Roots of addiction
Charles Spencer Charles Spencer
I 'II never forget that glorious moment of revelation. I had just turned eight and was on the swings at the rec in Ripley, Surrey. There was a group of teenagers nearby with a transistor radio and for the first time I found myself consciously listening to pop music. The song playing was the Beatles' 'From Me To You' (April 1963) and as soon as I heard the first notes, I got off the swing, went as close to the teenagers as I dared, and stood there listening in a state of wonder. I was hooked with my first delirious hit.
That Christmas my parents bought me my first record player, a Dansette, and my Auntie Kay gave me my first LP, With the Beatles. Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, but to be eight was very heaven.
I have been listening to pop ever since. I'm one of the saddos in an anorak you see lurking in the blues, soul and country sections of HMV, or leafing frantically through the racks in dusty second-hand record shops in the hope of unearthing buried treasure rather than yet another unloved copy of Oasis's Be Here Now. I now have more than 1,700 CDs, and, to my wife's visible alarm, the collection grows bigger each week.
Like all addictions, the drugs don't always work. This year I bought almost all the albums nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, which allegedly honours the best new British albums of the year. What a dull, thrill-free bunch most of them proved. Slapping on a newly purchased CD for the first time is like lighting the blue touchpaper on a firework. Most of this lot fizzled out without delivering the smallest bang for my bucks.
As a result. I mostly buy old records these days, or rather CD reissues of old Ccl5/4"l'
records put out by record companies who know there is an army of comfortably off, middle-aged pop junkies out there who can't kick their habit. Of course it's a thrill to recapture the first fine, careless rapture, but better still is discovering joys you entirely missed the first time around.
I wouldn't have dreamed of listening to, say, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, a bunch of benign, long-haired hippies who got together with initially suspicious, archly conservative country music veterans in 1972 to record Will the Circle Be Unbroken — I was then totally obsessed with Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead. But I did buy the CD a couple of weeks ago, as a result of the current surge of interest in all things country and bluegrass, and it offers more than two hours of continuous, life-affirming pleasure.
So this monthly column will be a celebration of raves from the grave. I'll be endeavouring not to tread on the toes of the admirably witty Marcus Berkmann, though I'd like to echo his enthusiasm for the Lilac Time, and to recommend their superb, recently released anthology Compendium, a delightfully tuneful and literate selection of their rurally mulched work from 1987-1990.
When it comes to pop, I'm an unabashed fan rather than an expert, so you will find little profound musicological insight here. Regard 'Olden but golden' instead as a tipster's guide to discovering records that won't embarrass you by their presence on your shelves a couple of hours after you have purchased them (I have already made these expensive mistakes for you). My tastes are broad, ranging from bebop to bubblegum, from deep soul to shallow glam, and I hope I am not unduly influenced by fashion. The deputy editor of this magazine is ominously insisting that at some stage I write about swing, about which I know almost nothing. So I hope I'll be learning as I go along, and if you want to share any hot tips or long cherished discoveries in any genre, I'd be delighted if you would email them to Chasnicked@talk21.com.
All of which has left too little space for this month's main selections, but I guarantee hours of fun if you buy Beyond Nashville. The first disc of this double set offers a marvellous potted history of American country music, from Jimmy Rodgers in 1931, looking for a new mama with plenty of meat on her, to Gram Parsons in 1974 conjuring up that 'Hickory Wind'. The second disc consists of an excellent selection of recently released 'Alt. country', one of the very few areas where popular music is currently kicking. Irresistible.
Seek out too Are You Ready for the Country, another double, this time focusing on country rock, and offering a terrific selection from the likes of Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Byrds, Emmylou Harris and the matchless Gene Clark, that beautiful loser of an alcoholic, whose miraculous No Other (1975, and regrettably only available as an expensive Japanese import) is my current all-time favourite record. Next month: psychedelia and the terrible time my father had watching Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd.