Blondie – ‘Picture This’

By 1978 I was becoming a tad obsessed with music. I was 12 years old and music was connecting with me, beyond what was probably normal for a yet to be teenager. For as long as I can remember I’ve had an unhealthy love of lists, of numbers, of charts, collections and organised information. I think that may have started when listening to, and charting, the Top 40. I still live with a love of a list. By 1977 I was developing a bit of a crush, a growing infatuation, the following year I was falling in love with music.

In ’78 Gerry Rafferty, Ian Dury, E.L.O, Squeeze, Kate Bush, The Jam and The Boomtown Rats are bands and artists which evoke sweet, innocent memories, it was a time of huge excitement, a time of discovery. Other chart heavyweights like Paul McCartney, John Travolta & Olivia Newtron-Bomb along with all sorts of disco were so ever-present that I was simply won over by persistent airplay. That said no amount of unrelenting Boney M would have the same effect.

At the end of 1977 and early ’78 with the punk era already on its last legs, the likes of Sounds and NME started using the terms ‘post punk’ and ‘new wave’. In simple terms post punk was more edgy and arty, new wave more accessible and ‘pop’ular. Those terms would stay around for the next couple of years, and along with 2-Tone would become my musical fixation. One band who emerged from the American punk scene and typified New Wave were Blondie. They were my first fix.

In 1978 Blondie released Parallel Lines. I didn’t own it at the time (and my dad wasn’t going to buy it for me to steal), but from the album came three singles that year, Denis, Hanging on the Telephone and Picture This. I loved Blondie, and perhaps my (along with millions of others all over the world) first ever popstar fixation was Debbie Harry.

It’s impossible to deny that when it comes to being ‘into’ a band or singer image plays a large part, especially when that band is Blondie and you’re at school, going through puberty. But, if Debbie Harry was an iconic figure, the singles too were equally seminal. This was perfect pop for the times. Stylistically sublime. I was visually and aurally gobsmacked. I could have picked any three of these Blondie singles from ’78, but Picture This was, and still is for me the best of the three. I remember trying to decipher the lyric after “Picture This, freezing cold weather…” Guessing lyrics and failing badly. Happy days.

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.

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.