I have this terrible fear.
Actually, no, it's a shit fear. I just wanted my first sentence to be a grabber.
My terrible fears, in no particular order, would probably include Rebekah Brooks taking an sudden and unhealthy interest in my personal life, Anders Breivik emigrating to the UK to find work as a taxi driver, and a zombie Jedward.
My shit fear is that someone, for one reason or another, is going to casually browse through the tracklist on my mp3 player and discover (to what I'm fairly certain would be my terminal shame) some of the utter musical dross I've been keeping on there. This fear manifests itself in a variety of ways: for example, last year – due to what I can only imagine to be the extremely corrosive properties of my wrist-sweat – I found myself between watches, and so took to checking the time on my mp3 player. This led to one particularly nerve-racking incident where I made the mistake of taking it out whilst sat with mates at a pub table.
The cry went up: “Pass it here, Dave” they hooted, “what sort of stuff you got on it?” Whilst they huddled round and scrolled through looking for anything noteworthy (anything incriminating, more like) I spent a tense couple of minutes wincing inwardly and surveying the exits in case I needed to bite someone hard, grab the player, and escape quickly. Eventually the subject changed and I was able to quietly reclaim the offending item and regain my composure.
At the more extreme end of the scale, I have visions of my sudden death. I've been hit by a rogue meteorite or a commercial van, and the paramedics have arrived and are busying themselves with sorting my body parts into separate and conveniently-labelled bags. In amongst the goo and severed cheekbones, they find my earphones, which quickly lead them to my mp3 player. Having died without even the chance to let out a final fart of panic, naturally I've not had time to edit my playlist before the darkness takes me. The ensuing conversation goes something like this:
Paramedic 1: “'Ere, Tim, look what this berk was listening to.”
Paramedic 2: “Is that....Foreigner?”
Paramedic 1: “Yep. 'I Want to Know What Love Is'.”
Paramedic 2: “What a fucking twat.”
Stocking up an mp3 player used to be so easy. My first one had a mere 256 megabytes capacity, enough for maybe two hundred songs, as long as they weren't bloody great rock opuses. So, lots of three-minute Motown classics, a shedload of Stax, some Toots & The Maytals and Linton Kwesi Johnson, a separate folder for The Streets so I could listen to A Grand Don't Come for Free in the right order, Black Grape, a bit of Two-Tone, The Kinks, Johnny Boy, Bowie. All fairly safe bets should anyone go perusing your musical tastes; nothing to worry about if your player fell into enemy hands. But now, I'm lugging around 8 gigabytes in a package no bigger than a matchbox with - at time of writing - over 3,000 songs on it and still 2 gigs' worth of space lying fallow.
Much as I would like to pretend the soundtrack to my life was all Blue Beat recordings and Elvis Costello tunes, that's just not the case.
Maintaining an impeccable sense of style and an irrefutable cachet of cool over 3,000 songs is a tall order, and there's had to be some padding. There's had to be a lot of padding. Despite spending an entire summer a few years ago mining LimeWire for everything it was worth, my mp3 library still comes up short.
I know it's not an excuse (though it is, patently, an attempt at one), but there are certain songs that despite being - in retrospect and in every other respect - more than just a teensy bit shite, still have the ability to take me right back to a certain time and a certain place, even as I fervently wish it was a far better song doing it. Much as I would like to pretend the soundtrack to my life was all Blue Beat recordings and Elvis Costello tunes, that's just not the case. There's an unseemly amount of god-awful old wank in there too. But they say the best way to deal with your fear is to confront it, so let me share with you just a few of my mp3 player's worst sins.....
Foreigner - “I Want to Know What Love Is”
What, did you think I was kidding? There was a time when this song was everywhere, and it coincided with a time when I was thinking to myself that yes, I'd like to know what love is, too. Of course, I realise now that those adolescent thoughts roughly translate as “I'd really like some girl to work my shaft and jiggle my balls”, which probably means I'd have been better off listening to Foreigner's “Waiting for a Girl Like You”, which is pretty much about that very subject.
Kiri Te Kanawa - “O Mio Babbino Caro”
This Puccini aria is a hauntingly beautiful song, and one of his most recognisable. On balance, I probably wouldn't be too mortified about someone discovering it on my mp3 player. What would mortify me was them knowing I have it mostly because it was used on the soundtrack of ARoom With a View, a film which left me thinking for years afterwards that I'd quite like Helena Bonham-Carter to, yes, work my shaft and jiggle my balls. See also “Dancing Queen” by Abba, which was used in an episode of Rik Mayall Presents in which Bonham-Carter played a stag-night stripper - thereby taking my shaft/balls related musings up a notch or two.
