I remember once being tasked with putting my brother's CD collection into alphabetical order (as the youngest of three this was really just slave labour; he had about 5000 of them). This is Steve I'm talking about, the proprietor of the illustrious website you are currently visiting (and thank you very much for doing so).
I was being assisted in this undertaking by Alison (Steve's missus, and now his wife) when we found a Kriss Kross album tucked away within the square plastic cases. How we laughed, more so because we'd stumbled across an album Steve probably forgot he had, and more than likely hadn't listened to in some considerable time. It got me thinking: that's not the sort of music he likes, really. He's more of a Muse, U2, UK Subs and Primus sort of a guy (with a smattering of Mega City Four, Coldplay, Pink Floyd and many others).
So do our music collections really reflect what sort of people we are? Most of us like a massive range of music, but have some genres we fall back on again and again as favourites - dance, rock, classical, industrial gothwave gabba-step...the list is endless. Taking a random slice of the songs we own, would that give us a true indication of who we are? I made it a mission to find out. If you gathered ten people who knew me well in a room and asked them to describe me, I think the same few words would crop up; I think this is the same for everyone. Myself, I'd use the words creative, unusual, sensitive, caring and likeable as just a few. I like to think outside the box, and due to my varied tastes in music, films and other spheres of entertainment, I think this has fuelled my own creative instincts of songwriting, drawing, and penning stories and non-fiction pieces like this. Due to my liking of the darker or more surreal things in life - the work of people like Monty Python, The League of Gentlemen, Charlie Brooker, Chris Morris, Salvador Dali, Damien Hirst, J.G. Ballard, Stephen King and others, this has perhaps skewed my moral compass somewhat. I say this because sometimes I will come out with a statement or idea that seems rather radical to people who are a bit more restrained that I am. This probably explains why some people find some of the material in Morris' controversial sketch show 'Blue Jam' a little close to the bone, whereas I find it perfectly acceptable. So, if we take me as being creative, unusual, sensitive, caring and likeable, are these traits discernable from my music collection? This is an experiment you can try at home (you might even have tried doing it before now).
It's really quite simple. Take your iPod, iPad, iTunes, Spotify library or CD collection - basically whatever your music collection is held on - and pick say, 10-15 songs at random. If you're doing this on an iPod/iPad/iTunes/Spotify list, set the 'shuffle/random' option on and play a song, then skip forward to get the next one that is truly picked at random. Make a note of these songs, then take a look at each in turn. For me, all my favourite stuff is on Spotify at the moment so this is what was regurgitated as my picks that hopefully describe me as a person in fifteen songs:
1. Mansun – ‘Legacy’
2. Roy Budd – ‘Something On My Mind’
3. Radiohead - ‘Everything In Its Right Place’
4. Boys Noize – ‘& Down (Extended Mix)’
5. Electric Light Orchestra – ‘Mr. Blue Sky’
6. Add N To (X) – ‘Are Streets Antiques?’
7. Steve Martin – ‘Dentist!’
8. The End of the Ocean – ‘Worth Everything That Ever Wished For’
9. Mount Eerie – ‘Through the Trees, Part 2’
10. Matt Berry – ‘One More Hit’
11. ABBA – ‘Super Trouper’
12. Arctic Monkeys – ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’
13. The Smiths – ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’
14. Christer Sjogren – ‘I Love Europe’
15. Pulp – ‘In Many Ways’
Quite a range there, I think you’ll agree. Come, take my hand and let us examine the evidence in more detail...
Mansun’s ‘Legacy’ opens with the plaintive sound of seagulls cawing, which is a sound I used to hear most mornings when I woke up in my bedroom in Devon. So in terms of a perfect sound to kick off a playlist supposedly based on me as a person, it couldn’t be much better. The actual song has quite a yearning feel to it, and features the line: ‘Life is wearing me thin’, which I do feel is true. I’m not too sure about the ‘Nobody cares when you’re gone’ line towards the end, I guess that hints at feeling a bit depressed and like nobody really cares. I don’t mind saying I have had some issues with anxiety and depression (hopefully now in the past!) so there might be something in this. We’re getting a bit maudlin now, so time to flick ‘fast forward’ and check the next track.
