Monday 27 May 2024

Memory Mixtape #32: My Uncool Youth

In his excellent book Listen, Michel Faber asks many important questions about why we like the music we like. Here are just three...

At what age do kids start getting doctrinaire about music, and anxious about the social esteem and reproof that society attaches to various stylistic allegiances?

At what age do kids start to be dishonest about what they like and envious of others' taste?

At what age does the shame begin?

Huey Lewis & The News - The Power Of Love

I've written many times about how I swam against the tide when I was younger, taking an active dislike to songs many of my peers cherished. I even ran an unfinished series called Songs I Hated When I Was A Kid, which included records by The Smiths, Madness and The Pet Shop Boys, all artists I've since come to cherish. 

The Smiths - Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now

Michel Faber continues...

For a child to love the Pussycat Dolls when all of her pals don't love them anymore requires almost superhuman self-confidence - especially since self-confidence tends to arise from doing stuff which inspires the approval of others. By contrast, the social rewards for pledging allegiance to the latest thing that everyone likes are instant and plentiful.

The Isley Brothers - This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You)

I'm not writing all this to champion my younger self as a free-thinking rebels with superhuman self-confidence... since clearly I was none of those things. I was probably just stubborn, contrary, and responding to neural pathways that had been formed by an early diet of Radio 2 and Reader's Digest box sets. My tastes changed as I got older... but I also became more aware of how other people judged them, to the point of apologising profusely for liking uncool things, something I've never quite got over.

Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road

Below you'll find an excerpt from one of those APAs I found in my mum's attic. This was written in the early 90s, a list of my 100 favourite songs sometime in my early 20s. Many of them won't surprise longtime readers of this blog, especially those of you who shake their head in despair at some of my trad-rock and Dad-rock faves...

That said, I'd stand by much of the Top Ten to this day. If you put a gun to my head and forced me to list my ten favourite songs, I'd be remiss if I didn't include The Power of Love, This Old Heart Of Mine, Thunder Road and There Is A Light. The other six might not make my Top Ten, but they'd still be hanging around in the Top 50. In the rest of the list you'll notice strong showings from the usual suspects: Bruce, Costello, Morrissey & The Smiths, Billy Joel, Jim & Meat... although the song choices occasionally surprise me (Souls of the Departed? Sleeping With The Television On?) here and elsewhere (of all the Stones songs I might have picked, I'm mystified by my choice of Fool To Cry). God knows how Eric Clapton got in there though.  

Beyond that, there are some interesting choices, many of which have more to do with records I was listening to / discovering at the time rather than seriously considering a long term bet. I'd obviously recently bought Suzanne Vega's 99.9°F album and Bob Seger's The Fire Inside. A lot of the choices feel like Greatest Hits fodder (Bo' Rap, Hotel California and American Pie will no doubt cause much consternation among the cognoscenti), although a couple of the deep cuts show a shift away from obvious radio fare (the solitary REM choice is about the only moment where I can claim any degree of cool).  

I'm quite disturbed by the lack of female artists - apart from Suzanne, who was clearly a current fave, all I can see is Kirsty (singing a Billy Bragg song), Patti Smith (Springsteen) and Bonnie Tyler (Steinman). I can put that down to the male dominance of rock music back in the day, but still I'm disappointed not to see any Blondie or Kate Bush or even one of my crushes like Belinda or Wendy... hell, I'd even settle for Carol Decker to balance out the testosterone.    

Suzanne Vega - 99.9°F

There are other huge gaps on show - all the indie and Britpop bands came later (and the 80s stuff I discovered through the gateway drug of The Smiths), but there's hardly any Motown or soul (especially The Supremes, one of my first loves). My country roots are showing in a couple of places, but not as much as I might have expected. This is clearly prior to me coming to terms with the greatest song ever written...

Even back then though, I was aware of the need to apologise for my taste in music to anyone cooler who might have been reading. Some things never change...


  1. Looks like a perfectly reasonable list to me although could do with more Bob Seger and ELO

  2. No Amyl & The Snifters? What was wrong with you????

  3. It's nice to see that you haven't succumbed to societies current peer pressure and still admit a liking of Morrissey and The Smiths.

    1. I've never been one to succumb to peer pressure... though I spend my entire life worrying about it.

  4. I do like a good list. And this is a good list.

  5. I still remember the day I bumped into some friends after a visit to the record shop. They asked what was in the bag and I thought it was preferable to say Gary Glitter rather than Glenn Miller whom I loved as a teenager. Now seen as wrong on so many levels.


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