Old music videos

I watched a documentary on Peter Gabriel over the weekend, and a bunch of memories came back to me. He was one of my favourite artists of the eighties, certainly in retrospect.

I can remember one of his self-titled albums coming out in 1980 that caught my ear. A few years before, he’d released Solsbury Hill, a great song, but he hadn’t really registered with me (I wasn’t a particular fan of Genesis either). Then this album came out, and I heard Games Without Frontiers, which I really liked.

Back in those days, there was a strong culture of swapping cassette tapes. This was in the era before CDs. One of your group would go out and buy the LP and tape it for anyone who wanted a copy of it. We were big into music, all of us, and it was a big topic of conversation at lunch breaks at school, and after, in a time long before social media or even the internet.

Drew Hayes (later, a barcode expert) had bought the album, I remember, and upon request, he taped it for me – I still have the cassette somewhere, I think, though I have nothing to play it on.

Peter Gabriel was an interesting, experimental artist. His music was excellent, but I admired him equally for his adventure and attitude. He was cutting edge all around and took an active interest in society and culture as well. His music reflected much of that, but so too did his actions – he was an early promoter of World Music and creator of Womad. I saw him in concert once, around 1995 I reckon, at the Melbourne tennis centre.

What I remember most vividly are his music videos. He was a real pioneer, creative and visually arresting and pretty quirky half the time. He’s most famous for his Sledgehammer video, which must be one of the most iconic ever.

It reminds me how different the times were in the eighties going into the nineties. This was when MTV burst onto the scene, and there were heaps of other music programs on TV, many of them really good.

MTV was revolutionary in its way. It brought music videos to the forefront, and a lot of money and effort was expended by artists in creating a visual show to go along with the music.

All of us watched these programs (Countdown obviously, and Soundz with Donny Sutherland, as well as MTV), which were more than just music videos. MTV was populist, like DJ’s on TV, and had broad appeal. They would do interviews between videos and discussion and features. It’s all very dated now.

I preferred the more highbrow programs, though I’d generally have MTV on in the background over a weekend. It was an era when music was taken very seriously. There would be quite earnest hosts introducing music with an in-depth analysis of the artist, their influences and often a deep selection from their albums (my favourite was Rock Arena, and Nightmoves was good, too, and there was another on SBS, Rock Around The World, I used to watch also). I liked that. I loved the music, but I wanted to understand, too.

It’s quite different now. There’s plenty of music on TV these days, but the majority of it is wall to wall videos, one after another. There’s very little analysis nor musical context. And the videos aren’t as cutting edge generally because there’s no real call for it – it’s a bit old-hat these days.

I still watch these shows, but generally in the background, and I’m much more likely to have Spotify playing – which, at least, has some musical IQ in its back-end.

It’s a big difference though it feels to me. It was woven through the culture then. We’d all watch the same programs and would speak of them together in the weeks after. I’d pick up album tips and discover artists, and I’d learn more about the artists I enjoyed. It was immersive. I miss that.

It’s all memory.

Movies & music

I watched The Joker last night. First up, very good movie. Secondly, Joaquin Phoenix inhabits the role to an unsettling degree. I can’t imagine a better – more committed – performance this year. Thirdly, brilliantly directed and made. It’s a very densely textured movie with great attention to detail. The colour palette is great. Fourthly, it may technically be another adaptation based on a comic book character, but this isn’t escapist nonsense. It’s full-on dark and twisted, which reflects contemporary issues regarding mental illness, alienation, and the fractures in society. Finally, I found this very disturbing (and tragic).

In conclusion, viewing this was an experience – but not one I want to repeat in a hurry.

Happier it is to report on the Harry Styles album, which is – and I never thought I’d say this – much better than I expected. To be fair, this is an excellent album on any measure, it’s just that never in my wildest dreams did I expect an album like this to come out of the One Direction dissolution. This is a really mature album with great licks throughout and attitude to boot. It has a retro feel to it, like music used to be, given a contemporary spin. I don’t know if there’s a dud track on it – I’ve been playing it on Spotify. The best of it is utterly infectious.

