A Day In The Life to Adagio For Strings

“If you ever have to go to Shoeburyness, Take the A road, the okay road that’s the best, Go motorin’ on the A13”
A13 Trunk Road To The Sea – Billy Bragg

IT is somehow apt this trip through my iPod starts, well, almost, with Billy Bragg’s anglicising of Route 66.

It popped up at song number six at the start of a road trip of my own, albeit heading west over the Severn into Wales rather than east through Essex, as the journey got off to a flying start through the first 50 tracks.

Accident Waiting...It’s not the last we will see of the Big Nose Bard of Barking – indeed, he popped up later in the opening 50 with Accident Waiting To Happen – as he has been a constant in my music collection from the days of tape decks and Walkmen, through CDs and onto digital.

One of the most consistently brilliant live performers, Tank Park Salute is able to reduce me and many other grown men to quivering wrecks.

We’ll come back to why Billy is a musical and national treasure in later entries, as well as other acts who will become regular comforts throughout this musical journey – The Smiths (Accept Yourself) and Echo and The Bunnymen (a live version of Action Woman) both popped up as the first of many entries.

There was also a first appearance for Nirvana with the MTV Unplugged version of About A Girl – part of the seemingly apt soundtrack which ushered in my 40th birthday stretched out at the back of a converted bus in Seattle – and two from Bob Mould.

His Husker Dü days produced Actual Condition, while The Act We Act by Sugar provoked memories of a couple of incredibly loud, remarkably hot and fairly painful gigs.

It forms part of the unrelenting opening salvo from the wonderful Copper Blue album – followed by A Good Idea and Changes – with which they opened their set upstairs at a gig above a pub in Birmingham.

If the sweat rolling off the ceiling, the unstinting roar from a three-piece band on full throttle and the crowded moshpit was not uncomfortable enough, the twisted ankle from standing on a discarded pint glass in the middle of the moshpit provoked a tactical retreat to the rear.

Wonderful night from which my ankle soon recovered. Not sure the same can be said about my ears.

Multiple entries also come from The National, a band who have largely passed me by despite rave reviews from friends, and three from Americana legends Lambchop, whose quite beautiful Up With People is currently being played by Mark Radcliffe on 6Music. Never have so many musicians combined so well, so quietly.

There was also some songs which came out of the blue, somehow downloaded or burned into my collection but not or rarely listened to. Stumbling across them and heading off to investigate more by the bands involved is one of the key reasons for taking on this challenge – and why it could take a very long time.

Falling into this category is About Time by Art Brut, with its opening couplet “There was a time when I couldn’t stomach Morrissey, I thought ‘He can’t have had a hard a life as me’”, and Acoustic Guitar, part love letter to the instrument and part plea for it to bring back the singer’s lost love.

One of the tracks from The Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs – sorry, never managed to plough through all 69 – it also features some great lines, most notably “She always loved the sound of your strum, You made her think maybe I wasn’t so dumb” and “Acoustic guitar, if you think I play hard, Well you could have belonged to Steve Earle”.

But one band took over the first section of the list with multiple entries, including the first five tracks – A Day In The Life (twice), A Hard Day’s Night (twice) and A Taste of Honey. They also popped up more than once later on, including three versions of Across The Universe (plus a cover of it by 10cc, who are unlikely to feature again).

Which is all a bit strange, not being the biggest Beatles fan. Any music fan needs a working knowledge of their work, hence their presence in my collection, and growing up their songs were fairly constant background music, even when too young to know who they were (had no real idea, aged 10, who John Lennon was when he was shot, but was old enough to know Imagine was, and still is, an awful song).

And yes, when they were good they were very good – A Day In The Life, Eleanor Rigby, Paperback Writer and many others – but too many of their songs come perilously close to novelty (Yellow Submarine, When I’m 64 or Lovely Rita Meter Maid for starters). And don’t get me started on Hey Jude.

But there’s still a lot of Beatles in my collection, which cannot be said of classical music. In fact, there is just one piece – Samuel Barber’s Adagio For Strings.

It wraps up the first 50 tracks on the list and brings back great memories stood on a headland on an island in the middle of the frozen Lake Baikal as the sun set, the perfect soundtrack for a magical moment.

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