Like book shops, Record stores have never had it so tough – it’s a reality not lost on anyone reading this blog. However, today being International Record Store Day, let’s take a break from mourning for a moment and instead celebrate just a little. Celebrate the experiences these places afford us. Nothing beats rifling through the racks, pouring over the artwork, peering over the shoulder of the customer in front of you just to see if what’s in their hand matches your perception of the them – you judge them, yes you do. I’m romanticizing sure, but how could you not. Think about the hours you lost in the record shops defining and refining your identity. Take a moment to consider what it is that we lose when another one closes its doors.
And now back to celebrating…To mark International Record Store Day this year, I contacted twelve of the finest writers, poets and journalists around, and asked them to share with me an album that has in one way or another inspired, seduced or fascinated them. What became apparent was that most writers have private, intense, and sometimes perverse relationships with particular records as much as they do with other books. Does what they listen to influence how they write? Keep reading to find out.
Oh, and more importantly, What do their musical choices say about each them as people?
Yep, it’s judgement time!
For your listening pleasure, here are twelve “masterpieces” as chosen by Kevin Barry, Siobhán Mannion, Paul Lynch, Janet Cameron, Peter Murphy, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Gavin Corbett, Sarah Clancy, Jim Carroll, Dimitra Xidous, Ferdia MacAnna and Oran Ryan.
Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Don’t Stand Me Down
Don’t Stand Me Down by Dexy’s Midnight Runners came out in the early summer of 1985 and it was considered outlandish and a touch bizarre and in commercial and critical terms it was a total disaster – but it is of course a masterpiece. There are lots of odd spoken-word bits, and there are tunes that take an age to get inside your brain, and it is resolutely and unfashionably passionate … I have no doubts that it’s one of the greatest records ever made. This Is What She’s Like is the stand-out track, probably. An interesting side-note: there are lots of Irish references – one of the many things the record is, is it’s a Brummie’s homage to his Irish roots. Kevin Rowland was then and remains now a God-like genius. We are not worthy.
Track: This Is What She’s Like
Kevin is the author of two collections of short stories, There are Little Kingdoms and Dark Lies the Island. His Novel City of Bohane is shortlisted for the 2013 IMPAC Award.
Throwing Muses – The Real Ramona
Back in the early nineties, one of my best friends was a great mix-tape maker, bringing the likes of Cocteau Twins, Cowboy Junkies and Mary Margaret O’Hara into my world. Throwing Muses featured frequently in these compilations, and on Side B of one particularly beloved cassette, I had their 1991 album ‘The Real Ramona’. ‘Counting Backwards’ – the first track – sets the tone, with its catchy rhythm and jangly guitars disguising something much darker in the undertow. Today, all I need is the opening beats and the intervening decades dissolve.
Track: Counting Backwards
In 2011, Siobhan won the Hennessy Award, and in 2012 her play The Big Picture took the World Bronze Medal for Best Writing at the New York Festivals International Radio Awards.
Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil (1965)
Large parts of Red Sky in Morning were written listening to Wayne Shorter’s classic 1965 album Speak No Evil. I find that jazz loosens up the deep place of my mind, lets me find my own strange rhythms. The music here bridges the period when post-bop began to slide towards the avant-garde. Shorter’s powerhouse five-piece cook up something exotic and sinuous — an inviting yet eerily elegant mood-piece. Even the titles seem mythic — Witch Hunt; Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum; Dance Cadaverous — and their imagery crept unconsciously into the book. A dark-glistening gem.
Track: Witch Hunt
Paul Lynch is the author of Red Sky Morning (Quercus UK; Little, Brown, USA)
Janet E. Cameron
Kate Bush – Hounds of Love (1985) ‘If I only could, I’d make a deal with God, and get him to swap our places…’ Want to know what it’s like to be an unhappy hormonal teenage girl? Listen to Hounds of Love. No other album does it better. Big drums! Big drama! Shrieking and howling! Everything’s here: fear of sex (‘Hounds of Love’), longing for romance (‘Running Up that Hill’), mother guilt (‘Mother Stands for Comfort’), father worship (‘Cloudbusting’), and strange tortured impulses towards self-annihilation (pretty much everything on Side Two). In the penultimate song Kate even blows up the entire world (‘Hello Earth’). The dancing and kissy-faces in the video for ‘Running Up that Hill’ look a bit silly to me today, but I remember something very different. It’s after school, there’s a thundering rain storm outside, I’m in my room huddled next to the speakers, and this album is on the stereo, loud. Very loud. Perhaps my mother tells me to turn it down and I think, ‘After this song,’ or ‘You don’t understand me!’ Ah, youth. How does anyone survive it?
Track: Hounds of Love
Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World (Hachette) is Janet’s first novel.
Robert Johnson – King of the Delta blues Singers
Most great artists have an air of the abducted alien about them. Robert Johnson’s King of the Delta Blues Singers sounds like the work of a man who landed on this planet by mistake and can’t wait to get off. Songs like ‘Hellhound On My Trail’, ‘Me and the Devil Blues’ and ‘Come On In My Kitchen’ are Gnostic lamentations set to music. This may be the scariest record ever made.
Track: Hellhound On My Trail
Peter’s journalism has appeared in Rolling Stone, the Irish Times, the Sunday Business Post, and Hot Press magazine. His second novel Shall we Gather at the River (Faber & Faber) was published in 2012.
Nuala Ní Chonchúir
Rufus Wainwright – Want One
From the resigned exuberance of ‘Oh What a World’ to the heartbreak of ‘Dinner At Eight’, Rufus’s lullaby-lament for his relationship with his father, every song on Want One is worth singling out. This is the album I discovered Rufus on. Not the first CD of his I owned, but the one that made me fully appreciate his poetry, his emotion, his genius. I choose ‘14th Street’ as my stand-out track. It reminds me of New York. And I have seen Rufus close so many shows with this song that it always conjures his brilliant live performances. Also I adore the banjo solo, performed on the CD by Rufus’s late, great mother Kate McGarrigle. Here’s a note I made when the album was new to me: “14th Street’ makes me shout-sing and thump the air. While driving. The words ‘Vaguely missing link’ – and the way he sings them – purely brilliant!” Says it all, really.
Track: 14th Street
An author and Poet, Nuala’s latest collection of short stories is Mother America (Little Island).
Flipper – Generic Life is hard, and it’s too exhausting to be sad about it the whole time. That’s why, for me, the cynical and distasteful Generic by Flipper is the ultimate escapist album. The best track on it is ‘Sex Bomb’, which I genuinely think is one of the greatest pieces of art ever created. It sounds like John Coltrane and R2D2 having a competition to make the most noise; ‘John Coltrane’ wins, although I suspect he’s not playing the saxophone at all but merely letting the air out of a balloon. If I were a professional snooker player, ‘Sex Bomb’ would be my entrance song.
Track: Sex Bomb
This is the Way (Fourth Estate) is Gavin’s second novel.
Paul Simon – One Trick Pony
One of Paul Simon’s least well-known albums is a movie sound track called One Trick Pony and I love it. It was released in 1980 but it was around 1985 or 86 before I came across it. I would have been about 12 or 13 or so then and I was in secondary school in Galway. Bear in mind that this was the 80′s the era of Stock Aiken and Waterman, of Bros and Wet Wet Wet and even Wham.
The school I was in though, was pretty grungy artsy and left field, people in the years ahead of us were all into The Smiths and The Cure. Musically I wasn’t in either camp; not the cool brigade nor the pop fans, I was in some weird little subset of my own that only I inhabited and I often sat in the corner with my yellow Christmas present Sony Walkman on listening to a strange mix of country music and folk; people like Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers, I was a mad Buddy Holly fan and I also would have listened to Makem and Clancy though I wouldn’t have confessed that to anyone. I had one Bob Dylan album- ‘The times they are a changing’ but I only really listened to one song from that album and I played it over and over again – (that was Spanish Boots of Spanish Leather) Dylan lead me down a path to discovering or rather re-discovering other music like Donavan, like Guy Clarke and a few other greats, but I was fickle and the bitter sweetness of Simon and Garfunkel when I came across them, immediately captivated me. … songs like for Emily, Wherever I may find her, Homeward Bound and I am a Rock became my constant sound track until, running out of new (to me) material of theirs to listen to I started on Pauls Simon’s solo albums.
