, others will rightly say music is music and labels are for losers. For me, Jeff Lynne was just a genius songwriter.

Manfred Mann – ‘Mighty Quinn’

Now, my dad was a plane-spotter – like a train-spotter, but with a slightly smaller anorak. He had dozens of books containing thousands of aircraft makes, types and registration numbers, and when he visited an airport and spotted a previously un-spotted plane, he’d underline it with his red BIC® in one of his books. I think he’s seen them all now. I went with him a few times, but I think I enjoyed the cycle ride to Hurn Airport more than the aircraft.

Anyway, I say this as in 1976 and 1977, with the help of my dad I became a song-spotter. Listening to the Top 40 singles chart was a must, but for a year or more just as, if not more important, was listening to (as nauseating as this is to write) Jimmy Savile on Radio 1. His Old Record Club featured Top Tens from the late 1950s onwards, and with the book of Hit Singles at the ready, when we heard a song, we’d find it, underline it, and put a ‘listened to’ date for reference. Unbelievably nerdy. They were hugely enjoyable weekly lessons in the history of pop music.

Unavoidably at such a young age, my dad’s personal taste was an influence, and the quintessential ‘60s pop nuggets from Manfred Mann’s Earth Band were a clear favourite of his, and subsequently mine. As an eager ten-year-old Ha Ha Said The Clown, Fox On The Run, Do Wah Diddy Diddy and My Name Is Jack sounded like melodic heaven, and amongst those in a flurry of chart hits was the Mighty Quinn. This was over forty years ago, and my dad, bless him, has retained his love of a radio sing-a-long, given the right song.

Manfred Mann

A few years later I purchased Semi Detached Suburban – a gem of a compilation – still loving the Manfreds, and hopefully at some point realising that my pick of the bunch was in fact penned by Bob Dylan, less than one year prior to this release. I was a very happy and contented soul in 1976, and those distant memories of Manfred Mann fill me with joy. The photo above of Mr Manfred Mann could be a photo of my dad when he helped to make me. What a dude.

Sweet – ‘Blockbuster’

To make it clear, this compilation will not be a list of my favourite music, more a list of musical memories which have had an effect on me; music which, when I think back, had a dramatic change to the way I thought or behaved. Music which has inspired me. No doubt much of this will indeed be my favourite music. That said, I would not put Blockbuster in my all-time top 100. Probably not my top 1000, but whilst it’s far from being void of melody and skill, its appeal to me is indeed, purely based on nostalgia.

When this hit Top of the Pops I was 7 years old. Why did I like it so much? Well, for a juvenile it was easy to sing along to, containing perfect lyrics for a boy of my age, but equally, if not more importantly for me was the fact that I looked like the lead singer, Brian Connolly. Obviously I didn’t but my bright blonde hair was exactly the same colour, which was enough.

I think I first started really enjoying ‘pop’ music around this time and I think this was my first ever ‘favourite’ single; in fact I think Sweet were the first band I remember liking and considered my favourite. Songs like Wig-Wam-Bam and Ballroom Blitz perfectly encapsulated the Glam-Rock era, which with the likes of Bowie and Bolan had two bona fide iconic figures, but hey, I didn’t look like either of them in 1973 so I was stuck with Blockbuster instead of 20th Century Boy or Life On Mars. Hey ho. Arguably, glam-rock was possibly the start of style over substance, challenged only in that respect by those gorgeous new romantics.

I remember watching this on Top of the Pops and the sense of awe and excitement that resulted. It’s a rip-roaring Glam stomp. It’s as naff as hell and one of those tunes which rockers would dance to with shoulders bent forward and thumbs through their belt loops. Or was that restricted to the Quo? I remember singing, not dancing. “Aaaaaaah, aaaaaaah. You better beware, you better take care, you better watch out if you’ve got long black hair!” I had to start somewhere.

‘Theme to Robinson Crusoe’

The first music I remember hearing? Maybe the theme to Andy Pandy, The Woodentops or Bill and Ben. Watch With Mother was TV for pre-school kiddiwinks from ’53-’73 and that was me at the tail end of the ’60s when Farley’s Rusks was about as close to an obsession as I could get.

My family was not particularly musical; my Dad played drums briefly and unsuccessfully, but other than a period of a few years in the mid ’70s when I’d obsessively listen to the radio with my Pa, I was just left to get on with my addiction.

Particularly during my teenage years, music had a profound impact on the development of my character, but there were a number of songs I remember from my early childhood which, when hearing back today conjure up lavish emotions.

The first music I remember hearing which had an emotional effect on me, is the theme music to the 1960s TV series Robinson Crusoe. I think I first heard this in 1972. I was six years old. I know I loved watching the adventures, but I have a strong recollection of loving the music even more, and was transfixed by the water lapping the shore on the end credits.

It sounded so sad yet so magical. But is it the music itself or the associated memories which make this still so unforgettable and inspiring? Well, I have no idea if I was a content six-year-old, so I’m not attaching this music to a particular period of happiness, although I’ve no doubt I was. To me, even now these beautiful strings sound like adventure, like a lifetime of hope and courage.

I love simple strings in music. Used well they can bring tears to my eyes. Maybe the theme to Robinson Crusoe instigated that love.