10 Singles that Changed my Life
There are ten singles from when I was a teenager that had such a huge influence on me they changed my life. Because of them I knew that I wanted a career in the music industry: how could bands/artists/producers/songwriters create these songs and how did they get their sound? I wanted to know everything…
I had many of these tracks on 7” vinyl and/or cassette tape by holding a portable cassette recorder to the television speaker when Top of the Pops aired on BBC One on a Thursday night or from the Top 40 countdown on Sunday night on BBC Radio 1.
Here they are in no particular order.
Hazel O’Connor – Eight Day
I think this was the first singe I ever bought. The shear scale of the instrumentation in this track just impressed me the first time I ever heard the song. I loved the rising chord sequence, the synth parts and sounds and the vocal performance by Hazel O’Connor. The slow tempo middle eight section was an inspired idea. It was all a truly epic record and I played it constantly on my turntable.
The Beatles – Eleanor Rigby
In my dad’s ‘classical’ music album collection there was one Parlophone single that I just could not place into any musical genre. I was under 10 years old and unaware of The Beatles at that time but the track Eleanor Rigby intrigued me: the combination of strings and vocals in such a beautiful song was inspiring. Even now when I listen to that song it brings me back to that stage in my life when I knew so little about music. The string arrangement is by George Martin, what a genius and what a string sound!
Stiff Little Fingers – Alternative Ulster
Growing up in Belfast there was a rawness and edginess that bands in 80s and 90s in the city had and this track really sums up an era for me. There is nothing ‘polite’ about the production but there is an intense feeling of angst and excitement captured in the recording. This summed up the streets of Belfast to me.
Soft Cell – Tainted Love
I was naturally drawn to tracks with powerful synth riffs and rhythms. I remember trying to emulate this track and experimenting with early drum machines. It was an exciting time in the music industry as bands began to embrace new technology and sounds. There were two music shops in Belfast called Matchetts and Crimbles and I would try and go there most days after school and just work my way through their keyboards and drum machines…I could never actually afford to buy anything.
This song brings back sweaty school discos memories…time to move on…
Das Model – Kraftwerk
I have never tired of this chord sequence and sounds used in this track. So simple, and yet so effective. To me Kraftwerk were ground breaking and a huge influence in my musical life.
I was brought up on the English version…I now prefer the German version.
Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy
When this first came out in 1991 the first thing I did was to go to Guildford HMV and buy the CD single – an actual small CD about 5cm diameter (they really did exist back then!) that just had one track. The combination of lush strings, beats and vocals were so empowering. It’s so easy to do that now with samples, but back then I thought it was revolutionary… a very powerful track to me. And I loved the long one shot music video.
U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday
I remember the sound of U2 was such a part of growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1990s. There is a beauty in their rawness. I am still impressed by the sound they can produce, especially the Edge’s guitar sound. I saw U2 recently live in Chicago on their Experience and Innocence tour and the Edge’s guitar sound was phenomenal.
Scritti Politti – Perfect Way
Not long after CDs had come on the market (and actually become affordable to me) Scritti Politti’s album Cupid & Psyche came out and it included the single Perfect Way and I had to have it! I loved the high quality production and mixes and the use of treated layered vocals. Years later I was fortunate to work in a studio where Green Gartside was recording. I was a tape op for the British Electric Foundation (BEF) session at Redbus studio London with Martin Ware producing. I learnt so much on those sessions just observing how songs, backing tracks and vocals were put together. And I did make a lot of tea!
Art of Noise – Close to the Edit
This track took the world of sampling to a whole new level for me. I don’t think I had ever heard day to day sounds (like engines and hammers) in tracks before this single came out – we now take all this for granted. Trevor Horn and Anne Dudley were a huge influence on me. Trevor Horn’s productions really convinced me that I needed to work in a music studio to find out how to produce. A few years ago I sat next to Anne Dudley at a PRS for Music event in London, I was so excited I nearly fell off my seat. We had a fascinating chat.
Temptation – Heaven 17
Another track from the discos of my youth! What a massive synth sound in this track, how was it created? Cut to years later and I was the Tape Op for Martyn Ware (keyboard player and producer of Heaven 17) in Redbus studio London, I assisted on his B.E.F album when he recorded Billy Mackenzie, Green Gartside and John Lydon (aka Jonny Rotton). By chance years later I met Martyn Ware again at a documentary festival in Sheffield and we reconnected: Martin has since commissioned me to compose a piece for the National Portrait Gallery in London and I run the occasional composing workshop for him at Tileyard Education where he is a principal – funny old world, school discos to here!