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.

Squeeze – ‘Cool For Cats’

40 years later I would still say 1979 was a fantastic year for pop music. Punk had all but been and gone, but it had revitalised popular music, giving it an energy it had lacked since the 60s. Ska and reggae, offshoots of the punk era, as well as a mod revival made its way into pubs, clubs and ultimately mainstream radio and into the charts. As a 13-year-old kid wearing sta-pressed, Fred Perrys and argyle jumpers I loved it all, soaking it up like my life depended on it.

Over the next two years Radio 1’s weekly Top 40 show on Sundays became my obsession. I created my own chart system, writing down the Top 20 every week, giving the no.1 position 20 points, no.2 19 points, no.3 18 etc. At the end of the year I made my own Top 20 singles chart from the accumulated points. My obsession with lists was also becoming a bit scary. By the end of 1980 if anyone gave me the title of a single from the Top 20 in ‘79 or ‘80, I could name the artist, every time. Some would say this was an early sign of me becoming a music nerd, and I’d probably have to agree.

Five bands dominated my desires in 1979, the first of which was Squeeze. Cool For Cats was their second album and I played it to death. It contained four singles, two of which Cool For Cats and Up The Junction were, and still are perfect examples of the song-writing brilliance of Chris Difford & Glenn Tilbrook. Like many new lyricists at the time, Difford & Tilbrook wrote songs about real life, real people and modern culture, but unlike many bands who were influenced by the dawning of the Thatcher-era and the mountain of political issues affecting the country, Squeeze wrote songs about people. And sex. Not sex as in your modern day sexist, image obsessed, body fascist bullshit. No. Cool For Cats was littered with innuendo, slang and stories of masturbation, desperation, infatuation, heavy drinking and unwanted pregnancies, all brilliantly linked together by razor-sharp social awareness. It was perfectly real, like a Ken Loach movie set to music.

Cool For Cats was a brilliant single. Lyrically reminiscent of a pubescent Ray Davies, musically bombastic in a London pub style. I turned 13 the week after its release, but it’s Squeeze’s next single that was the first song I remember being able to sing from start to finish. I guess I needed to be a teenager first. Strangely I remember a specific time too… in the changing rooms after swimming at school. It’s funny the things you remember. I felt quite adult, nervously reciting the lyrics, like I was narrating a grown-up story to school friends who I hoped would be impressed.

Up The Junction was clearly lyrically influenced by Nell Dunn’s 1963 novel of the same name, sharing the same gritty, working-class realism starting from its opening line “I never thought it would happen with me and the girl from Clapham”. Just looking at the album’s sleeve brings back blissfully happy, innocent, wide-eyed memories. Squeeze were a pop-obsessed pubescent boy’s dream. Give the dog a bone indeed.