Blog 874: Tracks of My Years

I have been moaning a lot recently, so I wanted to write something positive for once. What makes me happy? Music!

The mid-morning Radio 2 show does a feature every week, where a celebrity picks ten songs that are in some way meaningful to them. Each day, two get played along with a snippet of interview to explain their choices. I’m never going to be a celebrity so I’ll never get on the radio to do it for real, but I do have a blog… So here’s ten fantastic songs that marked important moments for me.

Tracks of My Years


Erasure — Solsbury Hill

I have to start with Erasure’s cover version of Solsbury Hill because it’s the song that opened the floodgates for me.

I was a teenager who didn’t seem to care much for music… But I had just been introduced to Unreal Tournament and the singleplayer campaign mod Operation: Na Pali, both of which had compelling soundtracks that were starting to register as more than just background noise. And then… this song started playing on the radio. I love the multi-layered synths, I love Andy Bell’s vocals, and I’ve been a fan of Erasure ever since.

A-ha — Stay On These Roads

If Solsbury Hill opened the floodgates, Stay On These Roads is the song that stuck a crowbar into the mechanism and wedged them open for good.

Around that time, the radio had also started playing The Sun Always Shines on TV. This had piqued my interest in A-ha and remains a firm favourite to this day… But it was when Stay On These Roads popped up on The Top Ten At Ten that I tipped over the edge. It’s such an incredibly powerful ultra-ballad, and one I still take great pleasure in howling along to.


London Boys — Requiem

For all I talk of the floodgates opening in 2003, in hindsight I did actually like music a lot earlier than that, even if I never quite managed to express or act on it.

Local radio station 96.3 QFM used to run a show called Classic Dance Saturday, where they’d play a huge selection of 70s disco, 80s pop and 90s dance music. I’d sit on the floor of my bedroom, Lego all around, and play along to these tunes. Requiem is one song that always stood out to me; it combines pounding dance beats with an almost operatic grandeur, a style that frequently recurs amongst my favourite songs.

Ryan Paris — Dolce Vita

Most of the Classic Dance Saturday playlist haunted me for years after QFM went bust, though some were easier to identify and track down than others. Dolce Vita is an utterly sublime slice of italo-disco, and as a more traditional poppy number it isn’t confined to pre-club evening shows. Alas, I’ve still been unable to find a copy of the album it came from, so I don’t own it properly.

While Ryan Paris actually has some modern stuff on Bandcamp that’s really really really good, unfortunately there are no reissues of his classics. (He is considered a one-hit-wonder in the UK, more fool us.)


Europe — The Final Countdown

Except, yes, there was a time even before Classic Dance Saturday. When I was very small, our parents had a record player in the lounge and a generic 80s compilation album, and The Final Countdown was the song I always wanted played.

Honestly, I’m fairly sure that sitting on the lounge floor with The Final Countdown blaring is my earliest memory of actually engaging with a piece of music. That synth brass line is utterly unstoppable, so it’s no wonder it left an impression — but I didn’t have a record player in my room, so despite its early influence, I lost touch with this song for a very long time. (Honestly I still hate record players, I don’t trust myself with the delicate needles.)

Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark — Telegraph

My parents actually had Dazzle Ships when I was that small too (their original record now decorates my studio wall), but it wasn’t until after the floodgates were opened much later that I really got into OMD. I started with the obvious poppy stuff like Sugar Tax (via lead single Pandora’s Box), but this quickly led to exploring the deep cuts.

Dazzle Ships might now be one of my favourite albums ever made. You may have noticed I’ve been using the album’s camouflage pattern cover as paintwork for my mechs since I first started modelling in the Warcraft III days; the best homage I can offer without being a musician myself. Telegraph is probably my favourite track on the album, perhaps even one of my favourite OMD songs full stop, and it is much to my chagrin that they rarely play it live.


