Fleetwood Mac – ‘Rumours’

Prior to the tail end of 1987 my knowledge of Fleetwood Mac was limited to say the least. Quite a few of their most popular songs were familiar to me, many of which I liked, but I’d owned nothing so had yet to pay them my full attention. That was about to change. Rumours was about to get personal.

Some artists or albums bring back memories of certain people, and Rumours is definitely one of those. A one-year relationship was the launch pad for a lifetime of love for an album flooded with personal trauma. It took me quite a while to be able to listen to Rumours and absolutely love it for the stunning album it is, rather than the associated memories, but if anything these songs hit me harder now than they’ve ever done.

Let’s ignore the drugs, apart from to say there’s no better album recorded under an ocean of booze and snowstorm of coke. Despite the intense and fractious themes, Rumours is so much more than a break-up album. Yes, pain is ever present, but so is love, and the songs are all the more powerful for their brutal honesty.

Rumours may be full of sorrow, but the album is also full of majestic songs that never fall far from perfect. Yes, I love songs that make me cry and I’ve shed plenty to Christine McVie’s epic, Songbird. Knowing that these songs were written amongst, and about, intense breakups within the band, makes them all the more magnificent.

Lindsay Buckingham wrote Go Your Own Way about Stevie Nicks. Buckingham on lead, Nicks on backing vocals…
“Loving you isn’t the right thing to do
How can I ever change things that I feel?
If I could, baby I’d give you my world
How can I when you won’t take it from me?”

Stevie Nicks wrote Dreams about Lindsey Buckingham. Nicks on lead, Buckingham on backing vocals…
“But listen carefully
To the sound of your loneliness
Like a heartbeat drives you mad
In the stillness of remembering
What you had and what you lost”

I’m not sure what it says about me but much of my favourite music is the saddest and most despairing. Since a very early age I sought emotion from music, I couldn’t care for gimmick, for fake, for music that lacked soul. Music could move me in many ways, and Rumours hits heavy with the sheer genius contained in the songwriting; the melody, harmony, production and best of all it hits you where it hurts most. The heart.

Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – ‘Rattlesnakes’

So, I was working in Discus, a ‘trendy’ menswear boutique, and I was shopping for clothes in Bizarre Bazaar, a grubby, dishevelled, glorious palace of second-hand clobber. My boss said I should smarten up in the shop’s trendy togs, saying I looked like a beatnik, which made me a very happy man. Job done, considering my influence of sixties style and culture was now mixed with a new roll-necked songster.

Lloyd Cole & The Commotions’ Rattlesnakes was a huge influence musically, lyrically, and in the album’s all-encompassing fragrance and melancholy. It oozed masculine sensitivity, referencing a host of style and literary icons, which as an all too easily influenced 18 year-old fed my intrigue massively. I related to Lloyd Cole’s visually shy and faintly awkward persona, whilst his lyrics were clearly that of a deep-thinker, beautifully gushing what it felt like to be a young romantic.

“She’s got cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin and she’s sexually enlightened by Cosmopolitan.” – Perfect Skin

At the time, Prefab Sprout’s Swoon was another gem of an album; musically exquisite, though with lyrics bordering on ‘trying too hard’, it was Rattlesnakes that was far more personally relatable. Lloyd Cole’s songs read like books, teeming with cultural references urging exploration, wrapped in such genuine timelessness that any accusation of pretentiousness is instantly dismissed.

Reaching a lofty No.65 in the Top 40 singles chart in late ’84, musically and lyrically Rattlesnakes is bordering on perfection…

Jodie wears a hat although it hasn’t rained for six days
She says a girl needs a gun these days
Hey on account of all the rattlesnakes

She looks like Eve Marie saint in On The Waterfront
She reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance

She’s less than sure if her heart has come to stay in San Jose
And her never-born child still haunts her
As she speeds down the freeway
As she tries her luck with the traffic police
Out of boredom more than spite
She never finds no trouble, she tries too hard
She’s obvious despite herself

She looks like Eve Marie Saint in On The Waterfront
She says all she needs is therapy, yeah
All you need is, love is all you need

Jodie never sleeps ’cause there are always needles in the hay
She says that a girl needs a gun these days
Hey on account of all the rattlesnakes

She looks like Eve Marie Saint in on the waterfront
As she reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance
Her heart, heart’s like crazy paving
Upside down and back to front
She says “ooh, it’s so hard to love
When love was your great disappointment.”

Rattlesnakes was the band’s finest work. Their two following albums, whilst being hugely playable and achieving higher chart success, lacked Rattlesnakes’ romance and emotional impact. The closer Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? squeezed out the last drops of an album loaded with depth and sentiment, an album which, like many other sensitive souls, seemed like it was released with me in mind.

Simon & Garfunkel – ‘Greatest Hits’

Now I was earning my own pennies – a permanent job at Discus don’tcha know and where I’d met some fellow music aficionados – Snu-Peas was becoming my home from home. I don’t think I ever bought a vinyl LP from anywhere other than a second-hand shop, and Snu-Peas was a five minute walk from my front door; it was well stocked, well organised, stunk of musical history, and heaven for a classic vinyl junkie which I was fast becoming. In 1983 the Top 40 had become far less appealing than a few years previous, and more than ever my focus was on the musical past, not the present.

