Now App’s What I Call Music
Modern life is rubbish. Stream this, listen to that, watch/WhatsApp/Insta the other. Oh, for the times when you weren’t overwhelmed by a landslide of album releases or FOMO-provoking friends bragging about “that amazing gig at the Blahblah House”. Agh, stop the record, I want to get off.
Discovering music really was easier when we were younger. Us Gen X babies were simple souls, born into the trippy late ’60s when all media seemed influenced by bad vibes Vietnam-dystopia. Then as children in the beige ’70s, when ageing light entertainers sat on stools crooning The Skye Boat Song. And pop music? Well, excitingly – ANYTHING went.
My earliest musical passion I can attribute to ’70s kids’ TV supremo, Ed Stewart. “Stewpot” was a Gen X idol, matched only by Toni Arthur, Derek Griffiths, Brian Cant and (now Dame) Floella Benjamin. We loved to watch Stewpot cavort on Crackerjack (“It’s Friday… it’s five o’clock…”). And if we hadn’t had enough of him on TV, he had a radio show on Saturday morning called Junior Choice. God, I adored that show – and would be in a tiny tantrum all weekend if I missed it. Not because it played the latest hits, but for rinsing out hoary old favourites like Lily the Pink, My Bruvver by Terry Scott and Nellie the Elephant (not the cool punky one either). We’re talking 1950s-60s, and possibly even post-war, novelty cheese. As I grew into my stripey tank tops and funky dungarees, Junior Choice became my gateway drug to pop.
Then, like all self-respecting young ’uns, I went deep into daytime Radio 1, just when the charts were full of fake glam knock offs like Mud and Racey, and the throwback rock ‘n’ roll of Showaddywaddy and Darts. I ate it all up, along with disco, pop-reggae (Boney M ruled!) and the glitterball genius of Blondie.
Aged ten, I had another music epiphany thanks to school friend Gary Howe. Gary had an OLDER TEENAGE BROTHER, which meant instant access to rock, heavy metal and Holiest of Grails, punk rock. I’ll never get over hearing The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle for the first time; more so than Never Mind The Bollocks, because of its formative associations for me. Also, Bollocks was banned in our school. You couldn’t play it, you couldn’t say it – and you daren’t even look at its filthy yellow and pink Day-Glo cover.
Readers d’un certain age will vividly remember recording the Radio 1 charts on a Sunday evening. First on early tape recorders, with giant buttons like piano keys that you pushed down (ideally PLAY and RECORD at the same time). Followed by ghetto blasters, but not the kind that could kick-start a Brooklyn block party. They were usually crap and made by a lesser-known Asian brand. Sony was for posh kids, whose parents probably had a Bang & Olufsen to soundtrack their sexy Surrey cocktail parties: John Paul Jones singing Love is in the Air as Ford Cortina keys hit the bowl.
In the 1980s, Radio 1 was simply a fixture, at home and in my boarding school. The daytime line-up with their incredibly white-bread names: Mike Read, Simon Bates, Gary Davies, Steve Wright. I loved them all. Mike Read’s awful guitar playing, Bates’ tear-stained Our Tune (“The doctor said he will never come out of the coma…. here’s Judie Tzuke and Stay with Me till Dawn”), Gary Davies’ good-natured goofiness, Steve Wright’s comedy characters – most of whom would be instantly cancelled now. I’d feel bereft when Steve shouted “Get the geese off!” as it meant the day’s show was over.
Back in the monochrome 1970s and colourful pop carnival of the 1980s, you got what you got. Music came at us down a very narrow “tube”, so it was quite hard to miss it. Nowadays, media flies at us from all angles, bamboozling our poor addled brains and switching them OFF as we just can’t take it all in.
So how do you find music today? Ask a Gen Z-er, and they’ll diffidently reply, while barely pulling out an AirPod, “Uh… Spotify”. But the wee rascals are absolutely right. Your music app is an incredible treasure trove. Used often, it becomes a thrilling labyrinth of musical opportunities, taking you BACK and pushing you forward to discover yet more sonic delights. My Spotify tells me daily, “You seem in the middle of a lengthy midlife crisis. How about some ’80s synth pop?” And if you don’t have app access, may I direct you to the best radio station on air? BBC 6 Music. I kicked against it initially, possibly for the “cool older sibling” vibe it emanates, but since Covid I’ve yielded to its brilliantly curated anorak-y charms. I love Marc Riley’s evening show like I loved Steve Wright in the Afternoon and Junior Choice. And no need for tiny tantrums; if you miss it, you can always “listen again”. Isn’t modern life great?
In memory of DJ Janice Long
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