Saturday, March 13, 2010

Zombie Love

Just in case I haven't been before, I'm going to be a bit self-indulgent...

You know how sometimes you just realise something? All the things drop into place and you say, 'well, I never knew that!'. I'm sure it happens to all of us at some point; I know it has to me (sometimes on embarrassingly simple things). Not so often is when you look at your life or an aspect of it and realise that you've been deluding yourself, or maybe not so much deluding but not realising the real truth. Now, this all sounds really heavy, but in truth it isn't. It's about music...

Throughout my life, whatever group of friends I've hung with would probably have categorised my music taste as being either rock or prog rock fuelled. This isn't a far off description; rock and prog have been major influences in my listening habits. The first single I ever bought was The Doors' Touch Me, when I was 6. The thing is, this song should have told the story a long time ago, but it stayed steadfastly ignorant.

Touch Me is a Ray Manzarek song and Manzarek was the wizard Hammond organ player.

My earliest memories of the 1970s were mainly of Genesis. They were the most often played albums in the house and the tracks that I was most attracted to were the ones with heavy keyboards and synthesisers. In fact, you look at a list of pop songs from the early 70s that I liked and you'll see a common theme - synthesisers. Lucky Man by ELP a particular favourite, but there was stuff by Magic Fly, Chicory Tip, Hot Butter, and loads of others that have drifted from my memory but would come bouncing back should one turn up on the radio.

The late 1970s brought my first real obsession with a different kind of music. Still listening to Genesis, Floyd, Yes and a host of 70s prog and rock bands, you would have thought that it would have been punk that took hold of me and whisked me away; but I found most punk unlistenable when I was a teenager, the only band I had any time for was The Stranglers... are you beginning to see a pattern develop? No, it was something different in a less extreme way. Around 1977, I was introduced to two albums; the first was Autobahn by Kraftwerk, of which the track Morgenspaziergang was on constant rotation. The second was Spiral by Vangelis. By 1980, I had everything Vangelis ever did (including the impenetrable and experimental Beaubourg) and to this was albums from Jean Michel Jarre, Tubeway Army (who I really thought for about 10 minutes were the future of music) and, of course, the now obligatory keyboards heavy albums that began to proliferate at this time of the 20th century.

Despite all my rock n roll leanings, getting into indie music during the 80s and 90s, it was always synthesiser or keyboard led music that I was brought back to. The tracks that stood out for me were the rousing crescendos that only a bank of computers could achieve.

In the late 90s, I had one of those revelatory moments mentioned earlier. I was sitting in the pub talking to Roger about music and it suddenly dawned on me why he liked bands such as The Smiths, The Clash and stuff that sat at the other end of our mutually similar music taste. Roger is a lyrics man. For him the music is important, but its the lyrics that transform a song from being average to being great. I hate The Clash and The Smiths with a passion - have you noticed that neither of them has a keyboard player?

If you look at my record collection, which if we did seriously would take all week, but just at a few examples. I have solo albums by Tony Banks (Genesis), Rick Wakeman (Yes), Steve Winwood (Traffic), Richard Wright (Floyd), Brian Eno (Roxy Music), Vangelis (Aphrodite's Child), the list is pretty long and these are all keyboard players. Yet I still didn't see the stark reality in front of me.

Yes, Underworld, Tears for Fears, Tangerine Dream, Talk Talk, Ulrich Schnauss, M83, Stranglers, Simple Minds, Sigur Ros, Jean Michel Jarre, Secret Machines, Rush, Genesis, PIL, Propaganda, Primal Scream, Porcupine Tree, Floyd, Zep's last studio album, Ozric Tentacles, Orbital, The Orb, William Orbit, Bill Nelson and Be Bop Deluxe, Moody Blues, Moby, Mew, Massive Attack, Chapterhouse, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, Hybrid, Hidria Space Folk, Heartbreakers, FSOL, Amorphous Androgynous, Flaming Lips, Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, Charlatans, Bowie, Blow Up Hollywood, Maxxess, Air, the Beatles and all of the space rock and psychedelic music I listen to. This and much more represents more than 50% of my record collection.

Then, yesterday, listening to Ulrich Schnauss's Goodbye, I had this thought; I've waited all my life for music like this.

I still regard out and out rock music as something of a life blood. I don't think I could do without a lot of my rock music; but even some of that has elements of all of the things above; heavy production, bass pedals, effects, things that make the sound BIGGER and richer. I discovered a few years before he died that my dad could actually play the piano. This was a bit of a huge surprise to all of us, but he'd had piano lessons when he was a kid, because they didn't have Nintendos in those days. He had a similar ear for music that I had and we would share a love of certain tracks - Silent Sorrows in Empty Boats by Genesis from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, being a prime example. For many people its a nothing 5 minute piece of instrumental filler; probably designed to give the drummer a rest when playing the entire set; but to us it was uplifting chorus of angels type piece of music about hope. It was the moments of pure production that we both loved, which explains why we both love and loved the Nelson Riddle era of Frank Sinatra - nothing could top Riddle's production - everything was rich, deep and right there in your face.

So, I'm a techno head, or at least I probably would have been had I been born 10 years later. My real love in music is blazing keyboards, full throttle moogs and plinky plinky noises. It explains a lot of things, but probably not why I have 3 Billy Joel albums...

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