Gary Numan — Photograph

Towards the end of school I went to my first concerts. The dubious honour of my very first goes to REM at Balloch, though that was more of a “nobody else wants the ticket” situation so I prefer to cite A-ha’s Analogue tour at the Armadillo. But moving into university, and by this point being an established fan of synth-pop in all its forms, a friend suggested I should go to see Gary Numan, who was scheduled to play the Glasgow Uni QM Union.

With no prior knowledge of Telekon, merely a passing familiarity with Cars and Are ‘Friends’ Electric?, I was completely blown away. The stand-out moment was when Gary sat down on the edge of a lighting rig with a keyboard in his lap and played the haunting melody of Photograph. The DVD of this show was recorded in London, where the stage was big enough to accommodate a traditional keyboard stand, so this strangely intimate moment lives only in memory — you’ll just have to trust me that it was really special.

Needless to say, my attendance led directly to that big WC3 RPG of mine, which is named and themed for the album’s opening track. If my friend hadn’t suggested I get a couple of tickets…

Marsheaux — Pop Corn

Marsheaux actually mark a whole raft of important moments for me. To start, they were the first band that I got into without any prior knowledge. Even though it took until I was a teenager to get into A-ha, OMD and Ultravox, I still knew of them from the radio. Marsheaux, however, I discovered solely through… MySpace. Their cover of instrumental classic Pop Corn was an instant earworm and I’ve been following them ever since.

Their second impact came with the opportunity to see them live many years later — I travelled to Norwich. Alone.

Up until that point, I had always tried to find somebody to go to gigs with, and had only ever gone to gigs in Glasgow. But Marsheaux, being Greek, had only performed in the UK once or twice before so I knew their trip to Norwich was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Since then, I impulsively book tickets to anything almost anywhere in the UK and have now been to London solo numerous times… I guess the next step is building up the courage to go abroad. One step at a time.


Alphaville — The Things I Didn’t Do

When I entered the world of work after university, I started to dabble in Spotify; quite frankly because streaming was viable on somebody else’s internet connection in a way it wasn’t at home. (Remember data usage limits?)

I knew Alphaville from their seminal melodrama Forever Young, but as usual, I didn’t know that they existed beyond that — let alone that they had released Catching Rays On Giant a few scant years prior. However, casual exploration on the streaming service led me here and hooo boy — this album is a beast on all fronts, handling both pounding dance and epic ballads with equal intensity. The Things I Didn’t Do is a powerful focal point.

I don’t use Spotify much anymore because I’m now extremely sceptical of subscription and streaming services, but it is a necessary evil for a few albums I’ve been unable to source on CD. Luckily you can get Alphaville albums physically, at least by mail order.

Ultravox — Love’s Great Adventure

My parents did have an Ultravox record when I was young (a greatest hits compilation), but it didn’t make much of an impact until I was reintroduced to Ultravox at about the same time I was getting into A-ha and Erasure.

I started with a compilation myself, and I’m so glad I did — because it’s non-album single Love’s Great Adventure that immediately caught my attention. It’s joyous, it’s triumphant, and it includes two synth solos. You cannot get better than that.

I think of all the songs I’ve ever known, I’d like Love’s Great Adventure to be the last song I hear on my deathbed. Its air of triumph gives it an element of conclusion, like it belongs over a credits roll. I wrote a million words, they didn’t mean that much to me…

Bonus Tracks

Phew. Some of those choices were easier than others. Solsbury Hill and Stay On These Roads are obvious landmarks in my journey into music loving, but Classic Dance Saturday gave me hundreds of songs and honestly I’m still identifying and tracking them down to this day. I have a Spotify playlist where I’ve tried my best to catalogue them, but tt now has many dead links because streaming services suck (but at least the artists and titles are intact).

And how could I really pick one pivotal song by A-ha or OMD or Ultravox, the Holy Trinity of my favourite bands? What about all the video game soundtracks that have meaning too? All the fantastic albums I’ve bought that just didn’t quite line up with any particular moment?

I have a large CD collection and I love so much of it for different reasons at different times… But ah, that’s the fun of the exercise, isn’t it? Let’s turn the speakers up and get singing.

And you tell me...

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