(This was penned a month ago, well before my “Ten Songs” piece for Sitting on the Swings, but it seems to be an apt sister-post to that list, so here it is…)

(Not So) Guilty Pleasures

After years of complaints, firstly from the staff, then from the public (mostly through the means of social media), the shop I work in recently stopped playing those god-awful karaoke cover versions that you mostly used to hear in pound shops. It was a triumph of people power against the out-of-tune, ‘could do it better ourselves’ warblings of session singers. They were that bad. I walked into the building to be pleasantly surprised that there was ‘real music’ blaring out over the grannies and neds. Well, ninety-five per cent of that ‘real music’ is openly debatable in stature, but there were some tunes that actually put a smile on my face as opposed to my usual scowl.

“This was the first single I ever bought!” There was a mix of slight embarrassment and unashamed nostalgia to be taken from that admittance. The song playing over the store? “Borderline” by Madonna.
(Side note: Wikipedia told me that this song was originally released in 1984 and at the time I would’ve just been over two years old. That’s weird, I could clearly choosing it whilst out shopping with my sisters, I think it was in Our Price, remember when they graced our high streets? I began questioning my memory so I dug a little more. It was re-released in early 1986, and that ties in nicely with the age I remember being when my sisters bought it for me. I was just four, and wanted a Madonna single. Take what you want from that…)

There’s a “Family Guy” sketch that always makes me laugh because it makes me think of my above choice of ‘first single’. It’s a public information video about how to identify ‘gays’. A guy asks another about his favourite Madonna album. The guy responds “I like her early work.” The voice-over states that if the answer is anything other than “I’ve never bought one” then this means “you have a gay!” Guess what the only Madonna album I own is? The first yun. As I said before, take what you will…

The musical influence of my elder sisters made up most of my formative years. There was a lot of eighties chart pop along with classic funk and soul. To this day, a lot of this stuff gives me giddy levels of childhood nostalgia. I’m an eighties kid, I was spoon-fed this stuff and hell, I’m all about the nostalgia.

This was a time when Top of the Pops was not just religiously watched on the tele by nearly all the family, but recorded on those big, black plastic things with magnetic tape in them, so the best moments could be relived over and over. We’d also tape the charts off Capital FM every Sunday, trying to stop and start the tape just in time to get the songs we liked and cut out those annoying DJs. Just like nearly everyone did. This is when a new Michael Jackson video deserved its own premiere slot on TV. Pop music was really fucking exciting for kids back then.

And I was stealing 7″ records from my sisters’ bedrooms (never the ‘big records’, I observed certain unwritten limits…) and played them on my beloved Fisher Price record player (a real turntable that ran on batteries, it was orange and I loved that thing until it fell to pieces… At the time of writing there’s one on eBay, and by hell I want it!) Some of my earliest memories were made courtesy of two of my sisters, and their passion for… Five Star. Remember them? The Jackson 5 from Romford? Well, they were my first concert. And possibly the second. Maybe third too. I was given a VHS of their videos for my fifth or sixth birthday and I played it until it snapped (or was chewed by our nasty VHS recorder, I had to sellotape it together…) and a birthday or two later I was given one of my first ‘big records’ by a friend of my sister. A Five Star single, “Strong as Steel.” Admittedly, this was towards the end of their chart run and not all that memorable a song but hey, a big, 12″ slab of black vinyl that was mine, all mine!

Shane, aged two, caught playing his sisters' 7" singles.

Shane, aged two, caught playing his sisters’ 7″ singles.

When the early nineties came around I started to find things for myself. First off, I sent my elder brother off with a good chunk of my pocket money, if not all, to find me ABBA “Gold” on cassette. It wasn’t long after that he pulled this fact out as definitive proof that I was gay (an incident used in my first published piece, the non-fiction “A Curious Fellow”). So, I liked ABBA. They had cracking melodies and arrangements that to this day I can’t figure out. ABBA were surely the kings and queens of pop music so quite honestly, go to hell. ABBA isn’t just for the gays.

In my last year of primary school I wrote an essay about Blondie. Miss Nicola Philips, my grunge-tastic teacher (best teacher I ever had, used to play Nirvana on a boombox in class. And my mum drunkenly told her at our leavers disco that I fancied her causing me much embarrassment… I should’ve been more embarrassed that my mum was piss farting drunk at my school disco…) was confused at this eleven year old kid in the early nineties liking, no, loving Blondie. Blondie had guitars. Occasionally distorted ones. Get me!