If you're wondering, my infatuation with her came to an abrupt end when I watched a supplementary feature on the DVD of the 2001 remake of the Planet of the Apes, where Tim Burton sent his actors to “ape school” so that they could learn to convincingly mimic chimpanzees. Very sneaky of you, Mr. Burton, very sneaky. I stopped yearning after her there and then. Well played, sir.
Harrison - “Got My Mind Set on You”
There was a girl that I very much fancied, and I spent that whole autumn building up the courage to ask her out. This song definitively summed up my situation at that point in time.
Horribly repetitive lyrics, though - later spoofed by “Weird Al” Yankovic with his version “(This Song's Just) Six Words Long” - and not a lot of subtext. You won't be surprised to learn that I had a subtext, which revolved around the working of a certain shaft and the jiggling of balls. Didn't happen in the end.
Vanilla Ice - “Ice Ice Baby”
First term of college. Nights spent in the SU bar with new friends agog at the sheer awfulness of this song's lyrics. More than twenty years later, and it's a permanent resident on my mp3 playlist.
I'm still in awe of the lines “Gunshots rang out like a bell, I grabbed my nine, all I heard were shells falling on the concrete real fast, jumped in my car, slammed on the gas”. I mean picture it, Vanilla Ice screeching away from the scene of a drive-by shooting, pistol in hand, all shaped eyebrows and bad boy pout, his perfect quiff oblivious to the urban violence that surrounds it.
Vanilla Ice, you magnificent bastard, you.
Kenny Rogers - “Coward of the County”
A song I inherited from my father. He was an Irishman of the highest order, with a box of cherished 45s: rebel songs mostly, peppered with the occasional country & western offering from across the pond. For most of my childhood my father played the same dozen or so tunes every Saturday and Sunday, probably even in the same order.
This song was a big hit early in 1980, and became one of the very few additions that my dad made to his personal playlist whilst I was growing up. I hear it now and it reminds me of his gentle warnings to “shut up or I'll take me belt off to yer” when he was listening to records.
But I have to admit' for a song about gang rape, it's a toe-tapper.
Manhattan Transfer - “Chanson D'Amour”
Even I'm a little puzzled as to a) what this dire, piece of shit song is doing on my mp3 player b) where I got it from - very likely, I was suffering from LimeWire fever at the time - and c) what connection I thought I had with it. It does take me back to a family ritual; Sunday teatimes with the Top 40 countdown on the radio, at the height of the 1970s. In my house, Sunday teatime meant sponge cakes, trifles, jelly, fizzy drinks: no “proper” food to be seen. Even though my mother consistently produced sponge cakes that caved in rather than rose in the oven (snidely referred to as “Wembley Stadiums” by the kids), it was a high point of the weekend. In fact, I may have stumbled on the emotional connection that explains the presence of both David Soul and David Essex on my tracklist. At least, it's the one I'm going to use if anyone asks.
The Rembrandts - “I'll Be There For You”
Oh fuck, I'm sorry. Look, I remember when pubs would switch on the projector and pull down the big screen so everyone could watch a new episode of Friends on a Thursday night. Weird, but true. This was before E4 made it their mission in life to make you want to smash a wine glass and eat the shards rather than sit through another repeat of “The One Where Ross Moves In”.
But you're right, I'm taking it off right now. I promise.
Are there others? Oh God yes, in the dozens. I've merely scratched the surface. Awful ones, worse ones, ones I've likely forgotten about myself, only for the random play function to puke them out at me when I least expect or need it, and - despite my fears - there they'll probably stay, inviting shameful discovery like a badly hidden box of old grot mags.
Imagine the scene: I'm an old man (if it helps, think of me as Sean Connery in The Untouchables) and I've been gutshot, there's blood everywhere, a trail of gore where I've dragged myself, trying to reach something, grimly holding in my innards with one hand and pulling myself across the floor with the other. But I can't make it, I've no strength left. Suddenly, there's someone else there (go on, make him look a bit like Kevin Costner). He leans in to hear my dying words, my voice barely more than a blood-soaked gurgle now:
“....Take.....mp3...player.....delete.........delete.......Europe.....Final...Countdown......do it now.......”
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