Good for the Soul

A couple of weeks ago was Mental Awareness Week, and BBC Radio 2 recorded a couple of programmes called Music Therapy.

This was about how the therapeutic effect of music can be good for us. And it got me thinking about how music has affected my life; I can remember what I listened to as a child, my formative teenage years and throughout my life. I can remember where I was or what I was doing when I heard a particular song, how it made me feel and those around me. Music can evoke memories good and bad, but I think that we need a bit of everything to shape us as people.

 As a child my parents loved music and our record player was a deck attached to a valve radio, something my Dad was able to cobble together to make work. They allowed us to play their records which included 78rpm records as well as 45rpm singles and 33rpm albums. The singles included Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets (I’m talking early to mid sixties here) and Telstar by the Tornados. My brother, sister and I used to jump around the room listening to these. 

By the time we got to about 1963 my older sister started buying Beatles records and I absolutely loved them, and still do today. I learned all the words and sang along and in about 1965 when they released “All my Loving” I went and bought the EP of this, having saved up my pocket money for weeks. I still have it today and can remember the buzz of going into the shop and handing over my money. My sister also got into The Monkees and again, I knew all the songs on the albums off by heart.

At the end of the decade I was old enough to get a paper round and spent all my wages on records. I still wanted more records so I then got an evening paper round and a weekend one too. By the time I got to Grammar school I had quite a collection; it had expanded gradually and then along came Rod Stewart, the Faces and Slade and I was really hooked. Music just made me happy and I couldn’t get enough. I started going to gigs, and to see bands live was extra special.

In 1971 I think it was, when I should have been getting to sleep, I used to listen to the pirate radio station Radio Luxembourg on a tiny transistor radio, quietly so that my parents didn’t hear it. One night I heard a new release which absolutely blew me away. I sat up and turned the light on so that I could write down the title and artist - Get Down and Get With It by Slade.

That began my love of Slade. They were a no-nonsense rock band who were fantastic live; I saw them 4 times from a tiny town hall the week they got their first number one (Cos I luv you) to the Rainbow in Finsbury Park to Wembley Empire Pool. After the Wembley gig my mate and I got the milk train home from Liverpool Street as far as Chelmsford - trouble was we still had another 30miles to get home, which we hitch hiked, arriving home at about 6.30 on the Sunday morning. We fell asleep in armchairs until about 8.30, then went and played our Sunday league football match - amazing happy days!

In 1975 I met the girl who became my wife and we enjoyed music together, listening and going to gigs. Once we had decided to get married, we limited our nights out as we needed to save to get a deposit together for a house, instead spending our evenings listening to music.

I still have my vinyl collection and have recently been playing some, favouring vinyl over CDs (I don’t download music). My son, now 26, loves it and can appreciate the magic of vinyl. We recently heard on the car radio a track called The Joker by The Steve Miller Band and he loved it, so when we got home I got my vinyl LP of their greatest hits out and played it to him and it’s now on his playlist on his phone. This happens quite a lot. 

Music that makes me happy is usually something I can sing along to, or play air guitar or drums to. If I need a bit of a lift I’ll play Superstition by Stevie Wonder, It’s not unusual by Tom Jones, Let’s go dancing by Kool and the Gang. Or it could be Smooth by Santana ft, Rob Thomas or Can’t Stop The Feeling by Justin Timberlake.

If I’m working in the house I’ll either listen to the radio (usually Heart 70s) or go for anything by Newton Faulkner or Billy Joel. I’ve even been known to listen to The Bare Necessities from the Jungle Book!

Rod Stewart’s first two albums as a solo artist remain among my favourites and after all these years I still know the words to every track, every guitar solo and drumbeat. Hot Love by T-Rex hit me immediately, I went and bought it and went home and played it over and over again, about 7 or 8 times without a break, much to my Dad’s annoyance - and if you know the track, the second half of the song is the chorus repeated until the fade out, so you can see why he was annoyed! 

I can remember in about 1972 going on a family holiday to Bournemouth. My Dad had an 8 track stereo in his car, which for those that don’t know was a tape player which played huge cassettes which were on a loop - they never ended, they would just keep on rolling round. He only had two cassettes, one was a 1950s rock and roll classic hits album, the other was Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel. Again, I know every word of every track of the latter, but that’s what a long car journey and two tapes can do for you. It’s still a brilliant album, that reminds me of that holiday all those years ago. 

When I got my first car the first thing I did was fit a cassette player so that I could play my tapes when I wanted to. I taped most of my vinyl collection for the purpose, and if I didn’t have an album I wanted, I’d borrow it from someone and tape it. Driving round listening to my music with the window down and my arm out of the window was a joy. Disco had arrived by now so that was what was on the stereo along with Curtis Mayfield, Status Quo and Bachman Turner Overdrive. Me and my mate went to Great Yarmouth for the weekend and slept in the car and I’m reminded of that weekend when I hear Rock Your Baby by George Macrae, and Rock the Boat by The Hues Corporation.

When Bohemian Rhapsody was first released another of my friends commandeered the juke box and shoved as many coins in as he could so that it played repeatedly, which some of the other patrons found a bit annoying – but again, I sometimes think of him singing at the top of his voice “Magnifico!” when I hear the song. 

At my brother’s 21st birthday party my sister, who was very pregnant at the time, danced with her husband to Status Quo, including some very energetic moves probably not best for an unborn child, but when I hear a Quo track it takes me back to that moment. 

On my wedding day, sat in the church waiting for my bride and in fact the vicar to show his face, my brother, who was my best man, said to me “Is Vic there?” This was a reference to a song that was in the charts at the time of that title by Department S and when I hear it now, I’m back in the church feeling nervous. My wife and I have Let’s Stay Together by Al Green as our song. Takes us back to our youth as teenagers when we first met. 

Her happy song is Jump Around by House of Pain, she can’t keep still when it comes on. My Mother-in-Law used to love What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong; she was a school secretary and one year that song was played as the children came into the Harvest Festival assembly carrying their gifts. She was always taken back to that day when she heard the song.

On my Mum and Dad’s 50th Wedding Anniversary we all went out for a meal and my daughter, 15 at the time, got up and sang “Till There Was You”. There were a few happy tears but of course that song is now associated with that occasion. 

One day we were listening to the album Talking Book by Stevie Wonder and You are the Sunshine of my Life came on; My Mum and I were passing each other and she grabbed hold of me and we starting dancing together. Every time we were together when the song played, we always danced, once in a crowded restaurant where there was no dance floor! I chose it as one of the music pieces at her recent funeral, it was just so right. 

I could go on and on, putting memories to music but have a think about your own choices, and why they mean so much to you. There are so many occasions when a song was playing at any point in your life. Use music to lift your mood, it can make you happy, make you smile and make you dance. A tune can make you cry, which is no bad thing sometimes but the point is - music can be anything you want it to be.

Use it as therapy or just because you like it - but whatever the reason, just use it, it really can help.