For many people listening to music is a passive activity.
I don’t intend to come across as a snob here, but I’ve been accused of snobbery before so it wouldn’t be the first time!
There’s a marked difference between being a ‘music lover’ and simply ‘someone who listens to music’. If you’re unsure about which faction you belong to then I’ll elucidate this for you. If you’re someone who sticks on Smooth Radio on your drive to work and happily sings along to every tune that comes on, then you are someone who listens to music. If you’re someone who listens to Smooth Radio on your drive to work and spends the rest of their day puzzling over the complex rhythmical context of The Four Season’s ‘December ’63‘ then you can count yourself as a music lover.
Although music is undoubtedly one of the most widely spread art forms in the world, punters are less prone to analysing and deconstructing it than they are film or even video games. This is because the purpose of mainstream music is (and has been for most of modern history) to simply provide a toe-tapping rhythm, or memorable line for the average Joe to sing along to. ‘Pop music’ has long been written for the sole purpose of making money and, as such, much of its content (whether lyrical or musical) tends to lean towards simple analogies and ‘club ready’ beats. I didn’t always have these opinions, in fact most of the philosophical opinions that I hold on music were formed over one fateful year when I was completely bed-ridden and hopelessly bored.
I was 17-years-old when I broke my femur. I was skateboarding with my friends and (rather foolishly) attempted to perform a 360º kickflip from a 30-foot half pipe. The break was a bad one and I found myself in a cast for an entire year, the time estimated by the doctors for my bones to heal. This was a time before on-demand television and also before smart phones. Luckily for me it was not a time before CD Walkmen. I was given an allowance of one new CD a week by my parents and thus began a year of music discovery that would take me further than I’d ever expected.
Although I listened to an excess of 150 records that year (my parents’ and friends’ CD collections were also fair game), I only return to a handful of them each year. These are the five records that saved my life:
Nirvana’s In Utero (1993)
It will comes as little surprise that, as a teenager in the 90s, I was a Nirvana fan, however I’d never truly paid attention to Cobain’s lyrics before I suffered my accident.
With nothing to do but listen to this record on the week of its release and pore over the sleeve notes I felt that I got a much deeper understanding for the man during this time.
Radiohead’s The Bends (1995)
I was never a big fan of Britpop during this time, but Radiohead offered something a little different at the time.
I was certainly prone to bouts of depression at the time and Radiohead’s breakthrough record was undoubtedly an album that spoke to the depressive in me.
Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (1973)
My Dad dropped this one on my bedside table one day and I’ve always been grateful for him doing so. I’d never thought music that was so old could sound so modern, or so captivating.
I spent weeks going back to Tubular Bells, to the point where I now associate the iconic music with a fervent itchiness in my groin.
Richard & Linda Thompson’s I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight (1974)
Another one from my Dad’s collection and one that I still return to today, this record taught me that ‘folk’ music didn’t have to be all about fiddles and accordions.
The depth and range of this record still surprises me. The duo’s singing is sublime and Thompson’s guitar work remains some of my favourite ever recorded.
Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet (1986)
Amongst all of the doom and gloom, this was the album to lift my spirits when I was having a particularly rough day. I might not agree with some of the messages in this music today, but it still brings a smile to face.