This week’s blog is somewhat inspired by a blog started by a friend of mine (let’s call him John Brown, as that’s his name :)). John had entered The Great North Run (which is fact approaching for me now) a couple of years ago, and charted his progress each week by signing off with a favourite song of his. He unfortunately got injured before the GNR, and it didn’t get fully finished, but nonetheless I loved reading it.
So, when I resurrected my blog a few months ago, I was going to end each blog post with a song like John did. As I haven’t done so to date, I thought I’d add a few here in this post, as much as for posterity as anything.
Choosing your favourite song though is a nigh on impossible task in my view. They change with what mood you are in, or what is happening in your life at the time. Songs also evoke memories of childhood, of events in your life, of moments of love, of family and friends, and so many more things. As memories fade and change then so do the songs, but it is just as easy to recall a memory (or a song) from 40 years ago as it is from 40 days ago, in fact probably more so.
Although I never wear headphones on runs (I prefer to stay alert and listen for things that might hurt me!) I did used to on long walks, and like most people I (used to) have a playlist. It was (like much of my taste in music, which will be echoed below) very eclectic in nature, but a lot of it was fairly mindless stuff which I could lose myself in to pass the time. Long walks for me used to sometimes be 20 miles or more, and that’s over 5 hours worth of time to keep yourself amused. Sometimes I’d just hit ‘random play’ on iTunes and see what came along. There’d then be much skipping/fast forwarding whenever I wasn’t in the mood for half the stuff that popped up. And, as my son will tell you, my taste in music was never that good, even by my own admittance!!
But how to actually choose favourite songs? It’s like choosing a favourite movie (pretty impossible for me on almost any given day) or a favourite child! And in fact I’m not sure I could name my favourite Queen song for example. So all I’ve tried to do here is to name a selection of songs that (still, as most of them are old like me :)) represent something special. And if not always for the brilliance of the song itself, then for whatever it triggers in me. I think, (and this has taken some time to pull together!) what I have ended up with here are some tracks that when I hear them, they actually do something amazing to me. So I’ve tried to also describe why they are special wherever I can. Forgive then please the self-indulgence!
Oh and John’s blog is at the following address – I hope he resurrects it sometime, as I totally loved reading it: https://johnrobertbrown73.wordpress.com/tracks/
So here goes, and (definitely) in no particular order, as they say……….
ELO – Rockaria – Gosh, I could have chosen several songs by ELO. Telephone Line (one of the first singles I ever bought) for example, or Confusion, or Wild West Hero, and certainly Mr Blue Sky. Why can I only have one song per artist? I absolutely loved ELO, and the Out of the Blue Album was the first album I ever bought, when I’d just had my appendix removed, aged 13. I think I could still name all of the songs on the album now and know all the lyrics off by heart. Musical genius for its time. Rockaria to me brings out the best in ELO, showcasing Jeff Lynne’s great vocals and also the brilliant orchestration they always had. It’s catchy too, and fast paced. Love it….
Queen – Teo Torriate (“Let Us Cling Together”) – I don’t know how many Queen songs I could have put in my favourites over the years. Queen were the first band I saw live, the Wall of Lights tour, with Freddie Mercury in his absolute prime. I was transfixed, blown away, and remained a fan for life. I think Freddie Mercury was the biggest musical genius ever, the most amazing all round entertainer, and the best frontman the world of music has been lucky to witness. I need not re-tell his story here to anyone. I sat and cried the night he died with my friend Mab in The Kings Head in Lichfield (but not as much as Mab did it is fair to say). The world is is still a considerably poorer place for his sad demise, but he is otherwise immortal, and I firmly believe that his music and his legacy will live forever.
From the A Day At The Races album, the gentle ballad Teo Torriate is unique for being released only in Japan, and has two verses sung in Japanese. The chorus line in English (and indeed all of the words) were put onto a cloth print for me by my first ever girlfriend – ahhhh. They are repeated here below and are as meaningful to me now as lessons in life and love as they were when I first saw them:
“Let us cling together as the years go by,
Oh my love, my love,
In the quiet of the night
Let our candle always burn,
Let us never lose the lessons we have learned.”
