Ten Songs by Gareth Spark

For me, music…song…has been more than a solace. These songs are magic spells, able to bring back dead days and friends and afternoons and the eyes of that one you loved, and lost, and the heat of a summer on the back of your neck on a beach you’ll never see again. They are incantations that invoke not only the bitter sweetness of nostalgia, but hopes that the crazy days, the whisky-stained and heartsick riotous days, might come again, and that somewhere in the routine beating you down, the drums are pounding, the bass is thumping alongside your heart and, man, that guitar don’t weep, it screams.

1/
Today by the Smashing Pumpkins

That riff takes me back twenty years to the dust and cigarette butts littering the long, long sun broken streets of Whitby in high summer. To a bunch of kids sitting in torn jeans and patchwork shirts stinking of joss sticks and menthols, looking out into the blue afternoon at a future that would be the greatest thing they could ever imagine. The trembling guitar, Billy Corgan’s petulant adolescent whine, that silver ring of guitar against a cloud of distortion captures perfectly the idle, ignorant beauty of a teenaged dream.

2/
Stolen Car by Bruce Springsteen

It’s dark in that little house out on the edge of town; the chords are picked out with a heavy, relentless futility echoing the voice of the song, a lament for a love that faded like car headlights into a night you never thought would come, but which always was, just the same. Springsteen captures with such haunting simplicity the lives of ordinary men and women as they veer off the highway, into nothingness, and he never did it better than here.

3/
Copper head Road by Steve Earle

Nobody evokes the stink of diesel, smoke and steel quite like Steve Earle. From the opening chords to the hammer slam of the beat beneath his voice, you’re transported not just to that world of moonshiners, drug runners and fractured war vets, but into it. You feel the sweat and grime on the steering wheel as you run from the D.E.A. chopper; you smell that whisky burning up on the road and taste the bitterness of applejack, nicotine and blood. One of the greatest songs ever that does more in its few minutes than most novels are able in 500 something pages.

4/
The Devil’s Waitin’ by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

This song was a revelation; to use that phrase of Eliot’s, it communicates before it’s understood. We have war, definitely, prison, Jesus, the devil and judgement and it’s a potent brew. A singsong melody over an open tuned acoustic that could belong to any time, it’s man’s soul as a civil war that never ends. You taste gunpowder, hear the iron rattle of chains and just hope that drunken preacher in the next cell’s right with all that forgiveness talk.

5/
Dead Man’s Hands by Jerry Sword

If it hadn’t been for a B-movie of dubious quality, I would never have discovered this, a song that has meant more to me than perhaps any other. I found it stuck in the middle of the soundtrack, like gold in a handful of ash. For a long time I couldn’t find it and had to put the movie in, queue up the specific scene, just to listen. It’s genuinely haunting, with a sliding country riff moving between a shadow and the sun while the song’s narrator sings “I don’t know if there’s a heaven, but I’ll do everything I can….” It’s an amazingly beautiful song, filled with regret, longing, the dust-blown blue eyes of lost love, but with hope too…that maybe things you’ve lost don’t stay lost forever.

6/
Round Here by Counting Crows

I heard this song first 21 years ago and saying that so bluntly, yeah, it makes me feel antique, but I still remember the thrill of recognition in the song’s wistful longing. Its catalogue of souls grown desolate in the machinery of the world, still cling to the hope there is somebody out there who will understand, something we all hope at some point or another. I hear the guitar ring out, and it’s that afternoon again, walking in the black dust beside the rail lines and a river rainbow-stained with petrol, where I first heard it.

7/
Ruby’s Arms by Tom Waits

Possibly the saddest song ever written; a man’s leaving his love, because he knows he’ll always let her down; he climbs out into the rain and is so emotionally broken he can only concentrate on the tactile physical details of his world. Then, with the rain falling down on him he finally allows himself to feel “Jesus Christ, this goddamn rain, I’ll never kiss your lips again, or break your heart.” Perfect.

8/
It’s the end of the world as we know it by R.E.M.

It’s the combination of Michael Stipe’s scattershot zeitgeist capturing poetry and that pounding rhythm; it really could be the end of the world and we wouldn’t care. There’s a real anxiety here, but a hope too, the hope that you only find after an absolute resignation.

