Now That's What I Call Music

1st September 2005

“Have you heard of Special Needs?” asked a colleague during lunchtime recently. I was taking a bite from a Mini Jaffa Cake (half moon!) at the time and despite my best efforts I couldn’t think of a witty retort as I swallowed it down. I eventually answered in the negative.

“Oh well…you are a fuddy-duddy,” she replied and moved on. Wounded, I was once more at a loss for words and didn’t even reply. Besides, I still had the other half of my Jaffa Cake to finish.

I brushed away the crumbs, but my sense of indignation wasn’t so easily swept under the table. Yeah, I am getting on a bit but I can still be finky…I mean funky. Yes, funky. And cool. People still say that don’t they? Hmmmm, maybe my colleague’s snipe wasn’t entirely unjustified.

These days it seems that I have inevitably heard of bands but not necessarily heard them. I hold my tongue when the latest music is discussed because sometimes I have heard it but I don’t like it. The trouble is that I’ve always been a little strange when it comes to music.

I was born late into the world of music. Before the age of ten or eleven listening to music meant songs on the radio. I didn’t have a favourite band or artist. I’d never read a copy of Smash Hits. It seems strange then that I suddenly should desperately want a personal stereo.

Actually, it’s not that unusual since my roving eye, sadly, takes in technology as well as members of the opposite sex. Whilst on holiday many, many years ago I noticed that my uncle owned an Aiwa personal stereo complete with in-ear earphones, which I thought were cool. I wanted one of my own and being a spoilt brat my wish, i.e. whining, eventually came true.

Most of my uncle’s tapes were Cantonese pop (hey, if I had listened to them back then I would now earn cool points at anime forums where everyone claims to listen to J-Pop, K-Pop, Canto-Pop, etc.) but there were a few albums by western artists. I slapped in Born in the USA and pressed ‘Play’. Man, it rocked!

Strangely, I did not enter a Springsteen back catalogue buying frenzy (prior to starting a CD collection I only have Born in the USA, Born to Run and Nebraska on tape). Instead, I slipped into a film soundtrack phase. I screeched a falsetto as I entered the ‘Danger Zone’ and dabbled with homoerotica when ‘Playing with the Boys’. My first foray into the funkiness of James Brown was via the Rocky IV soundtrack. I bought a Queen greatest hits compilation. I bought Now… compilations. I was building up a music collection that wouldn’t look out of place in Jeremy Clarkson’s car.

I believe that everyone enters a guitar band period in their music-listening lives although, I suppose, its length and intensity varies. Adolescence is probably a key factor, but I although I didn’t hate myself and I didn’t want to die I started to listen to bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. To be honest, though, and unlike my peers, I found more pleasure listening to REM and Crowded House.

Some maintain that university is an experience rather an educational institution but whatever your view the former proved to be true for me. Musically, I shifted once more. Living with a Jazz saxophonist as a freshman and then a Blues guitarist (as well as someone who only listened to English bands) for the remainder of my degree was bound to have an influential effect. However, I’d say sleeping in a freezing room in Barnsley was probably the catalyst. I went to bed with my headphones on (it was too cold even to have my arms outside the covers to read a book) hoping that I would actually awaken the next morning to complain about the numbness of my face. I sought warmth in the cold studio perfection of Kraftwerk; the East Coast cynicism and syncopation of Steely Dan offered me solace.

So here I am nearly ten years down the road, trapped within a Jazz, Blues and Electronic triangle (certain hip hop artists have surprised me by sometimes incorporating elements of all three). I’m on the musical equivalent of the voyage of the Starship Enterprise – I’m on the lookout for strange new artists though not necessarily to try to kiss them. I still listen to guitar bands, but like some crap judge on a television talent contest I’m looking for a hook or a catch in order to get me listening. By that rationale, pop music is my saviour…but, hey, I am still relatively cool. I don’t mellow out to smooth Jazz (although it can be argued that anyone that was turned on to Jazz at 20…) and haven’t spread word of the delights of Norah Jones or Katie Melua.

I now have heard of Special Needs though I’ve yet to hear them. So what am I listening to? I’ll tell you. This week blasting out of my car stereo in a throaty roar was the line “Born down in a dead man’s town…”. It still rocks. People still say that, don’t they?