Friday, 27 April 2012

Songs that saved my life part 11:The Bee Gees-You Win Again/Cilla Black-La La Lu

When I was nine years old, I heard a track by the Bee Gees on the radio called 'You Win Again'. There was something in the melody, or maybe the hook, that utterly haunted and compelled me to play it over and over again. I didn’t know why I liked it, just that I did. The song refused to leave my head, and gripped me to such an extend that I sat in front of that weeks top of the pops with a cassette recorder (the 'mic' being about three quarters of the size of a five pence piece) and recorded it straight from the television. Sadly, the tape was left on the top of our fire place (a gas affair with three white blocks, all fake mahogany and mirrors, with a little metal guard to stop little Jimmy scorching his face off) and the cassette melted in one corner thus rendering it unplayable. I was genuinely inconsolable.

The Bee Gees have a bad reputation these days. They conjure up images of white satin, chest hair and teeth. The Kenny Everett spoof etching itself onto our minds, something to laugh at for being naff rather than showering them with the true respect they deserve. The Bee Gees are skilled craftsman of pop music. With a song in their hands, like Best or Pele with a football, Shakespeare or Wilde a sentence or syntax, or Picasso or Chagall with a paintbrush they can create real, seemingly effortless magic. They wrote songs, though not necessarily about us, are most defiantly for us. To me, they represent what music really is, something effortless and pure and almost (but not quite) real. Anyone reading this thinking that The Bee Gees are sad and I’m mad for liking them are directed to a 1969 track called ‘Every Lion Hearted Man Will Show You’. It’s mental. Kicking off with some sort of monkish chant, it turns into The Monkees on strong downers. The sneer in the verse and chorus are surely an influence on the infant Oasis. Listen to it whilst imagining Liam Gallagher, arms behind his back, belting it out in full flight. It fits together like Lego. It also hooks itself into your head on first listen. This is pop music, wonderful yet effortless pop.


Its 1989, and I'm 12 years old. Dust softly settles on the frames of the photographs of deceased relatives, the brown living room carpet smells faintly of a recent Shake 'n' Vac-ing. Mum washes up and softly sings to the radio. Outside somewhere a dog is barking. It’s a Saturday afternoon and it's raining. A disaster. Saturday is the day to spend playing football on the green. 15 a-side epics that only stopped when people where called in by their mums for tea-time. A wet Saturday means reading, playing Subbutteo (despite having one of the goal post broke by a careless dog paw) or watching telly. Nothing, in short, to rival a good kick about.

Despite constant begging and promises not only to wear my thick green and white jumper, but my blue cagoule as well, my mum wont let me go out and play football. "It’s not REALLY raining" I tell her. It’s pissing down actually, a right recipe for muddy shoes and dirty hall carpets. But when her voice edges into Geordie I know I’m fighting a losing battle. She promises to make my favourite tea as a gesture of good will, and I know the No is final.

Cause lost and feeling like a baby, I send my friend Martin away from my front door. He pretends to be cool with it, that he understands, but as he walks away, soaking wet with a Casey football under his arm, I know he doesn't. Not really.

It’s still too early to watch the football results come in on the mini printer on Grandstand, so resign myself to a film on my mum’s recommendation. I enjoyed Grease, which we all watched last time it poured down on a Saturday, but pretended I didn't due to its girly sing-along nature.

"A bit wimpy" I told mum. Not that she believed me.

"There's a film on in a minute" says mum, and I lie in front of the big faux mahogany and grey Thorn 1500, on my stomach, head lifted by elbows.

And waited.

"Please Sir!" was written by script writers John Esmonde and Bob Larbey in 1971 as spin off to the successful TV show. The film starred the proto-Hugh Grant John Alderton and to my mind, the most underrated English Actress ever Joan Sanderson as the sour faced yet golden hearted Miss. Ewell. The plot revolved around the sandpaper rough 5C, a north London class of delinquents and misfits and their efforts to get one over their fresh out of college teacher and Potter, their 'ex desert rat' caretaker played sportingly and rather brilliantly by Deryck Guyler.

As I lay on my belly that ached from laughing and elbows lifting my head that was confused to why all the school girls looked about 27, I felt a bit sad as the film ended and the title credits ran. I lifted my hand to turn the channel. But an odd thing happened.

I was paralysed by the song. The one that started as the kids on screen shimmied their way through the end of camp disco, hand held transistor radio held to ear, and ended as the list of cameramen, gaffers and best boy's scrolled ever upwards. That song, that song.

'La la Lu (I love you)' was released as a B-side to Cilla's 'Something Tells Me (Something’s Gonna Happen Tonight) on the Parlophone label. It reached the top 5 in the UK charts in 1971. It’s also my favourite song ever. Yes, ever. Even next to the Beatles, the Beach Boys and B&S. Even (and I cringe as I type this) next to (go on, go on, type it!) The Smiths. There is no song in the world I would rather dance to. It’s not the most indie-cool of choices. But it’s honest. It really is the truth.

Of course it’s not the BEST song ever (it would sound plastic put next to, say, 'Days' by The Kinks), but it’s the song I love the most. I love the way it manages to convey a whole kitchen sink drama in two minutes and forty seven seconds. I love the way the lyrics are super important, and at the same time nonsense. I love the way it’s framed in a certain time, both musically and lyrically. Who would 'Sit in the kitchen, sit in the hall' these days? I love the way the orchestra ghosts in barely noticeably, like a ninja. I love the way it finishes twice as sonically as it starts.

It’s just wonderful. Full of joie de vivre and teenage angst in equal measure, it’s the sort of record that is like a shot of rum to the soul. It’s the first song I fell head over heels in love with.

Of course, around the same time we had Acid House kicking off, the death of The Smiths and the birth of The Stone Roses. Around school the kids are listening to 'Pump up the jam' and Bon Jovi. De La Soul where bringing the daisy age to the suburban kids of the first year. All music I just didn't like. I kept the Cilla thing a secret, and did do for years. But it was a gift really, the rain and watching that film. Music found its way to my guts, like the worm in a Tequila bottle. As I ate my fish fingers and watched the football results come in, deep down I knew Saturday afternoons would never be the same again.

Living our lives these days, its easy (so fucking easy) to forget what we are. So simple it is to forget that our existence is not just an endless cycle of working and buying things. The most important things are often the tiniest. The moment you realise your pillow has stopped smelling of an ex-lover. Making yourself a cup of tea and realising it tastes perfect. Talking to someone you like and making them laugh. Waking up with an arm outstretched to turn the alarm off before realising its your day off, rolling over, and going back to sleep safe in the knowledge that when you wake up you can be yourself all day. Watching the rain through the window of a warm room. Life fools us into denying ourselves and searching for the next distraction. Advertisers make a living on making us feel unique and then selling us thing we don’t truly want. But music IS what makes us unique. It’s very unlikely that you have been moved to tears because a bootleg Beg Gees tape has melted on your mum and dads gas fire or had an epiphany lying on your belly listening to Cilla Black, but I know that some song(s) have touched you in way that’s as personal and unique to you as your DNA. In age where information has overtaken emotion, its nice too know that sitting in their little sleeves, sat in their little box are the records that make us who we are. And that whatever the distraction, be it work, babies, relationships, shopping or worrying about the bills, they will always be there for us, not matter how much we neglect them. What we choose to listen to is who we are, and to judge it would be to judge ourselves, and that’s something we must never ever do.

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