Thirty has hit me like a ton of bricks. The last few weeks in the lead-up have been an emotional rollercoaster of nostalgia and regret.
And music. Lots of music.
Music has a lot to answer for in regards to the man I am today (I say man… I am still a Lego-playing, Pokemon-watching boy-child), and as such I was delighted when the music section allowed me to crawl out of my television cave to give a rundown of the thirty songs that have led to today. There’s some cheese, there’s some pretentious gubbins, and there are some that I’m outright embarrassed by, but isn’t that how all our inner jukeboxes play out?
In no other order than the years in which they were released, here is My 30 at 30…
‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ – The Supremes (1964)
My love of Motown most definitely comes from my mum, and the only voice more present than hers growing up was that of Diana Ross. ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ (even in its Phil Collins incarnation) always reminds me of driving home from school, singing along to the radio, neither of us really being able to hold a tune, but still having a darned good time trying.
’20th Century Boy’ – T-Rex (1973)
There are few opening riffs that stir quite as much as those first booming notes of T-Rex’s phenomenal ’20th Century Boy’. My love for T-Rex originally stemmed from my mother’s obsession with singer Marc Bolan, and led to many a manic dance around the kitchen. My relationship with this song in particular was further solidified when I was introduced to Naoki Urasawa’s manga of the same name, a book that has likewise etched its name in my heart.
‘Dream On’ – Aerosmith (1973)
On the topic of epic openings, how about this one? ‘Dream On’ is a song I discovered embarrassingly late in life, but since its introduction around ten years ago, it has remained both an inspirational safety blanket and a cracking karaoke number. The lyrics speak wonders, and in my darkest days, nothing gives me hope quite like Steven Tyler’s awe-inspiring screams.
‘The Chain’ – Fleetwood Mac (1977)
Rumours is undeniably one of the greatest albums ever crafted, and almost any one of the tracks on the LP could have cropped up here, but for the last two years especially, ‘The Chain’ has really resonated with me. After losing a beloved mentor under very bizarre circumstances, I have since associated the song with him, and in that sense thank him for knocking the infinitely more twee (yet still as life affirming!) ‘Go Your Own Way’ off the list.
‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ – Journey (1981)
Long before Glee, and well before The X Factor both had their ways with this epic, I fell in love with the hirsute balladeering of Journey. Indeed, any number of their hits could have made this list, but my incessant requesting of ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ at the students’ union, many years prior to it becoming overplayed, made it a staple of any night out in my early twenties, and remains one of my morning motivation songs.
‘Down Under’ – Men at Work (1981)
Colin Hay’s tale of flowing beer and vegemite sandwiches may seem an odd choice, but it very much represents my years in Japan. Having found my home away from home in a little Gaijin dive bar in the town of Chiba, this song became a staple dedication to the Aussie owner during my live sets. Hay’s acoustic version from his solo album Man @ Work far surpasses the somewhat cheesy original.
‘Stand and Deliver’ – Adam and The Ants (1981)
Oh Adam Ant, how I wanted to be you. The epitome or cool and swagger, the dandy highwayman became something of an inspiration to my early twenties, eventually leading himself to become a character in a children’s book I penned, as well as being one of my favourite Halloween costumes to date. ‘Stand and Deliver’ is a rallying cry for dandies across the globe, myself (I wish) included.
‘Gold’ – Spandau Ballet (1983)
‘Gold’ represents my teenage awkwardness. At sixteen, I decided that it would be a good idea to have a karaoke party for my birthday, the pinnacle of which was a godawful rendition of the Spandau Ballet classic. For years, it became a joke amongst me and my friends, and was finally laid to rest in a come-back rendition at a bar in Soho last month.
‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ – Wham! (1984)
Back at school, we had to do an annual inter-house music competition. Everyone had to take part. As such, whatever song was picked ended up sounding like little more than an angry rugby chant. One year, however, we decided to go with Wham!’s ridiculously peppy ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’, with myself and my friend Stefan playing guitars to try and lighten the mood somewhat. What ensued was a bloody, panicked mess, and neither of us ever really lived it down. Since then, whenever the song is inevitably played in any retro nightclub, it serves as an excuse to drunkenly call up one of my oldest friends. Thanks, George.
‘Walk of Life’ – Dire Straits (1985)
My dad’s musical tastes never really rubbed off on me all that much. The closest his reggae persuasion ever came to me was my late-teen love of nineties ska. That said, I will be forever thankful for the hours in the car spent listening to ‘Sultans of Swing’ over and over. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ could have made the list, ‘Brothers in Arms’, or even ‘So Far Away’, but ‘Walk of Life’ is filled with such a joie de vie that it never fails to raise a smile for happier times.
‘Thunder Road’ – Bruce Springsteen (1986)
I met The Boss when I was nineteen, and it was he who made me a man. Prior, I had had my tweenage fancies, and my emo rockers, but Bruce told me all about what it meant to be a grown up. He taught me pain, he taught my hardship, but most importantly, he taught me what love really was. Not teenage lust, but real, soul-wrenching love. Since then, he has been a constant companion and mentor, guiding me when things get tough, and celebrating with me in good times. ‘Thunder Road’ is a song of celebration. From its carnival-like opening harmonica to its driving climax, it’s a song of love, redemption, and most importantly of hope for a brighter future.
‘Venus’ – Bananarama (1986)
The first album I owned was The Best of Bananarama. And I bloody loved it. Making up lyrics for ‘Robert De Nero’s Waiting’ and ‘Love in the First Degree’ (“guilty as a cockatrice” being a classic that comes to mind) made up a large part of my early years. And probably explains my later love for Steps and S Club 7… Oh, and it was also the demo song on the Yamaha keyboards, so, y’know… music lessons.
‘Part of Your World’ – Jodi Benson (1989)
When I was four, I went to the cinema for the very first time. Croydon Multiplex. Orange ice lolly. The Little Mermaid. I maintain that this trip with my mum first ignited my lifelong love for cinema, and of course for all things Disney. The film is to this day my “I’m too ill to do anything else” movie, and ‘Part of Your World’ never fails to reduce me to tears. Probably the most emotional song in the Disney oeuvre, this is a power ballad for princesses across the globe. And craps all over bloody ‘Let It Go’.
‘Swing the Mood’ – Jive Bunny and The Mastermixers (1989)
The first single I ever owned was this awesome mash-up by the wonderfully named Jive Bunny. Although at the time I didn’t really know any of the songs in their own right, I had this on repeat on my little red My First Walkman for probably the best part of a year, until the tragic day that my father sold his car with the cassette still in the tape deck. He bought me The Best of Roxy Music in penance. I was less than impressed.
‘Any Dream Will Do’ – Jason Donovan (1991)
Flashback to Christmas 1991, when I was given the choice between going to see Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat in the West End, and seeing The Muppet Christmas Carol at the pictures. I chose the Muppets. To this day, I still ponder this decision, but the soundtrack to the Andrew Lloyd Webber show that I received in my stocking that year is probably the album I have listened to most over the course of my life. The original CD became so overplayed that it burnt out, and had to be replaced a few years ago with the inferior Lee Mead version. ‘Any Dream Will Do’ ignited my lifelong love of musicals, and my man-crush on Aussie heart-throb Jason Donovan.
‘Heal the World’ – Michael Jackson (1991)
I won’t lie; I’m not the world’s biggest Michael Jackson fan. I get it. I just don’t necessarily like it. When my grandmother died, I was seven. This was my first experience of loss, and I didn’t understand it at all. I remember Uncle Tony taking me and my brother out to the park, and on the way home, ‘Heal the World’ came on the radio in the car. I remember Jackson’s line “there are people dying if they care enough for the living” hitting me like a freight train, and it has resonated as such ever since.
‘In These Arms’ – Bon Jovi (1992)
Probably the soppiest choice on this list, but of all the Bon Jovi songs that could have appeared here, this one holds the most meaning. After moving back from Japan in 2012, I was forced to leave my partner on the other side of the world whilst visa issues were dealt with. What ensued was a long and painful year apart. But Jon provided understanding; “I’d love you ’til the end of time, if you were in these arms tonight”. These words were indeed my song, and when I saw the band live early the following year, my eyes flooded as soon as this one piped up.
‘Round Here’ – Counting Crows (1993)
To be frank, this entire list could have been made up of Counting Crows songs. Adam Duritz’s lyrics have spoken to me over the last few decades like no other singer, no other poet and no other artist. My own insane dreams and insecurities are voiced by the dreadlocked madman. ‘Round Here’ is a song of utmost pain, but told in the most beautiful of ways. The opening fade in, the eloquence of Duritz’s words, the anguish in his voice… If ever there was a song that encapsulated what it means to be human, this is it.
‘Common People’ – Pulp (1995)
When I was eighteen, I desperately wanted to be Jarvis Cocker. Historians will forever remember the feud that was Oasis vs. Blur, but most fail to mention that there was a third group. The group for the weirdoes. And I was most certainly one of them. Unfortunately, I was more like the girl from Greece than Jarvis himself, but I owe pretty much my entire fashion sense, as well as my taste for rum and cokes, to the kooky northerner.
‘Moving’ – Supergrass (1999)
I come from a melting pot of backgrounds, probably the most influential of which is the Indian heritage that my grandfather endowed me with. East is East was a film that my mother had always compared to her own mixed-race upbringing, so when Grandpa was suddenly taken from us in 2005, my immediate reaction was to bury myself in the film. The shock finally gave way to grief as the closing credits rolled to the sound of Supergrass’ ‘Moving’, a song that will now forever take me back to Grandpa’s dining table, the glorious aroma of curry, whiskey, cha and diabetic marmalade congregating in the air.
‘Radio’ – The Corrs (1999)
In my early teens, I absolutely adored The Corrs. Their In Blue tour was the first live gig I ever attended, and although many of their songs hold a very special place in my heart, ‘Radio’ is one that really spoke to me as a love-lorne teen. Its tale of unrequited love and solace in music is a story that still rings true. Plus it’s just a ruddy beautiful song!
‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All’ – Jason Paige (1999)
Pokemon has been a huge part of my life since it first burst into the world two decades ago. Trading cards, GameBoy games and action figures have made way for obscure t-shirts and even more obscure artwork. There are few songs, however, that can hit the heartstrings like the call to arms to be “the very best, like no one ever was”. Epic stuff.
‘Buck Rogers’ – Feeder (2001)
Feeder’s debut album, Echo Park was very much the soundtrack to my sixth form. Hours spent in the common room, bunking off sports in the afternoons, were spent either watching Magnum PI, or listening to Feeder for the thousandth time. And arguing whether or not ‘Buck Rogers’ was actually said in the song (check the lyrics book…).
‘Mr. Brightside’ – The Killers (2004)
The Killers provided the entire score for my university years. I had soul, but I wasn’t a soldier, and I looked a tragic lot like Jesus. The first time I heard ‘Mr. Brightside’, however, will never leave me. Very, very drunk in Leeds student union for a friend’s birthday, I suddenly had a moment of unhazed clarity as Brandon Flowers introduced himself to me. From that moment, I was hooked, and The Killers have kept traveling with me ever since.
‘Real Good Looking Boy’ – The Who (2004)
A lesser known song by the British rockers, ‘Real Good Looking Boy’ tells of a young man struggling with his image before eventually finding true love and accepting himself for what he is. It’s a simple and endearing tale, but the coupling of Townshend’s vocals with the iconic Elvis melody creates one of the most inspiring songs of all time, and one that always reminds me of windswept walks along Cardiff Bay.
‘Sex On Fire – Kings of Leon (2008)
In my early twenties I began to find confidence. And with that confidence, I discovered that I could sing. Suddenly, at karaoke bars across Cardiff, I was cock of the walk, and ‘Sex on Fire’ was essentially a song that got me laid. To this day, I don’t get where my voice suddenly came from, having been told by my best friend for years that I “couldn’t shout for coal”, but I have to thank Kings of Leon for helping me find my muse. And for everything else thereafter.
‘I Gotta Feeling’ – The Black Eyed Peas (2009)
My brothers and I have massively different tastes in music. Luke’s very much of the Nicki Minaj ilk, whilst Harry gets his kicks on the hip hops. Strangely, however, all three of us seem to converge on The Black Eyed Peas. It’s like some crazed Venn diagram where Will I. Am somehow ended up in the middle. As such, this song, in all its “lets go get drunk” glory is oddly special.
‘Gloria’ – YUI (2010)
One thing I learned for certain during my years in Japan is that I freakin’ hate J-Pop. Frankly, any non-Japanese person who claims to enjoy it is either a liar or has something wrong in the head. It’s awful. Though if you mute the videos, they do make for much more enjoyable viewing. However, amidst the trite, Japan actually does harbor a handful of really great acoustic singers, one of the best of whom is the beautiful young YUI. Her upbeat rock anthem ‘Gloria’ is, in a country full of songs about ponytails and choosing what clothes to wear (don’t believe me? Look up AKB48’s lyrics!), an awesome against-the-grain ballad about finding inner happiness.
‘Mean’ – Taylor Swift (2010)
I have never denied my love for Taylor Swift. Sure, more recently, she’s become annoying and whiny, but there was once a time when she was a cracking young country singer. ‘Mean’ is a catchy little number about overcoming the shit that life throws at you, and dreaming the big dreams. It also helped me get as far as I did on The Voice. Though perhaps I would’ve got further with something else… Damnit, Taylor.
‘The Edge of Glory’ – Lady Gaga (2011)
The most recent song on the list may seem an odd choice, but behind the glitz and pretention, Lady Gaga has provided us with some phenomenal lyrics. This song, recorded alongside Clarence Clements of the E-Street Band (his final recording before his tragic death), is a rousing piece that has a number meanings for me; firstly, it reminds me of my brother and his own glitz and pretention, and secondly it takes me back once again to that little dive bar in Japan, where, after performing an acoustic version of the song one evening, an old man came up to me and asked if it was a Springsteen song. I laughed and told him that it was in fact Lady Gaga. He looked at me stunned for a moment before saying “Shit, who’da thought that woman had soul?”
But we all have soul, old drunken man, and our soul is a nostalgic and emotional thing. Music brings that out of all of us. I hope you have enjoyed this self-indulgent little trip down memory lane. I’m off to drown my sorrows now and listen to some Steps.