I tend to be scathing of modern music, much of which appears soulless to me. When I was growing up, a lot of us wanted to play in a rock band when we got older. The top 40 was the soundtrack of our lives, and we lived and breathed it. We’d sing it in the shower and talk about it at school and, when someone got a new LP we fancied, we’d get them to make a tape of it for us. The TV was full of music programs that would actually comment on the music of the day, rather than mindlessly playing videos of them one after another, as it is now. What I’m saying is that music was very grassroots and passionate – a lot of us were music geeks – and there were themes and issues often explored in the music of the day, unlike now.

On this occasion, I’m not complaining. I feel sorry for the kids today who don’t get to experience that sense of yearning devotion, and the journey that entails. I don’t listen to a lot of contemporary music because little of it has that passion that I can discern – the sense of a musical calling. A lot of the music appears written by formula, or else by a computer with the settings carefully calibrated to hit the spot.

There are exceptions. A lot of them are either old school bands who have been around forever or else have gestated in the old fashioned way – a bunch of schoolmates, or friends, passionate about music and writing it in their back rooms.

And then something like this Harry Styles album comes out and a lot of it is familiar in type, even if it has a modern veneer. There’s a vibrancy to the music lacking in most of the popular songs these days. There’s a creativity that comes from being deeply invested in the process. That takes the music in different directions sometimes and adds a depth to it. It feels human, and as if it’s been lived.

I like Harry Styles before this, if not musically. He’s got some major hype, but he seemed like a good kid, intelligent and balanced. Now I like his music too, and right now he’s the bee’s knees. Go, Harry!

The music that makes you

For months, it seems, everyone has been raving about the Queen movie, Bohemian Rhapsody. On the weekend I finally got to watch it myself.

Queen is one of those bands I grew up with. I wasn’t an early fan, but within a few years I remember raving over A Night at the Opera, which is a great album. I recall vividly when Bohemian Rhapsody came out as a single, extravagant and way over the top, and especially the music video that accompanied it. Come the eighties I was a pretty solid fan who owned a couple of albums by them. And it was pretty hard to ignore Freddie Mercury who, as his name suggests, was mercurial and talented and deliciously camp. You had to love him.

That’s one of the things that comes out in the movie. At times he was a right proper arse, but overall he was a warm and endearing personality given to excess. That meant there were times he was frustrating and unreliable, but it also gave rise to his talent and made him the affectionate and loving personality that he was. It’s the thing that probably killed him too.

There were things in this movie I hadn’t been aware of before, and remain uncertain about, but basically it followed the arc of their career from fledgling days to the triumph at the Live Aid concert in 1985. For me, I was interested in the musical side. They had some great songs – my favourites being Love of My Life (beautiful and real), Somebody to Love (lush harmonies), and Under Pressure (w. David Bowie), but there were a dozen others nearly as good. They were a great band in an era when great bands were a thing, unlike now.

I reckon a lot of the positive vibes towards this film are thanks to musical memories and raw nostalgia. I get that. It was what got me. It was well made and acted though formulaic, a fond movie no matter that ultimately Freddie would die of AIDS off-screen. That’s what gave the movie its meaning though.

Before that, I watched a documentary about Sam Cooke. Now he was well before my time, and died when I was only a few months old, but there came a time in my life that he was heavy on my soundtrack. I didn’t grow up with him but he informed my life at a formative time, from about the mid-eighties I guess. I don’t know what started it, but I suspect it was his smooth and simple crooning that affected me at a time when I was discovering all my romantic possibilities.

That’s the simple beauty of much of his music, a velvety, heartfelt voice expressing sentiments that everyone could connect with. They were elemental truths housed somewhere in the warm part of our soul. There were times in that period when I was a dreamy romantic and he was a guiding light who summed up my hearts desires so well.

But then there was another side of Sam Cooke. This documentary showed that very well – the entrepreneur, the activist, the fiercely intelligent and independent man who had a vision of a better world. He was a fascinating individual and might have become a great man besides a great artist had he lived. He died controversially, his name sullied, and it has been shrouded in mystery and outrage ever since – and for good reason.

When I came to him it was his romantic tunes like You Send Me, Wonderful World and Cupid that drew me in, but as I delved more deeply into his career I discovered his more serious compositions, great musically but profound in their message of hope. A Change is Gonna to Come and Bring It On Home To Me are heart-rending classics.

It’s great music. I like Queen plenty, but if I were ever asked to choose then Sam Cooke would be one of those few dozen discs I would take with me to my desert island. (Marvin Gaye and Nick Drake would be a couple of others top of my head).