I could name about 10 Queen songs which are more important, and memorable to me, than any other song in this blog. Amongst those would be Love Of My Life, Take My Breath Away, We Are The Champions, Fat Bottomed Girls, Killer Queen, and Spread Your Wings. And those ignore the many songs that Freddie did solo, that are also favourites, such as Living On My Own, The Great Pretender, I Was Born To Love You, and Barcelona (with of course Montserrat Caballé).
Meatloaf – Bat Out of Hell. I surely could have named most of the songs from the Bat Out of Hell album here, but the title track just gets it, closely followed by Heaven Can Wait, Paradise by The Dashboard Light, and For Crying Out Loud. This song (and the entire album) brings back so many memories from times at University (Birmingham in case you are wondering), where it was sung with great gusto in the common room of any given evening. Happy days 🙂 There can’t have been many people (perhaps the esteemed Mr F Mercury as the exception) who put so much heart and soul (or in fact perspiration) into his performances as Mr Michael Lee Aday:
Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Oliver’s Army This is one of those songs that I just bloody love, and I don’t even know why. I don’t really like any of Elvis Costello’s other music, or even his voice (although he did a pretty good job with “She”, the soundtrack for Notting Hill). But whenever, to this day, this comes on the radio, I turn it up, sing my head off, and it just does something to me. You know, some songs are just like that.
Johnny Cash – Love’s Been Good to Me. How can I possibly choose a Johnny Cash song here and put just one in? There should have been Jackson, Rose of My Heart, or Ring of Fire, or I Walk The Line, to name but a few. I’ve chosen Love’s Been Good to Me, as it is one of the very last songs he ever recorded and is on the American V; A Hundred Highways album. I could have put every song from that album in my top ten songs in fact. Released posthumously, and recorded only months before he died in 2003, you can hear the strain, the pain and (every bit of) the age in Cash’s voice. It is spellbinding, beautiful, ridiculously heartwarming and incredibly sad all at the same time. Please listen to the song if you haven’t before, even though it is almost hard to do so:
Beautiful South – Everybody’s Talkin’ – I could have named Perfect Ten, or Rotterdam, Old Red Eyes is Back, Sail This Ship Alone (and maybe I should have done!) or You Keep It All In here too. And more. I LOVED The Beautiful South, and still do. Both Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbot have the most incredible voices, and complement each other incredibly well. And although the originality and humour of The Beautiful South’s music was what always set them apart for me, this song does neither of those, as it is a cover (done by Harry Nilsson and the theme tune to the movie Midnight Cowboy), but nonetheless is a fantastic song.
Mamas and the Papas – Dream a Little Dream of Me Almost like no other song here this is a total one off. I’ve no affinity with the 1960s at all, and other than California Dreamin’ (and how good is that too?) I don’t think I could name any other Mamas and the Papas songs. Mama Cass has such a unique and incredible voice though, and this song (whilst it has no affinity to any life event or person) will stay with me forever. I think I’d put it in my top 3 in fact, if I had such a list of course….
Hazel O’Connor – Will You – probably more so than even Dream A Little Dream of Me, this is an even bigger one off. I don’t even like Hazel O’Connor (!), couldn’t tell you anything about her, and wouldn’t probably listen to her music if I had to (and I did try once I seem to recall). But this song, oh, THIS SONG, just absolutely stops me in my tracks, brings me to my knees, and has me drooling. The saxophone solo in particular (I used to play the tenor sax in a previous life, if badly) is probably my favourite instrumental solo of any song ever (if that is a category). Top 5 song for me, and on any one day I could choose it as my number one even.
David Bowie – Life on Mars I have always loved David Bowie since I can remember knowing what music was. Still do. Like some of the other people in my list here he was unique, a revolutionary, a pioneer. He did what he wanted, and didn’t care (until maybe a bit later on when he went a bit more mainstream). I deliberated between Starman and Ziggy Stardust here too, and always loved Suffragette City and Oh You Pretty Things too. How can you not love a song which contains the line “Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow’. So, come on, “Sailors, fighting in the dance hall, oh man, look at those cavemen go………”…
Eva Cassidy – Autumn Leaves (or Somewhere Over the Rainbow, I don’t really mind) So my only joint choice of song by one artist (as I couldn’t separate them) goes to Eva Cassidy. Everyone loves Eva Cassidy surely, how could you not? Her story is of course even more tragic than possibly anyone in musical history, but that isn’t anything to do with what makes her incredible. No-one, in my view at least, has ever done covers of other people’s songs like she did, and then just totally made them her own, and moreover absolutely made them immeasurably better. And what’s more she did it to songs that everyone already knew and loved, and were impossible to make better in any way. I mean, how do you improve on Songbird by Stevie Knicks, or Somewhere Over The Rainbow, or songs by Sting or Nat King Cole? And this version of Autumn Leaves, sung live (a rare thing in itself for her) makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, every single time.
