Monday, July 13, 2009

Sun melting the fake smile away

2 Eels, ‘Grace Kelly Blues’.

This list comprises songs that have a particular significance for me. Many songs have come and gone since I started listening to the radio in the sixties and collecting records in the seventies. Many have been important songs but they haven’t been significant for me.

For instance, the punk years happened when I was finishing at Mount Albert Grammar (age 19 – a late bloomer) in 1976 and starting at Auckland University age 20, in 1977. Theoretically then, I should have a punk song in the list and it should be God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols, right? Sure enough I bought the single, and Pretty Vacant when it followed. But it was merely a great rock and roll song for me (in a picture sleeve) – not of any lasting significance. Maybe if I’d been living in Britain…I don’t know. Instead I was very comfortable, living at home in New Zealand suburbia. I had a very advantaged home life so I had nothing in particular to rebel against. I was finally finished with school and loving being in my self-indulgent university years.

God Save the Queen sounded like a great guitar driven song – the lyrics slightly comical and Johnny Rotten’s sneer was great but in a vauda-villain way I wasn’t taking him seriously. When I saw them on TV, one of the band had a knotted handkerchief on his head – like a Benny Hill parody of the English at the beach. My suspicions were confirmed. Besides I LOVED progressive bands like Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd. I certainly didn’t want to replace them with the bratty punk bands I read about in Sounds magazine.

What I did understand in 1977, though, was the need from time to time to have a kind of musical purge of the old. No one, least of all me, can absolve Yes’ Tales of Topographic Oceans double album from blame. I’ve tried to love it and the first side is good but then it just spins around in meaningless babble. So the punk thrash enema did do some good (even Yes came up with the great Going for the One as a result).

Fast forward…during the late eighties and nineties I felt increasingly disillusioned with music. Aside from the grunge excitement of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, all I seemed to be hearing was drums and bass, techno, house music with no soul. Even worse my beloved pop music had been taken over by the excreable Kylie Minogue. Stock Aitken and Waterman and their mindless computer beats signified processed cheese for me. I hated it!

One day in 1999 I was staying with the Marbeck family for some reason, and my friend Roger put on the Elton John album and song Madman Across the Water. I remember going into a rant/moan about the kinds of music available these days and that there was no quality like the Madman song anymore. Roger said, ‘Listen to this’, and put on Eels album Daises of the Galaxy. First track was Grace Kelly Blues and an all around moment of epiphany. Someone was, joy o joy, still writing meaningful music that was great to listen to.

The brass band opening immediately got my attention, then those fantastic acoustic guitar strums start up and wash away in moments all those haunted years of synth hell. I knew at that moment what the Pistols had meant to those who got it in 1977. God bless you, Mr E.

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