The Bill Shankly music dilemma…

Last week a housemate, being not entirely displeased with a music CD I compiled for her, asked me to make her another one, this time containing music I love. To anyone else this would be simple. After all, we all know – or at least should know – what our favourite songs are. Rather like the musical obsessive’s in ‘High Fidelity’, we should all have various Top 10’s. Top 10 songs that make you happy. Top 10 songs to listen to when you’re sad but want to feel happy. Top 10 songs you listen when you’re sad but want to feel even sadder. Top 10 songs you liked as a child but can no longer stand. Top 10 songs you liked as a child and still do. Top 10 songs…well you get the point. We all have our Top 10 lists, and what they are and the songs on them are a very personal indication of who you are.

Because to mis-quote Bill Shankly (substituting music for football),

 

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

 

The music that you don’t like is almost as important as the music you do. Well, to me it is anyway. You might disagree with me but you’d be wrong. Musical taste and what informs it, is a wonderful mystery. You might hear a piece of music and consider it to be like nectar for the ears, whist someone else hearing the same piece of music might consider it minutes of their life they’ll never get back again. No one hears music in exactly the same way. Which brings me on to the first problem with compiling a CD of music you love. Namely, how the listener will listen to it.

Some people play music but they don’t listen to it. By that I mean they have it on, but they commit one or more of the following aural crimes. By far the worst offence is they don’t play it loud enough! They don’t give it their full attention; they do something else as it’s playing or they start talking whilst it’s on. They stop it when they go out of the room to do something else and they return minutes later, restart it. Without starting the whole track again. That’s if they remember they were listening to something in the first place, that is.

Music isn’t a passive undertaking it’s about so much more than the music. It can act as a kind of sonic shorthand of your character, giving unspoken clues to others about you. ‘Oh, he’s into w and x and is crazy about y and z, so he must be that’. Or at least when you’re a teenager you do. When I was younger in order to buy the music I loved there were only a few specialist record stores in London where you could buy it. But to know where they were, you first had to listen to the right radio stations, and to find them one had spend many hours imperceptibly moving the FM dial like a safe–cracker – these radio stations didn’t keep regular hours – because when you did find them. And once I’d cracked those problems, much like a Hydra more would present themselves. First off, like all teenagers before and since, one of the problems was money. Me not having any but wanting some. It wasn’t so much that my parent’s didn’t believe in pocket money, more that they’d never had it themselves,  so if they didn’t, I certainly wasn’t. So I got an after school job. So I knew where to buy the records and could afford to do so. End of problems? No.

Namely, how to play the records and where. My parents had a stereo, but it was in the front room of the house and was only ever used to play Irish songs, hymns or else taped recordings of relatives singing them. So I saved enough money to buy not only ghetto blaster, but crucially a turntable I could connect it to. And some headphones.  With these in my room and with the job I was able to become a vinyl junkie.

At quite a few parties, when I’ve been speaking to someone with whom horizontal gymnastics was out of the question, I’d innocently ask them what sort of music they liked.

“All sorts,” more often than not would be the reply, “I like a bit of everything.”

So naturally I’d then ask “Do you like gospel?”

”No.” they’d say.

“Country and western, or folk perhaps?”

“No.”

“Jazz or classical, maybe world music or the many varieties of dance music – electro, house, hard-house, drum ‘n bass, techno?”

“No.” they’d reply, trying to resist the urge to throw their drink in my face.

“So essentially you like anything as long as it’s in the charts.”

So compiling a CD of music for someone else is difficult enough, because you have to work within what you know of their musical ‘tastes’. Yes, you can stretch them a bit, but not too far, because it’s not for you to enjoy. But also depending on who they are, one has to ensure that the lyrical content isn’t problematic. But these considerations pale into insignificance when someone asks you to make them a CD of music you love. Precisely because it is music you love, they evokes memories of the first time you heard it or a particular moment of your life, then if someone doesn’t show the correct response, one takes it personally.

As you might have guessed by now, I take my music very seriously. Too seriously, some might say. To which I’d say ”Bill Shankly”