Leningrad Cowboys – Gimme All Your Lovin’ I actually tried to leave this out, but just couldn’t. Perhaps not the most musically gifted band in the world (!), or possessing the most gifted lead singer either, the Leningrad Cowboys are quite possibly the greatest band to come out of Helsinki. They are a cover band (just in case you’ve never heard of them!!), with perhaps slightly exaggerated hairstyles and shoes, and they may not even exist anymore. They have however given me and my extended family in Germany and Denmark some riotous evenings of fun over the years, and then some. Look up their version of Happy Together too if you like this…….
Eagles – Take It Easy The Eagles are just one of my favourite bands and always have been, so I couldn’t leave them out. Had that not been true then I’d have not named an Eagles song, despite having so many favourites. Desperado, Lyin’ Eyes, The Last Resort, and Take It To The Limit being some that I could never tire of listening to. Another band of course punctuated by the untimely death of frontman Glenn Frey, the Eagles music spans generations and continents, and everyone on the planet can sing along to Hotel California. I saw them live twice, and would say they are the best live band I’ve ever seen (including Queen, see above). Take It Easy is here for the line “it’s a girl, my Lord, in a flat bed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me….”, which was Glenn Frey’s favourite line too.
Squeeze – Cool For Cats OK, so this song so very nearly didn’t make it frankly, but I’m glad it did, if only for the line in the song “I’m invited in for coffee and I give the dog a bone”. Squeeze were just like that, very ‘real’. I had the Greatest Hits album on repeat play for about 10 years back in the day, and songs like Up The Junction, Labelled With Love, Take Me I’m Yours, Pulling Mussels (From The Shell) and Goodbye Girl are all absolute classics in my book. Songs of their time perhaps, but for me always a wonderful nostalga trip to a great moment in time. I’d still pay a lot of money to go see them live (if they still exist that is!), and so am all ears if someone can tell me where I can find them, although maybe I’m a good 30 years too late….
Manic Street Preachers – If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next Such a hard decision this, and I agonised about it for ages before putting it here. Took a day on its own, probably. It should perhaps have been You Stole The Sun From My Heart, or The Everlasting, or Design For Life, or Everything Must Go. Every song is as good as the other. James Dean Bradfield’s voice (particularly live) is one of those while never perfect, is utterly compelling and exciting – so much energy goes into every verse, and Forever Delayed is one of my favourite albums of all time.
The Housemartins – Happy Hour So Topper Heaton, by virtue of being also lead singer of The Beautiful South, effectively makes it into this list twice. Originally called (being from Hull) The Fish City Five, the Housemartins gave another nod to their Northern heritage with their debut album London 0 Hull 4, which also featured some of my other favourite songs of theirs including Think For A Minute, Build, and Flag Day. In fact thinking about it for a minute, I should have put Flag Day up there instead of Happy Hour. I think Flag Day is one of those songs that I have to stop what I am doing, and sing. I don’t think I ever agreed with their politics and anti-royalism, but I can overlook that when you make music as listenable and as catchy and fun as this. Take the later “Me and The Farmer”, which includes the immortal line “getting on like hand and blister”. Musical genius again….
Alan Parsons Project – Old and Wise – Another one off for me, or at least one album of theirs is. It is probably as old as I am, but dearly love the song, even though it is a bit melancholy I suppose. I also loved The Eye in The Sky on the ‘Best Of’ album.
Dixie Chicks – White Trash Wedding Where oh where to start with the Dixie Chicks? I could say ‘just ask Dan’ here. This has so many memories, principally of driving up to some random horse racing event with him and Becca in the car and me singing my head off. The Dixie Chicks have incredible energy, are fantastic musicians, and sing beautifully.