9/
Radioactive by Kings of Leon

Kings of Leon are one of those bands, when they’re off, they’re really off, but when they hit that golden driving power all great music has, there’s nobody better in the world. This is one of those songs, filled with the woodsmoke and beer stained beauty of the rural south; a song of some kind of redemption at the end of a red dust trail. Nobody does that better than these guys.

10/
Shenandoah (traditional)

My favourite song; a song of yearning for a home that might never have been but which you still feel the longing for; as old as the battlefield of Shiloh and as young as whatever’s topping the charts right now, a truly beautiful and timeless work, and like the best ballads, anonymous. The greatest art grows out of the conscience of a whole time, from somewhere deep and everlasting in the hearts and hopes of ordinary people toiling in the fading sunlight of history, and that’s what I hear whenever those first notes start; the longing for something we’ve lost.

Gareth SparkGareth Spark writes dark fiction from and about the moors and rustbelts of the North East where grudges are savoured, shotguns are cheap and people get by in the economic meltdown any way they can. His work has appeared at Near 2 The Knuckle, Out Of The Gutter, Deep Water Literary Journal and Shotgun Honey.

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Ten (ish) Songs by Allen Miles

A disclaimer: I’ve decided to compile this list without wittering on about The Smiths, The Manics, Joy Division, Tom Waits or Bob Dylan, because no-one needs to hear me bang on about them anymore than I do any night in the pub when I’ve had five or six pints. And I’m well aware that there are more than ten songs on this list, but it’s my site and I’ll do as I bloody well like. Yeah.

1. Oasis – Live Forever
I had no interest in music until I heard this song. I think I was about thirteen and it was used as the backdrop to a Sky Sports review of the 1994-95 Premiership season. My mate Astroman lent me his copy of Roll With It which had a live version of this on the B-Side and I must have listened to it fifteen times a day. Within weeks I’d bought Morning Glory, Definitely Maybe and all the singles for the B-Sides, and I count myself fortunate to have witnessed one of England’s greatest ever bands at their absolute peak. Like all of Noel Gallagher’s best songs, it makes you feel glad to be alive.

2. Placebo – Without You I’m Nothing

Placebo were a very important band for me for it was they, along with the Manics, who broke me free from the tracksuit bottoms and Adidas sweatshirt shackles of my high school years, and into the world of androgny and make-up. I loved this song, I originally heard it on a Q Magazine best of 1998 CD when I was at sixth form, and while everyone else was listening to shite like Embrace and Gomez, me and my mate Jamie were listening to this weird man/woman who looked like an eye-linered parakeet sneering this spidery song about drug addiciton. To this day, I get a nostalgic shiver down my vertebrae whenever it pops up on my i-pod.

3. Smashing Pumpkins – Tonight, Tonight
The summer of ’99. Ah, yes. This was the era of record-shopping. Myself and Mr Ware used to work split shifts on a Saturday; 10:30-1:30, then 4-6. This two hour thirty minute gap gave us time to get the bus into town and spend all our wages on CDs almost every weekend. During the weekday evenings I would sit in my bedroom compiling a database on my laughably outdated PC of the records I’d bought and I’d listen to them in full repeatedly as I typed. This song is as epic as four minutes of music can possibly get and will forever remind me of the romance and introspection of those balmy evenings down Bricknell Ave.

4. Mellow My Mind – Neil Young
Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night album is the soundtrack to my realization that young romance is always doomed. I was living in a flat that was little more than a squat when I was eighteen, with my first girlfriend. I lost my job in late October and had nothing to do with my days except drink cheap plonk and watch the rain from the rotting window. One Sunday morning I woke up to the sound of her leaving to have Sunday lunch at her Mam’s, and I had a hangover so bad I could barely open my eyes. I propped myself up on my elbows in bed just in time to see a mouse casually stroll across the ledge that the stereo was on, while this song was being played by a band who were so pissed they were on the verge of passing out.

5. Plastic Palace People – Scott Walker
I first heard this song on an NME sampler CD sometime in late 2001, when I was living by myself in a flat down Hartoft Road. It is the closest I’ve ever been to hallucinating through music. To love the work of Scott Walker is to be given the key to a world of rooftops and bedsits and salty seadogs and European cinema and smiles through the smoke of cigarettes, all sung by an impossibly handsome man with one of the most spell-binding voices of all time. No other musician has ever embraced the idea of being an outsider like Scott Walker has, not Morrissey, not REM. He is the musical equivalent of Roald Dahl.

