Archive for the ‘My Life in Music’ Category

My Life in Music: 1973

As has been evident in my previous posts in this series, the music that made an impact on me in the early years of my life was influenced by my parents’ tastes in music. The song for this year is from my mother’s music collection.

It’s from an album by the Carpenters, called Now and Then. The album is effectively a mix of old songs and new, with one side being original Carpenters tracks and the other covers of old songs, set up on the album to sound like they were being played on the radio, with a DJ between the tracks.

The Carpenters were a big influence in my childhood, because my mother had most of their albums. I thought Karen Carpenter had a beautiful voice, and of course she was a drummer before she was a singer. Women drummers were rather rare in the 1970s and I’ve always been drawn to women who dare to venture into worlds traditionally occupied by men. It has been pointed out that Karen’s anorexia, triggered apparently by media criticisms of being ‘chubby’ in the early days of the Carpenters, perhaps is evidence of the fact she was never very comfortable being in the limelight, and might have been far happier had she stayed hiding behind her drum kit.

I do remember that when she died, in February 1983, my eighth-grade English teacher used the event to trigger a discussion about anorexia in class.

The track I’ve picked for this year is not my favourite track off the album but it is the most evocative. We listened to it a lot, and we must have had the album on tape, because when I hear this song it reminds me of being in the car with my mother, driving through Mossley, the town in Lancashire where I lived for the first ten years of my life. The tape had a ‘wobble’ in it partway through this song. Those of you who are the same generation as me will remember that a hazard of cassette tapes – the only portable medium of music we had in those days – was that tapes would often get ‘chewed up’ by players, and they never played quite the same way again.

Sara in Portsmouth, Summer 1973

And the photo? My album says this was taken in Portsmouth. Evidently it was summer, which means I was probably a couple of months away from turning four. I was all skinny legs and knobbly knees at that age, but I’m wondering now if it is actually 1973. All the childhood photos I have of me I gathered together before I moved back to England from Canada in 1988, neatly arranged in an album in order of year, but I am starting to wonder if the year is accurate in all cases.

I do vaguely remember this holiday, though. My grandparents lived in Portsmouth at the time. Being a naval town, Portsmouth had big black anchors arranged as sort of sculptures in the town, and I remember climbing all over them. Well, I remember them being giant-sized anchors, but I was very small back then. In this photo I am standing on a narrow wooden post on the beach. It was hot. I was very good at balancing on things when I was very young – I lost the ability to do that a few years later, when the fear of falling kicked in. I do remember it was the only time I had my hair cut very short, during a summer that was rather hot (though not as hot as the British heatwave that kicked in a few years later). I decided I really didn’t like it short, and I refused to have it cut that short again. Even as an adult, I’ve always worn my hair fairly long.

Anyway, following this collection of memories which appear to span quite a number of years, here is the song for 1973, which definitely was released in this year – ‘One Fine Day’ by the Carpenters.

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My Life in Music: 1972

Like the song for 1971, this year’s song is cheating a bit, because it’s a song that was released in this year but became important to me a bit later on.

The photo to the right is from 1972: Christmas Day, or thereabouts. I have vague memories of this being at my grandparents’ house, and there is a shadow behind me because my dad was using his cine camera, and when he was filming indoors a very bright light had to be shone on the subject, otherwise the footage came out dark. I remember the doll, too. I recall I named her Amanda, though I don’t remember the coat and scarf she was wearing – those must have got lost at a fairly early stage.

The feaured song was released by Tanya Tucker in this year. She was thirteen years old at the time. It was another one on the tape of ‘favourites’ from my dad’s country collection. In fact, it was one of the first songs I remember hearing at his house in Ashton-Under-Lyne, Lancashire, which he moved into after the divorce. My sister and I got to know this song so well we used to sing along to it and we knew all the words. Though at the time we got them wrong – we were from deepest Lancashire at the time and we misinterpreted Tanya Tucker’s southern drawl. For a long time I thought Tanya was singing about a “mysterious duck-haired man”.

Every summer, between my parent’s divorce and us moving to Canada, my dad used to take my sister and me on a camping holiday to Blackpool. I adored Blackpool as a child. I loved the arcades, where you fed pennies into machines hoping to set off a cascade of coins and win money back, and played video games. My favourite video game in those days was a game called ‘Boot Hill’, in which my sister and I would manipulate crude pixels shaped like cowboys to fire pixel bullets at each other. If you got your opponent the game would start playing an electronic version of the Funeral March, and your pixel cowboy would fall down and start floating up the screen as if he were being called up to Heaven. How video games have moved on since those days.

But my favourite thing about Blackpool, by far, was the amusemark park – otherwise known as the Pleasure Beach. Usually we’d be limited to one day there during our trip with Dad, and we were rationed as to how many rides we could go on, because in those days you had to pay for each ride separately. We had our favourites. The Alice in Wonderland ride. The ladybird ride. The Tom Sawyer raft ride, which was rather sedate but it lasted for ages.

The drive to Blackpool was as exciting as the trip itself, just for the anticipation, and my dad kept my sister and me quiet by making a game out of who would spot Blackpool Tower first.

For some reason, this song makes me think of the road trip to Blackpool, when life was simpler and a trip to an amusement park was all it took to make me happy. The song was on the mix tape we played for the journey.

I haven’t been back to Blackpool as an adult. I get the feeling I would be disappointed. Sometimes you need to keep memories in the past, and keep your illusions unshattered.

So this is the song for 1972: ‘Delta Dawn’ by Tanya Tucker.

