I got an e-mail from a mag in England the other day asking me to select a joyous piece of music that others should hear that might not appear on the usual top 100 album albums list. There was a deadline and I picked three memorable singles at random…
KEEP YOURSELF ALIVE – QUEEN
Every Tuesday night was OGWT Night and we would crowd into the Student’s Union (about five hundred of us) to watch one TV and listen to Bob Harris whisper his way through the off-chart sounds that would formulate my future musical tastes. One night over a dusty animated cartoon (Felix the Cat?) he played this short, frenetic, intense guitar anthem. Brian May’s crazy home-made axe, the many layered Mercurys, and them pounding Taylor drums did what the funny looking pills did for my drug-taking friends and raised my blood pressure and sent my pulse racing. Next morning I was on the bus to Woolies to relieve myself of an evening’s drinking money so I could get this 7″ slab of black dynamite.
And now thirty years later I ask myself why was it so special? And I realise I haven’t got the faintest clue what Freddie was on about. Something about a “Belladonic haze” more stuff about “tea on silver trays.” I would just yell out the words I knew and mumble the rest: “Keep yourself alive, keep yourself alive, something, something, something, honey, keep yourself alive.” In retrospect it wasn’t so much what it was about as what it wasn’t about. Paul Rodgers, my other adolescent hero, would sing about what he was getting plenty of and I wasn’t getting any of: girls or rather women (even better) and lots of gratuitous sex. Freddie and his lot had sprinted right past that and were already onto some higher plane and looking into some exciting future (with their first single!) that would lead them ultimately to Radio Ga-Ga and Flash. Heck this was even better than Zeppelin who were still lost in their mouldy netherworld with echoes of Tolkein and Aleister Crowley.
But best of all was that guitar. All those layers and all those fingers and a solo I could sing to even if I couldn’t play it yet. And then to discover that Brian May was an Astrophysics graduate and had built his guitar from a fire-place! Wow. How bloody cool was that? All I needed was an old fireplace and a saw and I too could be a guitar hero. And if I could plug myself into the mains I could have a haircut like him as well.
It was clever, it was complex, it was mysterious and confusing, and I couldn’t work out the words, and I couldn’t figure out how it all fit together, and I had to keep playing it over and over to see if I could unlock its secrets. A bit like my first girlfriend really. And at the end as the song faded Freddie told me, most importantly, the words I desperately needed to hear as I struggled through those frightening and bewildering times: “You will survive, you will survive!”
F*** OFF – WAYNE COUNTY AND THE ELECTRIC CHAIRS
After eight long years in prison (I mean boarding school) they let me out of the home and I slowly emerged from my shell a frightened middle class kid who underneath it all wanted to be Jimmy Page but somehow was pretending that a future in the building trade was really where it was at. Then punk happened and, though I was already balding and couldn’t grow the right kind of mohican, I flowered and one day purchased this 7 inch slice of delicious sleaze. I would happily sit on the tube and look at the poor office-locked bastards looking down their noses at me with my earring and my Lewis Leathers leather jacket and sing to myself: “”you say you’re hot s**t so I’ve heard – well you ain’t nuthin’ but a cold turd!”
HAPPY TALKING – CAPTAIN SENSIBLE.
Basically I should hate this song and everything it stands for but…When I first moved to London I worked as a motorcycle messenger at Stiff in a prehistoric era that pre-dated cell phones. I would call into the office in Westbourne Park from somewhere in the West End to ask if there was something else for me to do before I would ride out back to the office. Quite regularly the phone would be answered by The Captain (the bass player of the Damned of course) who, thinking my surname was the worst punk affectation he’d ever heard of, would scream: “DICK? DICK? DICK? F*** OFF…” down the phone at me before hanging up. Of course further calls would result in yet more insults and profanities. Strangely I never hit it off with the Captain. However when he left the label and went to A&M and this single came out and I couldn’t get enough of the damn thing…I even bought a copy which I still own. And that keyboard solo still makes me smile. Go figure.