31 October 2014

Life Is Like A Box Of Records – John C Harrison


It is that time again – Life Is Like A Box Of Records. We asked people to select 10 tracks that they recall from significant points in their lives so far.

Today is the turn of the very passionate John C Harrison. A freelance writer and music lover.

1. The Beatles – Help!

The album ‘Help!’ by The Beatles was my first introduction to pop music. I was 6 years old and developed a bit of an obsession with my Dad’s portable mono cassette recorder. He had a handful of albums on this format, all of which I listened to, and rejected … except for that one, I played it over and over until the machine chewed it up and spat it out.

2. Adam & The Ants – Kings Of The Wild Frontier

In 1980 my tiny 9 year-old my mind was blown by an album called ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ by Adam and the Ants. That album would have a profound effect on my musical taste. Antmusic was like nothing I’d ever heard before, but I liked it so much I immersed myself in it for the next 2 years. In 2006 I stood for hours in a queue to meet Adam Ant during a book signing and in 2011 I finally got to see him perform at the O2 Academy in Glasgow. The title track from the album is a great example of the band’s unique style. They were so fresh and exciting.

3. AC/DC – Highway To Hell

I’d always wanted to hear AC/DC after my Nana told me about them when I was around 8 years old! I was bored and she suggested that I draw a picture for my Auntie – she liked a band whose guitarist would sit on the singer’s shoulders. They would bring a big bag on stage with them from which clouds of red smoke would billow. My Nana may, or may not have described them like that, but that’s what I ended up drawing! About a year later I started to delve into my Auntie’s record collection. ‘Highway to Hell’ was the first album I listened to. I loved the heavy riffs and those sleazy guitar solos of Angus Young. This was also when I started to learn about the excesses of rock ‘n roll through the news of Bon Scott’s untimely death.

4. Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Relax

My first gig – Frankie Goes To Hollywood at the Glasgow Apollo in 1985. Sometimes I think I should be embarrassed by this fact and I should pretend it was some other band I went to see, but I have to acknowledge their impact on the music world, and indeed me. At the time, they were the biggest pop act in the country and were no strangers to controversy. ‘Relax’, with its overtly sexual connotations and the S&M imagery used on the single’s cover and in the promo video, was banned by Radio 1. I’ve always been intrigued by bands who essentially don’t give a fuck, and Frankie Goes To Hollywood certainly fit that bill. At the heart of their success though, was the music – it was actually good. The clean, punchy bass-lines combined with the amazing production skills of Trevor Horn helped them to rule the roost from ‘84-’85.

5. Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five – Beat Street Breakdown

From the soundtrack to the 1984 movie Beat Street, this was at a time when hip hop was almost exclusively associated with breakdancing. You’d be hard pushed to find a rap record in the shops. A friend and I had to make do with the ‘Electro’ compilation cassettes which were surfacing at the time (and were excellent by the way). I remember ‘scratching’ on records was a relatively new concept and I loved anything which incorporated that into the mix. ‘Beat Street Breakdown’ is a classic example of old school hip hop and rap, with some very tasty scratching. A friend and I loved to breakdance and would do it at all the discos with a few other people. We even had a real ‘battle’ with a rival crew once. They were extremely organised (matching track suits and everything!) and whipped our asses. Good times.

6. Dead Kennedys – Holiday In Cambodia

I’d been obsessed with Metallica during the tail-end of Secondary school, especially when ‘Master of Puppets’ came out, but then I progressed to American punk. I loved the Pistols, so when I heard the likes of Black Flag, Misfits and Dead Kennedys I was taken with the directness of the music and its ‘rough and ready’ production. Dead Kennedys had a huge influence on my way of thinking. Jello Biafra’s lyrics were political, cynical and at the same time humorous but they always conveyed a strong message. I was at a point in my life where I was about to leave school and had to think about work. If it were up to me I’d have said ‘Fuck the system!’ and smoked hash all day instead, but then, parents tend get in the way of decisions like that. What do they know anyway?


7. Orbital – Chime

Around 1989, during the ‘second summer of love’, rave tapes with lots of techno and acid house DJ sets would be passed around. In 1990, Orbital emerged from the ashes of the scene and released the single ‘Chime’. It’s a record that reminds me of that summer, hanging out with friends and getting wasted on a weekend. It’s is a banger of a tune and in my opinion was one of the great post-techno compositions which paved the way for a renaissance in the way dance music was presented through the medium of the album.

8. Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

It’s a Friday night in 1991 and I’m at my girlfriend’s house watching ‘The Word’. A band called Nirvana are introduced and play a song called ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. It’s a revelation. At this point in time I had pretty much given up hope of anyone dragging rock music out of its bland, over-produced dog-shit state, but that night changed everything. I was going insane. I loved everything about Nirvana, they were fucking great. Kurt Cobain was fucking great. I saw them at Reading Festival the following year. They played in front of tens of thousands of people like they were doing an intimate no-frills pub gig. Then they rather deftly smashed all their shit up! It was a truly magical night.

9. Bjork – Come To Me

1993 was a huge year for me. I got married and became a Dad for the first time. It was also a year with a huge soundtrack. ‘In Utero’ and ‘Siamese Dream’ marked the end of the grunge scene in fine style, while releases from The Breeders, Belly, Cocteau Twins, Orbital, Trans-Global Underground and P J Harvey all found their way into my collection. There were debuts from Suede, Frank Black and Radiohead, but by far the most acclaimed solo effort was that of Bjork. I’ve always found her to be inventive and interesting. My favourite song form ‘Debut’ is the sublime ‘Come To Me’. In fact, I could go so far as to say it’s one of my favourite songs ever.


10. Biffy Clyro – Folding Stars

It had had been 4 years since my Mum died when Biffy Clyro released ‘Puzzle’ in 2007. Simon Neil’s lyrics on the album express his feelings of pain and confusion at losing a parent in a very direct way and I felt a real connection. The sleeve art shows a man in the foreground sitting on a chair, head in hands. His body is patterned in jigsaw shapes, with one piece removed and lying on the floor beside him. When my Mum died, I remember feeling as if something had been physically torn away from me and that image seemed symbolic of that. I chose ‘Folding Stars’, not because it’s my favourite track, but because it’s one of the songs on the album where there is little ambiguity, it is straight forward catharsis, and whenever I’m at a Biffy gig this is the one that gets me greetin’.

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