Oddly enough this was just before he landed back into popularity with the big huge hullaballoo that was Graceland, and so in some strange way the fact that I had seriously old-hippie taste in music had suddenly placed me ahead of the posse in terms of having cutting edge music interests. I found this very confusing, also at that time I was totally confused about other things; there was another Paul Simon fan in my class and we had become friends in that intense and sudden way that only teenage girls seem to do. I was very, very innocent at that age and though it seems odd now in the light of all the information that floats around these days, I had never even heard of the existence of lesbians or gay people, anyway my new pal and I swapped mix tapes of Paul Simon songs (she had older brothers who had LPs of some of his earlier albums) and on my birthday she made me a tape of the album ‘One Trick Pony’ which we listened to sitting on the wall outside her house. The album is a mix of world weary melancholy and band on the road type story songs. It’s an album full to the brim of restlessness, thwarted love and longing, and so when later that week my friend embarked upon her first relationship with a young lad who played guitar or at least carried a guitar case around with him and left me to my own devices it formed the perfect soundtrack for a summer I spent moping around not knowing what it was that I was so, so sad about. If you want to join in a little of my teenage world-weariness then I recommend the track…
Track: How the Heart Approaches What it Yearns
Thanks for Nothing, Hippies (Salmon Poetry) is Sarah’s latest collection of poetry.
Marvin Gaye’s – What’s Going On
From day to day and week to week, the musical homies by the stereo shift and change. Your mood changes so your musical moods change too. There are days when only a piece of superbly pitched pop fluff will do the trick, the musical equivalent of a bar of dairy milk chocolate. Other times, it takes one of those dusty grooves which once captivated you on some euphoric dance-floor to break through the noise. With increasingly regularity, new tunes pop up to take their place in the firmament.
The problem in a time of plenty is that competition for your ears and attention is fierce. Your ranking and filtering system are shot to bits because the width and depth of what you’re gauging changes size and direction and scope and shape with such regularity. If your ears are truly open as opposed to you thinking that they’re open, the music which seeps through to your cranium should always be changing – new styles and tones, new takes on old music, old takes on older musics. You need to have the head-space for 360 degrees and not have your head spin trying to keep up with all those spans of longitude and latitude.
And then you should also be fierce enough to stick to your guns. Years ago, I remember drawing up a list of my favourite albums. There was a berth near the sharp end for Miles Davis’ “Sketches Of Spain”, an album which still sends me on a bus journey around the hills of Almeria. There was room for DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing”, a sampledelic jamboree which changed how I listen to and hear music. There was space in the single digits for Dusty Springfield’s “Dusty in Memphis”, an album of blue-eyed soul which threw light into the shadows. There was a spot reserved for Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska”, an album which turned a young Tipperary lad’s head westwards towards the prairies and deserts and badlands of America.
But the album at the top of the list then is the album which is still at the top of the list now. I listened to it yet again the other day. I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve listened to it at this stage. I have it on CD and vinyl and ripped onto the hard-drive for good measure too. You can never have too much of a good thing.
I know Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” as well as I know my own skin. It’s a peerless, magnificent, earth-moving affair, an album full of awesome music which I’m so in awe of because I have no idea how they did it. Sure, you can read all the stories and books you like but unless you were there, you really don’t know.
Last year, I found myself in Detroit for a week, that once grand, proud city now up to its neck with abandoned buildings, social strife, crime and a serious lack of municipal funds to do anything about the above. I walked to the Hitsville USA building over on West Grand Boulevard, paid my dollars for the tour and found myself in the studio. Weirdly, there was no music playing. As the rest of the tour party went through to the souvenir shop, I sneaked on my headphones, closed my eyes and pressed play on “Inner City Blues”. The shivers ran up and down my spine. The best music sends you somewhere else and “What’s Going On” does that every damn time.