‘Something On My Mind’ is by Roy Budd, and taken from the soundtrack to the gangster film ‘Get Carter’. It’s quite a slow, organ-driven number, that sounds like a mixture between something from the ‘Eraserhead’ soundtrack (which featured a lot of Fats Waller) and that music you’d hear accompanying the selection of Ceefax pages once the actual channels had closed down for the evening. In this sense, it kind of has a link to me – I love all things to do with Ceefax, not least the music. I wouldn’t say this song really relates to me, but the feelings and thoughts it conjures up do, so it’s not a complete fail.
Radiohead are next, a band I have loved for many years. I think I was one of the few people to really ‘get’ the band when they absolutely freaked everyone out by releasing ‘Kid A’ in 2000. For a lot of people, being weaned on a diet of Radiohead’s slightly skewed Britpop anthems, then being faced with an impenetrable wall of electronica, reverb, techno and a startling lack of guitars was maybe a bit too much. I think this song best represents me as a person so far; I do like thinking outside the box, just like Radiohead did on this song. It can be a challenging listen, and I think sometimes I fail to get my ideas across in a way that people can understand.
Progressing more into techno territory is Boys Noize with a song called ‘& Down’. I first heard this on the soundtrack to the video game ‘Grand Theft Auto IV’. It’s a rather abrasive dance track, full of glitch and fuzzy basslines, but again, I think this relates to what I can be like: varied personalities, and able to adapt to what people around me are like. If I’m with a lot of chatty, outgoing people, I can mirror that to an extent in order to keep conversations going etc. If I happen to be with people happy in their own company, I don’t mind having to be quiet. This song I think represents me being a bit more outgoing and not really what I would normally be like. If I had my way, I’d be a lot more introvert than I am.
With ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ by Electric Light Orchestra, I think this reflects the times I feel more carefree, perhaps when I’ve had a drink and don’t mind having a dance in front of other people. Some people might find ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ a bit cheesy, but I don’t think it was written as a serious song, it’s meant to be there purely for cheering you up. I like to think I can brighten some people’s day, either by making a joke, or making them laugh. This to me sums that part of me up – alternatively, just those sunny days when you have time to do what you like; you might be on holiday or it can just be a weekend and you can have a lie in.
We venture back into bizarre territory on the song ‘Are Streets Antiques?’ by electronic trio Add N To (X). It’s certainly a very odd song, lots of burbling synthesiser noises, and it’s very schizophrenic in places. You’re not sure if it’s meant to sound amusing or slightly sinister – like a clown. Are they funny? Or are they terrifying? I think with my own personality, there’s a happy/funny exterior, but I can also convey some quite dark ideas and comments, which mainly comes through in my writing and short stories. I think some people might be a little worried or shocked by what I can write about, especially as there’s this sort of decent guy exterior going on as well.
In the extremely varied list of songs my Spotify library chose for me to write about, next up is a song from the 1986 musical comedy ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, which stars Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia and Steve Martin, who sings the song ‘Dentist!’. Martin’s character, Orin Scrivello, is a sadistic dental surgeon who delights in causing pain and misery in his patients. This song relates to me in a similar way to the previous song – it’s portrayed in this very funny way (and the accompanying sequence in the film shows what a great comic actor Martin is) but the subject matter and lyrics are actually about a man who is quite disturbed, and believes his dead mother advised him to be a dentist simply because of violent tendencies he had as a child. I never had violence or temper issues as a child, but I think that whole ‘potential to create something horrible’ aspect is there.
Things take a calmer turn on ‘Worth Everything Ever Wished For’ by The End of the Ocean. This song initially starts like something U2 might have written during their 1980s heyday, but eventually gathers pace with a military drum pattern while retaining it’s fairly chilled out vibe. It flourishes in the last third, remaining wholly instrumental yet creating an atmosphere of hard times that get better. While I felt this had a rather flimsy link to me as a person, there have been some hard times recently (especially in my wife’s family) that I think we are working through and there’s the whole ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ aspect that gives you hope things will be good in the end.