Musical curmudgeon

I spent a good part of yesterday morning going through the annual Triple J Hottest 100 to see if I could find a song I liked.

I can’t say I grew up with the Hottest 100 – I was already in my twenties when it kicked off – but I was an avid follower of it for many years. It became a bit of an institution, with many Australia Day barbecues using it as the soundtrack. Back in those early days I listened to Triple J more often than not, and reckon I must have purchased a half dozen of the Hottest 100 CDs they put out each year – but none since the mid-nineties.

It’s been a while since the Hottest 100 was relevant to me, and same could be said about Triple J. I noted some commentary on the Hottest 100 yesterday, much of it negative, but a lot of it coming from people around my general age. They said that Triple J had changed since the golden days, and the music was a reflection of that. But then Triple J was always on the alternative cutting edge, and it probably is today – even if the music itself is much different. If there’s an issue it’s probably that while Triple J has moved with the times, a lot of us haven’t. Despite my promises long ago, that’s the case with me.

I’m not close enough to make a fair assessment these days. Like so many, I listen to the radio rarely, preferring instead streaming services like Spotify, which can be curated. I listen to the radio when I drive, and generally one of the commercial stations that play older hits and more acceptable contemporary music. There’s little played on those stations you would hear on Triple J – which is different from back in the day when you would hear crossover artists like Nirvana and Regurgitator and the Whitlams. Not so today.

I scrolled through the Hottest 100 playlist on Spotify, which went all the way back to the start. It was amazing to see how music had changed. The further I went back the more songs I liked, and way back there many more I liked than didn’t.

I don’t want to be one of those grumpy characters complaining how things were better before, but, well, musically at least, they were. A lot of it is personal taste, but I think all the same there’s a fair argument that popular music these days is less substantial. In fact, much of it seems disposable. Growing up rock and pop centred around guitars pretty much. There were techno phases, and some great bands like Depeche Mode who were almost pure electronica, but they were a part of a diverse rockscape. That diversity no longer seems to exist, and guitars themselves much in the background.

I remember growing up we were all into music in a big way. We would save our money to go down to the local Brashes to buy the latest big LP release. We would discuss it at school and, if you were lucky, someone would make a tape of it to share. We all knew the stories, we watched Countdown and Sounds and Rock Arena and Nightmoves and maybe even listen to the American Top 40 with Casey Kaysem. Music was a subject.

It was a rare kid who didn’t want to grow up to be a rock star, and if you didn’t want to play the drums you wanted to play lead guitar. Most of us never got that far, but those who did were grounded in this tradition and emerged as passionate musicians who believed in the craft. Music was a calling and they put their heart and soul into song writing and performing. There was plenty of dross, but there was some great stuff too, and some of it profound. It was a lived experience.

Listening to music these days so much of it feels fabricated. Music used to move me, but these days it feels much more like backing music, with little to really engage the heart or mind, and little profundity. It seems to me the market for a lot of music these days are young teens, and teen girls particularly. The intellectuality around music – some of it quite pompous and self-important – is now quite absent, but with that we have lost context and the sense of musical journey.

I know, there will be plenty out there today who love music now as I did then, and who find the same profundity and meaning as I experienced back in the day. That goes to show we look to find the same things, but find it in different places.

I always believe things happen in cycles and I reckon there’ll be a trend back some day to more traditional rock music. Popular music has always been subject to fashions and trends. When I look back the golden era of music is roughly 1987-1994, but everyone will have an opinion on that. And regardless of my comments here, there’s always some decent music to be found, though most of it is in patches, rather than threads.

For the record, I don’t reckon there’s been a better Australian band over the last ten years than the Hilltop Hoods. Internationally I’m left with old bands like the Foo Fighters, and even Muse. And, to be fair, there is some very clever and artistic contemporary music – top of my head though, I just can’t tell you what it is.

Titans of Aussie rock

Over the last couple of months, we’ve seen the death of two Australian music legends, brothers George and Malcolm Young.

George was a driving force behind the Easybeats, which was a great Australian band of the sixties. They had a bunch of songs chockful of classic guitar riffs, and in Friday On My Mind, one of the most perfect songs of the era. Later George joined with fellow band member Harry Vanda to become a legendary songwriting and production duo.

Malcolm was the younger brother of George, and with his brother, Angus formed the nucleus of one of the greatest rock bands of all time, AC/DC. It’s hard to imagine two better rock guitarists than Malcolm and Angus Young.

Vanda & Young guided AC/DC to the top of the charts, with Bon Scott as their lead singer. These are all fucking legendary names, and a great era of Australian guitar rock.

As it happened, I watched a dramatisation of the Easybeats story a few weeks ago, followed on by a fascinating documentary on the music and characters of that era, and the Albert’s sound – the production company that broke, and then nurtured these great performers.

I was just a kid back then when AC/DC was making it, but have sketchy memories, especially of the classic video of AC/DC performing. It’s a Long Way to the Top on the back tray of a truck driving down Swanston street. Great video, great song. A few years later I remember my best mate and next-door neighbour, Peter Woody, buying the Back in Black LP and us playing it on high rotation. And for many years I can recall a piece of graffiti scrawled on a bench at Montmorency railway station: Bon Scott lives!

I was rapt watching these shows, nostalgic, but also fascinated by the stories and the progression from those early days to a professional and mighty music industry. It made me realise things I’d never really taken much notice of until then. I knew Stevie Wright, and have his epic song Evie on my iTunes. What I hadn’t realised was what a powerful and charismatic frontman he was. For a little fella, he packed a lot of power in his voice and performance, and more attitude than, ultimately, he could survive. I came away convinced than in the story of Australian rock music he’s one of the three outstanding front men – he, Bon Scott, and Michael Hutchence. What does it mean that they all died prematurely?

Like so many, I loved Bon Scott. He had the perfect voice for a rock band like AC/DC, a powerful snarl laden with rugged experience. Added to that, he had a style that at a distance seemed menacing, but in fact, he was a rad Aussie, a larrikin with energy you could bottle. He was on the edge and liked it there, and it captivated thousands of fans like me. He wasn’t just a voice (like Brian Johnson), he was a persona. I’m one of the old school fans who think the Bon Scott years were the best of AC/DC.

I remember the days of Aussie guitar bands and pub rock and in your face attitude and they’re just great memories. We’ve been lucky.

These are the times we lose what we had

Seems like most Saturday mornings these days have become tribute sessions in my home.

I do the same thing pretty well every Saturday. I’ll head out the door near 10 and walk the short distance to Hampton shops where I’ll do the bulk of my weekly shopping – groceries, bread, and the few meat veggies I haven’t previously bought at Vic Market. I’ll come home, unpack my groceries and clean the kitchen while I listen to music through my Apple TV.

Lately, I’ve been returning home and playing the music of recently deceased musicians. A couple of months back I played the music of Soundgarden and Chris Cornell back to back. A few weeks back it was Linkin Park’s turn after the death of Chester Bennington. After hearing of his death yesterday I’ve played the select few songs of Glen Campbell this morning.

I don’t have a lot of songs by Campbell, but they’re great songs. Wichita Lineman has to be one of the most poignant and evocative songs of all time. He has such an easy voice that yet expresses the yearning the song expresses. Beneath it is the strumming of the guitar that sets the pace of the song and somehow allows you to picture the windswept, lonely plains the song evokes. This is in my top 50 songs, and this an ideal version (though the Clouds did a great cover about 20 years ago).

The other song I have of his is Galveston. To me, this has a similar quality. I don’t know if I imagine it, but I always picture a man about to go off to war and an uncertain future and looking back towards his hometown, and the sweetheart he has there. He sings with a melancholy hope that he may yet get back to what he realises he really loves. We never find out if he does.

See, that’s the power of the music. The words of the song suggest the tale but don’t tell it, yet the combination of voice and music and tone create that sense. That’s how we come to love music, how it plays to our memories and inspires our imagination, our longing, our own sense of wonder and belief.

Both these songs are Jimmy Webb classics. He must be one of the most prolific and successful songwriters of all time.

These are the only two songs I have of Campbell, though I have a wider appreciation of him. I was never a fan of Rhinestone Cowboy, but I might have had Where’s the Playground, Susie? on my playlist.

The deaths of musicians and actors and those others who have regularly featured in our life always make us reflect. It’s like a little bit of your own history gets buried with them. When you get to my age you begin to see the long trail. Glen Campbell was 81, and from an era earlier than mine, but I felt it keenly when Chris Cornell died at the same age I am now.