I got my first CD player for £20 courtesy of my brother. It stopped working within a few months and let’s just say when you buy from family, don’t expect a warranty. And £20 was a LOT of money to me in those days. Off to Currys I went with my mum…

Now my musical input were coming from BBC archive shows such as “Sounds of the Sixties” and “Sounds of the Seventies”. It was all very adult, and all quite strange for a twelve year old to be ‘digging’. Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. The dark, mysterious, pretty psychedelic clip of Syd Barrett in Pink Floyd playing “Astronomy Domine” with a mirrored Telecaster strapped to him. I decided I wanted to play guitar and look that cool. I’d just started out in secondary school. On my way back one day I got the woman behind the counter in WH Smith Catford to order me the cassette (I was still buying tapes because they were cheaper than CDs). I didn’t tell anyone about my odd tastes in music. And it was going to get more embarrassing.

Prog-rock. I swear I bought those Genesis LPs from a bargain bin in Beanos in Croydon (it was one of THE best second-hand record shops in the world back then) for my mum, because she liked Phil Collins. Little did I know that back in those days they had a singer, a little known chap called Peter Gabriel and Collins was just the monkey behind the drums (albeit a highly talented drumming monkey). So, I kept those weird LPs for myself, except that might’ve been the plan all along. And it started an affair I kept secret for many a decade. Prog-fucking-rock.

Cassingles. Was that their proper term? Cassette singles. Usually two songs, the same on both side, always thought that was pointless. Usually a quid or two cheaper than CD singles. I remember buying some awful things amongst a couple of gems. Let Loose, “Seventeen”. Why? WHY?! Annie Lennox, “Love Song for a Vampire”, fucking great song. 1994, I jot in my diary “I bought my first indie single.” Elastica, “Connection” from Woolworths, Lewisham. By hell I was naive. Indie, my arse. (It was many years later that I came across “Pink Flag”, the début album by Wire, and upon hearing “Three Girl Rhumba” for the first time I instantly realised, “Hey, that’s where those bastards stole that riff from!”)

I can only explain these dabbles into boy band pap and corporate indie on the fact that I was still watching Top of the Pops and the “The Chart Show”, which used to get shown on ITV each Saturday morning (until I became a typical teenager and realised that staying in bed was a way better thing to do than getting up before midday on Saturday). It was that show where they played music videos and bad graphics would come up on the screen as if it was a video recorder. I blame their influence for introducing me to so much shit. D:REAM, “U R The Best Thing”. Definitely remember this on “The Chart Show”. Years later, we thankfully have Dr. Brian Cox, righting the wrongs of his musical past. I still have the CD single though Brian. It still works. Your musical history is as uneraseable as my tastes.

And then I got a guitar. A classical with nylon strings. Not quite that Telecaster that Syd had. And I became an angrier and angrier teenager. And with that my musical tastes improved hundredfold. The doors Nirvana opened (let’s just say bashing power chords on nylon strings cost me a LOT of pocket money) were infinite.

There’s a whole generation of arseholes that now say Nirvana didn’t change anything, that they were overrated and they only got where they are in history because a certain front man reached his demise in 1994. To a degree, Nirvana have become dangerous territory for a serious music fan to confess to admiring these days. For the sake of this argument with such people let me just say “FUCK” and “YOU”. If you can’t see what Nirvana did in 1991 as one of the biggest changes to hit popular music in the last hundred years then you probably were (and still are) a posturing hair-metal fan, because that’s the exact music Nirvana came out and pissed all over. What The Velvet Underground did in 1967, what The Sex Pistols did in 1976, Nirvana did exactly that in 1991. They virtually pushed guitars into the hands of the disaffected and said “Go forth and do whatever YOU want.”

And I certainly did.

But I still have so many guilty pleasures. Thing is, nowadays I’m not so much guilty about them. I’m too old to care. My recently found love for Kate Bush? Yeah sure, I’ll share her videos all over my Facebook wall for my friends to jibe or applaud my tastes. I’m not ashamed to embrace the odd few synths now, or bad dance routines and cheese that wiffs stronger than a good Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Believe me, we had it so good. Imagine the embarrassment of the current young generations when they get to our age… Justin fucking Beiber?!

Fuck off.