My Life in Music: 1971

Throughout the 1970s, I was growing up in Lancashire in the north of England. My life experience was limited, and although I have memories here and there from quite early in life (the earliest one being riding in a little seat that was fixed on top of my baby sister’s pram, at which point I would have been about three years old), the memories are snippets, and a bit hazy after all these years.

Toddler Sara, in 1971

In the picture here I think I am about 18 months old. Clearly not yet toilet trained as the nappy is on full display. There were no disposal diapers in those days; they were all terry cloth, with plastic elasticated pants worn over the top. I remember a big yellow plastic bucket that my mother used to wash my little sister’s nappies in. It smelled of ammonia. I can still recall that smell.

I also don’t know where this particular picture was taken, but I always thought I look quite determined to make my own way down from wherever it was.

Anyway, for the next couple of entries in this series about music I am cheating a bit because I really don’t remember much about the music of the early 1970s. So instead I am picking a song that was released this year, but which meant a lot to me a bit later in life.

I was six when my parents divorced. I don’t have many memories of us all living together. What I do remember, though, is that after that point and before we moved to Canada, my sister and I spent weekends with my dad and we listened to a lot of country music because that was what he listened to. I grew to like it. I still have a liking for country music, however uncool it might be to admit it, and for the last couple of years I have attended the Country 2 Country Music Festival weekend at the O2 in Greenwich. I go with my dad because there’s nobody else in my life who likes country music enough to put up with a whole weekend of it.

Anyway, when we left England to move to Canada with my mother, my dad gave me a cassette of all of my favourite songs from his country collection. I was ten years old at the time, and moving thousands of miles away from my dad and from everything in my life that was comfortable and familiar was a big upheaval. I listened to the tape a lot, because it was the only link I had to my dad, and every time I did so I felt desperately homesick.

So the song for 1971 is by John Denver, and was released in this year, and it’s all about longing to be home. Although he’s singing about West Virginia being home, whenever I hear this song I think of my dad’s house in Ashton-under-Lyne, which had no TV and no central heating and was never actually my home, only a place I stayed on weekends; but still I hear this song and I think of it. And it takes me back to being a lonely, homesick ten-year-old.

I still cry every time I hear this song. So although the memories it holds for me are not from 1971, the song has such a powerful hold on me I had to include it in this series of posts.

Here, then is the song for 1971: “Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver.

My Life in Music: 1970

I really don’t remember much about the music of 1970. I was too busy eating, sleeping, pooping, and growing, the way babies tend to.

Baby Sara, 1970

I am not sure how old I am in the accompanying photo. Six months, maybe? So it was probably taken in the spring of 1970. Colour photography had been invented by then. But my grandfather, who took the picture, was a keen amateur photographer and had a black and white camera.

Anyway, back to the song. I’ve gone for a song that was a hit in 1970, and it’s an Elvis song. My mother is a big Elvis fan, and I grew up knowing rather a lot of Elvis songs, because she was always playing them.

I’ve picked this one, because I remember this song on the radio, though I very much doubt I remember it being played the year it was released. It was apparently Elvis’s most successful UK single, staying at #1 in the charts for six weeks in the summer of 1970.

Because this blog is all about the memories associated with music, I should also mention what I think about whenever I hear this song. I think about my mother, and the way she cried when she learned about Elvis’s death. But that was not until 1977. I also remember the flat we used to live in after my parents divorced, but we did not move there until 1976. My memories of the house I was living in in 1970 are rather vague, and aren’t really associated with any particular song, but I will explore this further as we move on in this series.

I always thought of this song as a ‘big song’. The sort of song you want to sing along to, even if you’re not a big fan of Elvis.

The video I’ve chosen for this song is not actually a video – it’s a collection of stills of Elvis. But he’s looking pretty good in most of them, and I think my mother might appreciate it. And the sound quality of this recording is a bit better than the other versions I could find on Youtube.

So may I present the song for 1970: ‘The Wonder of You’ by Elvis Presley.

My Life in Music: 1969

I’m introducing a new feature to the blog, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

Music has been important to human culture since the dawn of time. In all the travelling we’ve done across the world, I am always struck by how there is always music. No matter where you are in the world, when a crowd gathers, instruments will be played, there will be singing, and there will be dancing.

In addition to that I think music has a powerful influence on our senses. I can hear a song and be transported back in time to whatever I was doing, and whatever I was feeling, when that song first came into my life. No other medium has that impact.

So with that in mind I am presenting a new feature on this blog – My Life in Music. Each post will feature a year of my life and a song from that year that had a particular impact, and why. At least, that’s the idea. And since there are 47 years to account for (and counting), this one could keep me going for a while.

babysarahospital

Baby Sara heading home from the hospital, in those heady days before health & safety…

Anyway, I thought the best place to start is the beginning. I was born in the North of England in 1969 (in the middle of a thunderstorm, apparently). Of course, this is a bit of a cheat because I don’t remember the music of 1969. For most of it, I was a foetus. The world was a very different place. I am including here the first picture of me that was ever taken. The little bundle in the nurse’s arms is me, being handed to my mother in the car for the journey home. In the front seat. Never mind there was no car seat, seat belts were optional in those days as well. How times have changed.

And embarrassingly, this song was number 1 in the UK pop charts the week I was born. It’s something of a novelty song – performed by a group of fictional teenagers in the cartoon TV series The Archie Show. The song was written by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim, and recorded by a group of session musicians. And apparently it became a runaway hit. It was number 1 in the UK for eight weeks, and the most popular song in the world I was born into.

And so here it is. May I present the song for 1969, “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies. Let’s hope the music gets better from here on in…