Pink Floyd – The Great Gig in The Sky Whilst I’m a much much bigger fan of Wish You Were Here as an album than The Dark Side of The Moon, The Great Gig In The Sky captivated me the very first time I heard it, in my friend Neil’s house when I was a teenager. Clare Torry’s wordless vocals are one of the most incredible performances in any song ever, and I can’t think in fact of any better right now. Pink Floyd were one of those bands that whilst I was never a big fan, their music is so seminal, and enduring. They were unique, and in so many ways still are today. Shine on You Crazy Diamond and Wish You Were Here should get more than honourable mentions here too. Here is Clare Torry doing her thing live, which I had never seen before until posting this. Turn the lights way down, or off, and enjoy…
Talking Heads – Road To Nowhere I was never really a Talking Heads fan, but they’ve had some great songs I’ll give them that. Road To Nowhere was on my walking playlist for years and is one of those songs (which is why it is on the list!) that just had me at hello, simple as that.
Rolling Stones – You Can’t Always Get What You Want (or Angie – can I have two by them?) I was never a Rolling Stones fan tbh. Still not. But this song is one of those that I think is breathtaking. It gets me in the first few bars. Love Angie too, and that makes me realise how good Mick Jagger was I suppose:
Velvet Underground – Pale Blue Eyes. One of the songs I probably remember most from being a teenager and I discovered with (or from, he was a huge fan of theirs) my best friend Colin. I could have named here just as readily Sunday Morning, or I’m Waiting For the Man, or I’m Sticking With You, or Sweet Jane. Lou Reed just was rock and roll, or something like that.
Alex Parks – Maybe That’s What It Takes This. Is. The. Song….I could leave it there really. But it deserves more, so I won’t. I watched, as many people did, back in the day, Fame Academy, which was the forerunner to The X Factor and all those other reality TV shows, and that’s where Alex Parks emerged from. The show was with a difference though, in that each of the performers had to write and perform (at least some) of their own music. Alex Parks, who I think I’m right in saying was known (terribly unkindly, by the gutter press, and it wouldn’t happen today) as ‘The Cornish Lesbian’ (bear in mind social media hadn’t been thought of then, thankfully), got me (and half the nation, she won the show) from the get go. She was an unlikely (and indeed reluctant) hero though in many ways, suffering as she did from what appeared to be terrible nerves, and her voice was often shaky and warbling as a result. When she won the show I cheered and shouted and jumped up and down and did cartwheels down the street naked (well, ok, but you get my drift). We then never heard from her again and suspect and hope she went back to happy life out of the limelight in Cornwall. I love this song (which she also wrote) almost as much as I love life itself, and possibly more than Will You, and any other song I’ve mentioned here as being ‘right up there’. In fact, if you pushed me very very hard, and said “of all these songs, which one would you choose first…..” then it would perhaps be this. But you’re not going to ask me that, are you? In short, I could play this song every day and never, ever, tire of it.
Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Geno. This might easily have been Come On Eileen, or Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache. Dexy’s made such an incredible version of Northern Soul, and Kevin Rowland was brilliant. He once kicked me in the head at Newcastle Mayfair (I deserved it, I undid his shoelace when stood in the front row at a concert there. I was so happy!) I saw Dexy’s at least three times, along with the likes of The Specials, Madness, The Beat and others of that era. This was my golden age of music, when I was around 15 – 18 years old and most impressionable. I could also list songs like The Horse, and Because of You here.
Christina Aguilera – Beautiful (or The Voice Within, it’s a pretty impossible decision) Christina Aguilera has the most incredible voice, and puts much passion into her music. I’m not a fan of most of the music she’s ever done, but both of these songs, are anthemic, symbolic, and empowering. Love them in equal measure.
So many songs nearly made this list, and on another day probably would. Several of them, by bands that I can count as my favourites I suppose, have been mentioned in dispatches above. Others might include:
Paul Weller – You Do Something To Me. This song does something to me too, simple as that really :).
Black Eyed Peas – Shut Up – not really sure why this is here in fact. I used to love I’ve Got A Feeling, but so did everyone else, and so I chose this one by them instead.
The Commitments – Try A Little Tenderness. Loved the film so much, and this song is right up there with the best, so much energy from the young guy who’s name I have forgotten who played the lead.
