Vinyl Love and the discovery of Lycra. A Musical Awakening.

29 03 2010

Spoiler Alert : Long Blog Ahead. Just give it a chance, its a subject that we should all think about. And its got Van Halen in it.

The ear favours no particular point of view. We are enveloped by sound. It forms a seamless web around us. We say music shall fill the air. We never say music shall fill a particular segment of the air.

Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is The Massage

It was Nietzsche who said that “without music, life would be an error” and in the twenty-first century our lives seem to be accompanied by a never ending soundtrack. If I think through significant moments in my life then music has been an intimate partner to the decisions I have made.

Granted there are many musical moments which, upon reflection, make me shudder rather than smile but generally when I hear music that has personal meaning, I am able to experience significant aural recall.

Some people might consider that the first record/compact disc/any other music format (delete as appropriate) that was purchased would be a significant moment, others can recall a song on the radio that first made them aware of the power of sound over visual experience.

For me, it was listening to the UK Top 40 on a Sunday night driving back from the regular visit to the grandparents and begging with my father not to turn the radio off when a song that he deemed to be rubbish was played. To be fair, he deemed most modern music to be rubbish but was content to allow his twelve year old son to discover this fact for himself.

At this point in time I didn’t own a single record, let alone anything to play them on so the radio was my only point of access.  It was 1980 and having just moved out of the punk explosion that had seemingly allowed the DIY attitude to prevail, we were about to enter a period of ever increasing excess encapsulated by the music videos of the new romantics and the development of Thatcherism as a political, if not universally popular, ideology.

By June 1981, I had saved up enough money to buy my first pieces of vinyl. In what I would later consider to be the only way of purchasing music, I had decided that just buying one record was not going to be satisfactory as there was always the possibility that I would grow tired of a single song and would need to have others instantly available. As I say, this system of wanting alternatives is something that I still practice today but as a teenager I just wanted four pieces of vinyl.

If I consider my purchases now, then I am surprised by what I bought. “Stand and Deliver” by Adam and the Ants, “All Stood Still” by Ultravox, “Can Can” by Bad Manners and the number one song “Ghost Town” by The Specials. As I said, some choices make me shudder, but ultimately I had chosen a broad(ish) spectrum of music. “Ghost Town” remains a favourite to this day, Jerry Dammers’ lyrics reflecting a melancholy that seemed at odds with a song at the top of the hit parade.

What is interesting is that all of these songs were made by British artists, and not by the colonial cousins across the pond.

I carried on for the next few years purchasing singles, the occasional LP and continuing to listen to the radio. My musical taste varied slightly but it was mainly chart based and normally some sort of keyboard friendly sound (Depeche Mode, Tears For Fears, Yazoo, Human League), or, in the case of The Police, a consumer friendly white reggae influence.

My aural experiences were safe, suburban and, on the whole, British with the exception of Michael Jackson who by releasing “Beat It” in 1983 must take some credit for what happened next.

On that particular song, there is a guitar solo by a gentleman called Eddie Van Halen. Bearing in mind that the influence of MTV was starting to drive not only the aural experience but the visual texture of how we perceived music, the video had received huge airplay.

Intrigued by the guitar solo in what seemed to be primarily a dance track, I was surprised to find that Mr Van Halen was actually in a band of his own, modestly called Van Halen. In February 1984, they released a single called “Jump” and the first time I heard it, I was blown away. Irrespective of the lyrics, the song has got everything. Keyboards, drums, an infectious melody, a guitar solo and the voice of “Diamond” Dave Lee Roth. America distilled into a four minute rock anthem.

This was a pivotal moment. A realisation that there was a bigger musical world, that the guitar could co-exist in harmony with the keyboard, but historically it was big enough to stand on its own. Van Halen didn’t really have Top 40 singles, they were an LP band (although “Jump” went to #7 in the UK and #1 in the US), but this song and accompanying video, naturally,  pummelled itself into my consciousness.

It wasn’t about trying to find meaning in the words (chorus: “Might as well jump, go ahead and jump, jump) but the song was more about an attitude to life, that is summed up in the first line “I get up and nothing gets me down”, an almost laisez-faire approach to living. Ironically, it turned out that this song would be the one to split Van Halen as David Lee Roth was unhappy with the synth-led, radio friendly unit shifter and wanted the band to continue in a more hard rock vein (although he was happy with the additional trappings that commercial success brought).

Six months after I first heard “Jump”, Lee Roth left the band for a solo career and was replaced by Sammy Hagar. Van Halen then became one of the most commercial bands on the planet, a string of slow, arena rock anthems became their contribution to popular music.

But for me, I will always have a soft spot for the band. Thanks to this song I discovered rock music.

I was able to take this song as a reference point and backtrack to its influences. I was introduced to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Rainbow and AC/DC. It pushed me into listening to bands like Iron Maiden and Diamond Head, to become more experimental in my choices of music and to consider bands like Public Image Limited and Killing Joke, who were taking the opportunity to combine sounds and attitudes.

It even made me want to go harder and faster, genres such as Thrash and Speed Metal soon became firm favourites (although not with my father), whilst I was still able to appreciate the more gentler sounds of bands such as Rush, Pink Floyd and Marillion.

“Jump” is not the greatest song ever written, it is lyrically meaningless, it has an awful video and the lead singer was a man with long hair and lycra trousers. The song may be commercial, but it is a simple premise. By merging distinct styles, the elements of guitar and synthesiser can live in perfect harmony. Without the need to be one combined instrument.

If only everything in life was that simple.

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One response

1 05 2010
how much should i weigh

lol nice story man.

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