One memory that popped into my head yesterday was curious. I had a random recollection of flicking through my bohemian aunt’s record collection sometime in the eighties and coming across an album by Glen Campbell. I must have paused. I knew some of his songs, and his smiling, handsome face was familiar to me, if only by viewing True Grit.

My aunt will be dead near 15 years come next year, but memories like this remind you that other lives have come before. Whatever trials I experience, or you, whatever joys or whatever simple pleasures we experience others have experienced before. We hold it close to ourselves, but it’s common experience in different guises, generation after generation.

Once my aunt must have picked up that album and thought to buy it. She worked, she played, possibly she loved. She was a woman of strong opinion and independent ways, affectionate and adoring to us as children. She must have played that album looking out over the harbour from her apartment in Watsons Bay, which is when I would have found it.

It wasn’t there years later after her death when I packed up her house. What happened to that album? I don’t know. She went on for a while, and then she didn’t, and all she had was scattered to the winds. But I remember.


Keeping me going

I reckon the thing I’ll miss most if and when I die is music. It has such a power to stir and rouse, to thread itself through your life entwining with your memories. If you live close to it, as I have, it becomes a sort of mirror of your existence. It’s hard to believe you could lose that – not the just I have cherished throughout all these years, but the music too that I’m yet to discover. Man, it kills me sometimes I love it so much.

I switched on the TV before and switched to a music channel and they were playing the top 50 songs of the ’70’s. A very young looking David Bowie performed Golden Years, a great song. Now he’s a performer I come to appreciate more and more as I get older. Then there was a great laid-back Aussie song, Eagle Rock by Daddy Cool.

Then one of my all time faves. There was Phil Lynott out front of Thin Lizzy performing on the steps of the Sydney Opera House singing The Boys Are Back in Town. I love that song, always have, and it has such a killer riff. A lot of attitude, both band and song, though Phil now is long gone.

Right now Boz Scaggs is singing The Lido Shuffle. I know it because everyone’s parent had a copy of Silk Degrees in the mid-seventies. It was a monster album in the adult market, but it’s a cool song.

Fuck off, now it’s Abba. Gee they were big, but more popular with the girls. Looking back now and listening they had a stream of catchy, near perfect pop songs. This one’s Mama Mia, such a fun song, but the times then were fun to weren’t that? Or is that just looking back with a nostalgic glow. I was a schoolboy. I remember learning the trumpet in music classes and a choir we had briefly singing an Abba song I think, though I could be wrong. All the boys loved the blonde, Agnetha, but I always preferred the brunette, Frida, and still do. Boys are simple, and men too, give them a buxom blonde and they’re happy. I prefer the subtle and sophisticated, but I doubt when I was 11 or 12 that came much into it.

That’s what I mean. So many memories.

That’s my afternoon sorted. Channel surfing between this and the footy while I do the housework and a bunch of cooking. Music, it keeps you going.

What’s a great Aussie song?

Switched the TV over to one of the music channels yesterday and caught a playlist of, allegedly, the 50 best Aussie songs. I listened to it in the background, then watched for a bit switching between the footy. I agreed with a lot of the picks, and disagreed with a few too. Anyway, it got me thinking, and being a bloke I decided to put my own list together.

Now I’m not going to list 50 songs, and I’m not going to put them in order either because I reckon that’s impossible.

  • Buy Now Pay Later (Charlie No. 2) – The Whitlams
  • No Aphrodisiac – The Whitlams

Coupla Whitlam’s songs, which won’t be popular with everyone, but Buy Now is a very poignant song, and No Aphrodisiac was a quirky hit at the time, added more for spice than any other reason.

  • Harpoon – Something For Kate
  • Captain – Something For Kate

Something For Kate are a forgotten, overlooked band, but they had a couple of cracking songs. These aren’t the very top shelf, but they certainly belong in a top 40. Harpoon was a cover of a great Jebediah song, and a better version.

  • These Days – Powderfinger
  • Passenger – Powderfinger

Long, celebrated Australian career, but a tad unfashionable Powderfinger. IMO these are their two best songs.

