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 Jam – ‘Going Underground’

For my 14th birthday The Jam released Going Underground, and much appreciated it was too. Prior to this No.1 single (straight in at the top spot; no mean feat at the time) I’d dug The Jam, but had yet to become a Weller obsessive. That was about to change. I was looking for inspiration, for excitement and a hero to worship, and like many other impressionable teenagers who sought a role model from their TVs, radios and record players, Paul Weller was that man. A good choice. A very good choice indeed. Paul Weller was a passionate, gobby, working class, mod-obsessed, Beatles-inspired super cool motherfucker.

Prior to Going Underground The Jam’s previous two LPs Setting Sons and All Mod Cons had gone by relatively unnoticed. I was still largely a singles kid, obsessed with Top of the Pops and the Top 40, and Strange Town and Eton Rifles in particular were singles that had already turned me on to The Jam. The financial restraints of a 13 year-old meant albums were few and far between (I probably had a dozen or so, and a bunch of oldies I’d nicked from my dad just to beef up my collection) and it was The Jam’s next album Sound Affects released in late 1980 which was the first of theirs to feel the sweat of my eager mitts. Going Underground was a perfect single; screeching guitars, thumping bass riffs, hammond keys and spat out harmonies, but it was Weller’s passion and cool that won me and thousands of others over.

“You choose your leaders and place your trust
As their lies wash you down and their promises rust
You’ll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns
And the public wants what the public gets
But I don’t get what this society wants
I’m going underground…”

See, kids, our heroes were people we could relate to, speaking for the common man and the kids on the street. They were largely untouched by the corporate system that pukes out most of your modern day ‘idols’. Yes, there were also your watered down pretty boys and girls with nothing to say – some people always care more for style than substance – but in 1980 pop stars weren’t part of the system, instead they sung out against it. Fuck, even UB40 had a political conscience, Signing Off being a brilliant dub-heavy statement of disillusionment. Going Underground cemented The Jam’s position as the biggest band in the UK in 1980. For an awkward sod like Paul Weller to reach such heights was a sign of the times. Shit was happening and Weller told it how it was. Soon, a certain John Lennon would become my obsession, but until they split in ‘82 Weller, Foxton & Buckler were my world.

Madness – ‘One Step Beyond’

40 years ago I was a spunky school kid sporting sta-prest and Fred Perrys, carrying an unhealthy obsession with pop and desperately trying to mimic my newly found idols. Madness’ debut album One Step Beyond was made for a boy like me. The brand new 2-Tone label was seen as the second wave of ska; coming off the back of punk it was faster and edgier than in its sixties heyday, and in most cases, due to the social unrest at the time, had a strong political lyrical edge.

One Step Beyond was released on the classic Stiff label but Madness were still a huge part of that early 2-Tone scene. That said, politics seemed to be the last thing on their minds. Unlike most of their ska revival counterparts Madness regularly swayed from the labels’ ska roots, blending rock’n’roll, rockabilly and ‘60s pop into their sound. Lyrically too the subject matter was more diverse, from schoolboy tales of playground antics and first loves to underwear thieves and random cockney patois. The stomping Night Boat To Cairo was my fave, just a glorious ska romp and learning the lyrics to sing along was a must.

As much as anything bands like Madness had a wonderful identity; beyond the tonic suits and loafers this wasn’t musical sophistication, but was something teenagers could instantly and totally relate to. I dived into the deep end consuming the music with a fevered passion of which only a 13 year-old is capable. This was an album way beyond its brilliant singles One Step Beyond, My Girl and The Prince, I could listen to it now and love it almost as much.

One Step Beyond was totally of its time, but nostalgia apart it is still a brilliant debut album. Looking back, I feel lucky to have been thirteen years old in 1979. Not just for The Jam, The Specials, The Selector, The Beat and the iconic 2-Tone scene, but the Top 40 singles chart, Top of the Pops, Smash Hits, Our Price, Cassette Players, now all long gone but I’d take those days over our current instant download culture any day. My love affair with Madness ended with the release of their third album, but Absolutely, and in particular One Step Beyond are iconic, brilliantly British pop masterpieces.

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.