6. Atlantic City – Bruce Springsteen

In the summer of 2002, myself and Andrew were both reading On The Road, and listening to Nebraska. We had decided that we would conquer the world with our rock and roll band and every night we would walk in enormous circles around Hull each dangling a bottle of wine from our swinging arms as we plotted. One night we went to County Road park with a Discman and a couple of shitty Argos speakers and laid on a hill, as an electrical storm cloud loomed in the distance, and this song, the stand out track on The Boss’s stripped back collection of acoustic noir, was playing. So evocative.

7. Black – Pearl Jam
I’m a very stoic person by nature, and I don’t allow myself to get effected by other people foisting their feelings on me, but I find it very hard to hear this song without feeling a bit of tension in my jaw. It starts off as a pleasant enough mid-paced wistful ballad, before descending into a howling litany of bitterness, regret and anger, and those are my three favourite emotions, which is probably why I love this song so much. The final three lines are one of the saddest pay-offs in any song ever.

8. Concierto De Aranjuez – Miles Davis
I can’t imagine that many of our dear readers will have heard this song. It is as close as the Jazz genre ever got to classical music. It is fifteen minutes of astonishing musicianship, played by one of the greatest collectives of musicians ever assembled. It should be listened to in the summer, whilst sat in a garden with a big drink. I don’t like a huge amount of Jazz, but I’m a big Miles Davis fan, and for me Sketches Of Spain, the album that this is taken from, is actually better than Kind Of Blue, which is recognised by the critics as his best. It is a piece of music that you just have to sit and absorb, and each time you hear it you discover something new.

9. Blinded By The Lights – The Streets
This is a song that taught me that there were different ways to make music, at the time The Streets sounded like no other band on Earth, brilliant story-telling and completely relatable. On a personal level, it reminds of an occasion in eight or nine years ago when I was absolutely pissed out of my brains on a night out and somehow I’d managed to lose all my mates and there were no taxis to be had so I ended up walking all the way home by myself. It took me about two and a half hours, even though it was only three miles. This song perfectly captures the experience of rooms spinning, sounds all merging into one big din and simply not knowing what planet you’re on.

10. Hope There’s Someone – Antony and The Johnsons
I first heard of Antony Hegarty whilst reading a gushing article in Mojo magazine during a train journey to Blackpool. I listened to a sample on Amazon when I got home and went to buy the album straight away. He is one of the most original singers I’ve ever heard, haunted and keening. Again they made me realise that there is always music out there that you’ve never heard anything like before. This song is delicate and impossibly sad and at the end it all starts swirling and wailing and one man with his piano conjures up a raging snow storm. Bleakly beautiful.

11. Lorca’s Novena – The Pogues
For Christmas 2007, my missus bought me an iPod. I’d always been quite proud that I never had one, preferring to toddle around with an Aigo mp3 player that I bought from Argos, but as soon as I opened the box it became an absolute staple of my life. The first album I put on it was Hell’s Ditch by The Pogues, just because it was sat on the coffee table at the time. The standard Christmas Day routine for as long as I could remember was after having a drink with my dad in the pub we’d nip to see my Grandad and then go to my mam’s. Sadly my Grandad had died a few months previously so I decided to walk to my mam’s by myself with this menacing sea shanty about “Lorca the faggot poet,” on the iPod and it seemed like there was not a single other soul on the streets of HU5.

12. Afterglow – The Small Faces
This song reminds me of the day Gabbers was born. I’d been awake for about fifty hours and after she’d finally arrived and I had been told to go home I stood in my garden feeling at a bit of a loss cos I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to do and this song came on the Pod at random. It’s a very uplifting song and it has the 2nd best chorus of all time, containing the line “I’m happy just to be with you.” and I thought, maybe that’s what being a dad will be like. According to my play count, I’ve listened to it 84 times since that day.

13. Dwr Budr – Orbital
I find it difficult to deal with the dance genre as a whole, but I’ve always loved Orbital, and particularly their In Sides album. I was listening to this song on repeat when I was writing my first book; I wrote it in five days and practically didn’t sleep at all during that period, whilst doing ten hours a day at work and pumping myself full of caffeine every day. Dwr Budr has a swirling, incoherent feel to it, as well as wordless vocals from Alison Goldfrapp, and that pretty much encapsulated how it felt to be almost totally sleepless and spending six hours a night frantically typing out a really disturbing piece of work. I don’t actually think I’ve listened to it since.

profile b and wAllen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014