12 songs that changed my life

It is so much easier to use a meme that someone else starts when your brain remains in first gear. So today I’m borrowing with much gratitude from Corin and Steph and listing my twelve most influential pieces of music. I may cheat and have the odd pair of songs as a single item. These are not in any particular order. They are also quite old. One thing I find with these songs is that I rarely choose to listen to them now. I think that if I never heard them again, it wouldn’t matter. They are so much a part of me that I no longer need to hear them in order to listen to them.

  • Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen). Not only did it make me a lifelong Queen & Freddie Mercury fan, it helped foster my love of epic rock. So from there, I moved to songs like Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell and Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. I got to see Queen in Sydney in 1985. Sigh……

 

  • Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana). It was a heavenly, heady, punk/metal/rock fusion. Never saw them live, alas.

 

  • Ninth Symphony (Beethoven). I particularly love the Ode to Joy. I heard this when I was in my first year of high school. I still loved the stuff that was played on Countdown, but I listened to as much classical music as I could. Of all the versions that I’ve heard my favourite is conducted by Herbert von Karajan. I was lucky enough to hear it live (not conducted by vK) at the Newcastle Conservatorium in 1988).

 

  • King Henry/Gaudete (Steeleye Span). The first share accommodation I had while I was boarding in the house of a fellow student, who was mature aged. He introduced me to a lot of things, like blue cheese, pumpernickel and Maslow. And music. Bob Dylan was played a lot. One night though he pulled out an LP called Below the Salt. It was a revelation to hear medieval songs played like rock songs. He also introduced my to other folk/rock groups like Malicorne and Fairport Convention. But Steeleye Span remain my favourite. Not just of the folk/rock genre. My favourite musical group, full stop. I got to hear them in Adelaide in 2004 (I think). I could have seen Maddy Prior in Oxford last Christmas. I decided not to (I decided that it was too expensive). I’m still kicking myself.

 

  • Destitution Road (Roaring Jack). When I lived in Sydney in 1989, I would spend many Thursdays at the Sandringham Hotel in Newtown listening to Roaring Jack, fronted by the late Alistair Hulett. This particular song told of the expulsion of the Gaels from their homes in the wake of the Jacobite rebellion. They were loud, left-wing and in your face. They only music that I’ve been tempted to dance to.

 

  • The Great Gig in the Sky (Pink Floyd). Clare Torry’s vocal improvisation was unearthy. When I first heard it, I listened to the whole of Dark Side of the Moon a dozen times. Have loved Pink Floyd ever since. I got to use On the Turning Away in a church service recently.

 

  • Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Beatles). Not my favourite Beatles track (I think that would be You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away), but it got me listening to them. I used to work in a toy and hobby shop when i was at school. The owner, for reasons unknown to me, has a selection of old albums for sale, and this was one of them. Mum was a Beatles fan when she was a kid (I remember her old school port with ‘John’, ‘George’, ‘Ringo’ and ‘Paul’ written on the inside of the lid)  but I didn’t really get them. Then I listened to this album.

 

  • Paint it Black (Rolling Stones). You need something when you’re feeling miserable. Fits the bill perfectly. Lets you wallow with attitude!

 

  • Sad Lisa (Cat Stephens/Yusuf Islam). When I finished high school, most of my year went away for a week together in some cabins at Port Macquarie (a few hours north of Newcastle). I’d never heard any Cat Stephens before and I bought every album that he did from Mona Bone Jakon to Izitso (which I still have on vinyl). This song is another one for when you’re down. This is my most nostalgic song on the list.

 

  • Alexander the Great/Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Iron Maiden). It’s not a huge leap from heavy rock to heavy metal. That someone would write a song about Alexander of Macedon was a marvel, and by chance I first heard it while I was reading Arrian’s Anabasis of Alexander while at uni. When I was in my last year of primary school, my teacher (Mr Charlton, my favourite of my many excellent teachers) had us read several stanzas of Coleridge’s Rime. I still read it reasonably regularly. The way Iron Maiden did it is kind of how I’ve always imagined the poem.

 

  • Night on Bald Mountain (Moussorgsky). I remember this piece from Fantasia when I was a small child (I suppose Mum must have taken me to see it).

 

  • Internationale (Eugene Pottier)/Finale 2 (Les Miserables). The Internationale reflects my basic political orientation, and though not politically active now, it is still an emotional experience to hear it. It’s vibrant and full of hope for a better future. Written by a survivor of the Paris Commune, I tried visit the memorial to the fallen Communards at the Pere Lachaise cemetary last time I was in Paris. Sadly, it was closed for a funeral. I got to see Les Miserables in London in 2006 (my wife has seen it many times). The finale with the full chorus is the single most emotional musical experience that I’ve ever had. Despite the tragedies suffered by Valjean, Fantine, the failure of the Paris revolt, the song is full of hope, calls on the audience to join in helping to build a just world. It’s emotionally stirring simply thinking about it.

I really need to start listening to some contemporary stuff. I’m in danger of becoming ossified.

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