By Stuart McPhee Feb.21.2009
In: Other
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Call It A Lesson Learned #2

The second in a series of essays on what I may (or may not) have learned from music. The first essay can be found here.

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

The most common criticism of my music collection (apart from the fact that I own, and still champion, little known Mancunian outfit Haven to no success) is that I don’t own any albums by The Beatles.

I think the thing that perturbs said critics even more is my assertion that I have little desire to own any of their music. As someone who possesses Oasis and Crowded House albums (for whom neither would be around without the Fab Four), I must qualify my remarks.

Pound for pound they are the best singles band ever. Irrefutably. However I don’t need to own any of their music because their legacy is so ingrained in popular culture. Being in possession of Rubber Soul isn’t going to change my outlook on a damn thing. I know that concept is difficult for a lot of people to grasp, especially for those that are aware I have Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants in my collection, but there it is. The point being I get The Beatles, I just don’t need to get The Beatles.

Now that we have identified the Scouse elephant in the room let’s move on to the real reason we are here: You must be open to any band being able to charm the pants off you. In fact you don’t have a choice for that is their aim. Sure, you can have negative preconceptions about an act but be prepared to succumb at a moments notice.

Case in point for me: The Smiths

For years I ignored them. I cared not for the sulky music they peddled and even less about Steven Patrick Morrissey. As far as I was concerned, the pasty faced sooks that adored their music could have The Smiths all to themselves. I’ll stick to something a little more upbeat and a little less pretentious thank you very much.

I can’t recall exactly when I changed my tune but it was late in the piece. I am 28 now, so it must have been in my teens when I first heard of The Smiths (and subsequently hating them in one fell swoop). When I came around the entry point was definitely Johnny Marr and the three bands I have already mentioned (that aren’t The Beatles) are the ones to thank for that.

Oasis had always spoken highly of Johnny Marr in interviews (he eventually played on the Heathen Chemistry album), he formed part of Neil Finn’s all-star ‘7 Worlds Collide’ project and is it turned out, he was the one that discovered Haven (proving that even if the rest of the world didn’t catch on to Haven that at least myself and Johnny have the same taste in music).

With that many coincidences it made sense to re-appraise my view on The Smiths. Second time around, with a wisened head on my shoulders, I began to appreciate the droll humour in Morrissey’s lyrics and how that contrasted with Marr’s brilliant jangly guitar sound. Tunes like ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’ and ‘Panic’ represented everything I loved about pop music. Suddenly I could hear their sound coming out of my Pete Yorn and Ryan Adams records and I realised that I had always liked them, I just didn’t know it.

I still think Moz is a bit of a twat but I am willing to concede that I was wrong about The Smiths and whilst I haven’t invested fully in their back catalogue (and may never do) I have broken through the invisible barrier from cynic to listener.

There are many bands that are still to win me over. The Cure definitely fit the bill and I have never understood the attraction to The Doors either. But I am at least open to the possibility of it all making sense one day. The same can be said for acts that I love but others may despise. I can understand not wanting to be seduced by Jeff Buckley or Led Zeppelin or Al Green (actually I can’t understand anyone not loving Al Green).

In the end you can have all the negative opinions you want but somewhere there will be a band (or the legacy of a band) trying valiantly to win you over. Be prepared because they may well succeed.