My love of soul and Motown was largely based on the groove, passion and pure gut-feeling, but more and more it was the melody, harmony and lyrics that were doing it for me. I’d heard Simon & Garfunkel plenty but had never given them the attention they deserved until I grabbed their Greatest Hits. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were melodic and vocal perfection who captured a mellow, harmonic grooviness that appealed to my ever-growing softer, deeper and more introspective side.

One year after school’s out I felt like I was growing up quickly; I’d left home, got a job, new friends, failing at girlfriends and more than ever my thoughts, feelings and outlook on life was hugely affected by the words emanating from my speakers. Simon & Garfunkel oozed whimsy and laid-back reflection, but within the perfect harmony were beautiful visions; soft, thought provoking and exquisitely descriptive.

“I hear the drizzle of the rain
Like a memory it falls
Soft and warm continuing
Tapping on my roof and walls.”

“And from the shelter of my mind
Through the window of my eyes
I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets
To England where my heart lies.”

– Kathy’s Song

“Sail on, silver girl. Sail on by.
Your time has come to shine,
All your dreams are on their way.
See how they shine,
Oh, and if you need a friend,
I’m sailing right behind,
Like a bridge over troubled water,
I will ease your mind,
Like a bridge over troubled water,
I will ease your mind.”

– Bridge Over Troubled Water

In 1983 new romantics had all but had their day, but the heavy hitters remained, joined in the charts by the likes of Wham, Culture Club and Kajafuckingoogoo. Looking back, those pesky new romantics actually made some pretty decent tunes, but at the time I detested their fake sentiment, their shit clothes and more than anything their ‘pretending to play instruments that aren’t actually on the record’. Fake. Fake. Fake. Synthesisers and drum ‘machines’ were replaced by bass, guitars on drums on Top of the Pops and that made me more angry than it really should. Yes, I was becoming a music snob, but given the option of For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her or Club Tropicana I really had no choice.

‘The John Lennon Collection’

When John Lennon was murdered in December 1980 I confess to feeling little emotion, despite having been obsessing over The Beatles’ music for the previous six months. My Fabs devotion had only just begun, limited to the Red & Blue albums, just dipping my toes into what was to become a bottomless voyage of musical enlightenment. By the time The John Lennon Collection was released at the end of ’82, my journey had progressed rapidly with The Beatles becoming nothing less than an obsession.

Just prior to his death, Lennon released (Just Like) Starting Over, his first UK single for five years and alongside the re-released Woman, Imagine and Happy Xmas (War Is Over) his music dominated the radio and the singles chart for months. At the time these songs did little for me. Two years on and Lennon was about to become my hero. Those singles were familiar to me and I had grown to love them, but the sheer genius contained in this Collection had an intense and overwhelming effect on my psyche and my soul. They hit me deep.

john-lennon-feature

I listened to the album in its entirety on repeat, skipping nothing. I wanted to devour it all. But there were four songs in particular that just blew me away, previously unheard that matched, if not outshone the brilliance of Abbey Road or Revolver. #9 Dream was the first, a gorgeously dreamy, string-laden beauty. There are artists whose voice is immediately off-putting, and then there are those, like Lennon, whose tone and timbre seem to reach into your subconscious. I’ve often wondered how music affects some people’s emotions more than others, and have always felt grateful for what I’ve perceived as a heightened personal response. It was around this time that music, and Lennon’s in particular, was reaching and affecting parts of me previously undiscovered. #9 Dream hit the spot perfectly.

Playing these songs back as reference is proving my point. Within seconds of the start of Mind Games my skin tingles and a feeling like no other rushes through me. So the brain releases dopamine, but why more for some than others? Whatever. I’ll love the consequences of this ethereal, orchestrated epic. I was too young to fully delve into the lyric’s story and full meaning, that was to come, but I remember: “Love is the answer and you know that for sure / love is a flower / you got to let it, you gotta let it grow” and I know how this affected me. I was very conscious of becoming more aware of my inner self.

The meaning behind the sublime Beautiful Boy was far more obvious, and amongst the intimate lyrics for his son, Sean, was a line that quickly struck a chord: “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” At 16 years old I could already relate to this and was a further intimation that I need to make the most of my life, and further encouragement to combat my shyness. Watching The Wheels is just gut-wrenchingly gorgeous, a heartfelt response and comeback to those who questioned his post-Beatles lifestyle, at times relatively reclusive though rarely out of the public’s conscious. Perfectly simplistic musically, but more than anything it was Lennon’s tone that got me, his intent and character straining through the lyrics.

John Lennon, despite his failings as a husband in particular, has been my hero ever since listening to this album. He had his faults like everyone else, but his humour, his humanity, his message of peace and love, and most of all his sheer genius as a songwriter and performer was, as a teenager surrounded by New Romantics and fake musical fluff, a very wise choice.