  • State of the Heart – Mondo Rock
  • Cool World – Mondo Rock

Now we’re going back to the early eighties. Ross Wilson, stalwart of Australian rock music, lead singer of Mondo Rock and been around forever – he’s also got another track on this list with Daddy Cool, when he had long hair. State of the Heart is just a very beautiful, very true song, and has memory associations for me. Cool World is just a very catchy, very clever pop song.

  • Power and the Passion – Midnight Oil
  • Short Memory – Midnight Oil
  • Blue Sky Mine – Midnight Oil

The Oils have got to be on this list, and probably unlucky to have only three songs on it. I reckon they were the best band in the world for a bit, and their passionate, hooky songs are classics. I don’t know which is my favourite. Great band.

  • Because I Love You – Masters Apprentices

Hands up who knows this song? Kinda psychedelic, late 60s/early 70s, this song creeps up on you.

  • Great Southern Land – Icehouse

This is a great song in its own right, but it also rouses a patriotic urge in me too.

  • Throw Your Arms Around Me – Hunters and Collectors

A classic Australian band, but this is their standout song. They recorded a few versions of it, most of them not it justice, but they got it right in the end. Much covered, this features Mark Seymour’s raw, imperfect voice, but it adds something to it. Has some great lyrics. Close to the top of this list.

  • What’s My Scene – Hoodoo Gurus
  • Bittersweet – Hoodoo Gurus

The Hoodoos are just a great Aussie band, catchy, fun songs, these are their two best. Continue reading

Another voice silenced

I couldn’t believe it when I heard Chris Cornell was dead. It couldn’t be true I thought, just one of those internet rumours that later turn out to be rubbish. It wasn’t a rumour, though. It was true.

It’s funny, I just wrote about him in passing the other day. As I did I wondered at the music still to come from him, thinking, at least he would do some good stuff. He won’t though, not now. He’s gone.

I saw him about 5 years ago at the Palace theatre with a couple of mates. He was great. He had that mighty voice, the best voice in rock music, but he had presence too, and humour. He was a good bloke.

That’s what makes this harder in a way. There’s a great sense of loss that another of the voices I grew up has now been silenced. That feels a real thing, but even so, it feels a little different with Cornell. There’s a lot from that great generation of musicians that have passed on, but – without being rude about it – many that didn’t come as a great surprise. Many had troubled or volatile lives, many with a history of substance abuse, many who – despite their fame – who lived on the edge. Chris Cornell was not like that – at least he didn’t appear to be so.

He always appeared to be very fit and healthy. Though he had lived in the heady world of rock music there was never any suggestion that I knew of that he lived dangerously. He had his moments with drugs and alcohol, but seemingly without the self-destructive intent of so many others. He seemed happily married and perfectly grounded. He was revered and successful, but he seemed real too, the sort who easily met my criteria of someone I’d have a beer with.

It’s emerged this morning that it was suicide. In a way it makes sense of things – how does a fit and healthy 52 year old die? It makes it even sadder though, and I’m at a loss. It’s an awful tragedy.

Last night it was in my head all night and I went to bed feeling an indeterminate anger. I lay there trying to figure it out. Maybe it was because it seemed so unlikely – or at least, so wrong. Maybe it was because it was another good person gone – and too many lately. Maybe it was more personal – I grew up with Soundgarden, and later Audioslave, and Chris Cornell was a regular voice in my ear. He is of my generation, almost exactly my age, and he has gone now while I remain and I tried to riddle that. Finally there was a sense that as time goes by it feels as if my team becomes depleted and me – and people like me – are left remaining, clinging to memories of a time fast fading, and the people of that time plucked from us one by one. Once it was our world, now it is not – and the world is much changed.

That night at the Palace I surreptitiously taped some of his performance. I have a heap of his music on my iTunes, but I reckon those recordings, more intimate, more gritty, will come to mean more to me because I was there and he spoke to me that night, as he did to hundreds of others, and many thousands more through his career. That much we share.

On a final note it seems I am writing a lot lately about people who have passed away. I wonder at that myself. It feels abnormal, but wonder if the frequency will remain at this level. Are these the times? I don’t want to write so much of these things and I’ve decided to refrain when I can. I’m not here to write eulogies, and it’s too damn depressing besides.

Music then and now

Last Saturday week I went out for dinner with the boys. We had a few drinks at a cool bar before walking across the road to a very hip, newly opened restaurant serving modern Mexican and umpteen types of margaritas. Right up my alley.

