Monday, April 24, 2017

Live and In Stereo

This blog post is about audio tapes. I know it's a strange topic to pick, as I've not really discussed music here before, but it's mostly inspired by Guardians of the Galaxy and its "Awesome Mix". With the release of the second movie just a few days away, what better time to talk about Awesome Mixes, mix tapes and cassettes in general.

A few of my old tapes (yeah, very Goth) and my wife's old Walkman (that still works - mine died long ago)

This was also partly inspired by both my lovely wife deciding to sort out part of the spare room for her projects and stumbling across our boxes of audio tapes (and a couple of old personal stereos), and also by watching Th1rteen R3asons Why on Netflix - a series that stunned, shocked and left me in an emotional puddle on the floor. Before you complain and say "doesn't that glamorise suicide?" I'll stop you there and say I don't think it does. It's horrible, traumatic, but is getting people talking, and that's a good thing.

Anyway, this post isn't about Th1rteen R3asons Why. I may come to that in a later post.

This post is about audio tapes. Remember those? I do. Yes, I'm old. Audio tapes for me had double the use as not only where they a great way to record music, and even voice recordings, but they also held data for my old, trusty ZX Spectrum. Nothing quite like the old days of waiting thirty minutes for your game to load from the screeching sound of data transfer.

But Guardians of the Galaxy really made tapes popular again. Maybe the combination of that and Th1rteen R3asons will bring a new renaissance of tapes, just as vinyl is now the go-to media for real audiophiles?

Guardians of the Galaxy's Awesome Mix (vol 1) is the tape that Peter Quill's mother gives him before he is abducted from Earth. They're tunes his mother loves that she has selected for him, and so have an emotional resonance as well as being great choices of music.

At my day job, we decided to take this one step further. While I can't get my parents to make an Awesome Mix for me anymore, we decided we'd each try to create our own Awesome Mix. The rules were simple:

1) Select 12 songs that have an emotional meaning for you - remind you of your childhood, your parents/guardians/friends/family.
2) The first 11 must be songs that you listened to before you started buying your own music.
3) No duplicate artists.
4) Compile them into a list - an Awesome Mix - think carefully of the running order.
5) The final song on your Awesome Mix should be the first single you ever bought for yourself, not bought for you.
(That last rule is one I added, not everyone at my day job has stuck to that one)

There you go! Your very own Awesome Mix (vol 1).

So, without further ado, I present my own Awesome Mix for your audio enjoyment.

1) Jive Talkin' - The Bee Gees
May 1975 - RSO Records

My dad was a huge Bee Gees fan. He seemed to play them constantly in the house and in the car. Our old house had a "front room" which was only really for when the weather was good, but it was where dad had set up the record player and during the summer the big bay windows would open onto the tiny street outside and the Bee Gees would fill the air (probably to the annoyance of our neighbours).

2) The Chain - Fleetwood Mac
Feb 1977 - Warner Bros

I remember my sister saying to my dad, "Have you listened to Fleetwood Mac? They sound a bit like the Bee Gees and it's the music from Formula One?" My dad used to watch a lot of motor sport (hell, he used to watch a lot of sport), and I think this was my sister's way of getting him away from listening to the Bee Gees constantly. Thankfully, it worked. The Chain is still a work of genius (and it's no surprise that it appears on the official Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 Awesome Mix).

3) Nightflight to Venus - Boney M
July 1978 - Atlantic

My dad used to play the drums. Not professionally, but he was in the "work band" at the hospital where he worked as a nurse. I knew he played the keyboards a little, but I didn't realise his musical background until we found his piano qualifications from the London Academy of Music when we were clearing my parent's house.

Anyway, being a drummer, he loved this. Probably because it owes a lot to one of his favourite singles, "Dance with the Devil" by Cosy Powell.

So that gets an honourable mention, but isn't on my Awesome Mix.

I do have a distinct memory of going to a "do" that was being held at the hospital where he was working. A Christmas do or something like that. I can't remember. I just remember it being in a big hall, with a stage for a band, and dad letting me sit behind the drum kit - but I wasn't allowed to touch them. Last thing they needed was an out-of-tempo racket ruining their evening. It was so cool. Shame I can't drum very well (if my playing Rock Band is anything to go by).

4) Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town - Kenny Rogers
1969, Reprise Records

My mum had a bit of a liking of country music. Well, both of them did really. I remember them videoing the Country Music Awards every year so they could rewatch the good bits - not that I remember them actually watching the tapes. I remember my mum liked Kenny Rogers, and for some reason this one always stuck in my mind. While I preferred "The Gambler" myself, this one stuck in my head for the bit about taking his gun and shooting her. Even as a youngster that sounded shocking.

5) Do You Wanna Dance? - Barry Blue
1973, Bell Records

You're probably thinking "WHO?" In 1973, this guy had a few hits including Dancin' on a Saturday Night, and this one. It was very glam, very over the top. Dad had the album - I remember it had a weird label in the middle of the vinyl that looked odd when it was going around. I can't remember much more than that, but after researching this Awesome Mix I've had this song stuck in my head for two days...

6) (I Lost My Heart to a) Starship Trooper - Sarah Brightman & Hot Gossip
1978, Ariola Hansa

I was so obsessed with Star Wars when it came out, that I have a distinct memory of going to a department store with my parents and my dad deciding to buy a record. One of those compilation albums (long before the "NOW" series ever started). He picked out a few, and couldn't decide which one to go for and asked me to have a look. I knew a few of the tracks on them thanks to listening to the Top 40 on a Sunday evening, but Starship Trooper stood out as it was kinda sci-fi. So the album with that on it became the album of choice. This leads to the next one...

7) Denis - Blondie
1978, Chrysalis 

We put the aforementioned album on when we got home, and the first track on side 1 was "Denis" by Blondie. I can't remember what the second track was, but I remember my dad said that I'd picked the one with lots of punk on it, but he didn't mind the first one as his name was Denis, even spelled that way. And I would grow to be quite a fan of Blondie.

8) The Ballroom Blitz - The Sweet
1973, RCA

Not inspired by my parents' music choices this time. This one's thanks to my childhood friend from school who I'll just call Jinx incase he doesn't want to be named. Jinx was his nickname, though I don't think he liked it much. Jinx started with the whole "buying records" before me, and I remember going 'round to his house and him putting this on. I think his music tastes, and him buying singles, is what inspired me with my first music purchase, but that's a way off yet... Good choice of single, Jinx.

9) Misty Blue - Dorothy Moore
1975, Malaco

Not my usual music choice, but this one brings back fond memories of my dad. For some reason, he really wanted to listen to it, but he didn't know if he had it. Of course, I didn't know who sang it, dad proceeded to sing a bit of it for me, and I set to looking through all of his vinyl, every track on every compilation album looking for it for him. I don't think he had it in the end, but I know he always loved that song.

10) Tiger Feet - Mud
Jan 1974, RAK

Mum, however, liked her music a bit more up-tempo. While she couldn't dance due to her disability, she loved anything with a good beat that she could bop around to - and Tiger Feet by Mud was one of her favourites.

11) Summer Night City - ABBA
Sept 1978, Epic

As for choosing my own music, I do have a distinct memory of listening to ABBA (This was before I had my own music to choose from). My parents had a really cool "Best of ABBA" album (Greatest Hits Vol 2) and I remember listening to this on my folks' stereo in that front room. That was before I bought my own first single and everything changed.

12) Eighth Day - Hazel O'Connor
1980, A&M

Before this, I'd had a few records of my own that had been bought for me. I had a couple of singles (ELO, the Theme from Monkey, etc.) and a few albums (mostly Bond themes, Star Wars and War of the Worlds), but the first single I remember going out and buying for myself, with my own pocket money, is Eighth Day by Hazel O'Connor. Probably inspired by Jinx (who had Breaking Glass as an album if I remember correctly) and that music video that looked like Tron before Tron even happened (though I don't think I've ever seen the movie Breaking Glass)... It was epic, sci-fi, and unlike anything I'd ever heard before.


There you go. My Awesome Mix (Vol 1).

What would yours be? And what rules should constitute a Volume 2?

Until then, listen to music, dance, watch Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, and enjoy.

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