In a similar musical genre comes ‘Through The Trees Pt.2’ by Mount Eerie. I bet you’ve never heard of these chaps, have you? Again, I like the fact there are some songs chosen for this list that most people won’t recognise, which I think reflects my love of the unknown and the obscure. There was a time I’d buy CDs simply based on the track titles and album covers – a rather risky undertaking you might think, but one that appealed to my sense of wanting to find something different.
Matt Berry is up next, with a song from his 2005 album ‘Opium’. I’ve always thought Berry is better known for his comedy than his musical output, and it’s a damn shame he’s not given more acclaim for the songs he puts out, because they’re fucking good. I think Berry also has that same love of comedy that’s ‘not quite right’, or has a surreal or dark edge to it. His comedy series he wrote with Rich Fulcher, ‘Snuff Box’, is evidence of this, as is his appearance in the cult comedy series ‘Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace’, which is where I first saw Berry act. I like to think I’d get on well with Matt, I could share a pint with him and chew the fat quite well. If you’re reading this, Matt, get in touch – I’m sure that will actually scare him off more than anything, but I do relate to the material he records and think he’s one of the country’s best comic talents.
ABBA, in a similar way to Electric Light Orchestra, showcase my more fun side. I remember at school when I was a teenager, I was very much influenced by my peers and friends, and felt in some totalitarian way that I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to like bands who were perceived as guilty pleasures – funnily enough, ABBA and Electric Light Orchestra were two of the groups I never really admitted to liking back then, because they were seen as being ‘un-cool’. Of course, when I realised that you shouldn’t take to heart what others think and just be yourself, I was free of this rather restrictive way of thinking and feeling. For that reason the inclusion of ABBA here is symbolic of the time I made that decision to ‘be me’, which didn’t really start happening until I went into the Sixth Form at college, but hey – better late than never.
While I like Arctic Monkeys and The Smiths very much, I don’t really feel they sum me up as a person. One group is from Sheffield, the other from Manchester – I’ve never been to Sheffield, and I only went to Manchester when I moved to the Isle of Man in 2004, so growing up I never really had much to do with either of them. In that respect, they’re both good songs that I like listening to, I just don’t think they are a good indication of my personality or anything. Perhaps ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ gets a bad rap sometimes as it’s seen as being a bit depressing, which I covered earlier in this piece, but that’s about it.
The Christer Sjogren track was one I heard on a playlist broadcaster/writer Charlie Brooker had made called ‘Aural Contraceptive’. He wrote about it in a weekly column he had, where he challenged any new couple to try and work their way through it while having sex. All the songs on the album were hideously inappropriate for making love to, including this song which has to have been from Eurovision or something. The whole idea of coming up with a selection of songs that would be deliberately difficult to have sex to is one I like to think I could have imagined if Brooker hadn’t got there first. Like with Matt Berry, I think I could have a bloody good evening out with Brooker – we could discuss zombie movies, things that depress us, what makes us angry, then go back to either his place or mine and have a session of...Playstation. What did you think I was going to say? OK, I do have a bit of a ‘bromance’ for Brooker, but it’d be hard not to like a man who comes up with the premise of an amazing drama series like ‘Black Mirror’. The actual Sjogren track is cheesier than a fried Welsh rarebit cheddar bake with extra parmesan, but I love it for the simple reason that it’s ‘so bad it’s good’ – it’s definitely not a song I would have admitted to liking back when I was fifteen.
Which brings us to the end of the list, and a band I have always liked, Pulp. Aside from Muse, they are probably my favourite all-time band. This song, ‘In Many Ways’, is a very early song of theirs, from around 1983. Because of this, it’s very different to the Britpop era that the majority of fans are familiar with. This material is a lot more folk, pastoral even. Jarvis Cocker’s voice also seems a lot deeper than it would be later in their career, but I think that’s just how he was singing the songs back then. It’s a whimsical, rather lovely song that doesn’t outstay its welcome, which is kind of what I’d love to have on my headstone when I do depart this earth: