ABBA – S.O.S.
In the first ever piece I had published (a non-fiction story for Pure Slush) I detailed a moment in my teens where my older brother used my liking for ABBA as definitive proof that I was a ‘gay’. He may have been correct but he missed two crucial facts: 1) in his late teens he was a Madonna fan (pot, kettle, etc) and 2) no one crafted songs like ABBA did. The verses are amazingly maudlin (which will fit in nicely with so many of following selections it would seem…) but many of ABBA’s best songs have a bleak undertones to them. When the chorus kicks you get a much needed shot of pure power-pop to the veins. Gay? Nah, just genius.
Joan Armatrading – Love and Affection
I think one of my sisters introduced me to this song. As an awkward teen I often felt the one thing missing in my life was a bit of ‘love’. In my family and person life, *aww*. “If I can feel the sun in my eyes and the rain on my face, why I can’t I feel love?” That question hit me like a ton of bricks, and yet there’s nothing more brash in this than a slightly cheesy saxophone solo. Joan Armatrading’s meek voice still sends shivers down my spine when she repetitively demands “Give me love!” as chords descend one by one behind her. The whole thing is like chocolate for the ears.
Nirvana – About a Girl (Unplugged Version)
It’s 1993. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” clears the dance floor at my primary school leavers’ disco, save for our lovely, grungy teacher, Miss Nicola Phillips, and one boy from my class, holding hands and ‘dancing’ to it. I’m so jealous, I fancied Miss Phillips rotten (My mum got piss-farting drunk at this do, something she rarely did, and told her this… *cringe*) A few years later I see a clip of this straggly guy singing this song, surrounded by black candles, it looks like a musical wake, and I’m won over. Even my mum liked it. I got “Unplugged” out of the library (I didn’t have much pocket money to buy stuff, for years the local libraries were my musical godsend) and with that, I began to learn how to play guitar. It underestimates the statement when I say that discovering Nirvana changed my life, and it all started here.
Jeff Buckley – Nightmares by the Sea
Whilst tidying racks of CDs in Woolies, I noticed Jeff Buckley’s “Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk” at a bargain price, £3.97. I stuck my name on it so I could purchase it when my shift ended. As it was scanned through the till it came up at £15.97. Some arse had stickered it wrong, buggery! This girl (one of a manager’s daughter with many more years experience than me) said it would be fine to sell it at the price on the sticker. Hmm. She insisted. A few days later I was to be found in the office blubbing and being suspended so an investigation could take place. But in my time off I grew a pair and built up a defence that would’ve got a murderer off (maybe) before going in to fight my corner. It paid off, I wasn’t sacked. The next day I gleefully handed in my notice. I’d hated that place passionately anyway. Jeff Buckley helped me get out of my miserable job. It took me years to listen to that album again and this song is the highlight for me. Considering the circumstances surrounding Jeff’s death it’s eerily physic of his own demise, “Stay, with me, under these waves tonight.” There’s those shivers again…
Nick Drake – Things Behind The Sun
One summer, my choice of music on, driving from one campsite to another, I suddenly realised where we were and suggested a detour. I grabbed the giant road atlas (this is before smartphones with GPS and sat-navs) and guided us to Tamworth-in-Arden. It was a sunny Sunday, we arrived in a quiet, quaint village. In the centre of it all was the church with accompanying graveyard in the grounds. We wandered through, and eventually found a humble looking stone. Stood there for a while, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do or say. When faced with Nick Drake’s final resting place it once again hit me that we always seem to lose the best ones far too soon. I put this on as we quietly drove away.
Hope of the States – Don’t Go To Pieces
I don’t discover many new bands so it was thanks to my mate Stevie that Hope of the States came onto my radar. He dragged me to see them play the now defunct Glasgow Barfly. He’d won tickets courtesy of XFM, so if I hated them, it was a freebie. The six-piece crammed themselves onto the tiniest of states and began belting out, “Blood Meridian”. My jaw dropped, as per the Barfly the sound was awful, but I fell in love in instantly. I ran out, bought everything by them (I also bought a violin, which I never learned to play…) and realised that “The Lost Riots” is one of the few musical masterpieces of this millennia so far. Choosing one song, it had to be this because I always think of Stevie and his wonky circulatory system when I hear it. “There’s a million good hearts like you and like me.”
The Four Fifty’s – I’m All Wrong
I had to ask the Gill Hoffs (who’d suggested I give Sitting on the Swings a shot) if it would be a bit of a faux-pas to include a song by one of my own bands, albeit one that wasn’t written or sung by myself. Stevie McEwan, (previously mentioned mate as well as musical co-conspirator), was a much more prolific songwriter than myself, I was used to him bringing me new songs, but when he brought this to me it made complete sense first time around, and I knew it was going to be a special one, if even just for us. It ended up closing our last release as The Four Fifty’s (misplaced apostrophe intentional, so we said). Stevie had hellish problems with his heart and palpitations whenever we played live and overall we’d found ourselves weary of the rigmaroles of playing a ‘scene’ we didn’t sit well with.
“I’ve got nothing else
I’ve tried everything before
Is it worth the effort, I don’t think so
We can only pack our things and go.”
Soon afterwards Stevie and his then wife-to-be had a kid, we took a few years out, and nowadays we occasionally reconvene to strum out some tunes. But of everything we ever did, this one will be with me for an eternity.
Manic Street Preachers – Faster
Nirvana obsessed teen Shane did not understand “The Holy Bible” when he first took it out of Catford Library back in the day. Fast-forward a decade and for a reason I can’t remember, the album stormed back into my life. At one point I was listening to that it four, five times a day in its entirety. I was fucked up about, well, everything at that point. I was angrier than I’d ever been before, life seemed bleak and pointless. With that, it seems logical that “The Holy Bible” and Richey Edwards’ words finally made sense to me. So I went to the GP, took some pills, got a little better as well as fatter, stopped pills, but I never left this album behind. I’d put this song one on each and every time I had to walk out into the world, like a boxer climbing into the ring. It still hits the defiant side of me like a punch in the gut, and as long as I have functioning ears, I suspect it always will.
Siouxsie and the Banshees – Spellbound
When compiling some contenders for this list, I had to have something sporting John McGeoch on guitar. He was one of the most astoundingly original musicians I’ve ever heard, and certainly the best thing to ever come out of the hellhole that is Greenock, Scotland. When I listen to him play I’m awestruck, Japanese fan-girl down the front staring up and crying awestruck, but alas he’s no longer with us and that is one humongous shame. Recently I was trying to explain just how special his playing was to my better half, and I struggled to put it into logical words. So I slapped this on. McGeoch quietly chirps throughout the song, weaving in with these beautiful, unusual picking patterns and bursting into the chorus with frantically strummed acoustic chords. McGeoch had a knack of composing perfectly for the feel of a song, and I’m ‘entranced’ by his skill each and every time.
Elliott Smith – Independence Day
And so my ten songs end here. It had to end here because I reckon “Independence Day” is possibly my favourite song of all time. I could’ve filled this list with ten Elliott Smith songs but that would’ve been boring as anything. It’s the perfect mix of happy/mournful and often it replaces “Faster” as a my ‘going out into the world again’ song. It somehow appeals to the best and worst sides of me. When I’m down, considering disappearing for all eternity, this song simultaneously fits and lifts me out of that frame of mind. “Go to sleep, and make the change, I’ll meet you here tomorrow, independence day.”
Shane Simmons writes in between being a till monkey, stuffing his face and having brain frazzles in the middle of the night. He lives in miserable Glasgow, came from miserable London and is generally of a quiet yet angry nature. He is willing to listen to strangers talk about their lives if they buy him cakes. He doesn’t like Twitter as there is a word limit but he can be found blogging at http://scribblingsimmons.wordpress.com/ He is currently working on twelve short stories for publication through Pure Slush next year.