Amy Winehouse – Our Day Will Come. This and Valerie are both wonderful, as was she. Another tragic and premature end to such a talented life.
Missing You – Puff Daddy. Epic song, the intro is waaaaaaaaaay too long though.
Rag N Bone Man/Calvin Harris – Giant. I had to have a recent song in here somewhere, and this is mine of the moment. So catchy, great riff, awesome horn section.
Emeli Sande – Clown – One of the best female voices ever in my view, so much emotion in every breath she takes.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Born To Run. A superb cover of a song that I liked (but not Bruce Springsteen) – epic energy from Holly Johnson as ever.
George Michael – Cowboys and Angels. George Michael proved his worth to me when covering Freddie Mercury on Somebody to Love. He’s the only one who has ever come even remotely close.
Hot Chocolate – I’ll Put You Together Again. Sorry about that.
Laurie Anderson – O Superman. Blame Dan for this one. Despite it being an old song (like 1980s) I only heard it for the first time this year. It’s an earworm for sure, and you either get it, and completely love it, or you think “what the hell is that crap?”. You know now which camp I fall into.
Lucinda Williams – Right In Time. It’s sexy (….”turn the light off, and moan at the ceiling, ohhhhhhhh baby…..)”, that’s all I’m going to say about it.
Mike and The Mechanics – The Living Years. My Dad’s favourite song, along with Mr Blue Sky actually. I can’t listen to it without wanting to cry.
And so, onto the running 🙂 This is a running blog after all isn’t it! So after last week’s brief respite (of only 38 miles!) this was the longest week of any I’ve ever run (again) with 43 in total.
Tuesday was a nice gentle easy run of 6 miles, but then followed by a long Wednesday run at marathon pace of 9 miles. I say long, but I mean long for a Wednesday, as opposed to long full stop! On Thursday was the hardest run yet for me, a 6 miler but with 6 lots of half mile intervals at 7:30 pace. Now I know I can’t run a mile in 7:30, and so to run three miles in total at that pace (albeit punctuated by some quarter mile rests) was really tough. This was not helped by it being hot, even though it was 6:30 in the morning! We are having a bit of a late heatwave here in the UK, and this very much affected the weekend’s runs too. So Friday’s rest day didn’t come a day too soon for me!
The weekend (Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK) was spent over in Cambridge with Melanie. The Saturday run was a gentle 5 miles and the Sunday was a monster 17 miler.
Saturday was nigh on a write off, caused by too much alcohol and not enough food or sleep the night before. Although I didn’t exactly go silly by any means on Friday night, a combination of eating late and too much to drink before doing so clearly didn’t do me any good. So a gentle five miler, which should have been very pleasant (a nice jaunt to the village of Whittlesford and back to Melanie’s) was just bloody hard work, with my heart rate elevated and me just not enjoying any of it. I cursed myself and made a mental note to try to learn from that (as if I ever do!). Sometimes though life just gets in the way of running and you have to balance things, but all things in moderation I suppose….
Sunday was a different matter for two reasons. One the temperature was forecast at a crazy 32 degrees, way way way too hot for most sensible people, and me too. and secondly it was 17 miles, the longest run of my life, and so I wasn’t taking any chances the night before. A glass and a half of wine was more than enough, and an early night ready for an early start to beat the worst of the heat. I also took out a running belt replete with two quarter litre bottles of electrolyte mix, and hoped it would be much easier and more comfortable than the disaster that was my hydration vest of a few weeks ago.
Thankfully the running belt was great. We set out at 7:30 to get most of the run done in the (relative) cool (although it was still 20 degrees before 8am and 27 when we finished). We ran into and around Cambridge, through Grantchester (which I’d never been too before, and is very picturesque), and then through the parks and along the river Cam. Had it not been so hot it would have been fabulous. Overall though I got through it, at a nice gentle pace overall, and did my personal distance record both for the day and the week. As I write this I’m still recuperating, but feeling great that I’ve got through 6 weeks unscathed, more or less.
Next week is another 43 mile week, with a 20 mile run at the end of it. I’ll keep that post much shorter than this, as after all I’ve well and truly exhausted my list of songs here in the longest blog post I’ve ever done. Thanks for reading if you made it this far……….:)