Being a boys night out the conversation was broad and often robust. Sport had a good run through, we touched upon work, naturally, and even real estate. We discussed a potential day away tasting wines down Red Hill way, and some mythical time when we might actually get away for a golf weekend. We talked booze and food, and finally, we talked music.

All of us are around the same age. Two of us are very keen on music. Each of us is pretty opinionated. The one thing we could all agree upon is how music has changed since we were kids.

I’m not about to regale you with stories of how it was better in my day. It’s natural for me to think that because it’s what I grew up with in my formative years. The music of my youth is the cultural equivalent of a home cooked meal. Sentimentality mixes with familiarity, and with a good dose of memory thrown in. That’s the thing about music – it’s not just the song.

We are pretty knowledgeable though. Over the years we’ve gathered a plethora of popular and arcane knowledge. We’ve watched musical styles come and go, enjoyed some, and enjoyed others less. It’s fair to say that right now – and probably the last 8-10 years – is a musical era we enjoy less than the eras before (my favourite would be the early nineties). In our discussion, we were able to unpick the musical differences with some aptitude – not just styles, but methods; not just trends, but themes. We ranged over where music sits within modern culture, harking back to a time when every kid wanted to play drum or lead guitar in a rock band, when music was an essential soundtrack to the angst of your teenage (and after) life, when music was about sex. From where we sat, well removed from daily pop culture, it seemed quite different.

One of the conversational threads we happened across was how few rock bands there is today – and that many of them are holdovers from 20 years ago. U2 are still going around somehow, as are Green Day. Foo Fighters are reliable for a good album every couple of years, the Arctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stone Age, and doubtless more, including many that flash onto the scene, and off again (I exclude the real heavy metal, which is a niche product). The rock era is gone though – the era we grew up with – and so too is the attitude that went with it.

I used to put a list together of my favourite songs of the year. It’s the High Fidelity list-making side of me that many men possess, the need to catalogue, classify and interpret. I started doing it when I was about 17 and occasionally come across a list scrawled in poor hand-writing not seen since the late eighties. It’s an interesting nostalgia trip.

I used to publish some of the lists here, though I’ve trailed off in recent years simply because there’s been a lot less to capture my attention. That remains true – but also true is the fact that good music, including rock music, is still being produced, it’s just that often it’s a lot harder to find than it used to be. Mainstream music these days appears more electronic based, rather than guitar, or is themed more towards a teenage audience. It’s a matter of taste, but I’m drawn more towards indy and alternative music these days.

For that reason, I think it’s wiser to hold off on announcing my favourite songs until a few years later because often it takes a while to unearth the music I like.

Anyway, today I’m combining my list for 2014/15 into one list – because it would be too light on if I didn’t. Even so, while these are good songs I don’t think a single one could be called a classic, and few would rate alongside my picks of 20 years ago.

Having made all those statements two of my favourite songs from 2014 were monster hits. Hard to resist the voice of Paloma Faith though – it’s a mighty instrument, and so the first two songs are hers:

Only Love Can Hurt Like This – Paloma Faith (2014)

Changing – Sigma w. Paloma Faith (2014)

More typically:

Chemical Plant – Robert Ellis (2014) – brooding and elegiac.

He Won’t Come – Ezra Vine (2014)

And there’s a dance tune I don’t mind, kinda catchy:

Outside – Calvin Harris w. Ellie Goulding (2014)

Looking back now 2015 was a slightly better year:

Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart – Chris Cornell (2015) – the best voice in rock music.

The Sound of Silence – Disturbed (2015) – a cover, and maybe even a slightly clichéd cover, but pretty powerful.

Do You Remember – Jarryd James (2015) – has an insistent, soulful, dreamy quality. Hooked the first time I heard it. Great production.

The Night We Met – Lord Huron (2015) – a good example of the slow burn. I only discovered this last week watching 13 Reasons Why. I find a lot of music that way, more so than from radio and the charts. I’d be lost without Shazam. This is a tender piece of music.

Sugar – Robin Schulz w. Francesco Yates (2015) – man, this is pure sex. Gotta move to this, gets in your bloodstream.

Elastic Heart – Sia (2015) – another dance tune, but likewise pretty irresistible. Can’t forget the video either.

Make You Better – The Decembrists (2015) – actually, a great band I should have referred to earlier. At last some jangling guitar.