Track: Inner City Blues
Jim is a music journalist, blogger and editor for The Irish Times He runs a blog titled On the Record for the newspaper.
Pearl Jam – No Code – Those Three Words That Define Joy For Me
Pearl Jam was my youth – and, even though I left them for a bit when No Code came out (I couldn’t understand the shift), I made my way back to them – have stuck with them well into my thirties. Say what you will about Eddie Vedder, I like him. I like the way he commits his face when he sings. It’s raw and it’s visceral and it’s all there. And even though it was the album that made me leave them for a while, I love No Code. I love Hail Hail, and Lukin, and one of the greatest little lines in any song for me is ‘circumstance, clapping hands’ from Who You Are. Those three words define joy for me, as a feeling and a complete state of being. The album also holds a memory of a good-bye, of having to say good-bye to one of my dearest friends in Edinburgh some years ago. I cannot listen to Smile without thinking of her, of our good-bye at the airport, and of the friendship that continued on, even though we no longer spent every day together. I am a romantic with all things and so it is that No Code lives and breathes for me, for the way in which it feeds my memory; that even when something is done and gone and off in the past, a song – or two, or even a truckload – can bring it all back, and you can cry, or you can laugh at it all, and how it all amounts to a life lived well. Between my two hands, as I type this, there is great joy in knowing that.
Track: Who You Are
Dimitra is a Greek-Canadian writer and poet whose work has appeared in Bare Hands Anthology (2012), and Words and Wonders: A Guelph-area Anthology (2001). In 2011 she was long-listed for the Montreal International Poetry Prize.
Ferdia Mac Anna
The Allman Brothers – Live at the Fillmore
When I was 16, my Dad returned from directing plays in the USA and brought me a new LP – The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore. Wide-angle, rollicking, rambunctious, gritty, soaring, often achingly beautiful rhythm and blues music played by six long-haired chaps from Georgia. They had two lead guitarists and two drummers. I loved it so much it’s still my favourite record, over forty years later. There is one tune – ‘In Memory of Elizabeth Reed’, written by guitarist Dickey Betts, that I listen to at least once a week. Shortly before my dad passed away, I asked him how he knew to buy me this treasure. I figured he must have known his eldest son very well well. He told me that he had walked into a record store at the airport on his way home and asked the guy behind the counter what music 16 years listening to this year. The guy recommended the Allmans. Somehow, that only made the gift more precious.
Track: In Memory of Elizabeth Reed
Novelist and screenwriter Ferdia has written three novels, including The Last of the High Kings which was made into a successful Hollywood movie. It was recently republished by New Island Books as part of the Modern Irish Classics series.
Hawkwind – Hall of the Mountain Grill
It’s hard to quantify the effect the Hawkwind album ‘Hall of the Mountain Grill’ (1974) had on me when I heard it first. I was fourteen years old. I saw the cover of the album while browsing in Caroline records on Richmond Street. It was a painting of a half-sunk spaceship, mired in a misty lagoon. I remember buying it, bringing it home and putting it on. Holding it in my hands, imagining I was there in that lagoon looking at this ship, hearing the music, the slow rhythmic build of a music that mesmerised me. I was sitting in my father’s rooms, all alone, listening to Hawkwind playing Psychedelic Warlord’s Disappear in Smoke, and I was transported. Then came the howling haunting Wind of Change, then, D Rider. Before the album was half over, I had become a lifelong fan of this band. The album title is a nod to Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King and a restaurant the band used frequent, the Mountain Grill. I named the main character in my novel One Inch Punch, Gordon Brock, after Dave Brock, the lead vocalist of Hawkwind at the time What a wonderful album!
Track: You’d Better Believe it.
One Inch Punch (Seven Towers) is Oran’s third novel.