“Ya da da da da da da da da da da da”
The art of making compilation tapes as an impecunious nineties teen was fraught with logistical and harmonic peril. It’s hard to remember in this age of omnipresent songsmithery, but music of any sort used to be tricky to get hold of, let alone music that you actually wanted to listen to. Time was, people would just listen to what was to hand. Side B of the one cassette that was jammed in the car stereo. That scratched-up Barry Manilow LP and two 45s that were stored with the holiday cottage record player. The least egregious radio station that you were able to tune into.
When my parents first bought a CD player, we literally had one CD to play on it for the best part of a year; The Four Tops; Their Greatest Hits. For months on end my brother and I would get up early before school, make our packed lunches and then sit down for a 45-minute session on our Sega Master System II (usually playing the lesser-spotted Secret Command) whilst listening to the same 12 Motown songs again and again. And again. To this day, the opening 20 seconds of Reach Out I’ll Be There triggers an intense 8-bit Pavlovian response, sending my fingers twitching to launch phantom grenades at my pixelated foes.
To weigh down a cassette with the burdensome expectation of representing some of ‘the Best’ in such a climate was a borderline act of heinous psychological self-flagellation. In all honesty, many of the early SOTB volumes should more realistically have been titled, “Some of the music that I could find”, but that wouldn’t have been such an enticing sell for other potential audiences. Or to myself for that matter.
It was one Tuesday evening in this desert of musical reticence that I chanced upon a song on Southern FM that made the hair on the back of my neck tingle. “Say it’s true, there’s nothing like me and you” sang an unknown Dundalkian siren and I was smitten. Cruelly, fate then robbed me of the opportunity to identify this anonymous gem, the callous DJ segueing straight into the next track without identifying the first. The bastard. A week later I was again captivated out of the blue, but this time I was at least able to discern the name of the band on the outro. “Such a beautiful song there from ‘the Cars’” chirped the DJ . The hunt was on.
Successfully armed with this nugget of information, I excitedly ventured to Our Price the following weekend to claim my prize. Having failed to locate a positive match in the singles chart I politely asked the surly teenager behind the desk if they knew of a band called ‘the Cars’.
“The …, uh Cars?” (my already fragile resolve rapidly ebbing)
A hard, borderline suspicious look is levelled at me, “Sure. Classic. Heartbreak City?”
I was directed to the Rock section, which set off a vague alarm of unease. A quick perusal of The Cars’ 1984 record led me to the tentative conclusion that I was barking up the wrong tree. And for that matter, that I probably wasn’t even in the right forest. Ric Ocasek definitely didn’t look like he was the vocalist behind that mysteriously lovely Irish soprano. Plus, I didn’t even have enough money to buy a whole album. I had been hoping that there would be a single cassette more suited to my sparse budget. Defeated, I left empty-handed and broken-hearted. Perhaps HMV would have served me better. Or Chris Finch for that matter.
Weirdly, I can’t remember how I eventually corrected the error of my ways and located the real deal. Runaway by The Corrs only actually made it to #49 in the chart in the autumn of 1995 and so never did find a place in Our Price’s top-40 cassette rack. Still, better late than never, I did stumble across the lovely Irish foursome the following year, and subsequently played that single to death. It remains the standout track on #6. Sure the lyrics aren’t anything to write home about, but the lilting melody cascading down around the gentle 6/8 rolling piano riff still lifts my spirit. And the completely random and incongruous 2 seconds of soft rock distorted guitar marking the transition out of the middle 8 always makes me chuckle. Man I used to like air guitaring that bit.
Incidentally, The Cars never did make it onto a SOTB. Although it’s never too late. Drive is really worthy of a feature after all.
Brown Eyed Girl Van Morrison
Feel So Alive Chesney Hawkes (taken from the first album I ever bought. Deal with it.)
Summertime Larry Adler ft. Peter Gabriel