Nina Simone – ‘Here Comes The Sun’

I came back to Bournemouth from the south of France via a month in Paris in late ’93. I had just split from my girlfriend and I was a bit lost and a lot unemployed. Looking back, streaming tears on a crowded train back from Paris whilst listening to Neil Young’s Birds seems like a faintly masochistic thing to do:

“When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It’s over, it’s over.”

Compared to the young, relatively shy, pale man who existed in early ‘90, the years I spent travelling and working abroad had changed me. I was more confident. I was happy with who I was. I had a raging suntan and a Brad from Neighbours kind of look. I’d like to think that look disappeared quickly but it probably hung around longer than the suntan.

So, what next? After an eventful few months of meeting some old friends and making some new, and playing some extremely good golf, I got a job. With MVC. The Music and Video Club, and I’d work for them for the next eleven years. Aged 27 I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I had retail experience and a passion for music, so a job in a music and entertainment shop? Yeah, I might enjoy that. Enjoy it I did. Well, most of it thanks to the dozens of nerds, musos and funsters I’d get to meet and befriend. MVC took me to Bournemouth, Poole, Penzance, Fareham and Weymouth. I worked with many lovely and a few not so lovely folk, and my musical enlightenment was about to go up a few gears.

I have a strong memory at MVC, after just a few days in the job somebody stuck on a Nina Simone CD. I heard her incredible version of Here Comes The Sun and it blew me away. I couldn’t believe I’d never heard it before, though I soon realised there were endless other amazing songs, albums and artists I’d not heard and that would be a never-ending joy of the job. But Nina Simone stands out. It is a rare thing, hearing a Beatles song that’s better than the original, but here was one that managed that with its sheer, overwhelming beauty.

Nina’s voice is more than enough. But her tender piano, the brushes, strings and perfect percussion make this a sensory joy that radiates happiness. Those first few months at MVC were exciting times. Working in a record shop (okay, a CD, DVD and games shop) was, for a music nerd, a great place to be. But more than the music it would be the friends I’d make that would have a huge impact on my life. The travels had ended, but another ride had just begun.

The Beatles – ‘Revolver’

Since that day in late 1980, aged 14, when best friend David Sax lent me his dad’s Beatles Red and Blue albums, the Fabs became my musical addiction throughout the ‘80s. Over that time I bought all their studio albums, and read as much as I could, with the focus being on the life of John Lennon. Philip Norman’s Shout stands out as my favourite read, and its heavy bias towards Lennon’s musical input over McCartney most definitely influenced my early preference.

My Beatles purchase history was urgent and incessant. I bought the Red and Blue albums early, and Sgt. Peppers too as it was widely regarded as THE iconic, groundbreaking album, although for me that was Revolver. I knew very quickly that discovering The Beatles was going to be a long journey, and despite soon realising that around ’65 was when it really started happening, I would love the debut Please Please Me regardless of, or more due to, its simplicity. Those vocals and in particular the perfect harmonies were more than enough.

All The Beatles’ albums are stunning in different ways, and the musical expansion, progression and resulting influence is unarguable. Abbey Road comes a very close second as my favourite album, with Harrison’s contribution matching that of Lennon & McCartney’s for the first time, but Revolver contained such genius, such a perfect mix of simplistic beauty and never-heard-before hedonistic musical head fuck that, well… it’s just one song away from being my all-time favourite album. Yellow sodding Submarine. Great film, shit song.

By 1965 The Beatles’ music was expanding as fast as their minds. By 1966, that altered state had advanced into hallucinogens, and the resulting Revolver was just a perfect blend of groundbreaking experimentation, ‘60s pop classics and harmony-laden ballads. Truly revolutionary, Revolver was more than an album of the times, it defined the times. Eastern philosophy and instrumentation were prominent, and pioneering recording techniques were not just used, but perfected. There’s nothing short of brilliant throughout the 14 tracks, with the one obvious exception.

What age is old enough to be able to fully appreciate Revolver? To surrender to the void. I was 17, I’d been listening to The Beatles obsessively for two years, and I was very ready. In Here, There and Everywhere and For No One you have McCartney’s melodic pop perfection, Eleanor Rigby is immaculate production with the Fabs replaced by George Martin’s genius string arrangement. She Said She Said oozes Lennon, but Harrison’s guitar and in particular Ringo’s drums elevate everything, and in closer Tomorrow Never Knows, the song is a psychedelic masterpiece, a multicoloured psychotrip into a Tibetan Garden of Eden. Musical utopia.

The Beatles – ‘1967-70’ (Blue Album)

It was the autumn of 1980. It was going to happen at some point, but it happened to be David Sax – a schoolfriend, county tennis player and Vitas Gerulaitis lookalike, big hair, headband and everything, who did the deed. I remember the day well, we’d already spoken fairly briefly about music, I mentioned my love of The Jam, he mentioned his love of Bob Dylan then he showed me his (his dad’s I presume) record collection. He showed me The Beatles. More importantly, he leant me the Beatles’ Red and Blue albums.

Of course I’d heard plenty of The Fabs before, three years of listening to the Old Record Club as a musically illuminating warm-up to the late ‘70s Top 40 chart on Radio 1 had taught me their hit singles. But these two double-players in their gorgeous entirety were like opening up an Aladdin’s cave of wow, of oh my fucking god, of life-changing aural pleasure. Quite quickly the 1967-1970 Blue album became my favourite, and whilst Disc 1 – Side 1 made my jaw drop the furthest, all four quarters left me stunned and ridiculously, beautifully intoxicated.

It felt like the previous five years or so had been a learning experience, the perfect elementary school lesson into the history of pop music, but my teachers had saved the best until now. I was perfectly ready not just for The Beatles, but also for everything that opened up to me as a result, musically, emotionally, and spiritually. Strawberry Fields Forever and A Day In The Life blew me away, the former remains the best song I’ve ever heard, but this felt like more than music. Yes, it was lyrics and melodies, but it brought out such emotions that it seemed to lift me, enlighten me, raising me up to an even higher level of musical love. The album was my musical Garden of Eden.

Most of the lessons at school were wasted on me. For good or bad it was music that moulded me, that shaped the way I thought, influencing beyond the norm the way I lived my life. During 1978-80 most of this influence had been quite direct, very real and easy to appreciate and attach to my own life – The Jam, The Specials, Madness and The Beat sung about shit that was happening and modern day discontent – The Beatles were a dream; a multi-coloured, multi-layered, psychedelic mind expansion.

The Beatles Blue album did more than open up my eyes and ears. It attacked my inner self too, developing a deeper more introspective part of my persona that was previously non-existent. I read little as a boy, but songs like Across The Universe were my paperback substitute:

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup / They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe / Pools of sorrow waves of joy are drifting through my opened mind / Possessing and caressing me / Jai Guru Deva. Om / Nothing’s gonna change my world…

The Beatles changed mine.