“Dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum FLASH! A-aah!”

The first album I wanted, at the tender age of four, was Queen’s soundtrack to ‘Flash Gordon’. A communication breakdown between Santa and I, however, led to my receiving a Flash Gordon audiobook (‘The Lion Men of Mongo’ by Alex Raymond). Disappointment didn’t even come close.

Ten years later, and I inherited my grandmother’s record player when she went into sheltered housing. I took some of her records too, but most of them just weren’t to my taste, so they went to the charity shop. I kept all of the classical, jazz and George Formby records, but as for the James Last, Klaus Wunderlich and Jim Reeves LPs, well, I just couldn’t bring myself to hold onto them.

Prior to owning a record player, I had a little mono tape recorder. I also had access to a few tapes: my uncle copied Queen’s greatest hits for me, my Dad gave me his copy of the Beach Boys’ ‘Twenty Golden Greats’, and then there were the cassette recordings of ‘Top of the Pops’ which I cherished – the charts were cool, you see.

Around this time, my parents and I moved house, and my Dad decided to get rid of his record player, so I acquired his LP collection. His collection was more of a quality rather than quantity sort of affair, maybe only fifty records in all, but all damned good. James Taylor, Neil Young, the Beatles, the Four Tops, the Flock, Bread, the Kinks, Dylan – all good records, and now all mine. If only I could get a girl back to my house to see my records – then she’d know how cool I was!

I listened to, and absorbed, every one of my Dad’s records to the point where I knew every word of every song – I liked to think of it as a phonographic memory – and I was astounded by some of the tracks. I remember listening to Neil Young’s ‘After the Goldrush’ and ‘Harvest’ almost continuously. ‘Tell Me Why'. ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’. ’I Believe in You’. ‘Out on the Weekend’. ‘Alabama’. ‘A Man Needs a Maid’. ‘Words’.

I think my Dad was thrilled that I was listening to his records. Perhaps he saw it as validation of his taste – something along the lines of, “Well, if my teenage son likes these records, they must still be cool, and, therefore, I must be cool.” He’d come upstairs and talk to me about the songs and tell me what the lyrics meant.

One of these conversations led to a real shock for me. We were talking about ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’. I was trying to learn it on the guitar, and while singing along from the lyrics sheet, I came across the line, “Milk blood to keep from running out.” I had no idea what it meant – had I misheard or misread it? I asked my Dad, and he explained that when addicts were desperate in the US, they would sell a pint of blood to raise enough money to score. When he told me this, I felt the most horrible knot in my stomach. It was a terrible feeling, just imagining how hard-up one would have to be to sell one’s own blood to raise money for drugs. I found it extremely sad that anyone could end up in such a position.

I listened to the song over and over, and then I realised something. Those words, those chords, that song that was written five years before I was even born had affected me to the extent that I had had a physical reaction. And in that moment, I became an addict. Not heroin or cocaine or anything like that. It was, as Thomas Truax says, “an audio addiction.” I literally couldn’t get enough. Even now, I need to have music with me where ever I go.

And so, from my dad’s collection grew my own tastes. His Beach Boys cassette became my Beach Boys obsession, and introduced me to acts such as the High Llamas, BMX Bandits, Van Dyke Parks. Through BMX Bandits I got into Teenage Fanclub, the Cosmic Rough Riders and Squeeze. Van Dyke Parks led me to Joanna Newsom, who, in turn, rekindled my interest in Joni Mitchell.

Listening to Joni took me back to the whole Topanga Canyon scene, and back to Neil Young via CSNY. Then, of course, there were the contemporary bands of my youth, whom I grew to adore: The Smiths, the Stone Roses, even Pink Floyd were still releasing albums and touring. There were also the bands which I have no idea how I came to be interested in. I love the Flaming Lips, for instance, but can find no logical link between them and anything else in my musical “family tree.”

Ultimately, though, I keep coming back to the same records and songs, and they’re quite a select group. ‘I Couldn’t Love You More’ by John Martyn, ‘There is a Light that Never Goes Out’ by the Smiths, ‘Twisted’ by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, the live version of ‘Cortez the Killer’ from ‘Weld’ by Neil Young, ‘A Day in the Life’ by the Beatles…and so the list of songs goes on.

Album-wise, it’s David Crosby’s ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name’, ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’ by the Flaming Lips, ‘Oar’ by Skip Spence, ‘Strangeways Here We Come’ by the Smiths, ‘Love You’ by the Beach Boys, ‘The Genius After Hours’ by Ray Charles, ‘The Koln Concert’ by Keith Jarrett, and the shockingly underappreciated soundtrack to Louis Malle’s ‘Ascenseur Pour L'echafaud’ by Miles Davis.

Brian Wilson once said that music is God’s voice, and I remember a minister friend once telling me that his concept of Hell was being removed from God’s presence. I have to agree. I genuinely cannot imagine a life without music. The bottom line for me is that music takes me places, shows me wonders that I’ve never seen before, opens my mind to new ideas, helps me express myself and helps me understand others. Of all the countless artistic media, music is the most evocative to me. So, in many ways, the soundtrack of my life is music itself. Sure, I could name band or an LP, but by next week I would most likely have changed my mind. Taste and preference, like music, is fluid, nebulous.

So, you may ask, what am I listening to now? I tell you what – I’ll make you a tape.

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